Commode To Joy

finding happy (even in the crappy)

Show Up Anyway

Based in Central Illinois, Rachel Holden is photographer who regularly promotes women’s self-confidence through images. With an Art Therapy degree, she brings academic knowledge and off-the-charts creativity to her live-action, in-the-moment, lifestyle photos – photos that she describes as “playful, raw, and thoughtful”.

That they are.

Earlier this year we agreed upon a collaboration project. She’d take the pictures; I’d write the story. I gave some thought to the type of shoot I wanted and finally came up with an answer: I’d go to both family farms with Miller for pictures with my grandmothers.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that I’m thirty-three and still have both Grandmas. Not only that, they still live in their farm homes that I grew up visiting. They’re self-sufficient and still drive. It’s incredible. They’re incredible.

I’ve gotten to know them as an adult, and because of that I appreciate them more than ever before. They’ve become matriarchs. They provide insights to who I am and where I come from. They’ve experienced great pain. They’ve also led great lives.

They’re examples. They’re anchors. They’re constants. But their constancy is temporary, and I can’t think about (or even type) that fact without losing it.

…pardon me while I wipe my eyes…

Born in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, my grandmothers fit the generalities given to their dubbed “Silent Generation”. They were girls during WWII. Given the circumstances of their childhoods, Grandma Alice is still incredibly frugal, Grandma Phyllis does not complain, and both women know how to work.

Unfitting of their generation, both women attended college (can you hear my pride in that statement?), but neither finished their degrees. As their mothers and grandmothers before them, when the time came, they did what was expected and stayed home to raise families.

I was incredibly reluctant to call them about this photo shoot. Neither women like having their pictures taken. I waited for my gut to say “it’s time”, and I called them. As reluctant as I was to ask, they were equally reluctant at my proposition. In the end, they said yes.

On a hot day in mid July, we drove down to the farms.

At Grandma Alice’s, we spent time in almost every room in the house. We went through her yarn, and she showed us her latest lap robe (she’s crocheted over ninety for local senior centers). She made iced tea (the family-favorite drink). She pulled out the Mother’s Day card I sent her for a round of laughs. I stood on her bathroom scale to show Miller the numbers, as I don’t keep one at our house (and Grandma’s always weighs light). We played with her Floridian seashell collection and listened to “the ocean”. I took Miller to one of her fields (currently filled with soybeans). Even the good ole peach tree (which you may remember from My Someday Boobs installment) made a cameo.

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When we arrived to Grandma Phyllis’ house, she’d come in from mowing only a half hour previously. (Yes, she’s in her 80s and still mows over three acres on her own at her insistence.) She had bits of grass stuck to her cheeks and stayed in her mowing clothes the entire time. As usual, Miller played with some of my dad’s childhood toys and coveted his great-grandmother’s coffee table that he’s not allowed to drive cars on. I helped Grandma with lunch (though I grew up calling the noontime meal dinner), and I sat in Grandpa’s old place at the dinner table. Afterwards, Grandma took us up the road to her father’s childhood church. She’d never taken me there before; it was her treat for the session.

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These pictures offer glimpses of my past, present, and future. They show my childhood, two of my regular childhood rearers, and my child. They’re packed with memories and love. They’re irreplaceable.

As I drove my sleeping boy back to Decatur, the phrase that kept coming to mind was “show up anyway”.

The reasons not to do this shoot were aplenty.

I was two weeks and two days post-op from a major surgery. I knew I’d be sacrificing Miller’s nap time (aka my rest time) to make this shoot happen. I wasn’t about to reschedule. I paid for that decision in the short term, but my sights were set on the long term. Thank goodness I showed up anyway.

I’m growing my hair out (again!) and the sides were wonky at best, thus, the half-back top-knot thing. I showed up anyway.

Miller hadn’t had a proper haircut in over four months. In his shaggy glory, we showed up anyway.

Grandma Alice apologized for her overgrown lawn scheduled to be mowed later that day. She showed up (and let us show up) anyway.

Grandma Phyllis gets her hair done on Fridays and was in a state about how terrible it’d look come Wednesday (the day of the shoot). She showed up anyway.

If you wait for everything to be “picture perfect”, what you’re trying to achieve might never happen. This doesn’t just apply to family photos. It applies to any creative project known to man, to work projects, to parenting, to ANYTHING. You might not feel your best, feel fully prepared, or the most capable. Show up anyway, because a less-than-perfect result is better than no result at all.

Thanks to this collaboration, I got to see something in these images I’d never noticed in person: My grandmothers’ loving glances.

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Through the imperfect come moments of perfection.

Thank goodness we all showed up anyway.


To see more of Rachel’s work, visit her website, Rachel Holden Photography.

Human Highlights: Honking, Curtain Closure, & Authenticity

Human Highlights is a friendly reminder to forgive your human moments, to celebrate the highlights, and to enjoy life’s little lovelies in the interim.

Human Moment: I left Kroger yesterday evening with groceries piled on the floor and high in the passenger seat – the back-end was clear full of donation items that have been there for like…a month…at least. No, that’s not the human moment.

Anyway, I was feeling grand, glowing from a Facebook post that I wrote a few hours prior. It spoke of the hope of the season, and I loved it. Plus, I had a car full of food for some good Christmas weekend eating.

While driving home and considering the hope of the season, I slowed down a little earlier than usual to turn onto my street – there’s a slight downward slope prior to turning and I didn’t want my groceries to slide off the seat. Heaven forbid the eggs break.

It was a long, slow, gentle brake, and as I turned onto my street, the car behind me blasted their horn at me. One of those long, angry honks. Apparently, I was going much too slow for their liking. Naturally, I laid on my horn right back at them and grumbled, “Jackass” as I completed the turn.

The eggs didn’t crack but my hope for the season did.

Merry Honking Christmas.

Highlight: Last week, my human moment was not speaking up for myself regarding an ongoing, drawn-out, curtain install at my house. This week, I expressed my concerns to the curtain guy. In doing so, I learned that it is very possible to speak up without creating conflict.

I tried multiple times writing a more in-depth post about the experience, but never could quite adequately convey it. The short version is that I was very honest with the curtain guy without being defensive or accusatory. I spoke to him as though he was my teammate, not my opponent. That’s the best I can come up with – that I didn’t go into the conversation looking for a fight; I went into it looking for a solution, and that’s what I got.

The curtain project is complete, and I am 100% thrilled with the result. When I look at the curtains, I no longer get frustrated feeling like I wasted a whole lot of money on something I didn’t like. Instead, I see them and know that I spoke up to ensure that I loved the final result, and I did so while remaining on good terms with curtain guy.

If I had to go back and redo it? I’d do everything the exact same – from picking out the materials to self-growth.

The new curtains, technically blinds, are installed behind drapery rods/drapes that have been up for several years. When the blinds are open, you can’t see them and wouldn’t know they’re there. But they are there, in all of their blackout glory. (I’ve been sleeping even more soundly since their installation.)





Life’s Little Lovelies: Annual Christmas Party with a gal who is consistently herself no matter who she’s around (a quality that I greatly admire) and my big brother (one of my most favorite people).


Authenticity at its finest.

What are your Human Highlights from this past week?