Picking up Pieces JillAlexa.com- I began interviewing Artists of all kinds, Quilters, Art Quilters, Painters, Gallery Owners, etc. and writing blogs about them and their work. This has been so enlightening. It has also improved my confidence.


Have you ever thought how much time we spend PICKING UP PIECES, not only the Ladies reading this post but also the Gents? At this point can’t leave the boys and girls out either. This can be all sorts of pieces, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

It was a sorry day for my two older sisters and me when upon returning home from work when on an evening, tired from a busy day, my poor Mother, hearing squeals of joy and laughter emanating from our bedroom, came in to find three red-faced, excited little girls enjoying a very vigorous pillow fight.

Picking up Pieces JillAlexa.com

That wasn’t the worst of it, a couple of the pillows had split open and there was kapok everywhere. The whole room was covered in it, in fact, it looked as though we had experienced a very severe snow storm.

We lived in Bulawayo, in what was then known as Southern Rhodesia, so there was no possibility of snow at any time of the year. Our Man Servant, Kola had been busy cooking a meal and hadn’t been paying us much attention which gave us free rein to keep ourselves busy, which we happily did.

If you don’t know what kapok is, it is the fiber on the outside of the seed pods of one of the tallest trees grown in rainforests in Java. It is finer than cotton wool and very light and fluffy. It was often used to stuff pillows and is still in use today in some life jackets. This is no longer used in pillows however as it has been found to be highly flammable.

My father’s temper proved to be just as highly flammable when he came home. We were made to pick up every little of kapok, stuff it back into the pillows and poor Pat, the eldest, only 6-years-old at the time, had to stitch up the pillows. There was no eating supper until it was all done.

My “picking up” days had begun.


Have you heard the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”?

As I interview artists and write about all things related to Art, I get a lot of (Art) featured on Facebook for me to peruse. I came across a beautiful portrait of a smiling woman which was a collage made up of tiny pieces of colored paper taken out of magazines. To some, this would just be trash but this Artist turned it into something priceless.

It was so well done but what struck me as terribly sad was the caption below the image. It was along the lines of “don’t be fooled by the smile and be careful who you smile at, as you don’t know what is behind the face.” These are not the exact words but as I communicated with the Artist, I could understand why she had written what she had.

The shame of society today is that we have so much hurt and horror that we can’t trust people who smile at us.

This piece of Art Work made me think of the true meaning of “Trash”. It isn’t the papers, plastic and general rubbish littering our streets, beaches and the sea, it is the people who litter or hurt or cause harm to others which destroys their very inner being. The inability of those hurt beings to trust others. How sad.


Over the many years of our marriage, Matt and I have had many a laugh at some of the things we have stopped to pick up along the side of the road. Interesting pieces of wood, rocks for the rockery, pond and river we created in our garden. There was even an occasion that we passed a bale of hay which must have fallen off a truck at some stage and I had Matt turn back and into the trunk of the car it went. This was also for my beloved garden.

Friends of ours who often went on outings on the wine route, picnicking up the mountain or in the country, or away on holiday with us, knew that some of the time would be spent finding just the right stones for the river bed or pond. It was quite a joke and they would bring along plastic bags to fill up. It was a good thing to keep the friends well-fed and happy, it was essential to keep up their energy levels.


Isn’t this a truly beautiful piece of driftwood? I am so sorry it couldn’t fit into the trunk of our vehicle. We would have needed a Ten-ton truck and a hoist. Oh well! You win some and you lose some.


The love affair my husband had been with wood. (Thank goodness). Soon after we moved to Grahamstown for him to study for the Ministry and we needed some furniture. We looked around and not finding what we required, in our meager price range, Matt decided now was the time to make whatever we needed. Out came his Dad’s old toolkit and off he went to get some wood. That was the beginning of his great love affair.

picking up pieces

One of the first things Matthew made was a large Pine kist, in which we stored our linen. This stood in the lounge, just below the window over-looking the street and I can picture my older son, as a very small boy, sitting on it watch the passing parade. It was a great place to sit as the market was across the road so there was a lot of activity.

Warwick loved singing along to songs on his favorite records. They would keep him entertained for ages. One of them was Children’s Favorites. Here’s the song I remember from this album that came out in 1966.

All over the country, in many of our friend’s homes, will be found some item made by Matthew. He made cupboards, built in cupboards, beds, tables, turned bowls, made our Blackwood headboard and my sewing box made with Oregon Pine. Both featured in this post. A Yellowwood jewelry box for me which is on my bedside table.

He spent one extremely hot January in the Boland building cupboards into the bedroom of the farmhouse, for his sister. He made a number of very beautiful Olienhout (Wild Olive Wood) Clocks and barometers. The Olienhout (Wild Olive Wood) was from trees which had been taken down by a farmer very close to where Hazel and Albert lived. The farmer had removed them as he required the ground in which they grew, to plant a vineyard.

Matt also made desks for the children as they grew older and had more homework, were made lovingly by their father. These have been handed down to the grandchildren.


The Fruits of the Field JillAlexa.comPart of the fun of making all these items was sourcing the wood. A great friend of ours and also a very keen and extremely good woodworker, a real craftsman, in fact, was told of a Yellow Tree which had fallen many years before partly into a river on a farm outside of Patensie.

What an adventure that was, find the farm, the tree and then cutting pieces which could fit into the trailer. Colin and Matt had great pleasure sorting it and then over the years working with it.

The Yellow Wood Urn was made with that wood and so was the delicate bowl standing with it on my sewing box. The bowl was made by a mutual friend of Matt and Colin’s, Peter and given to Matt as a gift for bringing wood down for him from Port Elizabeth.

Matthew and I were given permission by a farmer outside of Herman to take as much of the felled Olien Hout wood but we must cut it up ourselves. At that time we did not own a chainsaw but we had a jagged tooth saw and Matt cut wood for a number of days. We were warned to watch out for snakes as they like to lie just under the bark. Fortunately, they must have heard us coming and we didn’t see any, which was a blessing.

PICKING UP PIECES | picking up pieces 5 e1531226383412The Olienhout (Wild Olive Wood) table made out of a log was one I made. I found the piece among the debris which was once my husband’s very untidy but loved workshop. There was a much larger piece but I could barely lift this one, the wood is very heavy. I so enjoyed the challenge and love my little side table.

When I look around my small flat or visit the children, it brings me so much joy to see all the pieces of furniture Matt made.

A great ambition in Matt’s life was to design and make a Grandfather Clock. Am very pleased to say that he achieved this goal. What a blessing that he made this when he did. A short time after finishing it he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease. This has robbed us of life as we knew it.


The Grandfather clock Matthew made


As this passion of Matt’s grew so did the need for more sophisticated tools and when I moved into the Retirement Flat, with Matt in hospital at the time, it was up to the boys and me to get the garage sorted out. The house had been sold and now for the big clean up. An end of an era.


As you can see by looking at just a bit the wonderful work Matthew did with his passion and love of wood. He was completely self-taught.

It all began due to a need we had to furnish our house and it grew from there.


Although cleaning up the workshop and Matt’s office by my sons, daughter and I, was an enormous task, it was well worth the effort.

Fortunately, my sons and my sons-in-law are all handy with tools and were able to keep a lot of the large machinery and tools that Matt had so lovingly used over the years. This meant a lot to them as they had memories of their father using them.

What they did not need were given to various charities and the Church Matt had served for nearly 30 years.

Our biggest gain, however, was the realization of what a treasure Matt has been to our family and to others, not only with his woodwork but as a father, a Minister of the Church and Pastor to so many in need.

Another gift Matt had was writing Poetry and Hymns which have been published. The Hymns he wrote are still being sung in various Presbyterian Churches.

Picking up Pieces JillAlexa.com


As the Lewy Body Disease takes more and more control of Matt’s brain and body, and the neurons in his brain spark off each other and die, all his natural functions are lost in the dust and debris left behind.

It is so hard when we visit him and watch he searches in the debris, to recognize us or try to speak. Looking for a piece of information which will help him to convey what he needs or wants to say.

We try to ” pick up the pieces”, of words he attempts to make head or tail of what he is trying to convey. This can be so frustrating but also extremely funny if it weren’t so tragic. We have to laugh to stop the tears.


It came as a big shock to me when Matt was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease. When the children and I were asked by the specialist to go with Matt for the diagnosis, I asked if Matt had a brain tumor.” No”, he said, “What he has is far worse.  There is no cure”.

This wake-up call made me realize that I had to be strong, I can’t fall to pieces, or not very often anyway. So with Lauren’s help, we came up with a plan. This is what it is.

  1. Learn to use my laptop, kindly given to me by Greg and Kelly.
  2. With Warwick’s help, get on top of the Finances. Now, this is a biggie, as up until the time of Matt’s diagnoses he had done all our bookkeeping.  I want to encourage each one of you, in a relationship, to discuss this very important topic one with the other. It can make or break you. I did not have a clue about creating spreadsheets or paying accounts but with the coaching of my children can now do most of it. Please don’t leave this important step out of your life’s planning.  It is so hard to “pick up the pieces” of bad decisions.
  3. Lauren asked me to become her VA. Well, this was another learning curve. First had to learn what VA meant, I thought it was Very Ancient. 🙂 Becoming my daughter’s Virtual Assistant was such a great decision.
  4. Because the only way I could do Step 3 was to get to grips with the online world and this I did by joining Wealthy Affiliate* and doing the courses. Am not finished with my training but I am getting there.
  5. I began interviewing Artists of all kinds, Quilters, Art Quilters, Painters, Gallery Owners, etc. and writing blogs about them and their work. This has been so enlightening. It has also improved my confidence.
  6. Have begun using Matthew’s lovely camera and taking pictures which I use in my blogs. Learning to download the camera and photos from the phone was quite a thing for me but think I have now mastered that, thanks to Lauren’s kind perseverance and encouragement.

My thanks go to all my dear family and friends who have and are still, helping me to pick up the pieces. I would encourage all who are experiencing a change in their lives to look at ways in which they can help themselves to get through it.

*Affiliate Disclaimer: I get commissions for purchases made through the link in this post.

Jill Alexa

Jill of all Trades. Master of Many. Too busy to die.


  1. This was a really great and touching post. I can’t even imagine everything you are going thru and how strong you appear. The “pieces” Matt made are beautiful and certainly something you will have forever. Loved this post!

    • Thank you so much Leahrae, I really wanted to show case some of Matt’s lovely pieces he has made over the 53 years we have been married. (53 on 24th of this month). It all began out of necessity but blossomed into his passion. Life is not easy at present but we all have things to deal with and this is ours. Thanks again. Love, Jill

  2. The most interesting post I’ve ever read. Your life is like a tale and the new chapter has began. With all the ups and downs you are truly a strong person and I believe you will become even stronger as self-confidence will grow and new beautiful things will light up the path. I wish you all the best.

  3. Hi Mom, I’m so grateful to you and Dad for all the beautiful artworks you have made for our family over the years. It’s given me such a love for functional Art.

    You were both always so handy and creative, fixing things, making things, Needlework, Carpentry, Art, Crafts, Gardening… I don’t know how to do any of these things that you and Dad mastered. Thank You for your incredible example.

    It’s an honour to play a small part in your new artistic pursuit by helping you learn the basics of blogging. Yet again, I see you mastering skills almost as soon as you learn them. You are amazing.

  4. Hi Jill, what a heartfelt post, so touching. You are an amazing woman, and I can only imagine the strength needed to support Matt and keep it together as you continue your journey through life. I am so glad you have been able to pick up the pieces, and empower yourself to get a handle on thing within life that you previously had no such involvement in, particularly the finances. You should be very proud of yourself, you are a strong amazing woman, wife, mother and now grandmother and the wold is a lucky place because you are in it. I wish you all the best as your journey continues.

    • Wow! Nicole what lovely things you have said. I don’t feel that amazing at times, but this has helped. Thank you for your lovely words.

    • Hi Nicole, Thank you so much for reading and the lovely comments you made about my post. I am so fortunate to have a very loving and supportive family.

  5. Hello Jill, My two daughters tried to fit into the bottom drawer of a 6 foot high dresser. It did not work out very well. For them or the dresser.
    Your Matt is a Master Craftsman. I dream about doing the kind of work that he has done. The two of you have made heirlooms that will be treasured for many years to come. My family’s prayers are with you and Matt.
    Thank you for the advice on picking up the pieces and for planning for the future.
    God’s blessings…

    • HI Sanders, I can remember climbing up onto the top of a very large wardrobe, also pulling out the bottom drawer and the whole thing fell down, nearly crushing me. Got a good spanking (it was legal then). Thank you for your kind comments. God bless you too.

  6. Oh! My friends and I do this once in a while. We get every broken thing we have ( jewellery, decorations etc.) and we get together and make beautiful things! It’s really funny!
    And actually, I started picking up the pieces of my life about a month and a half ago. There’s a long way to go but still, the beginning has been done!

  7. That is creativity at its best! These pieces are amazing and I feel so bad for the pillows. They’re the real victims here lol. This was a very unique read. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Aria, Thank you so much for reading my post and the kind comments. I loved writing it, so many memories came back to me of my childhood.

  8. Hi Jill
    I loved to read your new article, it’s full of love and art, as I was reading it, it was like I was taking a look into your house and life, full of pieces of art and love.

    • Hi Alejandra, Thank you so much. It is full of love and Art. It meant a lot for me to share something of my husband as he was so that people will only look and see the man he is today.

  9. Jill thank you for your post and story of Matt. When a big change happens it’s amazing where the strength comes from. I just pray that our children learn compassion through what we go through and come to rely on God’s help and be there for each other. May God keep you strong and bless you.

    • Thank you, Bev. I really appreciate you commenting on my blog. As you know, it is not easy to pick up and begin over again. I trust that our children will learn and also trust God.
      Bless you, for your kind comments.

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