Thursday, January 29, 2015

God Wink

I had the honor of speaking at First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, VA on Tuesday night. The topic was "Embracing the Mystery of God during Hard Times." I don't always speak about God at events. I also share my thoughts on writing, issues women face, and of course, grief. Usually it's a little bit of everything. I was a tad nervous about sharing so openly about faith because I figured there were a lot of grieving people there, and I don't ever want to come across as trying to push my beliefs on someone else, especially someone who is hurting. So, I just decided to do what seems to work best-- be myself-- and hope for the best.

I appreciated the warm hospitality, the thoughtful questions, and the stories that people shared with me during the book signing portion of the evening. As I had guessed, there were many people in that room, are there are in this blog space, who are dealing with great challenges with tenacity and grace.

Yesterday, I was home on my computer watching the video from the night before to make sure I hadn't said anything too annoying or off-putting. Tell me I'm not the only one who goes home from a party, event, or casual interaction and second guesses every darn word!

At 21 minutes into the video, I said this regarding Jack's death: "I wasn't sure whether I could survive the loss of Jack." I hoped those words conveyed just how ludicrous and impossible and painful it seemed to me at the beginning that I'd have to go on living without him.

The moment I said it, my computer, which had sat dormant for too long as I watched, switched to screen saver mode. During this mode, random images scroll across my screen. They could be family pictures, clip art, quotes I like, or pictures of boy bands Margaret has downloaded.

This is what came up when I said "I wasn't sure I could survive the loss of Jack"

Way Cool.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Tuesday that Feels Like a Monday

In the spirit of easing into the week, I'm having a catch-up pajama day over here. I just wrote an article to send to one of my all-time favorite magazines, and I hope they'll want to print it. Fingers crossed.

I've also been thinking about beauty products.

Back when I was spending my parents' money, I had expensive tastes in hair care and makeup. Clinique, Estee Lauder, and of course super-sized cans of Paul Mitchell hair spray cluttered my countertop. No "bonus gift" or "gift with purchase" passed me by, even if the colors were all wrong for me. But back in the 80's, sometimes the colors were so wrong they were right, you know?

It was as I got older (poorer, cheaper, thriftier) that I made the move to CoverGirl, Maybelline, and the occasional Wet'n'Wild product.

Well, at thirteen, thanks to Youtube videos and Pinterest, Margaret makes my previous champagne tastes seem more like Milwaukee's Best. She is familiar with every high-end product at Sephora and is skilled at using them. The good news is, she is introducing me to a few new products and helping me figure out how to keep my sparse yet unruly brows "on point" as they say these days. She also managed to help me look like I'd had a full night's sleep by dotting white eye shadow on the inner corner of my eyes. Who knew?

The bad news is, I am not comfortable supporting a $50 a pop toiletry habit, even though the desire for "bonus gifts" was passed down from my genes to hers.

Her desire for more products/more money led to a little mother-daughter furniture painting adventure, taking this sad little nightstand with its cheap plastic knob:

 To this shabby chic charmer.

Selling it on our local yard sale site means Margaret pockets $25.

Which I think translates to about 1/2 a high-end mascara and hopefully more mother-daughter enterprises like this one!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Soooo Close but No Cigar: Stitch Fix Box #1

So I finally decided to try Stitch Fix on New Years Eve, after reading about it for years online and seeing the adorable clothes my friends (Jenn Marshall, I'm looking at you) have gotten there.

Stitch Fix is a personal shopping service, where you answer questions about your clothing preferences and a stylist will send you a box of clothes to choose from. You pay a $20 styling fee, which is refunded if you buy any of the items they send you. You also get another discount if you happen to buy ALL the items at once. Prices vary, but they seem high to me because, as you know, I like to buy my clothes two ways: USED and CHEAP.

The box came a few days ago and Margaret and I had fun opening it together.

The good news is they absolutely PEGGED my style, likes and dislikes. You will see this in the accompanying crappy photos taken by my very reluctant and put-upon photographer. 

Every item felt well made and inviting and looked like something I would wear.

The bad news: the fits weren't perfect. I have recently put on 10 lbs, and even though I was honest about my current weight to Stitch Fix, items that would have looked great at my normal weight, just didn't do it for me right now. I could have been being extra picky, but since I'm not used to paying full price for clothes, I wanted to be IN LOVE in order to keep something.

Okay, want to take a look?

Here we go: Item #1 was a very soft gray scoop next tee shirt. It felt great and went with my personal style; I've never met a stripe I didn't like. The downside: it was a tad short.

Item #2: An asymmetrical French terry zip cardigan. Margaret hated this look when it was zipped, but we both loved it unzipped. It is super soft and has good long coverage in the back and a funky zipper detail. Sorry about the closed eyes. My request for a re-take was denied. This is the item I think I will keep!
 Item #3: Navy blue denim stretch jeans. I loved the look of these, but there was quite a size difference between my actual thighs and the thigh space in these jeans. I will spare you a photo, but I did try them on. You would think Margaret had never seen someone wriggle on the floor to pull on jeans before. Sheesh.

Black/white sheer arrow polyester blouse. I loved this! Hard as it is to believe that polyester blouses are back, I am really enjoying them. This one looks a tad short in this photo, but I think that's because my photographer was sitting down. In reality, it was a good length, but was a tad snug in the arms, making hugging difficult. I like to be ready for hugs at all times.
 Item # 5: Hunter green knit dress. This dress has a cool exposed zipper in the back. It is also right up my alley because it is nearly identical to the navy blue dress I've worn to at least 4 of my book events.  The stylist clearly understood my preference for smaller on top, larger on the bottom dresses.

Margaret liked this dress, and I wanted to like it, but I hated the color. It appears navy or black in these pictures, but it is really hunter green and super blah. Emerald green, royal blue, or pretty much any other color would have tempted me, but not this one. Also, my chest was busting out of this dress in an unflattering way. Front view: cute! Side view: bulge-y and constricted as if testing the limits of the stretch fabric.

Bottom Line:

Stitch Fix was easy and a lot of fun. I plan on trying it again.

I think the service is well suited to a variety of women who either don't have time to shop or who would like to break out of their comfort zones a little bit. Each clothing item came with photos of sample outfits and how to integrate pieces into your wardrobe, which would be great for women who don't have a lot of confidence in putting outfits together. Very cool!

No home run today, but as I give feedback to the stylist, chances are future orders will be even better!  My sister is trying Stitch Fix next. Like many of us, she has kind of a "uniform" that she wears to work each day, and I'm dying to see if she sticks with that, or if she breaks out of the mold a bit.

P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if you are interested in trying Stitch Fix and use my referral code, I'll get a discount on my next order.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year

Hello Bedford Falls! Hello you old Savings and Loan!

Ok, so I haven't been as far afield as George Bailey, but it sure SEEMS like longer than just a week since I've been here with you. During that time Tim and I celebrated our 18th anniversary at a B & B, and I got Margaret to join me in a little furniture painting project, hoping that some cold hard cash (if it sells) will inspire more mother-daughter projects.

I hope your holidays were good, and if they weren't, I hope you are proud of yourself for just making it through. That is no small thing.

Now that we are easing into 2015, I hope to do a little more writing and speaking, and a lot less snacking.

My BIG NEWS for this winter is that my fleece-lined leggings and I will be going on a World Vision trip to Armenia! When I was invited, it only took me about 5 seconds to say YES! I am looking forward to seeing first-hand the work World Vision does to improve children's lives. I also have A LOT of learning to do about Armenia, its history, and its culture. I can't wait to share my experiences with you here.

I thought for starters you might like to read this World Vision blog post about Armenia and our upcoming trip.

P.S. If you are in the Richmond, VA area, I'd love for you to join me at First Presbyterian Church on January 27. Here's the info.

Monday, December 29, 2014

6 Little Words

Years ago, I was helping out at Jack's Christmas party at school. I think it may have been 5th grade. One of the activities was to have the kids write something they could give Jesus for Christmas. I can't remember what they did after that-- perhaps we hung it in a tiny stocking on Christmas Eve. I do remember watching Jack as he sat, pencil in hand, and wondering what he would write. Would he take the assignment seriously, or would he make up something silly? The other kids were writing, and writing, and writing. Were the promising they would be more obedient in the coming year, be better siblings, or give their allowances to the needy? I never knew. But I did see Jack write something on his piece of paper and fold it up into a teeny tiny bundle. At some point later I had a chance to snoop look at it. This is what it said:

I want to love you more
6 little words.

I realized in that moment that my heart and my son's hearts were the same. There were many things I could do and could promise to "give" to God in the coming year, but my true desire was to love Him more. And I believed that loving Him more would help me love others better.

But even then, I knew I couldn't WILL myself into more love. I couldn't generate love either, although LOVING ACTIONS can often lead to feelings of love. I knew then, and I know even more now, that as long as I am living in this world with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, I will need more love than I have. Slights linger. Hurts dull but resist healing. Expectations seem unmet. I don't love God as much as I wish I did (and He's, um, GOD), so how on earth can I love wretched humans like me? Especially me?

Last night Margaret and I finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie tells of touring the world speaking of love and hope amidst horrible circumstances, something she learned first-hand while imprisoned in a concentration camp after helping Dutch Jews evade capture during WWII. At one of her speeches after the war, a former SS guard that Corrie recognized stretched out his hand to her. He was full of contrition as he thanked her for her message of God's forgiveness. Corrie couldn't shake it. All of the memories of the camp filled her mind and her heart. She couldn't lift her hand from her side. Despite God's faithfulness and provision, despite all she knew and preached about forgiveness, Corrie could not take his hand. It was simply too much to ask her to do. She prayed, but nothing happened.

"I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. 'Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give your forgiveness.'"

"Into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that is its not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."

This made me think again of Jack's "gift" those years ago. 6 little words. It was nothing, really, that Jack could give on his own. Jack needed the receiver of the gift to do the providing, to be the giver of LOVE.

So perhaps the only gift I can give this year is really a humble, silent prayer. For more love to love God with, and for His love to give me what I so desperately need in order to love others.

More Love.

Love More.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Finished Night Stands with Crappy Photos

Here's an update on my latest rehab project:
This week I took a little time to transform these dated nightstands, which if you remember, cost me $15/pr:
To these:
The tops were warped, chipped, and stained. I cleaned them thoroughly, then used 2 coats of CeCe Caldwell's Natural Chalk and Clay Paint in Seattle Mist that I purchased in Falls Church at Stifel and Capra After that, I coated everything with a water-based top coat for protection. I distressed them ever so slightly around the sides and edges so that it wouldn't seem traumatic when life happens to them (and it will).
I know most of us wanted to switch the handles out for something contemporary for my friend's more modern tastes. However, the 2 inch spread of the holes made it really, really hard to find replacement knobs, so I decided to stick with what we had. Hopefully the glossy white paint will work with my Arnebya's d├ęcor. If not, I'll sell them on Craigslist and keep looking.
The drawers were grimy inside so I cleaned them and lines them with gray and white scrapbook paper, secured by spray adhesive: 

I'll let you know if she likes them.
Tim's mom and Margaret are in the kitchen making gingerbread cookies, Tim and I will go out to a concert in a few hours, and Shadow is here at my feet. From my house to yours, I'd like to wish you love and peace this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not So Busy

I know this may sound weird, but despite all the talk about hustle and bustle this time of year, it's possible to not be that busy at all.

And if you are already a bit out on the margins, a lack of busy-ness can make you feel even less relevant or plugged into a world where tight schedules are laid out in the smallest of increments, and busy-ness is a badge of honor.

I'm not all that busy for a variety of reasons.

Margaret is at an age where there are no more room mothers, class parties, or nativity pageants. She doesn't play an instrument, so we can cross "recital" off of the list. There are no visits to Santa, and thank God, she can go to the mall with her friends now and not with me.

I decided against a family Christmas card this year, so there's no licking and sticking. And if our kitchen smells anything like gingerbread, it's because of the talent and generosity of friends, not any grand effort on my part. I'm much more of an eater than a baker.

Shopping took place right here at my computer with just a few clicks. Instead of circling stuff in the ToysRus or Target catalog like the kids did when they were small, Margaret just emailed me applicable links. It's good for me to shop from home, because when I head out on my own, I'm more likely to sneak off to the thrift store and come home with another car load of chairs.

There has been a bit of volunteer work, and some writing for other outlets (including a second article for Woman's Day!) but not I didn't schedule any speaking engagements for December, so my work load has been light.

Many good things can come out of time spent DOING:  connecting with others, making memories, volunteering, and celebrating the season.

But in this culture (and often cult) of busy-ness, it's good to remember that there may be people who aren't as busy as we might think.

They may be grieving, or lonely, or perhaps just entering a different phase of life with a little more breathing room than they are used to. They may not be feeling very joyful at all.

I sent an email out to my fabulous grief group last week, wondering if we could meet up for dinner. I wondered if it was ridiculous to hope to get together before the new year. We hadn't all five been together in at least 6 months. One by one the emails came back, "I'm in!" and we gathered last night at a local restaurant for a wonderful time together. I'm glad I threw it out there and didn't just assume that each woman would be too busy.

As I write this, things will start to get busier for me. Family is coming into town in just a few days, and we have several parties, plays, and concerts to look forward to.

I don't regret the quiet month I've had at all, and in a way it will help me gear up for what is ahead.

But I'm especially glad that this quiet month has led me to think about others who despite all of the talk about the frantic pace of December may be feeling like their days are far too quiet.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this awareness, but I'm grateful to have it.

P.S. Head to Facebook and see the nightstands I  finally found for my friend Arnebya.

I hope you'll check out these recent articles I wrote:
Woman's Day Dec 2014 Print Edition on how to help a grieving friend.
Washington Family Magazine, on some of my favorite books!