Monday, December 16, 2013

Gifts in Grief

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas is days away and eager reporters remind us that the shopping and shipping days are dwindling.  Their incessant countdowns compound the frenzy as commercials insist that this store or that one have what you need for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list, the gifts they want and the things you need to buy.  I can't fault them for playing to our desire to delight and impress the people we love, but this year I'm just not listening, and it's no statement against "commercializing" Christmas.  

This Advent, Christmas, or "Holiday" season, whichever is familiar or comfortable for you, snuck up on me.  It wasn't the lateness of Thanksgiving or even the unseasonably warm weather we experienced well into the month that attributed to the season's stealth.  Instead I've been somewhat numb to the season in anticipation of its bittersweetness this year.  My mother passed away in October after two years battling breast-cancer.  It was faster than expected, though her death was neither expected nor unexpected.  And so my family and I find ourselves facing two big firsts this Christmas, an emptiness at our table as well as a new place.  It will be our first Christmas without Mom, and our first Christmas with my sister's wonderful baby boy.

Grief, I have found, inspires re-evaluation and introspection.  "Why," is a question I am learning to avoid- because it is most often accusatory, as if one suspects malicious intent.  "Why" also seems to suggest there was some other more desirable alternative.  The whys lead me down rabbit holes of anger, bitterness, and defensiveness.  I have found much more beauty in questions of "what," which is to consider substance instead of motive.  "What," free of its often counter-productive partner "if," also invites me to take action.  "What" keeps me moving, and sometimes even appreciative.

Though I wonder what Christmas will be like this year, I still find my mother present with me- and I hope.  My family and I have forge on through the grief and through the holidays trying to keep as much normalcy as we can.  We will still exchange gifts, and though there may be nothing wrapped under the tree from her this year, I am realizing that Mom stock-piled me with gifts for a lifetime, and her impact, her legacy carries through the gifts we'll give this year.  

While I made most of our gifts this year, what we bought this Christmas, we bought with love and thoughtfulness that mirrors the generosity and warmth she poured into our lives.  In the wake of her passing I am reminded of the gifts she endowed me.  The things I made or will make would be impossible without her, for she, above all others, instilled in me the power to dream and courage to create.  

My mother was exceptionally well-rounded in domestic arts- sometimes out of necessity, but always out of love.  She was a wiz in the kitchen, adept in the garden, and though she wasn't perfect- she was amazing.  We absorbed so much from simply being in her presence because she showed us that there was so much that could be accomplished if we only tried.  She built us up when we failed, encouraged us when we were timid, and celebrated our successes.

She sewed curtains, dresses, costumes, pillows, flags- even vestments when our church was struggling.  The fabric stores to which she dragged my sister and me- all across North Carolina and beyond- became classrooms for teaching us about possibility and potential.  She taught us to look at structure and value over cost.  

"Does it have good bones," she would ask.  Mom reupholstered, re-painted,  and re-did anything that did have "good bones."  She gifted us with the ability to see beyond what is and see what could be.  She even seemed to apply this ability with people, discerning their value despite any veneer.

Though she is no longer here to hug and hold, her presence is still felt. Each time I complete a homemade present, especially those that challenge my novice sewing skills- I hear the echo of her praise.  Funny how so many of the gifts my husband and I chose this year are earnestly made to wrap our family in warmth. 

I am blessed to have a mother such as her, one worth mourning; one who filled my world with love, and warmth, and potential.  

So as the shopping and shipping days dwindle, I encourage you to remember this: gifts of the tangible, wrapped-up kind are nice, but love is the greatest, most enduring and indelible gift which wraps instead of being wrapped, is present but cannot be presented.
We love because He first loved us. {1John 4:19}

Friday, September 6, 2013

Faithful Friday: Celebrate It All

Recently during one of my {many} restless moments, I found myself sifting through a box of images  and words cut from various magazines.  As I dug for inspiration I stumbled across some very challenging words:
Celebrate it all

In that moment I felt the full force of conviction in these words.  Here before me, three little words of challenge that dared to cut through my self-pity and ambivalence with a dramatic emphasis on "all."  The message wasn't simply to celebrate choice events.  No.  It challenged me to celebrate everything, the summation of God's work in my life, the triumphs and the tears- and it made me think:

What would it look like to celebrate it all?

My first thought was of celebration as a rejoicing and from that- thanksgiving.  How beautiful a life wherein one constantly finds things for which to give thanks, to foster an attitude of gratitude!  Not just praising the desirable, but the unforeseen and troubling.  This reminded me of Job, how in his testing as each of his blessings were taken away he praised God for what he still had until all that he had was God.  This righteous man once rich in blessings of wealth and relations is stripped of everything and lastly his health, finally overwrought by his unprovoked losses he becomes despondent.  In the depths of Job's despair we come to passage 38:1 "Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm."  God speaks and His presence is known and we learn of the greatness and might of God and His limitlessness.  We learn how God made the earth and set its limits, swaddled the newborn ocean in a blanket of clouds and ordered the dawning of the day.  The poetry of it all leaves me breathless as I remember the greatness of the Lord and my small place within His creation.

Thanksgiving in everything would be good work on its own.  Rejoicing in all things would be a fine interpretation of this challenge.  A woman who gives thanks in good and difficult times is a woman I would like to be, but let's look deeper to other meanings of celebrate.  

Webster's first definition of celebrate is: to perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites.  This too is appropriate.  Sacraments are all encompassing of life- from baptism to death, and they recognize the bittersweet mysteries of life and death.  In baptism there is sweetness of new life, often literally as a newborn, but also spiritually as a newly born Christian, and in the latter there is the bitterness of dying to oneself and departing from the former comforts of one's sinful ways.  Then again at one's death there is the obvious bitterness of leaving family and friends and even coveted possessions or unchecked bucket-list items behind.  Yet as Christians we can embrace the sweetness of knowing this earthly life in a broken world was just temporary and our true business begins in our reunion with the Lord.  This then begs the question:

How do we celebrate it all with sacramental spirit?

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure, but I think the big clues are "publicly" and "with appropriate rites."  

Publicly doesn't mean depressing or provokingly vague facebook/social media announcements that draw pity and unproductive attention, but rather may simply mean telling friends and loved ones.  Truthfully, I struggle with this when it comes to bad news because I get self-conscious about "dumping" my unsorted mess in front of unsuspecting friends.  But here's the thing I need to remember, relationships are a gift to bless us in good times and protect us in bad.  In my fear of my emotional mess exploding in my relationships, I risk implosion by unexpressed mess.  

We are made relational creatures, so "publicly" sharing our triumphs and trials make sense so that we can get support when we need it and rouse a chorus of praise for times of jubilation.  I believe this is where "with appropriate rites" factors into the celebration- use good judgement.  We may ask ourselves: Am I celebrating or gloating?  Am I using my good news to build up or tear down by making others feel lesser or jealous?  Likewise am I wallowing or celebrating?  Am I wanting company or help in my misery?  Ultimately asking, are my actions {rites} appropriate to the situation?

It's a heavy lesson, a big challenge to set one's heart right without denying pain, repressing it until it festers into anger and resentment.  I'm still learning and the best part is- I'm neither the first nor the only one to face this {or any} lesson.  What's more there are millennia of theologians and texts to help, not to mention living guides.  And perhaps the best cure for my navel gazing, self-pity, or conceit is to remember how small I am in the greatness of God's creation, yet how loved, by revisiting the stories of people who came to the end of themselves and found God.

So I challenge you to read Job 38-39.  Read the various translations and maybe you'll share Job's reaction in chapter 40:3-5.  See that God is strong enough to handle your questions and your anger; rejoice with the angels at how lovingly He created the world, and find peace.

I'd love to know what other stories put you in awe of the Lord?  Which ones have made the largest impact on your life- the stories you turn to time and time again?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Weekend: Creative Frenzy

Well folks, Labor Day weekend came and went and boy did it ever spark some creativity.

First, we kicked off the weekend with my birthday party- a 1940's theme.

I was incredibly blessed to have so many of my friends come dressed to the nines in vintage {or vintage-styled} threads and do's.  Our tiny house, built in the 40's, was bursting at the seams with 40's dames and gents. 

We went to Tallahassee's speakeasy to continue the fun.  Definitely try Alchemy- you enter through a "secret" door, then get treated to jazz and classic prohibition concoctions.  Just check that you follow the rules.  My friend snapped this photo of me there, and despite not being able to use flash photography-I'd say it turned out pretty well {and extra vintage}.

Sunday after church we kicked back and watched the final season of Lost. {I never watched it when it was on- so I had a lot to catch up with!}  I worked on finishing some paintings my sister commissioned a few weeks ago for my nephew's nursery. 

She wanted a red crab on a white background, and two others to match the nautical theme.  I hope he loves it!  A little clean up and finishing yet to do, but I'm happy with the turn out.

Monday we met up with some friends of ours for brunch.  We had a lovely meal and chat and then I pulled out my cell and coerced my dear friend, to whom I owe many a high school adventure, to go with me to Havana to check out some thrifty finds.  

Look at those lines!  That detail! That price! Who can resist all that potential for only FIVE DOLLARS?

So the great chair recovery project began.  We went home and changed, and then she picked me up in her car which has substantially more room to haul our treasures.  After a brief introduction to the great town of Havana and all its quaint shops, I called this guy and arranged to meet him on the north side of town, at an old mini storage facility behind a closed liquor store.  

This is why you ALWAYS take a friend thrifting. Not only will they help you see the potential good in a find, they'll also help you judge situations.  Luckily, this guy turned out to be legit and very friendly.  

We ended up taking the lot of chairs and splitting them between the two of us.  They smelled terribly of dust and they were in obvious need of some TLC, but seriously guys- look at those lines!

I disassembled the seat, then wiped the grunge off the frames with a mix of soapy water and vinegar.  After drying I took my sanding block {what a God-send} and lightly sanded the varnish down.  

I was initially hopeful that I could reuse the foam pad of the seat, but as the smell set in and the old vinyl seat flaked away, I suspected new foam was a must.After removing a GAZILLION staples, I was pleased to find that the seat board itself was fine.  More on that process later, but I happened to be in luck that for Labor Day foam was on sale 50% off at Joann's, plus an addition 15% of my entire purchase- yahtzee!

So after a solid few coats of white primer, {sweating like a beast in my front yard} I went off to the store to get the good for reupholstering the seat.  That left sufficient time for the primer to dry on the first chair {I didn't fully tackle the second chair since I ran out of primer on the first}

I had almost a full can of satin finish "pistachio" paint by rustoleum so ta-da! That's what I chose.  Turns out- the husband actually approves the color, and that man cringes at the thought of painted wood furniture.

About the time I finished painting the chair green it started getting cloudy and buggy.  I dragged the pieces in and sat the chair out on my front stoop to finish drying.  It was a good time to begin working on the seat {and finishing some lost}.  I used a serrated knife to cut the foam leaving about a half to a quarter inch around the seat board.  It wasn't the prettiest cutting job, but I figured the fabric tension would hide it.

I ironed some pre-washed canvas I happened to have and cut it to a square about 24x28, leaving enough around the edges that I could pull the fabric taught beyond the original staple holes.

As with stapling canvas to a frame for painting, I rotated the piece as I stapled, starting in the middle on each side and going around until all sides were stapled flat. The fabric pulled so that the foam was slightly rounded on each edge.  I pleated the corners and stapled them last.

I'm no expert at this.  I've never done anything like this so I just intuitively did what I could to make it look nice.  My mom's taken reupholstering classes {cause she's a domestic genius}, but I neglected to consult her.  Hence, another process might work better for you.

Have you noticed the five evenly spaced holes in the bottom of the board?  I did and what an inspiration that was.   Hello tufting?  Yeah, never tried that before, but a little pinteresting gave me the general idea.  I bought a button kit at the craft store and used some navy fabric with orange circles to contrast the plain canvas.  

The button kit was pretty easy; tufting was an adventure. My foam was 2" thick, but my needle was not.  Oh and if you try to tuft with just thread...forget that! 

Pinterest suggested anchoring the tufts with regular buttons.  Once I tried that it got easier.  I tampered with my technique and of course my final tuft was better than any of the others, but it was too much work to fix the others and the difference wasn't too significant.  I'll repeat that process with the next chair.

So here's the long awaited {nearly} final product:
I haven't yet attached the seat because I'm questioning the need for another coat of paint.  There are a few patchy areas I found when I moved the chair to different light.

Unfortunately, there was only enough canvas to make one seat.  I had some spare duck cloth in my sewing basket that is a lovely bold shade of yellow.  It doesn't exactly match the pistachio so I'm considering other chair colors that would look nice with the pistachio and the yellow.  

I bought a medium gray patterned fat quarter for the buttons and I'm thinking dusty cornflower-y blue, mode, or maybe even a light gray or ivory for the frame.

So there's your psuedo-tutorial on my chair project.  Feel free to make suggestions for the other chair.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Faithful Fridays: Age and Wisdom

"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness."
{Proverbs 16:31}

August is always a special month for me.  It's my birthday month, but for most of my life it also meant the start of a new school year.  Perhaps unsurprisingly then, August always brings up for me issues of aging and wisdom.

I can't recall ever being truly afraid of getting older.  On the contrary, getting older has always excited me.  Maybe it's the effect of nearly always being the youngest in my classroom or friend group, the last to reach legal milestones, but each birthday-each new age I was able to proclaim made me proud.  Actually, as I age into adulthood, I find myself somewhat relieved to have another year of experience under my belt.

Up until the past few years, the path for me has been pretty clear- keep plodding through school to get to college, to get to grad school, to get a career.... but with the poor economy and unexpected life events- my plan has dissolved into a world of unending possibilities. Therefore, I find myself often asking, who am I called to be and how do I become her?  I am seeking out the narrow path, trying to discern the desires of my heart and to align it with the heart of Christ, but it's hard.  There's a seemingly endless array of character flaws to overcome and disciplines to learn.  It can be overwhelming and perhaps discouraging to realize I will always fall short of the mark of perfection, but it's also freeing and helps me to remember my dependence on God.

Embracing imperfection, surrendering brokenness and releasing expectation is where an outright mess become a beautiful one, where mistakes become happy accidents- those endearing and inspiring quirks that make a person relatable.  I find myself planted in a rich community wanting to absorb all the wisdom of the ages, wanting desperately for people to speak into my life and tell me just how they got through this phase of life.  

I find myself increasingly aware of the value of the Christian community and the importance of each member of the congregation.  As difficult as it is to address the diverse needs of the congregation- women/men, children/adults, married/single, parents/childless, youth/aged, and on and on, I regret the segregation this seems to have necessitated.  I don't want to ignorantly blaze my own path when there exists such a wealth of resources to guide me.  Though I may presently be childless, I need children in the congregation as a reminder to come to God as a child- unguarded and uninhibited in my requests, without guile, and eager to learn.  Likewise I need to see the succession of the ages, guide posts of mature and maturing Christians.  They are models of Christian marriages, parents, friendships, retirees, not to mention the various vocations.

It's great to have peers to commiserate, to look at one another and say-"no you're not crazy this is tough," but we also need the older generations to turn around and cheer us on and maybe even to pull us along a bit.  Moreover, we need the younger generations to kick us in the pants such that as they catch at our heels we are inspired to leap forward as they simultaneously remind us of precious lessons learned.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Opening an Etsy Shop: As told by GIFs

When people say things like, "You're so talented." My first reaction is like:
And then I'm all:
If they ask me about buying a piece and I have to come up with a cost I'm like:
So I would imagine opening an etsy shop:
But if anyone else suggested it I was all:
Trying to open the shop on my own and was like:
When my husband first mentioned things like "business plan," I was all:

But then he said I could doodle while we discussed the business plan and I was like:
You know me so well!
But after a few discussions my progress was still just:
Cause I can't find a large flatbed scanner to get good pictures of my work, so I get all:
Hitting road blocks was just like:
The day I finally sat down and opened my shop, my husband and I were like:
But then he said I shouldn't buy more art supplies until I sold some art and I was all:
Wiig WTF?
So now when there's a sale on art supplies I actually needed, I'm like:
When it's only friends and family favorite my shop, I'm like:
But when someone I don't know favorites one of my items, I'm like:
When I check my shop stats and I see that even one person has viewed my shop or items,
in my head I'm still like:

But the next day I check and there are no views, I'm like:
One day my husband joined etsy just to favorite my shop, I was like:
I Love You
And I'm blessed to have people in my life to support me like:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Birthday PieCaken

A while back I discovered the piecaken idea and knew that it was destined for my husband, an adventurous spirit and dessert connoisseur.  For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, it's been described as the TurDuckEn of desserts, a pie within a cake.  

I am not a very big pie fan, and frankly- a lot of the piecaken combinations sounded fairly disgusting to me.  Peach pie in chocolate cake, I don't think so.  But, since August is birthday month for me and my husband, I decided now was as good a time as any to try my hand at making this intriguing treat.

While I considered trying a chocolaty confection, my research warned that chocolate cakes and fruit filled pies could be overly sweet combinations.  Ultimately, I decided on a blueberry pie in yellow cake with cream cheese frosting.

Now ladies and gentlemen, I think piecaken is a daunting task of its own right, so I opted not to complicate that by making my own pie and cake batter from scratch. So yes, this is one of those "mostly homemade" things.

I used:
6" store bought blueberry pie
Yellow cake mix
Cream cheese frosting (homestyle)

I substituted milk for water and butter for oil (twice the amount of REAL butter than the box mix directions required-about 10tbs), then added an extra egg.  Pinterest told me this would make a richer cake that tastes more like bakery cakes.  It was correct.

After greasing my deepest round pan and lightly flowering, I poured a layer of cake batter down, about 1/2 to 1 inch. {I would get a deeper pan and make a thicker layer for the future}

Next, free the pie from the pie tin/packaging.  Flip it over {another benefit to having a storebought pie} and place the pie in the center of the pan, top down on the layer of cake batter.

Pour more cake batter on top of the pie and around the sides until tin is about 3/4 full.  {you will have left over batter}.

Follow baking directions as indicated on the back of the cake mix.

For my oven, I had to go a little longer than "normal" because this minor catastrophe occurred:

This is what the cake looked like at the shorter end of the estimated cooking time.

Then with a few more minutes to the longer end of the estimated cooking time it was a little more brown and the toothpick test seemed to be working.  

I was anxious not to burn the cake or overcook the pie within, but I should've known I was in trouble looking at the lighter color at the center of the cake.

To my horror, when I tried to flip the piecaken onto a serving dish to finish cooling/prepare for icing, >>SPLAT!<< went the top portion that covered the bottom of the pie.

Not knowing what else to do, I scooped it back into position and stuck it on the top rack of the oven for another couple of minutes until it seemed to solidify.

By the end the cake was pretty brown around the edges and I was afraid I'd burned it, but I forged ahead.

Luckily, being thrifty I didn't want to waste the cute pie tin that came with the cake and I had greased it up and baked a small 6" cake for back up in case the piecake was a failure.

After letting the piecaken cool to the point that I could handle the pan, I flipped it upside down onto a serving tray. {Thanks wedding guests!}  Then I freed the mini cake and put a layer of icing on the widest end (top) and flipped it upside down on top of the center of the piecaken.  Then I iced the rest of it using most of the can of frosting.

Amateur sketch- Piecaken Spaceship
For all my artistic talents, I have certainly come to realize that frosting and cake decorations are not my medium.  I declined to take a picture of the finished product because it looked like a dilapidated spaceship.

Thankfully, looks can be deceiving.  Though not the most beautiful cake, it was definitely delicious and something worth trying again... but with more people around so that the incredibly tempting leftovers are less abundant.

Dismantled Piecaken: Yellow cake surrounding blueberry pie center, iced with cream cheese frosting
Ultimately, I think it was a job well done.  Mission low-key, first wedded birthday was a success, if it took a little reigning myself in.  I'm thankful to have a husband that appreciates, of all things, the little services rendered.  I think it was as much a present to clean the house and make a cake as it was to give him gifts.

But of course I didn't stop there...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Faithful Friday: Not Lost

Let me tell you, not having a dish washing machine leaves plenty of time to do dishes.  On one such day as today I used the opportunity to listen to my bible app.  Here's what struck me right off the bat, first chapter of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 1:8 {NIV}
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD. {emphasis mine}
But you gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you.  Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.  And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land-against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you. {Again emphasis mine}

I AM WITH YOU.  This wonderous promise is repeated several times throughout the old and new testament.  Repeatedly, from Abram onward, God tells us not to be afraid because He is with us.   It strikes me as I read this promise in the context of verse 1:19 that God is recognizing that while there is genuine cause for alarm, real and present circumstances, He will guide and comfort us through it. 

We live in a society that values comfort, ease, going along to get along.  We often say things like, "if it's meant to be, it'll be," but what we frequently mean is: if it's meant to be it will be easy.  While I believe that there are times when we are trying too hard to force our will or speed God's will along, I protest against the idea of God's will falling into place without any effort on our part as instruments to reveal His glory.

As God's children we will face storms and trials that will be painful.  We'll hit bumps in the road and stalls in our journey.  Sometimes those storms and trials come from the enemy trying to derail us; sometimes it's God shaking things up, moving us along or slowing us down, but all the while reminding us of our dependence on Him.  God doesn't deny these unfavorable circumstances; instead He offers us an opportunities to draw nearer to Him.

While we shouldn't recklessly seek difficulty and launch ourselves unprepared into battles we're not meant to fight, let us not give up simply because the going gets tough.  Maybe your path is increasingly strenuous because God's plans require you to strengthen new muscles in a season of growth. Or maybe God is inviting you to slow down so you can see His provision, His alternatives.

They say if you're lost- stay put.  Dear ones, as God's children we may get confused but we  are never lost; He is with us and He has the directions. God promises to be with us, to deliver us as we abide in Him.  Slow down, but do not give up.  Calm your frantic mind and surrender to the One who knew you before He formed you in your mother's womb.  Ask Him to guide you through this season of difficulty, to give you the words to speak and to set your feet on the proper path.

Be blessed and a blessing.