Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Balance Really Is



I pace the halls of this middle place, so ready to dismantle the graffiti tree but lacking the enthusiasm to act. I think about crayon hearts dangling from every rafter while the new year radiates charm and possibility from the end of the tunnel.

I stew and whine over insignificant plans that didn't quite fall into place. I cry worthier tears over actual heartbreaks.

I'm scattered. Shifting. Unsettled.
My achy humanity throbs against everything I wish I was.

I'm no good at allowing myself to lean into these uninspired, mopey days. I want every day to be a barn-burner. When it's not, I call myself into question. I point fingers and tell lies. I survive these days since I must, but I sure don't do it wearing lipstick.

The problem is, I know living requires long stretches of angst. I know it in theory.

My favorite ex-boss told me once that he spends more time thinking about what he writes than he does actually writing it. 

I remember his words often, and not just because I'm currently trying to unlock something important from my head-space.

These days where nothing seems to happen must hold part of the magic of all those other days. Life has got to be more than a loop of cuteness/goodness/wisdom/cheer.

I need space for reflection, for quiet, for monotony.
I need to experience the mundane in order to cherish it. 

My bullish temperament demands reminders of my wimpiness.
My beating heart deserves to feel the burn of grief and the bruise of sadness.

We say we want balance and this is how it finds us. It's not in a schedule thoughtfully plotted and skillfully executed. It's not in exercising 2-3 times a week for 30 minutes or smaller dinner plates with veggies covering half. It's not regular date nights or girls' nights or bedtimes at the stroke of 10.

The scales never land motionless, in a dead heat.
They teeter and wobble, some of this, a little more of that.
There are two sides and both become meaningless without the weight of the other.

Balance is accepting each wave as the tide rolls in, then out again.
It's sniffling and snotting in the dark to Cory that all hope is lost, then grinning in the morning when the sun comes up anyway and all I can see is a kitchen full of promise and three faces perfectly immune to the complications of adulthood.

I've fallen into a weird pattern of telling myself that whatever is happening right this second is the way it will be now and forevermore, amen.

If I'm having a bad day, the rest of my life looks bleak.
If I'm a grumpy mom, my kids got gypped for life and just don't know it yet.
If I'm uninspired, I've lost my mojo. (It's never coming back.)
Forgot something important? Early-onset dementia.
Bad hair day? Early-onset oldness.
Can't string together a decent row of words? I used to be smart.

Balance is allowing myself to learn from my mistakes - to really get cozy with them, even if it means moping around for short stretch of days.

Balance is letting myself believe that sometimes, I just get it right. I nail it.

My Christmas vacation plans were kicked in the shins and people I love are hurting right now. In just one day, I've been emotional and irrational, overly sensitive like a child. My feelings have been hurt, and it feels silly to admit it. My kids have all gone rogue and I'm probably somewhat to blame. I miss my friends. I feel sorry for myself. I feel bad about feeling sorry for myself. I wore high-water jeans with running shoes and striped socks. My hair was flat. I wasted time when I could have been reading.

All of this is part of who I am, the actual, real me.

But there's more, and if I can accept all that, I can also believe in the parts of me that'll eventually turn it around.

Who knows? Tomorrow, I just might nail it.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Important is a State of Mind


~family ~

I feel like it's somehow taboo to post pictures of Christmas stuff after Christmas, like maybe we're all sort of ready to move on. That holiday! - it's such a show-boat! We get caught up and it's so dang good, but then there's that tiny moment at the way-end where we breathe a quiet sigh of - not relief, just an Okay, that was good. But so is this. And so is what comes next.

Or maybe it's just me.

 
~ close up ~

I'm so thankful for everything this season was, all the ways it made me dig deeper into truth, every bit of the festivity and reflection.

I'm also thankful that the gifts and glitz are over and I'm just left sitting here in my ordinary, stripey-pj-pants life, where Silas obsesses about "watching his songs" and Ruby stacks her neck 14-deep in rubber band necklaces. I like it here, in the place where I settle back into the slow and comfortable.

~ christmas cat ~

Today, this week, I see a pause. And I'm taking it.

Next year is close enough to touch. It feels full of right things and like we can't even fathom how good it's gonna get.

But it's still 2013, and I'd like to end well.

In that vein, you'll be thrilled beyond words to hear I put together a 500-piece folk-art puzzle entitled, "Winter Scene" by myself, in roughly14 hours, with 8 of those hours being sleep. And don't you dare listen to a word Cory or my Dad tells you. They shouldered 25 pieces between them and I'm being generous in my estimate.

All I know is, the puzzle happened to be in the warmest room of the house, and one thing led to another.

Isn't that how all good jigsaw tales begin?

Then it was 1 a.m. and all the festive sleigh riders and snowman-builders were complete, leaving me with nothing but wide stretches of sky and swaths of evergreen.

I was so tired and the box was full of pieces that looked identical.

But I couldn't even handle the thought of that snarky puzzle winning.

So, you might say a lot of things about me, but you sure won't say I'm the sorry lady who didn't put together an entire puzzle in 2013. Nope.

 
~ "He likes to sleep by my tummy." ~

Since I'm already bragging about my retro gaming skills, you should know Cory and I totally threw down in the annual couples Trivia challenge at his family Christmas.

And by "threw down", I mean we scored 8/20.

But a win is a win, even if my tennis knowledge was called into question in the process.

~ First Angel ~

See what happens when you take a pause?
You surprise yourself with what suddenly becomes news-worthy.
You begin to wonder why you don't always eat 6 clementines in one day.
You think life without red pop may not be worth living, after all.
You forget all the things that make you tired.

~ important business ~

Right about now, I feel like there are no more problems in my world, and even though I have a hunch it isn't true, I'm sticking my fingers into my ears and riding this lalalalaaa out to the blessed end.

I'm slightly buzzed on sugar and carbs. I'm well-rested and giggle-boxed.

~ "decorations" ~

All the land is a shiny strand of lights, and I'm still right here, looking straight ahead but entranced until further notice.

Happy After, fancy ladies.

Remember - today is just as important as two days ago, or any day next week.

Make it count in the most necessary ways, and define "necessary" with as much naked truth as you can muster.


*December photo round-up courtesy (mostly) of Cory, because he's all techy and cool and I'm the girl obsessed with jigsaw puzzles.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Harder Job


 

We spend our time working hard to teach our kids the beauty of giving, that it's better to give than receive, but we hide a secret behind our backs - not only is giving better, it's often easier.

It's hard sometimes to confront our need. It makes us wince to face our humility, to feel without distraction the moment where empty is filled, to be exposed as having nothing in return.

We'd take the Santa suit over the thin chatter of a child, all naked wanting and wide-eyed expectation, palms wide, no status to be shaken.

But without receiving, we miss the richness of giving.

Sometimes receiving means new pajamas, a surprise Yankee candle, a check in the mail. Sometimes it's a Honda. Sometimes it's a child.

We give and receive, we do so imperfectly, our worries and insecurities making waves while we sail on the grace that made both possible.

We give and receive, believing Emmanuel really is with us. And since it's true, we can't begin to separate our relationship with God and our relationships with our brothers and sisters, the bearers of His image.

We keep practicing this gift of receiving, of humbling our hearts enough to accept something we never earned, and we're one thump of a heartbeat closer to understanding the coming of our King.

He's here.

He's with us.

Around us.

He's all we ever needed, exactly what we always wanted, so we open our hands and receive Him.



*my canvas from the crafty party :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

All Dressed Down...


I've been spending time this month really focusing on things I already have - simple things I love, things that make me happy or make my life easier.

Cory totally tops the list.

But OH MY GOSH what happened last week while I was gone???

I mean.

Just.

I'm speechless.

The note I left said, "Have Silas at school by 6:15 in 'festive attire'". We discussed the fact that he is somehow without anything red or green. But I suggested one of his cutie church sweaters or a button down.

Not the Garanimals.

I told my mom I was a little nervous about what might happen.
But in my wildest dreams, it wasn't this bad.

I mean, we're not a family of anarchists here, as you might assume. We're not all anti-establishment. We're not trying to make a statement on the commercialism of the holiday season or a pint-sized illustration on the plight of urban or global poverty. We're not trying to teach a lesson or rise above...anything. We're just not trying. Like, at all.

I can't stop laughing. In horror.
I have felt the way he looks so many painful times. Only the outcome has never been quite as dear.

Siley. I just love that boy. I might even love him slightly more than normal when he's wedged in between a kid in a three piece suit and a bunch of girls in party dresses.

This is why Mommy should never leave during the holidays, or anytime physical appearances are a priority.

So now, not only will he be remembered by his classmates as the kid who totally rocked their class picture, but also as the kid who showed up to the fancy Christmas program in the very fancy church, wearing his pajamas.

Sweet.


Eat, Drink, and Be Crafty - Lettered Canvas ed.


 Well, we've officially got a tradition on our hands.

This time of year is always busy, there's always a list of reasons why this sort of thing may not be ideal (e.g. the 19 year old who can't leave the house during parties), but I sent out the invites and didn't look back.

(It helps sometimes to back myself into a corner.)

Here's what I know to be true: It's important to have let-your-hair-down friends. I just don't sweat it anymore, because I know they don't care if the floor is a little grimy or the mirrors are spotty.  This party was A#1 unfancy.

Everyone brings cash for supplies and a dish to share.

All I have to do is come up with the idea. And this year, my friend Kristin helped with that. The famous letter canvases! Duh. Why didn't I think of that?

You can never have too many lettered canvases. Fact.

This was the perfect craft because it's just so rad to see how many different ways there are to skin a cat. So to speak.

I really like what's happening here...


My people are SO good at festive party food.



 
I, on the other hand, served left-overs from the night before. (Forgot to mention - chipotle sour creammm!)
In my defense, I made them mini-sized.

Ain't no party like a mini-food party cause a mini-food party don't stop.

You know.

 
Found these quirky paper goods at my old flame, TJ Maxx. There were also weird Christmas bonsai-tree plates. Who knew?

All the ladies got right to work. Everyone came with an idea and a slightly different plan.

(I spent most of my time circling the island...)

Here's what we came up with:

Kristin

Kim

Jess

Brooke

Lindsay

Heather

Alison

Timi

Sarah

Guys, seriously. Do a craft party. It's not much work and there's just that feeling of having so many good people huddled up together. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Collagey Christmas Tree Craft


Friends. Remember all that swoony snow I was all abuzz over just one week ago?
Well, it's G.O.N.E.

It's raining cats & dogs right now and to that I say, "Blerg".

I just got back from a 3-day stint as nurse to my Mama (and Pops) after her bunion surgery. This would be her fourth of the kind. Don't ask. My poor Mama. I was happy to be able to hang with them a while and help.


While I was down there, their ancient computer kicked the bucket, so I was without any and all internets for over 48 hours. It was wonderful. Except for the time when I held the phone up and waved it around in the southeastern-most corner of the house to eke out this text:

Me: "Does Miley sing that song about being a ruler and a royal?"
Friend: "No."
Me: "Then who does?"
Friend: "Uh, have you ever heard of Google?"

This is what my people are up against.
I'm not savvy and I know just enough to be a pain in the rear.

So. This is a craft we LOVED. It accidentally turned into a 3-day project, but we saw it through and, hey! It helped us kill time three days in a row-zo!

It's so stained-glassy.
So super-rad collagey.

Truth: I like any craft/project/escapade involving clashing colors and/or pattern.

We each got a sheet of card-stock and I cut tons of tissue paper squares and threw them in the middle of the table. (I happen to hoard tissue paper --- all the cool ones are from stores at the mall from back when I used to buy stuff.)

Cover the cardstock in the tissue paper squares using Mod Podge.

(Dab with a pencil eraser for extra precision???)


Once dry, cut "Christmas tree" triangles from your collaged paper, along with little rectangular tree "trunks".

Meanwhile, take a sheet of watercolor paper (or regular paper if you don't have watercolor paper) and paint the top third a light blue color.

Glue your triangles to the sky paper, then use a hole-punch and glue "snow" on top of everything.

For bonus points, tape them to the kitchen window and take over-exposed pictures because, really, you know it's your favorite kind. Or maybe it's just me.

This was such a red-hot winner!
They turned out so cheery and bright and a little CrAzY.

Happy weekending, Pals!!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thriftiest Gift Idea And Then Some



Friends, meet Cow II.

Cow II, meet all my homies.

I found this little honey in a dusty pile of junk a couple weeks ago at our local year-round garage sale.

It's as classy a joint as you would imagine.

She ran $6 and I almost passed her up...oh my gosh.
What was I thinking??

Well, I was thinking I shouldn't be buying stuff for myself.

I was supposed to be looking for mugs.
You know.

Guys, I've decided my Eveready battery rack/thrifted mug rack/Cow II corner is the best corner there ever was.

I can't stop loving it. It's so gratifying to scour all the haunts for these mugs and, I might add, they absolutely enhance my Earl Grey experiences.

My obsession became such that I needed a 12-step program. I knew it was time to start spreading the amore.


I present to you the thriftiest friend-gifts to grace the planet.

Only, the gift was really for me. Because I got to track them down.
I hit every thrift store in a tri-county area and two in Ohio. I LOVE a good hunt.

I didn't pay more than $1 for any mug, and most were 49 or even 25 cents.

A few times it hit me that it might be weird. Merry Christmas and I love you! Here's someone else's old coffee mug.

But then I shrugged off that idea like a bad sweater and kept on hunting.

People - rest assured - there are a lot of ugly coffee mugs in this world. I started strong then the crap hit the fan and I had to make a few concessions in the ways of adding a few teacups and espresso cups to the mix. (Question: is "espresso cup" a thing? because that's what I'm calling the tiny cups. but I'm no coffee drinker, so what do I know?)

What I can say is, I love them alllll.
My litmus test was this: Would I hang it on my battery rack?
(Isn't that what everyone says?)

Before long, I wanted to put stuff in the mugs.
Lipstick is always fun, but it's too pricey.

OR IS IT?

Because I scored these L'Oreal puppies on clearance for just over $1 a pop. BOOM.
I added a honey straw, an Early Grey tea bag, a salted dark chocolate, and one of my vintage hankies.

I stayed up until the wee hours crafting cute tags, then the blasted things kept slipping down the handles. So I stuck them in the mugs and called it a day.

The moral of the story? I'm an odd friend.
The other moral of the story? I think you guys are probably a bunch of odd-balls, too.
And if you are, your other friends probably are.

So the real moral of the story: If you're short on time and ideas, hit up the Salvation Army! Or an antiques store! Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Party People!

Here are a few of my other ideas:

Someone gave me this gift earlier this week and I swooned.
Give homemade. We all dig it.


And yes, sometimes we just want to be mall rats. Ain't no shame.

Here's a nod to commercialism and the downfall of mankind:

Body Shop Satsuma Body Butter (I also love Grapefruit and Honeymania) They have cute minis in the stores for $3 each and they're running mad online sales.

Some of the best gifts I've gotten in recent years include a new tea kettle and crazy socks.

And books!

I could go on and on about all the books I've loved. I do, in fact, right here.

But there are three books that have changed who I am on a cellular level.
Or at least on a very profound and important level.
Or at least that's the story I'm sticking to today.

Tattoos on the Heart

Grace for the Good Girl

Ragamuffin Gospel

Some music to go along with the books? My two favorite cd discoveries this year:
Mumford - Babel
Civil Wars


Kids love books, too! We've been reading:

Ramona Quimby, Age 8
 
Skippyjon Jones

Our kids get 3 gifts from us for Christmas. I bought each of the littles a craft kit this year. Don't tell! They love getting crafty and it'll be something to keep them busy during another sloggy winter. I found really cool kits for Silas and Ruby on Clearance at Target for 75% off a couple of months ago. Each was no more than $4.

Calvin's getting this:

Build Your Own Fighter Planes

While I'm already rambling, do you happen to have a Silas in your midst? My friend Heather wrote a couple years ago about the Melissa & Doug cutting fruits set. She also has a Silas and swore this was the only toy he cared about. So I ordered it immediately and, I kid you not, homeboy played independently and quietly and without destructive fall-out for the first time ever.

(This was 2 years ago and much progress has been made, but we've managed to not lose the knife and that's saying something.)

There you have it.

Merry Almost, Ladies and Gents. You sure make this gig fun.

Festively Yours,
FPFG (& Cow II)



*Amazon links are affiliate links.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let Our Hearts Be Light



The roads are slick, the pews around us largely empty. But the kids are keyed up over robes with rope belts.

I wasn't expecting enthusiasm over a throw-back Christmas pageant. I should really know better. I should know that most of my life operates with the gears in reverse. Lots of things don't make sense anymore, but the surprises are mostly good.


The kids and teenagers take their places on the stage. A few are at ease. Most are awkward, uncertain, their eyes trained to the floor. They falter and speak too fast. The skit is more real to them than a Christmas program was ever supposed to be and I hope we all just let our hearts be light. I hope we reflect peace to them, our gift back for all the ways they stand risky before us, their entire lives dangling from their faded shirt sleeves.

Their faces tell some stories and I can't help guessing at the details, but I don't get far with my wondering. I came from a different kind of place, one where every landing was soft and the soup was never cold.

Now, I know some things. I'm learning.

I know they lack and they try, they love and hope. They feel much of what I felt when I was fifteen and the world somehow seemed both uncertain and so *roll-my-eyes* mundane. I know they wear the very image of the Christ who came to walk with us. I know now that I don't get to decide where I see Him.

Their voices waver in the mic and I feel it in my chest, that low weight of truth - you can't really love something that you don't really know.

The ghost of Shannans past swirl, then settle as a lump in my throat. I used to be so much more uncomfortable around people who were even a little different than I. It made me fidgety, embarrassed by my doe-eyed innocence, my stubbornness, my pride, whatever it was that kept me from acknowledging our kinship, the fragility of our shared humanity, our frailties and fault-lines, all our edges, unevenly frayed.

I never used to see these threads stitched between us. I'm weepy with gratitude that in this moment, I'm a single step further from my blindness. I can't stop falling in love with this stripped-down faith where God is nothing short of imperative and nothing more than everything. I find that in these faces around me.

Our pretenses keep falling to the floor, smashing to bits, and there's just no way around walking in this everyday smallness. This is the greatness we were made for. This is our call. I'm teary, a tiny baby for all I don't know and all the ways I miss out on love.


It's the third Sunday of Advent. The shepherds are restless, the narrator's words are a blur, the angels are nearing revolt. Production costs run in the red and the sound system is lurchy and fitful.

But this is their offering - the guts to bare their sharp-edged story to the rest of us. They give what might look like very little and it changes who we are because we find our place in a story as raw as the birth itself.

They stand before us in bed-sheet angel gowns, a vision of Emmanuel, and it all makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cooped


One of the best surprises I can imagine is seven fluffy inches storming in to hide the town.
I woke lazy on Saturday morning to the quiet brightness that only happens when the little world is pulled in at the edges by the collective, hushed resolve to throw in the towel and just stay home.

The doors were all closed, the streets a ghost-town. And still, it felt like a certain kind of community, a solidarity in our willingness to open our fists from around all our plans and just ride the sucker out.


Sometimes, the best Saturdays are not spent as much as they are whiled away.
So we padded around in pajamas and yesterday's socks and slow-cooked pork tacos while we napped for hours and watched another movie.

The kids did their weirdo-kid thing and opted to play in the elements. Not once, but twice. Oy.


And in between, we stirred warm drinks with our friend from down the street while she laughed at my (non)hairdo and asked about the birthmark on my face. She'd never noticed it before. We opened the door to our raging mess and marveled at the way an interrupted day can turn out to be the salviest balm.

Who knew it could be so good? To just be stuck together, insulated by my very favorite people while the sky falls down around us in whispers and heaps. Eating and resting, laughing and being. No chores or lists or constricting fabrics.

We talked after dark about calling a snow day every month, but I have to wonder if some of the magic would be lost in willing it to be, in deciding for ourselves. Because while I'm all for spinning straw into gold most days, not all gifts are meant to be recreated and some of the best adventures happen when we yield to being stuck.


ps - Sweet chili slaw on top of the pork tacos. Hello, game-changer!


*I'm linking up to my homegirl Emily's Tuesdays Unwrapped where we're all unwrapping simple gifts.