Monday, April 27, 2015

Tulips Galore!

I can't remember when the tulips in my yard have ever been so stunning. I think it might have something to do with the prolonged cooler weather this spring. I probably didn't do them justice in my photos, but hopefully they will provide you with the extreme cheeriness they're giving me. You would never even know it's a grey day. God truly is good!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Women Creating Daily

I found a beautiful blog that you simply must check out, Sharon Santoni's "My French Country Home" ( Her pictures are soothing, stunning, and inspiring. Lately she's been writing about women creating daily. This is a concept that keeps popping into my mind, and I have found myself meditating a lot on it. What does it mean for a woman to create daily?

I'm on the last chapter of Walking on Water, in which Madeleine L'Engle, writer of A Wrinkle in Time fame, reflects upon what it means to be a Christian artist. These two subjects overlap. If we are co-creators with God, as Madeleine suggests, then we must become artists of the everyday.

Some women are artists by profession, getting paid to write poetry, choreograph dance, paint, act, or sing, among many other possibilities. Others are hobby artists or makers of handicrafts, taking joy in quilting, knitting, rug hooking, sewing, and the like. Among those who don't identify as artists per se, there is a general longing to simply lead a more creative life. Women daily work toward beautifying their homes, cooking and baking for their families, and cultivating relationships. They seek out culture, the arts, history, literature, and theater, and endeavor to feed their minds and spirits.

There are infinite ways to be creative. The way one reads a story to a child, serves a meal, applies makeup, puts outfits together, shares her faith, makes love, or plants a garden can all serve to make life deeper and more magical. The challenge is to make the extra effort to pay attention to the details, to add one's own personal flair, to find joy even in the most mundane of tasks. I am learning that it really does make a difference in how I fold a shirt! When we take care of our things well, we value them more, and we magnify our gratitude toward our Creator.

This includes our talents. The cover of my new journal reads, "Your talent is God's gift. What you do with it is your gift back to God." Christian artists create for the glory of God. The work of a Christian artist is incarnational.

It can be tempting, especially when life is difficult and we are exhausted and discouraged, to muddle through each day, hermit ourselves away, and allow our homes to fall apart at the seams. The cleaning and chores seem endless, and in a way, they are. The key is to find the intersection between what we are good at and what we love, and in some cases, to sustain our lives monetarily with our talents.

As I've written before, Marie Kondo assures us that we will find our true purpose once we have tidied our homes and pared down our possessions to only those things which spark joy. I believe that a daily ritual of prayer, scripture reading, and meditation is also necessary. And we must feed ourselves a healthy diet, get enough rest, and exercise daily. I have to ask this of myself if I want to become the person that God has created me to be. I must have self-discipline and be willing to be uncomfortable sometimes. To not have all the answers. To take a breath, close my eyes, and let go. To ask for help. Ask, and it shall be given unto you. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Alleluliah.

Monday, April 13, 2015

S & F Series--The Essential Wardrobe Revisited, 2015

Some of you may remember a couple of summers ago when I did my big wardrobe purge, donating several large bags of clothing and accessories to the local thrift store. This was in large part inspired by Jennifer L. Scott's Ten-Item Wardrobe philosophy, extolled on her blog, The Daily Connoisseur, and in her Madame Chic books. Jennifer designates 10 core items for each of two seasons, spring/summer and fall/winter. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.

Jennifer is not hung up on the number 10. That is the starting point for cultivating each wardrobe, and in addition to the core items are "extras", such as t-shirts, blazers, outerwear, shoes, scarves, etc... Today she debuted her spring/summer collection for 2015 at The Daily Connoisseur. She showed 8 dresses, one skirt, and one pair of jeans for the ten core pieces. The extras included 4 t-shirts and 3 pairs of shoes. That makes a total of 17 pieces. Next week she will explain her choices one-by-one, and I imagine there will also be sunglasses, purses, jackets, and similar items added to the extras. Jewelry would be another category, and as with the rest, the number of items is pared down.

As you know, when I recently went through all of my clothing, I decided, at least for now, not to store away the off-season items. So far this has worked out very well, as we have still had chilly weather in Ohio. Yesterday at church, for example, I wore a sleeveless rayon floral maxi dress with a lace-trimmed tank top underneath, and with a long, heavy cardigan sweater over it. The sweater's colors, mostly purple, went well with the dress, and the total effect was perfect for this transitional month of April. Normally I would have stored the cardigan away, but instead I wore it as outerwear with my spring dress. I wore no hosiery, and my shoes were Frye clogs, which I recently purchased for a steal on Ebay. As of yet, these shoes are the only new items I have bought for spring/summer.

If we imagine that Jennifer did not store her fall/winter wardrobe away, then she might have a total of about 35 core items and extras, plus additional coats, scarves, gloves, hats, and other accessories. Her grand total for the whole year most likely does not exceed 50 pieces. I haven't bothered to count all of my clothes, and I still have to go through my accessories. I'll be getting to those today, I have promised myself!

My wardrobe approach is somewhat different than Jennifer's. Her core items are heavy on dresses, which mine for spring and summer also will be. I only have one pair of shorts right now, as well as 5 capris, several jeans, 2 dress pants, and lightweight floral lounge pants. As the weather warms up, those items that I primarily wear will most likely shift and be rearranged accordingly. I find no need to distinguish between the core items and the extras, as Jennifer does. For someone else, t-shirts might be core items, while dresses are extras. The point is not to be a stickler about the exact number, but to cultivate a wardrobe that is essential to you.

I call my style "classic bohemian", like a cross between Ann Taylor and Anthropologie. The best thing to do is to determine a label that reflects your style and to find those brands, of the highest quality you can afford, to shop for your look.

Another important thing to note is that you will often read articles about how to put together a core wardrobe of "basics". These typically include a little black (or grey or navy) dress; black dress pants; a white blouse; a leather jacket; a trench coat; jeans; dress pumps and ballet flats. There is nothing wrong with planning your wardrobe this way if that is your style. But keep in mind that women's personal styles and lifestyle needs can vary widely, and there is absolutely no reason that you have to wear your clothes in neutral colors only, or to have any color scheme at all.

If you purchase and keep only clothing that you really enjoy wearing, you will have plenty of separates that will work well together. You will naturally gravitate toward particular colors, textures, and styles, and it will all harmonize well. There is no need to go out and buy your entire essential wardrobe at once. You can build it over time. And if you choose quality over quantity, your clothing will last longer and fit you better, so you won't need to go shopping as often.

As soon as I have have pared down the rest of what is in my closet--the shoes and boots, scarves, belts, purses, etc..., I am going to show you pictures of my entire wardrobe. I have a small chest with 4 drawers, a closet for clothes that prefer or need to be hung, and a vintage cupboard with 4 deep shelves. Right now one of those shelves is completely empty! The family's heavier coats and other winter gear goes in a closet downstairs, which will be a project of its own.

So how is your home-tidying with the KonMari Method going? I'm thrilled to report that my husband has finished Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and has already gone through his clothes and is on to his books! By the way, husbands and wives need to do the discarding of their own things. I don't keep things just because my husband likes them if they don't spark joy for me; and he had to decide on his own what he wanted to save and give away. It is a private matter for you to do alone, with no input from the peanut gallery.

I hope you are having fun with this process, and I'm eager to have you share how it's going in the comments! 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

This and That

One thing I have been needing, especially with my lower back issues, is new living room furniture. While I was still single I bought a vintage red velvet couch from a close friend for a steal, and that has been the centerpiece of our living room since our marriage. Last evening we had a sectional delivered from My Furniture Place in Bryan. It's mostly a used furniture and home decor store, but this is a new piece. I am now changing the decorating scheme in the room to be in harmony with the couch. I will feature pictures soon!

I have been steadily working on paring down my wardrobe. I only have pajamas and workout wear to go through, and then I will move on to accessories. One thing I have noticed is that the clothes that have gotten to stay feel more respected and special. I don't mind ironing them, and I really don't like to iron! It is looking as though I won't have to pack away off season clothing, either. There are always those cool summer nights when it's cozy to throw on a sweater and sit on the porch, especially during a lightning storm. And in winter if we went somewhere warm for vacation, I wouldn't have to dig out my summer clothes. It's an experiment, and I'm excited to see how it works out.

My belly dance clothing is mostly getting packed away. I may still be able to dance, though! I have training in various forms of Gypsy dance, and there is a new style I'm going to be working on. It's a Spanish folkloric style with a lot of floreos, foot work, turns, and skirt work. The hip work is minimal, and I think the movements will be safe for my lower back. I'm going to demonstrate for my chiropractor and get the okay first!

We're going on an Easter egg hunt at a friend's house today, and later we'll color eggs for the Easter bunny to hide. I'm looking forward to this season of the liturgical year, celebrating release from the bondage of death, a time of rebirth, new life, salvation, and energetic joy. Behold, the tomb is empty!

Happy Easter, lovely doves!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

S & F Series--When One Door Closes

Happy April! Tomorrow, April 2, is the anniversary of something that continues to affect my life today. I call it The Day of the Knee. In 2002, only a month and a half after I was married, I was in a serious car accident. I had gone home for a long lunch break from work, excited to have some time to play around in my new house. On my return to work, as I entered an intersection, the traffic light turned yellow. A driver coming from the opposite direction did not yield the right of way and made a left hand turn. We collided. My truck was totaled, and my right knee cap was broken. I might have had time to stop instead of proceeding on the yellow, but I'll never know. I was worried about being late. The other driver was cited for the accident; I had done nothing wrong. I could have chosen differently, but there is no retrieving the past. We can "what if" ourselves to death, and it changes nothing. The consequences remain.

Just the day before, 13 years ago, I took my first belly dance lesson. It was with the sister of the best man at our wedding, Deniz in Dayton. I lived in Columbus at the time. In June I went on my crutches to the Arts Festival downtown and watched a performance of the Habeeba's Dance of the Arts troupe. I took one of their fliers home and registered for classes beginning July 22. Belly dance was a big part of my recovery from the accident. I got strong again. Eventually I danced with the Habeeba's troupe. When I moved to northwest Ohio, I became a belly dance instructor.

Unbeknownst to me, a result of the knee injury was that my right leg is shorter than my left. Evidently the pressure put on the L5 area of my lower back due to the imbalance caused disc damage. One day in February two years ago, while dusting my coffee table, I was suddenly experiencing searing pain. I couldn't even sit up straight. I've had difficulties ever since.

If I didn't have the posterior annular tearing of the L5/S1 disc, my chiropractor said he would encourage me to keep dancing. But as it over.

Loss. A loss of the joy of dancing, the exercise it provides, the opportunities to teach and to perform, the loss of a community. Of course, the dancer friends I have made will still be friends. Many of them I saw only once a year, at the Island of Isis Dance Retreat held every May in Loveland, OH at the amazing Grailville center. Wholesome food, idyllic country surroundings, always a phenomenal teacher, and the camaraderie of women sharing a common passion. Belly dance is a cultural experience unlike any other; you might even say it's a way of life.

The lower back injury can certainly be improved. There could even be a reversal and complete healing, but the chances of that are not very high. Still, there is hope. I was afraid to have the MRI, because I'm claustrophobic. I prayed a Rosary in my mind and on my fingers and survived the experience. I faced a fear, and that is BIG. And now I know what I am dealing with and therefore can move forward. Ironically, the directors of Island of Isis decided to retire the retreat after 20 years. Last year was the grand finale. I am witnessing the end of an era.

My grandmother gave me wise advice. She told me to give myself time to get used to not belly dancing anymore. She said not to put pressure on myself to figure out what I'm going to do next right away. This is pure genius. Because that's exactly what I was doing--rushing the process. I wanted to figure out, in a couple of days, what I was going to do next. I was panicking, because I am an artist, a creative soul, and I might die if I don't have a passionate artistic expression to pursue.

The thing is, I always had a plan. When I knew it was time to move on from a job, for example, before I left I devised a scheme for escape. My dad told me never to quit one job before I had another lined up, so I always had a grand idea and took the necessary steps to make it happen. Yet occasionally, I got unexpectedly fired. One time when this happened, I came home to find my Mary Kay starter kit waiting on my doorstep. Being a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant was my Big Dream at the time, and I was filled with hope. When one door closes, so the saying goes, another one opens.

I suspected that dancing was aggravating my back condition, and I felt that God was preparing me for something else that he was calling me to do. I was willing to accept this if it turned out that I had to give up belling dancing. When I look back on it, I am so grateful. What an exhilarating ride! What stupendous people I have met, what challenges I have risen to, what extraordinarily talented teachers I've had the pleasure to learn from, and what an enormous privilege to be able to serve God with the gifts he has given me. I even made some money for my family along the way.

Knowing that it was all probably going to come to an end doesn't make it any less devastating. My husband has also been experiencing the closing of one door after another. There must be something dazzling beyond our dreams just around the bend!

Please pray for my healing and for my family. I may not know what my next big thing will be, but I do have my tidying up project to keep me busy, thanks to Marie Kondo, who may very well turn out to be a lifesaver. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as I wrote about yesterday, she says that this process of discarding and reorganizing one's home will set you on the course toward what you were genuinely created to do.

I'm not going to lie to you. This process is painful. Letting go of our possessions is hard, even when we know that we must set free those things that don't spark joy. Our fear of letting go, Marie said, comes down to either anxiety about the past or anxiety about the future. We accumulate more and more possessions to remedy these fears. As we all know deep down, the next purchase is only a quick, very temporary fix. The restlessness always returns. Marie Kondo's method is the equivalent of ripping the bandaid off very hairy skin. You just gotta squeeze your eyes shut, take a deep breath, and pull it quick.

Facing your stuff, once and for all, is liberating. Making these decisions of what to keep and what to let go brings with it a growing confidence. When you practice deciding what you really love and what you don't, you get to know yourself better. You learn to know your own mind and heart. You build trust in yourself, because ultimately, you are putting yourself more completely in the hands of God.

Will you die if you don't tidy your home? Is it absolutely necessary? The answer is No. You can choose to keep on picking away at your stuff, a little at a time, and never get anywhere. Or you can keep shoving your stuff into closets, basements, and attics. But out of sight does not equal out of mind. In fact, slowly but surely we go out of our minds, because all of our stuff is wrapped up in the very corners of our being, making us sick. There is no separation of mind, body, and spirit. The clutter is there because something is wrong. Too much has been swept under the carpet, and we're afraid to look.

But you know what? Today I'm going to celebrate my 13th anniversary as a belly dancer! And we will pray for one another. We will begin with our own things, and specifically with our clothing. When that is done, we move onto our books. Category after category, one item at a time, we will sweep through our homes like domestic genies and make all of our own wishes come true.