Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sharing the Beauty [a blog hop]

Before Rebekah contacted me last week asking if I wanted to be a part of a blog hop, I had never even heard of one (yes, I am a terrible networker when it comes to blogging). But, even though I just met her a few months ago (and we've never met in real life) I already know that she's full of grace and kindly willing to explain things. So she 'splained and I agreed (I did not know she was going to expand on the bio I sent and call me "a beautiful, authentic spirit" - blush - but that's just the sweet sort of person that she is).

So it seems that at times this wonderful online community will get together to answer a few questions in common with each other, and spread some love about other bloggers. Sharing the beauty - what's not to love about that? I'm glad that Rebekah invited me to join in - you should definitely check out Three Bees in a Blue Bonnet for thoughtful posts on finding joy and grace in life's deserts (also, she just kicked off a new Tuesday series on "Grace Notes" with Bach's cello suite in G major, so that's well worth a listen!)

[What am I writing/working on?]

Hmm. I'm working on rediscovering my sense of adventure, seeking community, and trying to maintain an apartment in a relative semblance of order... since that's what occupies most of my thoughts, that's also what occupies most of my writing. Also, chronicles of Brooklyn's shenanigans (she's already found her sense of adventure, and enjoys exercising it).

[How does my work differ from others of its genre?]

Well, I'm not really sure that I have a "genre" (if I do, someone please tell me what it is!) I originally started this blog writing about knitting projects, and then it expanded into chronicling a knitting-related internship, and I did Project 365 (take a photo a day for a year), and by that point it was just fun to write and post pictures so I kept doing it more regularly. Every person is unique, and their life experiences and worldview shape the way they see and the way they write about it - so I suppose my work differs from that of others simply because I write it and they don't. I'm a little less structured than many (for a concrete example) --- while there are a few days that have set topics (gratitude on Thursdays, and I usually play along with Five Minute Friday) there's really no telling what adventure I'll share or soapbox I'll stand on in any given post.

[Why do I write what I do?]

I write what I do because there are too many posts that make mountains out of molehills, and I want to erase the tension by erasing the silly lines we've drawn. I write what I do because there are things that we take for granted without even realizing it, and I want to open my own eyes (and those of my readers) to the aching need of the world we live in. I write what I do because there are those who cannot write or speak for themselves, but they still have stories that must be told. I write what I do because there is so much ugliness, hatred, and negativity battering us from all sides at all times, and I want to bring out the beautiful and focus on that instead. And I write what I do because there are (conversely) too many staged shots of perfect lives that don't exist, and a little honesty and vulnerability go a long way toward encouragement and solidarity. (Ahem. That came out a bit more manifesto-ish than I intended it to...)

[How does my writing process work?]

Every which way. The words come more easily if I'm looking at a picture while I write them (which is why my posts tend to be photo-heavy) so I usually start with that. I find that, even without intending to, the pictures I take and the Things I've Been Thinking About tend to align in themes, which makes the writing easier. But sometimes I can get on a mental trail that leads to an empty ampitheatre, by way of several epiphany moments, and I find myself bursting with words and thoughts that must be got out somehow and then I just write. It all depends.


But - enough about me! Let me introduce you to some blogging friends of mine (who I'm also privileged to know in person), who will be answering some questions about their own writing next week:

Kayla supports her husband (the pilot) on the home front and attempts to keep up with their 2 year old (the bundle of energy) while learning what “homemaking” is all about. She enjoys laughing, reading, memorizing Scripture, and blogging the details of their journey at Renown and Crowned.
Kayla and I are friends from our homeschooling days, sharing June birthdays and the mutual ability to enjoy spending time with someone who is both similar to and different from yourself. While we live in different states now, I love keeping up with her through her blog - and I think you'll enjoy her insights and ponderings (and energetic two year old) as well.

I’m Lisa Kieklak, a native of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’m married to an amazing man named Steve who is a full-time student at Southern Seminary, and we’ve just moved to Louisville.I work at a tshirt quilt company, and Steve works at Starbucks. Not counting our German Shepherd, Nike, we don’t have any kids yet, but we’re looking forward to that adventure when it comes.
Steve & I really enjoy spending time outside (hiking, camping, biking), watching Psych, and just being ridiculous when we’re together. We’ve been known on more than one occasion to set up our tent in the living room and go “camping” for a night or two!

I know Lisa through the church we both attended in Fayetteville. She posts gluten-free recipes and reviews, inspiring sewing projects (she slipcovered their couch, y'all - except, it doesn't look slipcovered. It just look like a couch), and reading challenges that always seem to be books I already love or have been wanting to read - among other things.

I’m Cara Kramp, a former Arkansan currently residing in Louisville, Kentucky. I’m married to the stud on the right, Matt. We have an adorable Cocker Spaniel named Jasmine. No kids yet, but (Lord willing) there will be some in the future!Matt is a full-time M.Div. student at Southern Seminary as well as a full-time phone technician for Sprint. I’m a full-time receptionist at Underwood & Lee, which is a dental clinic for people with intellectual disabilities. Matt & I enjoy playing disc golf, reading Harry Potter together in British accents, watching Parks & Recreation, and cheering on the Razorbacks. Woo Pig Sooie!!!

Cara I also know through our church in Fayetteville. She's a sweet heart with an artist's eye, and posts fun art projects, updates on their house-to-home renovations, and recipes (mostly desserts ;) - among other things.

Together, Lisa and Cara write The Helpmates, the journey of two young wives encouraging each other (and others). Besides the topics I've mentioned, they sometimes post challenges (make a wreath using only things you already have, a daily photo gratitude project on Instagram...) and have guest posters who cover the topics that they have less experience in (but still need to be written about!)

There you have it! A bit about me, and some blogs that you may want to check out - they'll be carrying on the blog hop next week, so be sure to watch for those posts, as well!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Graceful Arts

Remember when I introduced Jamberry Nail Wraps a few weeks ago? They appreciated the write-up, and sent me a couple of sheets of wraps to try, so I've been able to test them out for myself. The application process was fiddly but not difficult, and I had the hang of it by the end. I really liked that the backing is clear, and the wraps are thin enough to cut with regular scissors, so I could trim them to fit the nails that were weird in-between sizes. I do think that if I continue wearing them regularly, it would be worth investing in the little heater - the hairdryer (although definitely possible) was pretty awkward.

That was a week ago. I've spent the past 7 days doing what I normally do, and they've definitely held up better than polish would have. Even when I've turned the edges up by prying up at something (like the superglued circle of paper on top of a spice jar) I've been able to reheat and reseal them without apparent consequence. The rave reviews that other mums and artists (two occupations that are really hard on your nails at times) have held up to testing, and my mommy-fashion recommendation stands.

For mommy fashion this week, baby-proofing jewelry (because who says you can't dress up and still be a mum?) A lot of my necklace charms are fairly sturdy - the delicate chains, on the other hand, are not. But leather cord can be acquired for a few dollars at a craft store, comes in lots of colors, and is practically unbreakable (and easier to replace if something does happen to it). I folded the 2-yard piece into thirds, threaded it through the charm, then held the ends together and tied them snugly in an overhand knot (it will just fit over my head that way). A person with more time, skill, and patience than me could also do it the proper way and affix an actual clasp to the cord.

I've been thinking a lot about knitting lately. Since I don't have a lot of knitting time, I've been trying to make the projects that I do worthwhile, so I currently have a linen skirt (that I'll have to wait until next summer to wear) and a giant triangle shawl (because I like 'em big) on the needles, neither of which are really portable unless we're roadtripping. But I'm beginning to realize that I've been approaching it all wrong... knitting is calming, stress-reducing, helps me focus, and makes me happy, all while (eventually) producing a usable object - and as such, I feel like it deserves a higher place of priority. So I got few hanks of cotton at Yarn Mart over the weekend and cast on for a washcloth. I can keep it in my bag and work on it in little bits, while also getting Christmas gifts made (handknit washcloths are the bestest - you can use them for babies, for dishes, or for your own personal pampering). I created a design that's interesting but "readable" and it will probably end up being my Free Public Service Pattern this year (I try to publish a PSP for a destashing gift every year around October-November, in an attempt to alleviate holiday stress for other knitters).

I mentioned #fmfpartysnailmail awhile ago... by way of refreshment, a lot of the bloggers who do Five Minute Fridays gather on Twitter the evening before and connect using the hashtag #fmfparty. Out of that, Kaitlyn Bouchillon concocted the concept of connecting through handwritten letters (more details here). We're arranged in lists, each person writing to one person on the list each week, so that at the end of eight weeks, everyone's gotten a letter from everyone. I sent my first letter last week - it was a little difficult trying to write a note of encouragement to someone that I didn't really know, but the analytical part of my mind enjoyed stalking her through her blog and social media (normally that would be weird, but in #fmfpartysnailmail, it's encouraged) in order to find something relevant to write. I received my first letter today, which was delightful - and now I need to hop to it and work on my next letter before Thursday, because Adam has a long weekend and we have out-of-town plans.

It was nice getting to spend this past weekend together - Drill weekends make for long weeks, since that means that he works (late, usually) for 12 consecutive days. But we were able to try a new restaurant, go for a drive to the nearest Dairy Queen (which isn't very near) for blizzards, stop by the Farmer's Market for peaches and coffee before church and attend church together... and just spend a slow, relaxing few days just being together. Oh, and Adam made wings - because they're amazing (and also imperceptibly gluten-and-dairy-free) he's going to make them again next week and let me post the recipe.

However, a short weekend means a shorter week to get a long list of tasks completed. My list awaits (as does the dishwasher, filled with clean dishes), but come back on Wednesday for a different sort of post!

It's easy to see why so many mums default to comfortable, indestructible clothes and stop trying to keep up things like hair and nails when they're trying to keep up with active kiddos, instead - but they shouldn't have to be mutually exclusive! What are your favorite kid-proof ways to "feel pretty"?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


It's Five Minute Friday! An internet-wide flashmob of bloggers, all getting together to write on a prompt provided by the lovely Lisa-Jo, then linking up and sharing a little comment love. Head here for more info, more posts, and/or to join in!

A few miles away from our apartment complex, there is a small lake with a park and a trail around it. Brooklyn and I go walk there whenever the weather permits (not too hot, not too wet) because it's a lovely little thing and because it makes concentric loops so you can walk for as long as you feel like without being trapped by a certain distance.

At one point along the trail, there is a verdant overgrowth of wildflowers with two signs: Do not mow, and Do not pick the flowers. On the other side of the trail is the backside of a subdivision. The yards come right up to the trail's edge, and as we rounded the corner, I saw a big plastic bag full of bags hanging on the outside of a dear little picket fence. It initially confused me (some people landscape right up to the trail, but not this house, so I couldn't imagine a reason for having the bags on that side) until I spotted the pile of green leaves and woody roots lying on the path (irises, maybe?) Someone had cleaned out their flowerbeds, and rather than throw away the surplus, they were sharing!

It struck me, especially since it was right across from the Sacred Wildflowers. I realize that the point of the wildflowers being left is that "if everyone picked one, then soon they'd be gone and then there wouldn't be any for the rest of us!" but that's a sad, mistrustful mentality that too many people in our jaded world ascribe to. The belief that if you trust people then they'll betray you, and if you give them a bloom then they'll harvest the whole field and sell it for profit on the nearest streetcorner. But if the wildflowers are left where they're planted, then the only people who can see them are the people who can (and will) walk on the trail. The best someone can do to spread them further is to take a picture, but that pales in comparison to actually seeing a flower in person.

But shared bulbs (rhizomes?) taken and planted elsewhere - that's the kind of thinking that makes Christianity work. Freely sharing the beauty, letting it multiply, then sharing some more --- having faith that whatever we give away, God will return and more, and that giving away joy and hope and love and beauty doesn't actually deplete our own supply anyway - it bounces back to give us greater capacity both to give and to receive! If I ever see whoever left those flowers sometime, I'd like to thank them, even though I didn't take any (no place to plant them) - for providing a moment of encouragement, and the reminder that the reason we bloom is not for our own enjoyment, but for the encouragement of others and the glory of God.

Do you bloom for the butterflies, the passersby, and the Artist who crafted you --- or are you tempted to just bloom for yourself?

Putting a Stamp on Gratitude

Last week's gifts...
668. Outdoor seating for a lunchdate with Brooklyn - she was sufficiently distracted by all the nature and the line of people that I was able to eat
669. Naps all 'round
670. The toaster oven not catching on fire when I accidentally broiled the slice of quiche I was trying to reheat for lunch
671. Having two cars so that on the weekends that Adam works, Brooklyn and I can still go have adventures
672. Local ice cream with a reasonable sense of portion (and corresponding price - seriously, all I really want is the kiddie scoop!)
673. The nice upcycled vintage jewelry vendor who held Brooklyn's fingers and walked around with her so I could take pictures
674. A church that has two identical services, one after the other, so that we can go whenever Brooklyn wakes up and we get ready (that meant the early service this week)
675. A Farmer's Market. It was refreshing - and even though we didn't spend long there (too hot!), we both really enjoyed it
676. A beautiful bright pink bouquet (I can totally relate to that poem about selling one of your last loaves of bread in order to buy flowers "to feed the soul")

677. A company that understands the value of handwritten gratitude

Occasionally, a company will acknowledge the gratitude that customers send their way - like Chex printing the thank-you notes that they've gotten for having gluten-free cereal on the back of their boxes. It's nice to know that customer appreciation is, well, appreciated and that a live human actually opens the mail that you send. (And comforting to me to know that I'm not the only aberration who sends thank-you notes to companies...) And, revealing their human side is good marketing.

I love marketing. It's something that I'm naturally good at, and genuinely enjoy. I also love sharing things that I think are worthwhile with others - there's so much awful stuff in this world, packaged up as Wonderful Things We Need, that somebody has to filter through and find the ones that are actually good. Local business are my favorite - after all, if I find a store that I like, I want it to stay in business so it's there when I need something, and what better way to do that than to tell others about it?

So I've written quite a few posts (and probably been a little annoying on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at times...) about local businesses, and more recently, about companies with ethical business practices. I've received responses ranging from thank-yous, hugs, and... absolutely no response at all. I don't write from a desire for any sort of return, but to me it's kind of bad customer service to not acknowledge the value of positive feedback and word-of-mouth --- especially when they'd probably be all over it, making reparations, if I wrote something negative!

Last week I wrote about Jamberry, on the recommendations of others. Because I hadn't actually used their products and wanted to be accurate, I contacted them asking for additional information before I wrote the post, and the lady I was in contact with asked for a link to the finished post (can't blame her for that - I usually try to send one anyway). She sent back a very gracious and appreciative response, and asked for my address. Less than a week later, UPS turned up on our doorstep with a small package. Sure, there were fun nail wraps to try (and I'm excited to try them!) but there was also, for only the second time ever, a handwritten note, reiterating her digitally sent thanks. Seriously, who does that?

Thankfulness matters, as does gratitude expressed - not only toward the Author of our faith, but also toward the souls we journey with. I feel like I've gotten better about writing thank-you notes, but this was a good reminder of how encouraging gratitude can be in our entitled world - and an encouragement to keep being outwardly thankful.

678. Adam getting sent home early (really, what should be "on time" but never is) by two superior officers who appreciated all the work he's been doing
679. and him having time to see Brooklyn, grill dinner, and for us to watch (most of) a movie together
680. The ridiculous selection of different versions of Monopoly that we (well, mostly I) have collected that allows us to loan them out to friends.
681. Udi's soft chocolate chip cookies - they taste like chewy Chips Ahoy!
682. Receiving three notes (two mailed, one hand delivered) all in one day
683. Brooklyn's patience at the post office while I got packages ready to mail
684. An unseasonably cool evening for a walk at the park
685. Short hair - I saw my reflection 10 minutes before we left and realized that it needed to be washed, so I just did it in the sink (it's nice not having to wait for Brooklyn to be asleep in order to go through the ordeal of a shower, for that sole purpose)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will trust in Him.
[Lamentations 3:22-24]

Won't you join us in counting (and recounting!) His mercies anew? Just grab a journal or notebook (it doesn't have to be fancy) and a pen and write them down, then join us each week to encourage each other by sharing all of the blessings we've spotted. Catch up on everyone's posts and if you don't have a blog, feel free to participate by commenting, instead!

Check out these #NewEveryMorning hosts, as well, and don't forget to use the hashtag on Twitter so that we can find each other:
   Kayla [at] Renown and Crowned
   Kelsey [at] Faith Fun and the Fergusons

How has someone else's gratitude blessed you?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Create and Cultivate

Adam's been extra-busy with work this past week (by "extra-busy" I mean that Brooklyn hasn't seen him at all because he's been getting home between 8 and 11 every night and since it was Drill he worked over the weekend). We did get to spend one evening playing a few hands of Bananagrams - otherwise, we've pretty much gone straight to bed.

That is not my favorite arrangement (it's worse than him being gone - at least that way, we both prioritize spending at least 15 minutes each evening talking) but it can't be helped. Brooklyn and I decided to seize the opportunity for a three-part adventure, photographing another South Main Street location.

No, The Root wasn't our spot, but it was across the street from it so we tried it out on Friday. They serve fresh, local food, and get their regular bread from Boulevard (also across the street) and gluten-free buns and bread from Dempsey Bakery. I enjoyed my sandwich, and Brooklyn enjoyed the bit of cucumber that I let her "sneak" off my plate.

The Bernice Garden. Also on South Main Street, it's privately owned by Anita Davis but intended for public use - whether that be an impromptu picnic with friends, a few quiet moments spent sitting alone, or renting the space for a wedding or other event.

She's all about what's pleasing to the eye but also healthy for the environment, so the base of the central pavilion is the concrete pad that a fast food restaurant used to sit on, and the beautiful sloping canopy funnels rainwater into a reservoir for watering the Garden's native plants.

The space is also sprinkled with a lovely array of work from local artists, intended to evoke the spirit, nature, and history of Arkansas, and chosen in a yearly competition (although some are permanent fixtures).

Remember how I said the space can also be used for events? On the second Saturday of every month (late Spring through early Fall), the Bernice Garden hosts a Vintage Market. It was an extremely warm day to be outside, even in the shade --- but that meant I didn't feel as in-the-way, taking pictures, since there were less people to be in the way of.

There was a range of items from vintage to truly antique, and one lady who had upcycled vintage jewelry into lovely modern pieces. (She also let Brooklyn hold her fingers and walk around while I took pictures, which act of kindness made me like her all the more).

And then (this part is my favorite) on Sunday mornings from April to November, the Garden hosts a Farmer's Market. Brooklyn and I went after church - I parked and asked her if she wanted to go to a farmer's market, and she giggled, then proceeded to beam the entire time we were there. I deeply enjoyed it, as well - people from the culture I'm most comfortable in tend to frequent such places.

It was a dear little thing (if you've been to the Market in Fayetteville, imagine one side of it and you've got this one) with an excellent selection: veggies, a food truck, fresh bread (sadly not gluten-free - it smelled amazing!), a coffee pour-bar, a few family businesses of salsa and jam - and a one man band. I left with a local food guide and vibrantly pink bouquet (and the promise to come back another time and have coffee).

[There was also a well-loved and slightly-abused piano, for whoever to play on that wanted to, at the Farmer's Market]

So, three days of exploring the Bernice Garden were well spent, and only made me want to spend more time there - though, perhaps after it cools off a little!

When was the last time you really explored the attractions in your hometown, trying to see through the excited eyes of a tourist, instead of the jaded eyes of a local?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Moonrise {a poem, because I am part elf}

The moon is full tonight. It's also a "super moon," so it's closer than usual. And since it was a cloudless night, I decided to sit out on our balcony and watch it rise. This is the sort of thing that comes of such pastimes...

Sun fades.
Our building casts a shadow on the treeline,
the sky darkened but still a greyish-blue.
Hush falls.

I wait.
An orange orb peeks coyly through the trees,
her passage marked by passing branches.
I watch.

she climbs, her rising draws the naked eye -
she will not harm the gazer,

Night falls.
Denizens arise - bats and owls
fly, on silent wings

rise from the grass,
each one mirrored by a rising star,
they glow.

of light appears above the trees,
jet trails rendered paths of pixie dust -

I stand
in anticipation as she nears
the darkly silhouetted crest
of trees.

She-who-shares-the-sky appears,
her glory full yet gentle -

drown the city sounds,
it is only the Moon and I,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Belong... {the post I didn't want to write}

It's Five Minute Friday! Usually the lovely Lisa-Jo posts a prompt that starts a blogging flashmob, everyone writing for 5 minutes (no stopping, no editing), then linking up and sharing a little comment love. She's offline this week, so we're gathering over at Crystal's place. Head here for more info, more posts, and/or to join in!

An aside - this took a bit longer than five minutes to write, but it's something I've felt led to share for some time. I finally grudgingly told God that if it worked with tonight's FMF prompt, then I would post it. Note to self: don't test God.

God has been prodding me for some time to come out with a piece of my past, to share my story so that He can be glorified and others encouraged, but I’ve been pushing back in fear and telling Him that applying the perspective I gained is surely enough, that I’ll just drop hints here and there and the people who need my story will catch on and ask, saving me the mess of everyone else knowing. And then He brought me a blog post, a letter from a friend, Tenth Avenue North’s album The Light Meets the Dark, and Five Minute Friday, and I finally gave in. Some people who read this will be angry, some horrified - I can think of several who will probably stop speaking to me, for one reason or another - but it is not my task to control the reactions of my readers, only to write.

So, in obedience, I write. Growing up, I didn’t really belong anywhere. I preferred talking to adults as opposed to peers, but was often misunderstood and patronized - forced into peer interaction, I found boys to be better and less shallow conversationalists, but that was taboo. Granddaughter of a preacher and daughter of the church pianist, I pretended to fit in at church, but was slightly terrified lest someone discover my secret... As the girls I interacted with began to go boy crazy around me, I quickly fabricated a loftily virtuous persona, high above their silly crushes and short-term relationships --- in order to conceal the painful truth that I cared for boys only for talking to, but was romantically attracted to girls. Terrified of being found out by the extremely conservative Southerners I was surrounded by, I hid it well, never acting on my feelings but feeling them nonetheless, and I resigned myself to a life of singleness and celibacy. [A note, for clarity’s sake: I did not refrain from acting on my feelings because of fear, but because I believed them to be wrong.  I did then and do still believe that same-sex attraction should not be acted on - that merely feeling a feeling does not mean that you should put it into practice, whether it’s lust, anger, pride, or any other. Yes, you may be born with a tendency toward certain feelings, and there is no shame in your initial reflexive impulse - but you can choose whether or not to let it go further… we are all born with a bent toward some particular sin, and that bent can only be overcome through the power of God’s Spirit.]

But the moment I first saw Adam, healing began. I walked into a Tacky Christmas Sweater Party, congested and with a nose as red as the pompoms on my sweater (the event wasn’t really designed for anything other than a good laugh and a fun time, so I wasn’t really worried) and he was the first person I saw. Total stranger though he was, I was overwhelmed with emotions and attractions on a level that I had never experienced before - which is why I was so unshakably confident that God brought us together, and for a reason. Before that, I had only experienced a sense of fear and judgment - but in that moment, I was overwhelmed with a Love and a Grace and a Hope of such magnitude that I was suddenly able to believe that God really is good, and that I wasn’t just an unfortunate mouse in a cosmic maze, chosen to be the one who always got a shock instead of a piece of cheese.

The healing is almost complete, but there are still scars. Never having had the typical childhood dreams of being a wife and a mum meant that I was (and still am) ill-prepared to be either. So there’s currently an art project in the way of me being able to vacuum, there’s a mountain of (clean) laundry on my dresser (looking for the match to a sock a few days ago, I unearthed a longsleeved Tshirt --- aaand it’s the middle of July), and as I stagger sleepily to get Brooklyn in the middle of the night I sometimes wonder what the hell I’m doing up (by the time I get to her room I’ve remembered that I love her, and she’s a mostly helpless baby and needs to be taken care of, but that realization may take a few minutes to come).

So I journey on, not really belonging in any single circle but advocating for balance and unity. My own perspective causes me to look at every person, at every situation, with the awareness that there are always at least two sides to every story, that I don’t know what someone else is thinking, and that very few of the hills we choose to die on are worth fighting over in the end; that a love that unconditionally thinks of others before itself and is beyond the comprehension of an aching world is the only path to healing, and that that love can only come by surrendering to Love Himself.