Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Living Room Light

A couple months ago I had one of those existential crises in which everything was suddenly was too loud, too busy, too jarring, too jolting. Too much. Too much. I wanted quiet. Calm and bright, only not the Christmas kind.

I pulled everything off the walls, including the beloved Mexican Fiesta curtains, removed every single nick-nack and do-dad, and when I was done, I was done. I loved it for a little while. We lived in a blank space for at a full week, which in the reality of someone like me, is basically a millenium, or at least a century. I did what Nester calls "quieting the room", and all I can say is, I was made for quiet. I wasn't sure if I'd ever pull myself out of the quiet. Even Robert was starting to worry. "Mom, when you gonna hang something up? This is weird."

It just so happened that around the same time, our jute rug unraveled - again - and with it, my last shred of sanity.

We rolled it up that dusty, dirty, bland ol' foe in disgust and brought in this bad boy, who had been quietly waiting in the basement, never intended for the LR in the first place. We bought it months ago from Rugs USA all thanks to my pal, Kelly. I saw it on her Instagram feed, hounded her about it for weeks, then bought the same exact rug (so inexpensive! so beautiful! so everything!) and she doesn't even hate me for it.

I grabbed the curtains online from Ikea and they're all I hoped they would be: white and cheap.

Yesterday I took some pictures with my janky phone, and they are the worst. My apologies. Our good camera is in for a repair and it has us feeling all spoiled and bratty with the way we barefly think we can go on without it.

This is my real life. We aren't magazine-ready people, so you might as well know it and besides, I'll start decorating soon for Christmas so this was sort of a now-or-never situation.

Truth: I never know for sure what to do with this monstrous sectional. (Other than the obvious - lounge about, watch all the Parenthood, read all the books, eat all the salsa.) Where do you put the pillows? The throws? Heck if I know. But I watched this fun little video, and it totally helped.

{black & white pillows - Target clearance, round and floral pillows - Depot thrift store}

{Shine Your Light pillow - Dayspring, floral pillow and plaid wool throw - Depot thrift store}

It occurred to me last night that perhaps what I've done here wouldn't meet many standards of "quiet".  When it comes to pattern-mixing, MORE IS MORE.

Paint the walls white and hang white curtains, you get the illusion of peace along with the fun that comes with being a little weird in the ways of throw pillows.

Or your money back.

{finally got my claws on this book, and Calvin "bought" the model at his class store last week}

(Every time I see my home from this angle, I remember why I make my kids play outside so much.)

This feels like the right time to confess that not even four years ago, I was lamenting the state of "people" who switch out pillows and even (gasp!) curtains seasonally. I was in that distinct middle place, smack dab between being that girl and wanting so desperately to rise way above the fray.

You can see how far that got me.

I continue to stun myself with the inability to fit all the pieces of life, faith, and what I believe in the bones of my soul into a manageable paradigm. Part of me would still love to tie a quilted, ruffled carrying case around my life and the way I live it, just like it used to do with my Student NIV. I want everything to be portable, tidy, and to look so good from the outside in.

But these are the struggles of living in the tension. This is what we were promised when we were made human. This isn't my home, but it is for a while, and I keep fluffing and waiting and wondering and starting over.

Next week brings its own unique mix of questions, and I'll be right here, with all my pillows, writing them down.

For today, here's to hoping we all find the space to breathe.

*Dayspring affiliate link

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why We Walk to School

Some days, he waits, lingering near the back-packed kids waiting to file into the building and do what you do when you're six or ten years old and it's a weekday. He's always there early, and we tend to show up when the line is already up the stairs and bent sharply toward the sidewalk, but sometimes he stalls, especially if he's got news.

I kiss Silas smack on the lips once, twice, and he whispers in my ear, "I'm going to try to get 100% today!" then runs off with Ruby, their breath collecting in a cloud between them.

It's November, and it finally looks that way.

Most of our walk to school was spent in the streets because for a week now, our dutiful neighbors have been raking and blowing leaves into neat piles along the curb. They're shin-high now, and few things are more enticing to little kids than kicking them along as we go. "Don't kick the leaves! Any day now, they'll come and sweep them up."

Any day.

Half a mile up the road, a crew of men work on the railroad crossing that used to zip into downtown - a straight shot from here to there. For reasons related to city planning and traffic flow, the crossing has been closed for nearly a year and I miss it every day. It's just one more way to be forgotten, if you ask me. One more reason to make hard lives harder. Things I used to see as little, or even negligible, are growing now. There are plenty of reasons to sweat the small stuff.

They fire their equipment up and though we're too far to see what they're doing, it echos against November air while the ground crunches beneath us. Silas holds my hand and says, "It sounds like someone is growling. It sounds like GOD is growling!"

"What do you think might make God growl, guys? Anything?"

I thought they might say God doesn't growl, but they don't. Instead, they think God gets growly when we disobey, or when people choose to not follow Him. I tell them I think those things make God sad, but I think He saves His growling for injustice, which is a big word for small people.

It turns out, they're hard-wired to understand.

"That's like the picture I have on my wall!"

"That's like the time Andrea kicked me off the trampoline for saying bad words and I said, 'Please, can I have another chance?' and she said, 'No way!'"

Calvin is largely silent, more worried about his mystery hip ailment and the fact that his mom is singing, "Act justly! Love mercy! Walk humbly with your God!" while his friends might be in ear-shot.

Mercy means giving a second chance.
Walking humbly means we know we can't do good without God.

We cross the busy street, say our goodbyes, and my friend hustles over. "Man, I'm tired."

"Same here" I say, in solidarity. This is typical Monday-morning fare. He's a hard worker, and he likes to sing karaoke across town.

Here's the rest of the truth: before this year, I assumed he didn't work. I took stock, maybe felt sorry for him, and made unfair assumptions that were damaging both to him as a person, and to our capacity to live as friends.

All the while, he's been taking care of business on a low-budget, fast-food income, grabbing side jobs wherever he can find them.

I should know better by now.

I have dealt my own sort of injustice.
I have granted pity when mercy and humility would have been better, simpler choices.

"I worked two jobs this weekend. Two jobs! Man, I'm extra tired." He beams while he says this, his face lit up in blazing contrast to his words.

He's washing dishes now, making nine bucks an hour now. "Can you believe that?!" He'll get insurance. He'll get to put his two weeks notice in at the other job.

We shuffle along in the decaying leaves while I pass out "Good for you!"'s  and one solid high-five. It's all I have to offer but most of all, the only thing he needed.

I walk to school with my kids because I love holding their hands and talking with them, unrushed.
I walk because my body is almost 40, and moving it isn't a bad thing.

I walk to school because my neighbors do, and after two years of hopping into our heated van every morning and driving to the drop-off line, I'm understanding my privilege and the ways it undermines my place as a neighbor.

I walk to school because these familiar sidewalks are inviting me into unfamiliar spaces, and because the road to community is a slow one, paved with ordinary repetition.

We can't all walk to school, and I know there's nothing particularly magical or extra-Christian about it. But we can all find our lane, whatever it happens to be, and commit to staying in it for the long haul, or until God says otherwise.

He waits for us to notice Him in the faces around us.
This is who I am. This is how I love you.

*You can follow along as we walk to school each morning on Instagram or Facebook.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Go-To Fall Outfits

I've had this post sitting in my archives for, oh, two months.
I'm in a strange place right now of feeling conflicted (again!) about my clothes and my closet and blah, blah, blah.

It's a lot to sort through, and as luck would have it, you'll eventually be stuck shouldering half of my philosophical burden.

The good news is, that day is not today.

The bad news is, I'm showing you what I wear in early-fall, and it's almost winter.

I can't stop loving old man sweaters from Goodwill.

This one is a true Mr. Rogers cardi, and I'm not just saying that because I'm trying to glom onto his ultra-cool factor.

It's sort-of-scratchy wool, super warm, and the color of, uh, the 1960's.

Remember when I traveled to Ethiopia two years ago with Mocha Club and fashionABLE?

They're still some of my favorite people, and this is the time of year when I normally start twisting their scarves around my scrawny neck.

But they've also recently created a new jewelry line, created by woman overcoming addiction in the Nashville area. This is an early version of their Austin necklace, and I adore it.

(They've also got a new line of entirely customizABLE jewelry that is gorge.)

Jeans and T's.
I'm making peace with it these days.

Layers, yes. Some pattern? Sometimes.

But mostly, I just want comfort, man.
I find myself not wanting to think too much about what I wear these days.

Give me something soft and easy.
I'm basically reverting back to infancy.

Except for the wrinkles.

Both pairs of these jeans were bought online at LOFT, on clearance. They have good jeans. And great sales. I order a whole bunch, try them all on, and return most of them at the mall. They don't even seem to hate me when I do this! I think it's an actual thing!

As far as shoes go, I'm the worst.
I don't care about shoes. I can't make myself be normal in this way.

90% of the time I'm wearing either my Single Hottest Boots This Year or my Converse.

I'll be honest and say they're feeling a bit snug lately, which totally disproves the whole "pregnancy makes your feet grow" theory. I think it's just boring old age that does it. It's years upon decades of our feet hitting the ground.

Over and over.

It's like when you pound a chicken breast flat only not at all and what on earth am I talking about? And why do you keep coming back?

The rest of the post was pulled from the archives, a throwback of past fall attire, if you will.

I don't know what it is, but I love seeing what other people wear.
And what they eat.
And read.
And how many throw pillows on the couch they find to be an acceptable number.

I rock a real "Tell me everything" vibe.

And since I should be getting groceries right now, heck, I'll provide a little commentary. Time mismanagement is one of my spiritual gifts, and senseless yammering is another.

Okay, I wore this three years ago to Cory's work Christmas party. (Same shirt I wore in our latest family pics!) I didn't put much thought into it, because I usually don't like going to parties and only get dressed when Cory's voice starts reaching a certain pitch.

Once I was dressed, I mean, I liked it. It worked. So I had him take a picture in our BDR pink-tiled bathroom. And as one does, I put it on the blog.

All I can say in summary is this: people liked this look. It was pinned a bunch of times, only the photo on Pinterest looks a million times worse than this one. I couldn't be bothered back then to correct the white balance. I was busy trying not to lose my mind as I "potty-trained" Silas.


This was from back when we lived on the farm and I still wear that TJ Maxx sweatshirt-thing ALL the time. The cords are currently in my closet. The purple T was recently discarded, due to holes in the elbows.

I like to layer.
I've had this skirt for maybe 10 years or more. I call it my horse blanket skirt.

I doubt if it still fits me... sob.

If you ever see me speak, there's a very good chance I'll be wearing this gingham shirt.
It's my adult security blanket.

Jeans & T's for Life!!!

And scarves!

Do you know about Sevenly T's?
I could wind up with a real "issue" over there, if I let myself. So good.

I bought this dress on a whim, wore it once, then realized I was too old for it and it made me feel like a guy in a mullet still wearing his high school class ring.

I'm trying not to do that anymore.

But that sweater is still my bestie. I wore it just yesterday.

Speaking of mullets*...

I feel like maybe we don't change that much over time.
We like to think we do, but when it comes down to it, I'm still a bookish, nerdy girl with sticking-out ears, flat hair, and a penchant for layering unlikely combos.

This was one of my most memorable outfits EVER, bought brand new from the JC Penney catalog. It made me feel like the luckiest girl in all the Miami Valley area, and I think that shows in my confident posture and level gaze.

I'm ready to let go of the snap-up mock turtleneck, but holy cow, that plaid.

*I'm aware that it looks like I have an actual mullet in this picture. In fact, it's just styled to look like a mullet. Obvs. Cory still doesn't believe me, but you'll have to take my word for it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What it Means to Care

When our house was being built on the north side of Goshen, they accidentally installed windows that were much larger than planned. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then a pair of gigantic, street-facing windows are the window to the community, and oh, the things I see through mine.

There are families slow-poking to the park, kids attempting to race bikes with bent rims and squishy tires, people walking dogs, men talking into their phones, co-workers clocking meetings in walking shoes.

The teenagers always grab my attention longest, and not just because they’re so loud. I see them with their hunched shoulders and their short shorts. They often look surly. They might be trouble-makers or smack-talkers. They refuse eye contact. My instinct is to maintain some distance between us. Besides, there’s no way they’d want to be bothered by me.

Sometimes I find myself wondering, what does it feel like to believe you’re not worth the simple trouble of hello?

I wouldn’t know.

My youth was spent in a one-light town, and that was only the beginning of our deficits. We had a lone RC Cola pop machine, a tiny library with a single shelf of worn teen romances, and zero choices in our school cafeteria. We didn’t even have a football team.

Click here to continue reading the rest of my column in my local newspaper, The Elkhart Truth.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fall Family Pictures

Following our annual tradition, we met up a few weeks ago with Cory's whole family and our tripod to catch a few family pics.

And I do mean "catch"...there's nothing quite like wrangling 10 kiddos in for a shot when there's *no one* behind the camera. Basically, we're all shouting things like "Sit up straight!" "Look at the camera!" "Turn around!" "SMILE!" through gritted teeth while we ourselves struggle the take our own advice.

We're very profesh.

There's always something a little wonky about the final result. Last year, Cory "accidentally" positioned one of his BILs almost entirely out of the photo and now he just looks like a lonely creeper.

I think it's obvious what the problem was this year.

I'll give you a hint: Cory apparently wore a XXXL puffy shirt and none of us realized it until we saw final edits.

It's a true conundrum, because he wore the same shirt around the same people yesterday and we all agreed it fit just fine. As stated by the photo-bombing brother-in-law, "Did you gain fifty pounds since family pictures?"

It was a valid question.

Also, Robert came for pictures. And smiled like this.

Since you don't know him or anything about his day-to-day life, you don't know what a big deal it is. I almost didn't even ask him! WHAT???? It's so interesting, parenting a grown-up. He's got a job and kids and bills and "things ta do."  I catch myself thinking he probably doesn't value the same stuff we do, or that he thinks we're just dorky.

In reality, he DEFINITELY thinks we're dorky.

And he keeps choosing us anyway.

Part of the deal included a bribe to buy him something to wear, and when I went to Wal-Mart with him and his brother, well, I wasn't sure I would make it back out with my sanity intact. At one point, the two of them were goofing around and put on those face-mask hats and I almost lost my business. It seemed...unwise. But they didn't get it. And honestly, this is a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother day.

I tried to steer him toward a plaid button-down and he said, "What year do you think this is? 1973?" Somewhere in the midst of ALL the very popular plaid shirts, we found the cartoon T's. It was optimally important to him that we find shirts that matched his shoes, and when all was said and done, I also bought him a Joker shirt, only after making him promise he'd never wear it around the little kids because IT IS TERRIFYING.

Anyway, I'm immensely proud of him and his Dickie's pants.

Since we're already half-way on the topic, here's what the rest of us wore. In typical fashion, I didn't give it any thought at all until two days before, then had to scramble to find stuff that looked somewhat cohesive.

Me: J Crew pinstriped button-down circa 2009, J Crew cords circa 2010, my weirdest TJ Maxx impulse buy vest, circa 2008-ish. (Does anyone but me find it interesting that my favorite stuff is also some of my oldest stuff and probably some of the stuff I spent the most $ on? Stay tuned for further thoughts on this...)

Cory: Puff shirt via the consignment store in town.

Ruby: Sweater, skirt from the same consignment store. Tights and shirt were here own.

Si: Flannel from the same consignment store (holla!) and his own jeans. (It's a big feat to get him into "hard" pants.)

Calvin: Plaid shirt from Goodwill, his own jeans.

I thought we all looked pretty good together. We made it work.
There was a time when I would have convinced myself it was warranted to run out and buy brand new outfits. Or even just drive over to Old Navy and fill in the gaps.

Those days are long gone, and we're all better for it.


We tried to do shots of each couple because, hey, kids shouldn't have all the fun. Spoiler: it was a giant bust. The leaves weren't as swoony this year. We didn't have a glimmery back-drop. The main problem was, we're all afflicted with a certain level of awkwardness.

I had the bright idea to try to copy a cool shot I saw on Pinterest...

Hahahaaaa!!!!!!!!!! I'm laughing so hard right now, alone at my desk. YOU GUYS > what is wrong with me??? For one thing, this shot was nearly impossible because I forgot I'm not a petite little thang. I'm almost as tall as Cory. We had to stand him on a slight incline and wish for the best.


Why the giant hands, God???????? And why didn't I just be regular and keep my hands down at my sides? Cory kept insisting it wasn't "that bad" but when he was editing these a few nights ago and I said, "It looks like a monster hand reaching up between us!" he died laughing and now it's all either of us can see.

After that I tried to make us hold hands in the WEIRDEST WAY POSSIBLE and the end result is a photo where it looks like I'm being hauled off to jail. And not to do a book club or Bible study.

He's the sheriff and I'm that unstable celebrity who got busted doing something terrible then smiles and poses in the mug shot. With one of my heels raised fashionably in the air. It's like I don't even grasp how serious the situation even is!

At long last, we decided to try just being normal.
And that pretty much sums up our entire life.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weekend Cheer-Ups

:: I don't like sports either, but Jami's post about the KC Royals made me want to for a minute.

:: I was a guest on the Feathers podcast and our chat was so encouraging and fun.

:: I asked for soup ideas and you guys delivered! We had this Polish soup last night for dinner. YUM. (I added a clove of garlic and generous salt and pepper.)

:: We saw Avett Brothers in concert on Thurs. I'm partial to Joe Kwan, the cellist.

:: I discovered Sweet Harvest Pumpkin tea two days ago and I can't stop loving it. (It's caffeinated!)

:: I spoke at Allume last month and all sessions are now available on their site.

:: Out in the Wild by Amber Haines (at Art of Simple) lowered my blood pressure and gave me a taste of the country life I will always love. "I let my chickens out, and yesterday coyotes pitched howls straight to me from the tree line. It gives me shivers, but it’s a gift to be out in the wild."

:: We finally drank the Parenthood Kool-aid. (We watch on Netflix.) To be continued...

:: I keep making this exceptionally easy and delicious chocolate pudding.

:: The lovely Alia Joy bared told the hard truth about racism and loving our neighbor over at (in)courage. "We confuse unity and peace with uniformity and passivity. We stay clustered and similar, familiar and unchallenged."

:: This is an insightful article on white kids and integrated schools.

:: One of my favorite writers, DL Mayfield, wrote a piercing piece About Guns. "Sometimes it felt like everyone I knew had stared down the barrel of a gun."

:: I still like discovering "new" blogs. (Viva, blogs!!!!) I've intersected with Shannon Evans a few times, but really and truly discovered her writing with this post, and now I'm hooked. She speaks all my wonky languages.

Happy weekending, Homies!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Vacation Food

This is overdue.

I am overdue.

In every way but the way you're thinking.

I don't know, the leaves outside are just blowing my dang MIND. Half the trees are bald and the other half are just luscious. There's no other word for them, and I don't say that lightly, because the world "luscious" always makes me feel like a creeper.

So, as far as my delay on telling you all about what we ate on our BYOF vacay, I blame the foliage. (classic scapegoat)

(Guys - I'm feeling wonky right now...it feels like this could get really off course really quickly. This is just a warning. I'm in that mood. I'll do my best.)

I'll cut to the chase, for our trip to the TN mountains last week, because of its realllllly remote location, we had to bring all of our food with us.

And though I do love to cook, I'm not used to cooking on location. A big part of the appeal of vacationing for me is eating most meals out, so this was going to require some planning on my part, along with a shift in my perspective.

Fortunately, the trip fell soon after I handed in my manuscript, so I was theoretically able to do things again like "think" and "plan".

Unfortunately: distracting foliage. (see above)

As it all played out, I spent 4 days in South Carolina, speaking at Allume, then returned home on Sunday, took a 4 hour nap, and when I fully came to, it was Monday, my kids were all home on Fall Break, and I had three full days worth of meals to plan and cook.

I did shopping on Monday and a bit of cooking that night, then cooked my fool brains out on Tuesday, before we hit the road around 4pm. (So many 4's!)

Since I already had food on every flat surface of the kitchen, I doubled all of the main dish recipes and walked three dishes over to my neighbor, who just gave birth to the cutest little guy on her kitchen floor a couple of weeks ago.

But that's another story for another day. 

For now, the story is: Scattered Blogger Wonders Why She Can't Live in the Mountains of Tennessee 

Can you believe how dreamy this little house in the hills is? All the white space did something to me. It rearranged my sensibilities. There's nothing like a bare, beautiful room to make a person feel like they're taking a nap whilst being fully (mostly?) awake. 

The white space combined with copious amounts of distracting, beautiful foliage eased us into a place where we happily did things like piece together puzzles, paint lots of pictures, read books, and play board games.

But I'm supposed to be talking about the food.

The night before we left for TN, I spent a couple late night hours making loads of breakfast burritos, with scrambled eggs, spicy sausage, cheese, avocado, and pickled jalapenos. Half of them also had black beans.

These burritos met a sad end, but I'm not sure I can talk about it yet.

I also baked this cake, because it's pumpkin cake fused with chocolate cheesecake, and I can't think of a reason in the world not to eat this every week.

I also made:
Teresa's homemade Mac and Cheese. It's my go-to, and if you don't believe me, just read the comments on her post.

Stuffed Pepper Soup - An old fave, and I apologize about the picture. Viva, 2009! (what.)

Lemon Orzo Chicken Soup from Damn Delicious. SO good. So, so, so. Lemon makes everything happier!

When we arrived, Edie-Girl was waiting for us with a big pot of her famous tortellini soup.
She also had warm rosemary bread, a batch of my salsa, and a killer salad with kale and shaved brussels sprouts. (soulmate!!)

We grabbed milk and eggs on our way to the house and had French toast with strawberries on morning.

We also took cereal, fruit, and some snacks, like Takis (Fuego flavor HOLY ADDICTIVE YUM), Salt & Vinegar potato chips, peanut butter, nuts, and popcorn.

On our last night, we had planned a fancy "happy hour", in which we brought out all of our finger foods (peppers, hummus, cheese and summer sausage, roasted peas, fig crisps, baguette, and two kinds of olives) and had San Pellegrino in wine glasses.

It all sounds pretty dreamy, but for the real story, you can just read this.

If I could do it over again, I would in a heartbeat.
It was definitely a bit of work on the front end, but the expense was minimal (no eating out!) and all it required of me was to warm something delicious up.

I guess it's official, I was made for the mountains.

Soup Forever,
Flower Patch Mountaingirl

PS - Speaking of soups, do you have one I need to try? Love you forever if you link it in the comments.

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