Friday, December 19, 2014

What He Gives

It was hot outside, the windows opened as wide as they'd go. They came in like they always do, brakes grinding, bass thumping, doors slamming, through the front door with a whiff of smoke, as loud as you can imagine. No, louder.

They'd punched the clock and had an hour to spare before curfew at Work Release, where they're both locked up. They don't always come home for their break, but oh man, when they do...

The part of me that wants everything planned, scheduled out, available to me on my terms? That part of me is shedding its skin, by force. That part of me is dying. So little happens on my terms anymore. And I hate it. And I love it.

I stood on my side of the island like an old-school diner cook. All I ever want to do is feed them, and you'd be surprised how often I'm turned down. But no one passes on pulled chicken sliders with pickles so I slid them over on paper plates and he marveled at the tiny buns, then ate them in two bites each.

Something made me grab the camera and capture this single, cock-eyed moment of my who-would've-guessed life. Maybe I knew I wouldn't be seeing D for a while, or maybe it was the way they stood there cutting up like they might have done back in elementary school, when the whole world still belonged to them, whether they knew it or not.

You might call these guys criminals, and you'd be right. You could label them and decide things about them because of the way their pants hang or the way the cigarette hangs from their lips. Maybe their tattoos would grab you, or the fake studs in his ears. Maybe you'd hear the way they speak when they think the coast is clear, and you'd cringe.

But come into my kitchen and you'll see everything else.
Better yet, fling open your fridge and decide you don't give a rip about who wears work boots across your clean floors. Tell them the truth. Hug them. Let them be loud.

I stuck my head out the door that day as they were leaving and R jumped out and ran back up to hug me again. D did the same, throwing his hands in the air at Robert, "What? She's my mom, too."

This was news to me, but it was no surprise.
Some kids know how to make soup with two stones and a rusty bucket.
They know what they want, somehow they know what they need, and they don't miss an opportunity. They don't pick sides. They add to what they have and it all gets stronger.
Some sons know families can be made, that it's not all up to blind luck. They know they have the power to shift the ground so their marble rolls a different way.

He gives the childless woman a family, so that she becomes a happy mother. (Psalm 113:9)
He gives the parent-less child a family, so that he becomes a happy young man.

We all come out winners.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Use-What-I-Have Chirstmas Decor

Two short weeks ago, I believed this would be the first year I skipped decorating for Christmas.

Then this print showed up, made by my talented friend, Aliza Latta, who sends notes saying things like, "Please don't think you have to share this. I just wanted you to have it!"

It inspired me instantly, and of course I knew I'd want to share it.

I love that it's Christmasy without trying too hard. My Christmas spirit is left-of-center this year, and this made so much sense to me. I love the look of it, and I especially love the truth of it, because God packed up and moved to earth as a squaking baby in order to kill fear forever. That's a year-round truth, guys. (Plus, white hand-lettering on black? Hello.)

As often happens without warning, I immediately wanted to change almost everything in the room. So I did. And now I'm here to dish.

{I'm going to try to keep this brief, because you and I both know those pork chops on the counter aren't going to sear themselves.}

The first thing I did was lovingly yank down the Mexican Fiesta curtains. They just never work with Christmas, and I'm sorry about that, Baby Jesus, because I know you love slightly-spicy salsa as much as I do.

Since we have bamboo blinds (bought online from Home Depot a few years ago), our windows would still be covered at night while I embarked on a hunt for some type of mistreated "curtains".

I looked everywhere. I looked at fabric. I looked at sheets.
In the end, it was all more cash than I wanted to spend. Also, I started to feel like we were rocking a sort of spare, Scandinavian vibe, and Scandanavian vibes are my second-favorite, after British. (And, well, Mexican.)

If you think I'm talking right now just to hear my own voice, all I can say is that when I went to Belgium for a month as an 11-year old, the Finnish/Norwegian people stole my heart, mostly because I didn't realize they existed before then, which was both stunning and amazing, not to mention their inherent style and the fact that they spoke really good English.

After ditching the curtain idea, I thought I'd buy some greenery to drape across the empty curtain-rod brackets. I even saved coupons so I could get them for 50% off.

Early last week I realized I just didn't have it in me to care.  Ironically, I had this distinct thought as I was running into my favorite thrift store. Little did I know my mind was about to be blown by strands of wiry, strange greenery sold for $1 per bundle.

Two bucks later, voila.
I shouldn't have let on that it was fake...I'm sure you never would have caught on.

Kidding. But guys, sometimes good enough is good enough. Especially when it's almost free.

I bought a few maps from an antique store for $2 each, but had never used them. So I taped them to the wall, randomly overlapping them. I bought a pre-cut photo mat from Michael's (using my 50% off coupon, so this cost less than $3.) I taped the print to the back of the mat, then Cory hung an empty, black frame, and tacked the print in the middle. There's no glass here, no fancy custom-framing, no nada. I find it all very swoony.

I searched around for some pink pillows but came up with squat. Maybe next year, although who are we kidding? I'll probably have a different idea next year.

Actually, no. I'm keeping this idea every Christmas for infinity.
It's my fave.

A note on the Swedes: this is our first Christmas with the Ikea Karlstad sectional. It has revolutionized our propensity for laziness. It also takes up our entire living room, which is why the Wonky Christmas tree had to be shoved in a most inconvenient corner.

Exhibit A:
{While I could use a scapegoat right now, the Swedes had nothing to do with us accidentally switching the order of the branches, resulting in its hour-glass shape.}

My dad found this aqua crate in their barn.
How does this happen, this magical finding of magical things in barns????

Magic is also mysteriously found at Aldi.

(Sidenote: Please buy all of their dark chocolate salted caramels and eat them until your teeth rot out, then thank me. I promise not to stare at your mouth when you do.)

I think Howard might be part Norwegian.

The tall, narrow cabinet-of-many-drawers-that-incites-all-your-envy-that-I-bought-at-a-garage-sale-for-$15-but-now-I'm-just-rubbing-it-in was topped with white trees, a creme brulee dish, a page I tore out of a kids book, and an old fair ribbon.

This old painting seemed like the most Christmasy thing I could imagine.

Okay, you've got me. The nativity is Southeast Asian.
I'm babysitting it for my sister and have contemplated abducting it, not just because Joseph's hat (?) says "Honda" and I drive a Honda.

 Moving on.

I hung the gingham curtains (made by a friend, hate me) in the dining room. QUALITY!

Silas filled a sticker chart that he conceptualized and created on his own, earning a strand of his own Christmas lights, with which he decorates something different every single day.

A friend sent us two puzzles, so we've been pretty busy around here...

I hope you believe me when I say living in our house is like living in a single room. I'm  plagued with messy-house angst, because no matter where you are, every mess is visible. There's just nowhere to hide around here. Literally. And figuratively. (I have tried both.)


Every Christmas our cow gets a bow on his horn.
It's complicated.

And I added a few wintry thrift-store mugs into the mix because I have discovered the limit to my self-control and it's THRIFT-STORE MUGS. I'm especially bedazzled by the pedestal mugs. They're tall, like me.

I also hung new napkin curtains, because Dutch is practically Finnish.
And I shoved some more old, fake greenery into a rando chicken feeder I rediscovered in the basement of doom.

 That poinsettia plate is plastic perfection.

And if I have to explain why I love that monkey snow globe, we should probably just part ways amicably before things get ugly.

Let's end with the creep babies.
They never disappoint, amiright?

Merry Christmas, Party People!
Wait a sec...

God jul, Partymanniskor!

That about sums it up.

PS - Here's the link to Aliza's shop, Choose Brave. Lots of good stuff here.

PPS - I read EVERY SINGLE ONE of the posts you guys linked on the Christmas link-up. You're all the best! I loved peeking into your worlds so much.
PPPS - In a happy coincidence, Nester's Christmas link-up is happening right now! 
PPPPS - This post took about 80 hours to write. I had to pee twice while I was working on it. THIS IS ME TRYING TO BE BRIEF.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Last Summer, I was scrubbing my cheeks with baking soda in the shower (like ya do) and thought, Yes. The whole world must know immediately about my skin care regimen.

Since that day, I've had the idea about 8,000 times, but there are two roadblocks to telling this story, and the first would be my Eyebrow Ditches.

You have fine lines. I have two perpendicular creases from years of squinting into the sun, even when it isn't even shining. Even when I'm wearing sunglasses. They say brown eyes are supposed to be the tough brutes of all the irises, but if that's true, why did I once sit in that giant robot chair and explain to my optometrist, "My eyes smell my mascara and it bothers them." (Just, why?)

A few years ago my sister and I were marveling about how wrinkle-free we were. I'm not even playing right now. If you have a sister, you know this is legal. One month later I turned 34 and overnight, many parts of me revolted. My face seized up, only the opposite. I became one of the wrinkled ones.

And in case you're worried now, no, I do not have body dysmorphic disorder. I know what this is because in Abnormal Psychology I had to "diagnose" my friend who thought he was bald, but actually wasn't.

The point is, it seemed that only someone with flawless skin or should yammer about her face scrubs. Meanwhile, I have a history of clogged pores, oily skin, saggy eyelids, and that weird cluster of something by my left eye that causes people to sometimes ask "What happened??!"

The second roadblock: Jesus.

This is embarrassing, okay? It's complicated in my head. As you may have noticed, my blog enjoys a scattered whimsical vibe. At some point I made the unconscious non-decision to not back myself into a corner, which results in me baring my guts about poverty and adoption and God one day and talking about brussels sprouts the next. It's confusing even for me. I have friends who say their top priority is to honor God with every word they write, and I nod along, but now and then I feel a visceral itch to emotionally purge my crushiest movie stars* (during the Advent season oh my gosh) or my first world J Crew problems and I'm left feeling like Jesus probably scrolls pasts me in his reader on those days.

It's true, I was created with a bent toward loving products. My adolescent dream job was to work at a drug store so I could memorize the mysteriously weird names of make-up colors all day. Yes, I did once write a letter to the editor of Teen Magazine airing my grievance that they didn't include recipes on how to make make-up from household products, but you know this embarrasses me, so why are you bringing it up???? (They didn't respond.) It felt like a major blow when I was eventually hired at Meijer only to be sent to the shoe department rather than HBA (if you don't know what that means, I'm shocked you're still even reading).

Shannan Martin is wrought with complexity, this much we know, but a post about janky skin care products? NO ONE CARES, ESPECIALLY NOT JESUS.

Or does He? All I can tell you is, last week I got an email from a reader asking what skin care products I use and it might as well have been a dove with an olive branch in its beak or a burning bush. 

So if you're wondering why God hasn't answered your prayers recently, it's because He's been busy coordinating my blog schedule and considering the lilies of my pores. So to speak.


Since we can't even handle any more ado, here is my skin care regimen, or as I like to accidentally say, my "skin care regime." (If, like me, you grew up on a cocktail of blue Noxzema, Apricot scrub from the devil, and the blue Sea Breeze, "regime" actually makes perfect sense.)

I scrub my face most mornings in the shower with a little bit of baking soda, sometimes mixed with a drop of Maddie & Sophie Cleanse oil. Lauren Conrad told me to do this and because baking soda is cheap and I have an affinity for reality TV stars who retained their common sense, I listened. It changed my life. In a way.

At night, I wash my face with some generic version of the Oily Skin version of Cetaphil.

After that, I rub a few drops of Maddie & Sophie "skin" oil all over my face.

Yes, I have oily skin and my life was forever changed by skin oil. It balances my pores in a magical way and it also somehow keeps them from getting that gross, clogged way. I have always been prone to break-outs (and still sometimes am) but this has never caused me trouble, and if you would have told me about this trickery when I was a teenager, I would have spit in your hair.

Note: both Maddie & Sophie products were given to me as a gift from a friend, so I did not personally pay for them. They aren't cheap. BUT. 1) They last forever (my first bottles lasted exactly one year) 2) They give me results that renew my faith in possibility and hope 3)They're certified organic, gluten-free, and totally natural and 4) the "cleanse" smells like an orange Dreamsicle.

Note: "cleanse" is currently sold-out but will be available again in January. AND...Maddie and Sophie is giving one bottle away to an FPFG reader. Just leave a comment telling me anything in the world about a product you love. Or, just say Hi. I'm easy. I'll pick a random winner sometime in the next week.

Rounding out my faves: this Nivea lip balm. I am allergic to going to bed with dry lips, and this gives a tiny hint of rosy color, so I use it in the morning, too, when I'm trying to be extra fancy as I take my kids to school in my pajamas.

I grabbed the Lacura night cream a couple weeks ago at Aldi. I loved their eye cream because it smelled like honeysuckle. This doesn't grab me in quite the same way, but it's nice to switch it up every now and then.

My "look".
(Can we call it that?? Please?)
Sloppy ponytail, a little bit of make-up, doing selfies on the front porch with our oldest son, Robert, in his #BITE ME hat. Naturally.

I do wish my lips were voluptuous enough to cover my gums, but  I don't hate my skin. Guys, I'm practically 40! Hand to heart, my skin is in better shape than it was 5 years ago. Amen. (If anyone knows the antidote to a fivehead, please approach the podium.)

These are my go-to make-up skin products du jour.

That Wet 'N Wild (576A - Rose Gold) lipgloss will rock your face off. It's so wrong, it's right.
At first you don't know what even got into you and why you're carrying its frosty self around.
Then you notice the way it makes you seem like you have a little bit of a tan even in December and you pledge your eternal love.

NYX concealer and blush are both from Target (I like a brighter blush. Sue me.) The ribboned Oil of Olay skin corrector concealer has been discontinued but I need it so bad that I hawked an arm and bought it on Ebay for nearly $20. (When it arrived with an orange clearance sticker on the lid, I raged.)

I discovered that Ben Nye banana powder on Pinterest with one of those before/after shots and ordered it without blinking twice. I don't always use it because I'm happy with a combination of the other two, but sometimes I sweep a layer of it over the other two when I'm looking extra terrifying or when I care more than usual, whichever comes first.

What I'm trying to say is, I'm not an extravagant, impulsive shopper at all, except when it comes to covering my dark circles that would frighten a seasoned Celtic warrior.

While we're on the topic of some of my personal, appearance-related flaws "quirks", let's talk about the fact that I have the hair follicles of a hairless cat.

This was in my swag bag when I spoke last year at Hope Spoken and it changed my flipping life.
Fine-haired ladies? Meet your lover. It sprays out like invisible air, but somehow makes you look like you aren't going bald after all. It's the literal breath of angels. Literally.

I'm afraid of how much it actually costs...hold me, it's $32! But I still have one arm left, and I will buy a replacement can of this mythical hair product in the near future.

I recently had $10 of my monthly "Blow" (thinking spending cash, not drugs) burning a hole in my pocket and these small body butters from The Body Shop were on sale 3/$10. Boom. My favorite scents are (from bottom) Satsuma, Pink Grapefruit and Olive Oil, which actually smells like legitimate spring, not an Italian ristorante.

Finally, for the man in my life and maybe yours, this Mr. Beardsmith beard oil. Because guys, I don't know how to tell you this, but Cory is growing his beard again. We'll all survive. I'm sure we will.

On a positive note, this oil will make it more manageable and more deliciously scented (#7 is my fave), as proven on the beards of many of our bearded friends. And it's just $12 a bottle. (Use the code FPFG15 at check-out for an extra 15% off through the end of December!!!)

If your husband or boyfriend or brother has gifted follicles, this would be the perfect Christmas gift.

There you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about something you wanted to know nothing about at all.

We can all agree, this was God's work.

Question: What's your go-to product? I truly and sincerely want to talk about ALL OF THEM.
Tell me something in the comments for your chance to win the magical "cleanse" oil!

Also, bless you forever for making it through this monster post.
Happy Monday.

*this is begging to be updated

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Cheer-Ups

:: I spent Thursday in blustery, festive Chicago. I wore my hood, ate Thai, and experienced a strange form of culture shock when I walked in to Gap and remembered normal shirts sell for somewhere between $40-$70. This is ridiculous, people. I struggle to pay $5, because it means I'm at Goodwill on the wrong day. (Also, please forget I ever mentioned this the next time I happen to bring home a $40 shirt. We both know this will happen.)

(photo credit Kelly Portnoy)

(photo credit Kelly Portnoy)

:: I read all of Kelly's words (good stuff), but it's Saturday, and we need a little eye candy. You'll want to check out the house tour she did of her friend's home. I die. I swoon. Etc...

"your right now might be really tough – or boring – or sad.
what if this hard stuff is just a plot twist? the place where things get intense in the story?
and what comes out of that twist is something better than you could have dreamt up?
God has a plan that is good and loving (not easy)." - Meg D

:: I know I need ^^ this, and you might, too.

:: Oh, this will be happening. (I had to be elusive on this one or NO ONE would click on the link. Suckahs!)

:: We watched Serving Life on Netflix a few days ago and I wanted it to never end. Spoiler: Maximum security prisoners + hospice patients. You do the math. (The answer = EVERY FEELING.)

:: Cory has been saving forevs and finally got this Polaroid-style camera. You can't imagine the fun/suspense/nostalgia.

:: Why Poor People Stay Poor by Linda Tirado. This was simply perfect. I shook my head through the entire article.

:: I've mentioned my obsession with The Sugar Box blog. Here's a story that might illustrate said obsession: I read her post soon after waking up earlier this week, whilst still in bed. She said I should make this magical Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Candy, so I drove to Kroger and bought all of the ingredients. I'm making it tomorrow. She's the boss of me. More importantly, I have pulled up her post twice this week to read excerpts aloud to unsuspecting friends. Just do yourself a favor already.

It seems like I'm in the mood to be bossed around, and Silas isn't available. What else should I be reading/doing/watching/eating? Tell me everything.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Worst Evangelist

"I think he just ain't used to anyone being honest. It scares him." 

We sat at the train crossing while the cargo screamed past, our eyes locked on smoke and steel and the sort of graffiti that always makes me feel something. I thought, Why on earth is that scary?

She ran her thumb along the edge of her phone, up and down, and I knew we needed the pause at those railroad gates, but I sure didn't know what to do with it.

For the fourth or fifth or twentieth time this week, my church-girl common sense was failing me.

It never used to be that way.  Back when everyone I knew had grown up just like me, with patent leather Sunday shoes buckled across the bridges of our feet, steeped in the sort of religion that hinges on knowing the names of the brothers in the fiery furnace, back then we took turns doling out the catch-phrases of our church culture when "trouble" crept our way. We spoke in code, and though we hadn't even considered it, it wouldn't have mattered that it wasn't a universal tongue.

This was our history, the faith of our grandpas and moms, Zacchaeus, Georges Washington and Bush, Queen Esther, Amy Grant, and, reportedly, Michael Sever. It was tradition and truth, handed down, handed down, landing square in our laps.

I used to wonder what it might be like to have friends who weren't exactly like me. It made my blood pump and my heart race. I wanted to run towards it, to do something different and new. Those flannelgraphs had made me believe all the world needed was The Answer. And I had It.


The gates raised and we eased over the tracks while I counted minutes in my head. We still had five, so she strung together sentences about abuse, addiction, and shame, all before most of the city had poured its first cup of coffee. We drove past upstairs windows covered with air-brushed wolf blankets.  A leathery man crossed the street and stared me down, his breath catching in the air like a burning question.

Words escape me when it comes to restraining orders and meth cookers and kids who don't know their mamas. My answers are lost in tangles of poverty and abuse, where there's no familiar back-story to bolster the fuzzy middle and we don't share the unspoken etiquette of the church - just nod along, you know this is true.

And it is.

But I can't fill the gaps when the stakes are this high. I can't make up for years of hell with a Bible story or the mention of His name. That's not my job, though I'd do anything to make it so. I wanted to be the savior of someone so dang bad. I wanted to fix the world. I wanted it to be as easy as I once believed, back when everyone was just like me.

You lost your job and your house is next and every single day you remember the skills you're trying to forget, you're running and gunning from people who want to eat you alive, suck you back in, use you and break you and feed you to lions? You need Jesus. 

You hear the scratch of tinfoil and your mouth waters? You miss what it was like to sleep for days and forget your reality for just one second? You need Jesus.

You're terrified he'll learn the truth about you? You want to trust but life has taught you to dodge? You see clean houses absent of chaos and your heart throbs with wanting but you know you'll never come close? You need Jesus.

You've burned every bridge and wounded every heart and pretty soon, you'll be handed the keys to your freedom, no one will own you or frisk you or track your every move...and you're scared to death? You need Jesus.

What does that mean to someone who doesn't know who He is? Someone with no frame of reference, no childhood storybooks or family legacies or years of small moments where the pieces snapped together until they claimed it as their own?

It feels impossible, because you can tell the truth, but you can't make someone believe it.
You can speak the only words that have a chance of helping, but it won't be lost on you that you want for nothing and never have. You can say it all, but what they really need is for you to be it. And that's terrifying. It'll make you desperate for Him.

Some days I remind them they need Jesus then beg God to prove it.

Most of the time, I default to baring my guts, talking about the wrong things I've done and still do. I get impatient and sometimes rude, then walk their way with my head hung low to apologize. I talk about the places in my faith that confuse me still. I share the ways God keeps on rescuing me, not because I read my Bible every day or never cuss or have a strong reign on the worst of who I am, but because I keep proving my need to be rescued.

"You can stand around a Christmas tree with a family like Joseph's, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family like Jacob's, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down. But out of a family line that looks like a mess, God brings the Messiah...You can never be undone." - The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

*affiliate link

Monday, December 8, 2014

With a Dress As Our Flag

"It takes courage to believe we can change things."

 {Me in a skirt, circa 2 years ago. My church ladies didn't "get" this combo.}

I hardly ever wear dresses. Maybe in the summer. Maybe. To church.
I'm probably more of a skirt person.

And when I say things like "I'm more of a skirt person," what I mean is, "I wear jeans every single day and especially in winter unless I'm wearing pajama pants and while I'm on the subject, I find that I don't even want to wear button-downs in winter because they're not cozy enough so what I'm trying to say is, it's possible that I wore the same jeans and the same exact cozy shirts three days in a row last week and I refuse to feel shame about it. It passed the sniff test. The end."

When my pal Jess decided to raise awareness and funds for International Justice Mission through a fundraiser called Dressember, in which you wear a dress EVERY SINGLE DAY in December, I was blown away. It was like saying you're going to go to bed by 9 pm every night for 31 days or you're going to try (and fail) to ignore salsa for a month. In other words: Impossible.

When I read through the Q&A for December and saw, "Can you wear skirts? Yes, but only if they're layered over a dress" I died laughing. THESE LADIES DON'T PLAY.

The concept is deliciously creative and ridiculously inspiring, especially since Jess is a fellow thrifty-gal. (She also shows pics of her outfits daily on Instagram!) I'm thrilled to cheer her on! This is just one of the reasons we live with less, right? So we can better support causes that matter. By not buying a ding-dang thing brand new for 6 months, I was able to click over and send a meager $25 her way - but it adds up, and in doing this, I'm saying I care about the injustice of human trafficking happening across the globe. I'm waving *her* dress as my flag.

Have a look at her page, watch the video (it's quick!) and pitch in for the cause.

Happy Monday, freedom-people!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

What I Know For Sure Today



The World

Go Round.

It's official: This is a universal truth.
Pile 'em on and have an awesome weekend, homies!

Those taco chicken nachos were created and devoured at 10 pm on a recent weeknight. Haters gonna hate. Also, shown is 1 serving size.
Outfit inspired by this pin

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