Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Living in the Outtakes (New Family Pics)

Of all the messes we make and we are around here, Sunday mornings are the hottest ones.
It doesn't matter what we do or how we try or how everyone slept the night before, we are immune to getting our act together. We're incapable of forging a new path. We're rushed and cranky and on occasion, there is blood-shed.

We fly out the door for church - the one positioned just a breezy, 2 minute walk from our front door - leaving the house looking like a crime scene and the cat happy to have us gone.

On our best days, we squeeze into the pew somewhere during the first hymn.
On our worst? Nevermind.

So it makes perfect sense that I decided on a lark last Sunday to head to the park after church for a few family snapshots.

And if you don't believe me that it makes perfect sense, let me add the following to my body of evidence: It was 84 degrees out with harsh sunlight. Cory is allergic to all temps above 71. (And harsh sunlight.) We had a carry-in after our service. (I "invented" a pasta salad around midnight the night before with bacon grease as the secret ingredient.) Half of us were suffering through Allergies from The Pit of Hades. We had just gorged ourselves silly on church-lady food. The kids had better things to do (aka: anything else in the world besides wear church clothes past noon and pose for family pictures.)

But even more compelling than those reasons? We all kind of matched. And I was having a decent hair day.
The end. Goodbye.

Don't even think about trying to talk me out of this one, Cory Brandon. Don't you dare. I don't care if you're "dripping in sweat". Call someone who cares, but first, set up that tripod LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

We ran past the house to grab equipment before heading across the street to the park, and found our oldest Goober sitting in the driveway on a 4-hour pass from the clink.

Let me say again, This wasn't planned.

So yes, God was good to me. I can't tell you how badly I've wanted a family pic with all 6 of us and I had almost given up hoping.

In a twist of fate, dude was "dressed up" and even more arrogant about his appearance than usual. It worked in my favor. Selah.

But as pretty as that picture looks, of course it's only part-real, part-pretend. It doesn't begin to show all that we are, and for that fact we thank the God of the heavens.

Real life is everything happening just beyond the frame.

It's fun to capture our best selves now and then, but let's not get too attached with an ideal. Let's not forget that just one slim hour before, we were wearing chocolate frosting on our chin and inconspicuously slinking up to the buffet for thirds.

Here's more of what we caught on Sunday:

Oh, homeboys. For the love. Look alive.

The bad thing about Robert is that he lacks personality.
And a sense of adventure.
Also, he's shy and nervous about himself as a person. Afraid of the camera. Insecure.

 Also, he's just not affectionate AT ALL.
Typical teenager.

(Don't tell him I just called him a teenager because technically, he isn't. But in my heart, he shall always be...)
This guy is fairly fond of his big brother and doesn't miss a single beat, as evidenced by this photo and the fact that he picked out high-tops for his back-to-school shoes.

So far, he hasn't taken up smoking.

(I know smoking is not a laughing matter, reader-friends. JUST SAY NO.)

This happened when Cory was trying to set the timer on the camera. Silas climbed onto my lap and cuddled way in like he does when he's not busy raging or constructing elaborate water circuitry. "Take our picture like this!" 

So, duh. We did.

Sister could not stop twirling...

We didn't know Silas posed himself like this until we were sorting through the shots.
I can't look at it without cracking way up.

We had the most painful time trying to get a shot of the two of us, but only because we're the most awkward and weird people we know. (And the whole "allergic to the heat" thing.)

Bottom line: We nailed it.
Then again, the years have taught us to keep our expectations on the left side of the bell curve, if you know what I mean.

These pictures aren't fancy or airbrushed. There was no "golden hour" sun-flare or quirky props. Calvin is wearing his homemade cuff.

This is just us, and I love us so dang much.

Ruby's dress and Siley's T: Tea Collection
My dress: Vintage (from Vintage Twill at Junk Evolution, South Bend, IN)
Robert: Wal Mart (his fave)
Cory and Calvin: whatever.


Hey, guess what? I'm speaking at one of the main sessions at the annual Passion for Orphans conference (Oct. 3-5, 2014) in Boulder, Colorado.This year's theme is Hope and Healing and I'm  honored to have the chance to share with this group of fun, like-minded women about the journey of hope my family has been on through adoption.
"Passion for Orphans exists to serve women involved in adoption, fostering, and world wide orphan care in an authentic and Christ-centered manner." - from their site
They have put together a truly top-notch conference that covers a wide variety of relevant adoption/foster-/orphan-care topics.

Want to join us? DO IT! It's open to anyone who wants to attend and I would love to meet you!

You can go here for more info and to register. They also have a facebook page.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2 Books That Are Changing Me

Five years ago, my comfy good-girl life was split at the seams by a sermon series that soon after became this book. (It seems impossible that it was five years ago, but I just counted on my claws and yep, five.)

Prior to that, we were good Christian people live honest, Christian lives. We did all the things we thought Christian people were supposed to do, things like putting down deep roots, living within our means, attending church, tithing, and not being mean to our neighbors. We said the right words and did all the right things. We kept up our appearances and worked hard to build a life we could be proud of. For bonus points, we also gave financially when we knew of a need, read Bible stories to our kids, listened to Christian music on the radio, attended and led Bible studies, lived in the country, talked about homeschooling one day, and spent all our time with other Christian people.

I'll be clear right out the gates, before anyone gets the chance to get angsty: None of those things we did were bad. They were good things. Positive and life-giving things.

But they were not the Gospel.

We were not living by its words and bleeding its cause.
We weren't dying to all the things we thought we were, all the things we wanted to be.
We weren't spending our life for the sake of being the Good News to the world around us.
(We didn't even know the world around us. Not really.)

So, when I say it felt like a gut-punch, I'm not trying to be dramatic.
I remember feeling nauseous in bed and bawling my eyes out in the shower.
It was painful to let go of what we thought were the right things to live for and we felt bruised and banged up for months on end. I was terrified and ashamed of the way I had twisted God's very words to fit my me-centric lifestyle.

For the first time, I was faced with the hard question :: Am I really following Christ?
The only answers I saw made my knees weak.

The Bible says if I love and follow Jesus, I will care for the poor, fight for the orphan, love my neighbor, feed His sheep, wage war against injustice, advocate for the forgotten. I will live like all I have is His. I will be inconvenienced and misunderstood and lonely, sometimes. I will intimately understand my smallness and need - my humanity. I will hurt and weep for the sake of Truth.

I'd spent my entire life, up to that point, doing the exact opposite.

My solitary goal was to make my life better, easier, safer, shinier, and happier. I expected my church to serve me and meet my needs. I knew "worldly" people needed Jesus, but they would need to find Him somewhere far away from my children, because I didn't want them near an unholy influence.

I could go on, but it's making me feel sick again...

We didn't know what else to do, so we just kept asking God to show us the next right thing. And that's all He did, and all He does still. There was never a grand revelation, or a giant pull-down map that descended from the heavens, charting the rest of our life on this earth.

For us, He deals in baby-steps.

Had I been able to project five years into the future, I would probably hope to be further along. I'm still Flower Patch Farmgirl, but I live in a shabby part of the city now and the cucumbers I tried to grow this year are a testament to all I've unbecome. I don't know that I would see *this* as progress enough, but I'm learning now that God moves freely in our small places, turning our hearts to Him one degree at a time.

Consistently, He has used the wisdom and openness of others to refocus our hearts.

Without hesitation, the outside voice that has been the most instrumental for me is Jen Hatmaker's.

I found Interrupted two years ago, after reading her book 7. Though I loved 7,  this matched the drum-beat of my heart. I devoured it, underlined and dog-eared it mercilessly, kept it on my bedside table for months, and bossed everyone to read it.

With every page, the call on my heart was affirmed. During a time when I've never felt more misunderstood, God sent this stranger and her words on a page to convince me I wasn't alone and only half-nuts.

Until two years ago, my life resembled the basic pursuit of the American Dream; it just occurred in a church setting.    - Interrupted

So Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God's kingdom. While the richest people in the world pray to get richer, the rest of the world endures unimaginable suffering with their faces pressed to the window of our prosperity, and we carry on oblivious.    - Interrupted


God used Jen to show me He likes us wonky and weird and living in ways our human nature tries to avoid. He meets us most intimately when we nose-dive with Him into the ditches. He finds us there and breaks our hearts, but His presence is our reward and He fixes and heals us and keeps us low-down and needy so the only thing we can do is cling. And because He happens to behilarious and the opposite of what the flannel board taught us, He also gifts us with strange and amazing people along the way to share our lives in the weirdest ways.

Interrupted is being re-released, and it makes me want to wheel around every little town like a misguided paperboy and fling a copy onto every porch. It's revised and expanded and you need to read this book, guys. Don't be scared of what it'll do to your heart. Trust me that it'll hurt, but He will carry you and you'll never be the same.

Unfortunately, the years since I first met Interrupted haven't found me at a position of particular saintliness. Rats. We're still fumbling people, we just happen to fumble in slightly different ways.

But we've come to embrace the wild call of Jesus to do hard things and go to risky places and abandon some of the comforts we're inclined to cling to for the sake of loving His lambs. Some days it's easier than others. Some days we act like it's 2008.

Over the past couple of years, we've had tremendously painful days, but we've also had some shocking and humbling opportunities come our way. This is one of them.

My new friend, David Nowell,contacted us last year asking if he could include our story in his book, Dirty Faith.

We said yes, and here it is.

Friends, this book is phenomenal.
I didn't know what to expect, and it is blowing me away.
It's the perfect partner to Interrupted. The ideal follow-up, or "Now what?" read.

I can't tell you it's an easy read, because truthfully, it will break your heart.
But isn't that part of our mission? Haven't we been called to live with our hearts split open?

This is a book about perspectives and possibilities. It is about looking at our world through the lens of grace, about seeing people as Christ does. It is about a different way of extending grace to and beyond the community of faith. It is about compassion - hurting alongside those in need.           - Dirty Faith

Deeply and profoundly understanding just how blessed we are can be a powerful motivation for blessing others.          - Dirty Faith

Let's be in this together, want to? Find a few people near you. Start a class at church or in your neighborhood. Host an online book club. Grab your people and get busy.

Let's lean in and be a wrecked-up mess for His glory.

In Jen's words, "Come, Jesus. We are yours. Have your way with our generation."


Find 'em:
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

Dirty Faith by David Nowell

PS - To see more of the books that heavily influenced me at the beginning of this wild ride, click here

*Amazon affiliate links used.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Know A Boy

I know a boy who told me about the nights, some 12 years ago, when he would sit up 'til morning on the couch with a loaded gun on the table beside him. He was scared, all alone while his dad worked the graveyard shift, his younger sister asleep down the hall. He was the Man of the House, he was told, tasked with protecting them if the wrong dude came knocking. The deadbolt was turned. He had the gun.

He was 8 years old, and he didn't want that gun.

That boy relived those nights on my couch. He laughed about it, downplayed the whole deal, like it wasn't any more than nothing. It's just the way it was.

So we asked him the obvious question, "If you needed help, couldn't you have just called the police?"

He was done laughing then. Dumbstruck, disbelieving we had the gall to wonder. "My dad said to never call the cops. The cops wasn't safe for us. Still ain't."

I chalked it up to the sort of misinformation that percolates around the streets and projects and on the White-bread road where I grew up, urban legends about birth control and home remedies and what to put in a colicky baby's bottle.

This was group-think gone amiss. That's what I settled on. That's what felt safest. It was a rumor that had careened off the rails but gained momentum anyway. If you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about. That's what I told myself. And him.

He just shook his head and laughed again.

I was out to convince him he was wrong, and I wondered about all the dark-skinned 3rd graders. The brothers I passed walking to school that day - do they feel this way? Is this a sweeping belief of the urban African American culture? Is it tied more to class than race? Is it real?

I picked at the knot without unraveling a single loose thread.
In between yanks and tugs, I let it fade. I lived my life. My life.

But there was Trayvon and Jordan and I worried about that boy on my couch, the one with the good heart and the occasionally-faulty instincts (read "unsupervised-teenager instincts"). He didn't seem as safe anymore, not because every officer is out to get him, but because he believes they might be.

And if he wasn't safe, then neither was I.
Because if he wasn't safe, it meant I had been so wrong, for so long.

If he wasn't safe, people like me were partly to blame, nice folks minding our own business, ignorant by choice about little boys sitting home alone at night feeling safer with a loaded gun than a cell phone. Rules set to govern and protect us were failing in ways, at times wrecking lives, and lacking the humbling, ulcerating work dealt when hindsight lands and repentance follows.

I started to see that "real" is relative. What might be truth to me could be lived and breathed differently in him. He believes he isn't safe. And so it is.

Tuesday morning, I read the headlines about the growing rage in Ferguson, following the gunning-down of 18-year old Michael Brown and dread dropped into my soul like a millstone.

I thought of that boy I know, the one who clowns around and loves the best he can, even when it costs him. I thought about his jobs and his children and his prison ID number. For him, justice is being served, but I knew all over again that I would have never served prison time for committing his crime.

I stacked his mistakes up against my own, and found them even.

But if trouble knocked here, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up my phone. I know the police force is here for me, and I teach my children the same. I know most officers are here for that boy on my couch, and I've seen their support in action (even if he can't.) The men and women who roll down our streets and visit our schools are at our service, here to help and protect. They are good and decent, but he doesn't believe or trust that, and it scares me.

Of course each of us must be held responsible for our actions and our choices. Yes, sometimes men of all shades and hairdos pose a real threat. But how did we get here, really? How have we met this divide without understanding we helped shovel the dirt?

There are so many sides to every story and we may never know for sure what happened in those moments where time stood still and a new line of a mangled history was inked. It's too hard to wade through, the water too murky, and we don't want to be wrong. So we turn and walk away, back to our tidy corners and our predominantly-white churches where things make sense and everyone believes the same version of the story.

I sat in Bible study at my church down the block not even one hour after reading the newest headlines and read this, "The council then threatened them [Peter and John] further, but they finally let them go because they didn't know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God..." (Acts 4:21)

The government stood to silence truth, and the people of God were poised to riot.

Friends, it is time for a Holy riot.
Not against specific people or specific groups, not against the police force or black men with their jeans slung low. We need to start railing against injustice, wherever we find it. We need to wig out over the prejudices ground so deeply into our own hearts that they feel like dust instead of splinters. We don't even recognize they're there. 

We have got to do better and demand more from ourselves and each other. Our knees need to meet the floorboards while we beg for God to show us where we've tossed brick and beam on this problem, or even where we've lit the match.

We have to talk to each other. Really know each other. We've got to create safe places to love and learn. We've got to be friends with communities we don't fully understand. We need to risk our pride and sacrifice our "good Christian"-ness on the altar of truth, and we need to take a hard look at what we find. We're probably not as "good" as we think.

I still don't know how to unravel this knot, and because I lack tangible, studied answers, I've told myself it wasn't my place to speak.

But I know a boy who showed up yesterday after his factory shift for no reason other than to kiss my  cheek, raid the candy cabinet, and hug his brothers and sister. I know there was a time I'd have assumed things about him that capped my capacity to love him.

I know his humanity is as raw as the rest of ours, but I also know his worth is every bit our equal.

I want him to be free - really free.
And I want you to want the same for him and all the boys on all the couches.

After writing my own words, to ensure they remained my own, I went to some trusted sources and I loved what they have to say:
Why We've Got to Go There by Deidra Riggs
Reframing by Becca Stanley at The Stanley Clan

Black Bodies White Souls by Austin Channing Brown (Found via Becca Stanley)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Palms Up, Hair Down

I dropped the kids off at school this morning then kept on walking in a straight line, into the heart of downtown, through the kinds of neighborhoods that make magazine covers and the kinds most of us avoid. (If my city has both, yours does, too.)

Lining every block were homes filled with people who all want the same things, deep down. We're mothers and wives and sisters and friends. We care for our families and take pride in certain things. We want to believe we are lovable.

I clocked miles and stopped for a piping cup of Earl Grey with my city-sister, Kim. Then I turned around and headed back home, where the bathroom waited to be scrubbed and my writing projects waited patiently for my attention.

I knew my walk was stealing time from things that seemed more important, but I've been wrong before and I'm learning the truth often opposes my instincts.

Along the way, I took loads of photos of pretty homes to share on this little Instagram thing I do called #favoritesofgoshen. I could stand on the curb and stare at beautiful bricks and historical, gingerbread-laden homes all day. They inspire me, but more than that, they make me believe the world is an easy place to be.

These are the homes that really pull me in. My heart always casts the surest line to the neglected, the cracked up and beaten down.

And I know I'm repeating myself, but for real, give yourself permission to suspend judgment, starting today. The next time you drive past "this" home, imagine only the best of the people living inside. They might need something you have to offer, but they might be doing just fine for themselves. They might not need a helper, just a true friend. Reach in and grab all the junk we accumulate living in our privileged corners and toss it out, because I am telling you, politicians and civic groups and churchy folks and our elders teach us things that aren't true. These untruths sow seeds of superiority and disregard that dull our ability to love and before we even stop to think about it, we are no longer the Good News.

Go ahead, ask me how I know this.

A few blocks down, I found a home with a humongo, magical garden smack-dab in their front yard, complete with kale, tomatoes, herbs, and 10' sunflowers. I re-routed to take a closer look, and there they were on the front porch, sipping coffee and wearing their hearts on the fronts of their t-shirts and the ink on their arms. If I had know they were sitting there, I probably wouldn't have walked their way. I'd have gotten that shy feeling and felt strange about the fact that I was technically still in my pajamas and I looked a fright. As if they care.

But God tricked me, so we talked gardens and pickles and yes, the walnut tree really is poisoning our garden.

We shook hands and shared names and I can only hope they are future friends of ours. Their radness and joy still shine on my face.
A few more blocks, and here she was. Still working over her fire like she had been when I passed through earlier. I'd had a million questions, but all I'd mustered was a tiny smile and it felt like a victory when she returned it. I didn't think she'd still be there working, hours later.

So I smiled once more, and kept on walking.

See? This is what I usually do. Most of the time, I get tangled up in my insecurities and my strange pride and my reverse-pride, the one that says my neighbor doesn't care.

Something in me made me turn around.

She nodded shy when I asked if I could take her picture. I sputtered out a few words of broken Spanish, enough to confuse her, but not so much that we couldn't patch it all together. She did the same, speaking to me in the language I know best, her skills infinitely sharper than my own, but not close to perfect.

Before I walked away, she handed me something delicious. And I can only hope in my wildest dreams that she is also a future friend.

Two blocks from home, there was Bonnie. It's been months since we've crossed paths and when I shouted her name, it startled her and she jumped into the air. "Shannan!" she yelled back. Then it was  grandkids and great-grandkids and how she still walks her two-mile loop, every single day.

I'm sorting out how my days should be spent now that all the kids are in school. But I have to believe staying inside, keeping to myself, drifting towards people who are mostly like me, isn't what will make me a better neighbor.

And I'm starting to see the best way to love a broken neighborhood is by being a broken neighbor; palms up, ready to spend whatever I have for the sake of His kingdom, hair down, willing to expose my messes and scars and that stubborn humanity I can't seem to keep at bay.

This is community. This is what we were made for.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blue-Ribbon Amish Dill Pickles

I sprung upon a hot streak of luck yesterday and found a bunch of fresh heads of dill.
Admittedly, it can be tricky to come by.

I was at a local farm stand buying beans. They didn't have any dill out, so I asked the girl in the bonnet and she said nope, there was none. But, she thought the lady who owns the stand might know where I could get some.

Sure enough, she grabbed her scissors and walked behind her house!!!!!!

Moral of the story: Lots of people have dill, you just have to find them. And ask.

All of that to say, this will be my day today.

I'll be pickling.

We canned 12 quarts of these pickles last year and I wish I'd have had double.
These pickles - they will blow your boots off. People have tried to STEAL my pickles before, and that's no laughing matter. But it does underscore the insane addictibility and deliciousness of these delicious dills.

Are you nervous about canning pickles? Don't be.
It's super easy because you don't even need a canner. Since the acidity is high (love you so much, vinegar!) all you need is a nice, tall stock pot.

The jars, seals, and rings can be found this time of year at almost any grocery store.
Then grab a jug of ordinary, white vinegar and box of kosher salt and voila, you're practically Ma Ingalls, only with electricity and less sparkly eyes, but whatever.

You can't have too many jars of these sitting around. Impossible!
Or, blow your people away and gift them with a ribbon-tied jar of summertime for Christmas. You'll be everyone's favorite in all the land.

I adapted this Amish recipe over the past couple years and it's my hands-down favorite for life. 

Here's how you do it:

Scrub and slice your pickling cucumbers. (These can be found at farm stands and even grocery stores this time of year, or maybe even in your yard if your yard doesn't conspire to kill everything except clover.)

Put one peeled garlic clove on bottom of your clean jar, followed by a layer of pickles, a head of fresh dill*, more pickles & another garlic clove on top. Fill up to the neck of the jar.

(I try to really pack the cucumbers in, since they'll shrink down a bit as they cook.)

Combine 2 c. vinegar, 2.5 c. sugar, 2 c. water, 2 tsp salt. Bring all ingredients to boil until everything is dissolved. Pour over pickle in your jars.

Wipe the rims of your jars then place a seal and ring over the mouths.

Add your jars to your stock pot with the water at *room temperature* (if the water is too hot, it can crack your jars) making sure the tops of the jars are covered with water.

Turn heat to high and watch closely. As soon as it begins to boil, start a timer for 15 minutes then remove the jars immediately with a jar lifter and place to cool on a towel on your counter.  (Don't overcook because you want these pickles to stay nice and crunchy.)

Some jars will come out of the water sealed, others you'll hear "popping" later. If you have any that don't seal for some reason (most will, but last time I had one that didn't) pop it in the fridge and eat those pickles! They're delicious and safe, just not shelf-stable.

This recipe makes 4 quart jars.

You're going to die for these pickles, guaranteed.
You'll also feel like some kind of rad earth-mama, storing up deliciousness for the winter.

Happy canning, homies!

*(In a pinch, I'm sure stems of fresh dill from the produce section would work just fine.)

PS - Even easier and just as fantastic and crime-inducing? These no-cook refrigerator pickles. YUM! (I always make some of both.)

*Amazon affiliate link used.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Internet Wins - The FPFG Sleep-Over

I used to be a lonely girl.

Most people wouldn't have guessed this. I moved easily in groups. I wasn't overly shy. I didn't have problems getting along with people or even making friends.
But at the heart of me was this instinct to keep my walls at half mast.
And I suffered for it, a quiet suffering. A lonely one.

I've been hurt by people. I'm sure you have, too.
And I know I've done my share of hurting.

I've believed I wasn't enough, or maybe that I was too much.
I was impossible to understand because I didn't even understand myself.

But along the way, I began to believe the unmistakable value in extending the benefit of the doubt. I started to notice the things that shored us up together and cast our differences into the background. I grew in love and I have miles to go, but I finally knew for sure that life was too short to spend inside myself, or at arm's length.

Along with the graciousness of God and people in my everyday life who love me just the quirky way I am, I also have you to thank.

Now, we're this little family of sorts.

A month or so back, I decided to throw another Noonday trunk show. The most logical conclusion I could find was to invite some of you, so I extended the invitation, and to my shock and awe, the party filled right up.

Thrilling me to the ends, several of my townies also emailed asking if they could come. I have never felt so loved.

So, the worlds were about to collide and some folks thought I was nuts for inviting a bunch of "strangers" into my home, but I knew there'd be no stranger among us and I didn't for one second worry.

If you've ever wondered how small my house really is, this is what it looks like when almost 30 people squeeze in. I'm pretty sure we created a legit fire hazard, but hey, live a little!

I welcomed my guests with hugs all around, tapping into the underused recesses of my brain to try to permanently etch faces with names, and we were on our way.

I apologized just a little that I only had seating for roughly one-third of them. Also, I didn't have the food ready, even though several of my locals pitched it to save me from the depths of my poor time management.

So it's official, I've lost the will to put on airs.

(And when I took this picture and that squirt in the front row started acting a fool, I knew, once again, I'd found my people.)

Packed like sardines and listening to the Gospel heart of Jolene, my Noonday ambassador.

Voting for our favorite item created during the Rwanda #styleforjustice trip!

Have mercy, the food.
Avocado bacon crostini, corn and tomato bruschetta with goat cheese and basil vinaigrette, 10-minute refrigerator pickles, summer sausage and cheese, peach and raspberry pie, sangria, fancy water.

To the surprise of no one, FPFG readers are FPFG eaters!
Every crumb was gone by night's end.

(Related: I didn't have enough plates. Or napkins. Or glasses. I had to keep reaching into the archives and pulling out randos. DETAILS! Argh.)

This was my effort to "style" the buffet table: Throw a sheet on the island, then scatter other miscellaneous pieces of fabric on top. Voila. I'm so fancy and intimidating and high-brow.

{Name-tags, in process.}

After we were all Noondayed-out and everyone had met my kiddos, we headed to the Holiday Inn Express just a few miles away to commence the slumber party portion of the evening.

There were more snacks (my salsa, San Marcos' avocado salsa, Santitas, Katie's fruit salsa, Cinnamon pita chips, Tia's zuchhini bread, Butter Kek) and lots of elastic-waistband action.

It was time for HGTV's My Big Family Renovation, starring Remy Hatmaker!

The kind front-desk lady took exactly one group shot of all of us.
As Jen would say, Bless it.

Here's where it gets weird. (But hey, we made it this far!)
During commercial breaks, I would run over to my aging Vera Bradley duffel bag and pull out random items which were either 1) previously owned by me or 2) regifted new items and let each person pick a thing.

Does this make you uncomfortable? Am I a tacky person?

Don't answer that.

It's just that I'm often blessed by fun little trinkets and finds, and I wanted to share the love. Sharing and re-purposing are two of my spiritual gifts.

I also gave a thrifted mug stuffed with candy and Earl Grey and a vintage linen to each lady pal.

Announcement: I'm thrifty.

By 3 a.m., we were all fast asleep.

Until at least 6 am, when I stood upright and drove home to wake Cory and my babies and get everyone off to their second day of school.

At 9:00 we converged upon Rachel's Bread, Goshen's own little French bakery, and turned this into...


Since we'd be eating lunch less than three hours later, we settled on a light, reasonable breakfast of chocolate croissants and butter-drenched pastries the size of my man-hands.

Then, we set out to get our thrift on.

We found such good scores. Such! Good! Scores.

All glasswear was 50% off at this stop (my favorite!). It was exciting enough, but then the lady said, "Glasswear means anything that breaks," and sure enough, I got a giant embroidered picture for half off "Because the glass is breakable." BOOYAH.

I kept meaning to get a pic of everyone with our goodies, but I'll be honest, pictures just weren't the top of my priority list. Also, my hands were really full.

 Neopolitan-style pizza for lunch at Venturi.

After lunch, our numbers dwindled, but all remaining friends walked over to my favorite consignment store, Twice As Nice. Everything was half-off except blue and green tags...

I personally came home with a gray/white Banana Republic sweater in a damask pattern with a peplum. Nevermind. You have to actually see it for it to make sense.

I loved everyone so much. I knew I would. But still, it was nice to have that confirmed.
I keep on missing them.

So that's our story.
I'm sticking to it.

There is so much goodness and light and life to be found in this world.

I'm more and more convinced that I could spend an entire happy day with almost anyone you plunked down beside me. People are good. The internet doesn't rob us if we don't let us. It gifts us with new perspectives and opportunities for joy and grace.

I'm begging you, find someone near you and grab her by the shoulders. Pull her in. Notice her eye color and listen to her heart. Give her the benefit of the doubt, and especially give it to yourself.

We are better together,

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dressing Ruby on A Dime

Ruby may have been the best dressed baby on the universe.
It didn't hurt that she was one of the first girls in a family full of boys.
We clued in pretty quickly that it *might* be more fun to shop for her than it had been for all the fricks and fracks. 

And then there were those curls. The the rolls. And the eyes. And baby jowls.
Hold on....some things you have to see to believe...

(I'm realizing in this moment that Ruby rocked gingham before I even had my own. I clearly stole my look from her!)

(This obvs has nothing to do with being well dressed, but she rocked a swim diaper like daaang.)

We weren't even close to "fancy" all the time, but 90% of what she wore was brand new and most of it was name brand. I was always a sale shopper, but I remember buying this Ralph Lauren sweater at TJ Maxx for $30, and I think the skirt was Mini Boden.

Alas, those were different times and life has tossed us around in the pan a bit since then. It's important for us to steward our resources well and that has meant some adjustments. Beyond the practical points, we're in a community now that does not value fashion or appearance. (Can't tell you how freeing and lovely this is.)

Still, sister's growing like a rose and we're always on the hunt for inexpensive pieces that will wear well (my kids play hard) and keep her looking like a sweet, little lovey-girl, even though she's in a size 10-12 now and finding age-appropriate stuff in that size makes me want to rage a little.

Right now, 90% of what she wears is second-hand.

I had no idea what I was missing out on back when I didn't have to think it through. This summer, I scored at a few thrift stores in a major way (Land's End bathing suit for $2? Yes, please!) and though I don't thrift regularly, I always take the time to breeze through the clothing aisles when I do. I almost always find something great for one of us.

I also do quite a bit of shopping at consignment stores, both local shops and Once Upon A Child.

The trick to stellar thrifting and consigning is to buy things on sale. Yes, on sale at a thrift store. I almost never pay full price for anything, because even $5 for a dress at Goodwill feels like too much when I know I could wait until a sale day and get it for half price.

I'm by no means a slave to brands, but I have to admit there are a few that I'm still drawn to because they're so stinking cute. When I find them, I scoop them up. And when I don't find them, adorby Target or even Wal-Mart duds can be found second-hand.

I also scour clearance racks when I do make it to a retail store.

I used to sell her things back to a consignment store, but I'm finding it infinitely more fun to just bless another family with it when we're done. Who doesn't love getting great hand-me-downs? And when you know you don't have a ton invested, it's even easier to give it all away.

A recent article in Huffington Post claims that the average family spends almost $700 on back-to-school shopping, most of which is apparel.

Well. I don't think it has to be this way.

 I rounded up her back-to-school clothes to illustrate my point. You'll probably be blown away by the technical qualities and styling of these shots. Prepare yourselves...

Gap bootcut sweat pants - $3, local consignment store
Gymboree leggings - $3.50, local consignment store
Old Navy flare jeans - $3, local consignment store
Crazy 8 flare jeans - $6.50, Crazy 8
Arizona flowered skinnies - $4, local consignment store
Old Navy cargo skirt - $2, Goodwill (and it's not a micro mini!!!)
Total: $22

Candie's flowered T - $1.25, Once Upon A Child
Old Navy orange flowered T - $2, local consignment store
Mossimo Supply Co. purple T - $1.25, local consignment store
Poof Girl 3/4 striped T - $5, Marshalls
Old Navy long sleeved Horse T - $1.50, Goodwill
Old Navy faces faces T - $1.25, local consignment store
Aqua Gap peplum T -  $1.50, Goodwill
Osh Kosh striped tunic T - $3.50, local consignment store
Total:  $17.25

(I hit the mother lode earlier in the Spring, and saved them back for this year. So happy I did!)
Old Navy mint/grey - $1.97, Old Navy
Old Navy sailor dog vest - $3.99, Old Navy
Faded Glory purple fox - $4, Wal Mart
Poof Girl cardi - $11, Marshalls
Old Navy navy cardi - $2.97, Old Navy
Total:  $24

I'm a little speechless over paying $11 for the cardi. It must have been early in the month. haha. All I can say is, HEART ELBOW PATCHES.

Lastly, dresses.
Ruby River is a HUGE dress and skirt girl.

It's not always super practical, but it sure is adorable.

Crewcuts (Crewscuts!!!!) - $3.50, Once Upon A Child

(Note: Our Once Upon A Child doesn't know what Crewcuts is. If this was Gap, it would have been double. DO NOT TELL THEM or I will kick you. In love.)

Land's End - $6, local consignment store

Morgan  & Milo - $3.50, Once Upon A Child
(Check this out!!! It retails for $48. Plus tax and shipping.)

Naartjie - $4, local consignment shop

H&M - $1, local thrift store
(Peter Pan collar and it buttons up the back. SWOON!)

I bought 24 pieces for a total of $81!!!
Do I have you convinced yet to take those kiddos to Goodwill for their back-to-school shopping?? :)

Truth is, it's not for everyone. Not everyone has the time to sniff out these deals and track it all down and, quite frankly, plenty of people can afford to buy brand new. There is nothing wrong with that and I still enjoy buying a few things new. Above that, sometimes it makes sense to buy brand new, so things can be passed down a few times.

I wish I could tell you I'm die hard about sourcing all of my purchases and making sure everything I bring home was made under optimal ethical conditions. Honestly, I don't. But the more I learn about the importance of buying with integrity, the deeper it sinks in and the more I care.

I grabbed Ruby 2 new dresses this summer, on clearance, from one of my favorite online retailers, Tea Collection, for around $15 each. I have loved their look and their global awareness for years (I partnered with them for this post years ago, back on the farm.)

Their stuff is cute, comfy, and ethically made.
It's colorful and quirky enough to make me love it forever, and they have fantastic sales.

I bought their stuff with my own paper money, and this isn't a sponsored post at all. But I did reach out to them to become an FPFG affiliate and voila, they agreed it was a good match. So, if you buy with the links I use, they pay me a small portion for advertising for them. It's magical!

Check out all their goodies at teacollection.com

I'm also cheering on my pal Hayley Morgan and her new venture, Wildly Co.
Her and her hubs have started a brand new collection of perfectly mixable and matchable, comfy-cute options for kiddos. Her style is as impeccable as her heart is good. They are actively involved in every stage of creation, and ensure their collection is make ethically and responsibly. You can check out the line and read more about the story, support their Kickstarer campaign to get the business rolling, and order right here.

President Rocket T
I'm obsessed with this Wildly Co. t!
It has "Silas" written all over it. :)

Dots T 
 And this design was inspired by the raddest metal door in Ethiopia. (Hayley and I were travel-mates!)
Here are my favorite short people heading to their first day of school. Calvin was so excited about his outfit. (ha!) It cost a total of $5 from Once Upon A Child, save the Target kicks. Ruby's dress was also OUAC and her studded, leopard shoes were $10 Target clearance last Spring. Silas got a free Kinder T from his teacher for the first day. And brand new "light up shoes".

Regardless of what they wear or where we find it, I'm passionate about ingraining in them the desire and heart to walk in their mission every single day.

My kids' mission field happens to be our neighborhood public school, where flashy duds are pointless when so many friends are struggling. (More about our school journey here.)

As for the Mama, my mind is swirling lately with big questions and answers that never land neatly in my palm. And isn't that one of the best parts of living?

We learn and grow and sometimes we back it up or fall entirely off the track.

But each of us has a mission, and we have got to keep walking in it.

So, press on, FPFG family! What we have here is some kind of fresh start.
I can't wait to see what happens next.

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