Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Making Friends: Part 3

Congratulations!  You've gotten out of the house, you've made a little effort to stretch your boundaries, and most likely have met a few people you actually like and share interests.  This is the portion where some people lose momentum, and relationships, because they aren't entirely sure how the next part goes.

In a perfect world, friendships are quid pro quo.  But in reality, they aren't.  Someone is always doing more than the other in some way at any given time.  It doesn't register most of the time, because you genuinely appreciate the other person in your life and don't begrudge them your time or energy.

So the next step is:
Making Friends Step 3:
Finding balance as you build
It is perfectly normal to expect others to give as much as you do in a relationship.  Whether it is familial, friendship or romantic, there must be balance in the exchange.  Otherwise it becomes one party using (and often abusing) the other.  There's to formula to it, however, and you have to establish the rules as the relationship builds.
For instance, if you are the type of person that needs regular contact to feel connected - you may have to be the one to call, email, or drop by initially.  Everyone has different contact needs.  Because of this, the other party may or may not be always available but there will be a sense of regularity if you are consistently in contact. 
I caution you to pay attention to the signals others give you.  If the person begins to shy away or cancel arrangements regularly, perhaps the contact level is too high for them.  It very likely is not anything personal with you, but a need for space they possess.  Always respect that in others for it's likely you will have a time when you need space.
If you are a person that does not need regular contact, that's ok as well - but be aware you may come across as aloof or disinterested.  In this case, a simple acknowledgement of the contact and promise of future interaction (with an actual event or date / time attached to it) will go a long way to reassuring new relationships that you are still actively interested.
Along with the building of contact in the relationships, you will begin to find yourself with a full calendar.  Suddenly there are details about other people you need to remember and details about yourself that will be shared.  The longer the relationship lasts, the deeper those tendrils of interweaving go.  Your time will no longer be strictly your own, simply by the obligation of the relationship. 
This can be a dangerous point.  People tend to go to one extreme or another.  Either they lose track of their own personal boundaries, needs, and plans so they can meet those of others; or they panic and cut all contact because they fear losing those boundaries.  Both result in resentment and detachment in the relationship.  I cannot advise you ever sacrificing your personal boundaries and needs for anyone else.  Your born into this world with a primary gift - life.  You life (and all that makes it work) is yours to grow and protect.  It must come first for anything else to be healthy.  While I firmly believe that the spiritual part of your life comes first, then the mind, then the body - you must decide for yourself what those boundaries and needs are. 
Another important element is that of give and take.  Be conscious of how much you give and take in any relationship.  Whether it's emotional or physical support, monetary support, time, effort, or space - know what sort of space you are occupying in the lives of others.  So many times I have seen relationships fall apart because of a general lack of awareness on one (or both) parts of how they were affecting the other person.  The internal focus on "what it does to me" often blinds us to how we affect others.  By the time we can see that we are either negatively affecting someone or they are affecting us, it is often too late to avoid a break in the relationship.
Caution and communication avoids most loss of balance.  As a relationship ages, funny enough, the contact levels tend to decrease and the comfort / security levels rise.  You don't need to see or talk to the person as much. Perhaps because you truly know and trust them now, so you're not wondering if they are still "your friend"?  Perhaps because you gain confidence in your role in the relationship and are certain of your place in it?  I don't really know why, but it seems to work that way pretty much every time.
Now all this is simple and positive, but there are going to be some rough spots.  There is no good without bad, so expect arguments and agree-to-disagreements.  Expect some people to fall off the radar or walk away.  Even if you're doing everything right, perhaps that person is not in a place to give or receive just now.  Life events can cause changes in people midstream.  You can learn more about someone and discover fundamental issues you cannot handle or accept.
That happens. 
The key to step 3 is that you are still practicing steps 1 and 2.  Your life circle will always be evolving.  You will have those people and elements that stick - but you will have a much fuller existence with the other relationships you build along the way.  Why?  Because they enrich and grow you.  A You everyone who stays in your life gets to enjoy as well. 
I have been blessed with some pretty great friends that I have had for years.  I have some people I can reach out to that I haven't spoken to in ages, and it's like no time passed at all.  There are many friendly acquaintances in my life who may only be here for a season, and that's ok.  All of those relationships and the experiences within them help make me who I am.  I am not unique or especially amazing, but I've learned to cultivate relationships as best I can.  So far, so great!
There is only one more step in making friends and it's no fun, so we'll save it for another day.  For now, enjoy the people in your life.  Enjoy the life you build as you build the relationships.  Mostly, revel in and remember the experiences because they are the building blocks of your life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mmmmm cake...

Years ago, I started baking cakes because I love the science of it. 

I like the idea of creating flavors that are classic and unique in desserts.  I often asked people to challenge me to create a cake flavor.  (Key Lime Pie is NOT easy to duplicate in cake, in case you're wondering.)  Most of my cakes, initally, were rum or vodka cakes.  I don't like a lot of icing on cakes I plan to eat.  A well done cake doesn't really need it, in my opinion.

Somewhere along the way, I started decorating cakes.  I was asked to make some large cakes for big events.  Corporate celebrations or weddings turned into birthday requests and one year, I was leaving my full-time job to go home and bake 3 or 4 cakes.  Decorating on weekends during the day and acting in shows weekend nights.  I barely slept.  My health declined.  I was having a hard time at work.  Something had to give.

I had to make a decision if I was going to continue baking and after realizing that a: I couldn't bake enough to match my full-time salary without investing in a facility and staff  and b: I would HATE that and baking in short order.  So, decision made, I did my last batch of holiday cakes and stopped baking unless it was a word of mouth referral from someone close to me. 

I did the occasional wedding cake or baked for someone to take home or to an event.  I stopped experimenting with flavors (much to my coworkers sadness as they were my taste testing audience for new flavors and failures).  I reprioritized.

As I get older, I realize that if I ever retire, I would want to bake still as a side business.  Just enough to make me happy and pay for itself.  So, to keep my skills up and learn new ones (I still haven't played with my icing spray paint unit!), I've started experimenting again.

This past weekend, I made a key-lime ginger cake (no booze, but ginger beer would work and be super tasty, I bet!) and a champagne-orange (booze cooked out) ginger cake.  I am currently on a ginger kick, it's that time of year after all.  I think I am going to find myself a butternut squash and revive my butternut squash cake recipe and my pumpkin pie rum cake recipe.  They needed adjusting anyway because they were a tad too moist.  Tasty, but a tad mushy not with the fluffy crumb I prefer.

Oh - and here's a couple pics of the wedding cake I did recently.  (Outdoor weddings are tough, especially when it was 90+ degrees outside. We had to wait until the last second to set it all out or the cupcakes would have melted away.  Also mixing the right color of coral sight unseen (no sample was given...I learned a lesson) was a challenge, but I managed to nail it!  On the 3rd or 4th batch...there are still flowers at my house...still)

So, you know, if you need to purchase a cake or want me to create a new flavor.  The challenge door is now open and orders are being taken (within reason).

Fortunately, the next day... we got a LOT accomplished!

So I was upset about the leak and the damage in the dining room.  (When I say was, I mean I still am but I'm not dwelling on the upset.  Nothing I can do to magically fix it, so dealing with it is the best way forward.)  However, in preparation for getting it looked at - the hubby and I got a lot done on the house last night.

We put half the study stuff actually IN the study.  We rearranged the dining room.  We figured out that some of the stuff in the dining room belonged in other rooms. 

On a roll, we went upstairs and almost finished the master closet install.  I'll have pictures in a week or so of the before and after.  I'm pretty thrilled about it!

So on the heels of disaster, once again, we got a fabulous silver lining - Progress.

Also, I got a call from the insurance company yesterday telling me a check will be coming to settle my claim from the accident in July.  Talk about God-timing, right?  Today is a good day!

The post that was supposed to happen yesterday is almost done, so stay tuned!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Technical Difficulties

Today's intended post is delayed.  Work and other constraints have slowed down progress. 

Heh, work slowed down progress.  That's funny, right?

At any rate, we have discovered a leak - by discovered, I mean I went into the dining room and was all "OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?  THAT CEILING HAS BEEN PAINTED ALREADY!!" 

Then I called the hubby down and pointed.  He was more upset that we can't use our shower until we figure out why it's leaking.  I am now shopping for bargain tile (because I see retiling in our future, I think something below the shower pan / liner thingy* is broken.  We'll know for sure tomorrow...) and worrying about the drywall replacement and money, of course.

Yes, I know the house is still a mess from the move and mid-transition, but really?!  We did not need this... feel free to join me in praying it's something minor and cheaply fixed.

Also, this week at work has been a test in my willpower and patience.  Given the number of carbs and baked goods I've stuffed in my mouth, I don't think I'm doing so well...

At any rate, I promise to get back on track as soon as possible.  (As in tomorrow!)

Thanks for being troopers.

*Technical Term

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fortunately, the next day - I lived!

So, some of you know back in July I had a car accident.  Well - to be fair, another car rolled over the median and almost hit me dead on.  I swerved and that probably saved my life (God was driving at that point, I was already mentally saying my farewells.) 

As you can see here, the car (my poor Prius that was almost paid off) took the brunt of it.  I walked away with scrapes and scars, glass in my wrist, and an overreaction when driving on 2 lane roads.

I don't have much to say about the accident.  There was nothing I could have done to predict or prevent it.  It ruined the 4th of July and is the reason I have not yet picked up my grandmother's dining room set from North Carolina.  Beyond that, it gave me a reality check.

First:  I had no plans to get a new car.  We just bought a house and I was convinced I couldn't afford it and didn't need the additional bills.  Despite the high mileage I put on that car in short order due to job changes in location (grrrr) and the subsequent car issues I was bound to have, I was determined to get a few more years out of it.

Second:  Had I not miscarried, I would have been about 9 months pregnant when that happened.  The thought of it scares me.  How much would that have affected my reaction time?  Things could have been so much worse.

Lastly:  Whenever I think I have things under control or know what I'm doing, the good Lord above sees fit to remind me who is in control.  Not only in the having of the accident but the saving my life during and the subsequent absolute lack of medical difficulty.

So now I have a new Prius - my first new car ever - with bells and whistles I only dreamed of previously.  I also have a new attitude on life in general.  As the blog title says...

Fortunately, the next day...

TTC: A new attitude

If you are trying to conceive and sad posts are a trigger or stress for you - don't read any further.  There is good news in here as well, but I have to explain the bad for it to all make sense.

It's been over a year, technically almost 3 years, of trying.  Short of IVF, we've done it all.  IUI worked for us but I couldn't stay pregnant.  I finally have accepted that this was due to something being wrong with the baby - not me. It took about 10 months for me to wrap my head around that.

The first 6 months after our third miscarriage were pretty awful.  Short of losing my father, I've never felt such keen grief, guilt, and anger.  I thought I knew what depression was before then, but I had no idea.  I think, after all the money, meds, stabbing myself nightly with needles full of hormones - the thought that I could get pregnant and see my little miracle in the ultrasound then lose it was the part that broke me.

I've been mad at God before, but this was different.  This time I was mad at everyone.   From the people at work and the stress they cause me to the other commuters that made every day a nightmare for me on to the fact that we were trying to find a house to move into at the same time.  I was angry at my stepchildren, my husband, and mostly - myself.  I needed someone to blame.  Someone had to be at fault for such terrible pain.

In the end, it's the way it was meant to be.  I don't understand or like it, but I can now accept it.  I've begun to focus on getting myself healthy again.  Taking a break from the stress of worrying about my reproductive organs is a relief in some ways.  Sure, there's this niggling little clock ticking in the back of my head as a rush on towards 40, but I can't control this.  For someone like me, that's both devastating and a relief at the same time. 

I spoke to my doctor a week ago about my current thoughts and she was really pleased. She said it's the best thing I could be doing right now and being healthy - both physically and mentally - was by far the most important thing.  More important than my age, because any child I do have deserves to have the best mother it can not just the one that survived.

In the interim, you'll be hearing less about TTC and more about my efforts to get my lifestyle back to healthy and happy.  We're actually doing really well right now, but there will always be challenges.

It's learning to accept and handle them that's the lesson.  Thank you all for you continual support and caring - we need it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Windows: Dressing the room

Sometimes the simplest of things can make a room and windows truly can change everything.  From the amount of light they let in to what you put over them for privacy.  Layers are the key, in my opinion, to having a well dressed window.  Usually you need one layer for privacy and another for controlling the light during the various seasons.  Sometimes you can get a single layer to do double duty, but layers allow much more flexibility. 
I have a large amount of windows in my new house.  Many of them are oversized windows to make it more interesting.  By my rough count, there are 30 windows.  Now, thankfully, they all currently have blinds on them.  The sunroom has lovely wooden slat blinds, which will remain, but everywhere else has those horrible slat plastic or metal blinds… I hate them.

Mind you, right now they serve a purpose, but they are just so… bleh.

I have been collecting DIY window treatments that won’t kill me (or our bank account) since buying drapes for all those windows would cost literally THOUSANDS (OK, admittedly this may be because my tastes are super specific and eclectic - and if you ask my hubby, expensive).  The kids rooms will be done last as they have basic drapes with their blinds for now and it seems to be working for them.  Here is my list of the smartest and financially savvy window treatments I have found:
 DIY Roman shades
These shades paired with the right curtains or sheers could make a gorgeous statement.  I especially love the idea of using something textured (like cheap drop cloths or burlap) with something soft and flowy.  Perhaps even something lush if you have the budget to get some straight velvet panels to pair with a sheer or lacy roman shade?  The possibilities overrun....
Speaking of drop cloths, what about this?
Painted Dropcloth Curtains 
You could pair this with the roman shades and instead of doing full curtains, change them into stenciled panels. (Unless you're going to fully close your curtains, need the lushness of the fabric in the room, or are stretching the curtains along the wall as well - panels are a much more economical way to get the look of curtains without paying for unnecessary and unused fabric, IMO.)
Speaking of stretching the curtains along a wall or if you, like me, have oversized windows; let's talk about DIY curtain rods.  Buying them from the store is pretty pricey, but with a little creativity, you can do a lot yourself.
You can DIY finials by buying the unfinished wood ones at Lowes or Home Depot.  You can buy large drawer knobs or use vintage door knobs.  You could take to the craft store and make your own from clay.  Fit pingpong balls on the end and spray paint them to match the rod.  Not interested in DIYing or creating a crafty finial?  I recommend checking out Amazon and Etsy for some creative possibilities or if you have a local architectural salvage shop, see what vintage knobs they have lying about.
Back to curtain ideas...What about these beauties?  It's hard to believe they are DIY!
Anthropologie Knock-Offs 

Sharpie Creativity
Bedsheet curtains 
Ombre Chevron Curtains - gorgeous! 

Here is a whole host of no-sew window covering ideas! 
Need something simpler?  Try this! 

But for me and my French leanings, these panels have stolen my heart.  I will find a way and place for them! 
Is your head whirling with ideas?  I can totally understand.  Hopefully you're not overwhelmed or intimidated.  For those of you who don't sew, here's a link to a lovely set of tutorials that might make you more willing to take on some of these projects.  I'll be sure to let you know when I start dressing my rooms!
By the way, I'll be back with some affordable fabric sites and ideas in the near future, but I think this is plenty for today.  Oh and just so you have it in your head - one I'm not brave enough to try (yet):

Monday, September 22, 2014

Making Friends: Part 2

This segment isn't going to be very popular.  It's the hard part.  It also comes off a bit "preachy" but take it for what it's worth, what my life experience has taught me - not only for myself but those I'm close with and their friends.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Making Friends Step 2: 
You have to recreate your comfort zone

Getting out of the house is actually the easy step.  This next part involves making some conscious changes for yourself in how you interact with others.  We all have our comfort zone.  The space where we are comfortable being socially active is within that and is usually shaped when we are fairly young by life experiences.
Growing up as a military child, you don’t have the luxury of being shy for very long.   I was a pretty quiet kid for many years.  Looking back, most of those years were when I was constantly with cousins and other family members that made up my social circle.  Changing schools, moving overseas, and having siblings quickly changed the landscape of my comfort zone.  I had to decide to see people as potential additions to my social circle. 
In doing so, you learn several valuable life traits:
Discernment – Learning how, from a distance, to make a quick decision on a person’s personality is called judging.  I am not encouraging that at all.  Discernment is something you can’t really do from a distance.  Sure, you can read body language for aggression, malice, etc. to keep yourself safe.  You can perceive from context if someone appears to enjoy hurting others or causing a scene.  But true discernment requires at least a meeting and initial conversation.  Speaking to someone and watching how they behave – do they meet your eyes when they speak, are they fidgety, do they seem simply shy or have you caught them in three half-truths in the initial meeting? – is crucial.  Learning to discern if a person is worth a second conversation and getting to know better is important.  When you’re a child, it’s simple.  Do they play nice?  Do they treat others nicely?  Do they keep their word?  Those are the basics that kids look for because those fundamentals are all that matter in their world.  For the most part, those basics are a good jumping off point for deeper discernment as an adult. 
IMPORTANT NOTE: Let's have a quick aside and talk about the word "assumption".  It's a terrible thing to use assumption as a weeding factor in the people in your life.  Whether it's assuming you know something about a person without verification for yourself (gossip) or assuming the worst of everyone's speech (cynicism) - negative assumption can be a deathblow to potential relationships of all kinds.  If you're going to assume, then let a little Pollyanna into your life for this one area*, assume the best of people until proven otherwise.  Even further down that road, if the person is an existing relationship in your life - assume the best of them always unless they pointedly destroy those feelings with fire, faulsehoods and faithlessness.  Give people in your life a glorious bar to live up to, instead of a daunting cliff to climb.  I find that you get the same in return when you do, and isn't that a lovely feeling?

Conversation – Don’t roll your eyes.  There are many people who struggle with how to hold a basic conversation.  The idea of learning to actually listen, ask questions, and then open a new avenue of repartee is lost on many.  Some people only learn to listen, but cannot actively participate or steer a conversation.  These people often feel overwhelmed in crowds because they are steamrolled.  They end up going places they don’t like, eating food they don’t like, and listening to music they can’t stand because they never figured out how to put forward their preferences.  The common response here is to withdraw or assume people are bullies.  There are those who never learned to listen - and ladies many of us are guilty of this with the opposite sex (also actors, we’re guilty of this with non-performers).  These people get bored with others easily because they “never have anything to say”.  Often, that’s not actually true but there is rarely the consideration that perhaps those other people never got the chance to speak up or take a bit longer to figure out how they want to say something.  This brings us to learning to appreciate a genuine pause or silence.  When there is a lull in the conversation, that’s not the time to wander mentally or feel uncomfortable.  That’s the time to enjoy being with another person.  Whether it’s on a walk, at a meal, or watching a show together – there is usually a context that brings people together that you can soak in while giving someone a chance to respond.  Lastly, if you are with someone who seems reticent to take active participation – try to encourage them to share by asking questions and showing interest.  The generosity of asking someone to take the verbal floor goes a long way to easing the space for others.
Sacrifice – Sometimes, you have to take the hard road.  This is key.  People don’t always read others well.  Take a look at yourself and figure out if it’s possible you’re hard to read.  Do you maybe have a “resting face” that gives off a negative vibe?  That’s not your fault, but it may mean you need to actively work to smile more often or show overt interest in people until they get to know you better.  In the same vein, the person who has a naturally smiling resting face has to learn how to show people when they need space and don’t want to be approached.  There is a flip side to every coin.  Sometimes, you have to be the one to reach out first or more often.  If you have the ability to easily contact people first or welcome others to your home, don’t wait for someone else to set up an outing or make a phone call.  I know this won’t be an easy transition for many people but life is a seesaw.  What you give now will come back to you multiple times over from those with whom people you build relationships. 
Changing your comfort level in these three areas will make a world of difference.  It is much easier to approach meeting new people with a positive attitude if you go in expecting the best and working towards a positive outcome.  Yes, you will meet the occasional person who spoils an interaction but you’ll find more people respond to your positivity in a good and meaningful way. 
You may think that you don’t have a reason to change your comfort zone because you have never moved or been forced to leave people you care for behind.  But in truth, life is constantly forcing us to reshape our comfort zones.  Simply aging along changes what we are willing to accept in our lives and what we need.

This won’t be a rapid change in you, however.  It’s hard to change learned habits of a lifetime.  You have to consciously make the choice and learn to shake the dust off when you run into someone that tries to ruin your day.  Never give strangers the power to control your day – they may affect it, but those effects can only last as long as you allow. Remember, those of us who care about you are here cheering you on!  For those of you saying, "Why do I have to make all the changes?  Why can't other people change and come to me?" 

Because, like you, they are sitting at home saying the exact same thing.  You cannot control the behavior of others.  You can control your own, however, and give yourself the best opportunities in life.  That's what education and all the other social standards are in place for - to give each person the best opportunity for the life they desire.

I hope this is helpful to someone but if not, it’s at least a record of what I’ve learned about making friends in my own life.  And I have some pretty awesome friends!

*If you don't know who Pollyanna is, you should go to the nearest video access you have and watch it! 

Balancing Work, Life and DIY

My husband is a wonderfully patient man.  I think he’s learned more about me in the past year than all the previous time combined.  We’ve been through some rough times and I fell apart for a while.  Frankly, we both did.  When I fall apart, not only do I withdraw but I start doing one of two things – creative work or shopping.  Wait… three things – because I’m an emotional eater, so eating crappy food is something else I’m likely to indulge in when other things are out of my control.
I’m not proud of this, but I try to be honest here.  Anyway, my mania can cause a lot of half-started projects and purchase of random things no one knew we needed (but we did!)…  He’s put up with it all.  Even when we are in disagreement, we have slogged it out.  I’m guess that’s part of the mystery orf marriage – not only being willing to slog it out with the right person but knowing who that person is.  You can’t get down and dirty with everyone, you have to really know and trust someone to take that risk.   That’s all part of love.

Anyway… he’s great and I’ve been trying to figure out since I said “I do” how to balance – in no particular order -  working fulltime (necessary), being a wife (necessary), being a stepmom (not necessary if you ask the teenagers), being a puppy-mom (necessary), being a hopeful mom-to-be (necessary?), being a good daughter (necessary), being a good sister (necessary), being a good Christian (vital!), being an artist (necessary), being a baker (necessary), being a freelancer (sometimes necessary), being a student (more necessary than the attention I give it), and being a performing actor (still necessary).   

Does that seem like a lot?  I bet if you list all the elements of your life, you have as much or more you’re also trying to juggle.  We just don’t realize it most of the time.

Top all of that off with caring for your health, physical and mental, by eating well and getting enough sleep or exercise.  You may just fall over.  It’s a lot.  And people all around us every day are all struggling to do the same things as well.  Some are just better at it than others…
Side rant:  And yet there are those people who MAKE time to gossip, belittle, judge, and harm others.  If we all spent more time in our own yards, we’d find less complaint with the neighbors.  It seriously annoys me how much time people (and the media) spend worrying about what others are doing.  If we gave our own lives as much attention, how much better could things be?  /end side rant

At any rate, I'm still exploring this - talking to others who have as much or more to juggle in their lives and finding out methods that are healthy and work.  Just a heads up in case you want to skip those posts.  Sharing the info seems, in my mind, a good way to open that discussion in many places. 

We are a nation of overachievers - but there has to be balance.  Here's to finding it:  *Cheers!*

Friday, September 19, 2014

Making Friends: Part 1

I’m going to write a little series on making friends.  Why?  Because it’s been commented on several times that I “make friends easy” and don’t understand what it’s like to struggle to make friends.  I’m a military brat.  I learned at a young age how to make friends or be alone.  It’s a life skill, you’re not born with it.  You learn it and practice it and develop it.  Just like playing the piano or any other life skill.  So, I’ll share what I’ve managed to figure out so far.

Making friends: Step 1
You have to leave your house.


You would never know by this drawing that I am an artist by trade, but I promise you - this was 20 seconds of scribble because I have no extra time to do it right at the moment.  I'd promise to upgrade it later, but that would be a lie.

I know there are people who are yelling at their computers right now.  You are all pointing out all the online friends you have via your computer, phone, or gaming system.  While virtual friends are awesome, unless they can virtually help you move, bring you soup when you’re sick, share your birthdays / wild adventures / midnight cravings, or give you a comforting hug when you’re grieving – they don’t count.  *GASP*  Wait… the internet might implode.
Nope.  Why?  Because all those virtual people are off living their lives.  Lives you aren’t actually a part of beyond the computer screen.  When you are friends with real living people, even when they move away – you’re in their life.  They make plans to visit you, call you, or invite you to their home.  They know what your eye color is, because they have looked in your eyes.  These people have seen your moods change in real time, because they were there when the stupid chick spilled her drink on your new blouse at the first bar you went to while you were dancing on the pole.*

So, to have these people in your life, you have to leave your house. 
Wait!  Before you actually leave your house, there are a couple of crucial steps you must take.

First – make sure your attitude is one of a person who wants to meet others and be social.  I know this sounds silly, but if you’re projecting anger and discontent about being around other people – you’ll probably get equally negative energy back.  This is great if you’re looking to surround yourself with cynical grouches or comedians.  (Which I have several of in my life, they are lovely people down deep.)  Just be prepared for the reaction.  In life, you get (generally speaking) a reflection of what you’re putting out from others.  Getting back apathy?  Rudeness?  Cattiness?  Before you launch into your themesong of how awful people are, be sure you’re not putting the same vibes forward.  You can’t control others or their perception of you, but you can control what information they are given to perceive.
Second – make sure you’re happy with yourself before leaving.  If you’re not feeling very confident, that’s ok (and normal) and no reason to stay inside, but if you’re genuinely at a place where you hate everything about yourself (especially if you’re feeling vocal about it), then maybe going out that day isn’t for you.  Sometimes it’s a passing thing, other times is a daily battle.  It doesn’t mean you’re broken, it just means you may need help dealing with that part before going out to enlarge your circle.  Why?  Because like tends to attract like.  Surrounding yourself with other people who are going through a very broken time won’t be very healthy for you at this moment.  You can’t give from your well when it’s dry.  There are times when staying home or in a safe place is best.  There are also times when you have to ask for help if you can’t get past this.  Being an introvert is totally ok and healthy, but closing yourself off from the world can be a result of anxiety, depression, or something else that can be helped professionally to give you more freedom in your life.  Those people who battle these demons are amazing and courageous, but you have to battle the demons or they devour you.

So, you’ve decided you’re ready inside and out… time to leave the house and go…where?
My recommendation is places you feel comfortable, even if you end up there alone.  A cafĂ© in a bookstore?  A lecture?  Open mike night at the karaoke bar?  A sports bar watching Sunday night football (sit at the bar)?  A live band in the local park?  Heck, a walk in the local park might be a good starting place.  If you work, leave your desk and go to lunch or to a common area and smile at people you don’t know.  Smiling is the coolest thing humans have going for them.  Other animals struggle to do it and look inviting and not like they want to eat you, but humans can smile and say “Hey, how are you?  I’m open to talking to you.” without speaking at all.  How cool is that?! 

So there you go, the very first step.  The next step will involve conversation and body language, but let’s not overwhelm you.  Go out and see others.  Smile – make small talk.  Don’t commit to anything.  Just get yourself at ease with generally being social with strangers… in safe, public spaces.  (We’re not trying to get you on the evening news or anything.)

Will you immediately make 45 friends and besties with these techniques?  No, that’s not realistic, but you’re definitely going to put yourself in a better place to meet people you can actually connect with for longer than it takes to kill the Boss in level 3.
*not an actual event in my life, I promise.

(20 x 2) - 1 = Are you KIDDING?

So, some days I really start to feel that number that comes around every May. 

It happens in weird ways, like being so tired I can barely walk at 10pm.  When did THAT happen?  What happened to the girl who could party until 3 am, take a nap, then go to work with no hangover the next day?  Did she just quit one day and leave behind this person who can't even make it to late night television?  Now, this isn't every day (Thank you, Lord) but on the days it happens, it's when I would actually LIKE to stay up for some reason.

Or, things I used to joke about like Sciatica.  It's not actually all that freaking funny.  It's annoying and painful and RANDOM.  I didn't do a double backflip with a twist or scale a 40 foot wall then army crawl under barbed wire - I'm not stupid (anymore) and know my physical limitations (mostly).  I would never do something dumb like run a marathon! (Just kidding - not about the running a marathon part, but about it being dumb.  It isn't - I just won't. Ever.)  So why does sitting at my computer at work randomly cause pain?  (There is some Freudian analysis dying to come out here, but we'll save that for another day.)  Or maybe picking up a piece of dropped paper?  Or breathing? Again, it's not all the time but seriously - when did I open that gift that doesn't end?

When I turned 24... a while ago... someone said, "Well, it's all downhill from here.  From this point on your body is actually dying every day.  It's no longer creating new cells."  First of all - that person was, and likely still is, a jerk.  Second of all, they LIED!  If I'm not creating new cells, where are these random pieces of hair coming from?   And how do they grow so freaking fast?  Yesterday there was no hair there, I know - I look in the mirror EVERY day... sometimes multiple times.  I'm not narcissistic, I'm paranoid.  Or OCD... possibly both.  Which is not the point, the freaking hair is - and it's alarming that something can grow that quickly on my body and I not even FEEL it.

People still say I look way younger than I am, maybe 30 (which until last year, they guessed me at 26 so I guess I put on a few years in the past one).  This is great.  It would be even better if I felt like I did when I was 30 (which was like I was still 18).  But more and more I'm made aware that I am not bouncing back the way I used to... even with all this bouncy padding.

I am married to an awesome man who loves me exactly like I am, which makes one of us on some days.  Because of him, I'm working on getting myself more physically active and back in somewhat better shape.  Because of our desire to have kids, I'm trying to make sure I am still fit enough to be a fun mom, not a decrepit one, but man - it's not easy!

For those of you in your early 30s, don't squander your youth.  Do stuff, go places, and save money.  Seriously, this age thing doesn't come on slowly.  It's all at once apparently and like a ninja - it gives no warning. 

For everyone under 30, trust me when I tell you that people keep treating you like a kid because from this point of view, you are.  I know all the 20-somethings are groaning and complaining that they are adults as well.  You are... but when your body begins to betray you randomly and going dancing means you're going to be sore in the morning, then let me know. 

We can have mimosas like civilized people at brunch.  On the weekend.

Oh - and it's not all bad. I have a real job that pays well, I have a car, pets, a 401K, a husband that I adore, and a life plan.  I know who I am in my faith and who my real friends are as well.  My passions are clearly established and I'm ok with not being everything to everyone, nor impressing strangers (unless I'm on stage, then all bets are off).  There are still things I'm working on (Hello, body image) but hey - I'm as human as the next woman.  This took time to develop and as I mature, I'm sure it will be even better.

I would just appreciate a little warning sometimes.  I also enjoy this view of life stages.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cool House Ideas #2: Live, Love and Cook!

If you ever find yourself house shopping and looking specifically at new build homes, by house number 5 you will start to realize that basic kitchens all look the same.  Stock cabinetry: check!  Granite counters: check!  Tile or hardwood floors: check!  Stainless steel or black appliances: check!

The formulas are pretty standard as well.  All white kitchens, dark cabinets and light counters, light cabinets and dark counters, neutral colors on the walls and floors, the same mid grade pieces of granite or marble.  Sigh.

For an artist, it's a challenge to see past the boring sometimes.  So I've been dreaming of a kitchen with a personality.  Now there are some really (really!) creative spaces out there with screaming color, modern angles, and neon lights.  There are super sparse professional kitchen style kitchens with lots of gleaming stainless steel counters and crisp white walls.  Like these:

That's not my taste, but if it's you - rock on!

For my dreamy kitchen, I have been inspired by old world (shocking!) country feel with smart convenience and a family ambiance.   That's a lot for a kitchen to do but take a gander!
Cozy and even the picture looks like it has texture.

I love the added elegance of the lighting and the details extend to the hallway!

Look at the texture of the room!  Furniture styling.  Muted colors with detail relief.
Again with the pop of color, love the warmth of the lighting and wall color.

Details!  The two islands!  The different countertop material!

While I am not normally a fan of beams, they work here.

Wonderful use of gray.  This is a two room kitchen... hmmm...

This is the kitchen of our new house.  Lots of space but... yawn, right?
I can see right away that the space needs color, brightening, and details!  Not details like stuff on the counter.  That's technically clutter.  But hardware and coloring that bring out the movement in the granite.   Wall colors and island colors that create texture and life in the space.  Removal of that stupid table (previous owners) and extension of the island itself to create space for prepping while chatting with others.  Some of these creative and useful additions would be excellent as well. 

Yes, I am inspired to turn this cookie-cutter kitchen into something amazing!  How about you?

Haves and Have Nots...

Some of you may know that since 2004 I have worked part time at the Maryland Renaissance Festival on cast.  Last year I took a hiatus and this year, I'm partially there as a vendor.  Suffice to say, over the past 10 years I have become well-versed in my "history of Europe" in general. 

This past weekend, I overheard a mother pointing out a member of the nobility moving past them.  The little girl was in awe of the court gown, jewels, etc.  Her mother quickly explained to her that "in the old days" people used to set others above them based on birth and that those people weren't actually any better than the other people.  She spoke of revolutions and the birth of America as examples of that change in "European" attitudes.  According to her, the world no longer works that way.  The days of kings, nobility, and classes of people are behind us, in her words.

I was torn between the thought that either she was extremely naive or she was flat out lying to her child for some reason.  Here in America, we most certainly do have our noblesse - just a lot less oblige.  I said nothing to these strangers enjoying their day, but the conversation stuck with me.

First, a little recap on history from my point of view (let's see if any of those classes stuck).  There have ALWAYS been those set above others, whether by birth or earned fame.  From the most ancient of times the hierarchy of precedence is clear in every known culture.  True, for many centuries, it was based on birthright - being born into the right family at the right time, etc. or "luck in life" - marrying well or using an earned / stolen fortune to buy a better place for your future generations, thus returning to the birthright formula.  Religious hierachies have definitely shaken up existing powers over time depending on who had the stronger army backing the prevailing dogma.  From ancient dynasties to current day, certain inevitable cycles have continued.  At its most basic, the colonial American birth and growth is clearly built upon the same sort of precedence.

Even in this moden time family wealth, notoriety, place in politics or education and invention have created numerous strata that the citizens of this nation attempt to flow between.  Across the nation, by region the evidence of preexisting social patterns still exists today.  They are deemed tradition or regional behaviors, but taken as a whole - they are actually a continuation of learned behavior that has gone on for centuries.  The difference being that in America we have added arenas that were previously thought little of and raised them above others in a seemingly illogical way.

For instance, the American gentry, in my opinion, consists of the following:

Persons of power:  Government Officials, Judges, Religious Leaders, and Industry Leaders

Persons of education:  Leading Educators, Doctors, Inventors, and Explorers

Persons of notoriety:  Entertainers, Sports Leaders and Team Members, Media Leads, and the Infamous

Of these three groups, persons of notoriety and power are the most prominent and historically revered.  Life is structured around them.  Rules and acceptable mores are devolved from their lives, choices and ideas.  People revel in the minute details of their lives.  From what they eat, wear and drive to their thoughts on ideology, faith, and cultural mores, people tend to give these persons the credit of knowing what is right.  Too often, a person puts aside their own common sense or gut instinct to follow one or many of these "nobles".

The invention of communication devices has only amplified our ability to keep abreast of what these gentry are doing and spread the word more quickly.  It has taken those who are infamous for negative behavior and elevated them to being equal or surpassing those actively contributing to society.  Sadly, in the same vein, lack of amplification has decreased the visible value of those people who dedicate their lives to saving, bettering, or educating others.

There was a time when actors and persons who played such terrible games as "foot ball" or soccer, were thought to be the lowest of the low.  The idea of giving a performer or herald (media lead) more credence than an educator or physician would have been laughable.  Even leaders of nations held educators and inventors in the highest of esteem.  In this day and age, we seem to feel that it's reasonable to pay a person more to play a game that could injur them for life to entertain us than we pay the people who lead our nation, save our lives, or educate our next generation.  It is more important to honor and award those who entertain us than to have a public accolade for those who work diligently to care for the poor, educate the young, or serve the elderly or infirm. 

While certainly returning to the days when an accident of birth determined your future, be it by status, race or religion, is not desirable at all - surely we're gone too far in the other direction?

So, to the mother admonishing her child's admiration, I would warn you not to ignore the signs that exist even today of the same exact attitudes.  They are as dangerous now as they were then.  It's ok to admire the prominent, wealthy and beautiful - so long as you can honor the lesser known people who are a much more vital part of your dailt existence.

I, as an entertainer, enjoy being paid and applauded, but I have no illusions that even the best portrayed role and the most moving script could ever outrank the skilled hands of a nurse or EMT holding someones life in their hands.   I admire those teachers who take on the most challenging students and stick with the low pay and difficult parents to try and better future generations.  I am humbled by those who use their lives as sacrifice to help those born into lesser means and opportunity.  Value does not equal money, but money should reflect more accurately true value.

As was said in the movie "A Bug's Life" (Irony much?!)  by Hopper: You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up! Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one and if they ever figure that out there goes our way of life! It's not about food, it's about keeping those ants in line. That's why we're going back! Does anybody else wanna stay?

We're figured out that we can be anything we want to in life if we work for it, but for some reason we started reaching for the glitter and not the substance.  The work part is no longer attractive.  The glory of achieving something isn't nearly as much fun as having stuff to show for it.  There's some sort of social trick in that.  In reaching for the flash, we're often lost in the fire.  So few actually achieve that glamour status, but so many could achieve more with their lives if they stopped aiming for something that in the end only has substance when it was achieved through a lifetime of actually producing value.

 It's the haves and the have nots - but it's not about money or fame. It's about common sense and realizing that the privelege of the modern world is not just that you can achieve anything you set your mind and work to accomplish. More importantly, it's understanding that you have a duty to expect more of those you choose to revere and have the right to promote those who exemplify the opportunities so many generations have fought to give us.

I'm not saying don't enjoy your movie or your favorite sports team - I do.  I'm just saying, if you cheer for them perhaps we should cheer louder for those who may deserve it more? Recognize when we are perpetuating a cycle that in the end will not leave us with astounding leaders, smarter futures, and advances in our society. I expect my opinion on this won't be popular, but if it gets people to start thinking and reprioritizing, then I'm happy. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Words that make me crazy: whatever, what, why....

Ok technically all three of those words are perfectly fine. 

Unless they are coming from the mouth of one of the 2 (TWO!!) teenagers in our immediate family.  The amount of sarcasm, disrespect, and outright falsehoods a teenager can pack into a single word is amazing.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but my teeth are set on edge when anything I say, ask, or do is countered by one of those three words.

Is this normal?  Please say yes!

The Art of Architectural Salvage shopping...

You can imagine my genuine surprise to find that there is a completely unknown market to me.  Well, there was - until I learned of architectural salvage shopping.  After watching shows like Rehab Addict and Black Dog Salvage, I wondered "who buys that stuff". 

Turns out, people like me do.  In the Baltimore / DC area there are a number of really good spots to get everything from antiques and vintage accents to modern film set leftovers, marquees and home remodeling supplies.

While I have always enjoyed ReStore, by Habitat for Humanity, the selections are limited.  They are the place to go for standard doors, parts, lights, and basic tile or construction materials.  But if you're looking for reclaimed barnwood, slabs of granite, copper vents and antique sinks, you're going to have to venture to someplace new.

For instance, my absolute favorite for truly eclectic and variety with quality items is Second Chance in Baltimore.  From the impressive and grand entrance to the huge stockpile of reclaimed wood floors, with an amazing assortment of furniture between, this store will take hours to peruse.  It's very hard to leave empty handed.  I haven't managed to yet. Too many pictures to link, apparently, but check out the site to see some of the new additions.  They change rapidly and some items never make it to the website because they are sold before the pictures can be posted!
Here are some lovely doors I found at Second Chance.  (Mary is not for sale!)  Luckily I came back the next day and got them.  Otherwise, I would have missed out.  Gorgeous bi-fold doors with chain mesh screens and neutral curtains.

Sadly, I also wanted this to put in our sunroom to house the daily dishes etc. to create my French gathering room.  Why sad?  Because I tried to wait until the price dropped and it was gone when I went back to get it.  Lesson learned.

If you're into something you can be more creative with or decorate a little more uniquely, then you'll want to visit Housewerks.  They are a little higher in cost, but the items are quite different. 

Remodeling a house?  Finishing a basement?  I can recommend The Community Forklift in Edmonston, MD right outside DC.  They have a remarkable selection of granite and other household items and seem to turnover their selection quickly at reasonable prices.  They are smaller than Second Chance but with a similar vibe.  There is also The Loading Dock in Baltimore.  It's what its name implies, a loading dock where extras

There are a few I have yet to visit, but have heard good things about:

The Brass Knob in DC
Cavarati's in Richmond

These are actually just a couple of many in my area.  Check out what's available where you live!  Check out nearby locales.  I've heard some interesting finds are available in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  Those are both driving distance!