Fuel for the Creative Life

You guys, for once I feel like I’m doing it.  I’m really doing it.

 

I’d venture to say that every creative person is at all times either a) actively pursuing their craft, or b) feeling all kinds of angst about not pursuing their craft.  I lived in the angst category until now.

 

Truthfully, publishing a book changed everything.  Even while I was working through all the tedious publishing steps, I still felt like an impostor, or like I wasn’t really living that writing life yet.  But having such a huge project done, I feel free (farewell, miserable checklist!), I feel affirmed (because no matter how you spin it, I’m officially an author), and I feel inspired to go for round two.  The publishing process isn’t nearly as daunting to me anymore, and I’m excited to do something completely different.

 

My first book was a spiritually inspiring collection of biography (Stage Direction: Stories from a Passion Play).  Creative nonfiction was and will always be my first love, but now I’m dreaming of a short story collection–something fictional–something that feels like literature.  I’ve been reading and studying short stories, and zoning in on exactly what “does it for me” in a short story:  realism, irony, symbolism, redemption, and a strong ending.  My favorites, Zenna Henderson’s “Subcommittee” and Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” have all of these elements.  Lately I have a big, fat crush on the well-crafted short story.

 

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My plan is to write and perfect one short story per month, and if I stick to it (although having a newborn in May, and other such personal events might derail me) I’ll have twelve short stories by the end of the year.  That’s enough for a short story collection.  I’ll write stories that make sense together, of course–this book won’t be an awkward romance/horror/fantasy concoction–not to worry!

 

I fumbled through the publishing process for Stage Direction.  I had no idea how to order my to-do list.  I finished my manuscript, then had it professionally edited, then dealt with the cover design and the interior design.  It took several months after my manuscript was complete to polish the thing into an attractive, functional book.  This time I’m already mulling over the book’s title so my designer friend (Think Cap Design Studios) can get to work on the cover well in advance of the writing being finished.  Won’t it be fun to add an ….and Other Stories to the world??

 

None of this is easy work, of course.  I need mental and social fuel to stay on task.  I need accountability.  I know this about myself, and I don’t consider it shameful.  And besides, the extrovert in me hates how solitary writing is; a group makes this lonely endeavor social, at least in the follow-up.  Write something good, and afterward you’ll be able to interact with other creative people about what you wrote.  That’s a good enough reward.  Last summer I started attending a creative writing workshop, and it was glorious.  I was nervous as heck the first meeting, because there I sat, the last person in the circle to introduce herself, and at least thirty years younger than everyone else.  I was intimidated.  But as we learned together, and swapped writing, I saw that I had their respect despite my age, and we were peers after all.

 

That group fizzled out, but meeting with other writers had given me such life. I had to find ways to fill the hole.  Recently I’ve started attending two new creative writing groups that both meet monthly (and again, I’m the youngest, but that feels okay now).  Their formats are different:  one has a half hour of mingling, followed by a silent writing “study hall,” followed by another half hour of mingling.  I think this format is kind of brilliant, even if there’s no teaching aspect.  The other group often has a speaker or some teaching time, followed by critique groups:  a chance to bring several copies of your latest work, distribute them to your small group, and get feedback on the spot.  This group meets this weekend, and I plan to participate in the critique group and in the read-a-five-minute-excerpt-of-your-writing-to-the-entire-group…even though these people are still strangers to me.  But they seem to be kind, like-minded strangers!  Here’s to extroverted assertiveness!

 

To supplement my need to learn (which that summer writing group really satisfied…bummer), I’m listening to a ton of creative writing podcasts, too.  Who knew how many podcasts were out there, or how many other writers are out there, creating the demand for these?  Story Makers is my current favorite–it’s content-dense and fast-paced.

 

So here’s an invitation to you, if you enjoy short stories:  are you interested in reading one of my monthly short stories as it’s finished?  I’d love to get plenty of feedback as I go.  It’s much less overwhelming in the final editing stage!  My mom reads everything I write, of course, but from time to time a person needs an opinion from someone who didn’t birth them and who doesn’t love them quite so unconditionally.

 

Contact me if you’re interested in being a part of the process!  I’m pumped.

Email me at mizzuskerr@gmail.com.

An Open, Honest Defense of Home Birth

HESITATION……

I don’t often talk about the fact that I’ve had home births, unless someone else brings it up.  I sort of avoid the topic like one might avoid talking about religion or politics.  Birth is a delicate subject, not just because there are such polar views out there, but also because each woman has her own emotional experiences wrapped up in it.  I’m not interested in fighting, or making anyone feel inadequate, or having them do the same to me.

Yet–I committed to writing a few blog posts about “The Things We Don’t Talk About,” so I’m writing about home birth as the second installment of this.  My hope is that those of you who are curious or skeptical about home birth will see that I am a normal, sane, informed woman with an average pain tolerance–and that while I’ll champion home birth, I’ll also never look down on you for your birth choices.

 

MISCONCEPTIONS

Do you mind if we talk about what I think are the top four misconceptions about home birth?

  1. That giving birth at home (or anywhere, unmedicated) makes us superwomen.

No, we are regular.  The biggest appeal of home birth for me is that I don’t have to step into a medical setting, where I’d be totally anxious.  It’s my weakness that most draws me to home birth.  But I’ve grown to agree wholeheartedly with the home-birthing world’s basic assumptions, too:  our bodies were created to give birth successfully, women should be allowed to do whatever makes them comfortable during labor (including eating a club sandwich during transition–I did!), etc.

  1. That we are judging women who birth in a hospital, or who accepted medication during labor.

No.  Birth is likely the most physically intense thing our bodies will ever do.  We all feel weak and desperate and vulnerable when our bodies are in labor, regardless or where or how we birth.  It’s an equalizing human experience, and we should see it that way.  Any woman who’s birthed a child, with or without medication, vaginally or by C-section, is kind of a war hero in my book.  And for a woman who is most relaxed surrounded by all of what modern medicine has to offer, a hospital birth is just perfect.  I believe women should birth wherever their bodies will be most relaxed. For me, that just happens to be my living room with the shades drawn.

No, I will never judge you, but I might feel sad or even mad on your behalf, if I hear that medical professionals didn’t give you world-class care or world-class compassion during your labor.  Some hospital births go smoothly, and some doctors are kind and wonderful, but I’ve heard more stories of fear-mongering and rushing women into C-sections than I’m comfortable with.  

I do not fault mothers; I fault doctors who only speak about birth as a medical emergency, who rehearse all the things that could go wrong, as if fear is helpful to a laboring mom, and who try to force birth into a specific timetable–either by inducing a mom who gestates longer than average, or worse: by hurrying a birth in progress so it will finish before their shift is over.  Yes, you caught me.  These things make me want to start a fight on behalf of mothers everywhere who feel disappointed or even a little traumatized by their birth experiences.  Some of these women are my good friends.

  1. That home birth leaves your house messy and contaminated.

There’s always some degree of mess that comes along with birth, but if you plan a home birth, you will be prepared.  Midwives require each client to assemble a stash of birth supplies well in advance of her due date so that everything she needs will be at hand:  simple, inexpensive things that effectively contain the mess, like a plastic shower curtain, old sheets, towels, and washcloths, and a couple of basins.  My midwives don’t leave the moment the baby is born; they don’t leave until they’ve assessed the newborn, made sure the mom is stable and has eaten something, made sure nursing is off to a good start, and spent hours cleaning up.

(Sean’s note:  It’s not the birth but the baby that will leave your house messy!  Oh Sean.  Touche.)

  1. A midwife will never be as experienced/knowledgeable/safe as an OBGYN, and in the end the mom will have to be rushed to the hospital anyway.  It’s dangerous!

My midwives are Certified Professional Midwives.  They’ve completed internships, passed rigorous exams, and must continue their education and test again every three years to maintain certification.  My head midwife (who was at both Steel’s and Starlett’s births) has attended 7,000+ births, and travels the world teaching others about birth. Her partner (who was also at Steel’s birth) has attended 1,000+ births.  They even have experience with twin and breech births, believe it or not.

My midwives are always prepared with oxygen, resuscitation equipment, and medications just in case there are unforeseen problems.  And as a doula friend pointed out, it takes twenty minutes to prep an OR; if a laboring mother did have to transfer to the nearest hospital, the midwives could call the hospital to get things in motion, then use that wait time for the short drive there.  And they aren’t reckless; they know when to defer to the hospital’s care.

But it’s important to put the likelihood of this into perspective:  my midwives’ rate of transfer to the hospital is around 2%, similar to Ina May Gaskin’s (America’s most famous natural birth advocate; she began a birth center and trained countless midwives).  These numbers, by the way, indicate that under the most experienced midwives’ care, 98% of women’s bodies are able to birth successfully without medical interventions.  That’s a much higher percentage than the medical world has led us to believe can do it.  Our bodies can do this.  Yes, we may be at our physical limits, but we absolutely can do it.  It’s enormously helpful, though, if you and everyone in the room believe this deep down.  

I love that my midwives are flexible, loving, maternal, and reassuring.  They do not play God; they aren’t controlling.  They give their expert opinions, but they also respect each woman’s responsibility toward her own health.  And instead of treating everything as a potential danger, they’re relaxed.  It takes a lot to scare them.  They’re a perfect match for my anxiety!  I trust them with my life–and my babies’.

Personally, I’ve had two home births that were uncomplicated and smooth.  On the easier side, I guess you could say.  But I also have several friends who’ve had 40-hour labors at home, and some who’ve had those unbelievably intense 3-hour labors that progress like a freight train.  Still, looking back, we *all* agree we’re glad we birthed at home.

 

RESOURCES

Statistics on Home Birth Safety

A Comparison of Home Birth and Hospital Birth Safety

The Benefits of Birthing at Home

9 Things People Don’t Realize Happen During Home Births

The Business of Being Born Documentary (not for the faint of heart)

11 TED Talks on Pregnancy and Birth (see #1 especially!)

 

I’m not the expert on birth (especially compared to my friends who are midwives, doulas, and natural childbirth instructors), but I’d still be happy to field questions if you have any!

“Bliss” (The Ultra-Short Story You’ll Identify With, Parents)

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I’m frazzled.

 

It’s 8:10 PM and I’m dragging a fifty-pound suitcase through Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station with a twenty-five pound baby perched on my hip–now writhing and flailing–now tucked under my arm like a football, so he can’t break free and fall to the marble floor.  I pause for one second to adjust my dress and notice it’s lost a second button in the rush of traveling.  I hustle forward again with my luggage and whining football baby.  I notice disapproving stares from three different passersby, but I tell myself they’ve never had children, or even known children.

 

We drop onto a bench that has a good view of the big split-flap board, where “648—-NEW YORK—-ON TIME” is quickly crawling up the posted departures.  It’s 8:14.  The board never stops evolving, and sounds like shuffling cards, possibly designed to make waiting passengers attentive, or on edge.  It mirrors the rush of the trains, the way they don’t care that the line for the bathroom was long, or that you lost a shoe on the stairs.  There’s no waiting, and hardly enough time for people to file in or out before the train’s off again.  Dunstan’s not worried about the schedule, and toddles beyond my peripheral view.

 

I abandon the suitcase in favor of Dunstan, and my heart seems to stop five times before I find him on the other side of a column and grasp his tiny chubby hand.  I haul him back to our suitcase, which hasn’t moved, and I feel fortunate neither was snatched.  I try to breathe so as to calm myself.  We sit and share my panini, four bites for me, six nibbles for him (half of which are spit out for including slimy things like roasted peppers and cucumber), and chewing our last mouthfuls, we dash to the line for boarding.  The line is long.  I’m long past the half-life of this morning’s cup of coffee.  I’m tired.  It’s 8:20.

 

In line, Dunstan’s rubbing his eyes and crying that bedtime cry.  Holding him with two arms lessens his crying, but not by much.  I’m weary from seven hours of travel and kneel on the marble with him.  I know we are a sad sight.

 

“What sweet strawberry-blonde curls!” the woman behind me beams.  Dunstan grabs at my clothes, nuzzles into me, and whines louder, to give a good performance.  “These years are the most precious you’ll ever have.  They grow up so fast!” I give her a polite smile, and try not to feel the guilt I always feel when I hear those words.  And with a fifteen-month-old in arms, I’m always hearing those syrupy words from strangers.  If I’ve heard that line three hundred or so times, I’ve heard just as many times, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  It seems to me like some grand Clockmaker’s cruel trick.

 

It’s 8:27 and we’ve finally boarded.  A messy-haired teenager offers to hoist my luggage into storage.  I gratefully let him.  I watch as the train fills, and as the boy takes a seat behind his parents and then escapes into whatever is on his headphones.  His parents seem to enjoy the chance to talk.  Observing them, I feel happy and sad at once.  They feel like a portent of our life in fifteen years, when I’ll become that woman in line who gushes sentimentality to struggling moms in train stations.

 

8:30 and our train departs, still on time.  I listen to the rhythm of the tracks below, ten and then a bump, twelve more and then a bump, eight and then a bump-bump-buh-buh-bump. It’s forty-five minutes past Dunstan’s bedtime and he’s a puddle in my arms, breathing heavier and caressing my collarbone and tickling me with those curls.  His fat cheek is squished against me and his eyelashes are falling.  I listen to him breathe, and for five whole minutes I don’t hear the tracks; I don’t check the time, or my missed calls.  For five minutes I’m transported to a place in time where I agree with that woman.  
Like her, I’m amnesic of all the hard parts.  He’s bliss.

 

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The Things We Don’t Talk About: Marital Fidelity

WARNING:  this post may not be for you.  But if you’re in an overall healthy marriage, and you’re “married but not blind,” then this is for you.  And it’s for me, too.

 

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First, I just want to say what we don’t say:  fidelity isn’t a given.  Maybe you like me have felt that scary, alluring feeling.

You know there’s something to be said for a solid, sustainable marriage like yours.  Dating days now past, you’ve settled down to a sense of security and warm fuzzies, and you’re a balanced, productive human being again.  But do you sometimes miss the days when you were all hormones and obsession?  It’s been seven years since Sean and I lived like single people, eyeing everyone as a possibility.  Seven years, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that long.  It can be a tough transition from eyeing everybody to eyeing nobody.  That single mentality doesn’t vanish as quickly as we’d like.

Are you like me?  I have a tall, dark, and handsome husband who is the very definition of adventure.  We have an easy, playful friendship, we parent well together, and truly, I have no complaints worth mentioning.  I love and admire him, trust him and respect him, and will never stop.  And when I watch him from across a crowded room, I can feel that I still have a humongous crush on him.

But even being blessed with an excellent man and all kinds of desire for him, I still find fidelity isn’t automatic.  And I had a bit too much romance-as-drug in my past, which makes it even harder.  I have to stay on guard against the temptations of someone other, some fresh romance, someone new thinking I’m the stuff.

I’m willing to bet that if you’ve had a ring on your finger for more than a month, you’ve felt this feeling, too.  The temptation comes in all forms.  Maybe you haven’t set the right boundaries with a coworker, or with guy friends you’ve kept from your single days.  Maybe you’ve used social media search bars to find out all about whoever you used to date, or maybe you can’t get enough of The Bachelor.  We’re talking about the same root temptation here, just different flavors of it.

The other night I actually had the house to myself – no Sean, no babies – and I was sinking into a bubble bath, eating chocolate, and searching for a romantic comedy on Netflix (yes, all those embarrassingly cliche girly things).  And you know what?  I literally could not find a romantic comedy to watch that didn’t feature a dissatisfied married person hooking up with a beautiful stranger.  I mean, we expect that in a romantic comedy someone will leave one relationship for another…but they’ve really taken it up a notch.  This isn’t the same as the protagonist outgrowing the boyfriend she’s had since high school.  These are much higher stakes!  But I wonder if the filmmakers know more about the average wife’s longings than we’d want to admit?  This gives me shivers.

 

To be clear:  no, I’m not meeting men at the bar and letting them take me home.  But this gateway stuff, “harmless” flirting or meditating on who or what we don’t have, is also wrong and detrimental to your marriage commitment and mine.  Staying sober takes work, and intentionality.  On the off chance you can relate to what I’m saying (because I believe it’s really a pretty good chance), I want to share my five favorite ways to beat this temptation.  These are the points I preach to myself on a regular basis:  

First, and possibly the biggest philosophy-shifter here:  I focus on serving my spouse, not on getting all my selfish wants.  This goes a long way.  It’s pretty doubtful that I’ll run away with someone else – or even entertain the idea – in order to best serve my husband.  I think in our selfishness, we’ve gotten love all wrong.  So I work to replace longing thoughts with thoughts of taking the best possible care of Sean.  

I sometimes struggle to ignore beautiful strangers.  But that beautiful stranger walking past me – though I assume he’s a real person underneath, with a SSN and dorky elementary school photos archived somewhere – is really just a concept.  You know, embodied adventure or warmth or affirmation or hedonism or whatever I’m feeling at the moment.  That riveting sense of possibility is only a daydream, while our spouses are tangible and needing us to be as good to them as we’d like them to be to us.

Second, I remember this fact (one that we all know but may need to be reminded of, especially if we’ve gone too far):  even an affair would eventually become a comfortable relationship that doesn’t thrill you the same way anymore.  Don’t set yourself up to live like an addict.  It’ll never be enough, and you will have lost everything for only a short-lived high.

Third, I treat the appealing person like I’d treat anybody else.  He doesn’t deserve to know how I’m feeling.  Besides, each time I treat him with interest, I’m inviting him to do the same, and the problem grows.  Treating him like he’s nothing special takes discipline, but it sure does work.

Fourth, I prune whatever feeds this desire.  Listen to any three radio songs in a row, and I think you’ll find that our musicians (and we, in turn) are at all times heartbroken, lovesick, or wishing we were.  We eat this stuff for breakfast, but it can be such garbage!  Quit the tortured-love playlists or whatever other habits are sending your mind in an unhealthy direction.  Omit the tempting man from  your life if at all possible.  Walk another route to the break room, go to lunch at a different cafe where the servers don’t flirt with married women – do whatever you need to do!  These changes can feel extreme, but they’re not.  You’re guarding something pretty darn precious.

Fifth, I pray.  Sometimes I feel weak in the face of the romanticism that would like to draw me into an affair.  Sometimes I feel nervous I’ll fall prey to something like this before I can stop it.  The ultimate safety net here is prayer.  The Holy Spirit is so good at making us feel uneasy when we’re toeing the line of what’s appropriate.  Pray, and then feel for his cues.

 

Sean and I talked about these things while driving one day (all our memorable conversations have happened in a moving vehicle!).  This was one of many conversations we’ve had about temptation and fidelity.  But this time, like a true double standard, I was uncomfortable hearing that he ever recognized any woman besides me as being attractive.  I tried to get him to assure me that in his eyes, I was the coolest and prettiest girl ever, period.  I felt sure if he could promise me that, I’d never have to feel threatened by other women.  

But he wouldn’t promise me I was the coolest or the prettiest…because for him, that wasn’t the bottom line.  He emphasized this to me:

“Rachel, I’ll never get close enough to someone else to know if they’re cooler than you.  I’m not going to do it.  It’s just never worth it.  Cheating on your spouse will ruin your marriage, your family, your kids, your home, the entire life you’ve built.  It’ll never be worth it.  It’s that simple.”

That wasn’t the sappy answer I was looking for, but I knew he was right, and his response made me feel secure.  He was right.  It is that simple.  And he is quite a gift to me!

Sometimes love looks like vigilance.

 

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One more thing:  if you want to discuss this more or encourage each other in this area, my door – and my inbox – are always open!

The Only Post I’ll Ever Write About Fashion

I’ve been thinking a ton about colors, style, and capsule wardrobes.  So get ready…here’s the only post I’ll ever write about fashion!

FIRST, THE COLORS

This all started in an embarrassingly silly way.  After I had my daughter Starlett (DAUGHTER!  I have a DAUGHTER!!! I can’t wait can’t wait to share all things girly with her and re-live a girl’s childhood and bake together and let her try on my makeup, etc.!  Okay, I digress…), I had the pleasure of collecting what feels like a second wardrobe for me to enjoy, except all the pieces are tiny and come sized in months.  This was a joy, but as I dressed my baby in all her fun little clothes, I noticed one problem.

All the clothing colors that I’ve found are foolproof on me have also worked well on Steel (we’re not talking about baby dresses here, but little manly clothes in navy, greens, browns, and blues), but somehow these colors were drab on my baby girl.  Tell me, how was Starlett supposed to be the best-dressed baby around with the wrong color palette?  I studied her and her coloring, and I started to solve it.  She looked amazing in brights.  Bold brights.  Even fluorescents, sometimes, which are my worst enemy!  Go figure.

Then a vague memory surfaced, from the days when I lingered all summer in my town’s big, dusty downtown library, reading outdated books on makeup and fashion.  I read how to Color Me Beautiful, which basically showed me which color palette of heavy 80’s makeup I should wear based on whether my natural coloring was spring, summer, fall, or winter.  I didn’t heed their advice then, but fifteen years later I’m realizing there is something to this color seasons business.

A little Google searching, and I found out the concept of the four color seasons lives on.  They’re calling it “color analysis” now, but it’s the same idea from those old library books.  I read all I could about it online, because I’m a sucker for anything that systematizes anything!  I didn’t buy into its importance at first, but each passing week I was more convinced that wearing the right colors is a key to beauty.

With this new awareness, I now noticed colors all day long.  Sean and I have a Blue Bloods/Longmire date every night, and, ridiculous as it sounds, I quickly had all the characters’ color seasons pegged.  I couldn’t help it.  And I couldn’t help noticing when Erin Reagan was wearing a dark teal that looks AWESOME on her autumn coloring, or when the Police Commissioner was wearing brown and looking splotchy because he’s a winter and it isn’t right for him.  Like I said, I couldn’t help it.

Naturally, I looked at my own closet and suddenly saw a hundred aquamarine pieces that made my skin look sick instead of glowing (where did I get so many things in that same unflattering color?!?).  Yet that chocolate brown sweater I got for $1 at the yard sale last month made my hair and skin look AWESOME. I’d always resisted colors like chocolate and camel because they sounded boring, but it turned out there was nothing boring about looking great because I worked with, not against, my coloring.  There was truth to the seasons.

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THEN, THE CAPSULE

A friend mentioned capsule wardrobes to me around the same time I was despising all my aquamarine clothes, so naturally I read all I could about capsule wardrobes, and naturally I got rid of three trash bags of clothes I didn’t love, or didn’t feel confident in, and started planning how I’d replace some of it.

If you haven’t heard, a capsule wardrobe isn’t what it sounds like.  It isn’t something high-tech and vacuum-sealed that you break open after decades of storage on a remote planet.  It’s a capsule in the sense that it’s small and concise.  And capsule wardrobe philosophy isn’t there to take away your options, but to challenge you to focus on what you love and what really flatters, and donate or pack away the other nonsense.  Here’s to the result being, hopefully, less outfit-choosing angst each morning and more confidence throughout the day.  And just plain old simplicity, which every American lacks and craves deep down (amen?).

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I planned my wardrobe very scientifically.  It really took some time – studying my Pinterest boards and making a looooong list of what I love and hate – before I felt sure I knew my current taste in fashion.  I decided my style draws mainly on four style genres (Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so easy to define.  Lucky you if you can just say “preppy,” and move on!).  I followed the capsule wardrobe rules and whittled my fall/winter wardrobe down to thirty-three pieces, including shoes but excluding lingerie and accessories.  Thirty-three pieces feels refreshingly minimalist, but it still isn’t that limiting when you pick your items carefully.  I made sure I loved them, felt like myself in them, and of course I kept my best color palette in mind, too.

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A word of warning:  If you plan out a capsule wardrobe for the coming season, you will have to think about your clothes a lot before you can enjoy not worrying so much about your clothes.  But when you have it all figured out, you will breathe a sigh of deep relief.  And  you will be winning at your wardrobe, even with less variety.

THE FASHION PROS AND I WILL HAVE TO AGREE TO DISAGREE

I feel like a silly woman when I admit that I’ve read a whole host of style blogs lately, and more than one book like Stacy from What Not to Wear’s book The Truth about Style.  Style blogs can make me roll my eyes when they take themselves too seriously, or show twenty images of Kendi wearing a single outfit.  Who’s taking these pictures, saying, “One more, Kendi, and this time turn just slightly so that this row of buttons shows and that belt buckle gleams”?  Still I admit I found a lot of inspiration here:  http://www.kendieveryday.com/  (And I know, I used four photos of my outfit here. It’s almost overkill.)

And I’ve decided that for myself, I will not make a game out of remixing my few clothing pieces in a thousand different ways for fear of repeating an outfit too often, but I do still appreciate the advice in this blog: http://www.puttingmetogether.com/p/building-remixable-wardrobe-series.html

Stick to your color palette always?  I realized that I love dressing either monochromatically or with a lot of contrast, so I’ll be keeping black (the best contrast!) as a base color in my wardrobe despite the color experts’ advice.  Know the rules, and then break them if you still want to.

There’s work wear, and then there’s weekend wear?  Actually, it’s all the same for me.  My full-time job is chasing my toddler around parks, so I have no need for a professional wardrobe…maybe just a few pieces for the rare occasion when I need to look fancy.  Still I’m tired of too-casual clothes, so I’m trying to find that balance of…dressing up for the park?  Ha!  Well, for instance, I’m trying to almost eliminate blue jeans from my wardrobe.  It’s hard to make a clean break, but that’s my goal.  It seems like the most stylish people I know don’t wear blue jeans.  There are too many other great clothes to wear…skirts, dresses, colored pants!

Never thrift again?  Another rule from capsule wardrobe philosophy is to buy fewer durable classic pieces, instead of too many trendy, cheap pieces, and to stop thrifting.  Well, I tried to stop thrifting, but I can’t stop thrifting altogether.  I looked at my neatly hung capsule wardrobe (because everything in a capsule wardrobe must be hung) and realized that half of what was there I got at Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a yard sale.  So I still thrift because it’s who I am, but I’m much more selective these days.

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[Photos by www.caitlinkerrphotography.com]

What’s been your experience with colors, style, and wardrobe?  

Or, are you curious about your own color season?  Just ask, chances are I’ve already got you pegged. 🙂 I’m an image consultant waiting to happen….

The Grand Baby Book Dilemma:  How to Possibly Save Your Growing Family from This Cliche

Ever looked through a big family’s photo albums? It goes something like this….

“Here’s an album for every month of John’s first year…a ringlet saved from his first haircut…a candle from his first birthday cake…and all of his milestones written down here in detail….

“Here’s a rubber-banded stack of Claire’s baby pictures. Life got so busy that we didn’t write in a baby book, but at least we have these pictures!

"And here’s a shoe box with some old receipts and grocery lists I never threw away. I think there are some pictures of the other three mixed in here….”

That’s exactly how it is. And who can blame the parents of five crazy kids for not having time to constantly photograph and journal each child’s babyhood? The good intentions are there. But feeding those five mouths and washing heaps of muddy little laundry and forcing them to apologize to each other takes priority, I’m sure.

Trust me, I’m not judging!

I may not do any better in the end, but I figure I’ll at least try. I think I may have solved this problem for our future clan (of four or five kids?), so that each will have thorough-enough documentation of their baby days to look back on.

I created something I call my Master Baby Book.

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I’m not going to lie. I think this idea is kind of genius, and I hope some of you make a similar one! I think it makes so much sense. Let me explain….

First of all, I cut the classic baby book down to the essentials. No one has time to fill in 100 baby book pages, even with their first little one. And it’s never going to happen with subsequent kids. I’m not a huge fan of pre-made baby books anyway, so it suited me to create my own of only the things I think are worth remembering, and without the cutesy templates. Headings like Birth Stories, Stats & First Interactions, Milestones, Routines, and Quirks.

I was aiming for fairness, too, so for each page, I numbered 1-5 (surely we won’t go beyond five!!) and gave the same amount of writing room for each one. I’ve already filled in everything for Steel, and it wasn’t overwhelming to do. I’m hoping it’ll be relatively easy to fill in each page for the second and third, too, since it’s already set up and waiting for me.

Even still, I imagine it’ll take a real effort to fill in each page for the last child, when they’re all here and running through my house!  Sure, I could gush for volumes about these days with my first child, but I’m reigning it in. I’m trying to set a standard of documentation I can realistically keep up with, all the way to the end.

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Again, to keep things both simple and fair, I included five envelopes. The envelopes will hold prints of the ten best (or most embarrassing, probably!) photos from each kid’s infancy. Again, simplified. Do-able.

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Plus it’s handwritten and in a three-ring binder, so it’ll be easy to write on, add pages to, or even replace a page if need be.

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Who can testify to the unequal baby memorabilia in their own large family?

And who’s thinking about whipping out a hole puncher and some card stock?

I’ll let you know in ten years if it works out the way I plan, but I’m feeling hopeful. Here’s to equality!

A Hack for Your Social Life: Ten Things I’ve Learned about Personality

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1. We marry who we marry (or befriend who we befriend) in a quest for both common ground and balance for our out-of-balance selves.

For example, Sean and I are both logical extroverts, and tend to handle the hard stuff of life in a similar way. We fight similarly, too. And I like to think that we understand each other far more easily than the average male/female pair, and I thank heaven for it. BUT I mostly – and unashamedly – married him for his spontaneity and sense of adventure, things I adore but need to be dragged into, away from my list-making and careful planning ahead.  (No, this difference isn’t always motorcycle adventures and romance – it brings friction, too.  But I’ll take it!)

2. Introverts can trick you. An introvert with excellent social skills can act just like an extrovert, but you’ll know which they are when you see how much space they need at the end of the day. An introvert will be socially exhausted; an extrovert will be just fine, and maybe even ready for more. (Extroverts do get socially tired, too.  Eventually.  It takes quite a lot, like two solid weeks of hosting overnight company.)

3. Some personalities will consistently rub you the wrong way. It’s helpful to understand who these people are, what’s likely going on in their heads, and why that makes them clash with you – after digging into all of this, you’re much closer to having grace for them.

4. Sometimes the better you know someone, the harder it is to peg their personality type. That’s because you’re close enough to see all the intricacies of who they are, not just the standout points…

5. …which is exactly how it should be! We get into trouble when we rely too heavily on a personality diagnosis for someone, and forget to keep exploring the real person.  Knowing someone’s personality type is only a shortcut to understanding them faster, you could say, or to making fewer mistakes in the relationship.

It’s never, never the whole picture, all the time.

6. Sometimes the way a person reacts to personality tests can tell you a lot about their personality. I could read about this stuff all day long, and no wonder: I’m a type who LOVES systematizing life in general!  Sean, on the other hand, refuses to take personality tests because he doesn’t want to be “put into a box.”  Well, this is funny because it’s classic for his type. His type is all about their individuality.

7. Self-understanding is really powerful. Forget typing others if you want – just look into your own tendencies and there’s more than enough to explore. Why bother to do this?  You’ll surely learn things about yourself that leave a bad taste in your mouth.  That’s fine – now you can tweak them.  You’ll learn other things that make you beam with a healthy pride, and you can then go use those strengths even more confidently.  Really, why not explore?

8. If you get deep enough into studying personality as a hobby, you might find yourself playing a game – silently and discreetly, of course! – in which you try to type everyone you know and everyone you meet. I may or may not keep a chart where I categorize everyone I can, just for fun, and also try to guess the personality types of well-developed characters in books, TV shows, and movies…

9. With some practice, you’ll find some types are really easy to peg: for instance, show me a typical party girl, a free-spirited entrepreneur, a bleeding-heart idealist, or a high-energy workhorse, and I’ll have a pretty good guess as to which category they fall into.

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10. I use what I know about personality in order to have a sort of answer key for the people in my life. And crazy as that may sound, it works. Knowing what personality you’re dealing with is incredibly helpful!

I don’t have to be offended when an introvert needs time to herself or doesn’t initiate plans as often as I do. And as a person who sticks to plans religiously, I don’t need to get exasperated when a spontaneous friend treats our plans as being more fluid. Instead, I already expect that we’ll have these differences.

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Are you intrigued? Here’s a really simple way to play the game…

These are the basic questions I think through when I’m trying to guess someone’s personality type. If you don’t know your own type, start by typing yourself:

1. When you leave a party, are you usually energized or drained?

Energized – you’re probably an E (Extrovert).

Drained – you’re probably an I (Introvert).

2. Do you prefer facts or abstract ideas?

Facts – you’re an S (Senser).

Ideas – you’re an N (Intuitive).

3. Do you generally avoid conflict at all costs, or do you embrace it?

Avoid it – you’re an F (Feeler).

Embrace it – you’re a T (Thinker).

4. Are you more of a planner, or do you prefer to be spontaneous?

Planner – you’re a J (Judger).

Spontaneous – you’re a P (Perceiver).

Now – string your four letters together. It should look something like this: I’m an ENTJ. Google your initials and you’ll gain some insight, I bet!  Then if you can peg your best friend, your spouse, your siblings, and your mailman, there will be infinite possibility for understanding each of them better and infinite possibility for you to become a better friend, spouse, sibling, or mail recipient.

I’m kidding.  Even I haven’t diagnosed the mailman.  Yet!

(This is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my favorite system for personality typing. There’s a lot of depth to be found in how any four of these letters combine – and plenty of information out there on each! And yes, these strung-together letters will look like a meaningless blur at first. But after putting some time in and especially after charting my friends and family – ummm…IF I would ever do such a kooky thing! – each of the sixteen types is no longer a blur of letters but has a face to it, and a general vibe that I recognize.)

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I’d love to hear your types, your experiences, and any thoughts this provoked!

What Trees and Interiors Have to Do with My Sanity

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[An actual double rainbow we pulled over to photograph in Georgia.]

I’ve been learning just how visual I am. For instance, I simply can’t pay attention in adult Sunday school class until someone breaks out a white board. Just prop up a white board with a simple, scribbly diagram on it, and now I’m following the lesson. It’s silly, but it makes all the difference in the world for me! I can’t remember a difficult name until I’ve seen it written out, or had the new friend spell their name out loud so I can picture it in my mind. And an ugly or dismal-looking environment gets to me big time. I’ve known that one for a while, and I’ve noticed for a while that ugly surroundings seem to bother me more than they bother most people. It must be true: I am especially visual.

Because the visual atmosphere of a place can make or break me, houses really matter. And I suspect that I loved houses long before I realized it. In elementary school I never would have thought I cared about the differences in people’s homes. And I remember a time in middle school when a teacher confessed that decorating her home was her idol, and that she had to work to reign that in. I remember thinking, That’s weird. I can’t relate to that. But houses meant something to me from an early age, and here’s how I know: I can remember something about every home I’ve been in since age five or so.

Whether or not I can describe the colors or the decor to you in detail, I can recall something. Not just that we played with a massive dollhouse there or ate grilled cheese sandwiches every time I visited, but I can recall something about the home’s atmosphere. I was always in tune to that.

I remember a friend’s shockingly cluttered house, and how it depressed me a little; I remember the family with an amazing glassed-in garden in the center of their house, with a big tree growing out of it; I remember tiptoeing through fancy parlor rooms, feeling cozy in most people’s kitchens, and letting my imagination loose in a friend’s giant backyard (which of course, looks alot less giant when I drive past the house as an adult).

Oh, the yards! The house’s outside was always just as important as its inside. Some yards felt lush with thick, soft grass under our bare feet and greenery enclosing us all around; some were wooded and our steps crunched for acres and acres. I’m not an outdoorsy girl per se, yet you’ll see lots of branches and wood and earthy pottery in my home, and alot of framed photographs that will get you dreaming of the country. Why’s that? Well, even if I’m not always in the mood to go out and feel the prickly vines and mosquitos and dirt for myself, I still want a spacious country yard, because just looking at nature feeds my heart in a way. Just give me plenty of windows and sunlight, and plenty of greenery on the other side.

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[Our last yard in Georgia.]

I really struggle with the lack of greenery, the lack of trees, and the lack of space in the city. We are living in the city in a row house right now, where ten or so houses face in our on not-so-private yard. I’m aching to spread out a little. I went driving to see one of the houses we were considering renting, and a few minutes into the drive, just past the grocery stores, corporate clusters, and parking lots, I was already smiling. The country is so life-giving. Just outside the city and all its development, there was an uninterrupted line of trees, where I could tell that fall was coming. A falcon was flying above the treeline, and there were hills and farmers’ fields and trees. My aunts visited last summer and laughed because I had told them that the city didn’t have any trees. Well, of course it has trees, but I guess I meant woods. In comparison to rural North Georgia, where we came from, the city is starving for some plant life. I used to be a militantly big-city-or-bust kind of girl, but seven years in the lovely untouched foothills of the mountains has a way of changing your mind. For good.

God gave me a man who has a background in roofing, masonry, and miscellaneous contracting work, who knows way more about architecture than I do and loves houses every bit as much. Now we go on drives and gawk at houses together just like my mom and I did when I was a kid. Right now we’re living in our fourth home in not quite five years of marriage (whew!), and the truth is that in all four, God has proved sensitive to my desire for beauty. There was beauty to enjoy in our newlywed bungalow, in our 1800s farmhouse, in our cozy surburan duplex, and now in this historic city house – all different, but beauty every time. Still I’m pining for a home with grass and trees and a sense of personal space, with no car alarms or pedestrian trash to gather out of the yard in the morning. I could take this desire too far, I think, and indulge my inner American consumer, but I’m keeping a careful watch on that. Right now, I am simply a visually-wired girl who delights in warm colors and symmetry, in nature and good atmosphere. I suspect my Creator understands, and I’m asking Him as his child to keep giving us good gifts.

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[Our first married home.]

[The farmhouse.]

[The duplex.]

[A third story view of city row houses.]

When a Mouse Stops Caring

My stomach rumbled two hours before my lunch break, so I sifted through the depths of my purse, feeling lucky that I’d packed that extra granola bar the day before. I opened it and nearly took a bite before I noticed that the opposite end of the wrapper was already open, and someone or something had already eaten half the bar!

Examining the wrapper, I knew that Sean hadn’t done this, and neither had our labrador retriever. Sean would have torn the wrapper neatly down the middle, and our dog would have chewed the whole wrapper to shreds and then finished off the bar. But the wrapper wasn’t torn or destroyed…it was nibbled in such a nice, neat semicircle. I shivered, knowing this could only be the work of a rodent.

Come on! The mouse hadn’t even had the decency to drag its loot out of my purse – it had nestled right inside and had its snack there! Probably at home while we slept, and while my purse sat right next to the bed, approximately two feet from my poor, unknowing, peacefully sleeping head. How disgusting!

This kind of incident will make you paranoid. Where else in the house will I find evidence that he’s been here? I started wondering. In the spice cabinet? In my lingerie drawer? Underneath my pillow?? This mouse didn’t seem to respect boundaries, after all.

A week passed, and I gradually stopped looking over my shoulder, or holding my breath when I pulled a box of cereal from the pantry. I told myself to just relax.

One crisp morning when I had forgotten all my nervousness, I chose a shirt, sweater, jeans, and boots for the day and pulled them on, one by one. What felt funny in the back pocket of my pants? Had I left my wallet in there?

But I…I don’t carry a wallet.

The bulge started to squirm and squeak and leaped out of the pocket. I was too busy climbing to higher ground to see in which direction it darted and hid.

My heart was beating dangerously fast, and as you might guess, my paranoia came back strong.

Still I was proud that after only a few minutes, I talked myself down off the bed and coached myself down the hallway to the bathroom to finish getting ready. Walk, don’t run. Act normal. It’s okay. There’s just one mouse, probably just one, and he’s gutsy. He’s the same one that ate my granola bar. We’ll catch him. Well…Sean will catch him for me. Or we’ll borrow someone’s cat if it comes to that…

In the drawer under the sink I found the toothpaste, then peered in to look for my toothbrush. Holding it out to me was a little brown mouse. I swear he was grinning. I threw the toothpaste at him and slammed the drawer. This was- this was- ludicrous!

I ran down the staircase to curl up in the most comforting corner of the sofa with my feet off the floor. It seemed like a safe place to make a desperate phone call to Sean. I almost sat down there, but backed away fast when I counted EIGHT MICE lounging on the sofa with cups of tea, half-knitted scarves, and classic books, three more mice laughing and playing in our toddler’s toy basket in the corner of the room, and one posing in front of one of the framed photographs on the mantel – but he wasn’t fooling me! I escaped to the kitchen, but only to find a mouse in an apron cracking eggs into my favorite frying pan, another bathing himself with the spray nozzle in the kitchen sink, and what looked like a whole other family of mice waiting politely at the kitchen table for their piece of fried egg. Racing out the double doors, I ran into twenty or so mice playing kickball with an acorn in the driveway, and when I discovered one enormously fat, smug mouse sitting on the lock button on the inside of my car door and dangling the spare key from his tail, I forfeited and walked to work.

I would be late. And I hadn’t even brushed my teeth!

Later that day when work got slow, I went online and posted an ad:

“WANTED: TEMPORARY USE OF ALL THE CATS IN THE CITY.” No, backspace.

“WANTED: RETIRED CIRCUS LION OR TIGER.” Wait. No. Backspace.

“WANTED: TWO BEDROOM, RODENT-PROOF HOME IN THE CITY. NO MICE GUARANTEE A MUST. PLEASE PROVIDE REFERENCES AND CONVINCING PROOF.”

Meeting All Eighty Years

The first thing I remember of days at my grandparents’ house was my mom having to force me into their car to be carried off to a long stay with them, probably an entire weekend. I wasn’t especially prone to homesickness, but there was something so far away and so lonely and so boring about weekends with them. My mom was single, worked too hard, and probably needed their help, but I wasn’t sensitive to any of this. I just didn’t want to watch public television for three straight days – that was practically all there was to do, and it made me start to feel yucky and my brain melt.

I remember trying hard to fall asleep in their guest bedroom, the basket of toys across the room turned eerie in the glow of the nightlight, the door cracked, and Granddaddy’s slow footsteps down the hallway making me hold my breath.

But, to be fair, there were simple pleasures to be found there. There was plain white paper to color and turn into paper dolls, and rubber cement to play with; there were enough cookies and creme ice cream cones to slow down my intestines for days; outside their apartment complex was a dirt field that deer and other woodsy animals tracked through at dusk (Granddaddy had binoculars for spying on them and knew by heart which tracks meant what). There were always biscuits for breakfast – with butter and jelly in the slits – and the over-sized Bible read out loud at the table (I didn’t appreciate this part then, but now I can add it to the list of pleasures there).

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Granddaddy didn’t need to have that heavy King James Bible in his hands; every other sentence you’d find him reciting it. For the longest time I didn’t understand why this was all he could talk about (to me it seemed to make for awkward conversation), or how he had the guts to ask everyone I introduced him to if they knew they’d wind up in heaven – and how so. I thought I did well to tolerate these things.
It was late the night before his funeral when all of us packed into what had become Grandma’s – just Grandma’s – living room. Somebody probably dared to sit in Granddaddy’s recliner while the rest of us were all over the floor, and when Uncle Mike brought out Granddaddy’s journal to read aloud, we were cross-legged and quiet, like kindergartners with perfect attention spans.

Granddaddy was a stranger to me in those journal entries, and I listened as if we were being introduced for the first time. He told accounts of constructing a hut with his brothers, building an excellent fire in the doorway, and then finding themselves trapped inside until the flames died; of finding a hurt pigeon carrying a message capsule used in World War II, delivering it to the postmaster, and reading an article in the next day’s paper praising the postmaster for finding it; of competing, brother against brother, as to who could stand on the bridge the longest while the train flew underneath, shooting up embers at their legs; of bringing home a long list of hitchhikers to Grandma on short notice, expecting dinner (and even hiring one of them!); and on Christmas Day, making each of my young aunts and uncles forfeit one of their gifts to give away to other kids. And tucked between the adventures were records of his hard thinking – his wise thoughts, his constant self-critiques.

Listening, I finally understood. Deeper down than Granddaddy’s Baptist tradition was a little boy who once ran wild on a 1940’s farm, a dry, dry sense of humor, and a nagging question of whether or not he was doing everything to please his Maker.

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