Wednesday, November 30, 2011

at last, another decor/DIY post

As much as I love the riot of color Fall brings, the profusion of textures... I didn't do much decorating this year. Just a few tiny pumpkins... real pumpkins, of course (why have plastic when you can have the real thing that you can compost instead of sending to the landfill?) scattered through my apartment.

On bookshelves...

...and the thrifted secretary I refurbished last summer that now serves as extra storage in the dining room

...and on the other book case in the living room. Which, in the event you're interested, is also a testament to the fact that thrift stores are sources of good things. A few of you had asked for tips on buying thrifted furniture, so here are my few tips:
  • Nothing upholstered, unless I plan on re-upholstering it. They do get steam-cleaned, but besides the thought of creepy-crawlies, sometimes it harbors smokey, musty odors.
  • Wait for the good stuff. If it's not solid wood and it's not sturdy, it's not worth it. The cool thing is that you can often get really solid stuff for only a few dollars, but if it's not what you're looking for... come back another day. :)
  • Use your imagination. My favorite finds have been pieces I modified and used for other purposed. For instance, the bookcase above was a sort of cabinet with awkward, flimsy sliding doors. All I did was pop them off. :) Oh, and I found an old piano bench that I use for my coffee table. Unexpected pieces add character and interest to a room... and you won't pay tons of money.
  • Craigslist is your friend. The window on the bookcase I got free. Oh, and this isn't a decor item, but my espresso/latte/coffee maker was also a Craigslist find. New for $30. Happiness.
  • Get things that you like. Your rooms will reflect your unique personality instead of looking like you bought the whole room pre-made from Sears.
The Mary and Jesus statue I found this summer while antiquing with my older sister, Abby. I've been wanting a Mary statue for a while because she's a hero of mine. I hadn't been able to find one of her with the Child, which is too intrinsic to her story to exempt. So I was more than happy at this find... and thrilled that it was only five dollars. :)

This Celtic cross is almost my favorite, most meaningful possession. I got it in Ireland this summer. The symbol of the cross is pretty huge to me, and all the hand carving on this one... I picked it up and could not put it down.

In other DIY/decor recent stuff, remember the awesome thrift-store lamp I spray-painted this summer?

Well, I was racking my brain for a way to use the same paint to accent the other end table and splash a little more red/orange in the living room. One afternoon, I was doing something completely unrelated when this idea excited me to the point that I ran outside immediately with a glass soda bottle and painted it. My neighbors must sometimes wonder if I've inhaled too many fumes.

Brass and gold accents might be the newest trend in decorating, but I'm not a fan. I liked the detail of the (thrifted!) picture frame, but so far it has escaped a therapy session with Dr. Spray Paint because I haven't decided on a color. Ivory is my go-to color, but I'm afraid there would be too much ivory going on in this arrangement...

I like simplicity. And tiny pumpkins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ladies in Waiting, an addendum

When my friend Julie read "Ladies in Waiting", she told me she didn't like it. "Well, I like what you're saying," she explained, "but it doesn't sound like you in the YOU sense."

Julie and I have been close friends since we were fifteen years old.  "Close friends" doesn't begin to capture the adventures of sleeping in a tree house and checking on lambing ewes, afternoons spent drawing and telling stories in preparation for teaching Summer Bible School together, and long walks through the woods, taking deep breaths and just reveling in sheer beauty. "Close friends" doesn't begin to describe what it is to have someone in my life who knows the narrative of my life, either having witnessed it or learning it from long talks. Julie knows me, and when she calls my bluff on something, I listen. Because she's usually right. And she isn't afraid to push me to be the best "me".

So, for over a year, an addendum to "Ladies in Waiting" has been brewing. Simmering and bubbling in the back of my head while God uses life to teach me a lot of things. Here are a few of them, and you might find it helpful to see them through "what I wasn't saying" and "what I was saying" in "Ladies in Waiting".

What I wasn't saying:

I wasn't promoting feminism. While it IS my opinion that the feminist movement sprung from a very real need for change, I don't think it is the change we were all looking for.

My biggest reason for this conclusion is the hard edges that form around my heart when I start to live as though I am self-sufficient. Just because you CAN do (almost) everything for yourself doesn't mean you should. I'm guessing this isn't gender-specific, but I only know the female side... and how I lose some of my softness with people and lose touch of the magic I find daily when I start to think and act as though I am enough for myself. You don't need to be helpless to need help. Helplessness is, of course, the polar opposite of tough self-sufficiency, and neither are healthy or honest ways to live.

It is true that strength does not equal toughness. I'm afraid that I react a little to the whole environment fostered by Christian women's ministries and books. You can get the feeling that, to be a REAL godly woman, you need exude some sort of sweet, golden aura and have only one facet to your personality. That most likely isn't what the authors and speakers are trying to create (she adds, hurriedly). I love decorating my house, and I find that the spaces in which I feel most "me" are the ones that combine unexpected textures. Vintage lace on the rough wooden apple crate I upended for an end table. Dried grass heads in an embossed green-glass jar on my kitchen windowsill. I wonder if beauty in a woman should not be of the same sort, contrasting-but-complementing textures of unexpected softness and grit.

This is something I continually learn. One of "my" teen girls used to have seemingly no appreciation for other people's feelings. Obviously, her own had been trampled to the point where she couldn't see past them, but she would get up in the morning and respond to my "good morning, sunshine!" with "don't start with me!" For the longest time, I faked immunity to her negativity. To some extent, that was necessary.... But yesterday she cussed me out the minute I woke her up. Maybe it was my sore throat and a head that felt uncomfortably inflated, or maybe it was the fact that her and my relationship has come miles and miles, but her words stung. Instead of ignoring it, I just stood and looked at her for a few seconds. I wasn't intending to guilt-trip her, but I'm sure my hurt leaped to my face. "I'm sorry I upset you," I finally said, "but it would be a lot easier for me to hear you if you found a nicer way to say it." An hour later, she sidled up to me. "I'm sorry for flipping out on you." I had to blink rapidly before I replied, because I have never heard her apologize to anyone before. I wonder, would she have thought to apologize if I hadn't let her see that she hurt me? I doubt it. And I think this might be one of the gifts women offer. If we are honest about what hurts us, we bring a softness and awareness to our world. Hopefully it goes without saying that I don't mean we should wallow in our feelings all the time and never let anything roll off. I actually will advocate a "Christian woman" book on this topic: Strong Women; Soft Hearts, by Paula Rinehart.

What I was saying:

Learn. Think. Adventure.

I don't know what that means for you. I don't know the aching and the exuberance that fuels your dreams. But don't be afraid to try things that might not be culturally expected of you. Have courage in following the great adventure God has laid before your feet, in all the twisty, learning paths He lets you choose. I don't know the ways He will chip away and add to the sculpture of your person along the way, but one of my biggest changes has been my confidence. Today, I found a two-year-old list of "things about me". One of the idiosyncrasies I had listed was "I love people once I know them. Until then, they scare me." I laughed aloud because, while I sometimes have to remind myself to initiate conversation with someone I want to get to know, I would never think to describe my current self that way. Forging some new and at-first-daunting territory by myself with my job and school has really changed me. I am much more confident, and I love the change God has made in me.

Maybe it's not so much WHAT we do as HOW we do it. A lot of people view feminism as wrong in putting women "in a man's world". Maybe that's not the problem. Maybe the problem is women thinking we need to act less feminine in order to gain equality. Don't be afraid to be a woman.

I remember a lot about the years I helped my dad in the barn, but the cow I remember most distinctly was #257. Oddly, I never named her. The number became as endearing as any name, I guess. She was a stunning heifer. Tall, long- and deep-bodied, good leg and foot angle, straight top line... even her face was the dairy cow ideal: long and narrow. (Sorry, I'm a geek. My dad is an excellent, self-taught cattle judge. He was always trying to breed the perfect Holstein, and he got pretty close.) We got #257 right before she calved the first time, and she was wild as a deer. For her first milking after she calved, Dad waited until the general confusion of all the other bovines finding their stalls had passed to let her in the barn and gave her the length of the entire milking to adjust to being tied in a stall before we attempted to milk her. When Dad squatted beside her to put on her milker, she shot straight up into the air. Levitated. Kicked with all four feet at once. I've never seen the like before or since. We tried the usual restraints for "kicker cows", but nothing worked. Finally even Dad's patience frayed and broke. So I asked if I could try. He agreed. I went on with milking the last few cows to give #257 time to calm down. When her eyes had resumed their natural place inside her head, I stood across the gutter from her, as far as I could get to her right, out of hoof range. I put my hand lightly on her flank and kept it there while she lunged and kicked. Finally, she was still... except for her hide, which was moving up and down and from side to side all around my hand... the way cows can to shoo flies. Talking to her in a low voice, I waited until her flank stopped shivering. I looked  her in her one rolled eye as I slowly slid my hand along her side, stepping into her stall with slow movements. With each progression, I stopped and waited for her to calm if she started to shake or kick. After I worked my hand down under her belly, she let me wash her udder. With extreme care to not let any sharp vacuum sounds escape the milker, I pressed my head into the web of skin between her leg and belly... to make kicking harder, just in case she changed her mind and decided to rearrange my face with her hoof... and put the milker on! I crouched beside her for a while, stroking her belly and telling her how wonderful she was. She never took her eye off me. Dad came to see if I was alive, and he just shook his head and grinned. After that, #257 was the calmest milker we had. She never even got into bad moods and whapped you across the face with her tail when you exited her stall. So maybe I was doing a "man's job". But I did it the way my girl instincts told me to. And it worked.

One of my friends, whom I consider one of my "unbiological brothers", gave me some wise advice. "Don't try to prove anything." So learn and talk about things that interest you. In "Ladies in Waiting", I already talked about why I think this is important. But we need to engage on an intellectual level because we enjoy it, not because we have to prove that girls can think. That is one attitude that is edifying to no one. Really.

My friend also told me not to be afraid to give of myself in traditionally female ways. He agreed that women need to be given a bigger voice in our cultural setting, but he said that maybe the change won't be as threatening to the cultural equilibrium if we females celebrate being female in the expected ways. "Kierkegaard doesn't sit well on an empty stomach," he said. I laughed, but I got his point. So cook meals when you get the chance. Make your living space your definition of "beautiful". Invite as many people as possible to share both. Love on kids. If you're anything like me, these things make your soul leap to life just as much as a theological debate. Celebrate it.

But please don't, as my dad says, "view marriage as the only thing that will bring you satisfaction and piddle around, waiting until a guy rescues you from your boring life". You have many talents. Develop them, and God will use them for His glory. Single or married. I promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

redemption songs

Just because some of you watch my blog specifically for updated art (hi, Mindy!), here is "Redemption Songs". That is, a very bad capturing thereof. The photo makes it look warped... and the colors lack a lot of their depth... and we won't mention detail. Oh, well. Feel free to come visit me and see it in person, if your heart desires. As far as specifics go, it is acrylic paint on an 18x24" canvas. As far as history goes, I undertook it for my semester project in Russian Culture. We were supposed to find a person or object to use as a basis for a metaphor of the Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and present a visual of our metaphor to the class. Most fun project ever, let me assert.

I chose Bob Marley as a basis for my metaphor because both Marley and Pushkin used art (music and poetry, respectively) as a catalyst for political and social change in their countries. Their art endures today as symbolic of their cultures because it is timeless in its emotional, human appeal. I aspire. Oh, I aspire. :)

I'd explicate further, but the inhibition is also the reason for lack of posts lately. Back to homework I go...

Monday, November 14, 2011

war, peace, and art

Hunger and war. Both sufferings disturb me. I knew they often walk hand-in-hand, but until recently I didn't realize how closely related they are.

In my World Geography class, we are studying Africa. Her countries' imports, exports, and economic disparities. Africa... Uganda, especially... and her people have been heavy like a rock in the bottom of my heart for the last five years or so. The violence, the starving children, and the unspeakably terrible things the people endure and die from. If I could have one wish, it would be for their healing.

[Amazing photo by my good friend, Barbara Lapp.]

Until now, I hadn't done much study on the reasons the ugliness exists. The horn of Africa is definitely the most afflicted with starvation, but it wasn't always this way. Poor farming methods weigh in, too, but a huge reason for starvation is war. I didn't know this, but Somalia used to produce enough food for her people and have excess to export. Now, her people are among the world's most desperate for food.

"What happened?" my professor asked.

I wished I couldn't guess the answer, but I could. "War."

He nodded. "Every Somali owns a machine gun, but no one owns a plow."

Of all the possible remedies that crowd my head and make me wonder what my part to play in this orchestra, the throbbing beat of this verse is a recurring theme:

"And [God] will judge between many peoples

And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.

Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they train for war."

-Micah 4:3 NASB

If it grieves us, how much more anguish must it bring our Father to see His children kill each other as their children die of hunger? It's senseless. Senseless! Horrible and terrible. I don't have all the answers, but I know a renewal of thought is desperately needed. And more possible than we might see.

If I had to choose just one, this sculpture would be my favorite piece of art in the world. It gives me goosebumps and makes my heart thump.

What makes my heart beat even faster is this: God invites us to engage in this vast renewal. He gives us disturbance, a vision, and hands to mold small changes every day. Changes that replace violence with peace.

Maybe someday I'll be able to go to Uganda or Somalia. But today I am here. And so, today, I will work for peace. Here. Now.