Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.
~ Coco Chanel
Black & Gray
I wonder if your closet looks like mine did one year ago, bursting with blacks, charcoals and grays. When spring and summer rolled around, I would swap out the gray and black sweaters for short sleeved gray and black shirts. I felt safe in those slimming colors, and there is something comforting about a closet of versatile neutrals, even if they are unimaginative.
Then, for my 2021 birthday my children gave me a House of Colour consultation with Katie Tenney. Katie placed various colored scarves around my face to discern what swatches looked best, and then narrowed it down even further to discover my best color season. Would it be Fall, Winter, Spring or Summer?
Turns out, I’m a “Spring”, with my complexion favoring bright, peppy colors. (Springs don’t tend to look great in black — interesting.)
So, with a humble budget I tiptoed into the wacky world of color. Starting at Goodwill, I bought teal, turquoise and even bright orange garments.
I found that the quickest and cheapest way to infuse color into my closet was with wardrobe accents. I found a few luxurious secondhand cashmere ponchos and fell in love with soft, non-scratchy, lightweight wool scarves.
Now my closet looks dangerously clownlike — but also happily fresh and flattering.
This spring, some berserk birds are inhabiting our rural property. Their quirky obsessions are both driving me nuts and teaching me things about life, business and family.
Birds rise early.
The sky is still gray and dusky when the wild birds start chattering. I cannot imagine what is going on in their minds, but kudos for their predictably cheerful morning attitude. Although scientists don’t have a complete understanding of why birds make so much noise (how could they?) there are occasional clues. We know that Mama Robin’s chastising screech means that she is livid when we get too close to her nest, which she built in a highly trafficked position next to the front door.
Birds get to work.
One spring morning, I clipped the jeans, shirts and hoodies to the clothesline. Later that day, I noticed the beginnings of a nest being built in the hood of the hoodie. Birds do not mess around. They do not procrastinate and they let nothing stand in their way. They do not always choose the wisest places to work, but when they act, it is swift and confident.
Birds are relentless.
That irritating redwing blackbird swoops down and scolds us when we circle the pond on our regular walks around the property. Feverishly protecting his nesting territory, he continues his officious circuit until we are completely out of sight.
Then, there are the barn swallows. We left our garage door open last week, and now they consider it fair game for new construction. Every time we open the garage door, we are in danger of a swooping bird, although their timing seems to be impeccable — they have never made impact with the slamming door.
Birds sing often.
Our resident Baltimore Oriole is a lovely vocalist, and he sings a memorable tune. While weeding the garden, I repeated his singsong pattern several times to myself. Why not sing? Reports confirm that there are scientific reasons to start singing:
Singing releases endorphins, a hormone that is associated with feelings of pleasure.
The hormone oxytocin is also released while singing; this body chemical enhances feelings of bonding and trust.
While singing, individuals sustain lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Studies repeatedly find that singing relieves anxiety.
Heart rates sync up during group singing.
Since most diurnal birds cannot see in the dark, birds sleep when the daylight fades. I can tell when things are winding down, because the singing and chatter becomes sporadic, slow and calming. Once to bed, birds don’t wake up until morning.
Birds do take naps, so I will take that as a confirmation of what I was hoping:
short power naps increase the chances that we may rise early to sing cheerfully, work confidently, and protect our loved ones vigorously.
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
He gives food to every living thing. His faithful love endures forever.
As a parent, perhaps you feel like the last academic year has been a rollercoaster ride, and you want your child’s brain to stay sharp over summer. Maybe you are wisely thinking ahead to rainy day activities, or simply want to find more quality reading suggestions.
Here are my top 3 picks for kids reading series. These are suitable for parent read-alouds, audiobook, or for independent readers aged 8 and up, depending on ability. (I have read these books and they are not just for kids!)
These action-packed volumes take a group of gifted (multi-ethnic) children through physical and mental challenges and the readers will enjoy the ride immensely. Friendship, danger, riddles, puzzles and mysteries await readers of all ages. These are tremendously well-crafted, intriguing stories and we loved the audio versions, read by the talented Del Roy.
Awards include: E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers, Massachussetts Children’s Book Award, Iowa Children’s Choice Award Nominee.
This is an engaging series of seven books about a 13 year old kid lawyer. Theo faces typical and unusual challenges as he uses his gifts to help others, hunt down fugitives, defend himself when framed and dig through evidence to discover the truth. Written by bestselling author John Grisham and designed for young readers. Excellent audio version for all books in the series narrated by Richard Thomas.
Here is one adult review to which I can relate:
…”I purchased the Theodore Boone novel not realizing it was geared towards younger readers. I’m 47 years old and a professional in the communications industry. I found the novel refreshing and interesting…definitely recommend this series regardless of your age…” (Amazon.com review)
Kyle Keeley would rather play games than read, but he and his team end up getting the chance to spend a night in the new town library, which was recently designed by the eccentric game creator, Mr. Lemoncello. The exciting team challenge is to complete all of the puzzles and clues in order to escape from the technologically-savvy new library. These books have been called a cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Night At the Museum, and are peppered with humor, quirky characters, and suspenseful fun. We loved the audio versions of these books, read by engaging narrator, Jesse Bernstein.
I hauled two busy boys along on a walk last Monday.
I warned them in my best tough-mom voice:
“We will walk ten miles today, boys. If you want your water bottle, carry it yourself. If you grumble and whine, you will not get a treat at the end. You can do this. We can do this. Let’s go build some muscle, guys!”
So we started off on a well known path.
They were trailing behind me.
Perfect time for me to whip out my earbuds and listen to my own audiobook.
Peace and quiet and lovely time to myself.
Nah, I will wait a little.
That throaty, burping frog pond.
That airy, whistling, bird choir.
The rustles in the dry leaves of tiny who-knows-whats.
I couldn’t miss this.
Spring was waking up here.
The sun was melting my winter slouch.
My ears were being treated to a magnificent, miraculous, musical racket.
“Make a joyful noise,” said the psalmist.
Maybe this is what he meant.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
This is my Father’s world: The birds their carols raise, The morning light, the lily white, Declare their Maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.
–from the 1901 hymn “This is My Father’s World” / lyrics by Maltbie D. Babcock
You might think it is strange for a mother to accompany her son to Miami for Spring Break, but here is how it happened…
My 20-year-old son Gino, who is taking online college classes, announced that he wanted to take a trip to Florida for spring break. After considering this, I mused aloud…
“It would be fun to go with you.
I wonder if I could swing it.
Would you hate that?”
Then, I let it rest.
A few days later, he said, “That would actually be nice — you going with me.”
“REALLY??!!!!?” I asked.
My husband agreed, home duties were delegated, and so it was planned. Gino reserved our flights and our spot at a spacious 2 bedroom Airbnb.
Arriving in Miami
We landed at 11:00 a.m. and basked in the 35 degree temperature change. We rode to our neighborhood, but the place wouldn’t be ready until 3:00 p.m. Gino stopped at Target and met me later, where I was lounging outside under the palm trees at a Starbucks. We hung out there before walking a few short blocks to our lovely little duplex in the Miami Design District.
First Meal, Best Meal
Since Gino and I had been up at 4:00 a.m. for our 6:30 flight, and we hadn’t eaten a solid meal all day, we decided to go to Versailles Restaurant, whose tagline is: “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant.” My Cuban-born husband and I discovered it when we went to Miami years ago, and its mouthwatering fare has haunted us ever since. Gino and I both ordered the Classic Cuban Sampler Platter. He polished it off, and I brought home half to enjoy tomorrow.
Frank from Instacart left two grocery bags on our doorstep at 7:55 a.m. Gino went walking. I wrote out my own paraphrase of Psalm 9 and pasted it up on our refrigerator. The morning was leisurely, but our goal today was to hit the beach!
Gino takes care of (and pays for) our Uber rides and I am grateful, since I am quite unfamiliar with all that. Today, Gino asked, “Should I call for an UBER?”
I started thinking about what to pack for a day at the beach, such as my:
…and suddenly Gino announced:
“Okay, he will be here in one minute.”
I rushed to cram everything into my backpack, and bumbled awkwardly into the car as I simultaneously strapped on a mask. I looked at Gino, who was calmly sitting there with absolutely nothing in his hands.
“Do you have everything?” I asked.
“Yep.” he said.
Once we arrived at Miami Beach it was breezy and around 70 degrees, but the sun peeked out from time to time, which gave stunning photos!
We split up when we reached the sand: I walked north and Gino walked south. I trudged happily six miles along the windy, lapping shore, searching in vain for large shells, but finding bouquets of sea vegetation and washed-up iridescent jellyfish.
After a few hours of walking, I headed west to the paved pathway that runs parallel to the beach. I found a bike rental kiosk and on a whim, rented a Citibike for two hours.
After 20 minutes, I met up with Gino on the path (where I shared some of my snacks with him, since he had come without any…hehe) and after an hour and a half, we met up again at the kiosk and planned to get a ride home.
Once again, I had barely untangled myself from the bike and gathered up my bulky wares, when Gino said, “Okay, our ride is almost here.”
After getting home, he showered off all of the sand, came out of the bathroom and said:
You know you can go places without me, right?
This struck me as a strange juxtaposition of the parent-child relationship, but maybe this is the emerging story of aging and could I possibly be on the brink already?
To reassure him that I was capable, I took off for a walk to Target when he wasn’t looking, and I forced myself to take extra time browsing so I wouldn’t get home too soon.
As I was heading home, whom do I see on the sidewalk, but my own son, giving me a minimalist smile in exchange for my motherly wave hello?
I got home and boldly drank strawberry kombucha out of a wine glass.
Gino moves in and out of this place like a Ninja. One minute, I hear him exiting the bathroom, and the next minute I walk out to the living room and notice that his shoes and keys are gone.
So, to prevent myself from calling out his name just to see if he is still here (I think this annoys him) I have resorted to checking his Google location (a temporary, trip-only concession).
This morning, I told him that I’m going to stick around home and relax.
“I will probably walk over to Starbucks later this afternoon,” I said, hoping this would impress him.
But tomorrow — our last full day — I definitely want to go back to THE BEACH!
We just wanted to touch base and let you know that, despite all of your villainous efforts, we are grateful you came along.
When we first saw you come into our lives (thankfully, late — around the first part of December) we weren’t so sure. What with isolating mandates and masks in play, we didn’t exactly welcome anything else that would disrupt life.
Covid Winter, you were a taker — upsetting plans and outings with cancelled meetings and closed public places. You tried to ruin our lives with blizzard warnings, wind chills and the fear-mongering tactics of icy roads, spin-outs and accident reports. Oh, you weren’t just a taker, you were a giver, for sure:
Instead of red hearts, you gave us those red hazard triangles on our screens — those weather alerts that made chills run down our spines. (As if we didn’t already have enough chills running down our spines.)
You gave us a frozen laundry pipe, so we had to manually drain the loads.
You gave us an opportunity to park outside, because the garage door froze in its tracks and the spring broke.
You gave us cracks on our skin and frost on our windshields.
And that brings us to why we are grateful — despite all of your endeavors to make us miserable. Even though you tried to give us your worst, we are emerging victorious. We are adding books to our Goodreads list like crazy, creating delightful things in the kitchen, and focusing on home repair. We stayed on top of our homeschooling, with limited outings or events that would have distracted us from our schedule. We haven’t wasted time on the library computers, loitering in coffee shops or browsing in stores. We have found fun things to do at home, and some of us have:
Become yoyo experts
Recently read or re-read one or more entire series of books
Returned to daily violin playing
Affirmed that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing
Made and eaten soup every day, realizing that you don’t really need a recipe
Written and received snail-mail letters regularly
Discovered and excelled at watercolor painting
Covid Winter, you have given us what spring, summer and fall have not been able to give.
And, for that…we say a big “Th-th-thank Y-you.”
When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here in February, and basking in the warmth of our books, our soups, our blankets and our cozy naps, we couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.
Summary: my oldest adult daughter gently wondered why I have been wearing such unlikely wardrobe combinations / mismatched outfits. I could blame it on a mid-life crisis, that I have nothing to wear, or on cabin fever. I could have blamed it on Covid-19 as many things were in 2020.
This first daughter pointing out my wardrobe issues was the initial step in what I believe may be a groundbreaking 2021 Mama Makeover. Yes, it is past due. Indicators that a mid-life makeover may be mandatory include the color-damaged lifeless hair, the lack of age-appropriate makeup, and the extra 10 pounds gained in record time.
Mama Makeover: Part 2
I showed up at my sister’s house on Christmas Day, feeling rather blah. Sara is only 4 years younger, but is slim and accomplished and doesn’t even have to color her hair. She is a great listener and encouraged me when I realized that I had forgotten our plate of cookies at home, but I brought a helping of my age-related grumblings instead. We commisserated together for a few minutes before diving into the lefse.
Mama Makeover: Part 3
Hours later, my next oldest daughter lounged on my bed (I love when she does that.) I laughed and summarized my Christmas Day aging discussion with my sister. She affirmed me as she always does…and then gently and tentatively added some makeover ideas.
Have you ever seen The Pickle Story episode from the Andy Griffith Show? Aunt Bea offers her homemade pickles to her neighbor Clara, who has been the winner of the county fair pickle contest 11 years in a row. At one bite of Aunt Bea’s unsavory pickles, Clara winces and nods her head, trying to be kind. But then she slowly adds several recommendations, revealing that Aunt Bea’s pickles truly need serious improvement.
In like manner, my daughter rolled out a few tips:
Maybe you could get bangs again, so your hair would frame your face…
You seem to wear a lot of dark colors. If you wore bright colors once in a while…
And, your glasses make you look a little severe…
I follow this one homeschooling mom on Instagram and even though she is home every day, she always wears lipstick…
The Makeover Continues
Guess what? I have explored and followed many of these suggestions. Why? Because when a Mama gets makeover support from her young adult daughters, this is wise advice from the people who know her the best and love her the most. My girls know that I don’t wear lots of makeup or fancy clothes and I usually keep my hair in a ponytail. They know my favorite accessory is an apron, that I shop at GoodWill and that I could never give up cookies. They are the ideal consultants to brainstorm a few changes that I can live with — so, the 2021 Makeover is to be continued….
Note: Because I believe that God created me in His image, it is my personal desire to make improvements where needed — not to try to recapture youth, over-focus on outward appearance or to imitate the world and its values, but to make my aging, imperfect body the best it can be for myself, my family and for service to my Creator.
I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself…” 1 Corinthians 9: 26-27 The Message Bible