Wear It Well Wednesday: Striped Shirt + Scarf

The day I donned this outfit, the predicted high temp here in Fort Collins was only 68 degrees. To this Florida woman, that’s a genuinely cool temperature. When we left the apartment this morning (first to exchange a 23-pound bag of aluminum cans for cash at the recycling center), the temperature was only at 60 degrees, and Woodrow declared, “It’s like the coldest day in Orlando!” Not quite, but it was refreshing indeed.

This is not the outfit I necessarily would have selected to haul around aluminum cans that the boys (along with some parental assistance) have been collecting. But we had a few errands to run, and a birthday party later in the afternoon. So the clothes I put on this morning needed to last all day. Plus, I wore the same tank top and skirt 3 days last week, so it was time for a fresh outfit.

scarf striped shirt upper body

Let me break it down:  One of my sisters-in-law passed these jeans on to me {you’ve seen them in a WIWW post before}. The striped shirt came from the give-away table at Mike’s office. He picked it up just before we left for the summer, and I brought it along–hoping I’d have the opportunity to wear it in Colorado. Today I did! The scarf is one of our recent yard sale purchases, at only a quarter.

The neck wear is, I believe, called an infinity scarf. I wasn’t exactly sure how to arrange it on myself, so when a woman stopped me at the grocery store today to remark on how this goldenrod shade is her favorite color, I stopped her. “I don’t really know how to wear this kind of scarf. Is this right? Is this how it’s done?” I asked. She affirmed that it was and also explained another way she wore hers, although I didn’t quite follow the explanation. But I love getting compliments on cheap purchases and hand-me-down pieces!

striped shirt and scarf

And here’s a full-length shot, showing my nearly-ubiquitous cowboy boots, a gift from my parents that keeps on giving. You can’t see the hand-me-down barrette (from my mama–now that my short haircut from January is growing out, I need to have hair doo-dads to hold it back) and the hand-me-down socks inside the boots. The whole outfit:  just 25 cents, the price of the second-hand scarf.

I biked with the boys to and from the Colorado State University campus wearing this outfit today, and I give it thumbs up for bike-ability. P.S. Even my bike helmet is second-hand–an extra that my husband had years ago. But don’t expect to see a WIWW post featuring me with a helmet on my head. 

We bought a couple more scarves, each for a quarter, at the same yard sale where we got this one; maybe I’ll put together more outfits with some of those scarves soon!

 

Something New Saturday: Chocolate Sourdough Bread

I first discovered chocolate sourdough bread (also known as sourdough noir) in a novel my friend Meg gave me for my birthday this past January. I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the pages of Stones for BreadAnd I determined that I would bake it.

As the name implies, it’s bread (not cake) so it’s not as sweet as a typical dessert. The recipe included in the novel (and one that I found online) called for dried fruits as well as chocolate and baking cocoa, along with sugar. I used mixed dried berries for our loaf.

I’ve made sourdough bread for years–just the plain kind which I bake from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. We use this bread for sandwiches, French toast, and everything in between. Even homemade croutons. I also brought my big jar of starter out here to Colorado with us–which took some amount of care, let me tell you. Sourdough noir, however, is anything but plain. It’s also a good deal more complicated in how it’s made, as compared to the regular sourdough bread that I bake by rote at this point.

sour dough noir
Finished product:  chocolate sourdough bread.

I liked the results, and the boys really enjoyed it, too–we toasted slices of it for breakfast and snacks. Smeared with some Kerrygold butter, it tasted delectable. I do plan to make it again. Next time, I’ll use semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of a bar of dark chocolate broken into bits.

chocolate sourdough with butter

Since we’ve been in Colorado, I’ve even used my sourdough starter to make pizza dough. It was moderately successful, but I’m keen to try again–just as I am with the sourdough noir. 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Summer Travels + Road Trip Survival Tips

It’s been over a week since we left home, beginning our trip out to Colorado for the summer. We’ve visited with family, caught a bit of time with a friend over BBQ and ice cream (I was in her wedding; she was in mine), watched my boys play long and hard with their cousins. We also set aside a day to experience the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport, Mississippi…not far from my hometown.

The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center was birthed out of my aunt Carole Lynn’s desire to honor her daughter–my cousin–Lynn, who passed away as a college freshman. Aunt Carole Lynn’s labor of love produced a top-notch, hands-on destination for kids. While exploring the outdoor attractions of the Discovery Center–including some impressive tree houses–we snapped this shot of my latest Wear It Well Wednesday ensemble:

allison at lynn meadows discovery center

All of the above consists of hand-me-downs:  The peachy/coral tank came from the give-away table at Mike’s office. Both the shorts and light blue-almost lavender short-sleeved cardigan arrived in a box of cast-offs from friend and ministry supporter Vivian in Texas. I kept these 2 pieces from her for myself. This is one of the outfits I will don over and over this summer while away from home. We tried to pack minimally; nonetheless, our van is stuffed to the rafters.

Speaking of traveling and road-tripping…I like to shake up the routine from time to time, but getting our entire family to Colorado for the summer, trying to establish a sense of rooted-ness and a sense of home in an apartment that is not ours, is challenging. For over a week now, I’ve felt the limbo that comes from living out of a suitcase (or duffel bag, to be exact). So I wanted to share a few of my road trip survival tips:

colored pencil set

  1. Books. I brought the first book in the Andrew Peterson Wingfeather Saga series (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness) that I borrowed from my sister. I’ve been reading this aloud to the boys while we drive. We also downloaded several audio books in the Boxcar Children series–thanks, Hoopla!–to entertain the boys, too.
  2. Hug your children. On a normal day, I hug the boys almost hourly–especially Garfield, whose love language is probably physical touch. Apart from hugs, we also wrestle (by trying to pull each other off the bed); I give piggy back rides; sometimes Garfield even sits in my lap for school work. When they spend days playing non-stop with cousins–or we spend days riding in separate seats in our van–we rarely get our usual cuddle time/play time/wrestle time with each other. So I take advantage of moments to hug them when I can; it helps us stay connected.
  3. Floss your teeth. Nothing is “normal” when on the road, including our eating. Eating out then is more for calories than fun, and I start to feel I cannot make one more decision about where to stop for lunch. I can’t provide made-from-scratch, whole-food dishes for myself or my family when we’re in a different place from day to day, but I can take care of myself in other ways. Like flossing my teeth. I can at least do that, and it gives me a small sense of accomplishment that I’ve done something good. 
  4. Move when you can. Not only is our eating anything but normal, I’m not working out with any regularity, either. Self-care takes more discipline while traveling with family in tow–and I honestly don’t have the time for work-outs right now–but I can do something. I can walk with Garfield around a restaurant while we wait for our food. I can do some calf raises, squats, stretching in a corner of the hotel room before bed. Even a little bit of movement helps me feel healthier.
  5. Drink loads of water. Eating not-so-well and not getting enough fresh air or exercise already, I try to consume plenty of water. Especially at altitude.
  6. Make time to have solitude. It’s unrealistic to expect abundant alone time while visiting family and road-tripping cross country. That’s not really the point, after all. But if you’re an introvert, like me, you’ll probably enjoy your family more (and they will DEFINITELY enjoy you more) if you can carve out a bit of time to be alone and recharge. One night while at my sister and brother-in-law’s home, I went to bed about an hour early so I could pray, write in my journal, and reflect on some Scripture verses. I went to sleep refreshed and at peace.
  7. Elderberry syrupI buy homemade elderberry syrup crafted by a woman in the Orlando area. We take a spoonful a day as preventive medicine because elderberries are very high in anti-oxidants. I ordered a special batch from Julie, who makes this syrup using raw honey and organic elderberries, so that we’d have a little immune booster in the midst of all the junk food we’ll consume while on the road.

Hopefully, the next time I post we’ll have finished our 4 nights of hotel stays (and 7 nights with various family members) and will be settled into our summer apartment. Enjoy your Wednesday, dear readers!

My Favorite Book of 2017 {So Far}

When I was 21, I applied to be part of a summer mission to Zagreb, Croatia. Along with a handful of other college students and staff with Cru, I would be part of a group interacting over issues of faith and hope with Croatian college students.

It was 1995; Croatia had declared their independence in 1991 near the outset of a war fought largely along ethnic lines. What had once been the nation of Yugoslavia had been carved up into several autonomous countries in the years of 1991 and 1992; by 2006, seven independent nations comprised the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Accounts of this war (the Croatian War of Independence) indicate that it ended in 1995–the same year I planned to travel there. In May of 1995, our ministry team’s plans abruptly pivoted. A bomb had exploded in Zagreb, the city where we were to go.

drying flowers

Instead of journeying to Croatia’s capital city, our small team joined a large team in a resort town in Hungary–holding English language camps for high school and college students as we also spoke to them about knowing God in a personal relationship.

But later, I did get the opportunity to see Zagreb. In the summer of 1997–during my year serving in Romania–one of my teammates and I took a train there for a long weekend. Our Romanian teammate had gone to help with English language camps conducted by her church. Our team leader had already returned to the States, preparing for his next assignment. So we went, just the 2 of us–one woman, one man–which was technically, probably against the rules. We had considered taking a train to Sofia, Bulgaria–the nation south of Romania–but that ride would have taken 25 hours one way.

rails-train-path-straight

That detour that directed our team in 1995 to Hungary also, ultimately, sent me to Romania. Since we couldn’t pursue ministry in Zagreb that summer, my university’s Cru partnership switched from Croatia to Romania (along with the Cru ministries at several other colleges in the Southeast).

So, in an indirect, mysterious kind of way, Croatia itself has played a significant part in my life. Our short visit there–when I wore the new brown leather clogs I’d bought at a market in Romania–barely broke ground in delving into the city of Zagreb. But it left me with vivid memories:  my first experience staying at a youth hostel, where I shared a room with multiple women I didn’t know; meeting an Australian young woman about my age named Alison who was one of those roommates (Alison with one L instead of my 2). We had a long talk over tea one afternoon about spirituality and being a “good person.” I remember the Bad Blue Boys celebrating in the streets after Zagreb’s win in a soccer game one night while we were there, their cheers and singing wafting through the open window of our hostel room. Phil, my teammate, gave me a pair of his socks to help prevent more blisters from those new clogs and was gracious enough not to ask for them back.

I never felt any fear about visiting Zagreb two years after the bomb that prevented our team from spending our summer there, where we’d have sought to meet students and learn about their lives and their history while we shared about the peace that we experience in Jesus. But one short weekend was nowhere near enough time to begin to understand Croatian history, customs, life.

small houses colorful doors

Unlike that quick trip, the novel I finished reading this week, Girl at War by Sara Novic,  afforded me a long look at the history of this recent war in Croatia–and how it shattered families and lives. The names of the towns that made their way into the story–Split, a city on the coast of the Adriatic; Dubrovnik; and of course Zagreb–as well as other countries, such as Slovenia and even Romania, all struck familiar chords with me. My friend Anne served in Slovenia–another former Yugoslavian country–while I served in Romania. And Serbia bordered Romania on the west, not far from Timisoara–the city where I lived. Reading this book, the story of Ana and her loss, her fighting, her survival, gave substance and shape and reality to my comprehension of the country where I’d assumed I’d spend the summer when I was 21 years old.

Genocide, ethnic cleansing, power and money:  all facets of this war that started right around the time I turned 17. I’ve never lived through anything like that, not even anything that comes close, but I feel I brushed up against it in 1995, and then again in 1997. Then in 1999, I listened to a voicemail message in my apartment late one night asking me to consider joining another year-long ministry team in Pristina, Kosovo–a “partially recognized” state within the nation of Serbia. I declined, because I’d just started my time working with students at Mississippi State.

star lamp post

In 1991, I had probably never heard of Croatia. Over the years, it’s strangely held sway over me. Maybe I’ll visit Zagreb again one day, maybe for longer than a weekend. But maybe not. But Girl at War gave me the glimpses of Croatia and their war of independence that I’d so long needed to gaze upon.

So that’s what makes Girl at War my favorite book of 2017 so far. What about you? Which books have taken you back to your own life-defining moments?

On Feeling Invisible

When I lived in Romania for a year after college–as a missionary to students–I spent a week of vacation visiting other missionary friends in a different country. We’d met at the outset of our year-long stint overseas and had been together at Christmas time, too. During the time in which the students in our ministry took exams, we got to take a break from our routines, and I visited friends in Eastern Europe.

I rode to Hungary with an American missionary couple I knew, where they were attending a training, and I met up with some missionary friends there. After a few days there, I traveled to Slovakia with friends (who’d also been visiting Hungary) who were located in Slovakia for the year.

While there, I joined the women on that team at a gathering that included several other American women who were serving there long-term. One of these women hosted this weekly fellowship time at her house. I sat and listened and enjoyed the time, along with the handful of other women in attendance.

Near the end of the time, the hostess asked the women, one by one, to share a bit about how they were doing and how they might like others to pray for them. She didn’t call on me to speak; I noticed this but didn’t give it much thought. Then she assigned prayers, each woman there praying for another woman in the group. We concluded the group time with those prayers, each woman praying aloud for another:  for her life, her struggles, whatever she may have shared. Nobody prayed for me at that time, which wasn’t a big surprise since I hadn’t shared about myself. I was a guest there, not ministering in that country and not a part of their teams, long- or short-term. So I tried to reconcile that, although I was beginning to feel left out. Then, when the hostess wrapped up the prayers, she looked at me and said, “Sorry we didn’t have time to pray for you,” in a breezy tone.

berries on stump

So I matched my tone to hers–because it seemed clear that this was what was expected of me:  not to be disappointed because there simply wasn’t time to include me when all the other women (who served in that country) needed to receive prayers–and I tossed out, “Oh, just pray for our team; pray for Romania.” And yet, it didn’t seem we had run short of time. Once the formal group time ended, women broke up into small clusters, chatting. I remember hearing somebody mention a dress that needed to be altered.

I felt hurt, particularly because I thirsted for this kind of female connection, and yet the message I’d received was that I shouldn’t feel hurt.

A couple months later, back in Romania, I was preparing for a slumber party at my apartment for the college girls in our ministry. It was near Easter, and we were going to dye eggs. So when I answered the phone that night–before the girls began to arrive–I was full of energy and hope about the upcoming gathering. The call deflated me a bit, though. The woman who served in a leadership role (over the long-term staff women in the Eastern Europe region) had come to Romania, and–I had assumed–was going to meet up with me while she was there. My friends in other countries in this area had told me that they’d met with her and were thankful for her input and encouragement. So I eagerly looked forward to my time to connect with this woman who’d served overseas for many years.

poppies in field

But she told me on this phone call, though, as I was getting ready to make pizza with the Romanian college women already on their way to my apartment, that she wasn’t going to be coming to my city. She didn’t give much explanation, and I didn’t ask for it, although I felt sad that I wouldn’t get to spend time with her. I experienced so much loneliness that year; I felt I needed this time with a woman who could pour into me, even for one conversation. So, running high on adrenaline and excitement about the slumber party, I told her It’s fine! It’s OK! She apologized for the inconvenience; then we said good-bye.

Again, I thought–based on the person’s response to me–that I wasn’t supposed to be disappointed, or if I felt that, I certainly wasn’t supposed to communicate that. Almost half a year later–as I ended my time in Romania–I sat down for an exit interview with this woman in leadership. At the end of the conversation about my year of overseas ministry, I tentatively broached the topic of her initially-planned visit to me that never materialized. Mostly, I just wanted to know why she’d met with all the other women serving in the one-year program like I was but didn’t get to see me. She explained that her priority was ministering to the women serving long-term. It just so happened that she could have time with the one-year folks because all those other teams were serving in the same cities where long-term staff women served–it had been convenient to meet with the women who (like me) were serving short-term. Only in my city, there were no long-term staff, male or female, with our ministry. It was just the four of us:  2 American men, one Romanian woman, and myself. Therefore, her getting to my city wasn’t a priority. And although this made sense given the scope of her job, I felt hurt–because I’d felt that I didn’t register as a priority.

As we talked that mild September day just weeks before I returned home, she expressed sorrow that she hadn’t come to visit me after all. She said even after she hung up the phone that night that she began regretting that decision. I felt free to cry then, because I finally felt I was given permission to express disappointment. I think she and I actually cried together. She had an inkling of what a hard year it’d been for me.

wall mount

Sometimes Christians hurt people outside the faith, and sometimes we Christians hurt each other; sometimes we mean it, and sometimes–as I firmly and fully believe in these 2 situations–we do it accidentally, with no intention to wound.

Last week, since we’re approaching the 20-year anniversary of that year in Romania, one of the people who’d come over for the summer during my year posted some pictures on social media. The photos included descriptions and details and captions, and conversations erupted around the memories that the pictures evoked. People mentioned the year-long missionaries on the team that had hosted and cared for the summer group without mentioning me (and I wasn’t in any of the photos). Later one of the men on my year-long team tagged me in a comment, and then a couple pictures were added that included me. Again, I firmly and fully believe I was only inadvertently left out initially–nobody was trying to exclude me. And yet…I felt forgotten at first, and the loneliness of that year seemed so very fresh.

But I got in on the reminiscing, too, and it was fun to remember. I really enjoy (for the most part) reflecting on such a formative year in my growth.

But I hate feeling invisible. I hated feeling I didn’t show up as worthy of notice in that women’s prayer group; I hated feeling I didn’t rank high enough to merit a visit from a woman in leadership whose company I sorely needed. I hated I wasn’t remembered as a valuable part of the team from the very beginning of these 20-year reflections on social media. Feeling overlooked and unnoticed just hurts.

pig figurines

Even when those problems get resolved and healthy communication brings healing, the questions of Am I seen? Am I noticed? linger in our souls. It requires more than being included in the group prayer or the group conversations to satisfy that soul-hunger of wanting–needing–to feel seen and noticed.

Here are the truths that fill those empty spaces in me:  My Father in heaven delights in me, rejoices over me with singing, and quiets me with His love. (Zephaniah 3:17). I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). That verse among all others is currently filling me with tremendous joy:  If God has good works prepared in advance for me to do, my contributions–what I have to offer–must truly matter. And Genesis 16:13-14, where Hagar–cast out and alone–encounters God in the desert and calls Him El Roi, the God who sees.

If God Himself sees me, I cannot be invisible. Hebrews 4:13:  “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight…”