Ground control to Major Tom

Does life ever feel like it’s just begging for your attention? Trying to repeat something to you over and over? And as you strain your heart and ears to listen, you’re surprised to hear Sean Penn’s voice? No one else? Just me?

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

It was a very-zen-Sean-Penn who caught up with me to deliver a message from ground control as I was sitting on a plane. International flights are where I get to catch up on movie watching. I could watch five in a row without pushing the “there’s-something-else-I-should-be-doing” button. I opted for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I hadn’t yet cozied up with this world-travelling movie even though it seemed like a natural go-to for this girl. I think that’s why I didn’t watch it. It was too predictable. Sometimes I avoid wander-lust movies because they just stir me up and make me want to sell everything in exchange for endless world airfare.

But on that day, I was en route home from the (truly) best trip I’ve ever taken with my husband. We had just celebrated our ten-year anniversary ala Europe. So I was feeling rather zen myself. I was heart-full of wandering and happy to be on my way home to the house I haven’t yet auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The very-zen-Sean-Penn plays a photographer, and when he has an elusive snow-leopard in his camera sight, perfectly aligned, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) asks him when he’s going to snap the picture.

Sometimes I don’t, says Sean.

Sometimes it’s just for me.

The plane stayed straight, but my heart lurched. I’m not a photographer, but I am a writer. So words are my pictures, and I’d been feeling an increasing pressure to “snap every picture”.

A lot of this sense of pressure came out of a Writer’s conference I attended earlier this year, to explore taking this writing thing to a new level. To see if something personal might translate into something public. I heard lots of great advice. What-to-do-to-become-a-writer. Or I should say, a published writer. Two very different things.

See, it’s one thing to identify yourself as a writer as part of who you are. That requires liking words.

It’s an entirely different thing to pursue publishing. That requires being a marketer. And when you dab your toe into that world, words like “platform”, “audience”, “followers”, etc. start dominating too many of the conversations.

Blogging is strongly encouraged. I’m still not sure what I think about blogging (as confessed in a blog post – cue irony), mostly because I’m a book girl. Books are, to me, like a long conversation over coffee, and blogs are more like a quick hello at the grocery store. I’d rather read (and write) a book.

There are other platform tools too. I won’t go into them here. Because they’re not the point. The point is that the very-zen-Sean-Penn caught me up short, and made me realize I’d been operating under many “should-do-this-moments” in the world of social media and blogging, and I needed to practice saying sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t snap the picture, write the hashtag, post the blog. Sometimes it’s just for me.

And let me tell you, it’s been my favorite summer. I’ve seen more sunsets than I’ve posted on Instagram. I’ve been in more conversations than I’ve captured ala blog post. I’ve seen more friends than I’ve tagged on Facebook. I’ve held my husband’s hand more than I’ve held my phone.

I needed a summer filled with sometimes I don’t so I could choose the sometimes I do moments.

The very-zen-Sean-Penn reminded me that life is about experiencing, not performing. Do you need to hear that today, too?

Is there anything you need to … don’t?

When grown-ups color …

When grown-ups color, a whole new world is created.

Yesterday I sat among a room full of coloring grown-ups. It’s our fifth year at Royal Family Kids Camp, and the preparation day always – ALWAYS – leaves me more than just a little choked up. Because grown-ups … Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Administrators, BIG IMPORTANT GROWN-UPS WITH BIG IMPORTANT JOBS … sit down to color a sign. A welcome sign. They always know the name of who they’ll be welcoming, but they don’t always know their face. Or their favorite color. Or whether they’ll get off the bus with a frown or a smile.

But they color. And they guess. A little pink flower here, a little hand-drawn airplane there. And a name.

And then comes the welcome. With colored sign in hand, an army of grown-ups prepares to meet a flood of 6-11 year olds. As each child steps off the bus, their name is called and their counselor for the week runs forward with their hand-drawn sign, welcoming them by name. Gets me every. Dang. Time.

Because I know it’s a glimpse. A glimpse of a welcome we will receive someday when we leave this place for a new Somewhere. Be it an angel or an ancestor, someone will greet me by name, and maybe they’ll even have a sign with my name on it. Not so that they’ll recognize me, but so I’ll recognize them. And know that they’ve been prepared and waiting to celebrate the day I’d arrive.

Now today is the day I’m celebrating arriving HERE in this life. 35 years ago today I met my Mom and Dad. They were ready for me, with a name and everything (thanks to my Mom’s favorite soap-opera). It’s hard to think of a better way to spend your birthday than with a hundred little faces yelling out a “happy birthday” across the camp from a zip-line or a swimming pool, and co-counselors offering sincere hugs telling you you’re special even as they run off to the next activity. To be honest, I really like a birthday that’s not all focused on me. It’s a lot less suffocating.

Still, a little focus on me is a fun thing. And today I got it from a special source. I’ve written about her before. Amanda is the girl who came back, the girl who taught me big things, and now will be forever in my heart as my favorite-birthday-cake-preparer.

Amanda rallied our cabin full of girls to create a “birthday cake” made of apples and drizzled in caramel. They carefully carved out letters from apple slices until they had H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y, and then surprised me with it with a song at lunch time. Little did she know that caramel & apples are one of my favorite combinations. This girl – this feisty, fierce, and (this year) FRIENDLY – eleven-year-old has blessed my socks off. Again.

And I’m convinced it all goes back to the coloring. To the grown-ups remembering what it’s like to be a kid, and then being as kid-ly as they can, so that the kids can SHINE in all their kid-dom.

When grown-ups color, a “birthday cake” is carved out of apples and drizzled with caramel. Yum.

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Surprising the Brain

White BucketThe Brain Bucket. I’m told that’s a thing. I’m told that by a guy named Jon Acuff, who makes me laugh enough to believe that everything he says is true.

So the Brain Bucket. He said our brains are wired in such a way that when we see or hear something we’ve come across before, we Bucket it. “Yep, been/seen/heard that before.” And we continue on with other distractions.

This. Is. So. Me. I used to drive professors crazy because once my brain got something, it placed it in the bucket and was done with them and their teaching. I was known for playing solitaire in the back of the room (back in the days of dinosaurs when the internet was not in every classroom and solitaire was all I had). And it really wasn’t out of disrespect, it was just because my brain wanted to move on to something else once the brain bucket was full of that topic. You can imagine how much my husband loves this feature whenever he’s sharing his heart with me.

So, says Jon, getting past the Brain-Bucket-tune-out for things like spiritual lessons and lifetime truths requires a way to “surprise the brain”. Keep things interesting. Introduce an old truth in a new way.

Backs of books? Hate ‘em. Movie trailers? No, please. I want to be surprised.

So a few Sundays ago – one of those gloriously leisurely mornings – we lounged our way through YouTube videos and MY BRAIN GOT SURPRISED.

Oh my gosh. Oh my GOSH.

Exhibit A: Holy vocal pipes.

Chills, right? I mean, I was crying. CRYING. See, everyone’s brain – including mine, and most definitely Simon Cowell’s, had Brain-Bucketed this guy. Heavy guy shows up on stage wearing sweat pants and floppy hair. Sure, go ahead and wow us. He’s shy and nervous and you can just feel yourself bracing for the mockery. The crowd is snickering already. He’s been Brain-Bucketed as someone who does not have talent. And then he puts the microphone to his mouth. And the room is literally blown away. The power. The MAJESTY of this guy’s voice. Are you kidding me!? HE just did THAT!? Everyone’s Brain got Surprised. Ah-maz-ing.

Exhibit B: Am I allowed to, umm, laugh?

A boy with cerebral palsy. And he thinks he’s a comedian. And his parents have brought him here to audition. It’s cute. And heart warming. But you can almost feel yourself cringe as you hope he might be good but you’re pretty sure he won’t be. I mean, let’s just hope that Simon isn’t too mean to the sweet handicapped boy, right? He’s been Brain-Bucketed in the sympathy bucket, but there’s no bucket for “funny handicapped kid”.

And then he comes out on stage – to a vicious audience that has just destroyed the auditioner that came before him. Rightfully so, but still brutal. The cringe-factor in your heart intensifies.

But his first joke is funny. You dare to chuckle. His next line is even funnier than the last. Hey, this kid may be onto something. By the time his audition is done, everyone – including Simon – has a general laugh in their heart because The Handicapped Kid is Really Funny. Their brains got surprised.

Exhibit 3: Shadows aren’t just for puppets.

Yes, total coincidence that this post is dedicated exclusively to Britain having Talent. This is not a sponsored post.

But the shadows. HELLO!? How are they doing that with their bodies!? I mean, I know how they’re doing that – it’s light and dark and there’s a screen, blah blah blah. But my brain has no bucket for people making a shadow picture with their bodies like this. The beauty, the drama, the ELEPHANT.

YouTube is a playground for brain surprises.

Life is a playground for brain surprises. When I don’t relegate someone – including myself – to a predesigned brain-bucket, but am ready to hear or experience something new, I can actually have fun on life’s playground.

Now don’t get me wrong – not all surprises are good. Last year I had two brain-surprises collide in on me all at once. I was sitting at a conference having just learned that my husband had been fired. From a Church. I had no Brain-Bucket for that. There was no scandal, no job performance issue or moral failing to lead this Church to fire my husband, so my Brain was trying to process this whole new idea, and I have to confess that my dominant concern was expiring health insurance benefits.

Lost in my own health insurance woes, I was vaguely aware of something being set up on stage. A microphone and a chair and a guitar. And then a guy came out on stage. With no arms. No. Arms. This fact will be important in about one sentence.

He sat down and began to play Amazing Grace. With his feet. On the guitar. Beautifully. Not a modified-for-the-feet version of Amazing Grace, but a fully strummed, gorgeous rendition of this hymn. No. Brain. Bucket.

I had no way to explain to my brain that a guy was playing the guitar with no arms.

His story was then shared – he was born in Eastern Europe, where no arms was seen as a curse. Not only on him, but on his family and anyone who touched him. The result: He was turned over to an orphanage, but received virtually no touch, no cuddling, no attention beyond the absolute basic essentials of food and water. At eight months old, his medical file had not only his date of birth, but also his anticipated date of death. He was languishing, his body too weak to survive for long. He had been Brain-Bucketed as the cursed child with no arms and no future.

But a couple here in the United States got word of his file. They applied to adopt him. They were told they were crazy, that he’d probably die before they got him home and most assuredly thereafter. Still, they surprised everyone’s brains by saying “we want him.”

At age 8, his mom saw that he loved music. So she bought him a drumset and hired a drum teacher. This is the part of the story where, as her friend, I would have lovingly reminded her that HER SON HAD NO ARMS. So drums might be, you know, not as practical as, say, a set of headphones to feed his musical interest. My Brain has no Bucket for buying drumsticks for a boy who doesn’t have fingers to hold them! Thankfully hers did.

Because he thrived. He now plays eight different instruments, all of which traditionally require oh, you know, ARMS. It kind of put my health-insurance woes in perspective. It was still a hard year to rally from a job loss and the pain of separating from your home church, but I can’t tell you how many times my mind went back to that boy on stage. Playing Amazing Grace. With his feet.

He surprised my brain. His mom surprised my brain. Life surprises my brain. 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get really comfortable with my set of brain-buckets and everything fitting within “what I already know”, but really, really I’d far rather live a life that my brain has to catch up to.

 

 

Dancing Daddies

I sat with a Martini glass in hand, sipping a pre-dinner drink.

The piano and violin cast a spell as I watched a mother hold her toddler close and whisk her across the dance floor. I was mesmerized, caught, captured. They danced to an instrumental version of Strangers in the Night, and I felt as though I was watching myself as a stranger. The mother I’ve never been with the daughter I’ve never had.

It was beautiful. Not sad, yet haunting.

And then the father stepped out on the floor and swept up his young babe. All at once, as I sat spellbound, I was the daughter, not the dancer. I was being spun in the air and tossed in time with the music. I could feel her giggle well up in my own soul as they twirled and danced.

It was as though I was watching a dance that was of my own young years. I had a Daddy who danced with me. Not literally you understand, as my sister is the true dancer in the family and I am a better wall-flower. But he was a Daddy who played, and who told me I was beautiful every day, including – and maybe especially – through the long awkward years.

When the father on the dance floor got down on one knee, down on her level, without complaint or groan, I saw all the times my father did the same for me. And still does.

And all at once, the images changed again. Heaven whispered in my ear, reminding me that my memories as a beloved child are just a glimpse of how God sees me. That He, too, is a Daddy who twirls and delights and patiently lifts up the little girl with outstretched arms who says “Again, Daddy, please … “

I don’t know if there’s anything more powerful than being a beloved daughter.

One song. One dance. Three images that moved me to tears. Three images that stirred the depths of both loss and gain.

The bar napkin had to suffice to dab my eyes when their dance ended. Because I know mine hasn’t.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dancing Daddies of the world – you are a great image-bearer of God Himself.

Dancing Daddy

 

The Day A Puppy Crawled Into My Heart

I laid there in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking of my responsibility-free life, and voiced out loud to my husband You realize, right, that these things can live up to, like, 15 years?

Yeah, why did we say yes to this, again?

I don’t know. But my mom said we can give it back if it doesn’t work out.

The next day, we met my mom to pick up our puppies – she had two “picks” from a litter as she finished up her chapter as a dog breeder. She had pre-picked a possible pup for us. And she was the cutest by far. But shy and timid, too. My husband spotted a rambunctious sister hopping around the yard and asked if we could consider her, too.

Since my experience in puppy-picking had last been exercised around age 10, I didn’t exactly have a game plan, but we stepped away from the people and the other pups to see which one of these we’d experimentally take into our home, again reminding ourselves that if it didn’t work out, no matter which one we picked, my mom would take her back.

We placed both pups down on the ground and I walked a few feet away before turning and saying “Here, puppy … “ to which the small one eagerly trotted over, while the rambunctious one wobbled her head and looked around.

Almost convinced, I tried one more test. I placed them both side by side again, walked a few feet away, and said “Here, Abby … “. Sure enough, as though she already knew that was her name, the small one trotted my way and the rambunctious one bounced and hopped in clueless circles.

So, did we choose our pup or did she choose us? I’ve often wondered.

Everyone likes a puppy. I mean, really, they are one of the cutest things this side of heaven. And a cavalier puppy – oh stop it, I mean there’s just no way to even describe the cuteness. Gone were the doubts of the night before.

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Until the night after. When this adorable ball of fur Would. Not. Stop. Whining. My responsibility-free life had just been rudely interrupted.

We stumbled through the first few nights with Abby in our home, charmed enough by day to try one more night, growing in sympathy for parents of newborns that have to wake up every two hours. But wary – very very wary – that even when she was full-grown and house-trained, she would still need things like food and water and attention, and we couldn’t just pack up our bags for a weekend without, you know, thinking about her.

I know, I know, the life of the childless is so easily interrupted.

Three days in, I sat my exhausted self down on the cold tile of my kitchen floor. And this little three-pound ball of fluff crawled right up into my lap, and into my heart. I can still see the moment so clearly, because she knew exactly where she belonged, and she’s insisted on that spot ever since.

She crawled into my heart that day as if to say that I wasn’t as carefree as I’d thought. As if to say there was a little puppy-shaped hole inside my heart that she was ready to occupy. I’d never thought of myself as a dog person – things like drool and barking and feces aren’t really my thing. Ironic since I’d been trying to have a baby, but at least they don’t bark.

And there I sat in my fuzzy white robe on the cold kitchen tile, realizing that there really was a space just for her. That I wasn’t really afraid of losing my responsibility-free-lifestyle, but I was afraid of caring for something too deeply, including a dog – or maybe especially a dog. Having a wee little life in our house that wasn’t the baby we’d been hoping for was at once comforting and alarming – I did not want to become “that couple” that treated their dog like their child (spoiler alert, that plan didn’t work. My last shred of personal dignity is that I don’t put my dog in people clothes).

All at once, I remembered my first dog – Heidi. She was a blonde cocker spaniel, with wild bangs that gave her personality. I got her when I was five years old. I can still see the sun shining through the trees as my mom and I went to pick her up. My very first dog.

When I was ten, my sweet, precocious Heidi was hit by a car. We were out of town when it happened and she had survived the hit, but was curled up beneath our porch in pain – her pelvis had been crushed. The vet gave us two options: she might survive a surgery, but it would mean losing at least one hip and back leg. The only tri-pod dogs I’d ever known were objects of jokes between my brothers, so I couldn’t imagine that life for her. The other option was to put her down.

In that moment I had to grow up a little bit. Do I put my dog down or try to save her?

I wish we had tried to save her.

But I didn’t know that until I sat on a cold tile floor and held this new, precious, vulnerable pup. I cried tears for my Heidi in that moment.

I have been governed by practicality for many years and many days. Little did I know that on the day this pup crawled into my heart, she was nudging out parts of my practical self. She would teach me to make decisions with my heart and not just my head. I would spend enough money on her little self to make someone say “e-gads” (also, I think “e-gads” should be reintroduced to our language). I would miss her when I left town. I would delight in the ways she loved me and others. I would marvel at the idea of a dog providing therapy. And no, not just to me. But maybe starting with me. And that’s okay.

She crawled into my lap and straight into my heart that day. After I picked myself up off the cold tile and crawled back into bed with my husband, I said Do you realize that she might live for, like, ONLY 15 years!?!?

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Norway, Yes-Way

What’s not to love? Water? Good. Mountains? Good. Waterfalls? Good. Snow-capped mountains? Good.

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A few eyebrows raised when we told people we were going to Norway. Norway? What made you choose that? Well it all started with a fjord, and back to the day I didn’t even know what a fjord was. Fjord (pronounced Fi-yord) was just one of those words I would have nodded along with if someone was talking about it, eyes glazing over because I didn’t really know what they were talking about.

But a few years ago I made it to my first Fjord, which is basically a steep canyon cut by glaciers and plunging a mountain into the sea – or, put another way, a sea inlet surrounded by steep mountain cliffs. Translation: my idea of perfection.

My first Fjord experience was in New Zealand – another land rich with, well, EVERYTHING GOOD AND LOVELY. Including a Fjord called Milford Sound. Words fail to describe the happiness I experienced in that majestic place, especially amazing considering the deep unhappiness that had settled in my heart in that life-stage.

I was basically spinning and dancing in glee in that magical place, and my amused husband laughed as I exclaimed “Fjords are my new favorite!” With a twinkle in his eye, he introduced me to a whole new wonder: There was a LAND of Fjords called Norway. Norway? As in, my place of heritage? (My mother’s name was Berg, Norway’s second biggest city is Bergen, so basically, I might be a long-lost Norwegian Princess. All things are possible.). At the least, perhaps a love of mountains and ocean plunged together is just part of my DNA.

And so was born the dream to come to Fjordland, Norway.

We didn’t know if we’d pull it off on this trip, but a string of luck and google diligence and hope all blended together to get us on a cruise ship heading TO and THROUGH Norway’s Fjordland at a fraction of the cost it would take for us to backpack our way through the majestic landscape. We booked the tickets under a “last minute special” about a month prior to sailing, and it took all of my willpower not to mentally check out between the time of booking until the time of embarking.

I was going to Norway. To Fjordland. On a boat – a LUXURY boat! That would carry me and my love and all our STUFF and FEED US and oh heaven smile down.

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And Norway delivered. Amidst both rain and shine, in true Nordic fashion, my heart was lulled and wooed by its ever-changing landscape. It felt like cruising through a storybook – with up to ten waterfalls sometimes in view, with my heart and mind racing to catch up with what my eyes were seeing, with days of sun for my feet to traipse and days for my heart to be quieted by the rain.

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Our first stop was in Eidfjord, a small town with big views.

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And perfectly marked hiking trails. Their slogan should be “Welcome to Eidfjord. If you get lost here, you’re an idiot.” But seriously. Trail after trail, some back to mountain lakes, some alongside the river, some winding through farm and field, and some stumbling through ‘rough pastureland’, filled with too many colors of green for me to count, where the loudest sound was my own footfall. Where, as I took in the new landscape, I actually said out loud “I wonder if this is how babies feel all the time – when they are seeing something new for the very first time?”

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Oh, and the red homes – painted that way because once upon a time it was the cheapest color you could get your hands on. Left over waste from copper mines or something. Don’t quote me, but something like that. And here I thought it was a way to compensate for the often gloomy weather. Nope, just good economic sense. But still, a cheery and distinct flavor of many Norwegian homes.

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The next day brought us further north to Alesund. The clouds were high, but ever present, keeping us close to town instead of exploring the further wildlands of this area. Which was okay because Alesund’s true claim to fame is its Art Nouveau architecture.IMG_3584

Here’s the story: In 1904, the town burned down. The whole thing. All of it. Charred to bits. Because an oil lamp was knocked over. The Germans were among the first to respond with help, and determined to help them rebuild. Art Nouveau was apparently “the rage” with its intricacies and distinctions, and that became the dominant focus of their new architecture. The effect has stood the test of time. It’s truly whimsical. A town of 40,000, it’s one of Fjordland’s biggest cities, but their downtown still has the fairytale feel. Our big event of the day was a 418-step climb to a viewpoint that really did pay off.IMG_3578

And then, oh then … Geirangerfjord.

IMG_3652We were on the first tender boat off to explore this great land, and before the sun had risen over the tallest mountain peak, we were a-climbing. Again, as in France, giving me the heights in meters is so helpful because I always say “that’s nothing”, until I’m huffing and puffing my way up a serious climb.

IMG_3623Oh the glory. AND THE SUN!!!!! Every ray was like a hand-wrapped gift. Even the locals were exclaiming about what a rare day it was. AMEN!IMG_3738

Geirangerfjord was like melting Switzerland into the sea.

Also, the baby goats. Took a bit of time to catch this little fella, but he cozied up after a few bleats of complaint while Mama-goat contentedly ate on nearby.IMG_3683IMG_3696

We climbed a total of 750 meters (see, doesn’t that sound way better than 2500 feet when you’re standing at the bottom and looking up?) to Losta viewpoint and then to something-something-fossen, which means Waterfall. My Norwegian is pretty awesome. After then RACING back down the mountain (ouch), we caught a local bus to experience the famous “Eagle Bend Road” with 11-hairpoint turnsIMG_3658

so you can see THIS. Seven Sisters Waterfall just behind us there. IMG_3744IMG_5220Or something-something-fossen in Norwegian, if you prefer.

THEN (yes, Geiranger was a FULL DAY) we stayed on the bus up towards Mt. Dinalsnibba, which was still closed for the season due to snow still being unstable, but we made it about 2/3 of the way up, to about 1000 meters, and enjoyed a few minutes in a winter wonderland, where yes, Jason got smacked with some snowballs due to my awesome aim.

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That night’s cruise through the Fjord was just beyond words. I mean really. We eventually stopped taking pictures and just soaked it in because it was just like “Really? Really? Just more and more of the pretty.”IMG_3523

 

IMG_3388And then Bergen. Bergen only gets 60 days of sunshine A YEAR, so my expectations were pretty realistic there. Actually, I was kind of excited to experience it in the rain because it’s known as one of the wettest cities in the world. And boy was it! Poured on us the whole time, so we didn’t go too far, but we did have fun sloshing through its streets, picking up a Christmas ornament, one of our favorite things to collect as we travel, and shaking off the wet as we returned to our “cozy” ship.

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All that, and every night on a luxury liner with five-star food, four-star accommodations, and the best company of all. And no, I don’t just mean the chocolate martini and the live violin music. Though that was also a nightly favorite.

Norway? YES-WAY!

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Room-by-Room: Bathrooms

Last year two crazy kids bought a house. They tore it open from the inside out. It did the same to them. Both the house and the people are more beautiful than they were before. This is the tour-de-blog through the before and the after, but perhaps most important: the during. 

Welcome, friend: Bathrooms.

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For the first 9 years of our marriage, I never had more than one toilet to clean. It had its perks. But when we signed that Grant Deed, my toilet-bowl-cleaning-duty tripled.

Each bathroom needed some significant love. Tubs, toilets and floors all had various levels of rot, fungus, or rust to be dealt with. I’ll take you through each from the simplest to the greatest of transformations.

Bathroom 1 – we actually thought we’d get away with just some new fixtures and paint in this bathroom, but soon discovered that the tub was rusted through, and when that came out, so too all the tile had to come with it. Who knew?

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I can’t say I was all that sad, though, because oh-my-gosh I’m in love with this subway tile that took its place. This bathroom is part of the back guest house so I actually rarely see it personally, but I love-love it nonetheless.

IMG_1456Some invisibles also had to be replaced, as it turns out the lower plumbing wasn’t even connected to the home’s piping. Seriously. So for who knows how long the water drained from that tub just went straight to the ground beneath the house. Thank God for a raised foundation. So, the invisibles were re-plumbed, and the visibles won my heart over when we put in a new vanity and some new paint.

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Bathroom 2 – oh this room. There’s no color correction happening here – that was the real paint color. Still makes my eyes hurt even in the pictures.

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But the transformation that was about to take place – well, I’ll let the pictures do the telling.

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Except this – oh I must explain this. I knew I wanted to create a vanity from furniture and get the porcelain bowl to sit atop. I had a dresser in mind for it, but it was all-wrong. Wrong size, wrong style, wrong color. Just wrong. I was just about to set out to hunt local thrift stores when I remembered that I had picked up this random table at a yard sale just a few months prior with no particular reason. It was $15 and I liked it. Maybe, just maybe this would work, I thought. And really, could it be more perfect? I finished it with wipeable Minwax to waterproof it, and I really love my $15 bathroom vanity.

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Voila:

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Bathroom 3­ is part of the Master Suite, so I’ll save that for its post later.

These rooms were such fun. Hundreds of decisions between tiles and grouts and fixtures and $15 vanity tables, but I couldn’t be happier with the way each of them turned out, or with my bathtub samplers: IMG_1804IMG_1812

Mama Always Said

Mama always said not to take a drink from a stranger. I think she had 45 proof alcohol in mind. But I don’t think she had Claudius in mind.

Claudius is the keeper of the Refuge de Chavan. His personality fits the name. I guess seven years of maintaining a refuge chateau in the middle of the French Alps probably has a way of either confirming or creating a personality of refuge.

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The Chateau sits at the top of a hell-bent climb. 800 meters up sounds so different than 2600 feet up, but feels no different on the legs that are climbing up the rock-strewn path (that, incidentally, turned into a rock-laden stream on the way back down since the snow was melting off).

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Just as you clamber past the rocks and the snow, right when you’re ready to call it a day, you climb out of the tree line, enter the bowl amidst the mountains, see the peaks you’ve been working towards, and turn happier feet towards the refuge of a cabin with some tables out front for the hungry hiker and some friendly French faces sharing the trail.

One of our favorite things to hear as we travel is “are you lost?” because it means that we’re off the beaten path, that tourists don’t-come-round-these-parts-too-often. Good, we hate feeling like tourists. The three French hikers asked us that precise question as their broken English and our Joey-esque French was exchanged.

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No, not lost. Staying at a friend’s cabin in La Cheverie, near Lake Vallon – a tiny locals hideaway that serves as a ski town in the winter and hiking wonderland by summer. We were there in the middle of both, as our hike involved quite a bit of snow.

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From the Chateau, we followed the three frenchmen up a steep, snowy embankment to a ridge that allowed us to see down the valley to the other side, and to the beginning of the Alps range.

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Without snow shoes, it became time for us to turn around, which involved side-stepping/sliding back down the snow to catch our breath again at the Refuge de Chavan before continuing.

IMG_2940Claudius came outside to greet us amidst our feast of apples and cheese. He explained – via hand gestures and broken English – that he’d lived there for seven years, winters included. And in the winter, the snow would sometimes cover his roof. He would then go in and out of his home by way of the skylight, some thirteen feet above us. Food and firewood were stock-piled for winter, and he said that men from La Cheverie would ski in with bread from time to time.

Amazing. A life like that. Interrupted only by occasional passersby. I sat there and tried to imagine it. I saw my husband’s eyes sparkle at the thought. I wonder – would I find or lose sanity?

Claudius then brought out some “prune de montagne” in a clear green glass bottle with some alpen flowers adorning its side, and little clay shot glasses. “To warm the heart”. Well, I was ready for anything that wanted to warm my heart, my hands, my nose, my ears. Bring it.

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“Oofta!” was all that escaped my lips as I downed the amber liquid. Jason and Claudius both enjoyed the quick intake of small breaths that followed. But oh did it warm. My ears, my throat, my chest, and most certainly my heart.

Refuge de Chavan. Is it the man, the mountain, or the 45 proof alcohol that provides such refuge? Perhaps a little of all three.

Mama always said not to accept a drink from a stranger. But I don’t think she had Claudius in mind.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama! And don’t worry, I follow almost all your other advice!

Room-by-Room: Living & Dining

Last year two crazy kids bought a house. They tore it open from the inside out. It did the same to them. Both the house and the people are more beautiful than they were before. This is the tour-de-blog through the before, the after, and the during.

Welcome, friend: Living and Dining.

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The very first order of business was knocking out a wall to let in some light. Little did I know that a wall was about to be knocked out in my heart too. It would also bring light – eventually.

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Our home was built in 1953, and the first thing you noticed when you walked in was the wall right in front of you. Closing you in – a very long, narrow living room and dining room greeted you, with doors cornered to the right and the left.

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The door off the dining room led to a galley kitchen. The door off the living room led to the hallway connecting the three bedrooms, and was also your path to the backyard and natural light – through one of the bedrooms. It was an awkward design. And in case you were confused about where the living room ended and the dining room began, our predecessors left us a nice line right down the middle of the wall, demarking from the baby blue living room to the canary yellow dining room. So many wrong things in that sentence.

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IMG_0801The kitchen was a goner. We knew we would have to gut it. But late one night, as I was just drifting off to bed, brilliance woke me up. Since we had to gut the kitchen anyways, why not move it? “All we had to do” was knock out a wall.

And so the wall came down. And the light came in. And doors 1 & 2 were needed no more, so we closed them both off and, gasp, got three new rooms for the price of one wall. The living room lost all signs of awkward, and became rather, well, cozy.

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It’s first Christmas was the first for us to ever host Jason’s family, complete with a cheery fire in the original brick fireplace.

IMG_4007Note that we haven’t even cleaned the soot from the brick. Is that gross? We prefer it be considered preservation.

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The dining room was filled with a few fun projects. Step one: Be rid of the baby blue/canary paint line. Step two: Adopt antique furniture from the Thrift Store and renew for life in the 21st century.

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The whole place transformed and gained new possibility the minute we knocked out that wall.

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About two days after we knocked that wall down, and long before we knew just what a difference it would make, another wall started to crumble. My husband’s job got real precarious real suddenly, and I was unprepared for it. It was like a sledge hammer went straight to my core. All I could see was what got knocked down. Like his salary and our health benefits and the safety of working at a place that is also your Church-home. I didn’t know that light had to come into some dark places in my heart. I didn’t know how attached I’d become to things like health insurance and what-not. I didn’t know that I’d been fighting against his character for months, defending his employer instead of my own husband when days had gone awry and I just didn’t want to accept what he was telling me, so I found a way to just, well, not. I didn’t know that I had so many fears sitting just under the surface. Until that wall came down. One hammer blow at a time.

But eventually – just as sure as drywall mud and new paint and texture and crown moulding were put in place to make that hole in the wall look like it had always been precisely that way – eventually my heart started rebuilding. And light was able to shine in the places that had been dark and awkward. I’m not saying there aren’t some lingering shadows in my heart, but I am saying that when that wall came tumbling down, when we had to ask family to wait on payment they’d already earned for their work, when we had to remember how to pray for daily bread because the shopping list now included plumbing and drywall and floorboards, when we heard God say that the next job He was calling to was a support-raising position, and when we actually said “yes”, slowly the light began to filter in as I slowly, painfully, even regretfully, opened my heart more fully to a God who provides even when – or maybe better said, AS – walls come tumbling down.

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