Focus on Fashion: Don't Shrink from Variety

My five-year-old has a certain way with fashion that prompts adults to ask, not unkindly, "You dress yourself, don't you?"  After studying her outfits, I've noticed a trend. 

First, she starts with her version of a neutral -- say, a turquoise, black, and yellow plaid skirt.  Then, she combines that piece with other patterns (like stripes, paisley, or polka dots) in whatever colors strike her fancy.

She's unencumbered by rules.  Who needs matching socks?  Why not combine florals with stripes?  Such freedom!  Such inhibition!

Then there's me: a woman who's passionately drawn to the color gray, a woman who's apt to build every outfit from the ground up with a white tee shirt and a pair of jeans.  So, let's start with these basics -- these neutrals of adulthood -- and top them with a yellow cardigan.

A note about this cardigan: I hesitated due to the color.  I mean, yellow?  Mustard yellow?  Won't yellow make me look sallow and sick and jaundiced?  But something about that cardigan spoke to me, whispering sweet promises of fashion possibilities. 

What if I could wear it with more than just a white tee shirt?

I started simply by adding a printed scarf to the white tee shirt.  Please note that this is the first time I've dared to wear anything with an animal print, unless you count that bad decision in sixth grade when I frequently left the house in a neon, zebra-striped sweatshirt.  (Come to think of it, the entirety of sixth grade was one extended bad decision.)

Emboldened by the animal print, I thought that a splash of color would be nice, which led to this purple ensemble with a flowing, flowered scarf.  Combining colors from the opposite side of the color wheel (say, yellows or oranges with blues or purples) can work well, and the scarf, which highlights both sunny yellow and deeper purple hues, helps to finish the look.

Why stop there?  I discovered another look by buttoning the cardigan over a professional blouse and cinching the waist with a belt, which would look polished with a pair of tall brown boots.

And then, of course, I reverted to my default love: stripes.  The clean lines of simple black-and-white stripes add interest.  Looking back, I'd add a pendant necklace.

So, follow the fashion advice of a five-year-old.  Try new colors and pair unexpected items together.  You just might find something that you love.

What's your favorite combination?  Let me know your thoughts!

Have you missed a Friday post in February's Focus on Fashion Series?  Just click the link below:
Focus on Fashion: Breaking Out the Blazers
Focus on Fashion: One Skirt, Three Ways


The Simple Pleasure of Being Prepared

I'm not entirely sure where this week has gone.  Days rushed past like water streaming through my open fingers, and somehow I've crossed off another entire row on the calendar.  In the midst of all the hustle at home and work, odd as it might sound, one thing that's grounded me is corn

You see, late this summer, my in-laws and I husked, cooked, and froze two bushels of corn to use during the winter months.  Yes, on that lazy August afternoon as I sat on a lawn chair shucking corn in that humid garage as my kids ran outside and colored with chalk on the driveway, I perceptively sensed that my future self would one day look back at my past corn-husking self with gratitude for such thoughtfulness and advanced planning. 

Way to go, Past-Tense, Corn-Husking Robin, you really helped me out of a culinary pinch during this busy and blustery week in February.

(You're looking at me funny.  Are you suggesting that you don't divide yourself into tenses?  If this is the case, let me recommend that you momentarily tap into your inner Dwight Schrute and watch this clip.)

Moving on.

Anytime I'm tempted to give up, I think of how much my future self will appreciate if I push ahead.  Do I want to leave the dishwasher full instead of emptying it before going to bed?  Do I want to leave all the papers to grade over the weekend instead of knocking out ten of them today?  Do I want to let the load of laundry wrinkle in the dryer instead of folding it immediately?

Yes, sometimes I do want to leave it all -- to walk away from the mess and the work, to deal with it tomorrow.  (And, let's be honest, sometimes I do.) 

But, the corn has taught me something:  It feels much better to be prepared.  I'm coming to view those moments of advanced thoughtfulness as acts of kindness to myself, not merely doing a chore.

After all, as Dwight says, you'll thank me later.

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Little Adjustmements Over Time Make Big Results

Last month I began going to a chiropractor.  My symptoms -- chronic tension and tightness in my shoulders, neck, and upper back -- had become a normal part of life.  I was accustomed to discomfort.  I chalked it up as the byproduct of a lifestyle full of kid-hoisting and computer-use, a combined result of stress and daily wear and tear.

Turns out, my spine had been out of alignment.  During each visit the chiropractor made small adjustments, and now, after a dozen appointments, I feel entirely different.  The chronic tension is gone, the tightness has evaporated, and the desire for a daily deep tissue massage has left.  (Well, almost.... I'd still accept a daily massage if somebody offered.)

The good part of this story is that I feel better.  The bad part is that, had I sought help earlier, I wouldn't have felt badly for as long as I did.

While praying the other day, I felt a nudge that this lesson isn't only for my physical health.  If I can adjust my daily habits in my life and in my home, especially if I sustain those adjustments over time, the course of my life will be altered.  If I let God, the Great Physician, make small, regular tweaks to my thoughts and speech, I'll be more aligned with His purposes.

If I've learned anything from visiting the chiropractor, it's that alignment is a good thing.  Proper alignment causes everything to function well; a lack of alignment leads to chronic tension or pain.  I know which option I prefer, which is why I pray that God will help me make those small course corrections that ultimately will straighten me out.

Lord, tweak and adjust me as you see fit.  Daily.

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Sharing Is Caring. Would you help to spread the love?

I never get over the amazement that my words -- these very words that my fingers are currently typing -- find a way to reach YOU.  As my words are on your computer screen or your phone, I like to imagine we're having a little chat together, both of us nodding and smiling at all the right places.

I don't know how you first discovered my blog -- whether it's because you know me personally, or you stumbled upon a post online, or a friend recommended it -- but I'm honored that you're here.  You could spend the precious minutes of your day in an infinite amount of ways, so thank you stealing a few of them to spend with me.  (Here's the point in the conversation where we hug each other.  I might hand you a Kleenex, because I'm thoughtful like that.)

Can I also ask for your help?  There are many (easy!) ways to share a post that you love through social media.  Yes, I'm shamelessly asking you to pin on Pinterest, tweet on Twitter, and share on Facebook with abandon.  (An important note about Facebook: Facebook "likes" on my posts are wonderful, but "shares" on your own page are even better because they allow your FB friends see and read the post, too.)

In a nutshell, sharing is caring!  If you read something you that encouraged you, made you laugh, or articulated just what you were thinking, would you pass it on?  It's the greatest compliment that you could pay!

Don't know how to share?  If you're reading from the blog, I often embed "Pin It" buttons on posts that would lend themselves nicely to Pinterest.  Or, you could simply use the "Share Buttons" that appear at the bottom of every post (see picture below) and choose your preferred mode of sharing.

Your one click could send my words father than they ever could travel on their own.

So, please take a moment to spread the posts you enjoy the most with the people who you love the most.  (And here's the point in the conversation when I'd hug you once again, for good measure.) 

Thank you!

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Focus on Fashion: One Skirt, Three Ways

I don't trust myself to make good decisions early in the morning.  I've been known to stand in my closet and stare blankly at my options, trapped in a morning-induced paralysis of judgment.  Because of this, I've learned that if I want a fighting shot of putting together a creative outfit, it's not going to happen before 7 am.

That's why I occasionally play in my closet at night after I'm showered and the kids are asleep.  There's no urgency to be anywhere, and I can take my time to pair miscellaneous items together.

Take this skirt, for instance.  I hesitated to purchase it, wondering if it would be versatile enough to work with what I already own.  Coupling it with a basic white tee, I worked to create distinctive looks by layering sweaters, adding accessories, and swapping different shoes. 

First, I opted for a tan cardigan, brown belt, tall boots, and a pendant necklace. 

Then, I paired the skirt with a gray cardigan, black belt, and short black boots.  (Why am I looking at the floor, you wonder?  Don't quote me on this, but I'm guessing that the bug on my ceiling last week probably crawled its way downward.) 

Finally, I considered the fact that winter will eventually end.  (Winter, you will end.  I'm telling you straight up.)  I partnered the skirt with a chartreuse cardigan, added a sash in lieu of a belt, and finished the look with a pair of heels that I snagged for a dollar at a clearance sale.  One buck!

Not every outfit that I tried worked well, of course, but knowing what clothing doesn't work well together is often as useful as knowing what does.  If, like me, you can't distinguish between the two and find yourself muttering statements like, "Is this outfit cute, or is it terrible?  Can it be both simultaneously?" as you size yourself up in the mirror during those early morning hours, then take some time to play in your closet at night.

Your morning self will thank you.

Missed last week's Focus on Fashion?  Don't fret.  You're just a click away:
Focus on Fashion: Breaking Out the Blazers

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Get Kids Moving: The Game of Tails

Have you ever played Tails?  If you haven't, it's a perfect activity for those days when you're stuck indoors and your kids need to burn off some energy, which describes nearly every day here for the past three months.  The premise is simple.

First, tuck a short scarf or other small piece of fabric (say, a wash cloth or dish towel) into everyone's back pocket or pants.  These are your tails.

Then, run like mad around the house as you try to steal someone else's tail while protecting your own.

It's brilliant.  It's fun.  It's exhausting.  Throughout our 40 minutes of play I had to take three water breaks, during which my oldest daughter looked at me as if to say, "What?  You're not tough enough?"

I looked right back at her as if to say, "You better get moving, kid, because you've got a target on your back."  Then I set down my glass and wiped my mouth on my sleeve in what I hoped to be a formidable way.

Then she ran.  And then I ran right after her.

Most often, this game is stopped after someone has collided into another person.  Or a piece of furniture.  Or a wall.  Moral of the story: watch out if you or your children are injury prone.

Keep 'em moving, my friends.  Keep moving.

Check out Then I Became a Mother: humor, hope, and encouragement for moms! Available in both Kindle and paperback editions. Enjoy!

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How to Write a Great Note

My three-year-old received a note from Mrs. Martin, the helper teacher who works in her pre-school classroom.  I opened the note and read the words, scripted in pleasing cursive, aloud.

I appreciate you.  Thank you for being such a sweet friend to your classmates.  You always take your turn and ask nicely, and you're fabulous with a glue stick.  I am so blessed to spend my mornings with you!

That's how you write a note.  It doesn't matter if the recipient is three or sixty-three; they'll realize that those words -- those affirming, specific words that identify precise appreciation -- are good words. 

As we ran errands the next day, my daughter spoke up from her car seat behind me.  "I'm fabulous with a glue stick, Mommy."

That you are, little one, that you are.  Thank you, Mrs. Martin, for noticing.  And thank you, especially, for taking the time to write it down.

Check out Then I Became a Mother: humor, hope, and encouragement for moms!  Available in both Kindle and paperback editions.  Enjoy!

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Focus on Fashion: Breaking Out the Blazers

Each year, there's a point when I weakly curl into myself and lament winter's insistence on continuing.  Yesterday marked that point. 

I didn't feel this way because the day was exceptionally cold.  In fact, the thermostat climbed to 20 degrees, which felt temperate given the recent plunges into the sub-zero realm.  And it wasn't because we amassed close to ten inches of snow on top of the snow that hadn't yet melted after last week's storm.

No, my winter-weariness came when I looked at my boots -- those salt-stained, slush-covered winter boots -- as they sat in a small puddle beside the door to my garage. 

Oh, winter boots, I'm over you.  A break-up would be cruel on Valentine's Day, but if I could, I'd end our ongoing relationship and replace you with cute flats, strappy sandals, or the carefree pleasure of bare feet.

It's not just the boots; my entire winter wardrobe has become predictably layered and utilitarian, which is why it's high-time for me to officially launch a new blog series called Focus on Fashion that'll run each Friday during February.  (High five for alliteration, eh?) 

As a preface, I must mention that I love bargains.  I buy a good portion of my clothes on clearance and at resale shops, but there's one rule that I adhere to firmly:

Don't settle.

I used to buy clothes based on the attractiveness of the price tag instead of the attractiveness of the garment.  Sure, a shirt for $2.99 seems enticing, but it's only useful if you'll actually wear it.  While trying on clothing in the fitting room, if you shrug at your reflection and think, "I guess that'll do," then hold off on that purchase.

When I shop now, I look for items that will meet a need in my wardrobe and make me feel pulled together.  I'm a jeans and tee-shirt girl at heart, so I play off this even while dressing for work.  Over the last year, I've picked up a few blazers that add either a pop of color or professionalism.

Start with the basics: white tee shirt and jeans.

Then instantly dress up the look with a polished blazer and a statement necklace.

You also could add a splash of color and a punchy pendant.  (If you're wondering what I'm looking at on my ceiling, I don't know.  A bug?  A Barbie dangling from the light fixture?  It's a mystery.)

What about you?  Are you bored with your winter wardrobe and ready to break up with your snow boots?  (See you next Friday for another Focus on Fashion post!)

For the curious sort:
White tee shirt: Loft (purchased on sale for $6)
Jeans (top and middle pictures): American Rag (purchased close to ten years ago for $20)

Jeans (bottom picture): Loft (purchased on sale for $9.99)
Gray Blazer: Bitten by Sarah Jessica Parker (purchased at a resale shop for $8)
Fuchsia Blazer: Express (purchased at a resale shop for $12)

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My Kitchen Table Looked This Way

Although I haven't fully determined whether this is a good or bad trait, I've become a master at blocking things out.  Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to grade the speeches my students had presented that morning, pushing aside an overturned box of Legos and stacking Play Doh to claim my own small corner of the kitchen table.

Yes, this is where my deep thinking happens these days.

Barbies hover from the light fixture overhead, like a hot pink angelic host.

They've been dangling there for weeks in full sight, yet I hardly see them anymore.

In many ways, blocking things out is a valuable practice.  Necessary, even.  (I'm not sure about you, but if I didn't block out extraneous stimulation, I'd be on such sensory overload that I'd never accomplish anything!) 

But today I wanted to focus on these details.  I wanted to chronicle that on this day, I graded speeches in the midst of Legos, Play Doh, and Barbies, as my youngest daughter circled around me, singing and chatting and playing.

These sights and sounds and messes are a constant backdrop to my current life -- so ordinary, so everyday, so taken-for-granted.  Afternoons won't always look this way, though.  Neither will my kitchen table or my light fixture.

Today, I want to document that it did look this way.

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Making My Problem, His Problem

A few days back, I mentioned that I lost my keys and flash drive.  Like a detective, I've pieced together enough details to know that I left the flash drive plugged into the USB port at the computer at the front podium in 312 Boucke, a multipurpose classroom in a high-traffic building on the campus where I teach.  The professor who uses the room after me saw the keys, but left them in their place.  By the time I returned to the room that evening, they were gone.

Despite the note I left at the podium inquiring of their whereabouts, despite my two trips to student union building to visit the lost key receptacle (a sad plastic box where hundreds of keys meet their final resting place), and despite my diligence to seek out staff assistants and janitors and random passers-by to ask if they've seen the keys, they've never turned up.

It's been nearly two weeks.  I'm giving up the ghost.  I'll be filling out the paperwork for a new office key and purchasing a new flash drive tomorrow.

Regardless of this disappointing result, there's a refreshing part of this story.  My friend from church heard about my situation and shared it with her husband who works as a tech guy on campus.

He approached me and asked what classrooms I used, typing in the locations into his phone.  He visited each classroom, unlocking the podiums to check if the keys had fallen through any cracks to the dusty floor beneath.  He went out of his way to ask the janitors if anything had turned up.  Then, he made a point to check in again and give me an update.

The thing is, he didn't have to do any of this.  It wasn't his problem.  It's not his job to trek across campus in blustery weather to chase after my lost keys.  And yet, he made my problem, his problem.

I was so touched, so appreciative.  He shrugged it off as a simple gesture: "Of course I'd try to help."

Sometimes, our gestures -- whether we seem them as large or small -- speak volumes to others.  This man's gestures reminded me about the character of God, a God who gets invested in our issues, who cares enough to get involved in our messes.

So, I've never found the keys, but once again, I've found that kind actions can speak loudly.

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Do What's Most Important. Now. Really.

It's almost midnight.  I normally don't start writing a blog post at this hour, but I wanted to capture something that might get lost in the hustle of tomorrow.

Today, I had great intentions of exercising before church.  I didn't, though, because I needed to spend individual time with one of my daughters who's been going though a rough time.  We talked together for a half hour while lying in her bed.

Today, I had great intentions of grading 15 more assignments.  I didn't, though, because I spent the afternoon with my family before friends joined us for dinner.  We worked on valentines and then had a wonderful meal.

Today, I had great intentions of writing an important blog post.  I didn't write that post, though, because I was too busy living. 

No, today I didn't exercise, grade as many assignments as I wanted, or write that important blog post.

I wrote this post instead.  It's probably better.

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My Missing Keys and a Lesson In Failure

I like to think I'm organized.  I dislike clutter, twitch when objects are aren't evenly aligned, and adhere to the credo a place for everything and everything in its place.  But then there's my keys.  Or, more aptly given my current situation, there's not my keys, because I've misplaced them. 


Keys are my organizational nemesis.  And this particular missing set not only contains the key to my office on campus, but also is attached to a flash drive that contains all of my documents, handouts, lessons, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations for the classes that I teach.

Even though I have this content backed up elsewhere, I hate the fact that it's out there, wherever "there" is.  I'd be more comfortable knowing that the set was at the bottom of a dumpster, never to be seen again, rather than speculating that it's been plucked by someone who plans to use my work materials for nefarious purposes. 

Not that there are many nefarious purposes for lecture notes on rhetoric and public speaking, of course, but you catch my drift.

The evening I first realized that the keys were missing, I dragged my children to campus to retrace my steps and scour the various classrooms where I teach.  I'll spare you the extended details -- the illegal parking spot and subsequent encounter with a campus parking officer; the desperate, dashing trips to two different restrooms because my three-year-old had downed an entire bottle of Gatorade before getting in the car; the unsure footing on slippery sidewalks as I promised the girls that the next building was just a little farther; and the frustrating absence of keys in each classroom despite my belief that they'd eventually materialize if I simply searched long and hard enough.

Needing comfort at the end of our unsuccessful venture, I drove to a local dairy where I treated the girls to ice cream and drowned my sorrows with a milkshake.  (Milkshakes always make bad situations a little better.)

It was only keys, I knew, but my irritation, directed solely at my own absentmindedness, rooted itself deeply.  The thread of frustration wove an intricate web, tangling and snaring my thoughts.  How disorganized, scatterbrained, thoughtless, and irresponsible I was!

Do you ever think like this?  Do small mistakes ever escalate in your mind?  Does one short-tempered afternoon convince you that you've irrevocably failed as a mother and screwed up your kids?  Does one awkward encounter with an acquaintance make you question your basic social skills and capacity for intelligent dialogue?  Do you ever leave a failed situation feeling like it's not just the situation -- but  you -- that's the failure?

I've answered yes to all of these questions before.  Perhaps you can relate.  We've all messed up.  We've all overthought those mess-ups.

Over the past year, I've grown more self-aware about my thinking toward failure.  As a result, I've learned to take my thoughts captive more quickly so I can pick through what's true (yes, I lost my keys) and discard what's false (no, I'm not an irresponsible, incompetent bad human).   I'm learning to redefine failure and view it more productively, debunking the default assumption that failure is inherently bad (it's not), or that it's final (it isn't).

Those lost keys?  I'm not letting them define me today. 

No, I choose to believe other things about myself -- those things which God says about me: that I'm loved, that I've forgiven, that I'm covered, that I'm made righteous -- instead of what that pesky little inner voice might protest. 

P.S. I sense that this post isn't yet finished.  For one, I'm still hoping against hope that I'll find those keys.  That's optimism for you, my friends.  Two, thoughts are still churning; there's more to be said about failure.  What about you?  Can you relate to the questions above?

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Snow Days Are Even Better As Adults

Before going to sleep last night, I placed my cell phone on the nightstand beside my bed.  The weather forecast had called for 4-8 inches of snow overnight, the girls were certain that school would be cancelled, and I wondered if my morning classes on campus would be impacted.

Our campus doesn't shut down readily.  I can count on one hand the number of times weather has disrupted any university activity over the past decade.

But today, it happened.  Today, I woke up, rolled over, grabbed my cell phone, and squinted into its bright screen to read the text alert that the university would be operating on a two hour delay.

I'm still wearing slippers.  We've already baked cupcakes.  The neighbor kids have come over.  They're building a couch-cushion fort in the basement while the snow from their boots melts onto the floor mat at our front door.

It's as good as a snow day as they come.

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This Might Be More Entertaining than Tonight's Game

Whether you'll be watching the game tonight, hanging out at a gathering just for the food, ignoring the Super Bowl entirely, or supporting another event (three cheers for Groundhog's Day, anyone?), I think you'll enjoy this Bad Lip Reading of the NFL clip. 

I happen to love 0:40 -0:53:  "Voldemort, yes I said Voldemort.  Dodads that scratch the wood, like scratchy things, you know?"

Here's wishing you a great evening, no matter how you spend it.

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