Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows

I carry your sadness around with me, like a blister in my mouth.

An affliction that I want to release to all that will listen, but that I feel I must let fester for a time in some sort of solidarity. That to keep your pain closed inside the drawer of my friendship is an honor that I suffer with dignity (even if I wear it on my face so obviously), before unburdening it into every passing ear, turning it into tabloid and dinner talk so that I can spread my horror over a larger area, like a caustic jam.

I become trembling with art and metaphor as I try and siphon off this parcel of sickness, burning in my gut, my heart, my esophagus, the forefront of my mind. If I can just skip it on down the river on little rafts the size of leaves, I can alleviate the pressure slowly, gently, quietly, without dropping a casket of missiles on the group of my loved ones who are usually sacrificed in this way.

What is the proper amount of time that I should wrestle and wretch over a sister's pain before I allow myself to let it fly away, become the past, and never have to feel it in 3D again? I can find no median between that and descending into the underworld where I immerse myself in others' open wounds, step by step, stroke by stroke, strum by strum, sway by sway, a black lamb bound to the alter of my own empathy, blood bubbling in the holy moat there surrounded.

I am honored when a friend shares what is tragic, and I ingest the poison as a gift. But it boils in my belly and wants to come up again. I am afraid that if I open my mouth it will come out and float before me like a demon, and in being given new life by my tongue, it will have the power to turn and and consume me, ratcheting its jaws over my head, choking on me bit by bit until I am devoured.

Today I climbed to the top of a tower overlooking the city, and I could see the clasped hands of Our Lady of Sorrows reaching above the heads of homes and establishments, parting the sky with her fingertips. I thought about a church named Sorrow and of the Mother who bore those sorrows. Seven daggers in her heart. What a grand and melancholy name for a church. Majestic and solemn. What sorrows must those walls encompass, what tragedies there enshrined. What sorrows were caused because of that place, what sorrows released?

She is like a vessel for the heartbreaks of her people, but unlike me, her walls are thick and hold all that anguish within, dutifully, steadfastly, in confidence. And when the candles are lit, the smoke of those sorrow offerings rise up through her steeple, through her upstretched, intertwined arms and are released unto her God, who in his infinite is absorbs them, even as they break his heart.

Photographs by Dmitry Anisimov

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our 2018 Wedding: Flora and Fauna

Tomorrow is my 6th wedding anniversary with Jonas, and 9 (!) years of us being a couple. If you're looking for sentimentality or advice, may I direct you to previous posts under the Holy Matrimony Batman tag (on the right side bar if you're viewing on a computer). This year, Jonas and I have been tag-teaming a variety of illnesses for the past 3+ weeks, our county endured the largest wildfire in California history, only to be covered in a catastrophic avalanche when it finally rained last week, and we recently discussed that we'll continue our practice of not giving each other gifts or going on getaways on occasions just because "that's what you do." (We both prefer spontaneous shopping and saving up for traveling abroad.)

Our anniversary is not feeling very romantic this year, but I still amuse myself by noticing just how much we've grown and changed since getting together as teenagers. And also how much we haven't changed. I've re-imagined what our wedding might have looked like had we gotten married recently, in light of my growing adoration of flowers and Jonas' growing collection of preserved wildlife.

The theme would be Flora and Fauna, which, in my mind, naturally bends toward the Victorian Macabre. It's a blend of the primitive and the ornate, the vibrancy of life in the clutches of death. A cabinet of curiosities. I envision iridescent beetles, crumbling scientific labels, strangling vines, and lush embroidered velvets. Charcuterie boards spilling over with bleeding pomegranates and dripping candle wax. The venue would be an abandoned Conservatory, guests are invited to be costumey, and the bride would wear a cape (obviously).

These images are from all over Pinterest. I don't mean to steal anyone's work, so I can track down a source if you really, really need it for some reason. 

Happy Anniversary to us. I'm delighted to have someone to grow weirder with with each passing year. Maybe in a few years we'll be celebrating in good health in some exotic vacation spot. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Style Icon: Amal Clooney

I didn't watch the Golden Globes and I don't know that much about Oprah, but whether it was a joke or for real that she is considering running for the presidency in 2020, it made me realize with sadness and faint horror that we will probably never have another president who isn't a celebrity in media or politics. Name recognition is everything, and while there are exceptions I'm sure, gaining name recognition often seems to go with losing some integrity.

That said, one of my dream presidential candidates is Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin). I have given this enough serious thought that I looked up her political record (knowing she is a human rights lawyer), and realized she is not American, but British-Lebanese. In fact, she is Druze, a minority group within Islam that I did my undergrad thesis on. Under current US laws, Amal can never be the president, but one can dream! She's still an amazing woman that I admire. Among other high-profile cases and clients, one of her primary career objectives is to hold ISIS accountable for its actions (war crimes) in legal terms. Having a basset hound is a huge plus too. :D Not to mention 70s street-style vibes.

She is also a very stylish women, and mom of twins. She's not the most creative dresser, but I can get behind sleek and classic for sure. Her hair is flawless all the time, and I just think she's beautiful in general. I like it when celebrities (George Clooney) marry "real world" people, and human rights lawyers are my favorite kind of celebrities. In other exciting fashion/celebrity news, Amal will be co-chairing the 2018 Met Gala, which is themed "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination." It has the potential be truly weird and wonderful, which is just what the Met Gala should be! I can't wait to see the decor and how the guests, including Amal, interpret the theme. I'm envisioning lots of gilded looks inspired by iconography or the robes of officials in the church.

Here are some of my favorite looks of hers. I think the purple gown is lovely, and it illustrates how well she does old-school Hollywood, but it is on the safe side for sure. I wish her Halloween costume with the big hair was a look she wore at other times in the year too. The black overlay on that sequin gown is beautiful and edging into creative territory, but my favorite of these four looks is the retro silver two-piece with pink fur. It really suits her.

Here are some more of my favorite examples of how elegant and classic her style is, also both reminiscent of earlier eras.

I always approve of a good jumpsuit, I think the turban is SO chic (not crazy about the dress), and this last look is a perfectly updated nod to mod (even the earrings are on point). Which is your favorite of her looks?

Whose style have you been admiring lately, and which women would you vote for in 2020? 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 In Review & 2018 Goals

What a tumultuous time. I have a partially written post trying to dissect my thoughts on 10 years in the US that was marked in 2017, but suffice to say it's a bewildering era to call America home and I feel the general sense of national uncertainty bleeding into my personal life. It's not all negative, but it's definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone which can be lonely and scary, even as it's exciting and rewarding. It's a time of transition on many levels.

Before I get into my personal year, I realized that my peers now send out Christmas cards and newsletters and I'm falling down on the job here in terms of updates about family life. I'll give the people what they want! Jonas has now been working at DenMat in Lompoc (making artificial teeth) for a year. He enjoys the work and is heavily involved in trading Ramen packets between his Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino coworkers. The potluck ladies of South East Asia gave his fried rice the stern nod of approval, so he's working on making a new life goal. He continues to draw at home but is considering finishing his degree in something related to wildlife conservation. A highlight of this year for him was seeing the Black Angels play in San Diego, and he has been fostering a love for legos and transformers with our boys. Ishmael turned 5 in the fall and has been going to Transitional Kindergarten at Joe Nightingale. He loves school and eagerly practices letters and numbers. He can read simple words. He is especially good at puzzles and is learning to ride a bike! Ira turned 3 in the summer and will probably start preschool in the fall. He adores his brother and is all about copying him, but also has a distinctly funny and quirky personality. He loves to sing and dance and generally entertain everyone. Thanks in part to his brother, Ira is doing a great job counting.

(sorry the resolution isn't great, I screengrabbed off Instagram where I collected these photos under #we_bo2017 if you're THAT into my life, lolz) Highlights in pictures: Top row - floral projects (all foraged!), Ishmael's first time correctly spelling his name plus an adorable drawing of me pregnant with him; Middle row - various outfits for various occasions, an island in Thailand; Bottom row- jungle-y AirBnB we loved in Thailand, lunch with some interfaith ladies, beautiful green hills after a very wet spring of 2017. 

My biggest goal for 2017 was to finish college, and I did!!! Sort of...
I found out in August that I had two outstanding GE courses that weren't covered by transfer credits or major credits. I finished all my classes in November, but have two extra tests that I'm studying for in hopes of testing out of those missing courses. As relieved and excited as I am to have worked so hard to finish school, that little bump in the road of took the wind out of my sails in terms of finishing school this year and made it made my timeline such that there is no clear time at which to celebrate having finished. I am sad about that, but also proud of myself for doing my best and marking a huge personal achievement. The highlights of my schooling this year were an Arabic literature class (my favorite class of the past 4+ years), beginning to learn Arabic, and my research project on the intersection of the Druze sect and modern Islam.

I am scared and lost and confused about what comes now - I am considering grad school since we're still about 3 years out from having both sons in full-day school and all of the types of jobs I'm interested in require a masters or several years of experience. The prospect of job hunting in general is very overwhelming and I hope that in 2018 I can pursue some leads and develop a more concrete picture of what my options might be and how to work those into our life. Everyone asks me what job I want, and in a nutshell: I want to continue fostering interfaith community in our city, I want to continue writing and developing/honing skill and discipline in that area, I am interested in continuing language studies in Arabic and Farsi, and I would love to make short-term trips for work, so I am dreaming of teaching writing/art workshops abroad in a summer-school scenario so that I can combine travel/art/writing/language immersion.

Other notable things of 2017: Jonas and I traveled around Thailand in February which was our first trip abroad together! We were dazzled by the beautiful limestone islands in the Andaman Sea. // We had many wonderful dinners with various friends, for which my life is richer (special mention to our neighborhood friends the Jones' for hosting us 7 times!!!). I'm so thankful to have dinner parties be a regular part of our life and we look forward to continuing this trend... forever! Also, my dear friend Michelle had the most perfect twin boys and I never tire of holding them and being in awe. // I've made many new friends in our city-community this year as I pursue getting to know the local Muslim community and get involved in our inter-faith community group. This process has been much slower than I expected (and made me ask difficult questions about my motives and goals, which I don't have air-tight answers for), but I am learning a great deal about my own faith and am looking forward to facilitating more casual cooking lessons and food sharing among our community members. // In random fun stuff, I finally made it to the Rose Bowl flea market (which did not disappoint), and saw Regina Spektor and Elbow in concert (separately), as well as Hamilton! The hype is warranted, I actually choked up during a stage production.

Best media of 2017: I read so much, but almost exclusively for school. My favorite book from the Arabic Lit class was Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. // The best movies I watched (few of which actually came out in 2017) were A Man Called Ove, Turbo Kid, The Best Offer, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Silence (favorite movie in a long, long time), Ladybird (surprised it wasn't darker), and I Am Not Your Negro (not an exaggeration to say it has been contributing to changing my day-to-day life). // I was underwhelmed by new music in general, though I did enjoy the new Killers album (Wonderful Wonderful) and I was interested by Nitty Scott and Jhene Aiko.

Highlights in pictures: Top row - took the boys to the Monterrey Aquarium in December, Friendsgiving, meeting the Gee twins in October; Middle row -  Jonas and I participated in a chalk festival, Welch kids weekend in San Diego (missing Julia), one of my favorite foraged bouquets of the year; Bottom row - visiting with our friend Nabila, finally finished my painting!, visited Palm Springs and the Salton Sea with Annelise and Genna in the summer. 

We accomplished some momentous things this year, and part of me is struggling as I try to find new goals to replace the old ones. Finishing school has been a 10 year journey for me, so I'm definitely feeling a bit of a chasm that there's no easy way to fill in (with the absence of a perfect job landing in my lap). I don't want to avoid having goals at all just because I can't see their shape right now or I'm afraid of not meeting them, so here are my more concrete, if not super momentous, hopes and targets for 2018:

  • Read books. Looking forward to carving out consistent to time to become an avid reader again.
  • More communal cooking. I'm really pumped to get more informal cooking lessons from various people in our community, both in their homes and ours. I believe in this model for building relationships so much, and I've seen it start to work and it's incredibly rewarding and exciting and I can't wait to put more energy into this in 2018. 
  • Cook from cookbooks. I have so many beautiful cook books but usually reach for my phone or a magazine instead, so I want to start utilizing my books!
  • Dual Immersion. I'm hoping to get Ishmael into a Spanish-English school program for Kindergarten (and on through the rest of elementary) which is out of our district, but something that I think is really important for several reasons. I hope he'll be as into it as I am. I hope that he can thrive with the added challenge after the initial switch, which I'm anticipating could be difficult. 
  • See a chiropractor. Not glamorous, but I have some chronic neck and shoulder pain which I finally realized might be fixable. I'm putting this on the list because setting up appointments and handling insurance etc. etc. is a hurdle for me. 
  • Roller derby! I am considering joining a team partly because I love to roller skate, but also because it's the one form of exercise I might look forward to and I think it will help me be more involved in our city. And let's be honest, I need an outlet for my aggression (jkjkjk). 
  • Mexico City??? I don't know how practical it is, but I always want to be traveling more and whether or not this makes actual sense, Mexico seems like a good vacation in which to ease into traveling abroad with kids. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Unto Us A Revolutionary Savior is Born

At this time of year, maybe particularly this year, I get excited about Jesus’s birth and what it meant for the world then and now. There are so many passages in the Bible that burn in my heart, reminding me that the day is coming when all is made right.
Isaiah 9:7 KJV - Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

But I also remember the people who were waiting so long for a savior at the time of Jesus’ birth, and then were confused and disappointed that he was slow to anger, offering grace to their oppressors in equal measure to the grace he offered the Jews. He did not come to overthrow the government that was crushing them. At least not at that time, or this time.

This is the mystery of Christmas – that Jesus came to save the wicked as much as he came to save the those being beaten and downtrodden without a space to gasp between injustices. I sit in this remembrance, weighing my hunger to see his justice flow like a mighty river, washing away the oppressors. Then realizing that I would be swept away in that same flood if His justice was complete, because I have oppressed and harmed and sinned, myself.
Amos 5:18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light.
So we continue to wait and to pray for him to return quickly and heal this land, but also work to reach our oppressors with the message of grace and hope, while we also cry out for justice and work for justice and demand justice.
2 Thessilonians 2:8-10 NIV - And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  
Amos 5 - 7There are those who turn justice into bitterness    and cast righteousness to the ground...10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court    and detest the one who tells the truth...12-13 For I know how many are your offenses  and how great your sins.There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 
Daniel 2 - 44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
With these promises tumbling around inside me, and my mind on this God who took on flesh as a baby to save us from all manner of sins and oppression,  I've been Googling phrase after phrase from the Bible, trying to have a better understanding of how Jesus' word and example fit in with my desire to see social change in my country, right now. 

Without a doubt, the hardships faced by the Jews under Herod, the King of Judea (supported by the Romans) during the time of Jesus were more terrible than nearly anything in modern memory. I can only imagine the blow it must have been to someone such as myself, had I been alive at the time, that Jesus was not coming to overthrow Herod or the Romans. But neither do I believe that Jesus thought political issues or issues of social justice unimportant. Mainly, he contextualizes the troubles of the Now in the broader light of the Eternal. In the sense of the Eternal, both the oppressed and the oppressors are in need of the grace of God. Jesus doesn't ignore the fact that people are suffering tremendously in the Now, but stresses that his work at this time (the time of his life on Earth and all time since) is the extension of grace, and that on some terrible day in the future, he will make sure that those who won't turn away from oppressing others will be dealt with.  

One thing that struck me as I read various bits and pieces about Jesus and his words about authority and governments is that if he had overthrown Rome as I would have liked, it would have been all over right then and there and his message of justice may not have had quite the staying power that it does otherwise. He would have been remembered like we remember MLK - incredible in his time, but gone now.

You've probably seen through my thinly veiled hints that I'm not cool with President T and his various oppressions. Like I said, I'm not trying to compare him to Herod-levels-of-badness (which is not fully detailed in the Bible) or even equate him with "the lawless one" of 2 Thessalonians. But I do think he is an unjust ruler who does not act in a way that warrants respect. I've been trying to reconcile that with these passages in the Bible about respecting authority. The oft-quoted one is in Romans 13, which pretty plainly says that those in a positions of authority have been placed there by God and that anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and will be punished. This is contextualized by the idea that authority is there to enforce that the people do what is right and punish what is wrong. "For authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you" (Romans 13:3 NLT; also touched on in 1 Peter 2:11). 

Bob Deffinbaugh writesIt should also be said that government’s God-given role also frees the Christian from returning “evil for evil” by retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat him (see Romans 12:14-21). God has not given us the task of administering justice or of paying men back for their wrong-doings. God has given this task to governmental authorities. When we “leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19), we leave room for government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government “bears the sword”79 for such purposes. And if government should fail in this task, God will make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.

But what are we to do today when the authorities assist the wicked and oppress the righteous? When the government does *not* honor us for doing what is right? I suspect that any thoughtful Christian holds his or her political beliefs in part as a byproduct of their faith, and I recognize that people can act on their beliefs and land in very different political stratospheres. There's not much I can say if you agree with Trump's policies, but I believe he cares for no one but himself, and is almost thoughtless in the things he says and does in relationship to others, which is appalling to me. Not only does he not seem to care who he tramples on, he consistently goes out of his way to attack people. I feel overwhelmed with the examples I could cite, but I won't get in to that because if you don't already agree with that, then I probably won't be the one to change your mind. Suffice to say that each new day makes me wish that God was a bit more speedy in wielding justice from on high. 
In the very next passage in Romans (following the bit on submission) Paul is talking about how different believers have different ideas on what to eat or not eat or which days are holy or whether all days are equal. His conclusion is that even though people come down on different sides of these issues, both "camps" are doing what they do to honor God. "You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable" (Romans 14:5). I am fully convinced that I should defend the vulnerable, and not be shy about telling our elected leaders where they're failing. (Mind blown: is democracy Biblical? Who is the authority in this case? Short of the sovereignty of God, God is not appointing leaders, we are. I might have just started a cult.) 

There are some examples in the Bible of people who directly defied a ruler or authority who demanded they go against a command of God. It's different than just *not liking* a ruler. In the old Testament (before Jesus and the inconvenient talk about respecting earthly authority), we have Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel who refused the Babylonian king's order to bow down to an idol (Daniel 3). One might recall that they get fed into a furnace for their insubordination. Then in the New Testament there were Peter and John who respectfully disagree with the Sanhedrin who demand that Peter and John stop preaching and healing in the name of Jesus (Acts 4). I noticed that in this passage, the text says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he defended his actions before the Sanhedrin. Surrounding both of these stories, those who watch the dissenters are in awe of God and believe. The work of resistors is a weighty one indeed, for the resistor makes a public spectacle of her beliefs. 

Dissent is not forbidden by any means, but the scriptures do seem to make clear that respect for authority means that by dissenting, we accept the consequences of the law. Even unjust laws have consequences. Again, resistance is not for the flippant. If that which we resist is truly against the tasks that Christ has given us, then our punishment for resisting the law becomes persecution. 
Matthew 5:9-12. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and celebrate, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.
Respect doesn't exclude strong language or political action as far as I can see, but it does clearly exclude revenge. Right before the bit in Romans 3 about submission to authority, there's a call to avoid seeking revenge (and I can't deny that it excites me that there's an accompanying promise that God WILL take revenge) and that by caring for your enemies, "you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads" (also one of my favorites - you get a sense of my personality by now). These assurances are directly proceeded, however, by the admonition to "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone." 

I have both the authority and the obligation to oppose what is wrong as dictated by God - even/especially if those in authority are perpetuating it. But in doing this, I must respect every person, leader or not, because of their humanity and the fact that they are made in the image of God. I am at liberty to disobey authority at times, but there may be consequences from the law. I can be full of anger and sadness at injustice and the leaders who have twisted their power to oppress others, and I can keep my hope in God who can and will hold accountable those who I can not seek revenge on on my own. 
2 Philippians3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others...12-18 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Fellow agitators who sometimes wish Jesus was sending flaming arrows down RIGHT NOW: Jesus has not abandoned us or chosen not to care about the daily issues that plague us, including the political ones. His model of dissent preserves our credibility and reserves the ultimate triumph of full justice for the last, last, last possible moment. I can't help but think that I would indeed feel immediate horror and regret if I were to witness the true wrath of God inflicted on someone else right in front of my face. I would wish they had another chance. I would wish that I had another chance. And I will be thankful, in a small and begrudging way (and also in a desperately relieved way), that Jesus did not come as the Savior that I was expecting him to be.

(Artwork: unknown artists, except the last which is Hopi Madonna and Child by John Guiliani)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How to Stuff a Stocking

I don't know how it is in your family, but stockings are often cited as the best part of gifting in our house (and my husband's, growing up!). It also seems to be something that everyone does a little differently - price wise, and content wise. Sometimes it's hard for me to find enough stuff to fill a stocking, or other times I have plenty of stuff but I blow my entire gift budget filling it. I don't have a "right" way that I'm pushing, but I still wanted to share some of my ideas and hopefully glean some good ones from you guys.

The Stocking Itself
First of all, I believe that the stocking itself should be a meaningful. There are seriously oodles of cool ones. Personally, I'm not too into the matching ones, the monogrammed ones, or teeny ones. But that excludes most people's stockings, so don't listen to me....

My family (except for me, incidentally) has hand-knit ones which aren't exactly stunningly beautiful, but they are personal and special. My mother in law made my boys' stockings that have Chinese silk on one side - Ishmael's even has dragons for his Chinese zodiac sign! My brother in law (sister's husband) has an enormous one that is twice the size of anyone else's in our family and we ridicule him mercilessly.

I think these kantha stockings from Little Moon Clothing are beautiful, available here. I like the earlier version (I'd saved an image from their Instagram last year, inset) even better! World Market also has some that I love this year, like this embroidered floral one, and this llama one (eeee!).

A fellow artist/seller on Instagram @OurTribeMarket posted this photo of her family's stockings and shared their tradition of adding a new piece of trim each year. Isn't that neat?! I love the way they look.

Traditional Stocking Stuffers
I didn't look up any historical stocking stuffers or anything, but I did want to mention some items that are on heavy rotation in our family. Part of the trick of stuffing a stocking well is to balance truly exciting things with some more affordable "space takers". One other thing I want to mention that I read somewhere is the "rule" of buying every-day-ish things that someone else can't really justify buying for themselves very often, like beef jerky! I'm never not excited to be given beef jerky.

Fruit and nuts - Growing up, we always got a larger piece of fruit and pistachios as filler in between small toys or other items. The fruit was often special, like a mango (especially if mangoes were hard to come by) or a pomegranate. We never had pistachios as a snack during the rest of the year, so that was a treat too, even though I would now put it into the "filler" category.

Unique collections - For a few years in a row, I got Jonas a netsuke (a small Japanese carving) and he got me music boxes, but we haven't stuck to that religiously. This year I bought all my boys an owl-related ornament because of the two owls that live in our yard, but annual ornaments from multiples factions of our family can become a little overwhelming so I probably won't do that every year.

*To the right, here, is a picture of what I put in my little boys' stockings last year. The Spiderman thing is one of those washclothes that expand in water. Once I've picked out some nicer things (action figure, stuffed toy, etc.) I usually go to the Dollar store and top it off with whatever little things I can find. The struggle for me is not buying junk just so I can fill a stocking, because you know I'm the one that is then driven crazy by the amount of useless little bobbles in our house.*

Self-care - My mom often put mascara or razors in our stockings. Even if we didn't need them right away, it was always nice not to have to buy those things for yourself. Those things were often somewhat of a luxury on their own during our years in China, too. Last year, she bought my little boys some soap in special shapes to make bath time even *more* exciting. If you have kids, I'm sure you know how much they love special band aids. And while it's not exactly self-care, last year I put a pack of batteries in each boy's stocking for their new and old toys that need them.

The fun stuff - Everything else requires some creativity. Some of my favorites are an issue of a niche magazine, rollerball perfumes from Sephora (though those will still set you back like $25), smaller-amount gift cards, pins and patches for denim jackets or bags, a handwritten letter or small drawing, a special pocket square or tie, "special things" for your spouse (interpret as you will), and specialty candies like my personal favorite, double salt black licorice. (Probably don't put that in most people's stockings though, they'll think you hate them, lol). Grocery Outlet has a good selection of Lindor chocolates, and sometimes fancy gummy bears and Haribo products too. For your healthy family members (blehhhh), Trader Joe's has the best and most affordable selection of dried fruit and nuts (I love the dried orange slices and chili lime cashews). Other specialty food items (like pomegranate molasses, for my Ottolenghi fans) would be exciting for the chefs in your life.

*Here's what I put in my husband Jonas' stocking last year. The rolled up cloth is a button-down shirt, the little brown bottles were supposed to be for his taxidermy collections, but I was having a really hard time finding the kind of thing I was envisioning. He's been using these little ones to hold tiny feathers he finds. The box that says "Andar" is a slim wallet that he really needed, and the thingy next to it is a carved gourd that I found at a thrift store. He really likes to drink yerba mate, which is an Argentinian tea-like drink usually drunk from a gourd. The jar is home-made passion fruit jam that my friend Coreen made, and that cheese has caramelized onions which is so good, but I don't usually buy it because the taste and smell stays with you for everrrr.*

This list has lots of ideas, my favorite probably being diaper genie refill bags. I never had a diaper genie, but I heard that the bags were a bit expensive and that's such a nice thing to not have to spend your own money on. One thing that I didn't see on there that I just remembered was a roll up measuring tape. I'm sure you could find a much cheaper not-vintage one than this, but it is super handy to have in your bag (at least for me). I also liked the idea of spices and flower seeds, among others. I also got a kick out of these "lumps of coal" although you could probably upgrade to pumice or some other fancy self-care version?!

Do you have fun stocking memories or traditions or ideas? Do tell!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

8 Things I've Learned about Hospitality

It feels so rare, and therefore special, to be invited to people's homes to eat, don't you think? I don't think it should be rare. The funny thing is is that when you start inviting people to eat with you, they'll begin to invite you over too, and before long, you'll find that you're eating with friends quite often, just as it should be, in my opinion. Hosting is an exercise in community building.

My mom has always been an incredible hostess. We have different hosting styles now (yeah, that's definitely a thing), but even as a kid, it was easy to see how grateful and warm everyone felt when they got to be in her home, eating her food, surrounded by the company she invited in. Once you experience that environment, you'll spend your life trying to recreate those evenings.

I've been cooking for a long time, but only recently began making an effort to host, or in situations in which we can't host, coordinate gatherings so that we get to see and eat with new and old friends regularly. Hosting used to feel very daunting to me, but it's become so enjoyable that I wanted to share some of the ways that I make sure that "communal dinners" (lols, how millennial Christian am I rn?!) are a regular part of my life.

(illustration by Donald Chaffin)

1. In the interest of regularity, I keep most gatherings small.  Sometimes I get carried away and want to invite all of my friends and loved ones and liked ones to the same gathering, especially when it's a celebration of some specific event. When I plan that kind of party though, I get very overwhelmed and decide not to do it. Instead of not having a get together at all, I am now trying to have more regular small gatherings and I also keep a list of people I'd like to invite over, and then if I know in advance that I'll have extra food or we don't have a crazy day planned, I'll just invite a person or a couple over to share the meal our family was going to eat any way. It's not always festive, but people will still feel special, and kinda like they're part of your family. If they ask and you agree to let them bring dessert or a bottle of wine, it gets a little like a party anyway!

2. A lot of hosting and organizing is about leadership and assertiveness - suggesting an idea and seeing it through. Being the one to coordinate others getting together and who can bring what, etc. This logistics part is what keeps a lot of people from throwing events, I think. This goes hand in hand with some of the other points, but sometimes just sending out a text saying, "hi friends, let's organize something!" is the difference between a gathering happening or not happening. I also then take the lead in suggesting a list of food or other duties that people can volunteer for (rather than assigning). So, the takeaways: 1) just ask!, and 2) follow up at various stages. Also, I've stopped waiting to "get to know people well enough" to invite them over. Sometimes the invitation is so that we can get to know them.

3. I've also learned that hosting doesn't need to be grand - literally no one else cares as much as I do whether the candles match the theme, or whether there's a theme at all. To be honest, even a dish or two that flops will be overlooked when there's good company. Perfectionism will also get in the way of you getting together with people, so just set it aside and know that you're your own worst critic.

4. Let other people help. I believe in this practice for many reasons. For one thing, help is awesome: I love to delegate items that other people can bring if they offer, like dessert or a drink or a salad. But perhaps even more importantly, I think that letting people help is inclusive. People like to feel useful and appreciated, so use them and appreciate them! And don't say "I've got it covered" if you're actually frantically trying to finish preparing a meal. Have people chop vegetables, wash pots, or set the table. They won't mind, and it gives people a way to express their gratitude for being your guest.

5. I also believe in the power of the phrase "teach me." There are many things I am intimidated by in the kitchen (red meat, fish, bread) and other things that I've never heard of or not easily learned from the internet. Similar to letting people help, I think that genuinely wanting to learn from others and making space for that learning to happen - especially surrounding food - is an experience that can't be bought. It's a good way to get to know your neighbors and other people in your community or spend time with family members that you might not otherwise have a lot in common with. I also believe in "teach me" when it comes to volunteer work (which often involves food, in my experience). Sometimes it can be really humbling to be at the mercy of other people's good will, so I think that believing and treating people as if they have something of value to offer me is a natural way to show dignity and learn a recipe you wouldn't have access to otherwise.

6. Prep ahead and don't experiment with new recipes. I used to cook elaborate meals that I'd never practiced before, and by the time guests arrived, all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and be alone. Choose food that leaves you alive to enjoy time spent with people afterward. I break the "don't make new recipes to serve" rule frequently (and also, here's a shout out to my cousin Mark who is a fantastic host and was the one who gave me that advice), but for gatherings where I want to be as relaxed as possible (or other factors out of my control are making it stressful) I definitely go with tried and true recipes.

7. Provide atmosphere, but don't focus on it. I try not to obsess over the details, because then it becomes not-fun and I will easily talk myself out of a gathering in which I have to guess whether my guests are enjoying themselves. So without stressing over these things too much, I do think it's important/helpful to have appropriate music in the background (I tend to go with Motown if there isn't a specific theme or age to a group, because it's unlikely that anyone will hate it). I also serve alcohol when appropriate (which is all the time, unless your guests have religious or personal reasons for abstaining) because it always makes an otherwise regular meal feel like an occasion. Snacks or an pre-made appetizer before hand always make people happy, as does coffee with or after dessert. Finally, have some games in mind just in case conversation isn't flowing well or your guests don't know each other or there are kids! I do like having kid-free gatherings sometimes, but I also want to have a space where people feel like their whole family is welcome and they don't have to spend the evening babysitting their own kids. Some of our favorite games are Set, Spoons, Cards Against Humanity, or good old fashioned Duck Duck Goose with kids.

8. Clean up tomorrow. I know plenty of people are strongly in the "clean up right away" camp, but I like to relax after I've cooked a meal and have time to talk with my guests instead of cleaning. I try and clean as I go, but I don't worry about the dishes until the next day. Or often times, Jonas does clean up either to be helpful or because he needs a break from entertaining people. ;) Depending on the size of the gathering, sometimes people will insist on helping clean up, and then it can be fun if lots of people are cleaning and chatting, but generally we just skip that altogether. 

I used to think that hosting gatherings was going to be cost prohibitive. It doesn't have to be. I stick to recipes that I know I can do affordably (meat is usually not the main dish), I delegate alcohol, and I don't go crazy decorating (as much as I'd like to...). Hosting meals is almost always cheaper and more intimate (and even better tasting!) than eating out (goodbye, $15 cocktails...), and you'll probably get leftovers out of it.

Finally, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite recipes for gatherings:
1. This chicken with clementines and fennel never fails to impress.
2. A salad full of gross stuff like kale and brussel sprouts that is somehow amazing when all put together.
3. Deconstructed Thai-French food that is both fun and delicious.
4. A hearty (but not heavy) soup with great flavor that is perfect for winter.
5. Another bright flavored soup that is a fresh riff on a classic. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fall Post 2017

Hello Fall, old frienemy.

I feel a special fondness for people who don't like fall, because sometimes I feel like I'm the only one. When I find out there are others, I feel like I'm in a secret club where we dare not speak of our shared beliefs, but bare our burden in silence, knowing we'd otherwise be martyred by popular opinion on Facebook.

I've thought of several new reasons that I don't like fall, but rather than the aesthetics of it, I've tried to really consider the genuine feeling of distaste that I have. Part of it is habit now. In fact, I've made such a big deal about how fall isn't my favorite that people reach out to be me at the beginning of the season to comment on my well-being, or check that I won't be outraged at a pumpkin patch outing. It's both funny and ridiculous. I hope that I am capable of behaving like an adult and not making other people miserable as a byproduct of my own non-preference for this season.

One very practical reason that I've discovered why I don't like fall is because pants. Yep, pants. I don't have very many pairs of pants because my legs are not of particularly standard proportions and I'm too cheap to buy special pants. The pants that I do have aren't very comfortable because they mostly predate the Exodus of Humans from my Hips. They're uncomfortable now. The result of this unfortunate blend of circumstances is that when the weather turns, I realize that I am going to be perpetually cold and/or resign myself to wearing layers of baggy or fuzzy clothing to prevent feeling cold. This takes the joy out of dressing up for me, and sometimes that's a big part of my mood.

(I haven't bought these things yet, but upon applying some thought, I'm considering: thigh high velvet socks, turtle necks under jumpsuits, and corduroy, palazzo, harem, and velvet pants as possible solutions to not turning into a giant blanket in cold weather.)

Fall also feels like an uncertain time to me. On the Central Coast, our fall weather is almost always hotter than our summer weather, though the mornings are chillier and hot weather is punctuated by wind and the occasional colder day. It's an oddly difficult transition to make in my head. Commercial marketing and the general population are talking about fall, settling into school, gearing up for the holidays, etc. After a few onery days or weeks, I usually manage to find a silver lining or two, ONLY TO BE CONFUSED as the weather becomes scorching hot and everyone wants to go to the beach. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the biggest issue in the world, but considering that it does require some mental effort for me to shift out of summer, I do not appreciate this process being interrupted and prolonged.

Adjusting to fall is always a process of re-framing for me: finding how to tweak things that I don't like into things that I dislike slightly less, or simply declaring that something that I do like works for fall too. It's about realizing that the chill in the air also means a cozier bed and deeper sleep. It involves realizing that in terms of colors and decorations and appreciation for nature, natural doesn't always mean neutral, and also that unnatural is totally fine too. It's about embracing the drama of the fall lighting without descending into darkness. To those of you who are also very visual, maybe you understand how something so small could have such an affect. If you're not, I don't know what to tell ya... I get that this issue of fall colors and mood shouldn't really be a big deal. Yet I come back to this topic year after year because it truly seems to affect my life and I'm bothered that I can't seem to avoid it.

Fall feels lonely to me sometimes, because most people seem to lean into life, and I struggle to stay engaged during this time of the year. We have about 2 weeks left of cultural-fall (up until Halloween) and then everyone goes straight to Christmas mode, so with the help of some new (or old) pants, I think I'm gonna be just fine.

(Not-ugly fall photos from: 1) Pinterest - no better source available, 2-4) from @cannellevanille Instagram!) 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior

One of the biggest struggles of raising children for me has been grappling with the "could haves", "would haves" and "should haves" of what I'd imagined life would be like without children. Efficiency is my drug of choice, and children are not particularly efficient creatures. When I am most frustrated as a parent or with my life in general, I find that frustration often crystallizing into anger that my role and responsibilities as a mother get in the way of everything else I had imagined myself doing in life. 

In a perfect world, the roles and responsibilities of parenting intertwine with everything else and enhance "what I'd imagine myself doing", rather than it being either/or, but I rarely see it that way.
I feel guilt, shame, and disgust that my habit is to begrudge my circumstances surrounding children. It makes me feel powerless that this enormous, unplanned section of my life is always overriding the planned sections of my life. Never the less, I try not to punish myself for valuing efficiency. As long as I don't place circumstances above people or my desires above the needs of my children, there are merits to productivity. [image]

I think it's acceptable that my wants come before their wants sometimes too. Most often, it ends up being a trade off - there's something I want or need to do and since they're along for the ride and neither they nor I can really change that, I try and make it worth it for all of us. I'll sift through piles of junk to my heart's content and they get to bring a small toy home or a quarter's worth of candy for baring with me. Bribery without the term "bribery" attached to it (and not so consistently such that it feels like a right) is an underappreciated tactic. In other words, many things become permissible in the interest of efficiency. I'm fairly honest with my children with what I want and what I need, just like they take every opportunity to tell me what they want and need too. 

Recently, I have begun to see that having children can be an enormous asset in reaching the goals that I've been so worried were out of my reach because of having children. I'm not advocating for using one's children as a means to an end so much as realizing that it seems like they are a blessing in spite of my tendency to view them as a distraction. 

I am not generally a shy person, but I do find myself frequently stuck in social situations that I'd rather not be in. Children are the best excuse for all sorts of things. I don't have to make as much eye contact because I have to keep an eye on my children. It's been nice talking with you, but I really have to leave now to get my kids down for their naps. I can't come to the party because one of my children has a cold. Etc. etc. Of course, most of those situations are not inconvenient at all if we're invited to something we want to attend, but it sure is handy to have legitimate excuses to get out of things. 

I don't feel guilty about using my family in this way. In fact, I find it endearing, like we have a pact amongst introverts to have each other's backs. My dad always let us use him as an excuse to avoid things ("I can't give you my phone number because my dad forbade me", or "I can't go any higher for this item I want because this is my dad's money", both of which he'd happily say to me in advance so that I could say those things honestly) and I will do the same for my sons if they want or need it. 

On the other hand, everyone's favorite thing about me is my children (Edit: I know this is not really true! I appreciate everyone who wrote to tell me so ;)). I might begrudge this, except it tends to work to my advantage too. Recently I've had several opportunities to meet and spend time with women who I've met under unusual circumstances. I am trying to learn Arabic and in general broaden my experience of life in America. The only way I know how to do this is to go directly to other people and ask in the most incredibly awkward way if they would teach me to cook. So far this has not failed to start friendships, but the lubricant is always my children. I set up time to meet with people and they never fail to add, "and bring those kids!" or "how are the boys?". 

As much as I've resisted and bemoaned my status as a stay-at-home-mom-by-necessity, I suddenly see my flexible schedule as a huge gift. The boys are old enough now that we can get in and out of the car without too much trouble and leave the house within 10 minutes of deciding to leave the house. For those of you with kids who aren't there yet, I see that tear of envy trickling down your cheek right now. This forced flexibility has afforded me the opportunity to forge relationships and spend time with people that I would not be available for if I had the jobs I have so intensely longed for and worked toward. 

As I begin to invest in these cross-cultural, sometimes cross-lingual relationships, there are frequently lulls in conversations. Luckily, watching my boys play while sitting silently with someone else is a fairly natural thing to do. There's even the option to talk to the kids when you can't figure out how to talk to adults. Adults are able to talk to children in a way that is also commenting on life or getting information across to adults within earshot. Children are a source of humor and they're also a glue. Children are bridges. 

I look at my sons in this new light and I feel admiration. I see this symbiotic relationship as the beginning of a partnership with them, where we're a team achieving goals with our interpersonal dynamic as a strategy to get there. I marvel at their sweetness and openness toward others and their willingness to trust me.  

I enjoy this feeling of mutual benefit from my relationship with my kids. I often don't feel the emotional tenderness that I suspect other mothers feel constantly, and I resent this, but also find it cloying in others (mostly because I find it very difficult to relate to). I struggle to muster tenderness or doting emotions, but I am beginning to feel the warmth of pride and teamwork. Parenthood is a transaction. Not really one that I can refuse to make, but not one that is of no value to me either. It's also not a transaction in that I don't stop giving, even if I'm not receiving. 

I'm worried that this will all unveil me as the self-preserving human that I am. I don't know how to mother, much of the time. I only seem to learn things and appreciate things in terms of how they affect me, rather than being selfless. I don't know if I'm doing this "right", but seeing the lifestyle of a suburban mother in America as having value beyond the sentimental (which I just don't feel) has been a brutal battle, and I feel that I'm finally wrapping my greedy little fists around its throat and getting things done. Less in spite of my children, and even perhaps because of them. [image]

I knew there was some verse about children and arrows, and thanks to Google, I am now reminded of the full verse, and it makes me feel like a BAMF. Psalm 127:4, "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth." I've considered my glaring youth at the time my children were born to be more of an arrow in my neck, but as usual, I am wrong. Now, I can almost feel the gleam in my eye upon internalizing the words in Psalms. It's a rush of power, and a promise of worth in terms that I understand worth. I need not mourn my seeming inability to relish the mom-life part of motherhood, but instead my sons are coming with me and standing at my side as I prepare to fight. Praise be to God, from whom all weird, unknown, sometimes humanly untimely blessings flow. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Adventures In EstateSaleLand

My Love Affair with Old Stuff
I can only hope that 80 years from now, when my own descendants are overwhelmed by a lifetime of my collections, some unknowing kid will walk in off the street and be amazed at everything I've hoarded and love it dearly too. It's all just stuff, after all, but some of us really love it beyond its intrinsic value.

I can't think of anything that gives me a thrill like digging through boxes and piles of old stuff. Vintage wearing and decorating is a dream for people who hope to never be wearing the same outfit as someone else at a party. I know that sounds so pompous and there are merits to conformity. Some things are treasures no matter how many people like them, but I find immense satisfaction in having genuinely unique collections and ensembles.

I'm sure there's a special term for the economic concept of rarity being associated with value (beyond supply and demand, because the demand is limited in this case), but suffice to say that the more difficult to find something is or the more in demand, the more I am elated to find it "in the wild", as vintage-lovers say. That is, in a thrift store or at an estate sale rather than bought from a vintage shop or online. Oh, there is such pleasure in a bargain or finding something of value that no one else recognizes as rare!

It's also an interesting and rewarding process (and it is a process, sometimes a long one) of retroactively learning the value of old things. For example, sometimes I will find a dress and later find the original ad or editorial in a vintage magazine! Or, since I'm relatively young to this planet and this country, there are many vintage toys or dishware or brands that I do not recognize from having had them as a kid, but I recognize them now because I pay attention to what other people get nostalgic for.

Beyond the personal excitement of all the things I find and collect and resell, I find it very meaningful to be a historian, of kinds. I feel this pang of sadness sometimes when I'm in the home of someone who has passed away or can no longer live in their own house due to their age. I look at their jewelry and feel sad, knowing I'll never hear the stories of what special anniversary or trip they got it on or what special events they wore it to or which piece was their favorite. The boxes of photos and the handwritten recipes that no one else wants are what really kill me. I know that I won't be able to know the stories behind them and I wonder why their own grandchildren and greatgrandchildren don't cherish these things (maybe they don't have any family left?), but I'm grateful for the opportunity to do a bit of honoring and cherishing myself and then pass them on to other vintage-lovers who also have a deep appreciation for old photos, especially.

When I'm in someone else's home, I often try and discover what their name was from scraps of mail or the inside cover of books or magazine subscriptions. Then I can walk around their home with more of a human being in mind and contemplate what their lives must have been like. It feels like the smallest way in which I can show honor in a situation that basically boils down to jostling elbows with other shoppers to snatch up all these things which were precious to someone at some point for pennies.

I've been to several estate sales that have really stuck in my mind as having part of a life-story that go along with them that I get to carry on in some small way. I wanted to share them here so that they can live again, at least in part.

First of all, God bless the men and women of the Depression era. They just couldn't let go of anything, and I'm glad of it. When I was brand new to estate saling, I went to one that had an entire basement of vintage toys and as much as I look back with awe and delight, I kick myself for all the things I didn't scoop up because I didn't know any better yet. I don't know why people save entire basements full of toy plastic food from the 60s, but you won't hear me complaining about it.

The Mini Madonna Inn
One of my favorite estate sales of all time was in Cayucous, a little beach town here on the Central Coast of California. It's about an hour from where I live, and estate sales that require a hike are always kind of a gamble because often times whoever is running the estate sale doesn't take promo pictures of the kind of things I'm interested in. It could end up being a wasted drive or a treasure trove, you never know. On this particular day there was a big storm. It was hard to drive and several trees fell down while we were inside the house looking through things! Again, I kicked myself for not having been punctual to this particular sale, because as it turned out, I have never seen a wardrobe quite like this one! Every closet in that house was stuffed with incredible clothing (usually estate sale clothing is windbreakers from the 80s and velour track suits). The interior decorating of the house, which was right on the beach, was wild and wonderful too. So often, it seems like elderly people mellow out at the end of their lives and what's left of their things are plain white pillow cases, canned soup, and padded sneakers. But not this house, ohhh no! Let me just show you some pictures.... (sorry, they were not taken with the intent of being shared so they hardly showcase the full glory!).

I don't know if this was the lady of the house (I think it is, after finding a recent picture), but it sums up the style pretty well.

Now for the house...

Everything was gaudy and dramatic, in gold, turquoise, and pink. 

The sign about the door says "Casa Costalot"! 

I loved this wallpaper.

You walked through this side garage from the street, then the courtyard, then the main house.

I know plenty of people will probably think this is the tackiest house they have ever seen, but that's why I make money off vintage stuff and you don't. ;) But seriously, there's nothing more fun to walk through than elaborate kitsch. How can you say no to metallic wallpapers, beaded lights, gilded beds, and resin toilet seats?! BUT WAIT, this story gets even better...

The last photo was the main closet. As always, I wish I'd been less frenzied (one of the boys had to poop, of course, so we got to test out those funky toilets) and had more time to go through each box and piece of clothing, but as things were, I basically just shoved everything in arm's reach that looked promising into a garment box that I pulled off a top shelf and emptied onto the floor. Sometimes my concept of respect is blinded by the goods, not gonna lie.

Anyway, I got to look at everything more carefully when I got home, and I found an itemized list of clothes on the side of the box. I was so excited and enthralled by this unusual house and its contents that I actually got online and tried to track down some information about the couple that had lived there. I bet you'd never have believed me that it was the HUSBAND who decorated the house and HANDMADE many of these incredible clothes for his wife!!!

Here is the list of clothes: it breaks my heart that I only have two of these items, the pants front the first line, and the red jumpsuit! This was not all in the box when I got to it.

The couple who lived in this house were named Arthur and MaryLee Fenderson. Arthur passed away on April 5, 2016, and as far as I can tell, MaryLee is still living, possibly in Canada. I actually found her on Facebook and reached out to her daughter, to see if I can pass along any photos of myself and others dressed in some of her clothes! I hope she enjoys it, she seems like quite a character. Here's one of two pictures of her I found on Facebook. There are several more of her and her husband's heads pasted on to various character's bodies, which are pretty hilarious. I wish I'd known them and been invited to their parties!

Arthur was born in 1923 and moved to California as a baby with his family, escaping the Dust Bowl. He served in the US Navy medical corps during WWII, spending his final year in the service in the Aleutian Islands, then became a dentist upon his return to the US. He and his wife moved to Cayucous in 1971 (I think the box with the itemized clothing list was from that move!) where he continued to practice dentistry until retiring in the early 80s. Apparently he was quite a jokester and a "natty" dresser (had to look that up, it means "stylish and tidy in every detail"). Art and MaryLee were members of several dance clubs, and Art was "an artist and a craftsman. He was Mr. Fix-it around the house and office, and often took on large construction projects at home, even building a sports car! He was an interior decorator with pizzazz. He was equally as creative with fabric, designing and tailoring beautiful 'Fashions by Darvin,' made exclusively for his beautiful wife, Mary Lee." (Here is the full obituary)

Are you crying yet, because I almost am. I feel so honored to make new memories in their special clothing. I hope Jonas and I are still that exciting when we're in our 90s. Thanks for being awesome, Art and MaryLee, your style lives on! 

The Brocade Artist
Santa Maria has an old airport and back in the day, we also had a flight school where WWII pilots trained. There are a lot of old airplane hangers on the north side of town near where the flight school (now Allan Hancock College) used to be. I recently discovered that one of these hangers is a thrift store of sorts, and of course I went swimming in the piles and piles of stuff.

The most interesting thing I found was boxes and boxes and boxes of files. I had stumbled across years worth of notes made by an artist as she conceptualized paintings. Her name was Gloria J. Robertson, but I have not been able to find anything about her online except that she died at the age of 89 on July 14, 2016.

What first excited me about this unusual collection of files was that is was accompanied by decades of back issues of magazines, which are one of my favorite things to collect. Vintage fashion magazines are hard to find, but so they're wonderful because they're such a perfect snapshot of time. Gloria had hundreds of file folders, each with scrawled notes about which painting the enclosed magazine clippings were inspiration for, and which other files to refer to for more clippings of monkeys, for example. Her collection was basically several decades worth of analog Pinterest. Here's a picture of one of the many boxes/stacks of her files.

I wish that I was able to find out more about her life or see some of her finished paintings. Many of the folders included sheets of paper with rough sketches of forms and placements for her ideas, but it's almost impossible to tell from that sort of sketch what style of painting she did - most artists make extremely crude (that is, rudimentary) drawings to start conceptualizing their projects. She seemed to be very interested in fantasy and mashing up animals heads with animal bodies that they didn't originally match with. She was also either very into brocade fabrics or else I just happened to look through all the files in which she was drawing inspiration from brocade.

It was so strange and interesting to see a lifetime worth of thought collected in one place - it could almost certainly never make sense to anyone but her, and as much as I admired the feat she had achieved in its sheer scale, all I could think of while trying to sift through her files was that only someone as obsessive as she was would try and delve into her boxes of scribbled notes and scraps (that'd be me...).

I probably would not have worried about the file folders at all (and just gone for the whole magazines), except that after my first trip to the warehouse in which I bought most of the magazine collection, I realized that she'd ripped out pages from many of the vintage Vogues from the 60s (cue my cry of anguish) and made notes in the magazines too. After two or three weeks, I couldn't help but go back and spelunk for some of the lost pages inside all those folders. I did find a few of them, but if I never see another picture of a brocade couch for the rest of my life. I think I'll be just fine.

I also found a photo of good ol' Gloria. From the bits I could piece together from her artist's brain and this photo, I'd say she was a pretty interesting little lady. Thanks for the treasure hunt, Gloria.

A Personal Connection
As much as I love imagining what the lives of strangers must have been like and what untold stories go along with things that are now part of my collections, there's something extra special about wearing and cherishing pieces from people that I knew, even a little bit.

I have many things that belonged to my Great Grandma Peggy, which I wrote a bit about after her memorial in 2014. One particular necklace she had is now one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. She's been gone for several years now, and though she doesn't come up in conversation all that often anymore, I love having small things in my life to remember her by. Here is a picture of me wearing one of the more dramatic pieces I inherited from her (why, oh why were clothes ever designed with a seam running down the front?!). I have a picture of her wearing it, back in the day (70s, I'm guessing), but it's buried somewhere in my piles of stuff and didn't turn up quickly went I went looking for it.... Hopefully I can update this post with the photos side by side whenever I find it!

Since my parents have lived on Coventry Ct. here in Santa Maria, the residents of two of the six houses on this cul de sac have passed away. I wish I had gotten to know them better. I don't think I ever met the woman who lived on the corner, but my brothers pulled weeds in her yard a few times. When she died, another of our neighbors and his brother ran the estate sale, and I bought some embroidered napkins from Southeast Asia, some handwritten recipes, a pair of shiny black T-strap shoes, and a necklace of carved wooden parrots. There may have been some other things, but those are the things that stick in my mind. It was especially exciting to be in her house because I see it every day, but I'd never been inside. There was a fantastic sun room, I wish I could have bought that house. Her house and its contents signaled that she had traveled to many places, and it felt like a missed opportunity to never have gotten to know her.

A few years ago, our family friends had their parents (my age-mates' grandparents) move in with them, and in the process of that move, I ended up with several bags worth of incredible clothing. Earlier this year, my friend's grandmother passed away. Mrs. Toevs was a very small woman and I can only fit into her items on a good day, and in the case of the most incredible pair of Wranglers with giant green poppies all over them, not at all. If anything could motivate me to diet, it would be those pants. I'm thankful to have had a few opportunities to talk with her before she died and know a bit about her story (to my unending amusement, she completely earnestly referred to me as a housewife once). I feel as honored as I am lucky that people know that I would love nothing more than to have bags of older clothing that no one else will wear. Not only will I wear them, but I will love them, and as with all the others, I hope that my love for the clothes is a small token of remembrance for our loved ones who are gone, and for the ones that loved them. 
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