perfect imperfection

It was the best Christmas Day we’ve had;  I really do think so.

merry christmas

No one had claim to us. We rolled from bed on our own accord; turned on the 2015 Yule Log (one must do what one must without a real fireplace) and leisurely sipped our coffees. Watched the children’s faces brighten in the kitschy light of our eclectic tree. Garish blues, greens, yellows, reds. I once snubbed such trees for sophisticated white lights, rich gold and crystal elegance.

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But now, the tinsel and the glitter and the candy-shades are a sweet, familiar wonder. They remind me of our happy, bright kids and what I like to think is their happy, bright childhood. It reminds me of their fleeting glee over such razzle and dazzle.

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After we opened gifts, we lounged around the family room as the morning grew across our sugar-dusted neighborhood. When tummies started rumbling, I threw together a brunch of sizzling sausages, salty bacon, toasted English muffins dripping in butter, sunshine-yellow eggs.

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There will be no relative gatherings until tomorrow and the next day; no stores open, no jobs calling. No reason to hurry, no cause to rush.

Long, idling movies. Old, well-worn sweaters, steaming mugs of something-or-another, new, thick wool socks.

The kids quietly played with their new things.

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I dreamed and wrote idling words, knowing they were a waste of time—pure indulgence—and that they were just for me.

Brian worked on assembling his newest creation—a herringbone-patterned coffee table made from pallet boards. Yesterday, he delivered another recycled-wood table to a bright young entrepreneur furnishing his new office space in Minneapolis’s warehouse district.

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This whole thing of creating, designing, repurposing and upcycling has been an interesting new journey for us.

Good for our marriage, even; another common venture that knits us together. A reminder that what is scarred, faulty and undesirable can be refashioned into something new, lovely and good. In both the physical and the metaphysical realms we inhabit together.

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Who knows if this venture will ever be anything more than a simple pleasure that brings us a simple kind of joy? Joy over creating something out of nothing or making what was discarded desirable again?

Sometimes, I’ve asked myself why we care about any of this.

But the answer is the same, even when I forget it for awhile: because it gives us a way to pay homage to one of our deepest values.

Creating home.

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And one realization floating around the peripheral of this last year is that what is simple, humble and imperfect is sometimes what is perfect.

In our relationships. In our endeavors. In our home.

We’ve remodeled many homes together, and during those early experiences, I felt frustrated by a desire for big, beautiful, new, and perfect. Because that is the sort of home that seemed, at that time, to be best. And within in, WE would be our best.

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It was the same with achievement: anything less than an advanced degree, an easy marriage, prestige in a job, fatness of bank account, well-behaved, well-accomplished children, physical attractiveness and a strong network was proof of some terrible failure needing reconciliation.

Sometimes, I wish a wise old woman would have taken me aside and whispered the magic spell that would have dissolved such fallacies. Oh the heartache, the depression and the pain it would have saved me from.

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And yet, I sense that it wouldn’t have mattered; that I wouldn’t have known how to make my heart believe and understand such words. Any more than I would have appreciated, at the time, the words penned by the Apostle Paul:

 I know how to live when I am poor.

And I know how to live when I have plenty.

I have learned the secret of being happy at any time

in everything that happens.

I have learned to be happy when I have enough to eat

and when I do not have enough to eat.

I have learned to be happy when I have all that I need

and when I do not have the things I need.

 I love the words: I have learned the secret.

It isn’t something told or born into.

It is a transformation that happens within, I think—and when it does, the world appears a more benign, hospitable place.

Some people learn the secret early, some later and others—tragically—never.

Sometimes I imagine what I’ll share with my children from my own life: the tales of loss and redemption. The soaring heights of happiness, the most onerous sort of pain. Profound wisdom, lofty ignorance. Ugly truths, and yet beautiful ones, too. Imagine that I’ll urge them to listen and learn, so the canvases of their lives aren’t striated with as many imperfections as mine.

But—then again—perhaps I’ll keep just keep quiet and let them live their lives. After all, it seems the person with the muddied storyline has the same opportunity for learning the secret to happiness as one living the pristine fairy tale.

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And so, really, does it matter how much we are able to manipulate the landscape of our journey? It’s all shifting and temporary, anyway.

When beauty, health, love, wealth and career opportunity that were here today, are gone tomorrow, can we be satisfied by the memory of love? The beauty of a sunset? The wealth of a good chuckle? The opportunity to be selfless and kind, even when the world no longer sees it or cares?

And so I hope my children learn—I hope I learn—not the secret to success, but the secret to seeing the beauty and the good and the hand of God, in no matter what comes.

If not right away, then at least eventually.

September

Oh, I do love everything about this month.

The yellow school buses that whisk the kids back to school, structure and schedules.

The annual trip to the apple orchard.

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The heaps of apples on my new farmhouse table–so pretty!  (I will elaborate more on the table later–with a pictorial debut, of course.)

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The forthcoming apple-y desserts that this impossibly simple, no-churn vanilla ice cream will compliment so nicely.  (Visit Umami, the coolest food website ever, to read about my other adventures with no-churn ice cream, and much, much more.)

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My birthday (35 of them thus far and feeling grateful for hearth, health and people to love. What more can we ask for?

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Weekend excursions out of the city, such as a girls’ weekend with my daughter, Bre, and mom, Diane, to Lacrosse.  Which, in case you didn’t know, is a cute-as-a-button little berg along the Mississippi River.

A stop for ice cream on Pearl Street…coffee shop

A jaunt along the river that inspired an urge to re-read Mark Twain…

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We did all the usual girl things:  painted our nails, ate too much food, wandered through shops smelling soaps and lotions such as these found at Painted Porch:

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I want to live at Painted Porch because it’s so pretty. In fact, I want to live anywhere there are sparkling chandeliers, soft whites and creams, clean, floral scents and pretty things displayed on gorgeous furniture.

Here’s me and my girl, Bre:

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We combed through a three-storied antique store, looking for brands like Wedgewood because blue and white dinnerware has become a bit of an obsession lately. Just ask this chippy little piece off of which I eat my breakfast every blessed morning.

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For me, September heralds a celebration of comfort, of appreciating the harvest, of a slow, reflective lingering. Summer’s heat clings to the air yet, but it feels less serious, less condemning. The days are still sun-soaked, and yet the nights are cool enough for hot cider and long cuddles.

I celebrate this time of year—my favorite time of year—by attempting to make our home warm and autumnal, artistic and functional, cozy and accommodating. (Check out my article for Polka Dot Powerhouse here for more on blending art and functionality when decorating.)

These are some of our favorite efforts I will be showcasing soon:

A new and improved French Farmhouse Table (the old one found a new forever home)—big enough for our family plus a few guests. Here’s a sneak peak (er, ignore the photos stacked on the chair):

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A sectional for the family room which we snagged off Craigslist in a fete that almost ended tragically (anyone else ever buy an enormous piece of furniture WITHOUT taking measurements first?). Ah. Sectionals are expensive, but they are a must-have for large families. Luckily, people move and downsize often, making used sectionals available quite often.

It is quite comfy, and we’ve suddenly developed an even greater love for loafing in front of the TV.

A White Pedestal Table for the banquette in the kitchen. This table wasn’t very pretty when we first found her—but after copious amounts of sanding, chalk paint and polyacrylic, she is shiny, clean and bright! Also, she handles a good scrubbing when remnants of last night’s dinner are forgotten until the next morning.

I am mid-way through about half a dozen other projects and I can’t waaaaaiiiit to be done with them in order to share them. But alas. Life gets busy and we do what we can with a finite amount of time each day.

Besides.

It’s still September and we don’t want to rush any of it.

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Mellow

Such a mellow week; nothing too pressing or stressful. Haven’t experienced loads of motivation, either. Or excitement, but this is okay.  I used to feel that life had to be very dramatic, all the time.  And that if it wasn’t, something needed to be altered to make it so.  Now, I am learning to appreciate that these mellow spells are useful, too.  They let one crawl back inside oneself for a brief interlude to recharge and renew. Explore the value found in freedom from effort.

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One doesn’t stay here, of course–nothing would ever get done!  But neither should one despise the occasional dalliance. And, mellow as I was, a few things managed to occur:

For starters, we finished the Midcentury Modern White Dresser.

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Well.

B finished it.

When we first started refinishing furniture, we both plugged in with paint brushes, foam rollers and sand paper. Some things turned out, other things did not—but it was like cliff diving into Lake Superior. We clasped hands, gave a little victory holler and plunged into whatever awaited us below the surface.

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Recently, we discovered a new technique: spraying the furniture with a paint sprayer. This is definitely a one man job—but the results have been promising thus far. Smooth, hard, shiny finish. No drips, brush marks, weird flashy spots. B has been heading all of the furniture renovations lately so I can focus on my writing projects, and I’ve actually missed it, somewhat.  But he’s doing so amazing, my skills are becoming obsolete–fast.

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I do still take the pictures.  After recently learning my current camera is broken, (it only works part of the time–something I always believed was operator error), plans have been made for a new camera.  But until it arrives, I am wringing all I can out of this one-winged bird.

This week, I interviewed the owner of the Henry Ford Bungalow which sits just north of Pequaming, Michigan. He and his wife conferencing in from Madison, me in Minneapolis—it was lovely and we talked for well over an hour.  The conversation ended at this point only because I suddenly remembered reading about not trapping people in an endless interview.

Someday, I will tell my own story of Pequaming. Why a ghost town matters to me. Why I write so much about it.

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For now, the story is the Henry Ford Bungalow, that white plantation-styled historical landmark, overlooking the Keweenaw Bay and a century of compelling sunsets. Available to the public, and yet practically unknown, which is why I am writing the article. Why, in a few weeks, my husband and I will drive up to that isolated world of water, forest and sky to visit and photograph the summer house Ford had escaped to nearly one hundred years ago.

I am dreaming all sorts of dreams about that upcoming trip. There will be a post, of course, a new camera and a fresh load of pictures (one hopes, anyway!).

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We ended the week by meeting some friends for bowling at Pinstripes and then dinner at Fogo de Chao. It was a first for B and I—that mecca of succulent meat. Full to nearly bursting when we left, I had to forbid myself, in the name of good manners, from curling up in the back of our friends’ SUV and drifting off into some sort of meat-induced coma. My husband sang the praises of the whole experience, and while I did enjoy it, I had a haunting hankering the day after for some sort of spinach or kale smoothie. Something not meat.