The Best I’ve Looked Since 3rd Grade

In Third Grade, I had a very special outfit, probably my favorite thing I have ever worn.

It began with forest green polyester pants. This was the 70s, so of course they were flares, and they swooshed back and forth as I walked, as if each of my knees had its own skirt. There was a matching white rayon blouse, soft and shiny, patterned with a bucolic forest of pine trees. There were small woodland creatures in those trees, at least as I remember it. The blouse would be cold when I put it on, and then warm up throughout the day in a way that is unique to synthetic fibers of that era. A white knit vest completed the look. I believe it was acrylic. It echoed the trees & creatures theme from the blouse.  My skin couldn’t breath and no sweat ever escaped. But I felt like I was on top of the world.

When I wore that outfit, I felt invincible. Sassy, special, and ready to face life. I remember walking through my third grade classroom watching my pant legs swing around my ankles, thinking there was no better person on earth to be than me.

I’m not sure I’ve felt that way about an outfit since.

In the years since third grade, I’ve had fashion highs and lows.

I was BEDAZZLED for two summers in high school when I worked for a woman from iu-1New Jersey who sold $500 sweaters in her boutique. I looked like an add for Ronco, with sparkly wonder flung across everything I owned. That’s where I learned to wear shoulder pads. And hair accessories. And big earrings.

It was this unique look I brought to preppy Wheaton College in the fall of my freshman year. I thought Laura Ashley was a girl who lived in our dorm, and kept asking, “Why would you buy a J. Crew Field Jacket when you’re never in a field?”

After college, I found my professional look when my roommate introduced me to Ann Taylor. I’ve dressed almost exclusively in black, grey, white & navy ever since. Those years were okay, but a friend from my bedazzled high school days saw me and asked, “What have they done to you???”

I went through a frumpy stage when I became a Christian. I read all these books about dressing modestly until the only attire that felt even remotely appropriate was sweaters handed down from my father. He’s six feet tall. I’m 5’4.’ I spent that first Jesus-ey year swaddled in yards of wool.

Then a few years ago, I discovered Target. It was cheap! As my body, well…GREW, I had some fashion growing pains. My no longer required Ann Taylor-level professionalism, shopping became a chore instead of a treat. I didn’t like how I looked, so the cheaper the better became my motto. Until very recently, my wardrobe assembly process looked something like this:

Spring/Early Summer: T-shirts on sale for $10 each? Great! I’ll take white, a navy, a grey, and a color like peach or green that I’ll think of as “fun” but never wear. The cut is unflattering and makes me look astoundingly wide, and the fabric both clings AND gets little holes every time I wash it. But whatever, it’ll do.

Fall/Early Winter: Sweaters on sale for $15? Great! I’ll take a grey, black, navy, off white, and something with stripes or a cardigan that I’ll think of as “on trend” but never wear. I’ll need to buy all of these new because last year’s sweaters fell apart. The cut of these makes me look like a basketball, and the fabric pills on the sides and where the seatbelt goes (and pretty much anywhere else it touches something.) But whatever, it’ll do.

I spent a lot of time untagging myself from other peoples’ pictures on Facebook.

I had ALL THESE CLOTHES, but they looked terrible. None of them made “outfits.” I understood, suddenly, that when women look frumpy and disheveled, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they don’t know how to make it better. Because that’s how it was for me.

So yeah, the past couple of years have been awkward. Especially once we began meeting as a church, and I was speaking most Sundays. The Vineyard is about as casual as churches come. Jeans and flip flops are common. But I just looked sloppy. When the hotel where our church meets remodeled their conference room, I was terrified they’d swap out the giant oak podium I stand behind for one of those tiny clear lucite things made popular by TED talks, and there would be nowhere to hide.

This is part of why Stitch Fix has felt like a miracle since I discovered it last month. I’m a bit obsessed. It’s become my new embarrassing hobby. I’m now a person with a Pinterest page.

My third Fix came last week. I’d asked for a jean jacket, a grey & white striped top, tops in colors other than blue, and jeans in a light wash.

This was the best one yet. My stylist tweaked some of my sizes and found the exact jeans I had on my Pinterest page. In three Fixes, I’ve scored three pairs of jeans, five tops, and a jacket. They all fit. They make outfits!

There are PATTERNS – a floral, a stripe, a sort of dot/splotch, and something a friend described as tribal); and COLOR! Okay, two tops are blue and two are grey. But one is RED, a color I’ve avoided since an unfortunate incident during the Giant Wool Sweater phase, where I donned a tomato-ish v-neck and my sister told me I looked like Gilligan.

But look: I’ve overcome!

If you’re feeling like you’ve been covering your body more than getting dressed, give it a try. Here’s how it works & what I’ve learned:

For a styling fee of $20, they send you five items selected based on a questionnaire about your style and notes you make about your current needs.  (Example: “Summer is coming so I’m looking for a dress to wear to a fundraiser, shorts with a 5″ inseam, and some fun colored tops I can wear to work either alone or with a sweater or blazer.”) In your profile you’ll have a chance to note things like “Please don’t ever send me X color or Y style.”  The more detailed, the better.

(I think of this part as handing a skilled stylist a $20 bill and sending her to the mall to do all the shopping for me. She can use the $20 towards whatever she finds.)

You pick the date to receive your Fix.

When it arrives, you will be horrified by at least half of it. Shut down your inner critic and try it all on. Let yourself be surprised. Don’t overthink it. If you turn around and can’t believe how cute something looks that you were sure would make you look like your grandmother’s couch, trust your first thought, and take a chance. That’s what happened to me with the navy blue floral top in #1. I pulled it out and thought, No way, because I don’t wear florals. But now I do :)

If the style is good but the size is wrong, you can usually exchange it up or down. I just did this with some jeans. I held on to the first pair until the second arrived, then sent back the ones that didn’t work. Quick & easy.

If you keep everything, you get 25% off your total. I’ve only done this once. The other times, the jeans & top I kept were worth the full price, even though they were more than I’d been paying at Target. Your $20 styling fee is applied toward anything you buy.

Once you decide, you checkout online, then put anything you don’t want in the pre-paid bag they provide. Hand it to your mailman or drop it at the post office and you’re done.

If you use my link for your first Fix, I’ll get a $25 referral credit when you place your order. (Thank you!)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Have a dedicated Pinterest Page for Stitch Fix style with things you are looking for NOW. Put pins for future looks or random ideas on a separate page. Your stylist will look at this page when she’s pulling stuff for you. Update this page between Fixes.
  • Join one of the Facebook groups where people show how they style different items. It’s helpful to see the clothes on real people, and sometimes you can even trade or buy items.
  • Remember that clothes are meant to enhance our lives, not become our lives. We’re still us, whether we’re in a frumpy Target tee or a flowy red top that does not in any way resemble Gilligan. But it’s fun to feel a bit more pulled together.

If you’re looking for a fun and helpful gift for a Graduation, Mother’s Day, or other celebration? A gift card to SF would be an amazing surprise.

And who knows? Maybe you (or someone you love) will find your very own forest green polyester/rayon/acrylic woodlands ensemble, and it will make your whole world glow :)

 

 

The Story of Our Staycation

In an Easter miracle that feels every bit proportional to Jesus rising from the dead, we managed to pull off a school vacation that didn’t suck.

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I am awed and grateful. I’m not even sure how to describe it, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures with a few words to record this moment in time.

First, we had the two year anniversary of the day we met the Cherubs. We did not celebrate this, however. I tried that last year, asking #2, “What do you remember about that night?” to which she replied, “We just cried. We didn’t want to leave where we were to go live with strangers.” Yikes. So this year, we left this one right alone. Next month, we’ll celebrate Adoption Day, and then Moving In With Us day in June. But now we leave Nice To Meet You Day out of the picture. Lesson Learned.

We DID celebrate Easter, my favorite holiday.  At church we had art by Grace & Reena, and music about the incredible things we believe.

I preached about the Boston Marathon, and how cool it is that, four years after the Marathon Bombing, no one talks about who did it or why. Instead, everyone talks about the overcoming that happened in the aftermath, and how the words Boston Strong define who we are and what we love about living here. There are Boston Strong signs and t-shirts everywhere. I love it.

Then we prayed for Gwen & J.J. our two friends who’d be running the next day.  So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiring, Steve & I had a date afterwards! The Cherubs went on an overnight with their grandparents, and we went out for long relaxing lunch, after which we came home and RIPPED UP our bedroom.

And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.

Remember I told you about the stairs? And how that led us to some conclusions about the gross, hazmat-y rug?

Well, the project expanded in scope almost immediately. Replacing the floor somehow led to repainting the bathroom sink cabinet, pulling up all the baseboards, and taking down a wall.

Here is my inspiration photo:

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Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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Really, we’re practically there.

But I’m happy to report that there are now 10 contractor bags of gross rug down in a bagster next to the driveway, and our floor is now covered in lovely maple boards on which no dog has peed. I’m taking that as a win.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the week was watching Gwen finish the Marathon. Her friend J.J. flew up from Florida to run with her, and spoke at church about how friends run all different kinds of marathons together, cheering each other on and helping through the touch stretches. A bunch of us gathered in an office space overlooking the finish line to watched them cross, and as they crossed, we all pretended to have something in our eyes. Tissues all around for the big wins.

Finish Line Gwen and JJ

 

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Then Steve, the Cherubs & I walked back over the bridge into Cambridge. It felt like such a long distance, but our attitudes were kept in check by all the tinfoil wrapped people we passed who’d just run 26 miles, and the glorious sky over the city, and the fun of having something like this happen for people we love, in a place we love. Really, it was all the gushy feelings, accompanied by some sore legs.

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Speaking of sore legs – I went to the gym. Three times. My first session was with a trainer who is Irish and seven months pregnant, which means we looked like twins. I won’t post pictures of that. I’ll just say that I’m glad I can slide in my socks across the new wood floors as a form of travel rather than having to pick up my feet for each new step.

Happy Monday, All.

He is risen, indeed.

Time to Face the Music

FullSizeRenderToday I’m going to one of those specialty gyms for an introductory workout. There will be a weigh-in and nutritional analysis, and maybe if I’m lucky, fat calipers.  Then I’ll join a small cadre of other women who are also there to “pursue our fitness goals.” Every one of us will be avoiding the mirror and thinking, “How did it come to this?”

We’ll be led through a strength training circuit by a bored twenty-something who thought for sure he’d be working with the Patriots when he signed up for that Personal Fitness major in college. Then after that, the nice lady in the front office will try to convince me to sign up for their special package, wherein I will pay an exorbitant fee to show up three times a week and repeat this process. She’ll use phrases like You deserve this!  

Then I will NOT say what I’m thinking, which will be, No, I DESERVE to look like a misshapen loaf of bread, because I drank all that wine this winter…

Whatever. I’ll just smile and pull out my checkbook.

The real problem here is Jesus.

Becoming a Christian has sapped me of all will to work out with any regularity. I mean, I’m not afraid to die, so the whole “do it for your health” angle is lost on me. And I read somewhere that in heaven, we’re all 35. I looked GOOD at 35! If that’s the “reset” age, I’m psyched! Why workout now, if I have that to look forward to? Maybe it’s a SHOW OF FAITH to not worry about my appearance now? You know, because I’m so confident in the promise of heaven?

Yeah, I don’t think that’s how it works either.

I never understood why people stopped working out as they got older. Then I arrived here. My kids marvel daily that you can be as old as me and still have the will to live. (Then again, they think 2001 was a really long time ago. That’s why I send them to school. So they can get educated about what old really is. And give me a few hours to where no one is saying things like, “Do people your age wear hoop earrings?” which of course is code for, I like them, give them to me… )

The other problem is that I’m used to having some sort of sports-related or other athletic goal to work towards. Somehow, getting to a size where it takes less denim to cover me doesn’t have the same motivational force.  But I will don lycra and sneakers and head off to my fate. I may leave my glasses in the car – if I can’t see it it’s not really happening, right? The last time I did something like this, the young trainer looked at me wide eyed and asked, HOW LONG has it been since you worked out???  So I’m expecting a good time.

Pray for me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The First Days of Adoption

Friends of ours just met their kids for the first time!!! They’re adopting older siblings from foster care. For obvious reasons, this makes my eyes fog up. I am so excited for this new family. And aware of how vulnerable it feels to attempt this. As much as we all want to imagine these moments as beautiful scenes where orphaned children run into the arms of their new parents with bright smiles, grateful hearts, and the sun shining down on us all, that’s not exactly what it looks like.  At least that’s not what it looked like for us.

For us, it looked like equal parts wonder, awe, and terror.

I’d forgotten about this until our friends sent out a picture from the night they met their cherubs. They were on a couch together, arms around one another, looking for all the world like a ready-made family. It was GORGEOUS. It reminded me of sitting on a similar couch, taking a similar picture. And the surrealness of the whole, “Hi, so nice to meet you, I’m your new mom/dad/kid.”

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Don’t we look happy? But #1 is CLUTCHING that conversation ball for dear life. It might be the best present we brought that night. 

After that night, we started the visits and the process of getting to know each other. Our kids liked us okay. We were white, which wasn’t their favorite. But we said we’d get him a basketball hoop for the driveway, and that she could paint her room any color she wanted, and we had a dog. So that all worked in our favor.

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Steve & #1 assembling the basketball hoop. This took approximately 5 hours, at which point we could see in both kids’ eyes, “Wow, this guy might be serious about being our Dad…”

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Paint swatches on #2’s bedroom wall. She had hundreds of these, and was so excited when she found the perfect shade of lavender.  

We spent the next day with them. We shot baskets at court near their foster home, then went out for lunch. We went bowling, and for frozen yogurt. On the way home, #2 Cherub commented, “Wow, you guys spent A LOT of money on us today.” We didn’t know how to respond. She was right (who knew fro-yo could cost almost $30?). We hadn’t realized how soon we’d be navigating real parenting questions. How should we convey to them the truth – You guys are worth so much to us, of course we want to spend money on things like this, and the other truth – No, this does not mean we’ll buy you every single thing you ask for, like real Uggs or $200 sneakers – when we barely knew them? I think we said something about how we try to be frugal about some things so we’d have extra to splurge on things that really mattered.

Sometimes you just punt.

The next time we saw them was Wednesday.  I drove the 45 minutes to pick them up after school, then we came back to Cambridge to wait for Steve to get out of work so we could have dinner together. There was a weird rule I don’t quite understand that we weren’t supposed to take them to our house until we’d had a couple weeks of visits, so we ended up doing a lot of driving around and activities. I’m not good at planning activities, so this was super stressful for me.

Okay, let me get honest: this part was just awful.

I already loved these kids. But they were so unhappy to have their lives disrupted. They loved their foster mom, and her family. That was the best life they’d ever known, and they were ANGRY that they had to leave it. They hated the music I played in the car (all we could agree on were a few songs from the Jackson 5. Shake Your Body Down To The Ground will forever remind me of being stuck on 95 North in Friday traffic). They hated missing out on time with their friends and foster cousins.  On some trips, they’d both cover their heads with the blankets we kept in the backseat, just to get away from me.

This gave me lots of time to figure out activities for us, what with all the not talking.

This went on for two months.

Most transitions go WAY faster. (We have one set of friends that met their daughter on a Saturday, then she moved in The following weekend.) Often this isn’t based on what’s best for the kids or the new parents, but a more practical need: there aren’t enough foster homes available in Massachusetts, so if DCF can move two kids into a pre-adoptive placement and free up those beds for other kids? That’s the top priority. Fortunately for us, our kids’ foster mom was retiring, so there was no rush. We were able to spend two months transitioning. This let the kids finish off their school year where they were, and allowed them to process some of their feelings of loss, fear, and anger along the way, which made a little room for some excitement to creep in there.

That first Wednesday, we painted ceramics.

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Then we picked up Steve at work, ate dinner out, then drove them home. They were clearly relieved to get back.

I share all this to let you know: this takes time. It didn’t stay this hard forever. It’s been more than a year since either kid hid under a blanket on a car ride (I mentioned this to #2 last week, and she’d forgotten all about it.) But it was rather rocky for what felt like forever, as it ticked by, one minute at a time.

What helped us turn the corner? There were a bunch of things. Their foster mom did an incredible job helping them wrap their minds around the concept of adoption. We showed up on time for every visit and seemed glad to see them, which counted for more than we ever would have guessed. But the unexpected factor was THIS DOG.  The kids loved her, and she loved them. They agreed that she was awesome, even though the jury was  still out on us. And so they let her nudge them along those first few steps of becoming a family.

A pivotal moment was the night we brought Bergie with us to drive the kids back to their foster home. They got out of the car, hugged us and her, and then headed in. Bergie looked out the car window as they went up the steps and in the door, and then began to howl.

She’s part Great Pyrenees (you can read about our best guess at her genetic heritage here), bred to protect sheep. From Day One of meeting them, The Cherubs have been her sheep,  and she takes her job seriously. She was MOST UNHAPPY that night when we drove away without them.

This was, I suspect, the thing that helped the kids consider the possibility that our house might be an okay home, and we might be okay family.

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Waiting for #1 to come home. She has subdued an invading bear and has things on lockdown. 

Every family has its own unique story. Our friends’ experience transitioning will be different than ours. They’ll have their own ups & downs. Life might look long sometimes. They might wonder if they’ve ruined all their lives with this crazy idea. (Okay, I’m sure THEY’LL never wonder that. Surely that was just us…) But you do what you do in any challenge in life: you hang on, pray, and watch for small signs as things get better.

Over time, we’ve seen a cycle, where what used to feel like miracle moments of unexpected closeness become the new normal. Then we climb up on that new level and reach for the next step. This is my hope for our friends.

And for YOU when you adopt your cherubs from foster care :)

 

Laughing & Crying

I didn’t realize how schizophrenic my weekend was until I sat down to write this post.

First, the funny part:

Have you guys noticed that the way clothes look on Pinterest & style cards isn’t AT ALL how they look on a live body? I think this is a metaphor for EVERYTHING.

This weekend, Steve & I both had boxes arrive from Stitch Fix. I am incredibly in love with this service, ever since they sent me a pair of jeans that fit right out of the box. My round #2 came at the same time Steve got round #1. The results were…mixed.

Here is Steve’s face when he opened his box:

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I laughed so hard I hiccuped. You can’t really tell from the picture, but that plaid shirt looked like it had been made from men’s swim trunks as part of a Project Runway challenge. The look is best described as metrosexual surfer. It even had those loop things on the sleeve with the button!

If you have met Steve, you know that there is no way he would ever wear something like that. The man is a hockey goalie. He buys his clothes at Timberland, NorthFace & L.L. Bean. Next he pulled some grey Sperry-type boat sneakers from the bag and I had to gasp to get enough air.  He tried it all on under protest. The Cherubs were speechless.

We looked at the little style card they sent with the packages and realized something: There is a GARGANTUAN GAP between how things look in 2D, set out flat on a style card with coordinating pieces, and how they look in 3D, on a living person.
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(I’m sad to report that Steve would not let me take a picture of him wearing these items. This shows once again that he is wiser than me.)

Here’s the thing: If you’d shown me this card in advance, I’d have said, “That looks great – he’ll love it!” (Provided I didn’t notice the little sleeve loops). But there’s this collision that happens when we try to transition things from 2D to 3D. Not everything survives the trip.

Honestly, I cannot stop drawing deep metaphors from this experience.

***

Yesterday, I gave a Palm Sunday sermon inspired in part by this Stitch Fix experience. I talked about how disappointing it is when something you hope might be the answer to your prayers comes within reach…and then turns out to be not at all what you expected.

At least 5 people in our congregation have asked us recently some version of the questions, “How do you deal with disappointment? How do you stay faithful to believing God’s promises when you’re in pain?” As silly as it sounds, Stitch Fix gave me a starting point. It was a low emotion example that helped me think this through, and share it in a way that we could all laugh at. Because we’ve all had the experience of seeing something in a picture and thinking, “That would be great!” only to have it collapse when exposed to the challenges of real, 3D life.

So I told them about how, in order to face getting dressed in the morning, most of us have to die to the idea that we’ll look like a supermodel, or a flat style card. We all laughed.

That was the easy part.

Then came the harder part, because some things are a big, pain-filled mystery and we just don’t know where God is in it all, or what He’s doing.

I talked about the pain of losing Princess Peach four years ago – the devastation Steve & I felt then, the hurt look I still see in her eyes when we see her, how she tries really hard not to ask why we let her go. (Two years ago we gave her a doll for Christmas and her first eager question was, “Does it smell like you?”) I’m still looking to God to make this right when it looks so very wrong.

I know it’s obnoxious to compare this loss to an unfortunate Stitch Fix delivery. But I need both examples.

Steve has already forgotten that that plaid shirt ever happened. (He’ll be quite surprised to see another box arrive in June, with selections from a updated style profile and a Pinterest board I made from pictures of clothes hockey players might wear.) This low-bar example gives me space to think through how I deal with disappointment: in most cases, I trust that there is a something better is possible, and that it’s coming.

The challenge is applying this to bigger things; to real hurts where the emotions are  too live for me to figure out what response my faith suggests, because I’m simply surviving. There are so many swirling questions when we’re in pain. How do I trust that this is God’s best for Princess Peach? For us? What do we DO? How do we move forward? Of course, learning about adoption from foster care led us to The Cherubs, which is amazing. But I don’t think God leaves one little girl out in the cold so that two other kids can have a Mom & Dad. I have to believe that the story is not over.

Closing out the sermon, I shared one special memory that helps me:

It was our last day with Princess Peach. We were in the car, driving her to where the social workers were meeting us to take her away. They were over an hour late, so we had a lot of time to fill. Steve prayed a Father’s blessing over Princess Peach, speaking love and a vision for her life. Then we drove around Cambridge, all three of us numb with disbelief. Princess Peach starred out the window and stroked the soft fur of the stuffed puppies we’d bought to take with her to keep her safe. We had the iPod on shuffle to fill the silence. Then a song came on and Princess Peach lit up. “Play THAT ONE again, please!” she said.

It was a song by CeCe Winans, called “It Ain’t Over.” It’s one of those songs where you stand up in church and stomp your feet and clap. It’s a BATTLE song. Princess Peach kept saying “Play it again?” So we did.

So you gave it all you had

And you still came up short

You’ve been faithful through it all

And you answered the call.

Keep your eye on the prize

Don’t give up the faith

God has a plan for you

That’s why we say…

It ain’t over.

It felt like God was right there with is in that awful moment, challenging us to believe.

And so we do. It’s been four years. I still cry every time I hear that song. We’ve seen Princess Peach 3 times in those years. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know this for sure: It ain’t over.

We pray for her every day.

We move forward with life, trusting that God will reconnect our dots someday.

And we take joy in small things, because they add up and make a difference.

One of the hardest things for me after we said goodbye to her was figuring out how to LIVE. To laugh at something funny, or enjoy a good meal, or be excited about cute jeans that fit…it seemed like such a betrayal of her. We lived in a suspended state for months after that, certain she’d be back.

We were surprised when Easter came, so to speak. How Jesus showed up and reassembled us, giving us new life where we were dead inside. It’s been miraculous. The pain hasn’t disappeared. But we’ve grown into the ability to carry it and live on. And in that, I trust that He is doing something similar in Princess Peach, because she loves him and so is covered under the promise of Romans 8:28 (“For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.“) I hang onto this verse like a lifeline. And then I entrust this sweet girl to Jesus, and get on with everyday life.

***

My Stitch Fix box turned out better than Steve’s.

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There was another pair of jeans that fit, which makes me want to hug my stylist “Katelyn,” whether she’s a person or an algorithm. I kept a top that was not at all something I would have picked for myself after Steve walked in and said, “Wow, that looks great on you!”

The other three things – a blazer like one I already own, a top I loved thats didn’t quite fit, and a wool scarf – went back (and made me realize I need to take the cold weather outfit pictures off of my Pinterest style board). I didn’t get the 25% discount you get if you keep all 5 items. But even at full price, it was worth it. I spent five minutes placing an order, rather than three hours at the mall, and came out with a new outfit. I don’t look like the perfection on the style card. But I’m a nicely updated 3D version of me :)

I’m taking every bit of joy I can out of that small, silly win.

To sum it all up…

Listen to this song. Pray for Princess Peach, and for the big questions you still have about what God is doing in your life. It’s okay to clap and have some fun with it. I think part of heaven coming to earth is that it brings a lot more joy than we expect, even in the midst of pain:

And if you need some clothes, or feel like you’re style is hopeless and you can’t face the mall? Try Stitch Fix. If you order for the first time through the link, I get a $20 referral credit, which makes jeans more affordable.

This life is both/and, you guys. It really is.

The Full Weight of Adoption

I just tried on all my summer clothes. Nothing fits. Again.

I have not worked out in any meaningful, sustained way in at least 8 months, and yet I’m shocked (SHOCKED!) to discover that I am facing yet another warm season with a wardrobe that consists of one pair of jeans and a single billowy blouse.

This, my friends, is what I’ve come to call The Full Weight of Adoption. Because another thing no one tells you when you enter this process is that it will make your body absolutely bananas in ways you never thought possible.

When Princess Peach lived with us, we were under JUST A LITTLE BIT of stress. There was learning the basics of toddler care & maintenance, of course. But beyond that, the sweet child only slept through the night twice. Total. In the whole year. Every other night she woke up in the midst of a night terror that had her screaming and kicking for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. She kicked holes in the drywall by her bed. She screamed herself hoarse. Then, when she’d finally wake up (around month 9 we finally discovered the secret sauce was singing 492 verses of “the Holy Spirit Song” while walking up and down the hall holding her, followed by a calming episode of Peep and the Big Wide World ) she’d have no recollection of what had happened. But she’d be extremely overtired, as were we. I remember being insanely desperate for sleep. I was virtually incoherent. I read an article about the brain disorganization kids experience as the result of trauma and thought, That sounds like me… Add to that the stress of that one DCF office, where the worker and her supervisors kept accusing us of various things so they could stop the attention we were bringing to the their mismanagement of her case, and my body was burning something like 10 million calories a day.  It wasn’t pretty.

Want to see? If you have the newest edition of my book, look at the author photo.

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We took that one rare night when I felt like I kind of looked pretty good. I sat on the couch and smiled in a friendly way. Steve snapped about 19 pictures before he said gently, “Um Honey? Maybe you shouldn’t smile…authors aren’t really smiling in pictures these days, right?” I looked at the shots he’d taken. My face was so gaunt that my teeth looked like they were jumping out of my head. What felt to me like a relaxed look was actually incredibly tense, and you could see it all over my face. It was like, This is your face on foster care…

That year I learned that being thin, on it’s own, is not much of a life goal.

Our experience with The Cherubs has been very different. Enormously different, one might say. I was in great shape that first summer because we went to the Y every day to swim, I played basketball with #1 Cherub (I’d forgotten how much fun that is), and we spent a lot of time at the beach. But the sheer amount of carbs required to keep them minimally happy got to me. I don’t have much willpower around chips, pasta, rice, or bread. I’m what Gretchen Rubin calls an abstainer, which means that if I don’t want to eat something I avoid it altogether; there’s no such thing has having “just one chip,” for me. So pre-Cherub, I just didn’t buy that stuff. But suddenly, I had to.

Then #1 decided he was too cool for the pool, and #2 took off for independent rides on her bike, and I was caught in this weird position of being stuck at home – I had to be there, even if they were off in the neighborhood – Not doing anything. I wasn’t like I could fire up a pilates video while they were out. (NO ONE wants to walk in on their new mom doing pilates.) And so I sat on the couch and grew into a lump of bread.

I blame part of my stupor on how my clothes cut off blood flow to my brain.

And the other part on how, at some point, exercise just required so much more planning than before. I actually like exercising. But the planning aspect – the clothes, the driving somewhere, or the weather if I’m walking/running here, the shower afterwards, the not having anything else I need to do for two hours…it’s kind of obnoxious. I know I’ll like the results. It’s just so hard for me to want it enough to put down everything else.

(For example, right this minute, I am writing this in my workout clothes instead of going for a run. Which would have been a walk, lets be honest. Which may or may not happen now because it’s lunchtime and there’s bread and chips waiting for me downstairs, and it looks like it might rain and I’m not dressed for that, and my Fitbit isn’t charged so none of it will count anyway. Pray for me…)

This past winter, I was jolted from my lethargy by the book Eat, Move, Sleep. It’s by a guy recovering from a rare form of cancer. His approach to staying healthy is to optimize the things he controls. He does not control whether or not the cancer comes back, but he does control what he consumes, how much he moves, and how much he rests. He’s funny, and so this is not nearly as grim as it sounds.

My absolute favorite thing he mentioned was this study that showed that people who eat more fruits & vegetables are happier. I’d been feeling pretty glum for awhile, so I gave it a try; I liked that it was so tangible. I went from eating a only few veggies & no fruit, to eating 5-8 different produce items a day. The results were AMAZING. I was so very much happier, for no obvious reason, it felt like a miracle. I wanted to stand out in the street and pass out oranges.

By way of full disclosure not all the tips were so applicable. I blew right past his recommendation that we order steamed vegetables in a restaurant in lieu of french fries. Steamed vegetables are gross no matter where you have them, but I can’t even imagine what lands on your plate when the busy kitchen staff has to stop their rhythm and custom steam your kale.

Still though. I cut out the bread & chips and ate more apples & almonds. It was good.

I also tried sleeping 8 hours every night. THAT was unreal. It was life changing in all the ways you hear about when people testify obnoxiously about how they’ll never be the same: I awoke refreshed, tripled my productivity, felt love in my heart for my fellow man… It was marvelous.

Truth be told, I never did get a handle on exercise. I walked some. A lot, actually. But then the weather got bad.

After awhile, the novelty wore off and the fruit selection didn’t seem quite as exciting. And going to bed early is really hard when that’s the only time I have to talk to Steve, watch TV, and pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts when I’m really just drinking wine and zoning out.

Now, Eat, Move, Sleep taunts me from the bookshelf. And yet unless I want to spend my whole summer hiding under a beach blanket, I need to pull it back out and spend some more quality time with the author. I need to put down my laptop, get up off of the couch, get out of my head and into my body.  I need to work a whole lot harder at these three basics so I can have the energy I need to embarrass my kids ;)

***

Related: Since my post about the awesome fashion statements I’ve been making around Boston lately, some of you have asked if I really like Stitchfix. In a word, yes. They sent the one pair of jeans & flowy top that fits, so I’m a fan. I’m not sure how I’ll rock that look every day all summer, but I have a new box coming tomorrow & I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m hoping this company will be a moderate cost, low time investment help in keeping me dressed over the next few months while I pull myself out of my zone and onto the treadmill.

Impromptu Bedroom Overhaul

In an attempt to avoid the parts of life that aren’t going as planned, we’re redoing our bedroom. (See, You’ll Need To Escape, circa just last week). This is less the product of a grand design and more because #2 Cherub fell down the stairs last week. The stairs are covered in a gross, slippery carpet (carpet shouldn’t be slippery, right?) and this was the third or forth fall we’ve had. So Steve pulled up the shaggy gray/brown slip & slide to uncover the original oak treads underneath.

That’s when we discovered that not every home renovation gives you a Nicole Curtis “look at these beautiful floors!” moment.

***

Some background:

When we moved in to this house four years ago, we did a fair amount of renovation: The kitchen featured peeling, bright green formica countertops, broken 16″x16″ tile that I think was supposed to evoke thoughts of Tuscany, and a charred plastic sink that at one point may have been set on fire. We got a remodeling quote for $25,000 that didn’t include cabinets, flooring, or appliances, after which Steve (in one of my favorite moments of our marriage) decided we’d demo it ourselves. He was like, “Want to save $25,000 tonight?” and out came the crowbar. It was SO. MUCH. FUN.

Six weeks later, when we were living out of a dorm fridge in our dining room and every single surface was covered in a thick haze of drywall dust, I was over it. Even I can only eat so many baloney sandwiches. And, redoing a kitchen is an angsty process. For a brief period of time that I’m not proud of, I was deeply convinced that the drawer pulls I chose were supposed to say something about who I am as a person. It was ridiculous.

We took a breather after the kitchen was done, but soon other things beckoned.

The entire main floor was this brownish yellow color a friend’s son described as “what it must look like inside a hamster,” so we painted.  We redid a back porch/sunroom space Steve is now afraid to furnish because the Cherubs are fast approaching the dating years. (He doesn’t want any of that boys & girls sitting next to each other going on. We may set up some nice stools.)

The house needed a new roof, and then a coat of paint. A squirrel chewed her way into an eve and had babies, and she needed help moving. Over time, we developed a philosophy of home repair that more or less says, “If it doesn’t involve a three story ladder, we’ll try to do parts of it ourselves.”

We never did anything to the upstairs space because we weren’t sure what to do. It’s a bit wonky, with slanted ceilings and storage eves. The slippery shag carpet continues throughout, and was clearly peed upon by several large dogs prior to our arrival. As gross as THAT is, we haven’t had the budget or the motivation to rip it up and figure out new flooring.  We cleaned the carpet as best we could and just left it.

When the Cherubs came, we moved our bedroom stuff up to there and just kind of dumped it. There were so many other things to do to get our house ready for the kids, who cared about our room? Everything looked nice enough so long as you didn’t really look (or fall down the stairs). It was fine.

Except not really.

If not for the bed, this long triangle of a room could easily be mistaken for a yard sale: there are tables & bureaus in three different finishes, a random fan in the corner, a $5 mirror from Target propped up against one wall, and a odd modern leather chair my Dad gave us that he warned us wasn’t very comfortable. There’s a treadmill covered in dust & clothes in front of my closet.  Oh, and we have a humidifier, which I’ve yet to see “incorporated into the look” when I flip through Traditional Home or Architectural Digest. I live in New England and the air is dry all winter, so if I don’t want to look like a lizard, this is a key item in my decor.

Last weekend after #2 fell, Steve ripped the slippery carpet off the stairs to reveal the original hardwood.

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Rather than being a “Look at how beautiful!” moment a la HGTV, this was instead the moment where Chip & Joanna Gaines would call their client to say, “We’ve got a problem. Please get out your checkbook.” The treads are splintered, chipped, dented, and DRY. Did I mention that they squeak??? Our next door neighbors can hear us going up and down the stairs. It’s quite the thing.

We looked into redoing them, which is totally an option so long as only one of the Cherubs wants to go to college. Since that seemed like more than we could decide in a rock/paper/scissors shootout, we decided to paint the stairs. I went after the crazy orange stained sides & risers with some Kilz:

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Steve is buying black paint for the treads tonight after work, along with some sort of kit that promises to deaden the squeak. Then we’ll put a runner down the middle and call it a day.

Because now we have bigger problems:

Ripping up that one strip of rug has stirred up in us a fervent need to get every single fiber of that disgusting dog pee shag OUT OF OUR HOUSE. I can’t believe I’ve been sleeping over it, my kids have been wrestling with THAT DOG on it, that life has been going on as if we’re not living in the midst of a Superfund site.  It’s like we’ve just now realized that our bedroom floor is the carnivorous island from Life of Pi.

(What a blessing that I’ve been too busy for the past four years to be down there doing sit ups!)

We’re ordering a click floor, pulling paint samples, and I’m asking Stitchfix to send me a bedazzled hazmat suit for when we pull up all that shag.

In all of this, I’m trying to remember: changing this room will not change me. No matter how many pictures of traditional bedrooms in serene, neutral colors I pin to my Pinterest board, paint and flooring cannot make me more serene. They just don’t have that power. After the redo is done, this room will still look more or less like this picture I just took this morning:

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There will still be piles of things waiting to be put away, and cords to charge devices, and books that always sort of spill out over the shelves. But now it will all be set against a different color scheme, and without the pee from someone else’s dogs. That’s enough for me.

***

A couple of weeks ago, I read The Magnolia Story, loved it. One scene in particular stood out to me. It’s where Joanna describes how early in their marriage, Chip would  buy run down houses without telling her…and expect her to move into them on short notice, then renovate & flip them. He would literally come home and tell he they were moving. Chip admits this wasn’t his best strategy (he even says that if they ever write a marriage book, Chapter 1 will be called, “She Cried…“)

I’m a little in awe of how Joanna handled this. Yes, she cried. But she shares how she thought through this – how she realized that if she ever wanted to be successful as a designer, this was the only way she could grow, by taking on these new projects. And that she needed to find a way to manage disappointment and the pain of letting go. She talked about how Chip doesn’t get attached to anything that doesn’t have a heartbeat. He holds it all loosely, which gives him a tremendous amount of freedom. She decided to build her capacity to do the same – to enjoy the process of design and decor and how it allows her to grow, and not get attached to the outcome.

I’m not sure exactly how this applies to my life, but it does.

My real challenges aren’t about what my house looks like. That’s just a hobby and a distraction (and a EPA level cleanup project, but whatever…)  But sometimes I try things in other areas that do matter to me – not necessarily because I want to, but because circumstances play out so that it’s what needs to be done. I love her attitude about all of these frustrated tears leading to growth in things that matter, and increased capacity to do important work and make a difference in the world.

I’m off to the paint store to made hard decisions about colors with names like Linen, Air, and Moonbeam.

I’ll post pictures of the carpet pull-up. That will give you something to look forward to :)

Power Struggles

Rough week here in Ryanville. One of our Cherubs truly believes she is maturing at a tremendous rate, such that she’s becoming more our peer than our child. In her mind, she, Steve & I form a triune leadership counsel, through which we lord power over her brother and the dog. She tolerates my place on the counsel grudgingly. But in her eyes, I’m sort of like the Queen Mum: an annoying ceremonial necessity she must tolerate as she works her way to the throne.

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I cannot even describe how exhausting this is.

In a state of desperation (and because I want to make sure we can afford Catholic school before I threaten to send her there), I’ve turned to Cesar Milan, a.k.aThe Dog Whisperer, for help.

No, I’m not kidding.

I started watching his show & reading his books after we adopted THIS DOG.  As some of you remember, Bergie came to us huge and mostly untrained. She couldn’t walk on a leash without leaping and thrashing, and she looked at the stairs to our house like they were the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She weighed 93 pounds at that point, so these were LARGE problems.

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Steve used to call her “Pot Roast.” :)

Cesar’s point of view on dog training is clear: Dogs need stability, consistency, and clear authority. To become part of the pack, he says, a dog needs to know what is expected and how to participate successfully. Nothing makes a dog more anxious than an unclear pack structure. 

Then he let fly with this gem of awkward truth: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth who will follow an unstable leader.”

Yikes and wow. Hearing this the first time, I realized how trained most of us are to ignore signs of instability in our leaders (and in ourselves when we lead). We don’t want to rock the boat or make things awkward, we don’t know how to fix what’s broken, so we double down on whatever we’ve been doing, hoping more will help. But more unstable leadership doesn’t make a healthy pack. Only good leadership does that.

Cesar’s take on this has been revolutionary for me. With THIS DOG, I realized that I had to stop being pulled around the block by this giant creature, stop talking a high pitched sweet voice trying to appeal to her better nature, and stop letting her jump all over our furniture whenever she wanted. I needed to toughen up. Not in a mean way. I needed to learn to communicate to THIS DOG exactly what I wanted her to do. Which means I needed to figure out what I wanted her to do, so I could let her know.

Which brings me back to my Cherub. I don’t know if this is true with all kids, but I know it’s prevalent in kids who have been in foster care: They don’t trust adults. My kids still don’t trust Steve & me to do what we say, or be who we need to be, or do what needs to be done. They assume we will fail, forget, flake out, or otherwise disappoint them. So they prepare for this contingency.  And perhaps because they’ve been less socialized in faux kindness, our kids are closer to the instinct-level functioning Cesar Milan describes. My Cherub will not follow an unstable pack leader. She will fight that leader in an attempt to take over the pack.

Thinking of our family as a pack is an interesting perspective shift.  I’m pretty confident her behavioral acting out is a problem in leadership, not followership.  So I need to figure out what it is I expect from her, specifically, and communicate that to her, pronto. For her to do better, I need to do better.

(And yes, this means she was right when she said that adoption is “kind of like puppy rescue.”)

I can train a Great Pyrenees mix (a breed often considered untrainable because they are so incredibly independent) to walk gently at my side, I can teach a tween to respect (or at least pretend to respect) authority. It has to be possible, right?

If you think the answer is no, don’t tell me :)

 

My Fashion Woes

A couple of months ago, I went to Steve’s company holiday party dressed like an Amish

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If you look closely, you can see the patch pockets! #classycocktail!

nun. I didn’t mean to.  The dress code was “classy cocktail,” which I interpreted to mean, Like you’re coming from work, only a step up. I found a cute preppy dress from Tommy Hilfiger. It was a little big, but I kind of liked that; I’m not exactly in top form right now. I paired it with a jacket & boots because it was about thirteen degrees that night. And yes, I knew that I looked a bit like I was there to serve a warrant. But Boston has a pretty wide professional dress code. I was sure it would be fine.

We walked into the venue a bit early (it’s so hard to calculate traffic across the city) and I knew instantly that I’d screwed up.

Friends, the sequins were blinding. Hair had been professionally done. Hours had been invested in mani-pedi-facials. There were GOWNS. Everyone looked elegant, upscale, and GORGEOUS.

I glanced at Steve and whispered, “Wow. I really miscalculated…”

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I didn’t even realize until later when I saw this picture that we MATCHED. We look like an audition tape for The Real Housewives of Ultra Conservative County.

He looked mortified for me. We checked our winter coats, and took a picture in front of an unavoidable step & repeat that stood between us and the bar. I prayed for a camera malfunction. We walked into the mostly-empty room and I took a deep breath. I knew had a decision to make: I could ruin this night with my embarrassment, or I could figure out another way. So I decided to fight for it. I looked up at the seventeen Buddha statues decorating the restaurant and said, “Jesus, I know you’re here somewhere…I could really use some help…”

We found a place to stand with our drinks & small plates. I made it a point to talk to Steve about things OTHER THAN how underdressed I was. And when he introduced me to people, I did not say a single embarrassed word about my outfit, because nothing makes social situations worse than that.

We had a great night. Everyone I met was fantastic, and we had so many deep, good conversations about biotech, writing, faith, and adoption. Yes, I felt awkward the whole time. As much as we’re not supposed to care what we wear, and we’re supposed to appreciate each other for what’s on the inside, blah, blah, blah… my missing the cues on the dress code meant the night was way more emotional effort than I wanted it to be, at a time (right after the holidays) when I didn’t have a lot of extra fight in me. I’m so glad we went. But I’m not sure I’ll ever wear that dress again.

***

I thought of this the other day as I caught up on the blog of a fellow memoirist who had a baby last year at the age of 46. As she described her woes in getting dressed, and how her body feels lumpy and odd in ways it never was before, I realized: I ALSO have a one-year postpartum body. Only I never gave birth.

It’s pitiful. Don’t you think the benefit of adopting should be that I don’t look like I have kids??? But nope. I got dressed the other day and realized I looked like a big marshmallow covered in denim & 2-ply cashmere. But I think the problem is less about having too much size, and more about having lost my style: Last week when I wore a ponytail to church, one of the teens came up and said, “Miss Trish! You look so different!”

You know you’re in a rut when a ponytail is a bold move forward.

So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when that blog friend talked about her clothing woes and how she’d just received a box from a company called Stitchfix that mails you clothes. She was going to POST PICTURES of her in the new items (!!??!) I was horrified/captivated/in awe: wasn’t that the equivalent of taking the entire internet with you as you try on jeans at Target???

She has awesomely sarcastic humor, so I was excited to see how she’d skewer the experience of trying clothes picked out by a complete stranger on a body that shifted daily in all sorts of unplanned directions.

She kept every cute thing in that box. (They send 5 things. You pay $20 for the styling service, which is credited against anything you buy. And there’s 25% off if you decide to keep everything. Apparently, this is a whole thing that’s been happening for years. Enter Trish in her Amish ensemble, a little late to the party…)

(I’ll admit, I was a bit salty that she found a dress, because I have this secret theory that people who look good in dresses and like them have ALL THE DRESSES. It’s like the dresses know. The rest of us get a boy dress with patch pockets. But whatever.)

In a fit of I don’t even know what, I signed up for a Stitchfix delivery of my own. I think I was just excited to leave my problem at the feet of an expert (even if that expert is an algorithm supposedly named “Katelyn”). I knew my blog friend would get a $25 referral credit, and that seemed like a way to thank her for being so honest (her blog TITLE is “An Inch of Gray,” referring to her hairline. I love her!) and making me feel less alone in navigating my fashion challenged state.

I had LOW expectations when the box arrived. I liked that it was pretty, and I was prepared for disappointment. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the miracle: They sent me jeans that fit perfectly. Length, width, everything. It was like they’d been tailored for me.

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I might even wear them to next year’s company party. If I’m going to be underdressed, I might as well really go for it.

The rest of the box was a mix. There was a blue jacket that made me look like I was there to change the oil on your car, and a pair of earrings like ones I already have. Those I sent back. There was a blue floral top that was unbelievably cute once I tried it on.

And then there was the green shirt.

I haven’t owned anything green that doesn’t say “Boston Celtics” on it since about 1975. It’s just not my color, or so I thought. But this shirt was so pretty! It didn’t fit. But still, I loved it so much that I pulled it back out of the return package (they send you a postage-paid return bag you just drop off at the post office) after I’d sealed it, just to try it again. It was still a no. But now I’m on the hunt for a different top in that shade of green.

What that box did for me had almost nothing to do with the actual clothes. It was more about how it energized my thoughts about dressing in general like nothing in recent (or even distant) memory has. The the little style guide gave me ideas for other outfits from things I already have, and I even got back on Pinterest (which I’ve decided is like going to the Mall with your friends, only while lying on the couch by yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but at least now I understand the appeal.) I’m so glad I did this. It’s good for my style and my soul.

It’s good to find help when you need it, and to be reminded that more is possible in life, IMG_5282even with things that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but are. I kept the empty Stitchfix box on the floor of my bedroom for about four days after it arrived, just to remind me of how happy it had made me. That’s some pretty good return on investment.

If you’re in a style rut? Try Stitchfix here. If you use this link, I’ll get a $25 referral credit on your first go, like my blog friend received when I tried. The Cherubs thank you for making their mom slightly less embarrassing.

When Embarrassing Hobbies Bite Back

We’ve been pretty serious here on the blog this week, talking money, money, money. I thought we’d lighten it up as we head into the weekend. So I give you THIS…

Remember the other day when I shared about my long history of embarrassing hobbies? And I admitted that I’ve been trying to make my own hand cream, and had purchased some things to branch out from there? I said I’d report back.

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Friends, it was not good.

Things started out well enough. I made the one good hand cream. And then some lip balm that only sort of stuck my lips together. The trouble started when I gave place to a single evil thought: Maybe these things shouldn’t just feel good…they should smell good too! And then I got sucked down into the rabbit hole of essential oils SO FAST, Steve & the Cherubs were left asking, “Where’d Mom go?” and “Why does everything smell like Patchouli?”

It started so innocently. A Google search for “homemade sugar scrub.” A kindly blogger who offered me her free downloadable e-book. A trip to Market Basket, where I found small brown bottles of Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Sweet Orange. A sense of victory as I pulled the sugar from the bottom shelf of our pantry that was last used in the Great Oatmeal Cookie Debacle of 2013. I decided to make a fresh peppermint scrub, dreaming of the way it would “brighten” my skin and my mood. 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a few drops of peppermint wonderfulness. This was a recipe even I could not mess up!  It smelled a bit like mediterranean chewing gum, but whatever. Minty freshness from a warm climate! What’s not to love?

I couldn’t wait to try it out, so I took a shower. Before starting the water, I remembered ANOTHER great tip from the free e-book, and put a drop of eucalyptus on the bottom of the tub, right where the hot water would hit. I was filled with happy anticipation and fond memories of eucalyptus wall decor, circa 1991. It was a good moment.

Then I turned on the water.

Holy Vicks Vapor Rub, Batman. Our bathroom turned from a steamy escape to a medicinal holding cell in less than fifteen seconds. And the scent kept intensifying, as that tiny drop of oil was empowered by the water. I grabbed Steve’s shampoo and squirted it all over the bottom of the tub, fending off the attack. Thankfully, the bubbles won the battle, and soon the smell of hospital ward faded into the background. Score one for liquid chemicals.

Then I tried the sugar scrub. What awesome olive-y goodness! This was a moment of redemption for me, because back when my friend Kristen & I had just graduated from college (read: were incredibly wise & sophisticated), I bought a new product called SELF TANNER and brought it to her NYC apartment for us to try. The instructions said to “exfoliate” before using, and I’d read in some magazine that what that meant was to mix sugar into your lotion and put it all over your face. So we pulled out the Jergen’s & the box of Dominos, and proceeded “tan.”  There has been MUCH TEASING about this in subsequent years. So I was excited to realize that I was onto something back then!  Imagining the funny conversation Kristen & I would have, I applied the sugar scrub to my face.

By which I mean, I SET MY FACE ON FIRE.

It was only then I remembered the fine print in that free e-book: something about Peppermint being a “hot” oil, one that should not be applied to sensitive skin. It also said that hot oil was like hot sauce: water made it worse, not better.

I was in the shower.

Thankfully, I had the ONE WONDERFUL HAND CREAM within reach. I dove from the shower, ripped it open, and smeared it all over my burning face.

Friends, my nose and cheeks are STILL bright red, four days later.

That’s when I decided to take a little break from my natural beauty endeavors. You know. To heal.

Meanwhile, back in my inbox, there were no fewer than fourteen emails from my new essential oils blogger friend. Did I want to know the cheapest way to get my very own oils? She asked. I was pretty sure the answer was Market Basket, but sure, I thought, tell me. So she did. Fourteen times.

According to her, the cheapest way to get the oils was to sign up with her for an introductory package, where she would send me 10 or 12 oils for my own personal use, all for the discount price of $275! Now I’m not ALL that great at math, but I was pretty sure that worked out to a bit more per bottle than the $4.50 a bottle I payed at Market Basket.

Then I made the mistake of Googling, “Why are these oils so expensive?” This small blunder landed me in a vast ocean of ESSENTIAL OILS TRAINING VIDEOS FROM AUSTRALIA.  I was mesmerized. There were business videos about getting tough, believing in yourself, and doing the work to meet your goals – those were actually pretty good. But then there were videos on how to use the oils, and it all just got BIZARRE.  One woman bragged that her daughter was 11 and had never been to a doctor…because she used the oils. Another woman talked about smearing oils clockwise around her stomach to heal digestive issues. And then there were these two women, standing awkwardly in a living room, saying something impossible to believe about the use of oregano, black pepper & frankincense oils as an aphrodisiac. I was like, “Your idea of a romantic smell is pasta sauce???”

Maybe I’m too Irish.

The next day, emails fifteen & sixteen landed in my inbox, at which point I was totally annoyed, and yet at the same time wondering, Maybe I DO need $275 worth of my very own oils, two of which I already own that tried to kill me…

I found health food store where there was a WALL of little brown bottles. I was irrationally excited to check these out on my own. I twisted the top off of a bottle of something called Clary Sage and took a little whiff… And that’s when things got REAL. There were notes of barnyard cow, mud puddle, and more than a hint of #1’s dirty soccer socks. I just kept blinking, trying to get the smell out of my EYES.  Certain that strange potion must be an outlier, I moved on to Frankincense. It smelled like wet dog rolled in garlic. It went on like that through all the oils. There was a rose one that spoke of “grandma goes to the nursing home,” and one that started with the letter B that reminded me of mustard mixed with strawberry jello.  My confusion grew as my sinuses begged for mercy. Then I realized: I don’t really like things that smell.

A few days later, I mixed up another round of THE REALLY GREAT HAND CREAM. It smells mild, like an olive sat down under a palm tree, but even that scent fades out pretty quickly. I’ve abandoned my small oil collection, all except the cheery orange one, which I take a whiff of from time to time to remind me that somewhere, it’s spring and the sun is shining. (We’re expecting 6-8 inches of snow tomorrow.) I’m not sure what I’ve learned from all of this, other that that the world is a big, surprising place, and some folks find the smell of pasta sauce irresistible.