Sunday, January 31

DIY Family Command Center

Here's my latest attempt at getting our busy family more organized:

For as long as we've lived in this house, I've wondered if I should do something with this little sliver of space at the end of the kitchen cabinets:

Our kitchen cupboards are beadboard, and this cabinet end was nicely finished. Yet it seemed that this space could probably be put to some purpose. . . I just never could figure out what that purpose should be. For awhile I thought that I shouldn't do anything to make this space too informal, since it's right beside the door into our dining room. Then it occurred to me that, since this spot is where our dog's food bowl sits, the atmosphere there was already pretty informal.

So I created a planning center. And here it is:

The frames were both thrift store finds. The large one held a painting on hardboard, so at first I made it into a chalkboard, which was cute:
But we needed a corkboard more than we needed a chalkboard, so I cut some foamboard to fit the frame, then glued on a sheet of cork. Now we have a place for our calendars with some room left over to pin up other important papers.

I used the smaller frame to make an attractive white board.  I found a magnetic white board and pen in Target's One Spot.  To make it fit the frame, I had to cut about an inch off the white board, but that was easy to do. The note card and pen holder is magnetic, so I just stuck it onto the whiteboard.  We use the white board only occasionally, but we use that note card holder a lot.  I keep blank 3x5 cards in it, which cost about 50 cents for 100 cards.  No one ever has to search for a piece of paper to leave a note or make a list.

The tin sign I found at Hobby Lobby, on sale for $4.99. This wall is one of the first things you see if you enter the house through the garage or the side door of the front porch, so I like this little blessing. My middle son says it's a little too reminiscent of the inscription at the entrance to hell in Dante's Inferno ("Abandon all hope ye who enter here"), but he's 16, so he's supposed to say things like that.

Maybe having this planning center will make me much more organized than I've ever been before. There's plenty of room on the large weekly calendar. In addition to appointments and due dates and practice times, I could plan and post menus! Or schedule my blog posts! The possibilities are endless.

Okay, maybe for those goals I should abandon all hope. But overall I'm very pleased with my project.

One more look:

I'm happy with it!  What do you think?  Do you have a command center in your home?

Saturday, January 30

A note from the snowy South

Just in case you ever need to know:

If you can't find a sled, a boogie board is a pretty fair substitute.

Hope you're having a good weekend!

Thursday, January 28


Last night I attended my weekly Bible study. It's a great study--twenty to thirty lovely women studying Beth Moore's Breaking Free. It's wonderful. This week's study was about the obstacles that may need to be cleared before we can break free from captivity.

It's an important topic, and I enjoyed the conversation and really benefited from the lecture. I was about to leave for home, uplifted and encouraged, when I stopped to talk with one of the women in my small group. She and I had connected in a special way during the small group time, and we chatted a bit about that.

As we were talking, something I said prompted my friend to use a word that makes me really uncomfortable. It's a word that I avoid if at all possible. But we were being honest, so I had to admit that the word did in fact fit a problem I was describing. The word? Procrastination.

I don't want to associate with this word. I don't want to be associated with this word. Yet I am living according to this word. Just like a child who doesn't want to do his chores, I am putting off things that are unpleasant for me.

Of course, I always have extremely legitimate reasons for not getting around to the things that I don't want to do. I am busy, after all. Good heavens, I'm only human. Not even Wonder Woman could get around to everything on my To Do list. I'm doing my best here. Right?

Our conversation has replayed itself over and over in my head. My friend said, "You can keep yourself really busy with what's right in front of you, never at peace because there's always something that's hanging over your head." I nodded my assent; I knew exactly what she meant.

"So there's always something that needs immediate attention, always something that you have no choice but to do right away." Oh, yeah. I was really tracking with her at this point.

But then she said something that made my jaw drop. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "It's a way to avoid things. It's a way to avoid God."

Wait a minute. No! I never--but--huh? Avoid. . . are you kidding? What?

Oh, my. How did she know?

I've thought about her words over and over, and I know that--as hard as it may be for me to admit it--she speaks the truth. So many days I busy myself with this, that, and the other thing--always rushing, always striving, never quite catching up. And I tell myself that I would have liked to get around to whatever-it-is-that-I-should-have-been-doing, but that I just couldn't do it. Because I am busy, after all. Good heavens, I'm only human. Not even Wonder Woman could. . . wait. I've said that, haven't I?

I believe that God is loving and kind and gracious, always happy to help. My God is not a mean, angry god. I don't have to deal with a god who is impatient and irritable. Why would I avoid God? Why would I avoid the only One who can help me?

Maybe it's because God specializes in the truth. He knows the truth about me. When I'm spending time with him, I'm forced to admit the truth about myself. And that's not always pretty. But it is what I need.

This has given me a lot to think about. For now, I'm going to think while I take a good, hard look at my To-Do list. I have a feeling that there are some things that need to move to the top of the list, while others get crossed off for good.

What do you think? Have you ever avoided God?

Tuesday, January 26

Lost and found

Unbeknownst to me, a tiny box waited in the branches of the Christmas tree. One of those good-things-come-in-small-packages boxes. For me.

My favorite Christmas gift this year was in that box: a beautiful silver necklace with two charms. Knowing well my love for crosses, my husband bought me a lovely cross necklace. I oohhed and ahhed over it and immediately put it on, remarking that it looked almost like a tiny set of dog tags, proclaiming for all the world that I belong to Christ. I loved it.

And then, just a few days after Christmas, it disappeared.

Puzzled, I looked through my jewelry box. It wasn't there. I remembered what clothes I was wearing when I wore the necklace last, so I searched them, thinking it must have been snagged. It wasn't there. I searched the floor of my closet, thinking perhaps I had pulled off my sweater without removing the necklace and it might have gone flying. It wasn't there. Anxiously I searched the house. My car. It wasn't there. Panicked, I clawed through the dust in the vacuum canister. It wasn't there. Finally I inquired at Lost and Found at the grocery store, which was the only place I'd gone on the day the necklace disappeared. It wasn't there, either.

It wasn't anywhere. It was just gone.

I cried. Sobbed, really. And then I fretted for several days before finally working up the courage to tell my husband. As much as I hate to admit it, I was afraid that he would be angry at me--angry that I hadn't taken better care of his gift. I was scared that he would think me ungrateful and irresponsible. Although I've known him for so long, I doubted that he would understand. In my dismay and disappointment, I doubted him and his capacity for love and sympathy.

Then one day he asked, "Is something bothering you?" and I had to come clean. I cried while I confessed. He wasn't angry. He's not that kind of husband. He just took me in his arms and comforted me. He tenderly patted my back and reminded me that it might still turn up, that there was always hope.

I knew, though. I knew it was gone for good. I knew the situation was past redeeming.

And then, yesterday, I was doing some cleaning. You know the kind of cleaning that you put off for weeks but you know you need to accomplish and it nags at you until you finally just get it done? I finally got around to it. And as I was taking a bag of trash out to the rolling cart in the driveway, something silver caught my eye.

My necklace. There it was, lying on the concrete, miraculously untangled and unscratched. Just lying there, waiting.

It once was lost, but now it's found. And it's once again where it needs to be--clasped firmly around my neck, a silent but eloquent reminder of my identity.

I belong to the One who found me--the One who reminded me yesterday that nothing is past redeeming.

--Gratefully and humbly Unwrapped with Emily at Chatting at the Sky

Monday, January 25

Sometimes you DIY; sometimes you don't


It's DIY Day at Kimba's, and I've been so excited to participate! Last week I was the sponsor of DIY Day, so I figured that today would be a great time to showcase a real knock-your-socks-off DIY project of my own.

Well, you can keep your socks on.

I love DIY Day, although sometimes I struggle with feelings of DIY inadequacy. I love to look at all the incredible things that bloggers have done for themselves, and most times I am impressed and inspired and energized to try new projects for myself. Sometimes, though, when I read about the brilliant things that people have accomplished, I just end up feeling like the kid at Show and Tell who brought her pet rock on the day that Suzy brought her pet python.

This week, though--this week was going to be my chance to shine. This week I was going to dazzle readers with my own project. I woke up in the middle of the night with inspiration for a project that I felt sure would create a sensation.

And it didn't work.

Honestly, I thought I had a good idea. I really thought it would work. I thought it would be simple and inexpensive yet beautiful and impressive. I tried to Do It Myself. And I failed.

This has been one of those weeks. My beautiful project flopped. I started a big organization project, but I haven't finished it yet. I bought some new light fixtures for my kitchen, but they're still in their boxes. I wanted to try a new recipe, but that got crowded out by another commitment. And so on and so forth.

Perhaps I needed to remember that my life as a wife, mother, sister, friend, and neighbor does not center around my projects. Maybe I need to focus a little less on doing and showing and telling and a little more on just being and learning and listening.

What about you?

Rainy days and Mondays

"Ugghhh. . . it's raining again!"

Those words were out of my mouth this morning even before "Good morning" or "Our Father who art in heaven."

I'm ashamed of the fact, but I think I have become whiny. I hate whining. Why am I doing it?

When my oldest son was 10 weeks old, my husband and I moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Hillsdale, Michigan. Michigan. As in THE NORTH. We had never lived above the Mason-Dixon line before that. And mostly we loved it there. Michigan is breathtakingly beautiful in the summertime, and the autumns are spectacular. But the winters. Oh, my.

We lived in Michigan for seven years. I still remember the shock I felt after my youngest son was born on March 29, which fell on Easter weekend that year. We went home from the hospital on the day after Easter, but before we left the nurse came in to give me instructions on caring for a winter baby. Not kidding.

My boys remember the Michigan winters with great fondness. They loved sledding and making snow angels. They don't remember what it was like to try to fasten a preschooler in snow gear into a carseat. But I do. And I remember the snow plows and the salt trucks and the rust on my car and the dry indoor air and the high heating bills and the grey, grey days. All memories which you would think would give me perspective on the occasional bad weather we have here in North Carolina. Wouldn't you think?

But no. I am now whining because it has rained a lot lately. Please.

Well, I know what I need to do. I've already done part of it. Look what I found on sale at the grocery store:

Beautiful spring plants, already forced into bloom. The floral department had done all the hard work; all I had to do was arrange them on the coffee table.

I need to stop and smell the hyacinths and remember that spring will be here before long. And while I'm waiting, I need a dose of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I re-read the Little House books every so often, and it's time to pull them out again. A little while spent with my nose in The Long Winter ought to fix me.

How's your winter going?

Thursday, January 21

It's not easy seein' green

I know. A pun is the lowest form of humor. But I'm a Kermit girl from way back, so I couldn't resist.

Almost every year about this time, I feel a little blue. And I think it's because, even here in the sunny South, everything is grey. Cold, wet grey. It's as if I want to feed on a crisp salad and instead I get a bowl of porridge.

I miss the Christmas tree and all the hall-decking holly. Green is my favorite color any time of year, and right now I feel deprived of it. But I had to go to Lowe's this week to pick up a couple of things, and they had lots of wonderful house plants priced $2.98 to $9.98. Hello again, green!

In the foyer where not long ago sat a bank of poinsettias:

In the corner of the living room that seemed empty without the Christmas tree:

In my favorite snuggle spot in the master bedroom:

Here's a tip: plants love any kind of light, not just sunlight. If you don't have a sunny spot for a houseplant, try tucking one under a lamp. Turn on the lamp each morning and voila! Instant spirit-lifting!

Aside from my love for green, I think I like plants so much because there are just so many life lessons tucked into them. For instance, look at this old houseplant of mine which was languishing for want of water:

And just a couple of hours later:

Deprived of nourishment, the plant appears dull and lifeless. But with just a little of what it needs, it radiates life and beauty.

Just like us.

Blessed is the man. . .
whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that brings forth its fruit in its season,
whose leaf also shall not wither,
and whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

What have you done today to nourish your soul?

Wednesday, January 20

Shifting gears

I got my first minivan in 1994. One of those little Mercury Villager vans. I had two little boys, and it was the sensible thing to do. Those sliding doors made getting kids in and out of carseats so much easier.

Then in 1998, now with three little boys, we moved to a large city, and I got a station wagon. The safety ratings on the wagon were so much higher than the van's, and my husband was much happier at the thought of my driving in city traffic with a little more substance between the kids and the highway.

Those little kids, though, turned out to be big boys. Very big boys. And I learned that very big boys sharing a backseat can make for very tiresome travel. So again I turned to a minivan. I remember when I was shopping for a van--my oldest son entreated, "Get one with a DVD player!" "In your dreams," I replied. I chose the make and model I wanted, a nice big van with four captain's chairs--one for me and one for each boy. Just as I was about to sign the papers to seal the deal, the salesman said, "Oh, by the way, we're having a special promotion. With every new minivan comes a free DVD player." Never before or since has it been so easy to make a kid's dreams come true.

That minivan saw a lot of use. I loved it. A separate seat for every boy ensured argument-free travel (well, mostly argument-free). The DVD player made long trips much easier. I was one of the moms who could transport six kids on a field trip.

My husband, however, hated it. In a word, he loathes minivans. He drove it only on family trips, and then only reluctantly. He was eager for me to get rid of it. I clung to it.

Time passed. My boys got bigger and bigger, but my load got smaller. My oldest went off to college. My middle son got his own driver's license and wanted to drive himself places. So, for the most part, I was down to transporting just my youngest son and myself. Not much need for a seven-passenger vehicle any more.

And so, last summer, the era of the minivan ended. It seemed like a rite of passage somehow. As a young adult I drove a small car. Then I had kids and needed a larger vehicle. The kids grew and I needed an even larger vehicle. Now I'm back to a small car. So cute, so sporty. It's easy to maneuver, easy to park, easy to fill with gas. What's not to like? Except for the fact that it signals that my little ones aren't so little anymore, I mean.

I've shifted gears. I don't need a big vehicle any more.

But would you look at this? Today I made a special trip to Target to buy a long-needed and carefully considered new vacuum cleaner. And guess what won't fit in the trunk of a little car?

Ah, well. At least he kept me company as I drove home.

Tuesday, January 19



Today is an exciting day for my little blog. My friend Kimba from A Soft Place to Land chose me to be a sponsor for today's DIY Day. I love DIY Day and I adore Kimba, so it's a thrill for me to work with her on this.

Kimba told you a little about me, and I feel really honored for her to write about me. I am one lucky lady, as evidenced by the fact that all three of my children have red hair. (Don't you love genetics?)

Mostly I'm a woman who's blessed to have a wonderful family and friends and who's grateful to have found the fun and camaraderie of blogging.

I asked Kimba if we could make today's DIY Day giveaway a little different, because what I really want to do is to encourage people to visit other blogs and get to know one another. It's great fun to write posts and be able to show off our projects, but I think the most wonderful part of blogging is the community. It's been a joy for me to make new friends all over the country and all over the world.

So welcome! Thank you so very much for coming by. I'm honored to have you here at Imparting Grace. I hope you'll feel at home here.

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good . . . that it may impart grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29).

Monday, January 18

Luxuriously simple

My husband and I had a wonderful time in Florida last week. I must say, there are a couple things about a vacation that I find really luxurious: (1) not having to cook and (2) not having to do laundry. Now I'm back at home, where my job as a wife and mom requires a great deal of (1) having to cook and (2) having to do laundry. Oh, well.

We stayed at a very nice hotel called The Brazilian Court. I would show you some photos if I had remembered to take my camera. My husband did snap this photo of the hotel courtyard with his phone:

I found myself looking at our hotel room with analytical eyes, trying to figure out what made it so luxurious, so relaxing, so soothing. I think the most important factor is one that I hate to admit: the absence of clutter. I'm going to be brutally honest here and say that a certain amount of clutter doesn't really bother me. That's probably the #1 thing my husband would change about me if he could. Clutter drives him crazy. Sure, I like things to be clutter-free, but I have a pretty high tolerance for it. After spending several days in such a serene space, I'm thinking that I need to move toward my husband's position on clutter. Sigh.

Another thing I noticed, though, is a bit easier to implement. The linens. Oh, the luxury of beautiful, clean, sweet-smelling sheets and towels. Yummy. Now this is something I can do without much trouble. I can wash my sheets often. Check. I can tuck a bit of lavender or a nice sachet into the linen closet. Check. And I can correct a problem in our bathroom: the towels.

Last summer, I spent some time working in our bathroom, and I succumbed to the siren song of colored towels. I found some pretty towels that were just the right color to complement the new bedding I had just made, and I couldn't resist. They looked so beautiful and lush when I hung them on the racks. Well, look at them now:

See those cream-colored smudges? That's not the light. You'll find that on all my colored towels. What's the deal? Do we exude bleach from our pores? Do I not do a good job of rinsing the shower after cleaning it? I don't know the answer, but I do know that all my towels are irreparably discolored.

So I'm going to take a lesson from our hotel and go back to snow-white linens. For years, all I bought were white towels. The newest and freshest would go in our master bathroom and guest bath. Once they were a little worn they'd go in the kids' bathrooms. When they were more worn they'd become dog towels. And once they were threadbare, I'd cut them up into rags.

Sometimes I added a monogram to the hand towels, like these in my guest bath:

Our hotel experience has prompted me to go back to that system. Big, fluffy white towels are luxurious and simple. And if bleach gets on them, it won't matter at all.

Saturday, January 16

It's all relative

This past Monday morning, my husband and I flew to Florida. Just the two of us. My husband has quite a few clients who spend the winter months in Florida, and I was privileged to accompany him on a trip. We felt like such grown-ups, jetting off to Florida on a cold morning in January.

It was 18 degrees when we left home on Monday morning. Now that's cold in North Carolina. Unfortunately, Florida has been experiencing some record-breaking cold, so we weren't exactly tempted to break out the swimsuits. You've never seen so many mink coats on the streets of Palm Beach. But one of the lessons of this vacation for me is that the old cliche' is true: everything is relative. The weather in Florida was mostly in the 60's while we were there, and the Floridians were complaining like crazy. But, boy, did it feel good to us!

We stayed in a lovely little hotel built around a beautiful courtyard:

And one day we walked over to The Breakers, the famous Palm Beach landmark hotel, and ate at their beach club. Here's the view from our table:

One day we were window-shopping on Worth Avenue and saw this car parked on the street:

This antique Mercedes was exceptional even for Palm Beach, but there were new Mercedes on every street corner. We saw a number of Rolls-Royces. We lost count of the number of Bentleys we saw. And we got a kick out of the fact that the Publix had valet parking.

Funny how a few days in luxury setting like Palm Beach can make things seem awfully plain and un-luxurious at home. I mean, I have to turn down the covers for myself at night. No one snaps to attention and holds the door for me when I approach the front of my house. I have to park my own car at the grocery store, for crying out loud.

But oh, how the news accounts of the earthquake in Haiti jerked my perspective right back into line. Now I'm wondering: why is it so easy for me to compare my lot to that of the ultra-wealthy and to concentrate on what I don't have? How dare I forget just how blessed I am?

I pray for the suffering people of Haiti and all over the world. And I pray that God forgive my lack of gratitude for all I have and enlarge my heart to greater generosity toward those in need.

Friday, January 8

Ain't no mountain high enough

". . . Ain't no valley low enough. . . ain't no river wide enough. . . ."

I think I am a mountain climber at heart. I come alive in a tight spot. If you have an emergency, I'm your girl. Special challenge? No problem. If there's a deadline, I'll make it. Urgency brings out the best in me.

That personality trait has served me well the past couple of years, for there have been many mountains to climb around here. I've been through some trying circumstances, and I've made it. Not always valiantly, mind you--sometimes on hands and knees--but I've made it. I've learned first-hand that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

Right now, though, there appear to be no mountains to climb. For the moment, everyone's healthy. My husband's new company is doing pretty well. The church we helped to start is going great. We're chugging right along!

But I feel as though I'm lagging behind. All I have to do right now is normal life. I'm not in the midst of a crisis. I'm not renovating a house. I'm not moving to a new home. I don't have a new baby. I didn't start a new job. In short, I have no excuses. And I'm wondering if maybe that's my problem.

I'll make a confession here. I think perhaps I got used to feeling victorious. I liked that feeling that I was climbing mountains, fording rivers, overcoming obstacles. Why? Because I want to be admired. I want people to be shocked and awed by my skill, my cunning, my derring-do. On top of that, I've had lots of excuses when I haven't gotten around to things I should have done. Folks have had to cut me a lot of slack over the past couple of years, and I think I kind of liked it.

Oh dear.

I think perhaps it's time for me to retire my Supergirl cape. Time for me to realize that, at least for now, everything is okay. No abnormalities, no emergencies, no special struggles--just everyday life.

Just everyday life, after all, is quite enough to keep me busy. And challenged. And fulfilled.

And on my knees. Because, apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). Not even on level ground.

Tuesday, January 5

Top Projects

Rhoda at Southern Hospitality is hosting a "Top Projects of 2009" Party today. As I look back over my projects from last year, here are a few of my favorites.

One of the first "before-and-after" blog posts I ever wrote involved an old wooden tray

that I transformed into this serving tray/vacation memento:

This summer I found a bedraggled ottoman at the thrift store

and turned it into a storage bench for my closet:

And in one of my thriftiest projects ever, I turned an Omaha Steaks styrofoam cooler

One of my favorite large projects of the year was a makeover of my laundry room. It went from this:

To this:

I must say, though, that the project of 2009 that stands out most in my mind is the one that involved getting my husband from here to here. In case you're not schooled in reading ECG's, the first shows an example of an electrocardiogram strip from a person in atrial fibrillation. The second shows an ECG of someone with a normal heart rhythm--which is what my husband has now. Actually, we were most grateful for the a-fib. For my husband, the irregular heartbeat prompted a special visit to the cardiologist, and extensive testing revealed that he needed open-heart surgery. So now he has a brand-new stainless steel heart valve--and at his last check-up, the cardiologist said that his ECG looked like that of an 18-year-old. That was quite a project!

Now it's time for me to get busy on some new projects for 2010. Thanks, Rhoda, for the chance to look back fondly on what we accomplished in 2009!