DIY, Movies and Budgets

This is the first weekend in forever that I've had some time to myself. I had a great evening with a dear friend and have spent the rest of the weekend focusing on relaxing. The healing process will take some time, I've been told, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off is only delaying the process. I tried to keep that in mind.

I tackled my first DIY project. There is a combination bathroom/laundry room in the basement and since there is no main floor powder room, guests would potentially see my skivvies hanging on the line. I wanted to hang a partition curtain to divide the space into two rooms. I have been hauling around a piece of Manuel Canovas fabric (love!) for years and was thrilled to find that it fits the space perfectly.

Technically it's two pieces of fabric sewn together (it was a decorator's sample I bought at a sample sale years ago with the notion of making throw pillows) so it has an almost ombre effect. Pretty! I'm quite pleased. It felt good to do something creative.

I also saw Les Miserables. What a fantastic film! I didn't know if I'd like it. I'd read some pretty harsh criticism of it online but I loved it. It's not the book, of course, but I think they did a really amazing job of keeping the important parts of the story intact (it's pretty faithful to the musical, if you've seen it). The message of true Christian love and grace comes across very clearly. As does the message of Christian hypocrisy. I've experience both in the past six months so that part of the film really hit home. And the visuals... Oh, the visuals! The film is gorgeous to watch. I'd love to run out and buy some Les Miz inspired fashion (inspired by the men's wear in the film):
Les Miserables Inspiration

Les Miserables Inspiration by dwellonthesethings 

Lauren Ralph Lauren wool jacket
$445 -

Carven short skirt
$675 -

Dolce & Gabbana suede booties
$825 -

Paris Photography - City Photo, French Architecture, Stone and white,...

Trop chic, no? But alas, after all of the financial hits I've taken this year (I've already fallen off my fiscal cliff), I need to adopt an austerity budget. I'm terrible at budgeting (I'm a whiz at Quicken; it's the discipline to follow a budget that trips me up.) It's particularly hard when financial scarcity accompanies other troubles (and, of course, it always does) because nothing soothes the soul like a steady stream of deliveries from and Sephora.

I'm quite well stocked. I don't need any more lipstick, sweaters, paintings or design books. But need and want are two different things. I will have to tape a note to my credit card reminding me of this. I also need to keep out of consignment shops, as I can't turn down a good deal. One of my favourite bargains for the new place was a really pretty painting. Originally, it had been sold by a very good gallery in Toronto and it was practically free. I couldn't resist!

Which is, of course, the problem. So I'm going to avoid retail establishments and online stores (goodbye One Kings Lane!) for the month of January. I'm also going to spend less on services. My house is small, so I plan to clean it myself. I'm shovelling the snow myself (although the driveway size and two big snowfalls are making me second-guess this decision.) In the spring, I'll probably attempt to tackle the garden with my children's help. They like to get dirty so I'm sure they'll be game. Blonde highlights are a need, but I did go a bit darker on my last visit, so I can space out my appointments by a few more weeks.

I also need to find more fun activities that are free. Perhaps I should start watching Buckwild for inspiration. They always seem to have a good time in the preview commercials and I'm not thinking filling up the back of a pickup truck with water for some roof-diving will bankrupt anyone. Until then, I'm going to be blogging (there are so many new cool bloggy things since I was last in the world: hello Polyvore!), learning how to use my camera properly, reading blogs (if you know of good design blogs, let me know), hugging my kids and my dog, and counting my blessings.

Maybe this is heaven...

I have a little mixed media piece by Brandie Butcher-Isley on my bedside table, depicting an old-fashioned photograph of a girl, who looks wise beyond her years, standing on a hill fashioned out of newsprint. In the centre of the piece are the words 'maybe this is heaven'.

Although I love the craftsmanship of the piece (which the artist explains here) I've never completely understood its meaning. I cannot even articulate why I was drawn to it in the first place and usually I know exactly why I want a certain piece of art. I think there was a time when I viewed the piece cynically: maybe this is heaven. I'm a Christian but of the doubting Thomas variety: while I love the idea of Jesus and the resurrection and seeing face to face, there was for me that creeping fear that - in the end - our lives may amount to little more than a three-dimensional photograph on a foundation made of paper. Maybe this is heaven.

Now I am in the midst of what can only be described as a Job season - well, a Job season minus the boils - and I suddenly see the little piece of artwork quite differently. I have every reason in the world to be miserable. Most people would describe my current state as hellish - not Syria hellish, of course - but 50 shades of unpleasant to be sure. Yet things do not feel hellish as God is very, very present right now. It's like that Leonard Cohen song that Anne Lamott likes: "There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." In the hell, there is always the glimpse of heaven.

In my darkest hour, I have been surrounded, literally and figuratively, by angels - Christians and non-Christians alike. I have learned that there are strangers who will take you in to comfort you and pray with you. There are people who will - without thinking about all of the other things they need to do - jump onto a commuter train to be by your side. There are people who will share with you their own - often secret - stories of pain and tell you how they survived. All of this has transformed the darkness into something  rather holy. Which is, of course, the very point of Christ, I believe. He does not prevent our suffering, but because he understands human he will be entirely present when we need him and will offer tremendous love both directly and through other people.

One  particular angel - a wonderfully funny Christian woman I've always wanted to meet in person  - came into my life recently, when I needed her the most. She shared with me a verse that has helped her through some very dark moments. It's from Isaiah 41:10 and in the past week I must have recited it at least 100 times:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

This promise by God is not for tomorrow or the next day or six years after that. It is for today, in the present moment; for us, whatever our state. God may not spare us from the pain of our circumstances, but He will help us, strengthen us, and uphold us right here and right now if only we have the courage to ask. Heaven is not simply somewhere we go in the future. Heaven is offered now.

The little collage on my bedside table has taken on  a much more optimistic tone. Perhaps the wise little girl in the photograph has figured it out: maybe this is heaven. This is what Christ died to give us  - at least for our time on this very fallen planet: the feeling that we are never alone, the feeling that miracles are possible even in the midst of our pain, the feeling that in the end love does win.

Even in our hell, maybe this is heaven.

Designing Plan C

So, 2012 is drawing to an end. Thank the Lord. One day I will have to ask Him what it was all about. If He wanted me to relocate to Oakville, he could have had me win the Princess Margaret Dream House. Easy peasy. There was no need for all of this awfulness. I do plan to write about what happened to me one day - when I can find a way to inject meaning into it and describe what transpired in a non-train-wrecky way - but right now, I'd simply like to focus on my many blessings.

I've got to warn y'all: this is going to be a long post. I used to blog every day back when I was still on Plan A (marriage, kids, renovation, retirement) and writing at MUBAR. For the past almost four years, I just haven't been able to write - oh, I've written technical stuff like a fun business book I plan to shop around in the New Year - but I have not been able to write what was on my heart. Perhaps that ought to have been a big loud warning to me that my life was headed in the wrong direction, as writing has always been like oxygen for me. But I feel like writing again - I crave the feeling of my fingers on the keyboard - which perhaps is an indication that I'm finally back on track.

So, back to the blessings: after finding myself temporarily homeless (the kids and I hung out Chez Parents for a month) I found the most gorgeous home, which, I have to say, can only have been God-given. Somehow I found an affordable home in an area with no affordable houses.  It's an old house - my favourite kind - with lots of charming touches such as stained glass and a bathtub that's deep enough for lounging in and reading magazines. Heaven!

Since the new home is a tiny perfect jewel of a place, I had to divest a whole pile of furniture, clothes and art. How freeing that was! I highly recommend it (although I do not wish on anyone the circumstances that drove the process.) I had to think about what I really loved: Books - all of them, except for popular fiction I'd already read and books the kids had outgrown. The piano. The art, but only the traditional oil paintings as I'd lost my patience for anything requiring explanation. Our new home could not fit the giant grey velvet sectional so it was donated. I had to choose between the silvered oak dining room table and the round hollywood table. I adored the round piece, but in the end practicality won as we only have space for one dining/homework/everything table and the silver one is virtually indestructible. My beloved Philippe Starck ghost chairs survived the winnowing process, as did my nailhead studded club chairs. I sold or gave away my writing desk, bookshelves, and bed as well as countless accent pieces and decor items. My daughter's furniture was trop large for her tiny, charming room, so we consigned that too and bought a 1920's mahogany bedroom suite for a song at Antiques Unlocked in Hamilton. My daughter got the pretty vanity/desk for her room and I got the highboy, dresser and a side table for mine. Love! I also went through my wardrobe with a fine tooth comb. So much of my post-divorce wardrobe was about how other people wanted me to dress and I wanted to get rid of anything I didn't adore.

With the money I made from consigning things (note to self: clothes are a far better investment than furniture), I scored some excellent smaller-scale finds from local consignment and antique shops. I found an absolute steal in the form of a three-tiered, brass footed pie-crust tableIt was only ten smackers (ten!) and makes a fetching display piece for my beloved coffee table books. I also found a gorgeous drop leaf desk . I'm still moving things around, but here's a little preview of the living room space:

The only downer in the whole process (apart from the obvious) was the three gorgeous vintage chandeliers (think: Venetian Glass!) I'd purchased with the house had been removed when I took possession. The real estate agents and lawyers are handling it all now and luckily I had kept three chandeliers from my old house (again, a blessing!) I hired an electrician to install them so we would not have to eat our Christmas turkey in the dark. At first I thought that my old Schonbek disco ball would clash with the antique china cabinet I bought, but it works quite well on an interim basis.

Of course, the one chandelier I would not have missed was left behind (isn't that always the way!). The photo below does not show how, um, interesting the piece was. It was draped with layers of pearls and beads and looked like a group of hyperactive four-year old girls had crafted it using materials from Liberace's junk drawer. Egads! I pulled out a step ladder to take a better look and discovered that fake pearls and Mardi Gras beads had simply been wound around the thing, presumably in an effort to mask the attached plastic crystals that had become cloudy and yellowed over time. I decided there was nothing to be lost by taking a pair of scissors to the thing. I unwound the beads and cut away the damaged plastic "crystals" that had been part of the original fixture and voila!

There was quite a pretty crystal fixture underneath the layers of dreck. It was sort of a eureka moment for me. When my marriage was ended, instead taking the time to trim away the damaged strands and see if there might be something good and simple and shiny underneath, I got drawn into the dating pool looking to replace what I'd lost. I surrounded myself with fake pearls and Mardi Gras beads only to discover that they actually made things a whole lot worse.

I don't think that God caused any of the events of the last six months, but I still think He wants me to find the lesson in all of this. I think that had things not been as awful as they were, I would have gone back to the place I was in immediately post-divorce. I hated losing Plan A and could see nothing good about Plan B or C or Z. I felt wildly jealous of everyone who was still on their Plan A: marriages intact, health good, bank accounts robust. But now I realize how lucky I really am. Plan B (Ok, Plan C if you are keeping score) has forced me to see my many blessings -  good family, helpful friends and access to funds and information. If I did not have so blessings, I would not have the luxury to sit here and think about chandeliers and furniture. I'm incredibly grateful and plan to help those women who have found themselves in similar circumstances but did not have access to the resources I did.

Now that my literal house is in order, I have to start designing other parts of my life: career (writer, career coach, financial adviser to women post-divorce?), charity work (I want to do more at the church and work on something to raise funds for the local woman's shelter), and the activities we want to do as a family.

And I want to get back to writing about the lovely side of life. Because it's always there, even in the pit of darkness. After all, Paul was in prison when he wrote Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

The verse had many interpretations , but I've always read it as a reminder to focus on the gifts we are given. So for this week, I will dwell on a smiling French Bulldog , a fabulous silk frenchie pillow, a pretty leopard-print handbag, and the luxury to watch Downton Abbey as often as I like.

Christmas Traditions: The Nutcracker Ballet

Every year, I take my daughter to see the Nutcracker. (I took my youngest son once, but he loudly complained that there was too much dancing...