Theatrical Thursday: Fantastic French Style

Today is Theatre Thursday, featuring the french goodness of Marie Antoinette. This has to be one of the prettiest films ever made. Props to Sophia Coppola for the amazing mood she sets.

Of course, the trick is trying to translate the mood of the film into the home without things looking Theme-y (You don't want your neighbours coming over and saying, "Oh, it's French Country. How cute!" You just want them to revel in the awesomeness.) And  because not many of our homes look like Versailles (unless you are an Hermes heir and buy an 18th-century estate in Bordeaux like the one featured in April's Elle Decor - cue coveting alert) things need to be scaled down so they don't overwhelm.

So when I heard that SOFA (Source of Furniture and Accessories) was hosting a talk by David Thomas of French Market Collection, my design assistant and I hopped into the SUV and headed for the wilds of Mississauga.

Thomas, a designer and architect who has lived in Canada and the US and has designed homes around the world, is passionate about French Style.

He started the talk by running through the history of French Style (aka which Louis is which) and showing us lots of gorgeous photos illustrating the how the style can be used practically. I've always been a huge fan of Suzanne Kasler's work so it was nice to see some of her designs showcased.

- Suzanne Kasler for Hickory Chair. One of my favourite chairs ever.

After his talk, we had a chance to peek into his showroom, which he will be adding to over the next few months. He also mentioned that he can source french antiques. This stuff was gorgeous. These pieces are all handmade reproductions and the price point is amazingly reasonable for the incredible quality (the rugs, pillows and upholstery are all handspun aubusson). Like all good things design-y, they are only available to the trade (contact me if you want to find out more.)

If I wanted to do Marie Antoinette modern, I'd consider some of these pieces.

I also love these pieces. They are not as distinctly French but have that traditional look I love with a bit of a quirky kick. 

My senses were so satiated that I was able to bypass the chocolate croissants at the showroom. Since I did not indulge in all that clarified butter and chocolate, I wrapped up the day by cooking the second recipe from the March issue of Cooking Light. I like to cook but since I'm often cooking adult food for one, it's too easy to be lazy and eat toast every night unless I plan ahead. The first recipe I tried was the open-face eggplant sandwich. Yum city! Last night, I did the cheesy penne with broccoli. I'm assuming the magazine title promises I won't get fat if I eat this stuff because, honey, is it ever good.

Finally, I promised my design assistant that I'd show off her grand-dogter, Vivienne, who  just earned her American Champion status at Westminster. She's a lovely example of French Bulldog Style.

Until tomorrow,

Wish List Wednesday: Cherry Blossoms and Think Pink

OK, so it's wish list Wednesday featuring lots of pretty pretty.

Now that the ski season is drawing to a close, I am so ready for spring. Bring on the cherry blossoms with Tord Boontje's Blossom Chandelier.

Look at the detail!

If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. So moving right along...

These gorgeous Etta hummingbird shoes from J Crew sold out in pre-order, which is a total drag because look how gorgeous they are.

I don't think I'd get any work done if I owned those shoes because I'd always be staring at my feet.

Wouldn't this be a pretty addition to a room?

The traditional shape looks so much fresher in pink. I love pink in unexpected places.

Like the chicks in Ghana, who are dyed pink so they are less likely to be eaten by predators.

Or like the courts at last year's French Open.

Or like Charlotte Free's hair

Until Thursday,

Book Talk: Mended

OK, so I think I'm going to make Type Tuesday refer not only to MBTI personality type but book type too. Because I can't not write about books - coffee table books, novels, memoirs, self-help...

This week, I'm reading Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole. It's a book geared towards Christians or those who are, at least, open to Christianity. If that's not you, I urge you to trust me and read on anyways.

[caption id="attachment_897" align="aligncenter" width="317"]I've learned its easier just to go along with her. Hence the scarf... I've learned it's easier just to go along with her. Hence the scarf...[/caption]

I'm not sure I would have picked up this book were it not for an interesting looking book group on (in)courage that I wanted to join. Normally, I race through books, reading two or three at a time. The group is journeying through this book a few chapters at a time and I like the discipline of slowly digesting a book and taking time to consult scripture and make notes. I also like the idea of reading a book with others traveling a similar path. There's power in that, I believe.

Mended author, Angie Smith, initially wrote about the pain of losing her hours-old daughter, Audrey Caroline -- and the support God provided -- on her blog, Bring the Rain. She wanted to put what she learned about being broken and mended again into book form. The image on the book's cover is of a cracked ceramic jug -- a theme that carries throughout her book. In one of the many books on grieving Smith received after her daughter's death, she read that a good form of therapy was to smash a piece of glass or pottery. At first, she dismissed the idea as ridiculous but then felt called not only to smash a ceramic pitcher she owned (which she found made her feel really great) but also to stay up most of the night putting it back together again, something she urges her readers to try. As she looked at the glue-gun mended jug, she realized that God was able to take the broken shards of pottery we are at points in our life and make us whole again. What Smith noticed, though, is that while we are made whole, we are not unchanged. There are cracks. And it is in those cracks --  those scars, those wounds, those gaps -- that God moves into our lives. As Leonard Cohen put it: "There is a crack in everything. / That's how the light gets in."

Smith wrote the book for those of us who have felt - who feel - either that our lives are un-mendable and that nothing good can come from our brokenness. Smith reminds us that God is with us when we break:
He will come to you and remind you that He loves the gaps because there is more potential for Himself to be revealed in you.

I loved Smith's fourth chapter, titled, Why Weren't You Moses? She tells a story included in Ian Morgan Cron's Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale
Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?" he asked. "He was a Chasidic master who live in the 1700s. One day he said, 'When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, 'Why weren't you Moses?' Rather he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?'

We are not called to be Moses. We are called to be us. Smith continued to quote from the book:
Tell your story with all of its shadow and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses.

Smith discusses how we all have a Moses in our life: people who seem to be better at everything - and more worthy of God's love - than we are. She writes:
How much time do I spend comparing, contrasting, evaluating, doubting, and allowing myself to feel like a disappointment when the Lord tells me over and over that He loves me?

God does not want us to wallow in our brokenness. Perhaps we cannot be Moses. Perhaps we cannot do what he does and we cannot have his life. So what? I was meant to be me and to have this life experience. All of it. The good, the bad and the ugly. I was meant to be broken and to be mended and to use the experience to learn and to teach. I don't need to wander around thinking "why me?"

In January, I decided to put the past behind me and to simply say yes to God, this year. So far he has provided me with many blessings and has never led me astray. God placed it on my heart to join this book group. So I did. I'm glad He did and look forward to the journey.

Road Trip: Ottawa Street

On Saturday, I had a craving for fabric so my design assistant and I jumped in the SUV and headed to Ottawa Street. My assistant is not very good at carrying things, but she works for cheap.
 I am so going to chew on the fabric samples when you are not looking.[/caption]

I always find that driving into Hamilton on the QEW makes me think about faith. It's hard not to when you see the view. My mother refers to it as Gehenna.

When you exit the QEW onto Burlington Street E., it seems like forever that you travel through the industrial area where all of the steel plants are. It's bleak and on a Saturday morning you can find yourself feeling quite alone on the road. But you simply put on Joel Auge on the iPod and keep on driving.

Because then there is this:

Yards and yards of gorgeous silks and velvets. It's gorgeous. Like life, there is some pretty and some ugly. And when you find yourself in the industrial area with signs pointing towards the sludge pots, keep driving, for the love of Pete. And have faith that goodness lies at the end of the journey.

My assistant helped me pick out some gorgeous pink velvet at a bargain $16/yard at Ottawa Textiles.

I'm thinking pillows. The lady at the store told me I bought enough fabric for eight of them.

We stopped at Cafe Limoncello for some brunch and then headed for home.

Saturday night, I headed into the city for dinner at Loire with some old pals from my banking days. I stuffed myself on pate and Lobster croque monsier and nougat glace with pistachio and caramelized bananas. Plus a glass of vouvray. Such was the gluttony that I could barely move on Sunday and was a less-than satisfactory doubles partner in badminton, I'm afraid. Sunday night, there was no Downton and The Bible series does not start until next week (March 3, set your PVRs), so I lay around and read magazines.

Which brings me to Magazine Monday.

I always get Architectural Digest but I find that some months, I could take it or leave it. The March issue hits it out of the park, though. My favourite photo is Martyn Lawrence Bullard's living room for Elton John's new place in LA.

The pink Willy-Rizzo table, the chinchilla throw, the rug. The rug! There was a gorgeous zebra-print cowhide rug at Foamland on Ottawa Street that could contribute to this kind of look. Gorgeous!

And then there is Stefano Pilati's Paris duplex. I love the mix of styles and the wall colour. Fantastique!

AD is pure fantasy which is sort of my preference in design magazines.

Anyhow. Full week ahead with some fun things planned. I wish y'all a fabulous start to the week.

Until tomorrow,

Frugal Friday

Last night was badminton night, and bath night for the bulldog.

And then Million Dollar Decorators. There was not nearly enough Mary McDonald, but Martyn Lawrence Bullard was a scream. The faces he made when looking at the needing-some-love pub his sister bought were priceless. Ditto for the look on Jeffrey Alan Marks's face when his client asked him to decorate her Nantucket beach house from catalogues.

Which brings us to Frugal Fridays, where I will explore my own brand of design knows as Reversal of Fortune Chic. My very favourite bargains are those one of a kind ones that are not easily replicated. Like my oil painting or Santini-esque sculpture from Petits et Jolis (each piece was under $35!)

Or a painting bought at auction that was -- rumouredly -- once owned by a certain Lord who has encountered his own reversal of fortune, so to speak.

But, as Jeffrey Alan Marks discovered, sometimes great things can be discovered in chain stores. Like some of this action from West Elm that he used in his beach house project (under $600):

(Of course, he could not help himself and threw in a $10,000 Christian Liagre bench for good measure!)

When I can't buy vintage, one of my favourite online sources for cheapie accessories is Indigo. Yup, the book people. (And no they are not paying me, or giving me free stuff. I just like sharing the love.) My favourite current bargains -- available at the time of writing -- are under $35.

First, is the little heirloom shadow box.

I love the whole Victorian curiousity cabinet idea and this is a fun way to do it small scale. I bought three of these. The two on my dresser hold enamel bangles and chunky bead necklaces. I have a Dalvey Travel clock in the one on my mantel (paired with a little brass bowl from Indigo (sold out) and a tiny Emma Hesse painting.)

Anything you put in these looks special and they are a bargain at $11.80 per.

Next is the brass geometric paperweight at $5.60.

It's a small piece, but looks sweet on a desk when partnered with the brass magnifying glass (a steal at $7.80.)

And, for the final piece,  if you need inexpensive pillows, this 100% silk one is a bargain at $33.38.

Have a wonderful weekend, kids.

Theatrical Thursday

Yesterday was a busy one. Last night, I was asked to present as part of a blogger panel for Michelle Pelletier's Digital Marketing class at U of T. I was there with rockstar bloggers Valerie Stachurski from I'm Charming You and April Dunford from Rocket Watcher who, along with being the smartest person in startup marketing, is also a pal.

I wore my new Smythe jacket. Very exciting.

It's fun to get out and chit chat about blogging. I realized I've been blogging on and off for a decade now. Wow, I'm super old!

Yesterday, I was at a lunch (FT Goat cheese bruschetta, fig-stuffed chicken and chocolate dipped strawberries - yummo!) where the speaker was photographer Mark Zelinski. He has put together some gorgeous books based on his 35 years photographing the world. What a visual treat. My favourite book is "Untitled," a book with no words (or even a title) that is not for sale but provided to schools and NGOs as a tool for healing and education. The photographs were absolutely spectacular.

So, today is Theatre Thursday. Basically, it's design inspiration provided from the world of film and television. I'm a huge film buff. Pre-kids, I sometimes used to take the week off for TIFF and watch a zillion films. I realized the the films I adore are those that create the best atmosphere: Six Degrees of Separation, A Perfect Murder, Igby Goes Down, Great Expectations, The Royal Tenenbaums, I Am Love, Marie Antoinette, Heathers, Moulin Rouge. Gorgeous, all of them!

Yesterday, Mark Zilinski had some amazing photos of Maasi people, which, of course, makes me think about the movie (and the memoir) Out of Africa. The film came out in 1985, when I was in high school. I was obsessed with the film and remember doing a project on it for English Lit. Fabulous style!

So, if I were to do a room with an Out of Africa vibe, I'd love a little campaign-style home office. Voila!

My final fun thing from yesterday was discovering that an uber-talented design blogger lives just around the corner from me (apparently I live in the creative part of town with decorators and designers and architects - awesome!) Ms. Bijou and Boheme, Christine Dovey, is doing amazeball (her expression!) design work and bringing some glam to a town that has a major reputation for beige.

She designed a collection for decor etailer 219. Look at this pillow. I'm all Rachel Zoe-y, "I Die!"

And they say all the talent is at Av and Dav. Pshaw!

Apparently, Mlle Dovey is even more enamoured of Black Rooster Decor than I am. She is using their pretty things to deck out her reno. So far, I've limited myself to a Chloe Croft London silk french bulldog pillow that arrived this morning.

The proprietress also sent along a fabulous Anna Maria Horner tea towel gratis. Pink, floral and leopard. Gorgeous!

Well, that's all for now...

Wish List Wednesday

So, first off, I'm going through a couple of great inspirational books. I'm reading Angie Smith's Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole as part of a book club through (in)courage. It's very good but not a book to be read in public unless you don't mind crying in front of others. I'm also listening to Stephen Arterburn's Reframe Your Life: Transforming Your Pain into Purpose. So far, so good. I find a lot of American, male, Christian authors come across as the Mayor of Smugtown, but Arterburn has a very nice, non-patronizing style, sage advice and he likes the show What Not to Wear almost as much as I do. So that's all good.

Well, seeing as it's Wednesday, it's time for my wish list. Pure fantasy stuff. I've been playing with Olioboard which is even more addictive than Polyvore. To give my play some structure, I took Tobi Fairly Design Challnge to create a stripe-based room. Ta Dah!

I maintain that Zebra is a stripe. I'd love a room like that.

In keeping with that theme, on the top of my wish list is the Scalamandre Zebra dog bed.

At $225 plus shipping, it will remain a wish for now. Even if Serena begs.

Until tomorrow,

xo Jen

Type Tuesday

French Bulldog day was fun. We slept in, stuffed ourselves with cinnamon buns, played badminton, had a playdate, and got ready for the week. Oh and lots of HGTV. The kids are now planning future renovations on our house. "Mama, is this a support wall?" the seven-year old asks.

Alrighty. So it's Type Tuesday. As some of you know, I have had a lot of careers in my 41 years and in them I've picked up a variety of skills. If you ever need someone to value a media company, raise money for a charity, book you an airline ticket to Denver, and hire you a CFO who understands how to use the em dash, I'm your gal. One of the really cool things I can do is to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a very neat tool based on Jungian archetypes that gives you keen insight into your personality. Although I've used it more in a training and development environment, I thought, how cool would it be to be able to discuss how personality type influences design? In fact, one of the exercises that we did as part of the certification course is to break into type groups and discuss an ideal room. It was amazing how much type influenced this process.

So, for those of you who have never had your type done, here is a quick primer:

Introversion/Extraversion describes the way you get your energy. Do you get your energy from ideas, words and concepts? Then your preference is probably Introversion. Do you get your energy from being with people and putting things into action? Then you are showing a preference for Extraversion. You are assigned a letter I or E.

Sensing/iNtuition describes how you prefer to gather information. Do you like to gather lots of facts and details? You probably have a preference for Sensing. Do you prefer to look at the big picture and focus on patterns and relationships to give you an idea what is going on? You are likely expressing a preference for iNtuition. You are be assigned an S or an N.

Thinking/Feeling describes how you like to process information. If you like to make decisions based on logic - list the pros and cons, calculate the optimal solution given the data - you likely have a preference for Thinking. If you tend to look at how the decision will be accepted by others (you might even choose a less than perfect decision on paper if it makes the most sense for the group) you are likely a Feeling Type. You are a T or an F.

Judging/Perceiving describes how your preferences work when dealing with the outside world of people and activity. Those expressing a preference for Judging like to rely on the decision making function (Thinking or Feeling). They tend to prefer order and a sense of finality. Those with a preference for Perceiving like to continue gathering information - be it through Sensing or iNtuition. These types tend to like to keep things open ended and unscheduled. You are a J or a P.

The four letters together make up your type. So you can be an INTP or and ESTJ or an ENFP. You tend to keep your preferences for life.

So, how does it work with design?

Well, here is a photo of an organized craft room.

To some people, it's heaven on a plate. Totally organized. Everything where it is supposed to be. INTJs probably love it: a room of one's own speaks to the Introverted type's need to get away and re-energize, the logic applied to organizing the space speaks to the Thinker. And, see, no unfinished projects: that makes the J happy!

But an ISFP might think, "I can't see anything! How I am supposed to get inspired!" They might want a craft room that looks like this:

Everything is out. You can see it all. Sensors like details and seeing all of the materials laid out might inspire a project. There is lots of potential inspiration here. There are some paintings up that perhaps clients liked in the past. Feeling types like to know that the end project will appeal to others. And it all looks like a work in process with endless possibilities (appealing to the P.)

Of course, the extraverts in the crowd might want a craft room like this:

Just a little type joke! Extraverts do not spend all of their times in clubs, contrary to what introverts like me believe. But extraverts would be more likely to spend design dollars on a big kitchen, a media room, a pool, a big barbecue area, or other spaces that would draw friends and family into their homes since people and activity fuel them.

So, on Tuesdays, I'll be writing a little bit about how type theory can influence design choices. There is nothing worse than spending a lot of money to design a home that suits somebody else (your friends, your neighbours or a pushy designer.) Tuesday's type talk is all about finding a place to suit you!

xo Jen

Magazine Monday

Happy day off to those of you who have a holiday today. In Ontari-ari-ario, we have Family Day. Personally, I think that's the worst name for a holiday ever, particularly one following Valentine's Day. Around here, we are calling it French Bulldog day in protest. Because if you have seen the commercial for, you'll know that 'french bulldog' is a euphemism for lazy and this is a great day for lying around after a busy weekend (between Ski-tastic Saturday, the auto show, visiting with the awesome Melinda who came for dinner last night, and Downton (Matthew!!) we need a rest!) Feel free to follow suit.

OK, so almost all bloggers fall into a little writing routine after a while to help them gain focus and to help their ideas remain fresh. Otherwise it's too easy to veer into "25 things to do with a bale of hay" or "12 inedible sandwich fillings" territory. So, I've decide to break up my blogging into Magazine Monday, Type Tuesday, Wishlist Wednesday, Theatre Thursday and Frugal Friday. See how the topics start with the same letters as the days of the week. Wildly clever, no?

Anyhow, so it's Magazine Monday. When I was doing my budget, I added a line for books and magazines because it's a not insignificant expense. I adore magazines. Always have. I'm the person who collected every issue of Victoria magazine since the magazine's inception (I was an odd teenager) only to discard them in a fit of organization. I then  had to buy them all back again on eBay because I missed them. Yes, it's a problem.

So, the pretty pretty this week is the new issue of House and Garden. I love love love British design magazines even though we get them delivered way late. It's all Reversal-of-Fortune Chic: way too much stuff crammed into a small space, plus an Ikea kitchen. It's how I love to live. 

Look at the eye candy. Even the ads like the one in the bottom right corner are pretty!

I love the mash-up of design styles. I figure that if you decorate with things you adore, it all works together.

And look at the ads for the bargain chairs. So pretty. I want that dress!

Even the usually awful looking cheapy ads at the back are nicely done:

Love the glass ball fountain!

I hope that today is peaceful and relaxing for everyone.

Until tomorrow.

xo Jen

Happy Valentine's Day

Ok, for those of you who hate Valentine's Day. You can just look at this and move along.

I love Valentine's Day. I didn't when I was younger -- too much pressure. But now I love it. Maybe it's the red and the pink together.
Pink and Red

Always super delish.

But mainly, it's because Valentine's Day is a celebration of love. And seriously, what's not to like about that. Love for family, love for God, love for pets, love for shoes. I mean, it's better than Hate Day, no?

The kids have been busy making cards for their classes. And even the Fabulous Frenchie is getting her Valentine's Day on.

I've bought myself some (budgeted for) pretty pretties. 

V-Day Gifts

Yup. Got me a Kobo. I've held out for so long (even my daughter got one before me!) but I was nearly injured the other night when the tower of books I'm currently reading collapsed on me, so I know it's time. Plus, I can now get library books once again since the whole e-book thing works well with my germaphobic tendencies. The savings will keep me in Smythe.

This year I feel particular celebratory as 2012 was the year I learned that there are some things that are far worse than being single on Valentine's Day. So I gave back a little bit too.

I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day, however you are celebrating it. With a lover, with friends, with family, with your beloved dog or cat, or under the duvet with a bag of all-dressed chips.

Westminster, V-Day and other Tuesday Randomness

Thank you to those of you who reached out to me about my post yesterday. I felt compelled to say something. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen news coverage of a story where I was an insider and have seen not only errors in interpretation but errors in fact as well. In this case, I was not an insider but I felt I had a perspective that might show the story in a different light. Anyhow, here is Crossroads's thoughtful and prayer-led response.

So, in other news, Serena's grand-dogs are competing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week.

Serena has been watching the live stream. (I think she might need reading glasses as she keeps leaving nose prints on the screen!)

She had to wipe away a tear of happiness when her grand-dogter Vivienne got her American CH status.

Serena is a former champion too. She was best Frenchie in Canada in 2008 (CH Foxmoor Petit Cherie Nevertheless.) So that she is not too disappointed by her demotion to pet status in the suburbs, every now and then I give her a round of applause. I was explaining this to a friend of mine - how I feel responsible for keeping the ego intact of a former champion - and she looked at me and said "You couldn't just get a regular golden retriever like everyone else."

Of course not.

A friend of mine gave me a buddha board as a housewarming gift this weekend. I've always wanted one of these. I have trouble letting things go and this will help me in that process.

I bought myself some roses in anticipation of Valentines Day:

And maybe a little something else:

Well, kittens, I have to get back to my painting and drawing. I'm in the final stretch so wish me luck!

Until tomorrow...

At the Crossroads

So, I was going to write a chirpy post about how much fun I had this weekend attending Crossroads' Lead with Love Women's Conference. I was going to write about the chocolate fondue and how Kevin Leman made us all laugh by uttering words that have never before been uttered in the hallowed halls of Huntley Street. I was going to write about the jacket I bought myself for Valentine's day and about brunch with a good friend and how my parents took the diva french bulldog to the Old Hide House.

But then, when I woke up and wanted to check the headlines to make sure the rapture had not occurred overnight (still earthbound, I'd realize my stance on adult baptism had been wrong...) I saw this on the Toronto Star's Online Site:

Anti-gay religious group gets funding from Ottawa to work in Uganda

An evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a “perversion” and a “sin” is receiving funding from Ottawa for its work in Uganda, where gays and lesbians face severe threats

I assumed that the feds had been caught helping Westboro Baptist open a Canadian chapter in Uganda for the sole-purpose of promoting anti-gay threats. I read on:

"Ottawa has denounced virulent homophobia in that East African country and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has condemned plans for an anti-gay bill that could potentially include the death penalty for homosexuals."

Well. I should hope so.

"At the same time the federal government is providing $544,813 in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for Crossroads Christian Communications — an Ontario-based evangelical group that also produces television programming like 100 Huntley Street — to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014."

Crossroads. They were talking about Crossroads. The place where I'd spent my weekend and had felt so much love. And the use of the phrase, "At the same time" in the second paragraph. Was Crossroads' funding somehow connected to the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda? Or was this juxtaposition of ideas simply journalism of the "when did you stop beating your wife?" variety.

To be clear, I don't work for Crossroads. I paid full-price for my ticket to the conference like everybody else. I did not even win the draw for the floral centrepiece. I got invited to see Mark Burnett a few weeks ago, which was really cool. I think I ate about $9 worth of appetizers which is more than offset by money I've paid for various events in the past. I'm not after Crossroads' approval. Anyone who read my old mommy blog MUBAR knows I'm not particularly concerned about being liked. But they also know that I can't shut up if I think something is wrong.

When I was at my most broken in the early fall - exhausted, frightened and my faith shaken to the core - Melinda Estabrooks, who knew me only as the gal who wrote a mommy blog that a friend of hers read a million years ago, dropped everything to come and support me and pray. Because that's what Christians do. And they don't sit down and ask for your views on gay marriage or adult baptism or purity rings first. At least not the ones who want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

And because Melinda is so awesome, I started going to some Crossroads events because that's where she works. And I met lots of great people. Other imperfect Christians who were trying to make some sort of difference in the world.

Because I came to the women's conference alone this weekend, I was seated at the table for speakers and hosts (I think they felt bad for me - the totally single person hearing a speech about the joys of marriage!) Which meant I was also seated with on-air host (and daughter-in-law of the founder) Ann Mainse, producer and on-air host Cheryl Weber, Crossroads Executive Lara Dewar Laurie, on-air host Christine Williams, and guest speaker Kevin Leman (The Birth Order Book guy). In other words, I was at the Crossroads power table for a day and a half, hearing not only the formal conference program, but a lot of other behind-the-scenes stuff too. Tickets were available to the public, so I'm not sure why I did not run into anyone from the media given that this story was brewing, but I didn't. It's too bad, because they might have had a different take on the whole thing.

The weekend focused on love and relationships and family values, which would seem like a great opportunity for some vitriol, no? And yet, the closest there came to any discussion about the LGBT community is when Kevin Leman proudly talked about his son, who is head writer for the Ellen DeGeneres show. Ellen's sexual orientation was never mentioned.

What I did hear was a lot of discussion about how we, as Christians and as humans, have an obligation to help end the suffering around the globe because that's how we can show God's love. We heard from Crossroads producer Cheryl Weber who just returned from Cambodia to bring more attention to the issue of Child Trafficking. She is heading to Uganda to talk about the needs there. And believe me, these are not glamourous trips with lavish meals and 5 star hotels. We also heard from Shae Invidiata who runs Free Them, a secular NGO focusing on ending slavery around the globe. That's right: they believe that secular organizations, with differing beliefs, can do good work too. Doesn't seem like intolerance to me.

There was some discussion at lunch about how the church can reflect evolving social mores while still staying true to the teachings of Christ. It's not like the church does not recognize the shift in views towards issues like gay marriage or women in leadership roles (as Downton Abbey reminded us last night, being gay used to be illegal not so long ago.) There is a lot of discussion and prayer about such things. I believe that women need to be in leadership roles at the church. Jesus spent his time surrounded by women and the church's foot-dragging in this area irritates me to no end. The church seems behind the times but I'm reminded that the church has always been countercultural and one of the ways that some very good values have been safeguarded over time is by not catering to popular opinion. I also support gay marriage. Jesus does not talk about homosexuality, but he does talk a lot about love. I believe that if people want to promise to love each other for life, that ought to be encouraged. Heaven knows I would have liked that in my own life. I know that there are a lot of Christians who do not agree with me on these two points, but it does not mean that I cannot support them in the good works they do. Good works that, frankly, I'm not willing to do.

I am as cynical as they come and have come to expect the very worst from the evangelical Christian community as a whole (I know of a group of church elders whose recent response a domestic violence situation was to offer to pray for the couple's reconciliation.) But what I saw at Crossroads was a group of people who want to feed the hungry, comfort the hurt, and free the oppressed. Not once was there talk of converting or changing people. There was only talk of trying to be as Jesus-like as we, with our myriad of flaws, can be. What I also saw at Crossroads this weekend was a big tent. The powers that be were sitting with me: a divorced, socially liberal, spendthrift, feminist Anglican who loves Jesus. They might as well have had the Woman at the Well over for tea. But there was no judgement there.

If Crossroads was funding the printing of hate tracts or only distributing water to non-Gay Christians, I would want their funding stopped too. But if what the media is saying is that only people who have politically acceptable points of view are eligible for government funding of otherwise fundable work, then I think we have an intolerance problem that goes far beyond this one particular story. And if the good work that Crossroads is doing is halted because of this story, I hope that the media outlets profiting from the scandal will provide the resources to take it over in their place. Because I'm guessing that the moms waiting for clean water for their children do not care about the ideology of the people digging the well.  

Fabulous Friday

It's a snow day.

Snow day equals ski day because we are Canadian and snow should be a good thing. Right?

Yesterday, I painted. It's a new thing but super-therapeutic.

Last night was lots of fun. I'm loving this whole ladies night/badminton thing. My kids spent two hours playing Arctic Explorer (it seemed to entail a group of them spying on the squash guys) and I got some grown-up time. It's this whole "it takes a village" concept and I'm loving it large.

I went home and watched my favourite show, Million Dollar Decorators (not to be confused with Million Dollar Rooms which IMHO is just a tackier version of Cribs.) I have a total girl crush on Mary McDonald. Such fabulous style. And I loved what Martyn Lawrence Bullard did with actress Stacey Dash's home.

I was so moved by Stacey's reaction to her gorgeous place. She just kept saying "it's my home, it's my home" over and over again. The designer indicated that this was a new, "cozy" (read downsized) house for the actress and her nine-year old daughter and I wanted to find out the back story. This house was her first home of her own after Dash had been granted a divorce from an allegedly abusive man. Hence, her seemingly over-the-top reaction to some high-end zhushing. Design is often dismissed as a silly luxury (Dash was openly mocked for her reaction on the snark sites) but being able to build a safe haven after trauma is important. Even the much-praised Proverbs 31 woman understood the value of being clothed in fine linen and purple and making coverings for her bed. Surroundings matter.

The Lead with Love conference is this weekend and no silly snow is going to keep me from the chocolate fountain and hanging out with the ladies of Crossroads.

Also, it's Holt Renfrew's "Get a gift card that y'all can use on Bobbi Brown makeup in the spring when you buy something off your V-Day wish list now" sale (perhaps not its official name, but that's how I see it.) I'm hoping to pick up a little something something, so, yay for snow tires and all-wheel drive.

Drive safe,kids!

This is Thursday

I love it when a new magazine arrives in the mail. Yesterday was the March issue of House and Home. Still craving that pop of colour so here are my lust items from that issue:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420"]March House and Home Wants Brass doorknob via The Door Store / Pouf via The Cross  / Quatrefoil Mirror via Urban Barn / Magnifying Glass Necklace via Biko / Sorbier LXVI bergere chair by Taillardat via[/caption]

Chagall's Lovers. Wouldn't it be fun to have a job naming paint colours?

Gonna try out the spaghetti alla Norma. I had a delightful Aunt Norma (Auntie Nonie, as she was known) so I love the name. Plus, the recipe calls for eggplant. Yummo!

I totally have to make a date to check out the Tommy Smythe recommended Addison's because if I can pick up a salvaged brass bar sink for $75, that's all good.

Today I'm painting. Fun!

And the frenchie is relaxing with a book:

So we will be kept nice and busy until Wine O'Clock, I mean Badminton.

Take care, kiddos!

February colour boost

So, still loving the pretty pretty colours for February. I was having lunch with a pal from university today and decided on lavender cords, a grey velvet jacket, and a paisley Etro silk scarf.

Sort of like this:

Feb 6 Outfit

 via (Etro scarf) / (J Crew jacket) / (Victoria Beckham cords)

Ooh and I've found a new lipgloss I like. I'm always on the hunt for a perfect gloss and Rose Essence by Bourjois is really really good. It's not too sticky but lasts long and it's a gorgeous rosy pink (it's supposed to adjust based on your pH type or something science-y. I just think it looks pretty.) Once, I had a makeup artist tell me that Bourjois is owned by the same company that makes Chanel cosmetics. I've never seen proof in writing but the quality is certainly quite lovely for a drug store brand.

Anyhow, I wore that too.

The drawings are going well. Well for me, at least.

Now, I need to do some painting. I bought a mix of acrylic colours as well as larger tubes of pink, gold and black.

I'll just throw together a little somethin' somethin' like Mark Rothko's White Center:

Again, a pretty pretty Valentines Day palette clearly is on the brain.

Speaking of which, here is my V-day wish list:

Valentine's Day Wish List

Smythe Jacket (via ELuxe) / Kate Spade handbag (via Bobbi Brown Cosmetics lip gloss (via / Essie (blanc via Target) / Wild Card Buttoned Back Sofa (via House of Hackney)


In the Pink

So, it's the beginning of the February blahs. I'm always looking for quick pick-me-ups at the time of year, especially as I'm not planning on a warm weather vacay this winter.

In the Pink

via j crew / Chanel pink handbag (portero) / NARS Cosmetics lipstick (asos) / NARS Cosmetics (asos) / Vase (One Kings Lane)

I always want pink this time of year: partly because it's a nice pop of colour against all the grey outside, and partly because there is a lot available in the run-up to Valentine's Day. The pink flowers and pink make-up are nice splurges. The jacket would be lovely and it's been a while since I hit J Crew. It used to be my happy place but that whole budget thing keeps me on the straight and narrow. The Chanel bag is a happy pipe-dream. But still, a girl can look...

The weekend was a good one. Good, but hectic (since Friday was a PD day, it was extra long.) Saturday, we skied and by that, I mean we all skied. Kids were in lessons and I had a beautiful 3 hours on the slopes. The sun even paid us a visit. Hallelujah!

The only drawback to skiing is that lunch is a full contact sport. To start, there are no beta personalities at the ski club, which is something that lazy alphas like me tend to require. Nobody is rolling in at noon, starting to think about lunch. No, moms have been staking out tables since 8am. They spread out these very complicated picnics for 10 people (alphas seem to prefer to travel in a pack)  It strikes me as unfair that dad and the kids go skiing while mom makes lunch and guards the tables. Since the weekends when I have my kids, I play both mom and dad, I opt to take the dad role and ski the whole time, but since I am a mom and do not want my kids to be caught short at lunch, I have to be wily to get it all done.

This week, I headed in for a muffin and coffee at 10:30. I grabbed a table for 2, found another chair, and had half the muffin and half the coffee. I then left the unfinished half on the table along with an old pair of ski mitts as a way to stake my turf. I then ran out to ski for 45 minutes. At 11:15, I headed back in, hit the hot food line up, ordered the food, put it on the table and then ran outside to collect my kids at 11:30. It seemed to work pretty well and we got everyone fed and back out on the hill at the right time.

Sunday, I wanted to see if I could play a game of badminton with the kids along for the ride. I rallied a bit with them and was then pulled into a session of adult doubles. My kids headed into the kids area and were quiet for over an hour. I thought this was a minor miracle until I realized that they were ordering snacks on my tab. My son ordered several Cokes (a 'special occasion' drink) and a Twix bar (as well as food for a pal from school.) No wonder they were so quiet! I count myself lucky that everybody went to sleep after the Superbowl half-time show. Live and learn.

Today, I hit the gym, did another drawing, made muffins and spent some quality time with the dog (as a former Canadian champion, she is a diva and needs a certain amount of spoiling. ) I have a new pillow project I want to start but since it's working with silk, I need to find the fabric whisperer in these parts. I used to sew a lot as a kid and have to rebuild my machine skills but I think that this project should be outsourced. I'll blog it when I'm done.

So, that's it for today. Happy Monday!

Flow (or God's Plan)

OK, so today's post is a little more soulful. For those of you here to see decor shots and french bulldog pics, I'll indulge you for a minute and then you can move along to Apartment Therapy and Cute Overload.

My current design obsession is this Butler Table by Baker. I have a tiny house and the thought of being able to unfold this puppy for an impromptu buffet is très appealing! Gorgeous and practical. And don't you think I need this Sam Moore zebra-print chair to go with my pillow? Yes. Well, in my dreams since it's all crazy expensive and my furniture budget is maxed for a while.

Butler Table

via Hooker Furniture (chair), Baker Furniture (Butler Table - folded and unfolded), House of Hackney (pillow)[/caption]

And then, here's the fabulous frenchie perfecting her "if I pretend I'm a meatloaf, maybe they'll just let me relax on the sofa" routine. Not sure why she needs to nap given that she spent 8 hours sleeping stretched out across the top of my bed last night (with me crunched into a corner, facing the non-smiling end of the dog!) Good thing she's so cute.

OK, dog and design time will return next week. Please be seated for the homily.

A few years ago, when I was writing Bliss Notes, I read a lot about the science of happiness. One of the books that has stayed with me was Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The book describes how one is able to get to a state of deep enjoyment and creativity by becoming fully engaged in an activity that utilizes one's gifts and skills. During this state, time flies, worries disappear, and one often forgets to eat lunch. Others have described this state as being 'in the zone' or 'in the groove' but I like to think of it as fulfilling God's plan. When I've experienced flow in the past, projects progress smoothly, interesting opportunities present themselves, and serendipity is at play. Later, people will ask me "how did you get to do that?" and I truly do not have an answer for them. "Don't know, it just sort of happened" is the only explanation. Of course, it did not just sort of happen. When you are using your God-given skills to fulfill God's plan, things are easy. It does not mean that you don't have to work hard (you do) or that you will not encounter obstacles (you will) but you have the time and energy to push through and overcome. And lots of miracles happen along the way.

For the last few years nothing has flowed. I've been wading through frozen molasses. Ever since my divorce, I've been sick (like shingles and other awful stuff), I've encountered insurmountable roadblocks and obstacles, and I've encountered some truly diabolical characters - and I don't use that word lightly. It seemed so unfair that everyone else I encountered seemed to be living happy lives and I'd been cast out into the wilderness. And so I tried to recapture some of what I'd lost. Boy oh boy, did I try. And the harder I tried, the worse things got. Because I was not living God's plan for me. Instead I was living my plan which was the "let's get everything back we lost so we can get back on plan" plan.

And of course, that's when the devil pops up as he knows - like the con man who rolls into town after a tornado - that people are never more vulnerable than they are after a loss. Wouldn't it be awesome if the devil were more obvious, like the cheese-sampler guy in the Kraft Habanero commercial? (That commercial never fails to make me laugh. Hot to trot? *Snort*) But no, the devil does not sport a blue apron, offering up temptation on a toothpick. Instead he comes in the form of bad-for-us people or that Iago-like voice in our heads. After a loss, he tends to offer us a quick fix for our troubles. And sometimes we can even twist that voice to sound a bit like God. "Hey, this is the part where we get a double portion for our trouble!" we think. Of course we know somewhere deep down inside that it's not God offering us the beach house in a way that's entirely inconsistent with scripture, but the concept of God as an insurance agent with a make-whole policy is kind of nice, no?

And so we ignore all of the warning signs that we are dangerously off track and veering toward the flames. We get sick. Things get tough. Life doesn't flow. "You're going the wrong way!" life frequently shouted at me in a voice reminiscent of the trying-to-be-helpful motorist in Planes Trains and Automobiles. But my inner Del would not be silenced: "Oh, he's drunk. How would he know where we're going?"

It was only when my proverbial car caught on fire and my credit card melted in the glovebox (ever have a Love Inspired book devolve into a Lifetime movie of the week?) that I finally got the message.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9

Instead of trying so hard to put my plan into place, I realized perhaps I should listen to the smartest guy in the room.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. - Jeremiah 29:11

God promises a special plan for our lives, for which we have been given unique gifts. We are not meant to live other people's lives. I have to repeat this to myself daily: We are not meant to live other people's lives. So when I hear about someone getting a ski chalet, or a really cool job opportunity, or something amazing happens to their kids, I no longer think "Unfair! Why did they get that and not me?" Instead I think, "Awesome!" They are on their path. And I am on mine. Believe me, this is a new feeling.

I am also not supposed to live the life I used to have. Or the life to which I thought I was entitled as compensation for clean living and careful planning. God has a plan for my life right now. And it's a great plan. A better plan that I could ever have crafted for myself.

But my plan requires me to listen. And to be still. And to have trust. Because I'm not the one with the map. I'm not very good at any of those things. But I've been trying to listen to the still, small voice and take baby steps. And when things start to flow - when opportunities present themselves and obstacles fall away - I know I'm on the right path.

And you know what? Since I have started doing that, I've become unstuck. I found a house that is perfectly suited to my family - right down to the stained glass. We found the perfect dog for us - a perfect amalgamation of Marie Antoinette and Chuck Bronson. I've met some excellent people. I've joined some fun groups. I ended up at a lunch with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, for the love of Pete. If that's not flow, I don't know what is! 

And even the hard stuff is not as difficult. Writing is never easy, but it is natural once again. Editing is a chore, but a feasible one. I'm a deep introvert and yet I find myself on the social committee at the most extroverted place in town. I've been asked to do a little speaking and I have something I want to say. I have to do some sketches for this project I'm working on  - and people, I can't draw for beans - but even that's flowing.

Today is a PD day and I have had 5 kids in my house under the age of 10. And you know what? That flowed too. In between cooking hotdogs and baking chocolate chip cookies, and riding herd on any potential chaos, I was able to write this post, do the laundry and finish a drawing. That's the equivalent of loaves and fishes around these parts.

I write this not as the online version of the braggarty Christmas letter (please, not that.) Believe me, I take absolutely no credit for how things have been redeemed. The glory is all His. But in the past, people have told me that one of my gifts is to share what has happened to me and how I got through it. And that has made it just a tiny bit easier for people going through the same thing. So if you are in the fire, know that you are not alone (remember the fourth man!), you will never be forgotten and the situation will be redeemed. God has plans to give you hope and a future. A future where things will flow once again.

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...