Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Redirect, Please!

Hello - and welcome to the final post of Mockingbird's Nest.

I sincerely hope you've enjoyed these posts of mine. I know I've enjoyed writing them and reading your comments, both here and on Facebook, where I linked the posts.

The Nest has been around for ten years, which is an eternity in Internet years. I've decided to move to a different platform that would give me more flexibility and I'm not going to re-attach all these posts, choosing instead to keep this content here and start anew.

The Nest won't go away for a while, but nothing new will be added. If you've enjoyed this site, please navigate over to my new site, which takes the best of what I've learned here (both about blogging and about the content!) and follow me there.

Thanks! And I hope you enjoy Splendor InTheSticks!

With love and gratitude,


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Spooky 2003 - 2017

Super Spooky!
In October of 2003, I was walking my dog, a lovely black and tan almost-Gordon setter named "Fearghus," in the scrubby woods across from my little apartment in Boiling Springs when a skinny, unkempt white shepherd-looking thing stepped out of the trees and into my heart. She had a leather strap around her neck as a collar, but no tags. She was friendly, but dreadfully thin - she hadn't just jumped the fence for an adventure that afternoon. Not sure what to do, but being unwilling to leave her to her own devices with a busy road nearby, I rigged up the leash to walk the dogs in tandem and took them both back home.

After a visit to the vet to determine if the white dog was healthy (she was), I learned that she was about 9 months old, that her ancestry was Labrador, shepherd, "and a few romantic evenings a couple of generations back," and that she hadn't been fixed. A generous friend helped with the cost of the spaying and general shots, and I had myself a second dog. (No, I didn't put up signs. She was thin to the point of being bony and I didn't see signs for a missing dog that fit her description. Whoever had owned her hadn't taken good care of her and she wasn't going back to that.) I tried out a number of names that seemed to fit the white-dog-in-October-in-the-woods situation - I remember trying both "Ghost" and "Casper" - but "Spooky" was the one that stuck.

FryDaddy and the Spookster
Fearghus, who always was a runner, eventually was re-homed. (Seriously, that dog needed a hundred thousand acres in Montana.) Then, at least for a few years, it was just the two of us and we had ourselves a number of adventures. For instance, Spooky technically had a police (dog) record for hi-jinks that I'm still pretty sure Fearghus started which involved getting out of the pen at that little apartment and ended up with a wounded pet duck. With Spooky by my side, I bought my first "by myself" house. I presented at my first conference. I wrote my first book. And throughout it all, I stayed sober. In the tradition of sobriety that I follow, there's a focus on surrendering your will and your self to a "Higher Power." Many, but not all, call this Power by the name of "God." I won't go quite so far as to say that Spooky was my Higher Power, but it's worth noting that "god" spelled backward is "dog" and there were at least a few nights when knowing that Spooky had never seen me take a drink was a powerful incentive to last another 24 hours. Hey - what works, works.

Spooky in the Snow!
In her youth, Spooky loved running after balls, although she remained fuzzy on the concept of "fetching" them back to the thrower. Friends entered our lives and a few left. Spooky and I took long rambles, with her often wearing a jaunty backpack to carry her water dish. FryDaddy came onto the scene and quickly figured out that he needed to win over Spooky to have a shot with me, so early on, he brought her treats from a fancy dog bakery in Charleston. Cupboard love eventually gave way to honest affection.  FryDaddy and I married (Spooky kept my name, forever remaining "Spooky Koontz") and we added a kitten to the household. Spooky continued to shy away from anything that looked like a snake when we were out walking, be that a cable, wire, or thin tree branch. FryDaddy went away to Tennessee for graduate school. We continued to present our work at conferences. Spooky popped up in examples in various communication classes I taught. A second book was written, this time by both FryDaddy and me. Spooky never liked dressing up for the holidays, but would put up with it to a point. We added a second cat, this one a street stray with a goofy walk. We had an actual snowstorm, and Spooky got to play in the snow-covered street.  Our first cat passed away. My walks with Spooky grew shorter. A shadow on a routine mammogram led to a year of worry, treatment, and joy. A calico cat adopted us. A third book was written. A garden was planted.

A very patient dog!
(Or "Stranger Things" Spooky!)
This past summer, Spooky began to dramatically slow down. She lost too much weight. She didn't hear very well. We changed her diet to softer food designed for older dogs. She began having trouble getting up after a good night's sleep. Her gums lost their rosy pinkness and became anemic-looking. Then, a few days ago, she stopped eating, even refusing cheese. She barely touched her water dish. She was telling us that it was time. The compassionate vet - the same one Spooky first saw nearly 15 years ago - confirmed the news. There were tests we could order and bloodwork that could be done, but that would really only narrow down which organs were failing. I had to lift her into the car to drive her home.

So together, FryDaddy and I decided what was best for Spooky's comfort and we spent most of yesterday telling Spooky stories and just enjoying our gentle girl. I took her to town for a slow walk on the courthouse grass and I wore a backpack to carry her water dish, hoping I could convince her to drink at least a little bit. She spent most of the evening just lying on her side on the soft carpet of the hallway. People were unfailingly kind and a young girl and her wise mother who have known Spooky for the girl's entire life (they had been our next-door neighbors and now only live two streets away) come over to say good-bye to her. The girl petted Spooky and then read Dog Heaven to her. She helpfully pointed out the illustrations of fluffy cloud beds and an endless supply of ham-sandwich-biscuits to Spooky while I tried to hold it together.

I want to think we gave her a good life. I need to think that, because I can't repay this dog for what she's given me. And even though I know that allowing her to rest is the right thing to do - it's one of the most difficult moral decisions I've made in my life.

Thank you, Spooky. Now go run with the rabbits. And yes, you can chase the ducks as much as you want to.

You're a good girl.


The songsters were right - Love was kinda crazy
with a Spooky little girl like you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

No Such Thing as Too Much

Here it is, the beginning of October. The weather here in North Carolina has broken from the heat wave we've been having and today has been just lovely - crisp enough to justify that "basic white girl" pumpkin spice coffee this morning, and late Sunday afternoon I actually built a fire in the fire pit while I shoved yard furniture around and fussed over the placement of a few pots of chrysanthemums. Started my seasonal purge of summer clothes, too.

All that has been to help clear my head. Ever since the "Tiara Challenge" finished a few weeks ago, I've been thinking how to move forward on the principles I've been trying to put into action. I'm surprised by how difficult I've found that to do, so let me explain a little.

I went back and re-read my posts for 2017 - it's interesting. In a yoga class early this year, we were asked to choose a word to meditate on; something that we wanted to experience in our life. I chose "delight" and I think this entire year has been about finding personal delight in my everyday life.

I'm finally understanding the value of play, both as a learning tool and as a goal unto itself. Resting, recharging, and valuing my own experiences has an inherent worth that my Puritan ancestors would frown upon. Then again, they routinely died of malnutrition and childhood diseases, so what did they know?

On my next birthday, I reach the half-century mark. I am a bit bewildered by that - most days I feel like I'm in my late twenties, although I know I wasn't as self-aware at that time of my life. It's a big birthday and I expect to do something large for it, although I haven't quite figured out what that is going to be. (Bob Ross painting party, maybe? Human "Hungry, Hungry Hippo"?) Stay tuned!

I've also become more and more convinced that the results of my ongoing self-care efforts have helped me become far more comfortable in my skin. It seems to me that society usually wants women to hush up and take up as little space as possible, especially as we move beyond the peak of our traditional "hotness." Some of that is physical - the current American beauty ideal tends to be thin to the point of being unhealthy. (I long for the days of Lillian Russell!) But we also like our women to be sweet, demure, tasteful, and above all - quiet. Basically, we're often given the message that it's really best for us to be ornamental.

I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I can rock a strand of pearls and a twinset. But I also can work leopard print and a protest sign.

I'm often too much. Too loud, too boisterous, too indignant, too demanding.

The kicker is that, after yearsandyears of fighting that, I like me. And I'm beginning to think that there's no such thing as "too much." Passion, zest, exuberance, sparkle - all of these things are in woefully short supply in a world that often is characterized by rat-racing and workaday cares. We dismiss these other qualities as impractical, childish, and frivolous.

I suspect that's rooted in fear. (I know fear, so I can recognize the landscape.) I mean, what if everyone just went around busting out of proscribed, narrow roles? Chaos, I tell you. Chaos.

Or maybe that's what joy looks like. And I choose joy.

I intend to continue in my current vein and I fervently hope you'll join me. I expect to spend the months leading up to my 50th birthday in preparation for my "year of living outrageously." I want to trade practical flannel for bias-cut satin. I want to wear sharp cat-eye eyeliner and bloodred lipstick. I want to casually explain that I can't make that last-minute meeting because I have a date with my husband to try the tasting menu at the McNinch House. Not for our anniversary; just for a Tuesday. In short, I want to take up room.

I've already started a couple of lists:

(to remind myself that I can do outrageous things):
  • I've galloped at breakneck speed on horseback through thick woods
  • I've traveled, gotten lost, and managed to get found
  • I've hand-fed exotic animals (like a hippo and a giraffe)
  • I've stuck my neck out for a cause I believe in
  • I've seen Halley's Comet (then rode home belting out the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" - thanks, Jill!)
  • I've written a novel (two, actually. They're awful, but I've written them)
  • I've made a yummy cake totally from scratch
  • I've done a pinup photo shoot
  • I've seen the Milky Way
  • I've ridden an elephant
  • I've been a tourist in a Communist country
  • I've fallen in love
  • I've admitted that my life was out of control and that I needed help
  • I've seen things that make me believe in Divine guidance
  • I've dyed my hair outrageous colors
  • I've published a book (three, actually)
  • I've jumped out of a perfectly good airplane from 12,000 feet up
  • I've earned by SCUBA certification and dealt with a broken regulator hose. You can scream all the way up as you ascend!

(plans for the next year or so):
  • I want to ride in a hot-air balloon
  • I want to wear an incredible diamond necklace on date night with my husband
  • I want to go skeet shooting
  • I want to test drive an exotic car
  • I want to gamble at a casino (James Bond style, not video poker style)
  • I want to wear a tiara and throw candy to a crowd
  • I want to go to a rodeo
  • I want to learn to juggle
  • I want to take a trapeze or aerial class
  • I want to attend a Seder
In short, I want to experience frequent joie de vivre, or to put it in American terms, I want to rock life. I've gotten at least two extra chances and I have no intention of living quietly and leaving this earth without making a mark upon it.

What are YOUR suggestions?

This amazing lady has also been quoted as saying,
"Never be afraid to stop traffic." 
I want to be her when I grow up!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tiara Post - Finis

Happy French Friday! Here we are - with fifteen total tiara posts detailing the "Summer Tiara Challenge." How'd we do?

In North Carolina, it's drop-dead gorgeous (rather like the Fife Tiara, which is dazzling the post this week). We're enjoying a few days of clear weather with just a hint of coolness in the air. Perfect convertible weather! Pick your music and let your hair just waft in the wind . . .

Now get real. Before people have even dried out from Harvey, leviathan Hurricane Irma is determined to wreak havoc on Florida and even out here people are stripping the grocery shelves bare in case we lose power for a few days. I enjoyed the weather too much and wound up leaving my ragtop open to the elements when a thunderstorm rolled in. And letting your hair - ever your super-cool cobalt and amethyst hair - waft in the wind means it turns into a mass of snarls when you bring the car to a stop.

Never forget. Your outside is one thing, but you flat-out have to tend to your inner self as well! And that is best done with truth. So let's take another look, shall we?

During this challenge, I did well on some things - bullet journaling and trying new foods in particular - but making even mild exercise an everyday thing didn't materialize the way I planned. Water intake is up to where it ought to be (most days), and I've tried water infused with berries and mint and even made sun tea during the eclipse. I'm better at "treating myself like company," too. The "ruthlessly winnow out my closet" part - well, I wasn't quite as ruthless as I'd like to have been. In fact, I have quite a few ruths left.

Sloth with Tiara. Perfection! 
But I do catch myself saying, "It's time to push back from the desk. Get some more water. Hey, why not eat outside in the sunshine today?" And while I have days where I look like an escapee from the pages of PeopleofWalMart, some other days I manage to pull an outfit off with a certain élanThose are usually days when I go simple, instead of fussing so much. Today, for example - dark jeans, a crisp white blouse (worn untucked) and my darling Target-found leopard ankle boots. I'm getting closer to being a true "une femme d'un certain âge," I think. And I'm having a blast making the journey - thank you for taking it with me!

Fall is beginning soon. Make sure you write yourself into your calendar of obligations. Scrunch through leaves. Buy real apple cider. Eat a pear so juicy that you're nearly indecent. Remember to be kind to those around you - a lot of folks are going to be needing serious help this season. You don't have to join the Cajun Navy, but be sure your thoughts and prayers come with casseroles, gas cards, bottled water, diapers, and/or other expressions of "I know you need some help just now. Here."

We don't sparkle because someone else crowned us. We did that ourselves and part of wearing a tiara is knowing that not everyone has our good fortune to live a life that can lend itself so readily to humor and joy. Therefore, we have an obligation to help the world find its own sparkle - and you can't do that with an empty belly or filthy drinking water.

So straighten that tiara and roll up your sleeves! This world needs what we've got - which includes a willingness to work hard, demonstrate kindness, and demand justice.

Go forth, my sisters!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lucky Thirteen!

A little late, so we'll call this one the "Sunday Funday Tiara Posting!!!" (I figure the enthusiasm of the  extra exclamation points buys me some slack on the two-day-late post!)

Our tiara picture this week, by the way, is a lovely example of a modern piece - this opal, emerald, and diamond piece was designed for Joanna Newsom's 2013 wedding to Andy Samberg (of Brooklyn Nine Nine - a hilarious show, if you haven't been watching it).  I love the riot of color in this one.

So - checking in. How's your tiara balancing? For me, this week has been crazybusy - one of my college classes is taught at a local high school, which means that I'm shuffling two class schedules. While I enjoy the students, I hate the different schedules (no college class meets five days a week for nine weeks!) and much of the first week is given over to things that traditional college classes just don't have to deal with. I appreciate the opportunity that is given to the students here - free college, yay! - but . . . well, let's just say my tiara was not always squarely set on my head this week. That means it's even more important to center myself, which explains why last night was spent having an amazing dinner with PopTap (we were supposed to see Wonder Woman again while our husbands were gaming, but we enjoyed the conversation so much that we missed the movie! So we bought tap shoes for her upcoming dance class (from a bull rider - there's always a story, if you just take time to listen) and browsed the pop culture section of a bookstore. (I now have knee socks with cats in a fuzzy shrub - pussy willows, if you will!) Today was intended to be a pajama day, but I'll have to go out at some point, which will require swapping slippers for shoes.

Society is so demanding.

In other news - I had an excellent oncology check-up this week - that's one area where it's really wonderful to be boring! PLUS - we received our author copies of A Dream Given Form, the guide to Babylon 5 that has been in the works for three years. (My bout with Junior Auxiliary Cancer pushed that project back a solid year. Blech.) FryDaddy and I have a book launch scheduled for our hometown next Saturday, Sep. 9 - contact me for details! It'll be a fun time, with refreshments that are tied to the show and a chance to chat with the authors (us!) while having your copy signed!

There's only one more week left on our Tiara Challenge - take a good, clear-eyed look at your habits and let's end strong! Scatter some joy in the lives of others and make some time to celebrate the unique, possibly eccentric, individual that you are! No one else on this planet can sing your song, so belt it out, sister!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tiara the Twelfth

Heavier than some, but still very pretty!
Greetings, We-Who-Sparkle!

Yes, it's not quite a "French Friday" this week - a brush with a stomach bug kept that from being a wise choice - but one of the gifts of learning the "sparkle path" is figuring out that self-care sometimes means missing self-imposed deadlines. (And you really didn't want to read anything I had to say before today! Blech!)

OK - so bugs happen. I hadn't been that puny and miserable for at least a couple of years. It wasn't anything serious, but I've spent the last two days on ginger ale, crackers, and Campbell's Chicken 'n' Stars. (That's my go-to comfort food when I'm sick. It's been that way since I was just a Li'l Sparkle and it's a testament to how long it's been since I've been that curled-up-miserable that I noticed that the company has changed the stars since the last time FryDaddy went out to fetch sickbed supplies for me.) I'm much better today and the sheets are in the laundry on the "boil" setting.

I missed my usual Weight Watchers meeting Thursday night, but went to one this morning. Now, bugs are not the preferred method of weight loss for any sane person, but I'm looking for silver linings here and I can announce that I've cracked double digits and am now down 11.2 pounds from my starting weight three months ago. (That means I've lost the equivalent of a cat or a gallon of paint. Perhaps a painted cat.) That's just under a pound a week (remember there was vacation and the Legion World Series in there, too), which isn't showy, but is certainly respectable. Onward!

In other news, this past Monday night, I helped pull off the "Eclipsing Hate" rally here in town. (My job was mostly securing the location and pushing pastries on people. I quite enjoyed it.) This was a HUGE success, bringing together people of a wide range of ages, political affiliations, religious leanings, and races to affirm a commitment to peace and bridge-building. We were challenged by one speaker (Titus Hopper, who serves as principal to our Early College High School) to not leave the rally until we had gotten the contact information for at least 5 people we didn't know. Over the next three months, we're to get in touch with these folks and sit down for lunch and conversation - not just a text, not just a phone call. What a great idea!

Also this week, I spent a big chunk of time at work "gamifying" my high school public speaking course - I'm excited and deeply nervous about taking this plunge. It's a natural extension of my work to bring relevant popular culture into the classroom, but turning the entire class into a game (students earn "experience points" rather than grades, which they gain through a mixture of "solo missions" and "Guild quests," etc.) is going to require an enormous amount of work. Then again, it's past time to mix that one up. (Hmm - I'm starting to see why my immune system might have let a bug sneak by.)

Seriously - what a cool idea!
Then, when I went by the library, I finally found my first hidden rock! People in my hometown started doing this - people take flat rocks, paint them with bright colors and inspirational messages, then hide them around town. When you find one, you re-hide it. It's a neat idea - and not just for kids.

So, all in all, I'd say it's been a good week. Could have done without the bug part, but without the lows, it's difficult to appreciate the highs. (It's cliched, but it's true. If you are routinely blessed with good health, there's nothing like waking up feeling better after a mild illness to make you aware of and appreciate it. I hate that that is a lesson I apparently needed to re-learn!)

Only two more weeks on this Sparkle Challenge! Let's end strong!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tiara the Eleventh

Happy French Friday, everyone! Do you like the "Eclipse Tiara"? Remember to be safe with your eyes on Monday.

So how are we doing this week? For me, this was a strange, odd, quirky sort of week. It was the week before classes began for the fall semester, which always involves a schedule that is whopperjawed. (If you don't know what "whopperjawed" means, just think of it as another way of saying "cattywampus." If you don't know what "cattywampus" means - check this out and you'll soon be up to speed, bless your heart.)

I expected my scale check-in this week to result in head-hanging shame, but just to prove that there is very little logic to be found in the universe, I lost a fraction of a pound. That's despite the ball park eating, the stress sweet tooth, and the desperation frozen pizza night. I'm redoubling my efforts to get back to full-out tracking (it really does make a difference with me) and to add at least mild exercise each day to burn a little extra. I'm within two pounds of my second goal and I'd really like to reach that next week.

I have also discovered the glory that is a long, tunic-style shirt worn over leggings. While I wouldn't wear my ensemble today for teaching, it was perfect for a day of rummaging around the office. (Side note - I wore heels for my first day of class and those shoes are now in the "give away" pile. They seem to be a pair that I bought because they were on sale instead of being perfect for me - I have q raw place on one of my toes that had me ready to scream by the end of yesterday! Remember - regardless of the price tag, it's not a bargain if it's not perfect for you! This is a lesson I keep having to relearn, I'm afraid.)

In addition to the eclipse Monday, a small group of concerned citizens are holding a rally in uptown Shelby called "Eclipsing Hate" to provide a unified visual counterpoint to the shocking violence that rocked Charlottesville. If you're in town, come on out. It'll be held at the City Pavilion (the location of the farmer's market) from 6 to 8 pm. Please spread the word!

What better place to wear a tiara? And really, what's a rally without glitter?

Just food for thought.

Three more weeks to shine, Sisters!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tenth Tiara Check-In!

Pink Topaz Tiara from Prussia
It's French Friday, everybody!

Whew! Not a super-sparkly week (probably a 6/10), but I'm trying to square my shoulders and soldier on. The American Legion World Series is in town, as are my parents, and the rain is pouring down at the moment. Sigh. Baseball is just not a game that gets played in the rain, so I'm hoping this weather moves out quickly.

On the weight front - sigh. Time to double down. I had a slight gain this week and, thanks to my now-ingrained tracking habits, I know why that is. It's frustrating, though - FryDaddy gets way more daily points to play with and has reached a major milestone (20 pounds!). I am, of course, proud of and pleased for him, but - dagnab it, I'm struggling to reach eight pounds! Exasperated and (yes) hungry, I threw caution to the wind yesterday, but am now re-committed to my goal of losing fifteen pounds by the end of September. It's doable, but I need to add exercise on a much more regular basis that I've been doing.

So let's look at the plus side of things. Exercise-wise, I did a light hike this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed being outside. I tended to my creative fires and spent a couple of hours one night at one of those "paint 'n' sip" events at our local Arts Council creating a Franz Marc-inspired sloth. (I love Marc's work. Don't judge him by my efforts!) I also spent a fun afternoon helping Barefoot and her daughter (my god-daughter) paint her room a lovely pale seafoam as she gets ready to enter high school. (We also went driving one afternoon - it was a hoot and she almost knows how to do a solid three-point turn.) My folks are in town for the next few days and we actually enjoy each other's company. And there are some merry things happening in my life; therefore, when the totality of the circumstances is examined, I'd say the pluses outweigh (ha!) the minuses.

Important to remember how much a change in outlook can change your outlook. Shimmer, sisters!

Four more weeks!!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ninth Tiara Check-In!

Diamonds or sapphires? Why limit
yourself to one or the other?
Sorry the post is too late to be a "French Friday," but summer's not over yet!

In fact, today is the kickoff for a huge event in my town - we host the American Legion World Series which brings together the best Legion-sponsored teams from across the country. My parents usually come in to town for the games and last year, I finally shoved work aside to meet them for some of the games. The reason I had not done this before is simple - I'm not always that bright. I had so much fun at these games and the people-watching is unparalleled! My folks and I had chunks of time to spend together and - honestly - I'm eager to be back there later this next week.

Events start today with a big, kid-friendly street festival capped off with a free outdoor concert. This year, it's Charlie Daniels, and I'm thinking about taking a sign that says PLAY "UNEASY RIDER"!  That was his first real hit and it's just a great song and one that you might not associate with Charlie Daniels, given his more recent politics.

I would rate this week at 8/10 sparkles. I'm working to get classes set up so I have time to spend at the Legion games without worrying about how to manage that later. (This year the festival ends just before classes begin, which is nice. Usually, there's some overlap, which is a pain to schedule around.) I got back on track with my healthy (well, "healthier") eating habits and worked in a couple of light walking sessions. I'm headed to a local trail later today for some shade and quiet before the "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" festivities crash over me. I plan to be mindful of ballpark food and hit my next "number on the scale" goal this week. I also got to spend some time this week with people who I value and love, which is always worthwhile.

With the beginning of August, I made a few adjustments in my bullet journal (which I've been keeping for nearly a year now - wow!). I use this journal as a quick way to take stock at the end of the day, so I can easily look back over the past week/month/season and make goals and adjustments. This month, for instance, I'm not only tracking how many days I work on my French and drink enough water, I added in "didn't eat at my desk." I'm hoping to hit five working days out of five on that one. I have found bullet journaling to be incredibly useful as a quick shorthand to see the development of certain habits - be careful of Pinterest, though. People get WAY into perfection on these things!

Got to go figure out how to rig a tiara up to a baseball cap . . .

Go forth and shine! Five weeks to go!!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Eighth Tiara Check-In!

French Friday!!

We've still got about six weeks left on our "Summer Tiara Challenge" - how's your sparkle this week?

I had a week that served as a reminder that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I wasn't happy that I turned into the Voracious Craw for a couple of days and threw off my painfully-slowly-developing good eating habits, but it had some learning moments. For instance, you hear much about "don't keep junk food in the house," which is good advice. But you know what? The day will come when you grab your keys, get in the car, and go get it! Don't beat yourself up - it'll happen. In my case, the mass quantities of cheap candy I mindlessly snarfed didn't even taste good and afterward - blech! So file it away as a lesson. To go with that lesson - don't let yourself get hungry-starved! I had some busy days this week and I fell into old habits, which includes thinking, "Oh, I just need to finish this before I eat. And this. Oh, look - there's another task over here."

Stop that! It's pert-close to madness and no one benefits from that.

When this happens (and it will), do not despair. Wash your face, say your prayers, go to bed. Then start over the next morning. Square your shoulders, Daughter of Shine! Treat yourself gently and do the same for others.

That's really the other point I want to address in this post. This week, I changed my mermaid hair to a much darker base - it's really back to "galaxy hair" for the rest of summer. The colors are rich, and deep, and thoroughly artificial. You do not "go galaxy" if you don't want people to notice the look.  Why, as a respectable, tax-paying, middle-aged woman, would I do this?

The answer is quite simple, but was a long time in coming.


To begin with, I think in contemporary American society, there's an idea that women my age ought to quietly go out to pasture. We're considered "past our prime," which seems to be measured almost solely in sexual attractiveness (I could use a far more vulgar term, but I was gently reared, so I won't) and a large swath of society seems to put an expiration date on that.

Nope. I am more comfortable in my skin than I ever was in my twenties and thirties and that is a fact with which others simply will need to learn to deal. Their discomfort is not my problem.

Secondly, as a child, I was nearly painfully shy. Really - I think I was attracted to working backstage on theatrical productions because the crew is so often invisible. I nearly never felt comfortable interacting with people, which is one reason I'm sure I developed my love of language and my (occasionally) sharp-edged tongue.

It's taken me years, as in decades, to learn how to stand up and be seen - and to holler if necessary.

I'm not giving that up to make other people comfortable.

There's a philosophy that claims we'll all have to answer, not only for the wrongs we did in this life, but for the joys we refused to partake in. I want both lists to be as short as possible. That doesn't mean I don't know how to wear a demure strand of pearls and a twinset, but to quote a costume designer I once knew, "All clothes are costumes." Why do we insist on only one version of ourselves?

Go shine. The world needs your light.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Seventh Tiara Check-In!

Rock Crystal Points - wow!
Welcome back to another "French Friday," where we check in on our summer tiara goals!

I spent last week on vacation out in the wilds of Utah, so I deliberately missed a posting, rather than try to cram one in and thus upset my strict schedule of relaxation and rejuvenation. I'm sure you understand.

Visiting Utah is a different world - two of my bestest friends (who have known me since I was in my late teens) met in college in Virginia, married, and eventually settled out in the high desert of the Beehive State. We've seen each other through some beautiful, whirlwind, joyous times, and we've also been there as rock-solid supports for each other through some of life's lesser-than-great moments. I love them ferociously and they me. (Plus, when FryDaddy and I visit, the children are put on "fetch mode" with strict orders to make us comfortable, which is decadent beyond belief, since the kids actually go into "staff function.") Lesson learned - tiaras need to be placed in your carry-on luggage, but expect to be stopped and have your luggage hand-searched by the TSA personnel, as it is unusual to see tiaras on the X-ray machine. It may be best to practice looking imperious before approaching the security line.

FryDaddy got to do his thing, which mostly involves bookstores and quiet nooks in which to read, preferably with a cat curled up on his lap. Thanks to Iris-Kitty, he had the time of his life! My vacation was a bit more active - note: that was not an "easy" hike, regardless of whatever delusions the guidebook writer was suffering from! - and also punctuated with Versailles-level luxuries, such as fresh pastries, morning cappuccino with cream, and serious "girl time" involving self-care and high tea at the Grand America Hotel. (Yes, that outing involved two tiaras, one frilly hat, and an exquisite fascinator between the four of us. I also bought a music box.) There were fireworks on the lake that made us all scream with excitement, fresh-picked asparagus and currants, and more love than we could absorb.

Truly, a magnificent, tiara-worthy break!

Coming back was hard - not only did the Carolina humidity hit us like a wet woolen blanket as soon as we left the sanctuary of the airport, there was also the necessary return to food tracking. Not bad - I did re-gain three pounds during my break, but I regret nothing. Do you hear me? NOTHING! In this, the book of Ecclesiastes is wise - there really is a time for everything and last week was a time of indulgence, soothing, and deep comfort.

Not to mention, it was great fun to see the kids tear into Cheerwine, which they couldn't remember ever seeing! I guess it's my own "private Utah," which is vaguely like My Own Private Idaho, without all the hustler activity and Henry IV references, which really means it's nothing at all like My Own Private Idaho. 

We'll be back there soon - and I urge you to find your own magic spot. We all need one (maybe more than one) and you can't expect anyone else's to truly suit you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sixth Tiara Check-In!

Hey, sunshine - how's that tiara sparkling? That's right - we're now about halfway through summer and it's time for another tiara check-in!

This week - wow! Some GREAT stuff happened (including a "girls' day" with my beloved teen goddaughter) along with some not-so-great stuff to even it all out. You don't wear a tiara only on the good days, you know. If you've earned one, you wear it and stand even taller and straighter on the days that are punctuated by bouts of ick. (FryDaddy spent a large chunk of this week down with the Creeping Crud, which is always bad, but in the summer seems even worse. He's on the mend, though.)

It was blazing hot so I didn't exercise as I had intended and I didn't get around to trying to make my own crepes either, but my garden provided a few cucumbers this week and the tomatoes are (finally!) starting to ripen. I also was gifted with cucumbers at my weekly WW meeting. (I'm down another .8 of a pound and closing in on my second goal, which was to lose 5% of my starting weight.)

Now, we'll have to see what happens on that front this next week - vacation is coming up and we're heading to the wild West where goats and elk roam the Wasatch Mountains and meals delectable enough to make Julia Child slap her momma are routinely prepared - much of it from the back garden and beehives! Alas - we arrive in between rodeo weeks, so I still don't get to see "mutton busting" but lazy days on the reservoir, a fancy high tea, some high altitude hiking and possibly a pedicure involving a belt sander are on the tentative schedule.

The video is from Texas, because - Texas.

I have learned a new French phrase for this "French Friday" - "il faut oser!" or "You have to dare!"

Excellent advice, I say! Therefore, my goals for this next week are simple - enjoy, recharge, and luxuriate in the company of those who love me!

May your week bring you joy!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fifth Tiara Check-In!

By now, you should be expecting a regular "French Friday" (see what I did there?) tiara post as I check in with you and report on my own progress on this summer tiara-deserving journey.

As is usual, some things are great, while others are challenges. Let's look at the challenges first. I had a hard time working in exercise the way I had planned this week. Late June in North Carolina tends to be hot and humid (not kidding, we're talking about "fog-up-your-glasses-by-stepping-outside" humid) and it was the end of my summer school teaching responsibilities, so I didn't use the inside walking track the way I could have. So that's something to keep working toward.

On the other hand, I lost weight again this week and I'm now officially down seven pounds. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but think of it like this: that's the weight of a bag of sugar and a pineapple. Or a baby wolf. For fans of the nearly-forgotten movie 1941, that's a joke. But seriously - a six-week-old wolf cub weighs about seven pounds. So do about 12-and-a-half stoats, but the idea of losing 12-and-a-half stoats is just - weird.

I tried my hand at making mousse au chocolat since our last check-in. It's actually really easy, although I didn't quite master the trick of beating the egg whites enough to be super light and fluffy. So the end product was a little more like regular ol' 'Merican pudding, but was still super-tasty. Fresh orange zest, cherie. That's the secret! (Shhh. Just try it, don't tell anybody. Then it wouldn't be a secret, would it?)

This next week, I hope to try three things:

  1. Try to move a little each and every day - walk the dog, try a local trail, or maybe even walk around before the July Fourth fireworks. 
  2. Try my hand at at least one new recipe. I've been doing more of that, and my slow-cooker tikka masala wasn't half bad. I'm thinking of trying crêpes this week.
  3. Look back on one nice thing I did every day to treat myself like company.
Shoulders back, We Who Sparkle! Keep that tiara straight until next week!

And here's an extremely odd video of a stoat hunting a much larger rabbit. The stoat is utilizing the often-dismissed "freak out" tactic that uses dance moves as hunting strategy. Just think about that.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fourth Tiara Check-In!

How's the tilt of that tiara this week? Hard to believe, but, yes - it's time for another weekly check-in on our summer journey to increased fabulousness.

This week had a couple of grimy spots (the end of shepherding students through two whirlwind five-week summer courses can do that) and, combined with a few days of steady overcast-and-rainy days, made me feel a bit droopy and less than fabulous, I must admit. I put up with that for one day, but on the second, I was reminded that timid women do not have unicorn hair, so I needed to buck up and Get With It!

My solution (yours may be different, of course - you're your own Queen) was a "pantry spa" treatment. I know that not all problems can be solved by a hot bath, but it often helps me. So - take two tablespoons of plain yogurt, a little lemon juice, a Vitamin E capsule and mix well. Now run a hot bath. Add about a cup of plain (read: cheap) white rice in a clean knee-high stocking to the running water - just tie it to the faucet - and a tablespoon or so or oil (sesame is great if you have it; otherwise, olive will do nicely). A bar of seaweed soap completes the "sushi bath" experience.  (I've been gathering this stuff for months. If you don't have these specific items, improvise. Then add a few things to your next grocery list.) Light candles if that's your thing. Likewise, play music to soothe your jangled nerves, if that's how you roll. Use a bath pillow or a rolled-up hand towel as a pillow for your tired head. Gently smooth your homemade face mask on and lean back in the steaming water. Stay as long as you want to. Once out, drink a large glass of water, apply lotion liberally, and curl up with a bad book. Clean up the bathroom later.

Yes, you do have time to do this. Whatever is bugging you will still be there later - and if it's not, well, so much the better! Remember - we'd have no trouble being kind to a stressed-out friend and it's high time to treat ourselves as well as we'd treat a friend.

The week also had some good spots, of course. I tried dry-brushing for the first time - definitely stimulating! I haven't made crepes yet, nor chocolate mousse, but I'm hoping to try one or the other over the weekend. I broke the five-pound loss barrier (yay!) this week, which was worth celebrating, and I'm set up to get back into my daily French lessons, which had fallen by the wayside in the last few weeks.

So this next week for me is about adding in mild exercise. I really want to work my way up to that 10K by the end of the year so even though it's hot and humid here in the Carolinas, I need to move more than I've been doing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Third Tiara Check-In!

How’s that tiara looking this week?  Yes, it’s time for our weekly check in on our fabulousness progress!

Personally, I had a week that threatened to topple my tiara and in the past, it probably would have. But now I have all of you to remind me that I deserve my sparkly crown and that there’s no need to wait for someone else to give me the approval to wear it and glisten.

And grimy days happen to all of us.*

So – what have you done this week to be magnificent to yourself? I’m trying to work on my pledge to “treat myself like company” by actively making plans to do something out of the ordinary every single day. One day it was something as simple as using the “fancy” high-end samples of skin care products that I’ve accumulated. (I have a sad tendency to hoard those like Smaug instead of using them with joy.) Another day it was picking basil leaves from my small herb garden to make a delicious insalata caprese of basil, fresh tomato (not from the garden yet, alas!), and mozzarella with a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar. And another day it was making popcorn on the stove instead of just having the chemical stuff in the microwave.

Maybe for you it was wearing your diamond stud earrings or that bracelet of your grandmother’s that you usually “save” for special occasions, forgetting that Tuesday can be a “special occasion” if you declare it so to be. Maybe you treated yourself to a bubble bath, or a facial, or having your nails done. Maybe you took yourself off for a hike, or carved out a half-hour to try a guided meditation, or went to the local library to flip through magazines you don’t usually read.

My point is this – it doesn’t matter what you do for yourself as much as you realize that you’re worth treating gently and respectfully.

It certainly isn’t about being “perfect.” (I swear, perfectionism ought to have an entry in the DSM-V as a disease of the mind!) I’m working hard to eat more food that’s less processed, but I don’t always get it “right.” So what? I lost another pound this week and wasn’t hungry to the point of eating the tablecloth.

In fact, food is going to be my focus for this next week. I picked up an inexpensive crepe pan and, although I’ve never made a crepe in my life, I’m going to try it this week. I want to try several new recipes this week – some sweet, some savory. I’ve been reading French Kids Eat Everything and it has a number of recipes that the author swears aren’t difficult, although they certainly sound fancy! I guess it’s time to find out if mousse au chocolat is that complicated or if I’ve just bought into the hype.

Onward, We Who Sparkle!

I like thinking this is me!
*Then again, just after I posted this, I went to the grocery to pick up a few things. (We're eating a LOT more produce these days, so I'm becoming a bit more French about shopping for perishables often.) Just as I walked in, a little girl whispered something to her mother, pointed at me, then looked down shyly. I smiled and said hello and the three of us proceeded to have quite a nice conversation. She was fascinated by my hair, which she said looked like a "galaxy unicorn." I really liked that. The mother was a fan of Meet Me at the Movies and I convinced her to take the girl to Wonder Woman this weekend, so it was an excellent exchange of ideas all around, I think.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Second Tiara Check In!

Yep, time for another tiara check in! Keeping your shoulders straight? Your head high? If so, good! If not, take a moment to adjust. We're all worthy of our tiaras and if you don't have one, make a pledge RIGHT NOW to get one in the next week and wear it at least once. Heaven knows, if you wait for the wider world to recognize your awesomeness and crown you, you're likely to be waiting quite a long time. So do it yourself! Make sure to give yourself a title, too - something suitable to celebrate your brains, cleverness, moxie, grit, whimsy, and/or style. Empress, Queen, Princess, Duchess, Marchioness, Countess, Viscountess, Baroness, Lady - pick whichever title best suits you on any given day. Today, for example, I am styling myself as the "Lady Glad" after the sparkling white, 5-foot-tall gladiolus blooming in my front yard.

See, back in the day, the Victorians assigned meanings to many flowers, so getting a bouquet was sort of like getting a coded letter. (And some of them could be quite nasty, once your deciphered them!) While most flowers have more than one meaning - there wasn't a Bureau of Blooms, after all - one meaning of gladioli was "integrity and recovery." Since today marks 15 years of me being in full-time recovery, seeing a blooming glad in my front yard just made my heart sing.

It was a tumultuous week here at the Nest. I needed to do a hard thing and I wound up having to do it alone, which is when the doubt-demons can come out in droves. But, with careful consideration of what is right and true, along with the encouragement of some people whose good opinion of me is quite important, I did it. And it turned out just fine - possibly better than fine; we'll have to see about that part. My decision and actions did not come without a cost, but it'll be all right. Lady Glad is made of strong stuff and she comes from a long line of righteous gadflies.

Add to that the fact that I also lost another two pounds, completed the "final final" review of the book manuscript AND went back to "rainbow-unicorn-galaxy" hair for the summer, and it's a tiara day, baby! (The explanation of the turquoise nature of the hair can be found here, by the way.)

Rock on!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tiara Check In!

As I wrote about a week ago, I'm spending this summer deserving that tiara I wore on International Tiara Day. I thought it would be a good idea to regularly check in and see how we're all doing with our goals. I'm really, really trying to make 2017 a Year of Personal Jubilee. While I'm not tying myself to the Jewish or Christian traditions regarding the idea of Jubilee, I'm seeking to create a year of celebration and forgiveness, and I'm including forgiving myself for a number of lapses within this. Therefore, the time is just right for making these changes which are aimed at leading to a more celebratory life with room to do more good in the word.

And if you need to readjust your own goals as you move through the summer, do it with gladness! It's not about getting everything "right," it's about creating a calmer, more joyful, life.

So - looking back at Week One.

This week had challenges (don't they all?) as my long-suffering work laptop collapsed in its traces like an overworked mule. Since I'm teaching two fully-online summer classes, that sent me into panic mode which is where I tend to make really dumb decisions. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I'm working with a new-to-me laptop that is *almost* properly formatted. I did, however, manage to not copy iTunes from the old laptop and connected my faithful iPod to the new one which then -- automatically synced and wiped out my music. I'm exploring ways to retrieve the thousands of songs I had added from my CD collection and of particular interest to me is regaining my playlists. Suggestions - with painfully obvious directions, perhaps involving a flannel board - are welcomed.

Well, success is rarely total.

There is much to celebrate as FryDaddy and I completed the labor-intensive process to refinance our house and pay off credit card debt. Thanks to the fine folks at Fifth Third Bank (hi, Switchblade!), we are now several large steps closer to secure financial footing. 

In other news, my first attempt at "sun tea" brewed on the office windowsill was a smashing success. Next time, I'll try it with green tea.

I'm also drinking more water and eating better food, now that I'm tracking my eating habits. You see, I bit the bullet and joined Weight Watchers the day after my last post (I tell you this in the spirit of accountability) and, while I only lost a pound in my first week, I lost a pound in my first week. I'm using both the online tools and the old-fashioned meetings and, while I'm very new at this, I really like the encouraging attitude and spirit of camaraderie I find there.

All in all, pretty darned good, I'd say.

I'm trying very hard to "treat myself like company" at least once a day - that, and continuing the bullet journal habit, will be my Week 2 focus as I build on this foundation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tiara Challenge!

Over the years I've written this blog, I've often used it as a means to keep myself accountable for a number of challenges; often, those have been based on becoming more "adult" (read as "responsible") in a particular area such as eating, exercising, or financial habits. 

Self-care in all its permutations is an area that I see all of these discrete areas coming together. Let me explain and keep in mind that this is a lengthy challenge. After you read this, if it sounds interesting to you, please join me!

Today (May 24) happens to be Queen Victoria's birthday and, about ten years ago, a few fine folks who worked in the bridal industry (shudder - "bridal industry" - that's an awful term) got together and made up the holiday of "International Tiara Day." I discovered this just a day ahead of the event, which wasn't much time to get things together, but I got myself a sparkly tiara and, with a deep breath and maybe a few misgivings, I gave it a try. 

So what happened? A few people at work thought I was deeply eccentric, but that's not so bad. I found myself actually standing straighter (which would probably delight my mother) and walking a bit more deliberately. Also, if you ever want to follow Emerson's advice to "scatter joy," wearing a tiara will quite possibly do the trick. Everyone smiles at you. A few people stop in their tracks. It's just silly and we are in dire need of some silly these days.

Which brings us to the "Tiara Challenge." Following the INCREDIBLY FANTASTICALLY COOL AND HOLY WOW IT WAS GREAT beach trip, FryDaddy and I completed a major financial adulting goal and want to keep that momentum going. While my life is not ruled by the scale, my clothes do not fit in a way that proclaims my fabulousness to the world at large. I want to gain strength and stamina enough to "jobble" (remember, that's jogging crossed with wobbling) a mile without stopping and I really want to complete a 10K by the end of this year. (It's fine by me if I walk the whole thing.) In addition, I want to treat myself like company instead of like the hobo begging at the back door. So - I'm going to do it!

How? I'm still working the details, but . . .
  • From Memorial Day to Labor Day, I plan on pulling together all the bits and pieces that I've picked up over the past few years and crafting a life that puts family at the center. 
  • Summer, with its bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit (some hopefully from my own garden!), is the perfect time to try new recipes and dump the junk food. Also, quit rewarding myself with food.
  • Water infused with cucumber, berries, or herbs is going to be on my desk or the kitchen counter, but I'm also going to give "sun tea" a whirl using my office windowsill.
  • I plan on mild exercise to start with, and working my way up to jobbling three times a week and walking the other days. 
  • Keeping a bullet journal (I started my version last fall) makes me take a few minutes to reflect on my day and detach from it at the same time instead of carrying around a load of worry and turmoil. 
  • I'm going to organize all the samples of skin care stuff I've got a try to use one every single day, quite possibly while wearing my sparkly tiara. File this under "use the good stuff."
  • "Window shop" with good magazines and catalogs while also ruthlessly winnowing out my closet. The goal there is to leave me only with things that actually fit that I love (and a few sentimental favorites, of course) while also knowing what I'd like to keep my eyes open for to fill in the gaps.
It won't all happen at once and I'll make mistakes. No matter. I want to be, as the French would say (and I'm learning to), "une femme d'un certain âge" who retains a sense of style, playfulness, and curiosity, yet still has a badass streak. To do that, I need to do a few things.

And I'm starting today.

Who's with me? Aside from Princess Margaret here, who knew how to rock a tiara.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Filling Your Bucket!

The end of the semester is always a whirlwind and this one was no exception. On top of the usual rush-to-grade, a handful of other things needed my attention, making it a hurried sundae with a little extra mania on top. Summer classes start in about a week and I needed to make sure all of that was ready as well, since I took my own advice from March and planned a "girls' getaway" for this week.

Friends will be trickling in over the next day or two and then leaving at the end of the weekend. I'm not entirely sure what-all we'll get up to in that time and I'm eager to find out! The weather is supposed to be perfectly sunny and warm. I've got a stack of books (looking at you, Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology!) and a passel of magazines. Anyone using the computer for anything other than posting silly pictures runs the risk of being fined and us using the fine money for something silly, like buying tiaras. Sweets and snacks are already laid in to satisfy the munchies. I've got the dance schedule for Fat Harold's and plans have been made for a tea party and shopping trip this weekend. But there are plenty of hours to simply laze away napping, reading, playing Putt-Putt (watch out for that windmill shot - it's tricky!) and probably gossiping about nothing and no one. We're probably only half a step from braiding each other's hair!

I can't wait!

Sloth self-care!
Honestly, it's amazing to me how we put off self-care as if it's something to be ashamed of. (Blasted Puritans.) Let me say this again - IT IS A GOOD THING TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! When we treat ourselves kindly, gently, and with respect, it becomes easier to (a) extend that care to others and (b) accept that we deserve to be treated respectfully. Imagine that - a world in which we treated each other with thoughtful kindness and expected the same from others.

Fancy that!

There are many, many ways to accomplish this and, while they certainly can be expensive and fussy (around-the-world trip on the Queen Mary 2), they don't have to be. (Seriously - check out this link for some ideas to get you started!) Let's examine this a bit.

This trip, for instance. We've planned it for two months and the expenses are actually quite low. It's a matter of deciding where I want to put my resources (which, in many ways, remain quite limited). For me, that tea party is going to be fantastic - lovely food, elegantly presented, eaten with good friends in silly hats. For you, it might be something totally different - and that's not only okay, it's fantastic! Just ask yourself What brings me joy? It's an odd thing, but I have discovered that most adults don't ask this question nearly often enough. By the way, expect the answer to take a while to reveal itself. Often, we've so disconnected ourselves from our own joy that we have to do some excavation work to find it again.

We knew once. Then we got busy Growing Up and got caught in the rushrush of Work and Status and Things, and we looked up in surprise to find that fifteen years or more had passed and we were quite confused about many things.

Filling your own bucket
Vacation is, for me, a time to indulge and I expect to make the most of it. (Oh, yeah, we're stopping at Krispy Kreme on the way back from the airport tomorrow!) For me, it tends to be sweets - from sugar in my coffee to an Original Glaze to movie candy. That may not be your thing (and I've been doing too much of it lately; however, that's another post), but I urge you to figure out what your indulgence is and carve out time to devote to it. Oh, and self-care isn't always bubble baths and manicures - sometimes it's getting up, squaring your shoulders and going off to do what needs doing. Just don't make the mistake of filling other peoples' buckets so much that you forget to tote water for yourself, too.

It really is about the most selfless thing you can do.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Promises!

 I recently came back from a winter vacation at the Grand Strand. Technically, it was "Spring" Break, but the temperatures at the beach were cold enough to make the Canadians blink. I still managed to have a good time and there's something to be said for vacationing alone, although I missed FryDaddy awfully. (His schedule didn't let him come with me, but we talked every day.) It took a few days for me to actually "unlock" enough to enjoy having unstructured chunks of time. I took a stack of movies with me and multiple issues of Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Smithsonian. (Look, I have eclectic interests, okay?) I napped when I felt like it, walked on the cold beach up to the next pier and back - I even visited Fat Harold's Beach Club for a free shag lesson and some dance history!

I took a day trip across the state line back into North Carolina to have tea at the Calabash Garden & Tea Room, which is run by the kindest people to ever boil water. The tea room is in the same picturesque area as Nell's Fine Consignment, which is a sort of Mecca to the "in the know" bargain safari hunter. See, every time I go to Nell's, it's a celebration of being female and being alive. Invariably, I find three or four things I like and Marcy nods and says, "But what you really need is . . ." and then she pulls out things that I'm positive weren't there before! She pushes my sense of style to get away from well-made, but somewhat boringly traditional, basics, stocking the dressing room with wildly-printed jackets, swirly skirts, and secret items that just make me feel more -- ME! Seriously, going to Marcy's with a whimsical attitude and an open mind is like raiding your big sister's closet. (Wealthy snowbirds consign really interesting things - for example, just for fun, I tried on a full-length Canadian beaver coat.)

I had so much fun that I began planning a "girls' weekend" (it's actually more like 5 days) in about two months. Shag dancing, tea, and shopping are required. I'm hoping for a "pajama day" as well. Secrecy will be maintained - pinky swear!

Oh - and I'm still working on my low-key French lessons - the library at my college has the introductory discs for the Michel Thomas method, which I'm finding to be fun and I'm pleased with how much I'm retaining. For instance, I can now ask, "What is your opinion of the political situation in France?" among other things.

And today I tried my hand at something I enjoy, but rarely take the time to do - baking from scratch. Hello, lemon-lavender cupcakes! That's honey-vanilla frosting on top. Yum, if I do say so myself!

Self-care rules!