How Could I Ask For More?

So the trees were all there dancing in the breeze.  Rustling their leaves above the noises of kids playing well below their branches while the moon looked on and the sun fell.

I stood still.  Scared any movement would frighten this moment away.  I struggle living in the moment.  But the moment had me wrapped up in its tangles and I was in no rush to break free.

Our Lenten gratitude ribbons danced on the gate in their blues and greens and pinks and yellows and inspired little bit to her own free-form, wind-blown dance.

I felt such utter gratitude, in the deepest marrow of my bones, as I breathed it all in.

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Grateful for little tee-ball players rounding their first bases of the season.

Grateful for snatches of real conversation held with friends so dear to me over the melee of children’s banter.

Grateful for a church committed to the neighbors on their street and the ones all the way over in Kenya.

Grateful for a husband home safely smelling of the land and sporting three day stubble.

Grateful for the first swim of the spring and the pink cheeks reflecting hours soaking up the sun.

Grateful for children who listened and obeyed and laughed and played and helped and worked and slept and swam and ate and danced and prayed.

Grateful for even the bloodied lip because it meant we were alive and dirty and playing and falling down and getting back up to do it all over again.

 

A song played on college radio two decades ago, and it ran on repeat in my head tonight.  It’s all I could think.  It’s all I can say…

There’s nothing like the warmth of a summer afternoon
Waking to the sunlight, being cradled by the moon
Catching fireflies at night, building castles in the sand
Kissing mama’s face goodnight and holding daddy’s hand
Thank you, Lord, how could I ask for more?

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Personal CFO

I have a fabulous friend who hasn’t gone shopping in a LONG time.  She’s lost a little weight which was one of the primary reasons holding her back, and now she’s got a great reason to shop: a new business!

Here’s her Shopping With A Purpose submission: I will soon be meeting with prospective private clients as I build my business. These people would be high net worth individuals needing a “Personal CFO.”  I would mostly meet them in their homes, although some might have me come to their offices, but my work for them would not be in an office. I would work for them personally, not for their company. I want to look professional, but a black suit would be over the top. What type of outfits should I consider? Would your answer be different if I was meeting with a woman versus a man/couple? Or if I’m meeting them at their office versus their home?

This is a momma of three who is busy and working on a budget.  So first things first: don’t worry about different outfits for different gender clients or different meeting locations.  Stick with a few basics that you can mix and match; otherwise shopping will be a nightmare.

Importantly, if you’re serving high net worth individuals, you need to look high net worth even if you’re not.  One great way to do this is to buy a few well made “investment” wardrobe pieces.  People with extensive budgets will notice.  Also, regardless of your personality, go for understated.  It reflects good judgment and stability which someone will be looking for in the finance industry.  Look for unique detailing that speak to quality without being too over the top.

A great way to shop luxury on a budget is to look at the “outlet” branches of high-end stores that would normally be out of reach.  Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue all have stores in Houston (where she lives) but far more options available on-line.

I suggest, for the most part, sticking with trousers.  The driver for this recommendation is it’s a lot harder to manage creeping hemlines if you’re sitting on someone’s sofa for a meeting than if you’re parked under a desk in an office chair.  If you are comfortable in your clothes, and not pulling and tugging, you will come off more at ease and put the client at ease.

And, for the most part, sticking with a blazer looks more professional than a sweater, though there are certainly exceptions to this formula.  Before you go shopping, pick up some magazines (like Town & Country or Vogue) and pull some ideas.  While you don’t have to shop couture, the pictures can serve as your inspiration for style or color as you shop.

Finally, before you start, you must have a great handbag.  Quality leather.  Buy it on eBay or on sale or at an outlet, but you need a great bag.  It’s what you will carry every day and will be one of the first things the women notice.  This is where you spend your money.  And buy a big enough bag you can include your folder with any papers you have for your client.  This Diane von Furstenberg has been marked down from $450 to $200 and this Badgley Mischka has dropped from $475 to $240 – both at Last Call:

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Here’s a few great individual piece options:

This gorgeous ivory blazer with a muted giraffe print is Lafayette 148, it reads luxury and won’t need any accessorizing – it normally runs over $500 but you can get it for less than $200 at Last Call.

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This is a simple ice blue Cacharel jacket that normally runs $700, but is just over $100 at Rack.

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One way to soften your look is to get a belted sweater jacket, like this one on sale at Nordstrom by Vince (I’d pair it with something brighter underneath).

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If you can afford the splurge, get a couple of fabulous bottoms since you’ll be wearing them all the time.  These not quite ivory lined wool blend Giorgio Armani trousers would normally run you close to $1000, but at Rack, they’re less than $200.

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Another great “trouser” light option is the ankle pant.  Pair an overlong sweater/jacket with heels and an ankle pant and you’re comfy and sophisticated. These Vince ankle trousers are over half off at Last Call and come in under $100.

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And despite my recommendation to favor trousers, a number of this season’s skirts are lowering their hemline.  Depending on your figure and what you pair on top to balance it out, one of these sophisticated past knee numbers would be lovely.  (This inspiration is courtesy of Neiman’s and well outside most of our budgets…)

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How do you pull your pieces together?  Consider mixing a color palette that you wouldn’t typically.  Nothing in the neon family, but deep rich hues that show your sophistication.  Add a simple piece of jewelry.  Buy a new lipstick.  Try a few things out and text your best girlfriends pictures!

This is a great example of an outfit you could pull off in an office or home for a client meeting.  The jacket is courtesy of Rack (and on sale for $30, someone please stop me from clicking buy), but I love the pairing of the gold jacket with a thin maroon sweater and narrow black trouser (polished off with a skinny belt which actually does make you look thinner regardless of what you’d think).

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Here’s another great way to mix color and texture to achieve a polished, but not overly formal, look.

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For second meetings, feel free to break out the sweaters.  Pair it with a gorgeous pearl or gold necklace (quality, but simple) – think this top layered sweaterwith camel trousers (adding an oxford underneath or a blazer over immediately upgrades a little sweater).

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Don’t match – just play with patterns and colors.  But most importantly, have fun!  Wear what you feel beautiful in and buy clothes that fit well.

Loss and Life

 

tulipsYesterday was sad.

Sad and happy.

Dark and light.

I’d been praying for this one friend.  Every morning believing for big miracles.  You see, for all my childhood up close and personal with divorce, I haven’t seen a lot of it in adulthood.  Not up close with those dearest to me.  And her news this weekend of packing her things had me down on the floor.  Heart rending with hers.

Then another dear one to me facing death up close and personal again.

I then I read about this momma who has led a brave, press into Jesus, fight against C lost her battle.  In lieu of flowers you can help support the four littles she had to leave.

And I swing wildly at the skies and cry on Bray’s chest and beg the God of all mercy to pull back a little of that veil between there and here so I can understand or put words to the heartbreak and questions and gulf of sorrow.

I kept moving.  It was Sunday and I had life and I was grateful, so we planted.  I took the eldest and we bought these boxwood plants and filled up the empty bed at the front of my house that now welcomes neighbors over.  He picked out happy yellow and white blooms to settle in front of our tree.  We dug holes and I was muddy earth from head to toe.

I took the youngest to the grocery and we bought food we could grill outside and picked out big beautiful fruit.  He asked to buy flowers to set in a vase on our beat up kitchen table, and I said, sure, because we should do that today and not wait until we’ve saved more money.

We all five sat outside and ate our juicy burgers and thanked our God for the life He has allowed us to live that involves new growth and messy faces.  We tied our Lenten thankfulness ribbons around the gate with simple offerings of gratitude that nearly leveled me all over again.

I read these words out of the pages of my Bible early this morning, these words of a prophet speaking life over a broken community commanding them to “Be Strong!”   He says:

This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’  This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2)

I don’t understand why and I haven’t seen past that veil, but I know that God works all things together for good for those that love Him (Romans 8:28) and I will trust that and say thank you for every spot of dirt and tulip bloom I have.

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Work Maternity Challenges

I have a hysterical friend.  She is pregnant with her second child.  This is an email she sent me to vent: 

Maternity clothes dressing for work is seriously challenging.  Stores have little selection and ordering online is hit or miss, resulting in multiple returns. (I do have some clothes from last time, but some items were worn and I need more.)  The worst was a cashmere and silk black sweater (sounds good so far) with a ruffle at the bottom that I tried on this weekend shopping with Mom.

This is what it looked like on.

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Runner up was a cute dress with a poorly placed print.  It looked like this.

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Sigh.

Well my friend, and any other friends out there struggling with looking professional for work with a growing belly, this is for you.  Today’s Shopping With A Purpose (S.W.A.P.) is having an affordable sophisticated work wardrobe during those pregnancy months (and maybe even after maternity leave…).

First of all, what are your options:  Seraphine (mainly on line, as most areas don’t have stores and that can be hard), Pea in the Pod (smaller size ranges but great selection), Destination Maternity (career and quality aren’t high on their list), Ann Taylor Loft (limited selection), Motherhood (not sure their “work wear” would work for some careers), and department stores (size issues can occur here).

Second of all, what do you need at a minimum for work:  two awesome pair of maternity pants, ideally black and camel; a great work maternity dress; one maternity suit; at least five maternity blouses (and if you dare, a skirt to give you more options).

Accessories are key when you are pregnant, so purchase some fun and diverse scarves and necklaces; since you’re never going to have an expansive maternity work wardrobe, accessories can make the outfit look different.

Here are a few basics, but try for quality as you’ll be wearing these pieces a lot.  Also accept  you may have to order on-line several times from several places.  Almost all of these pieces are under $100:

1.  This navy and white dress from Seraphine is a perfect work staple.  You can change it with a blazer or sweater, or in the summer you can just throw on a bold colored scarf to keep it light.  And Pea and the Pod has the widest variety of work dresses – this aqua and green shirtdress is lovely.

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2.  These are excellent trouser leg work pants from Ann Taylor Loft and will grow as your belly does.

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3.  Blouses are the EASIEST pieces to find to add interest and diversity to your work wardrobe.  Here’s a few of my favorites:  a bright and classic tie blouse from Ann Taylor Loft, a gorgeous ivory pintuck blouse from Seraphine (if you don’t mind wearing white while you’re pregnant), this classic navy and white striped tunic from Destination Maternity can be paired with slacks for work or jeans for weekend, and the bright blue short sleeved blouse from Macy’s will add the dose of color you need.

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4.  As far as I can tell, A Pea in the Pod is nearly the only place you can get a work suit if you need to don business formal for meetings during your pregnancy.  This blazer is tailored twill and actually looks like a jacket you’d wear if you weren’t pregnant which is a plus (but it is my rare item over $100).  They also have the largest selection of blazers which are pretty and feel more modern than most maternity clothes on the market.

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So what about you?  What did you do when you were pregnant?  How did you manage to stay professional for work?

The Hard Love Stories

I love a dewy, feel-good, happily ever after Hallmark romance.

I love the “meet cute” over video rentals (long gone), e-mails, car accidents, and spilled coffee.  I soak in the formulaic “circumstances” that nearly break apart the adorable 20-something couple before they laugh over the misunderstanding, and the movie fades as they kiss off into the sunset.

But I know, ever more now than ever, it only happens in the movies.

I’ve seen some gut-wrenching love stories wrestle with realities lately.   The porn addiction.  The relapsed alcoholic.  The cancer diagnosis.  The loss of a child.  The affair.  The job loss and bankruptcy.  The family scandal turning brother against brother.

I have watched up close my friends beg God to release them from a marriage that is in the darkest of places.  To escape the hardest of the hard.  The unfathomable.  Those parts left vague in the wedding vows promising for better and worse.

It doesn’t make an entertaining story filmmakers want to shoot.  Reality, without the farcical injected drama of today’s television shows, is hard to stare at in the face.  In fact, the colleague you pass at work would never tell you about what’s going on.  The person in the pew next to you would never show you the pain.  Even friends out to celebrate a birthday together won’t make mention of the horror.

It’s whispered in the cavern of a car to a soul-friend on the way to carpool or in a bathroom after everyone has gone to bed.  It’s shared in bits and pieces because it hurts too much to say it all at once.  At times, sobs choke the words from coming out.  Other times, the voice is devoid of any feeling at all.

I love him so much, but I can’t trust him.  I want to leave.

I have loved her with all I have, but this, well I can’t bear it.

But it is still a love story.  And bear it they do.  Stay, they decide against all logic.  They fight and claw and cry and beg and scream and, most of all, they hope.  They hope they can survive.  They hope they can rebuild.  They hope and pray and long for a miracle.

I’ve seen the miracle.  I’ve seen those dedicated faithful friends grit their teeth and strengthen their grip and spend their mornings on bended knee believing their relationship can survive even this.  I’ve watched their inner circle come around them to do whatever needs to be done: laundry, accountability, restoration, bringing meals, showing forgiveness, mercy, picking up kids, recommending doctors…  They checked judgment at the door and sat down to hold a hand.

If you are in one of these marriages struggling to make it through to the other side, you are not alone.  Others have gone through the battle and bear the scars even after making it through.  I’ve had girlfriends battle everything from sexual addiction to infertility to alcoholism to great loss.  Their marriages survive.  Their marriages end up stronger in the place it was broken.  Their marriages light the path for others still in the darkness.  They are the survivors living to tell you that God can make it better and restore you to love each other even more than you did when you innocently took those vows.

Hang in there.  Say a prayer and take a step away from packing your bags.  Dare to hope.  This can be restored.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61)

Put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption. (Psalm 130)