Is There Really Beauty In Broken?

This past week I was delighted to attend the Denim Day Art Auction to support our local Rape Crisis Center. A number of local artists generously put to use their talents in a concerted effort to help fund the vital work of the crisis center here in the Las Vegas Valley.

In keeping with the Denim Day theme, clever artists utilized denim to create a cornucopia of beautiful works. Paintings, jewelry, sculptures, purses, flowerpots, photography and more. All beautiful. All inspiring.

Some of the artists used fresh, new denim to create the lovely pieces they donated, and others used denim that clearly had been…oh…shall we say…well-loved? Either way, it was obvious that each benevolent artist is enviably creative and skilled.

I confess that while my eyes were drawn to each piece equally, my heart was drawn more forcefully to those pieces that were built utilizing denim which had been used, battered, torn, faded, and even possibly (prior to being transformed by the artist) cast aside because it had become “useless.”

I’m not an art expert. Truth be told, I’m not an anything expert. I do happen to be an appreciator of beauty in this world. And I saw a lot of beauty at that art auction. Some of which came in ways that I did not expect.

The beauty of the pieces made with old, used denim was far beyond just what could be seen with the eyes. The deeper, richer beauty was that the creators of these pieces had seen beyond the current, scarred condition of a pair of old jeans. Yet they did not intend to erase the scars and rips and stains in an effort to return them to their original condition in an attempt to forget all the “life” each pair of jeans had endured.

No. They looked at the messy jeans and saw beauty. Not the new, perfect beauty we shell out $100 a pair for at our local high dollar jean store, nor the beauty of what those jeans would eventually become in their skillful hands. They deemed the old material worthy of their talent because they saw the wonderful color and texture and character that comes from surviving doing what jeans do: being worn, spilled on, thrown in the hamper, battered about in the washer and dryer, sometimes being ripped, sometimes being thrown to the back of the closet and forgotten for a season.

Then, after looking at the beautiful though beat up jeans, the artists chose to transform them into something of a different kind of beauty. A new usefulness. A new chance at living a second life. Possibly an even better life.

I used to roll my eyes in irritated disbelief when I would hear well-meaning folks utter the words, “There is beauty in broken.” I was convinced to the very depths of my soul that only a fresh, scar free, perfectly healthy, never wounded, privileged, completely whole, never-been-broken idiot could possible believe that there could ever be beauty in broken! Broken is not fun. Broken hurts!

But, like the artist who sees beauty in an old piece of denim, I have come to believe there is beauty in broken. When I survive being broken – and broken eventually happens to most of us in one form or another – I am beautiful. Whether my brand of broken is self-inflected or foisted upon me by another, it opens my eyes to the pain of those around me. That awakens my compassion for others and kills my desire to judge them. When I’m battered and sad and tired, I can choose to keep trying. That means I’m brave. When I reach the end of me, I realize I must reach out to others for help. That makes me hopeful and gives me human connection. I can sit right in the middle of all my broken and know that although I have some wicked scars, I have survived! That means I’m strong. And all of that, to me, looks like beauty in broken.

And just like the old jeans, once I’ve been broken I get a chance for a second life. A do-over. A start again. A make-it-even-better. Often a new life looks quite different from the old one. Sometimes it’s even better.

A Better Me

I received an email update from my art professor today.  The specifications for my next project have changed.  Wow, have they changed!  I read the update and thought, “What a cool yet complex assignment!”  Hmmm…new standards are a bit more challenging than the original criteria for the project.  Then I remembered that, along with the other students, I AM the one who must complete that new “cool yet complex assignment”.  It sounds hard.  Is it hot in here?

My brain instinctually went into panic mode.  That’s standard reaction for anxiety-prone perfectionists with a fairly hefty inferiority complex.  I wondered why my typically kind and magnanimous professor would so viciously attack me and my barely budding art ability.  What was she thinking?  Did she want to kill a potential Picasso?  Hinder a budding Monet?  Knock down the next da Vinci?  Is she crazy?  THE NEW VERSION OF OUR NEXT ASSIGNMENT IS HARDER THAN THE ORIGINAL ONE!  Damn it!

So I poured myself a glass of a nice pinot grigio and chilled a bit.  Okay, two glasses, but let’s focus here.  First, let’s remember that I am a recovering anxiety-prone perfectionist with a fairly hefty inferiority complex.  I don’t need to be afraid to try new things.  I don’t need to be afraid of “failing”.  When it comes to trying scary new things, just trying is a victory.  I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.  I’m working hard to cultivate creativity in my life.  Not to mention joy, peace and sanity.  I can do this.  That doesn’t mean trying new things is easy; it is simply possible.

I stopped to think about the many times this “crazy” professor has taken oodles of time to help and encourage me.  The times she has pushed me to be a better, more creative, braver version of me.  And I have grown immeasurably because of her gentle pressure.  Possibly, this situation is not as dire as I first determined it to be.  That’s odd.  Usually, when I assess things emotionally without first thinking them through logically, I end up being right.  Or not.  Whatever.

I closed my twitching eyelids for a moment while I thought about my updated assignment.  Then I spent a few minutes a long time googling things that might inspire me.  And – surprise – I started having an idea or two or twenty-four.  I may not be a hopeless “F” just waiting to be scratched into the grade book after all.

Sometimes usually, when I’m challenged by absolutely anybody to rise to a better version of me, my initial reaction is No dammit…that is hard!!  Then, as I cool my jets and let my wise mind reason with my zealous emotions, I typically realize…wow, that’s actually probably worth trying, and chances are it won’t even kill me.  How very blessed I am to have people in my life who love me enough to challenge me to become a better version of me.

Circle The Wagons

Words can paint such vivid pictures for those who read or hear them.  They may touch a heart and mind through stories, songs or even just a phrase.  Using only twenty well-written lines, Nickel Creek’s beautiful song “The Lighthouse Tale” hauntingly describes the story of lovers who are separated by a tragic death caused by a storm at sea.

No matter how many times I read Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” I always find myself holding my breath as I wait to see if the hero/outlaw will keep his promise to the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, Bess, after he tells her, “Then look for me by moonlight, Watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, Though hell should bar the way.”  The poet employed his chosen words so engagingly that I hang on every stanza.  Every time.

The term “circle the wagons” is an idiomatic phrase that goes way back to the migration of East Coast immigrants to the West Coast, using covered wagons, during the 19th century.  The adventurers would stop their wagons and park them in a large circle, inside which the pioneers would gather.  They did this each night, but also during the day if they felt threatened.  This circle of wagons became their “fort” of protection against anything that posed a threat.

I love that phrase and the picture it paints.  Regular everyday men and women gathered their families within the circle, helping each other survive.  Because they would do whatever they must to protect the people they love.  They circled the wagons.

I believe that phrase from the 1800s translates well to family life in 2014.  My little family recently had a week that proved this to be true.  It was an eventful week.  Truly, had it happened to the family on my favorite weekly sitcom, I would have laughed until I was snorting and tears ran down my face.  Somehow it seemed less funny since the circus was occurring in our living room rather than on our TV.

In a period of one week, we dealt with the finalizing of the divorce of a precious family member, the concussion and sprained neck of another precious family member, a car breakdown, a blown tire on another car, Christmas, a tonsillectomy that bled so heavily a few days later that a second surgery was required, and moving the world’s heaviest piece of furniture up our stairs in a ridiculous fashion that made the couch-moving episode of Friends look like it was done by professional movers.  There were a few other moments of Is-This-Really-Happening, but I think you get the idea.

We hugged a lot, laughed as much as we could – including laughing at ourselves, pitched in to help each other as much as possible, held our tongues when necessary (and oh was it necessary more than a couple times), and we survived.  We more than survived, we grew stronger and – hopefully – more compassionate.  Once the dust began to settle and we could look back at our Week of Insanity, I realized that, as a family, we are stronger than I knew.  I saw – in hindsight – that we had gathered our family and circled the wagons around each other for protection.  To help each other persevere.  And it worked.

True, our mess was probably far less dangerous than pioneers being set upon by a group of vicious outlaws waiting to rob, rape and murder.  But it felt pretty intense at the time.  Knowing that because we circled the wagons we withstood the “attacks” of the week made me feel happy and strong.  And next time the Boogey Man comes calling, I will know “circling the wagons” is more than a phrase that caught my eye.  I will know that we can again circle the wagons and survive.


New Years Day is here.  Another holiday season has come and gone.  It was just a few short weeks ago that I was wondering once again How did this happen?  The holidays are almost here!  I don’t know why I find this so bewildering each year.  The fourth Thursday in November and the twenty-fifth of December always arrive right on time.  I knew last year that November and December would come again.  It just seems as though the days leading up to those special days run by faster than they should.

When Daughter and Son were little, the holiday season began shortly after Halloween.  I would carefully and lovingly plan out each Christmas gift for every family member then write out my little shopping list.  One Saturday in early November the Mister and I would leave the kids with my parents for the day then head to the nearest coffee shop to map out our plan of attack while zealously consuming high-calorie treats.  We would spend the day driving from store to store trying failing to buy only those presents on the list, thereby adhering to totally blowing our holiday budget.  New toys, books, clothes and thingamabobs were wrapped and hidden before Thanksgiving.  That gave the illusion that I was organized.

In our family, Thanksgiving has long been a wondrous event.  For twenty years the fun has started the night before Thanksgiving with The Annual Cousins Sleepover at Nama and Papa’s house.  Still to this day my parents host all seven grandkids for a Thanksgiving Eve bash.  The kids look forward to it.  Today they love it just for the joy of being together.  Years ago they loved it because they knew Nama would let them stand on chairs in the kitchen, roll up their sleeves and “help” her make homemade pies and rolls.  I tried doing this with my kids once in our own kitchen, but I felt that my baking-induced anxiety attack ruined the moment.  Thank God for grandma.  They also loved the sleepover because Papa would tell spooky stories then let them have chocolate kisses and root beer for a bedtime snack.  My mom and dad are fearless.

Speaking of fearless, my little brother and his lovely wife always host Thanksgiving dinner for about forty of our relatives.  No, I’m serious.  They do this every year.  You should pray for them.  The place is a zoo.  Lots of laughter and hugs.  The only things more astounding than the noise level are: 1-the unfathomable amount of delicious food we eat and wine we drink, 2-the neighbors have never called the police for noise violations, 3-The Mister, my brother and one sister-in-law are still ardent Dallas Cowboys fans, despite watching them blow a good lead on countless Thanksgivings, and 4-the fact that anyone is willing to host forty of their relatives for any reason.

The day after Thanksgiving was always the official kick-off of Christmas for us.  The day it became legal to start listening to the old, cheesy Christmas music that I’m brave enough to admit I love.  It was the day the tree went up and we decorated the house.  Better yet, it was the day to place under the tree all those presents we bought and wrapped weeks earlier.  I’m still not sure if I placed their gifts under the tree for the better part of a month to fill our kids with wonder or just to torture them.

Christmas Day was always a good party too.  Our little family together in the morning then all the cousins, aunts, uncles went to my parents house for even more great food, presents, good times.  My mom and dad have the gift of hospitality.  No one ever leaves their home without a hug, a full belly and a happy heart.  Christmas was and is no exception to that rule.

We all know the only constant in life is change.  Christmas doesn’t get a free pass on that one.  Some of the traditions we had in the early years have given way to new traditions.  For instance, the gooey, yummy, artery clogging cinnamon rolls I used to bake for Christmas breakfast have been replaced with gluten-free, high-fiber, flax muffins.  That sure makes my family happy.  Rather than early November shopping and day after Thanksgiving tree and house decorating, this year we grabbed a tiny tree on December 22nd and I was at the grocery store buying lots of gift cards for various stores and restaurants on the 23rd.  Those changes probably didn’t qualify me for the Susie Homemaker Award, but doing it that way is just working better for us in recent years.

The importance of different activities and traditions changes over the years, depending on where we are in life.  Some we outgrow, some need to be freshened up now and then.  Others we hold tightly in our lives and our hearts.  I’m striving to make life simpler these days.  To allow us more time for the people we love and the activities that are meaningful to us.  We have removed some of our holiday traditions from our to-do list and have stored them safely and lovingly in our memories so we can pull them out and smile anytime we choose.  The gather-with-your-family-and-love-on-each-other traditions are the keepers for us.

Home Organizing At Its Worst

I have become an organizing and decorating junkie.  I just cannot get enough home organizing and decorating action.  Kind of.  Actually, that’s not true at all.  What I really can’t get enough of is virtual home organizing and decorating.  You know, the kind I do while wearing jammies, curled up on my couch with laptop in hand and faithful dog snuggled up at my side as I fanatically stalk leisurely browse Pinterest and the temptingly beautiful websites for places like Pier 1, Crate and Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, and IKEA.

Since I’m mentioning IKEA, can someone tell me why – in the name of everything good and decent in this world – is there no IKEA in Las Vegas?  Sin City has beautiful hotel casinos that look like New York City (including a Statue of Liberty), an Egyptian pyramid, and even Italy.  We can zipline across the Fremont Street Experience.  We are blessed with beautiful parks, libraries, a fabulous children’s museum, plus we can eat at a buffet at 3 o’clock in the morning if we so choose (not that I choose to do anything other than drool on my pillow at 3 AM).  How is it that IKEA remains a state line away?  End of IKEA rant.

My meandering thought point here is my virtual organizing and decorating issue.  So bountiful is my collection of Ideas-To-Make-Our-Home-Beautiful-And-Efficient that I had to create a private Pinterest board on which to pin those ideas so my Pinterest friends wouldn’t hate me for blowing up their feeds with my ideas.  Even though they are super fabulous ideas.

At some point it might be wise of me to set down the laptop, get off the couch, put on grown-up people clothes in place of my jammies, and do some actual organizing and decorating.  Maybe put some of those thousands of pins to use?  Just yesterday morning that very thought occurred to me.  My next thought was even better: Maybe I should just pour another cup of coffee and see if the first thought goes far, far, away.

Now, you inherently regimented freaks of nature inspirational people already have long since finished organizing, decorating, feeding the hungry and finding a completely organic homemade cure for male pattern baldness, so you probably don’t understand the concept of procrastination.  I, on the other hand, excel at procrastination.  Even now I am writing this post not because I know your life instantly will be changed for the better after reading my words.  No.  No.  I write this post because I find it far more entertaining than going upstairs to assemble the shower organizer I bought yesterday.  But I’m getting ahead of myself (not a common practice for a procrastinator).

Oddly, even after I poured another cup of coffee, my bizarre Let’s-Go-Organize-Stuff thought didn’t go away.  Since I didn’t want to drive five hours to the nearest IKEA, I chose Target instead.  Did I mention that in addition to being a procrastinator, I tend to be easily distracted?  And I went to Target, the store that carries everything I could ever want to buy.  Without a chaperone.

Still, I was feeling very proud of myself.  After months of pinning, I was ready to conquer the world.  Or at least a couple rooms in our house.  I had visions in my head of hand-woven baskets in which to store like items, lovely cloth covered boxes with hanging file folders that will orderly contain all alphabetized household paperwork, perhaps boot hangers to end unsightly boot-clutter on the closet floor – and while we’re at it, matching clothes hangers sound dandy.  Shelves for this, caddies for that, clips for whatever.  I even dared to dream of a stately towel warmer to hold the matching towels I would buy to replace our mismatched towels.

I walked though the doors of that store feeling like a home organizing super hero.  It was not long before I transformed into something more like a frolicking puppy distracted by a flittering butterfly.  Oh there are books!  Look at those adorable Christmas dresses for three year-olds (never mind that I don’t even know a three year-old).  Oooh…I don’t know what that sparkly, glittery, useless thing is for, but it sure is pretty.  Hey, toilet paper is on sale (at least that is useful).

Two hours and too many dollars later, after having a lovely little visit with the cashier, I loaded up my car and headed homeward to initiate Project Organize.  I had browsed though every aisle, nook and cranny of the store.  And I had purchased: 1 blouse, 1 cami, 2 necklaces, 3 bracelets, 1 ring, several Christmas presents, tea, plenty of on-sale toilet paper and… 1 shower organizer.

I think for now I’ll just stick with virtual organizing and decorating.  Perhaps 2014 will be the year I dive into real organizing and decorating.  Perhaps I will have pinned enough great ideas to fill up an entire home.  Perhaps next time I will make a shopping list.  Perhaps I will learn to bring a responsible adult chaperone next time I enter anything other than a grocery store.  Meanwhile, the shampoo, conditioner and soap in our shower will be extremely well organized.

Take a Lesson From a Hound Dog

For years The Mister repeatedly and frequently told me two things in defense of dogs.  Specifically his hound dog, Boomer.  Firstly, he told me, “Take a lesson from a hound dog.”  Secondly, when that beast of a dog made me crazy, he told me, “You just don’t appreciate the qualities of a fine hound dog.”  I didn’t understand the first thing he told me, and I already knew the second to be true.  Thanks for those words of wisdom, Babe.

Boomer came to our family while we were on the rebound from another dog.  I had a very busy hubby, a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son who kept me busy enough that I had absolutely no desire whatsoever for a dog.  Or anything else that couldn’t feed itself, pick up after itself, and take care of its own potty issues!

When we first met him at The Doggy Bad Place, Boomer was quiet, tiny and shy.  And he only had a week before they would give him the bad shot! The Mister, Daughter and Son all fell in love with him.  Because he was quiet, tiny and shy, and because it seemed heartless to let him have the bad shot, I thought, “What the heck, at least Son will stop crying every night because he misses the last dog, plus Daughter and The Mister will stop droning on endlessly about how important pets are for families.”  And so, Boomer came home with us.

Turned out the only reason he was quiet, tiny and shy was that he had a wicked case of nasty dog worms.  Once he was rid of the worms – all over my parents’ backyard, dear heaven some things just cannot be unseen – he became loud, big and outgoing.  I had been the victim of false advertising.  I have long suspected that my family was in on that diabolical plan.

Boomer was always gentle and loving with Daughter; for Son, he patiently played endless rounds of Veloci-Boomer (think velociraptor – it was during the Jurassic Park movies era); and for The Mister, he was a faithful, loving, obedient hound.  For me, he was Hell Hound.  He did not love me.  He did not like me.  He truly saw me as the “other woman” in The Mister’s life.  Boomer often made it clear that he was puzzled how I slept on the right side of The Mister’s bed, while he slept on a blanket on the floor.  He had lots of nicknames:  Booms, Pookey, Brown Hound, and my personal favorite, Dammit Dog!

There was one day that I was going to make a pork roast for dinner.  So, I did what every internet site in the history of internet tells you not to do.  I was (gasp) thawing my roast on a plate on top of the counter.  I had to run a quick errand, so I outsmarted the mutt by placing a blockade of pots and pans around my roast, then left the house for 15 minutes.  I know you will be shocked to learn that I came home to pots and pans on the kitchen floor, a clean plate without a pork roast on it, and a brown hound dog sitting just outside the dog door with a ridiculous smartass smirk on his face.  I think he was excited about the nasty mess that raw pork inside his stomach would eventually leave in our backyard for me.

Side note:  that whole “chocolate can kill a dog” apparently did not apply to Booms.  He burglarized our pantry, ate a large bag of M&Ms, and it did nothing to him!

I recall the many times I came home to see the hound – who knew without a doubt that he was not allowed on our furniture – slowly and deliciously stretching every muscle in his body before he smiled at me and casually stepped down off our leather sofa.

I know it seems impossible, but I promise you that stinkin’ beast actually saved all of his fur shedding until just after I dusted, vacuumed and put the cleaning supplies away.  He derived such joy from bustin’ my chops!  He loved the rest of the family, and loved to torture me.  He often snickered at me when ELO’s “Evil Woman” came on the radio.

Eventually family situations and schedules determined that Booms and I would be the only living beings in the house for most of the day.  Monday through Friday.  All day.  Five days a week.  Sigh.

So we found an understanding.  We became each other’s lack of options.  Being at home alone together, we learned how not to hate each other.  He actually became kind of cute in a weird, disobedient, annoying sort of way.  And while he still did not like sharing The Mister with me, he learned to tolerate me in an almost fond way.

Then he got sick.  After eleven years of loving my family and enduring my existence, he got diabetes.  We christened him a “dogabetic” and assumed that the shots would help.  But they didn’t.  We tried for nine months of vet visits, shots, praying, and pretending he would get better, but he didn’t.

The day arrived that we knew to keep trying to save him would actually be cruel.  He did not deserve to suffer.  He had tried his best to survive for the man and now almost grown kids who loved him so much.  But he was so tired.

Because I was the one with the least connection with that crazy mongrel, I knew I had to spare my family the pain of taking him to the animal hospital for the last time.  It was a sad day, but I was up to the challenge.  I knew that while my family’s pain would hurt my heart, it would be better for them to say goodbye to him at home before I took him away.

Except it was harder than I expected.  Except I remembered each time he played so very patiently and gently with the children I love more than my next breath.  Except all those times he sat at the door waiting for his beloved master – my beloved husband – to come home.  Except those months of him enduring shots and the pain of being so sick, because he wanted to continue to provide joy and love for the ones he adored.  Except he really had been my friend when I thought he had only been my lack of options.

It is only in hindsight that I understand what The Mister meant.  Take a lesson from a hound dog?  Hmmm-must be the lessons a hound dog teaches us about loving others more than ourselves, enjoying a nice patch of sunlight, delighting in a good meal, rejoicing just because you’re with the people you love, appreciating a good backrub, and bringing joy to others whenever possible.  As for appreciating the qualities of a fine hound dog?  Maybe that one just means looking past the qualities that are a little hard to take, those mistakes that drive us a bit nuts, so we can see the love, the care, the sacrifice of another in our lives.

The Mister had it right all along.  Thank you, Booms, for teaching me the lessons and the joy of a fine hound dog.  I hope you are enjoying a nice raw pork roast and M&Ms in Doggy Heaven.

I Can’t See You, But You Look Great!

The Mister and I went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant recently.  That in itself makes for a great night, but why stop at just dinner?  Because our favorite restaurant happens to be on the beautiful Las Vegas Strip, and since autumn had been kind enough to blow into town and chase away summer’s heat, it was a great night for an after dinner walk under the sparkling lights.  Certainly, Vegas has endless diversions to keep visitors entertained, and I promise you that people-watching on The Strip has to be at the top of the Humorous Entertainment List.  Oh, the things you see!

As we wandered about hand-in-hand, walking off several thousand calories of yumminess, The Mister pointed out a sign slightly ahead of us.  Because I didn’t have my glasses with me, I couldn’t quite make out what the sign said.  This led us to the inevitable I-Swear-My-Eyes-Get-Worse-Every-Year conversation, which always leads to the What-Is-Currently-Hurting-On-My-Body chat, which in turn brings us to our If-I’m-Falling-Apart-This-Badly-At-This-Age-What-Kind-Of-A-Wreck-Will-I-Be-In-Ten-Years repartee.

After recovering from our Billy Crystalesque rant, we had the good fortune to notice we were walking near a sweet little old couple who appeared to have been married since about 1902.  They just had that air about them that let everyone lucky enough to see them know how much they still love each other.  They were decked out in the most outlandish sweet little old couple clothes, and judging by the wrinkles on their faces and the white thinning hair, I’m guessing neither of them looked much like the lovely young bride and dashing young groom they had surely been so many years ago.  Yet the sparkle in their eyes, the way they were so aware of each other, the smiles they shared, declared he still saw his lovely bride, and she her dashing groom.

When I was much younger, I would look at my young, handsome, muscly husband and (admittedly foolishly) wonder how people could still be attracted to each other when they get old.  You know – old like 30 or even 40!  Don’t judge.  I told you I was much younger and far more foolish then.  Could it be that is precisely why our eyesight starts heading straight downhill right about the same time wrinkles and age spots start mercilessly invading our faces?  Then we must look at each other through hearts filled with decades of love because of our life together.  Maybe the creak in the knee, the pinch in the back, the hitch in the get-up choose to keep us company at the season in life when we are more likely to have time to slow down a bit.  That slowing down a bit gives us time to do some of those things we always talk about doing someday.  Perhaps when we realize our hearing isn’t what it once was, instead of yelling or repeating, we can make that a good excuse to snuggle up close to each other.  Close enough that we never miss what the other is saying.

While observing my sweet little old couple, I had to smile as I wondered how often he tells his wife, “You look beautiful today” just because he knows she does, even if he can’t see her so well anymore.