Friday, August 4, 2017

My First (and Probably Only) Fashion Blog: The Pros and Cons of Stitch Fix

The boxes are cute!
Let’s talk about Stitch Fix. Yeah, I signed up for it. You probably know what it is, but if you don’t, it’s a service where you receive a regular shipment of five clothing items that have been especially selected for you… after you have told them your measurements and sizes and likes and dislikes and such. If you like the clothes, you buy them; if you don’t, you send them back.

Lots of people do it – a woman I work with LOVES it, and she always looks great! My friend Molly, who’s a fashion blogger, reviews all her shipments piece by piece. She generally has a good experience. But you know what? I don’t think it’s for me.

I swear those black jeans
made my thighs look
like giant hams!
To be honest, I’ve only received two shipments, so maybe I’m not being fair to “the Fix”… The first shipment was a total bust… Here’s my review (and since it was in March, I can't photograph myself trying each piece on as other reviewers do – or even give you specific brand names!):

1. A pair of skinny black jeans full of spandex—Okay, I have huge thighs, and this made them look like ginormous hams. Seriously, I looked like female Porky Pig! No thanks.

2. A dark color-block sleeveless dress—It was a really thick jersey, so I’m guessing it was for winter? But why sleeveless for winter? It was too fitted to be a jumper, so guess I was supposed to constantly wear a jacket with it? Also, since it was so fitted, it served to draw a big arrow to each of my prominent saddlebags (outer thigh fat). Again, no.

I kept this top, but $38?
3. A dark, plaid straight skirt—it was dark tan and black, a very small check, made sort of like a jean skirt. I actually liked it, but the straight skirt… did I mention I have enormous saddlebags? Those babies poked right outa that thing!

4. A black and white 3/4 sleeve striped t-shirt with peach trim at the neck and sleeves—Although I like a 3/4 sleeve and a black and white stripe, I just didn’t like this top. Maybe it was the peach trim? It just looked kinda nerdy.

5. A short sleeved top that’s grey jersey in the front and a crepe-y black material with tiny white flowers on a back that was slightly longer than the front. This was actually a cute top, and the only piece I kept. I might not have, though, if I hadn’t already paid 20 bucks for the shipment. 

See that’s how it works is, each shipment is $20, but if you buy something, they take that $20 out of it. Which brings me to the first reason that SF is not for me—the cost. The $20 is not bad, but the price of each item of clothing, while not so expensive in the grand scheme of things, is more than I would normally pay*.

Because I do love clothes, but I just don’t have that much to spend on them. I wish I could remember how much each of these pieces cost but I just don’t—I do remember that the top I bought was $38. For a t-shirt.I know that, in general, you get what you pay for quality-wise, but for me to pay the prices of their clothes, I want something I absolutely LOVE.
I LOVED these jeans,
but they don't look like
this on ME!

Anyway, I sent most of the shipment back. I told my “stylist” why I didn’t like the items—not to be a bitch, but because I think it’s helpful to them so that the next shipment will be better…? And it did help! The second shipment was pretty good!

1. A pair of faded, torn boyfriend jeans—loved them. Needed jeans. They’re a little big, but I like a loose jean. I can always wear a belt!

2. A black and white patterned long-sleeved t-shirt dress. Although I had some questions (Why send a long sleeved dress in summer? Don't they know I live in the south?), I loved it. It fit great. AND it was as comfortable as pajamas!

3. A pair of sweet low-top red sneakers. Super cute.

4. A black 3/4 sleeve jersey top with shoulder cut-outs. It was really cute, had nice pleats in the front but I just am NOT into the shoulder cut-out fad. It needs to run its course, seriously.

5. A halter style top that looked gray, but was a very tiny black and white stripe. The cord around the neck was braided fabric. Loved it! Unfortunately, a 55-year-old woman who is a 32DDD doesn’t need to be NOT wearing a bra. And I’ve never met a strapless bra that could keep the girls up comfortably.

I kept this knit dress because
when I HAVE to go to the
office, I like to be comfy.
So out of this box (and they do come in a cute little box), I kept the jeans and the dress—together they were about $150.00. And I would have bought them if I had seen them in a store and had the patience to try them on… In that way, it was actually a huge help! Because of my crazy shape, I absolutely LOATHE trying on jeans (seriously it makes me cry!), so having a great pair sent right to my mailbox was totally worth it. The shoes were super cute, but $65? Plus I have a bunch of pairs of similarly-styled sneakers already… just couldn’t justify it. 

Okay, so I just contradicted myself by saying that it as worth it to have a pair of perfect jeans sent directly to me. But here's the second and more important thing… Stitch Fix has this Facebook game where they show you a bunch of photos of items and you give them thumbs up or thumbs down, and I realized today that I gave a thumbs down to 9 out of 10 of their items… Because their stuff is modern and trendy, and not what my style is… which is just too hard to nail down. 

I don’t want skinny pants (or ANY pants now that I have my great pair of jeans) or anything strapless or with spaghetti straps or cut-out shoulders… or roll-tab sleeves, blazers or cardigans or cowl necks or scarves – please, please no scarves! I don’t like bubble-gummy colors or pastels—too nerdy (unless the shape is kinda retro); I don’t like wedge or clunky heels...

Things I like:
Black coat with faux fur
and ribbon trim (H&M $50)
and Catskill Mountain
moccasins boots
What DO I like? I like cute retro dresses with empire waists, or of the “fit and flare” variety, stuff that isn’t too tight, long shirts/short dresses I can wear with black leggings… I like classic colors like black, white, gray, red, hot pink, khaki and more black… classic materials like blue and black denim, seersucker, madras, white eyelet, gingham, tweed and tartan plaids … classic pieces like pea coats, denim jackets, fisherman sweaters, black turtlenecks, white eyelet tops, oversized men’s rugby shirts, striped French sailor tops, kilts, Doc Martens, checkerboard Vans, black or white high-top Chuck Taylors, gladiator sandals, cowboy boots, Geiger boiled wool jackets… 

I also love funky pieces like my handmade boots from Catskill Mountain Moccasins and my "Red Queen Battle Coat"with striped lining. I like well-placed details like ribbons, ankle straps and kitten heels, lace, pleats, lacings, pretty buttons, contrasting trim, and nautical or military styling… 

I will wear almost anything if it's black, and to keep things interesting, I like to mix classic pieces with edgy finds. I wear cute dresses with Chuck Taylors, skirts with band T-shirts and I don't mind admitting that I buy clothes from (among other places) Target, Hot Topic, Brooks Brothers and... my husband's closet.

I’m a Mod, a rocker, a punk, a New Romantic, a steampunk – slightly retro, slightly gothic, very slightly preppy... and a curvy, weird, mutton-dressed-as-lamb, 55-year-old mom who works in an office three days a week. And I know all that stuff together is the opposite of something that is likely to come in a box—no matter how cute—from someone I’ve never met!

*It says on the SF web site that the average price for their pieces is $55.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some Odd, End-of-Summer Ponderings about Art and Heaven

It's been a good summer!
Okay, y’all, I’m starting to get bummed… the summer is slipping away so fast and fall will be bearing down on us before we know it. So, like, it’s this week, then next week we’re on vacation, and then … SCHOOL!! I mean, what the heck?! I realize that it’s a luxury that I have summers “off” – that is, I don’t have to go to my office at the Duke Chronicle, but… why does this delicious break have to go by so fast? 

Okay, now I’ve got that off my newly-lifted chest (bras on sale at Nordstrom – through Sunday, August 6!)… We’ve had a pretty good summer… Bill’s been to some great camps, one of which was Chapel Hill’s Movie Makers camp. At this camp, the kids in each group confer on a plot, act in and film a movie, which the staff edits. The movies are then shown at the historic Varsity Theatre downtown. 

Our Bill at his premiere
Bill’s group concocted an action/adventure opus featuring a government plot to turn high school kids into super warriors. Since his group was older kids, it was well done—for a film that went from concept to completion in a week. It had a decent plot and some pretty good fight scenes. We were so proud of him and my heart leaped every time he appeared on the screen!! 

But this isn’t about that … see, the camp also had a younger group of kids making an action/adventure film. And their movie… well, it was… what you might expect from a bunch of kids ages 6-10! Their plot had something to do with a gang of black-clad villains who poison a town’s coffee supply and a gang of meddling kids who suss out the plot… Did I mention that each gang included one or two kids in a dog or cat costume with lines like “meow” or “grrrr”...?

It was a hilariously fun, cute little mess! And I know the parents LOVED seeing their kids in their celluloid creation, cos that’s how parents are! I should know! Anyway, I’m not sure why, but seeing this little cinematic treat caused me to ponder some weird questions… 

1. DOES GOD THINK OUR ART IS “CUTE”? Some of the art that humans create is so beautiful and subtle it makes, as the Rolling Stones say, “a grown man cry.” Just last night we were at a show of the Punch Brothers… all of whom are fantastic, innovative musicians… And Chris Thile, their mandolin player, is in a class all by himself. I’ve written about him and his genius here, and if you want to watch him go to town on his mini-axe, click here. Anyway, after a particularly complex bit of noodling at the show last night a man yelled out “WHAAAAAAT?????!!!!” – complete with deeply incredulous upswing at the end of the word. Bill and I thought that was particularly hilarious… although we kinda knew what the shouter meant! 

Because human beings are capable of producing some stunning works of creativity, meaning and emotion… but you know how God is so completely above us all? For instance, in Isaiah 55 it says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And in one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

So if I take these statements to be true, does that mean that even our most perfect and fulfilling pieces of art look like a child’s doodle to Him? Does Citizen Kane look like a caper movie with kids in animal costumes? Do Chris Thile’s mandolin solos sound like a preschooler plinking on a toy ukulele to Him? Does The Starry Night look like scribbles to our Father? Does the most subtle and insightful stand-up comedy act seem like clumsy clownishness?

I know this is a weird question and I honestly don’t know the answer… But I do know that God loves His children like crazy… So it follows, then, that He loves our art—dotes on our attempts to create things that have meaning and beauty and speak of our hearts’ yearning for Him. As the First and Best Creator, He is our Role Model in the Sky when it comes to making stuff, and I think He loves it when we follow His lead.

2. IS THERE ART IN HEAVEN? And if there is… how GREAT is it going to be when we see it, hear the songs, etc.? Will we even be able to contain ourselves laughing at the jokes? Will we say, “WHAAAAAAT???!!!” Or will we stand in awe, saying as Job did when confronted with God’s grandeur: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” 

A pretty piece of God's art
that I posted this spring.
Or … is EARTH AND ALL CREATION God’s art? The music of the spheres, the fruited plains and the purple mountains majesty, etc…? I mean there’s a reason that the best pics on social media are nature pics. You should see the ones my friend Holden posts from his walks in the woods. Talk about ART! 

Or maybe HEAVEN ITSELF is God’s finest work of art, and art is our attempt to bring some of it down here? I mean, even dark art that speaks of the human condition offers a contrast to a way that things should be?

Well, the Revelation of St. John says there’s singing in heaven, so maybe the first thing is true. Or maybe it’s all true—ie. 1. there’s art in heaven, 2. earth and all creation are heaven’s art, and 3. heaven is God's ultimate work of art. 

Stoner-philosopher Doug Forcett
I guess I won’t know the answer to these odd questions until I am there… which kind of reminds me of an incident on that show The Good Place in which Ted Danson tells a new arrival to “the good place” that each of the world religions got the reality of the afterlife about 5% right… and that the only person who came close was a stoner named Doug Forcett, who, while high on mushrooms, guessed it about 92% correct. (Haha - I’ll have what HE’S having!)

Of course, as a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the best information we have on the afterlife and heaven and what have you… but that doesn’t mean we really know what’s in store for us! And I like to think whatever right ideas we may have are about 5% of how great it’s going to be!

Monday, July 3, 2017

And they told two friends...

Bill and I spent a week of mornings herding cats at
our church's Vacation Bible School.
I promised myself – and the wide world of Facebook – that once summer came, I would write some blog posts… because I have been seriously lame in that department. Who am I trying to kid with all these reposts, right? And promising myself is one thing – the only person who cares if I break that promise is me! But the Facebook people? I really feel like I need to do right by them! I mean, they provide me with so much joy and entertainment! 

Foremost in my mind, these days… and probably in a lot of people’s minds… is that it seems like there’s a terror attack or shooting nearly every day now – somewhere in the world! It’s awful, isn’t it? I guess I don’t need to really say that, though. Who would think otherwise?

Children at a concert… goofy middle-aged dudes playing baseball… people just hanging around London Bridge… They’re all just minding their own business and some crazy-ass person shows up and goes to town with a gun or a van or a bomb or something. Seriously, what is WRONG with people? 

I guess this is where I share the gospel and you (may or may not) think to yourself, “Christians think they’ve cornered the market on truth”… and I do believe that Jesus was and still is the living embodiment of TRUTH… but if I have this knowledge, it’s through no goodness or smartness of my own. It was given to me and I didn’t reject it… because at that time in my life, I was nearly dead and needed a remedy… I was DESPERATE.

And that’s what I am seeing and feeling right now … a lot of DESPERATION!! So shouldn't I share with people what helped me?

That said, it’s a tricky time. Christians are on a lot of people’s sh*t list… I don’t think we’re being persecuted or anything – that’s silly… I’m just saying a lot of people are wary of us or mad at us… because… you know… of the whole voting into office a guy who is corrupt, ill-equipped, not very smart… and is just really mean!

And I know that we ALL didn’t vote him into office – I didn’t, for one… But he sure did have a lot of prominent Christian leaders’ votes – for a guy who brags about just grabbing women willy nilly… Did those guys even CARE how every single woman in their respective flocks might feel about that? I guess not.

Anyhoo, I feel sorta helpless in the face of all this, but God is still good and Jesus still saves. So how do I communicate this to the world?

Bill makes himself a human
barrier to keep two of our kittens
from escaping.
This brings to mind something that happened while I was helping with Vacation Bible School at church. Bill and I worked in a class of three-year-olds, and I gotta say… it was a challenge! These kids were so cute and mostly sweet, but it was, as they say, like herding cats. They all wanted to just go and do whatever they wanted to do… if we were supposed to be coloring something, some kids dutifully scribbled away, but some wandered off to check out the toys or disappear into the little playhouse… if we were on the playground, one or two would always try to get back in the classroom… occasionally a frustrated kid might hit or shove another kid… Of course I’ve had a toddler, so I know the drill, but we had 13 of them! It was completely fun, but also completely exhausting! 

One morning later in the week, I found myself praying that the kids would be good and follow the rules… but then I literally sat up in bed and thought, “No! That’s not right!” I realized that I should pray instead that the children would learn that I love them and that God loves them. 

And I think that’s the whole problem! We Christians tend to place more emphasis on molding people into following God’s rules, when our primary concern should be to communicate the actual gospel to them – you know, the love and grace of God. The John 3:16* of it all. Yes, we stand up for what we believe in, but do we believe in keeping transgender people out of the "wrong" bathrooms**? Or do we believe in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life? Does the song say “They’ll know we are Christians by our LOVE?” or does it say “They’ll know we are Christians because of our moral outrage?” 

I don’t think it’s my job to shape the morals of people who don’t even know Jesus, outside of what’s legal, anyway. At VBS, we had rules – 2 to be exact: “Be quiet when the teacher is talking,” and “Keep your hands and feet to yourself.” And these rules were not do or die — they were just helpful to keep things on track, more or less. You know, kind of how laws keep us from killing each other. 

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have do’s and don’ts… or that they’re not important… I’m just saying that in this rough and hurting and desperate world, sharing His love should be our main objective. If the hearers develop a relationship with Him, they can work out the moral stuff between them. 

And so on, and so on...
And honestly, I have no idea how to communicate God’s love and my love to the hurting people of the world… I guess using words is a good place to start – words of the love and grace of God… And I really don’t know how my words can solve the problems of the world (see above)… I guess maybe each new person who trusts in God is one less person who feels desperate enough to perform a desperate act? 

I mean, the church started with just 12 ornery guys… telling people about Jesus and loving and serving each other… So maybe it still works that way? I imagine it like that old Faberge shampoo commercial… I told two friends about Faberge Shampoo and they told two friends and they told two friends… and so on and so on… 

*For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

**um... no

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ripping Yarns – repost

Because I'm excited about the T2: Trainspotting film coming out... a repost!: 

Our church always has a lot of groovy things going on, and one of them right now is having the people read the same book at the same time. I mean, at any given time, I’m going to guess that many of us are reading the same book at the same time – the Bible... but that’s not what i’m talking about. We’ve all been encouraged to read a book called The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People.

I've heard it called the
Greatest Story Ever Told.
The title pretty much says it all: it’s sort of like the Bible, but just edited so that it reads as a narrative... you know, plot, characters, etc... Now, it did pop into my mind to wonder: Is it just a marketing/money-making ploy? A way to sell more Bibles to people who already own them? In our house, I’m guessing we might have around 10 different Bibles in various forms and translations... especially if you count the ones that are written as stories for children... Which, honestly, is what The Story reminds me of. But, even though we have all these Bibles... I bought The Story. Not because I needed yet another, but because I thought it would be sweet to be involved with other members of the church in this endeavor. I’m not really a fitter-in, but I can do this. 

I’m trying not to think about the publishers as cheesy money-grubbing marketing guys, but as guys (or gals) who thought it might be easier for some people to read the Word of God if it were kind of like a novel... and that, for people who have read it plenty, it might lend a fresh perspective... 

But even if you don’t read it all in a row like this, the Bible is what you might call a ripping yarn... a wild story – especially the Old Testament. It’s got a woman pounding a tent peg into a dude’s head, a king getting stabbed while he’s on the crapper, a talking donkey, and a whole army being routed by one guy with the jawbone of an ASS (teehee)... 

Yes, all this stuff is in there. But mostly, it’s the story of an infinite God and the people He loves. It’s a romance, for sure... but also a thriller, a mystery, a classic, a memoir, a biography... It’s got history, poetry, self-help, humor... And even the crazy parts are full of truth.

For some reason, my son asked me the other day if every story had a moral. I told him that some stories were just for entertainment, but sometimes even those could teach you something if you really thought about it. It’s the best way to make things NOT a waste of time in my opinion. I mean, if I’m watching a brainless comedy, sometimes I turn it over in my head for a while and may (or may not) glean a kernel of useful information from it.

Only watch this 
movie if you have a 
cast-iron stomach.
I realized I could do this when I went to see the movie Trainspotting, which, being a stomach-churningly grim tale about Scottish heroin addicts, is FAR from a brainless comedy.  In fact, it has a LOT to say, but it would have been easy for me to shut down, and see it as merely an over-nasty diatribe about the dangers of drug abuse. And as the characters struggled with that most heinous of addictions and the lifestyle that usually accompanies it – depicted in the most disgusting way, I might add – it was easy to think that if they could just get the monkey off their back, everything would be cool... but there’s this really great scene where they leave the squalor of the city for a train ride into the curvaceous green countryside that comprises much of Scotland... “Doesn’t it make you proud to be Scottish?” one of the guys asks in wonder... 

The answer? Well, I could give you the exact quote, and while you know I’m not stickler for proper language, I think it’a a bit much for a blog that says “Christian” at the top. Basically he says that being Scottish is terrible – colonized by the English, a bunch of effete jerks... the lowest of the low, and all the fresh air in the world wouldn’t make any difference. So they recognize that the problem is bigger than just their personal addictions. It might be something that is inherently wrong with their country. 

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
And in the end, they find that it’s not just their country, although it’s a convenient scapegoat for their problems... They may leave behind their addictions, with its pain and graphic hallucinations, and they may leave their country... for anonymity and not-so-grimy living in London... but they can’t leave themselves and their own soul-sickness. Because they have made heroin their god and England their anti-Christ, but failed to come to terms with their own sin. Even in the end, the main character, played by Ewan McGregor – if you can buy clean cut Ewan as a junkie – comes out and says, “I’m a bad person”... He vows to change, but he clearly knows that just being clean and adopting a middle-class lifestyle is not going to fill the gaping hole in his soul. 

And again, I could have gotten bogged down in the endless scenes involving bodily fluids, domestic squalor, even the horrendously tragic death of an innocent child, but I allowed myself to stand back and let the real meaning seep in: If I allow something to be god in my life, unless it’s actually God, it won’t serve me well. If it’s heroin, it might even kill me. However, just getting rid of my false god isn’t enough. 

What Ewan McGregor
usually looks like...
A couple of real smart guys have something to say about this: Augustine of Hippo said this (addressing God): “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are rest-less till they find their rest in you.” And Blaise Paschal said this: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

And that’s what I saw when I saw Trainspotting... A gaping hole that needed to be filled with the God of the universe. The world is full of stories that can teach us truths, and this movie is one of them. HOWEVER, if you want to go straight to the source, the Bible is full of stories, full of truth. And even the crazy ones can give you a picture of who God is. Our pastor gave a full-length sermon about the woman killing the guy with a tent peg, and another one about the king who got stabbed on the crapper. Because this book, even at its most outrageous, doesn’t just point to the gaping hole, but gives you the information you need to fill it.