Masterpiece

Back in 2008, I took a dream trip to Italy for 10 days. Probably 10 of the most intensely beauty-filled days of my life. I spent much of my time in Rome but I feel as if I barely scratched the surface of all the amazing art there was to see in that city alone. One of the museums I picked to see was the Musei Capitolini. It housed several sculptures I was eager to see in person, although sadly Bernini’s Medusa was on loan to a museum in Venice. I didn’t realize, though, that there was a very nice collection of paintings on the top floor. Paintings are not its primary focus, so I did not expect to see the likes of the collection at the Galleria Borghese (which sadly I did not visit). But then I stopped in my tracks… a Caravaggio! Not one, but two! And… was that what I thought it was? A real Rubens! Cherubic Romulus and Remus in all their characteristically-Rubens, rolly-polly glory.

There were many other paintings as beautiful as the Caravaggios and the Rubens, and perhaps some I liked even better. Yet there was something special about seeing these. To stand a foot from the canvas (yes, there isn’t near the security in Italian museums as here in the States) and examine the brush strokes of these masters whose names had been part of my earliest, grade-school art history lessons. I think I got goosebumps, it felt almost surreal. Little me, standing in the same spot these men had stood when they painted these pictures. Certainly… these weren’t the most famous paintings these men had done. But they were works of the masters!

One of my favorite ways to think of God is as the Great Artist. When I see a brilliant sunset, I see a watercolor He’s splashed across the horizon. The craggy peaks of a mountain are His sculpture. Yet His grandest work… it’s His people. And the amazing thing about the Great Artist is that He creates no minor works. The thrill I felt standing before a small painting by Caravaggio or Rubens, not well known at all… that should be multiplied many times over when we look at His handiwork. Every one of His creations is a masterpiece!

Every one. I’m sure you can agree that your loved ones – your friends and your family – are masterpieces. But what about YOU? Do you believe you are God’s version of the Sistine Chapel? You are a signed, authentic work of the Master. You bear His image. You are His masterpiece.

Caravaggio - St. John the Baptist

Every now and then, a story makes a headline when someone discovers a great painter’s work in a forgotten attic or behind a less valuable painting. Can you imagine what it would be like to find a long-lost, perhaps never-known work of Monet or Rembrandt? Oh, the care that would go into restoring it! Millions of dollars… it would be stored in perfect conditions; many artisans would spend countless hours in painstaking, tedious restoration work.

We live in a fallen world. Every one of God’s masterpieces is in need of restoration. Good thing the Master Painter is ready and willing to breath new life into His creations. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to recognize His marred and damaged works. Yet… the brushstrokes are there. The signature is always visible. You may have to look closer, but it’s there. Nothing, not all the grime and filth and fading in the world can erase the Master’s touch.

Do you see the masterpiece? Let it thrill you when you look in the face of your wife, your boyfriend, your roommate, your son. Take a good look in the mirror and recognize His handiwork. But even more… I challenge you to look for the masterpiece in every person you encounter. The less-than-cordial clerk at Wal-Mart. The students misbehaving in your classroom. The coworker who you know will stab you in the back when you leave the break room. The homeless man panhandling at the busy intersection.

As you begin to see the masterpiece in those around you, open yourself up to the prompting of the Spirit. You never know when God will choose you as a tool in the restoration of another. And you just might find your own colors brightened and a layer of dust removed in the process!

xoxo,
Alanna

Once Upon a Time Wednesday: Paint

Today’s OUaT isn’t so much a story as just a fact… once upon a time, I used to paint. starting in middle school, I believe, through high school I took art lessons from a local painter. She taught in a studio in the cute downtown area of the small town where I lived. Although it was a group class, each person received private instruction and advanced at his or her own pace. So it was really more of private lessons.

Still life... my last painting ever. 😦

I loved painting. But I stopped after high school. I just didn’t have time in college, obviously, as a non-art-major. Sadly I told my mom she could give away all my supplies… I did oil painting and if you don’t know, it’s an expensive art medium. I didn’t really think I’d paint again. Upon hindsight reflection, I think I didn’t consider myself good enough to keep it up. Which is just a ridiculous idea to begin with. Why stop doing something just because you’re not good at it?

And then, in the first year I moved to Memphis, I had my mom send me some of my favorite paintings. Actually, the last two I ever did. And I realized something. I was good. And I loved it. AND I WANT TO PAINT AGAIN!

Sadly, I haven’t ever felt like I had the money at the right time to invest in setting myself up again to paint. But it’s a goal for when I’m employed again. I’ve gone through fits and spurts of doing art again; sketching, pastels, etc. It’s something I just need to discipline myself to do (and fight the self-doubt, too). I love it when I do… it’s like something dormant in me comes springing to vibrant life.

Master copy of a Monet

I am an artist. It’s not something that will only be confirmed if I sell a painting someday. I just am an artist. It’s part of who God created me to be. It’s woven into my being.

Is there anything you used to do but don’t know, and you wish you did? Or is there something you’ve always longed to learn but never was brave enough?

xoxo,
Alanna

Once Upon a Time Wednesday: Pip

Of course y’all know about my two furry buddies, Charlie and Lucy. But you don’t know that my first kitty was a teeny runt named Pip. I adopted Pip in July of 2008. The plan had been for A. (my college roomie, with whom I moved to Memphis) and I to both get kitties. She adopted Charlie in October 2007 and he was hers until she married in 2010, when he became mine. I couldn’t afford a cat at first but after getting a higher paid job our second summer here, we set off one Saturday to find my kitten. I had a list of several places and I was adamant I would go to each place before making a decision. A. had no faith in me and insisted I would adopt the first cute cat I saw. No surprise… she was right.

Our first stop was the local PetSmart which shows cats from the local animal shelter. We walked up and this little guy was the first one I saw:

In the car headed home!

When I crouched down to look through his window, he came forward and put his paw up on the glass, like a little prisoner begging for rescue. I melted. There wasn’t any turning back. When the PetSmart employee lifted him out to let me hold him, he hissed! I liked his spunk. We had to go to the animal shelter to fill out his paperwork… the employee advised me to go quickly as the little guy had generated interest with several people. As it turned out I had barely signed the paperwork and paid, when a couple came in determined to adopt him. Whew.

He was very small – at five months, the size of 10 week old kittens – but the vet said he probably was just a runt. He was feisty, though! He and Charlie took quite a while to acclimate to each other (we didn’t do the best job introducing them). Poor Charlie didn’t exactly know what to do with such a tiny thing (3 lbs.) and would frequently overwhelm Pip (named for the hobbit) play fighting. We heard his little hiss often.

He really was just this pitiful little snuggle bug. I could be walking down the hallway and he’d sneak up to snuggle my feet, of course getting kicked in the process. He often slept draped on my shoulders or neck and I’m afraid I knocked him into the wall on more than one occasion as I turned into my sleep. All he wanted was to cuddle and he’d sidle up next to us on the couch or curl up on our laps (even when a laptop was already there). Of course we both showered him with snuggles and love.

Then early in September, I noticed that he’d had some… issues… in the litterbox. For the next month, he was in and out of the vet’s office as we tried to figure out what was wrong. Nothing else seemed wrong but because of the problems, he got more and more dehydrated. It got to the point where I was giving him water with a syringe because he wasn’t drinking enough. He got multiple fluid treatments at the vet. My wonderful vet actually did over $500 worth of treatment for free because he fell in love with sweet little Pip.

But my poor little buddy got weaker and weaker. He’d grown to 4 lbs in August, but now was below 3. I had to put him in the large kitchen closet at night and while I was at work because he couldn’t keep things in the litterbox. I fought for him, and he tried his best, but the decision was inevitable. The vet thought it was FIP, an incurable disease that’s only truly diagnosed at an autopsy. He was probably sick from long before he came to me.

I knew what was coming. And one Sunday I made the choice. That night I let him sleep with me. I didn’t care if he made a mess (which he didn’t – he always tried to use the litterbox and I woke every time to clean him up). He draped himself over my neck and as he fell asleep I felt his little head droop lower and lower on my cheek. On that Tuesday, October 14, I took him to the vet for the last time. I’m starting to cry already writing this. They were wonderful. So sweet. I think the vet and assistants may have gotten teary. I chose to stay with him because I couldn’t bear to have his last moment as me leaving him. He was so scared. So they gave him an anesthetic and I held him close, rocking him as he fell asleep. Then they came in and put him to sleep for real. I’ll never forget the doctor putting the stethoscope to his heart, so huge in comparison to Pip’s teeny abdomen, and saying quietly, “He’s gone.”

They slipped out, giving me several minutes to grieve, to stroke his head and sob over my little baby kitty. I drove home and held Charlie close. I lay face down on the floor, crying into his tummy. Even though I’d had him for only a few months, my heart was broken.

I still had to go into work, and when I got home, sweet A. had cleaned up everything of his: his litterbox and bowls, etc., so I wouldn’t have to do it myself.

My wee Pip buddy

And that’s the story of my little Pip. Sweet boy. I’ve now thoroughly cried my eyes out, but I wanted you to know my teeny first kitty!

xoxo,
Alanna

Project 366!

Bonsoir, mes petites chous!*

It’s time again for a new week of Project 366. Made it 15 days already – whew! Well, 16 including today but y’all won’t get to see that ’til next week.

January 9 – I finally caved and decided to get a hair dryer with diffuser. I’ve been a life-long wet-head, air-dryer but I’ve thought about a diffuser for a while (the ONLY way I would consider heat styling my delicate curly hair).

January 10 – In preparation for Once Upon a Time Wednesday, I was browsing through old photos. I came across this sweet one from September 2010, when I was visiting my month-old nephew. Auntie Boo loves her boy. And yes… somehow I still chose to write about my hair?

January 11 – The night before I accidentally ended up making spaghetti sauce from scratch, so M. and I decided to repeat the idea this night (aaaaand Saturday, too). It was delicious, if I’m allowed to say so myself! As I said on Facebook… for a Malaysian and a Western European mutt, we sure do Italian pretty well.

January 12 – I finally remember to start the process to make nut milk, via this tutorial video. It definitely looked like milk, but I think I must not have had enough pecans because it tasted like… kinda pecan-flavored water. Not quite drinkable but I’ve used it on oatmeal in the mornings.

January 13 – I was sorting through some boxes I brought to the condo in May, full of random things tossed in at the last minute. I’d intended to take care of them long ago but hadn’t until now. Lucy enjoyed playing with the packing paper. I still need to vacuum – there are bits of paper all over my room!

January 14 – These beautiful pansies (plus yellow ones, too!) greet me when I drive through our gate. Pansies are my very favorite flower (as I mentioned before) and it makes me so happy to see their cheery faces when I get home. Saturday afternoon instead of going straight inside from the car, I walked about the complex a bit, taking pictures. I hadn’t done that in a while but I love to talk solitary walks with a camera. It was good for my soul!

This girl is sleepy – so off to bed it is for me. Tomorrow is *MoNdAy* – the day of new beginnings! Have a super start to your week, y’all!

xoxo,
Alanna

*Good evening, my little cabbages. According to my French prof in college (and she was truly French – a real Parisian), “cabbage” is a pet name in France. She always called us, “mes petites chous!”

Cozy

Yesterday, I spent a sweet and cozy afternoon with one of my besties (yes, I am blessed to have several!). Before I moved in with M. this summer, L. and I had lived together for two years. We’ve got carbon copy personalities and she’s just one of those friends with whom I feel very comfortable. We curled up on the couch with tea and fresh scones to watch Babes in Toyland. Both of us had watched it as children but could barely remember the story.

Mary and Mr. Barnaby

It was so adorably kitschy and far cheesier than we remembered, but we loved it even so. There was a sweet sort of innocence about it, too. The movie begins the day before Tom and Mary’s wedding, yet that evening she’s far too shy to kiss him yet. Sweet. And Ed Wynn? Awww. He’s so cute!

We had fun remembering all the older movies we’d loved as a kid. Long ago we’d discovered we both love The Sound of Music, but yesterday we discussed Old Yeller (actually I hated that – too sad!), The Swiss Family Robinson… it made me want to dig up a lot of the old favorites.

We hadn’t been together since before Christmas and we spent a lot of time catching up. She’s one of those friends with whom I can be honest and know that she’ll listen, support, advise and love me without judgment. It was just a very filling time, ya know?

I’m so glad God blessed me with a sweet afternoon yesterday because today I certainly needed that extra bit to get through a really tough day. To explain briefly, a promise was made to me earlier this week and then broken today in a surprising and hurtful way. It’s got some tough repercussions for my life in the next few weeks. God knew what today would hold for me and although He knows the big picture for my life, how things will unfold according to His plan for the best, He knew I’d need some extra help. He is so sweet to meet me in my limitation with blessings in His hands. Although I know He has great plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), it’s so hard to trust that sometimes. Yet, instead of getting irritated with my feeble faith, He chooses to bless me in a special way.

Sometimes I miss these little “above and beyond” demonstrations of love. But when I stop to evaluate my life as guided by my heavenly Father, it’s so clearly criss-crossed with His love. I pray you’ll stop a minute. Look at the past few days? I know you’ll find evidence of His love.

xoxo,
Alanna

Once Upon a Time Wednesday

Holy whoa. Please can I have a hammock bed? I’m pretty sure I was a lot less covetous before I discovered Pinterest.

Ahem. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

So I’ve been thinking about ways to both motivate my blogging and make some sort of routine. Obvious solution: some sort of regular feature post (or two). I have to be like all the cool kids, you know. So. I came up with “Once Upon a Time Wednesdays.” I like telling stories and for a 26 year old I do think I’ve had a decently interesting life. Actually I think everyone has, but that’s a thought for another post. So I declare that from hence forth, every Wednesday I shall tell you Something about my past. A story, a memory, reveal my deep dark secrets… you get the idea. Y’all are smart, right?

So. I thought I’d tell you about how I used to be Rapunzel… kinda. Once upon a time, my hair was – as we say here in the South – A Hot Mess. Like underline, italicize, bold Hot Mess. It’s always been curly. And plentiful. And I brushed it. So it was a fluffy Hot Mess. I wish I had some old photos to show you from my middleschool and highschool years. Or maybe not, because I was pretty much Frump Girl and yeah. You might be shocked. I’ve come a looooong way, people.

Anyway, I slowly began to discover that my hair wasn’t so bad if I didn’t do certain things like brush it. And then I saw the light and discovered the Curly Girl/No ‘Poo (As in SHAMpoo) method 7 years ago. And my hair has been getting better and better. But first I got it into my head that I would see how long it would grow. And so by the end of my junior year in college it looked like this…

Rapunzel hair!

Every time I look at this picture my eyes bug out just a little bit because I forget how stinkin’ long it got. I chopped off 14″ (that curly inches… it was longer stretched out) and donated it to Wigs for Kids. And never in my life again shall my hair get that long.

Okay. This was pretty much the lamest start to Once Upon a Time Wednesdays. But I figured I just needed to start and this is what came to mind. 🙂 But very few people in my life now know how ridiculously long my hair was and it’s kind of a fun fact. I promise you’ll actually get a real story next week.

Anyway. On the subject of hair… well I’ve got some interesting (and good) news to tell you! But I’m going to sit tight on it just a bit longer in the blogosphere. Ooooh. Secrets!

xoxo,
Alanna

Project 366

So I’ve started the whole Project 365 thing several times before and I’ve run out of steam or got distracted by February or March. Lame, I know. But this year – you know, having a REAL public blog and all – I am determined to do it all the way through! Even the extra day making this Project 366! I’ve lowered my standards, too… just an Instagram photo every day. Surely I can do that, considering my phone is rarely very far from me? So here goes…

January 1 – Books. I love reading and was a voracious reader my entire childhood as long as I can remember. College kinda pulled me away from the whole reading for pleasure thing and while I’ve definitely read a fair amount in the past 4.5 years, I wouldn’t describe my literary habits as voracious any longer. I miss it… So I’ve set a goal (24 books – two a month) for this year and am trying to intentionally make sure I am reading consistently. On January 1 I was reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan (still am) and A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (have finished it and loved it! My favorite Heyer so far).

January 2 – Tea. I’m a tea girl (and make it decaf, please). It’s a long story, but mid-college I made it a point to stop regularly consuming caffeine (I wasn’t even that bad to begin with). Now it’s at the point where caffeine makes me crrrrazy and if I consume it past lunch? Forget sleeping that night! Anyway, I drink probably 2-3 cups of tea throughout the day. This is my favorite mug. I’ve had it forever – August is my birthday month and pansies are August’s flower. And my favorite flower.

Um. I think I’m writing way too lengthy captions, if they can even be called that. Brevity has never been a good descriptor for me.

January 3 – Snuggles. Lucy has been extra lovey since I returned from my Christmas trip. Every night she “makes biscuits” on my shoulder and then snuggles close. I love it!

January 4 – Knee socks! I’d been wanting some cute long socks to wear with boots, as I’d seen all the cool kids doing. I used some Christmas money to buy a couple pairs at Target. I love the added touch to my outfits!

^ Hey look that was shorter!

January 5 – I made one of my favorite soups! My friend Rachael’s lentil stew. Oh. Em. Gee. I make it a lot but I still get so happy because it’s just SO good (and cheap and easy)! I love vinegar.

January 6 – The roomie bought me a Scentsy wax warmer for my birthday last year. I love it! I turn it on almost every night before bed, as I’m doing my devotions. Right now it’s got French Lavender. Lovely. Oh and see the photo? That’s me and my darling sister, 7 years ago Sunday at her wedding.

January 7 – I went to Costco for the first time with my roomie. I scored BIG with this giant, 48 oz. bag of Craisins for just $3! That’s barely more than a regular bag at the grocery store! I love Craisins… plain, in salads, in oatmeal, in scones. Nom.

January 8 – Through roomie, M, I discovered Warby Parker. Glasses – including frames – for $95 (plus $30 if you have really bad eyes like I do)! We played around with the digital try-on feature and these were our favorites for me. The Zagg style. Sometime in the hopefully not distant future they will be on my face for real.

And that, my friends, is a wrap. I was kind of supposed to go to bed a long time ago. Whoops. I perfect the stalling bedtime technique as a child, so it’s no surprise I’m still doing it at 26. Goodnight, y’all!

xoxo,
Alanna

Tidbits

Hello y’all! Not totally inspired tonight so I thought I’d just share a few tidbits with you, bullet-style.

  • This is a fabulous commentary – The Death of Pretty. I don’t have much more to add because it’s been so well said in the post, but… I do desire to be “pretty,” as the author defined it. Beauty + Innocence. There’s often a fine line but I hope we ladies make the choices to be pretty rather than “hot.”
  • Tomorrow is Epiphany… which has become my traditional “take down the Christmas decorations” day. Booo. I love Christmas! 😦
  • My mom sent me a new calendar… this one. It’s so dreamy and lovely! Even at 26, there’s much of the imaginative little girl in me. I need to find just the right place to put it up. 😉
  • I used some Christmas money to do a little shopping at Target for ME yesterday. Got some knee socks to wear under boots, a top I’d been eyeing for two months (sadly it wasn’t on sale like the rest of the Winter clothes but it was worth it), and some skinny plastic headbands. I’ve gotten [mostly] content with not being able to shop for myself – outside of an occasional Goodwill trip – but it was fun to get some new, pretty things for me. I’ve been wearing the headbands constantly. Well… one at a time, you know. 😉
  • Speaking of hair, I so, so, SO have been wanting bangs for almost a year but I follow a very natural haircare method. With my curly hair, I can’t think of a way to get my hair not to pop into teeny ringlets without using a heat tool (out of the question, except possibly a hairdryer with a diffuser). Sad. I had a rather unfortunate period in college where I cut my own bangs and it took so much work (and a curling iron) to get them not to make an idiotic fringe of curls on my forehead. Granted, I did an awful job of it, which didn’t help either.

Alrighty. Watching some little ones in the morning so I need my sleep. Hope you enjoy the weekend! It’s my first weekend NOT catering in probably two months (outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends). I’m not sure what to do with myself!

xo,
Alanna

In another’s shoes…

The week before Christmas, I had an interaction with an acquaintance which left me… well, irritated. I felt disrespected and untrusted, that she hadn’t listened to me at all. There’s nothing like feeling as if another is treating me like I’m stupid to get me riled up.

I’m ashamed to say I aired my resentful frustration to a couple friends later that evening. With really no more purpose than to make myself feel better and to give vent to my injured ego. Oh, gossip… how tempting a snare!

This past week I had opportunity to see this lady again. But this time, I remembered to do something that always has helped me to deal with people in the past. I tried to get out of myself and imagine being in her shoes. What was behind her actions? What were her feelings?

And do you know what I discovered? It had nothing to do with me. While it doesn’t make the way I was treated completely un-frustrating, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I realized that it was coming from something actually sweet about her, something I can understand.

You know, there are people who are frankly unkind, unfair, and malicious. Imagining yourself in their position doesn’t make the situation any better, because they’re just being plain difficult. But many times if I can remember to forget my own concerns and view the situation from the other’s shoes… it becomes much easier to deal with. Easier to forgive, easier to be kind, easier to shrug off. And more often than not, when I act from a position of understanding and kindness, the difficulty and frustration of dealing with the other person diminishes greatly. He or she responds in kind. And my own heart is changed.

Next time you feel the steam rising inside of you, take a deep breath. Set yourself aside and step into the other person’s shoes. You might be surprised.

“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:1, ESV

xoxo,
Alanna