Wednesday, April 16, 2014

let's talk about friends (again).


One of these days I'm going to sit down to the computer and type out all I have learned about entrepreneurship in the past six months. I am going to give it my best shot, because the Internet deserves to know the truth about small business ownership. (Spoiler alert: It does not have a lot to do with Kathleen Kelly-style cardigans.) I am going to lay it all out, because I need to see it on the screen, typed out before me. 

But before I can do that, before I can tell you about the blood, sweat, and tears I have poured into the business, I need you to know that Friday, I went to tea. And I maybe made my first friend in my new town.

I don't particularly like tea -- not hot tea, not sweet tea, not bubble tea (whatever on earth that is). I am simply not a tea drinker, not really a hot beverage drinker, not really a social drinker. (Please, someone just invite me over for a Coke. Is that too much to ask?) But last Friday, I needed to pick up some books by a local author, and instead, she asked me to tea. 

We sell a lot of regional authors in our store; regional authors aren't huge money makers, but they're a well-respected niche group, and they get a lot of attention in our store. One local woman, in particular, does quite well. Her book, a memoir about growing up in England during World War II, is extremely popular, and we were nearing the end of our stash. This sweet lady doesn't have a way to get around town, so I called her up, and next thing you know, I was examining family pictures and watching turtles sunbathe on her back deck. It was as if I wasn't even in South Georgia anymore, as if Narnia itself had opened up and swallowed me whole. 

And I was nervous to go. Nervous if we'd be able to carry on a conversation, wondering what would happen if she fell, or if she forgot who I was. But then I remembered my grandmothers, and how much older people have always meant to me, how much they have to offer us if we'll listen. 

So I went, and I'm so glad I did. It's cliche, but I think it's become a cliche because it's true. When we do these things, these things that we think will benefit the other person, they so often wind up being better for us. I went thinking I might bring some light into the life of this woman who spends so much of her time home alone, and instead, I was completely ministered to, my-cup-runneth-over kind of stuff. 

And I really do think I've made a friend. Jordan and I are going to visit this woman again, this time together. I'm determined to make it happen. She deserves it, and I want it so badly. 

I have been lonely, these past few weeks. We've only been in this small town for a couple of months, but our home is put together,  and we finally got a lawn mower, and I planted our vegetable garden last weekend. The distractions are ending, and the loneliness is creeping in. Our friends moved around this time last year, so it's been a full year since we've been without them; the void has gotten larger, or -- at the very least -- more noticeable. And the truth is, I feel a little sorry for myself. I had built my community. I had friends and family around whenever I needed them. 

And now I don't. 

That realization has been a hard one to grasp, but last week, as I sipped English tea and ate cookies with a woman nearly 70 years my senior, it hit me: Maybe I have a community. Maybe my community just looks different than it used to. 

Because every Wednesday, I'm gathering together with a group of girls to talk about Jesus. I'm slowly opening up, and they are letting me in. It's a give and take, this act of becoming kindred, and if I can understand that this friendship transformation won't happen overnight, I can accept the baby steps that are occurring every day. I can accept the right now, in this moment truth that these are good girls, women who are stretching me, holding me accountable, and pointing me toward grace. 

And that's not even all. Every month, I sit at a table with the most unique group of women, writing notes to faraway friends at our store's letter writing club. And I guess I never really thought of that group of people as my friends. Friends sit at your table and swing on your front porch swing and meet you for dinner. They chat over yogurt and read books you like and take walks around your neighborhood. 

But maybe that's just what friends do when they've been your friends for a long time. Maybe first they're just the people you meet at the grocery store, or talk to after church, or visit with during meetings. 

Because Tuesday night, we all talked about the movies we'd seen and our summer travel plans. We laughed and ate chocolate and put stamps on our letters and went home. It felt a lot like friendship to me. 

And sure, some of those women are again, 30 years my senior. But a couple of them are near my age. And they don't watch The Mindy Project or read the books I read, but I enjoy visiting with them. I like laughing with them.

And the store -- which has brought so much trouble and hardship and stress into my life -- has also introduced me to such a quirky cast of characters. A customer knew I liked To Kill a Mockingbird, so he loaned me a copy of his biography of Harper Lee. And another customer wanted to know what I thought about a rare book she'd come across. Another one brought me daffodils from her garden. And my staff? Well, I love my staff. They are funny and kind and hard-working, and I guess I'm starting to think: Maybe I'm building community after all. 

Maybe this time, my community won't look exactly like me. Maybe this time, I won't just be friends with people my age or in my life stage. Maybe porch visits and long walks are a little ways off. But I have to start somewhere, and you know what? I haven't been lonely this week. I've been busy, and my life has felt full. 

Jordan tells me so often that my expectations are too high. But what if they're not high? What if they're a goal I'm reaching toward; what if I begin to understand that true relationship takes time and effort, and community isn't built overnight? What if I were content with English teas and letter writing clubs and Bible studies and the hope of something more? What if enough was enough for me, at least for now? 

Honestly? I don't think I'd be lonely at all. 

Photo by Katie Owens

Thursday, April 3, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 12.



On "that kind" of literature
"Don't worry; it's not a bodice ripper."

|||

On bookmarks and how they're used
Four-year-old at story time: "You put them on every 20th page." 

|||

On the postal service
"I buy my stamps like I buy my clothes: only the pretty ones."

|||

On customer service
Customer: "What kind of blocks do you carry?"
Manager: "We have wooden Uncle Goose blocks; they're great quality, made in the U.S."
Customer: "Great, could you just text me a picture of those?"

|||

On store identity
 "So this is a bookstore slash what, exactly?"

|||

On why there should be a customer/salesperson boundary
"You're just so cute and wholesome. I don't think vile thoughts when I look at you."

|||

On the art of being discreet
Customer: "I'm embarrassed to even ask this, but do you have the book How to be...?"
Me: "... Yes?"
Customer, whispering, leaning in: "... Badass?"

|||

On painted nails
"Oh, I love your nails. I bet you're so nice to hold hands with. You must make your husband very happy."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

on being known.


There's something about welcoming people into your home, isn't there? 

Maybe it's why Scripture speaks so much about hospitality; the act of opening our doors and sitting across tables from each other inspires openness, conversation, dialogue. It urges us into community, which may be the ultimate goal of the gospel, if we think about it. 

In Tallahassee, we opened our doors all the time. It was a decision we made, and at first, I thought it was one we made as our homes got a little larger. The bigger the home, the more room for parties, for people. But looking back, we hosted gatherings in our 650 square foot apartment, too. That tiny upstairs loft (and that's being generous) hosted a new year's eve party and launched a life-changing book club. 

I guess, then, size really doesn't matter. 

Now we're in a new town, with new faces, and it's scarier to open our doors. I'm not sure why that is. Tallahassee was new to Jordan, but it wasn't new to me. And maybe there's something to be said for a town that feels like home, even when the people aren't as familiar. We opened our doors in Tallahassee, and I'd like to think we made lifelong friends because of our decision to embrace community, to throw parties and eat dinners together. 

In Thomasville, it's trickier business. This town is new; we are new. And yet, the desire is there. Hospitality breeds hospitality, and it's in my blood now. Introvert or not, I love gathering people together under my roof. I love throwing the door open and greeting friendly faces. Mostly, I love watching the people I love interact with each other. It's special, and it's something unique, I think, to gathering in a familiar, comfortable place. 

Allowing people into my home also feels very much like being known. This is the place where I belong. It is the place where my head sleeps every night, where Jordan and I laugh at each other and argue with each other and clean up after each other. It is the place where my books reside peacefully, scattered among different shelves. It's the place where our wedding pictures are, where our honeymoon postcards hang, where frames and chalkboards are filled with quotes we love. It's the place where my grandmother's table is, where rooms hold Jordan's grandfather's dresser, my hope chest, and the keys from when I locked myself in my grandparents' bathroom. 

When I invite you into my home, I invite you to know me, to know Jordan, because this is where we are best. Don't be mistaken: It's not where we act the best. It's not where we're on our best behavior. But it is, without a doubt, the place we are most comfortable. We breathe sighs of relief when we cross the threshold. Our handiwork is here, and it is not always good, but it is ours. 

And I realize, of course, that this all probably over-thinking things a bit. (Over-thinking is one of the things I do the very best.) I understand that it says a lot about my personality, my being, when I can dive paragraphs deep into an explanation about being home and being known. It's a wonder people ever come over here at all. The pressure!

The point is, I hosted a group of girls over at my house tonight. It's a Bible study group that's been meeting for a couple of weeks, and I love our home, and I think I could, maybe, love these people. It was time to open my doors. 

So I did. And I wasn't too nervous about it. It's in my blood, remember? So I made homemade salsa, and I had Jordan pick up two bottles of wine from Trader Joe's. (He had to instruct me over speaker phone on how to open the bottles. Sometimes it's easy to forget I'm 28 years old.) I straightened the house and swept Junie's hair into various corners. But I didn't clean too much. I wanted these people to know this is home. It is lived in, and it is comfortable, and it is where I am best. 

My guests probably really didn't care about any of this. (Guests usually don't care as much as we'd like to think they do.) But I think they felt comfortable, and they commented on the books and pictures, and I thought to myself, "Yes, this is me. You are getting to know me." 

I have no idea what relationships this town holds for us. It's too soon to tell, I guess. I know it's shocking, but I seem to want everything right now, in this moment. I have to keep telling myself the words my aunt spoke to me a few months ago. "You don't just meet old friends." And she's right. 

Old friends come with time and effort and heartache and joy. Those friendships take, for me, years to create, and it would be silly to think I could find them in six weeks' time. 

But opening my door, inviting people into my home, eating salsa, and talking about Jesus? That's a wonderful place to start. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

a little StitchFix review. (or, shopping, INTJ style.)

 

Nobody paid me to write this, though I feel on this blog, that should go without saying, yes? 

I honestly didn't want to be one of those bandwagon-bloggers, and I certainly wanted to avoid, at all costs, a blog post full of selfies (a nice life rule, if you think about it), but next thing you know, there's a StitchFix box on my front porch, and I'm trying on clothes that fit from the privacy of my own home, and now I want to join the masses and sing from the rooftops about how lovely StitchFix really is. So, yes, here's another review of the online service that brings clothes and outfits straight to your door. (I promise this won't become like, a thing.)

Like many of you, I've been reading about StitchFix for months thanks to Twitter and Instagram, and I was intrigued, but not convinced. I signed up and filled out an online profile months ago -- I do love a good online quiz -- but I never did take the plunge. Then February rolled around, and it finally seemed like as good a time as any. Birthday month, and all that.

Of course, my excitement was dampened when I realized I had given the service the incorrect address -- turns out I've been writing Florida on all my mail, whoops -- but customer service fixed my snafu, and my shipment came this week.

Before I dive into my thoughts, here's how the whole thing works.

StitchFix is basically an online shopping service that selects and styles outfits for you based on your personal tastes and preferences using an online questionnaire and a band on real-life stylists.

I live in town with no shopping mall, and I have long preferred online shopping anyway. You generally get better deals, and items are mailed straight to your door. What's not to love about that? StitchFix adds in the aspect of an affordable stylist who finds items you might not pick out for yourself, which seemed like a great idea.

StitchFix charges a $20 styling fee, but that fee ultimately goes toward any purchase you make from your scheduled order -- what the service calls a "fix." You can subscribe to StitchFix monthly, or schedule an order as needed. I think a monthly subscription would be really fun, but we're not in place where financially that makes sense. Our budget for clothing is pretty set, so for now, I'll schedule a shipment when I see a need, or when a shopping trip to town just doesn't fit into my calendar.

Each shipment comes with five items, and if you love and keep all five, you receive 25% off the entire box. Otherwise, pick which items you want, and ship the rest back in a prepaid mailing envelope. You can checkout online, letting your stylist know why you kept or didn't keep your items.

Jordan and I wind up talking a lot about personality types (we're Myers-Briggs obsessed over here), and I think part of my love and appreciation for StitchFix is the fact that I'm an INTJ. Shopping is not really my favorite thing to do, but when I do shop, I prefer to do so with specific things in mind. (I think it's why my friends like me to go shopping with them, but I often wind up not purchasing anything.) I love online shopping, though. I love mail and surprises and formulas and questionnaires, and that's basically what StitchFix is.

So, what did I get in my box? My stylist sent over one blouse, two sweaters, a pair of jeans, and a dress. I loved everything, and everything fit like a glove. I'm not an exceptionally difficult person to shop for, and my sizes are pretty spot on, but I still was shocked that everything fit so well. I loved the two blouses best (shown above), but for budgetary reasons, I eventually just chose the top right. Purchasing a sweater (not shown) in March seemed silly for a Southern girl, and the dress looked too much like some other items in my closet -- which really shows the stylist did a pretty great job figuring out what I like and don't. (It may have helped that I was super descriptive and linked to my Pinterest page.) I regret not getting the jeans, which were a boyfriend cut that actually fit really well, and that dotted blouse kept calling my name. But I had a budget I knew I had to stick to, and so I walked away with only one item.

That may be my lone complaint/concern about StitchFix: each of my items was probably more than I'd typically spend on one piece of clothing. But the convenience and the unique style of the items took off some of the edge, and I made a note on my online return form that I'd like a lower price point in the future. (All of the items in this fix were between $50 - $80.)

Here's the thing: if you're a work-from-home mom, this is a no brainer. We don't have kids yet, but I can't imagine shopping with little ones is the easiest thing on the planet. This is. I can't get over how convenient this was, and it was fun to boot.

I had a lot of hesitations (beware of the bandwagon, I thought!), but sometimes, things are successful for a reason. StitchFix is so easy and pain-free, plus you're getting a surprise in your mailbox while also tackling a chore. While I doubt I'll be scheduling monthly fixes, I will definitely be using this service again. And, if you're ever shopping for something specific, StitchFix will cater to those needs. So impressive.

Hesitate no more, friends. Go for it. I'll be back to regularly scheduled programming soon.

* Full disclosure: If you use my referral link, I'll earn $25 off my next scheduled fix. That's why you probably see so many posts about this service; people are earning their shopping money!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 11.



On fertility
Male customer: "How old are you now?"
Me: "28."
Male customer: "You got baby fever yet?"
Me: "No, not really. Not in a hurry."
Male customer: "Well, you're pretty much at your peak. Time'll be running out soon. Gets harder after 30."

|||

On faces with names and names with faces
Author, in store for a signing: "You look nothing like I would have ever pictured."
Me: "Well, what exactly were you picturing?"
Author: "Shirley Temple." 

|||

On Llama, Llama books
4-year-old-girl: "So did Llama's dad die or something?"

|||

On drinking soda
"Mama, can I have some bubble face?"

|||

On that dirty word, e-books
 Child at story time: "Are we going to read on the Nook today?"

|||

On the joy of giving
"Could I have this wrapped? It's a congratulations-you're-knocked-up gift."

|||

On why Google exists
Customer: "Got any books on peach brandy?"
Me: "No, sir, I don't think we do. I might have some books on cocktails or beer brewing, though."
Customer: "Oh no, I don't need a book. Can you just print me the formula?"
Me: "Like you need a recipe for peach brandy?"
Customer: "Yes, ma'am. That'd be great."


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

a farewell.


I just sent an email to the members of my book club, bowing out and saying goodbye. And because I am nostalgic and not at all pithy -- and due, in part, I'm sure, to the rain outside -- it felt like a longer farewell was in order. 

--

When you move 45 minutes up the road, it's hard to draw boundary lines on where exactly your heart should call home. After all, Jordan still commutes across the state line to Tallahassee every day. It's hard to fully close the door on that chapter of life when it remains such a big part of our lives. 

And yet, we both have Georgia driver's licenses now. We're officially Georgia residents, and we're bound and determined to give this tiny town all we've got. It's 45 minutes up the road, but I know me, and I know I can't put feet in both places. I am a girl who commits, wholeheartedly, and so, I am committing to Thomasville. I buy groceries at the little Publix, and I've moved my prescriptions to a nearby pharmacy. I walk to work, and we've spent the last three Sundays visiting churches and testing the waters. (Our church hunt is a post for another day, I think.)

We are trying to call Thomasville home. And so, this morning, when a Tallahassee friend emailed to gently remind me about the book club I started six years ago this month, I realized it was time to say goodbye. 

Six years ago, I was newly married and trying to find my grown-up place in my hometown. We lived in a 650-square-foot apartment, and Jordan went to law school while my tiny journalism major salary bought our groceries and paid our bills. I needed friends. I'm an introvert, but I crave meaningful relationships, and with Jordan in law school every day and night, I needed an outlet. 

A girl I knew through work started asking me out to lunch. (Friend-making really is a lot like dating, when you think about it.) She was smart and outgoing and about to marry her best friend, and as it turns out, we had a lot in common. We hosted a dinner party together, and before I knew it, I was making new year's resolutions and asking her if she thought a book club might be fun. 

In what I used to think was a rare act of bravery, I hosted the first meeting of book club at our tiny apartment in January of 2009. Our transient Tallahassee town meant a lot of members would come and go in a span of six years, but we met every month, regardless of numbers. We read fiction and nonfiction, classics and New York Times bestsellers. Some of our members got married, had babies. We saw each other through a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of joy. I remember one particular meeting, I came home, and I told Jordan: Book club is what church should look like. I still believe that. 

A lot happens in six years of marriage, so my book club friends saw me through a lot of life struggles and changes. It's hard to believe that this morning, I'm writing this post from behind the register of a bookstore I used to love. Book club, I think, taught me to come out of myself, to try new things, to be brave. By launching that very first meeting back in 2009, I grew up and into myself. I've always been confident, more bold, I think, than my outward facade suggests. Book club brought that out, in part because it was successful. It was my new year's resolution that stuck. Book club showed me what goal setting makes possible, and now? Well, now I own the bookstore I used to love. 

Book club gave me the confidence to step out of my shell and to try new things. Book club taught me to take risks, because the risk of starting a book club with strangers? It paid off. 

So many dear friends moved away last year, and the year before that. Book club became almost unrecognizable, but new friendly faces made it possible to keep going. (Isn't that always the way?) 

And I guess I could drive 45 minutes up the road to participate in the club I started. But it feels like a new chapter. It feels like time to say goodbye. And the rain outside makes me want to cry about it, because I can't adequately express, even with the words I love so much, how meaningful, how special book club was to me. I'm confident there will be other book clubs. I've been bitten by the book club bug, and I know how good it can be. I know me, and I know soon, I'll need to plant my own kind of roots here. I'll need to host dinner parties and walk to friend's houses and read books with new-to-love people. In truth, Jordan and I have already started to do those things. I'm proud of us for that. 

But I also know there won't be another book club like this one, because there won't be a season of life like this one. Jordan and I spent the first years of our marriage forging a place in my hometown. We couldn't have asked for a better start to our adventure together. There were small groups and dinner parties and graduations and babies. There were church hurts and struggles and triumphs. There were kindred spirits and hurt people who hurt people. There were tiny apartments and gorgeous wood floors and game nights and Oscar parties. There were so many firsts and a few lasts, and my heart could break from the goodness of it all. 

My book club played a huge role in our Tallahassee season of life. I'll never forget it, and I'll never quit telling people how good gathering together can be, how vital books and discourse and meaningful questions and answers are for this life.

It's time for me to move on, and it's time for book club to continue on, too. I hope my friends will continue to meet, to read, to laugh. Our book club was unique, I think, because it fell somewhere on the spectrum between boozy and intellectual. The bookstore here hosts a lot of different book clubs, and so many of them are either/or. They either need their own wine coolers or the name of their book club is something smart-sounding that I can't pronounce. Our book club was neither of those things, probably because so many of us fell on different places on that spectrum. Left to my own devices, I'd probably have been a book club rule follower, making sure everyone really read before they could participate in discussion. (I know me; the inclination is there.) But other girls just loved getting together; reading was secondary. And I loved that, because it made me better. People who are different from us do that, if we let them. 

My Monday nights for the next few months are, for the first time in six years, completely blank. They're an empty slate, and that makes me excited. It also makes me want to puke. 

So much of life is figuring out when to stay and when to go. I know it's the right time for me to say goodbye. That doesn't, of course, make it easy. Nothing hard or good or right ever really is.