Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It ain't easy being a Tween...

So, this was me in 5th, 6th 7th and 8th grades. My official school portraits. I was young for my grade, so I’m 10, 11 and 12 here. I haven’t seen these pictures in years but I recently had my parents scan some prints and email them to me. I was adorable. I was skinny, blond, and had that gorgeous California tan, thanks to my mother’s love of the beach and my parents’ very forgiving skin tones I inherited. I’m surprised by how happy I look; how goofy I’m willing to act.

My memories of this time are not pleasant. I remember having a tough time fitting in with my classmates. I was in the ‘gifted’ class, but I was definitely what I like to call the ”dumb side of the smart kids.” I was intimidated by the level of intelligence that was in my classroom each day. I knew I wouldn’t ever be the best on any given subject so I did well enough and started settling for B’s instead of the straight A’s I had gotten in the primary grades.  The other kids in my grade avoided us “nerdy dorks.” Many of them were mean and refused to play with us at recess. I worked hard not to look too smart or too dumb, depending on where I was on the playground. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be liked. It was a lot of stress… although I didn’t know there was a word for it, yet. I do remember kicking butt at four square and hand ball, so I had that going for me. Until I got so good that no one wanted to play with me any more. Or maybe it was my competitive attitude… not a good quality for a girl to have back then…. And sometimes even now.

You’d think that with my competitive streak, sports would be my thing. Not so much. I finally tried sports in 5th grade. Soccer. Of course the majority of the girls on my team had been playing since preschool, so I didn’t exactly find my niche there, either.

I was also psychologically bullied in the way only adolescent girls can be bullied by adolescent girls.
I had to “prove” I was cool enough to be a part of the “cool nerdy dorks” group, and worked for what seemed like forever to be cool enough. I tried to perfect my makeup techniques with the baby blue eye shadow and clear (clear?!) mascara my mom allowed me to have. I fretted over my outfits. I tried to say “cool” things and be funny in a “cool way.” I finally got into the group, only to be told a few weeks later that, after getting to really know me, I definitely wasn’t cool enough, and was consequently ejected from the group. Now I had nowhere to sit at lunch and wasn’t invited to the sleepovers that seemed to happen every weekend. Of course, I would tell myself now that “these are not your real friends and that your real friends are out there. That you’ll collect them along the way, at every stop you make from high school to college; from Florida to Japan.” But at 10, 11 and 12, waiting another year, ten or 30 just seemed like a long time to be miserable.

In 7th grade, I found a series of nasty notes in my locker, from an unknown source who clearly hated everything about me. I never did find out who that was. In 9th grade I was thrown up against my PE locker by an upperclassman, demanding to know who I thought I was for talking s#!t about her. I didn’t even know who she was. I had never seen her before, much less talked about her. I never did come to understand what that whole episode was all about. Each of these is a vivid memory for me. The gut-wrenching breath-taking-but-not-in-a-good-way feeling of dread that washes over you in an instant and leaves you scrambling to understand why for months, years... hell... decades later.

Why am I telling you this? Because, while I am not raising girls, I was a girl once. And it’s not easy being a Tween. Y’know, tween… those few years before you’re actually 13 and a teenager. Where everything in life seems to be changing. You can see in one of these pictures that I am playing with my Glamor Gal cruise ship while sporting a perm that never did take right. It’s that awkward age between girlhood and womanhood where you feel anything but smart and pretty and strong and capable. My parents took these pictures of me, and loved them, but they’re my parents. Of course they think I’m cute and smart and funny. That’s their job. They have to think those things. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those things are true… said my tween mind.

Of course, my parents were right (please don’t tell them), I can see that now, at 40, looking at these pictures, but through my tween-colored sunglasses, I couldn’t see it. I didn’t feel those things. I felt awkward and ridiculous and uncool. My parents probably didn’t even realize the extent of it because I’ve never been one show much emotion or confide in people. I internalized it. And then, here I am writing a blog post 30 years later about it. Who needs therapy?

Because of my memories, as warped as they might have been as seen through my Tween-colored glasses, I have a special place in my heart for Tweens. It ain’t easy being a Tween. And so I am doing a special project for local Tweens. In March, I am offering free Who I Am portrait sessions for kids ages 10 to 12. Yes. FREE. And they get to keep their favorite 8x10 print from the session. I will be there to not only take the pictures, but to guide them through posing and expressions and laughter, so that they look gorgeous… smart and funny and strong. Because every girl needs to be told that from someone who isn’t her parent. Every girl needs to have an image she can look at on her worst days and remember that that person is who she really is.

Because the bullies and the self-doubt never really go away. You just learn to process it better, to shake it off. It be strong enough to reject the unwarranted criticism. Learn that mean people are scared people and that you choose to be brave. And if I can do something to help these girls to start learning how to do that when life starts getting tough, then I feel like I’d be making a difference in the world, one Tween at a time.

For more information about the Tween sessions I’m offering in March 2017, click here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

10ashus is back... and speeding through life once again

Yes, I printed my own shirts. Well, a company actually did it for me.
At the beginning of this month I found myself blaring my "Top 25 Most Played" songs iTunes had created for me, screaming along to the words (I am tone deaf and do not actually sing) and driving too fast down a country highway.

That is how I knew that the old Jessica was back. Yep, some of Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me" and P!ink's "So What," along with a little driver seat dancing and danger on the open road. Those are the signs that 10ashus is ready again to rule the world. Or at least attempt to.

So a good, solid 17 weeks post-Japan was my recovery time. I thought I was made of tougher stuff, but I guess when your whole life gets flipped-turned-upside down (thanks, Fresh Prince) it takes more time than you think to figure out which way is up. And, yes, I'm yo home to sit on my throne as the Queen of 101 South Madison. Not quite the same flair as Bel Air, but you get the idea.

101 South Madison is the address of the soon-to-be-open Jessica Guthrie Photography studio. Yes, a little dream of mine is becoming a reality. And a source of sanity in a way. So a quick run-down of my life right now...

 - The spouse officially retired from the U.S. Marine Corps on Halloween. One last sick joke from the USMC... thank you for that.

- The spouse is working overseas in a great job and will be for the next year. He actually likes it, so that makes life easier for everyone. The kids and I are still living at the mother-in-laws house. Everyone here still appears to like each other. Even the cat seems to like me more.

- The kids are doing great... they have friends, adults still seem to find them charming, they have joined sports and are getting above 4.0 GPAs. A mother could not ask for more.

- I have done a lot more furniture projects. Like.... LOTS more. In fact, many of you encouraged me to sell some of my stuff. So I created Just Gorgeous Junque. I haven't sold anything yet, but the studio has been open exactly 6 hours so far. I hold out hope.

- I have booked several photography sessions already even though my studio is not yet officially open. Pike County seems to be excited that I am here and I am happy to have been welcomed so warmly. If you want to see photos of the studio and some videos, check out the biz Facebook page.

- Ultimately, I needed a little help from my friends. And I don't really have any here, yet. I used to make fun of the ladies who would get on a Facebook community board on base and beg for friends. Now I am beginning to understand the inclination. No one (my age) realizes how fabulous I truly am... yet. Until then, I have to outsource for friendship. So, I went to Texas. You may remember the Awesome Wives of Iwakuni from previous posts?

Well, five of us managed to get ourselves to Dallas for three days in October. It was the therapy we all needed. Retail therapy with thrift and antique stores... and in true AWOI wanderlust style, a road trip to Waco for some fabulous BBQ ribs, Magnolia Market and Harp Designs... and one night of complete intoxication. We even managed to meet up with another fellow Iwakuni spouse whose husband just retired. It was fabulous. And truly gave my life-upheaval recovery a boost.

Selfies where you are trying to show a background are not flattering to the double chin...
- And, finally, nearly all of my waking hours and spare cash have been going in to creating a portrait studio I can be proud of. The grand opening is Nov. 22. I chose this date because it is my 40th birthday and I need something to party about, LOL. If you're in the Pike County, Ill., area, try to stop by... it promises to be a good time! (Yes, there will be wine. And food. And gifts. And wine.)

(Insert shameless plug here:)

So, remember... at least 17 weeks to adjust back to life when your whole life gets flipped-turned-upside down. And, yes, you'll be yo home to sit on your throne as the Queen of Whatever the Hell You Want. Just make sure to play some P!nk as you gaze over your nose at your subjects. ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The cure for discombobulation: Projects!

So in my last post, I felt a little lost and unfocused... for good and obvious reasons, which you can see once you gain perspective the comes with time passing by. Being the type-A goal-oriented person that I am, I needed something to be able to work toward, something in my life (albeit small) that I could control the outcome of and see progress with. I needed a project. Or twelve.

When I decide to do something, I don't just take a stab at it. I sink the entire sword in... to the hilt. Sometimes to my own dismay and frustration. But, I just pull on my "tenaciously yours" pants, rub some grit on them, and get back out there.

Case in point, this oak desk.

Sure, it seems like a fairly ordinary roll top desk that you might have seen in a principal's office a decade or three ago. But something about it sitting in the basement of an Iowa consignment thrift store made my heart happy in a time when my heart wasn't sure what to think.

But the dark stain did not make my heart happy. I am more of a golden oak girl. I knew I needed to strip the dark stain off, but I had never done it before. Fortunately, my mother-in-law and aunts-in-law had stripped furniture before and were happy to give me tips on how to get started. However... no one told me that this task would take so long... or that August wasn't really the best month to tackle an outdoor project. It's a little hot and humid.

On top of the color change, I also needed to repair the roll top part of the desk. The canvas under the slats had torn and needed to be replaced. by Googling frantically, I learned that the roll top part of the desk is actually called the tambour and it is actually surprisingly easy to fix. Removing stain from each individual board... not so much. Let's just say that with the chemical stripper came a lot of elbow grease and sweat equity. A LOT OF SWEAT EQUITY.

The torn tambour had been repaired with additional canvas before, but it truly needed its canvas replaced.

Water soaked these off... and made them super slimy. Yuck.

My mother-in-law, Peggy, introduced me to stripping stain off, starting with these drawers. The drawers made it seem like the job would be easy.

Old stain color on this side............... "new" original color on this side.

The stain came off of the desk bottom much easier than the rolltop part... I was pretty frustrated after getting in to the double-digit applications of stripper... and worried about drying the wood out beyond repair. 
Five rolls of paper towels were used in the stripping of this desk. How many trees did that kill? 
After two weeks, the entire desk was finally devoid of stain.
Linseed oil followed by two coats of polyurethane

I love the color... and the battle scars!
Attaching a new piece of canvas to the tambour was my last task... amazingly, all of the slats fit on the canvas. I was so glad I carefully followed the steps listed on that website. It was really the easiest part of the whole thing.

And then the desk was reassembled...

The cubbies inside the desk were not original, so I took the liberty of painting them peacock blue. :)
In my travels I found a $12 golden oak chair that just needed it's cushion reupholstered. So I added so padding, because I knew I was going to be sitting there a lot, and recovered it in a fabric that, well, made my heart happy.

Ultimately, it took three weeks to finish the desk. In the balmy 90-degree heat with 60 percent or more humidity. Talk about a project. But it turned out beautifully, and I'm so happy with it. In fact, I am sitting at it now as I write this.

I was so happy, in fact, that I decided to take on even more projects.  After four years in Japan wasting time on Pinterest, looking at the repurposed furniture and vintage decor, pinning like a mad woman, I was finally able to take some of these pins I had saved and turn them in to reality. And living in the heart of the midwest, there are lots of cheap (and free!) vintage furniture that desperately needs to be upcycled. I'm so fortunate that my mother-in-law has been tolerant of my taking over half of her garage with in-progress and waiting-in-the-wings projects.

Yeah... that's a lot of projects. I admit that. But I am planning to open a photography studio in a few weeks and need to furnish the place. It's like a furnishing a small apartment. And I'm keeping myself on a first-apartment budget. Which means shopping one step above dumpster diving, and investing in sandpaper and paint. But it's working out. Before I got serious about some of the bigger pieces of furniture and started transforming them, I needed to learn some skills on some smaller pieces of furniture first.

I bought my first electric sander and needed to practice with it before I ruined one of my bigger, more important, pieces of furniture. I found an $8 end table at Goodwill that had a lot of damage to its surface. Of course I forgot to take a before photo... but I wanted to make a table for beside my bed. The guest room I have taken over while the spouse is working overseas for the next year didn't have a night stand. So I decided I needed to channel my spirit animal in his absence and decided to paint a peacock on the table. I can barely draw a stick figure, much less a peacock, so I may have found an image on the internet. And I may have printed it large, in sections, taped it together and then used carbon paper to trace the design on the table the way I wanted it. Maybe I did that. And maybe I didn't.

While I was working on the peacock, my 10-year-old complained about he felt distracted doing his homework at the dining room table. So I kept my eye out for a solution as I visited the antique furniture stores around the area. I found this children's desk and chair that looked like they had been in a flood...

I got the set for $25, brought it home and my son was less than impressed. Yes, it looked pretty rough and he just hasn't cultivated his ability to envision amazing results yet. So I simply asked him what color or theme he wanted the desk painted... and he quickly answered "Cardinal's baseball colors!"

OK, son, can do.

He was much more impressed this time.

And then I saw a Pinterest pin of an old travel trunk turned footed coffee table. I liked the way it looked but wanted to see how hard it was going to be to do. I found an old trunk for $20 and looked online for Queen Anne-style furniture legs. I couldn't find decent ones for less than $14 each. Yikes. That's not first-apartment budget when you need four of them. So I settled for $1 spindles (from a staircase railing) I found instead. But, before I cut those spindles down, I fortunately found a $10 ottoman that had seen better days... but the Queen Anne legs it had were in decent shape. Boom! Back to the first-apartment budget!

I glued and bolted the legs to the bottom of the trunk using the hardware the legs came with, and then taped the silver tips on the feet so I could paint everything without worrying about paint dripping on the small bts of metal and felt.

My Dad said this photo makes the trunk look like a dead cow... mmm, maybe.
 I used off-white furniture paint and antiquing wax to finish it off.

Then I found a booth where the antique dealer was going out of business. I found a maple lazy susan living room table for $10. I already have one of these, it's in storage, but I love it and couldn't pass this deal up. But I wanted to do something a little different with it, so I painted it like a distressed clock. (Sorry... I forgot a before pic of this, too, but it looked like this.)

I also found a victorian-style end table with drawers that - surprise! - needed a lot of work done to its surface.

Even after sanding it and trying to level the surface with wood filler, there were still a few areas that weren't as smooth as I would have liked. So, I decided to try another technique that I had had my eye on: spray painting through lace. Hopefully that would mask the flaws.

And, indeed, the flaws were masked pretty well. The lace design isn't as sharp as I would have liked because I used stretchy lace fabric I found at Wal-mart. As it got wet with paint, the lace bubbled up and moved slightly. So, I recommend not using stretchy lace. Try finding lace tablecloths or curtains at thrift stores instead.

And I have also been working on some small fall decor things, too... the mason jars are straight off of Pinterest and will be used to decorate at a local church fundraiser...

But this one was my own idea... so that old ottoman I stole the legs off of had four springs in it

... and I've see a lot of things done with old springs like those, but none of the ideas really appealed to me. But as I kept looking at the springs, one of them was bent in a way that reminded me of a cornucopia. A piece of burlap and a few miniature fake fruits and vegetables from a garage sale and I have the furniture spring cornucopia of my dreams...

While I am proud of what I have accomplished in a month, this post is not about bragging. Well, maybe a teeny bit. But mostly, it's to help others like me, who are feeling discombobulated. While it might appear that my mind and energy were completely focused on making my heart happy with these projects, there was a lot more going on in my life that could have stressed me out worse than it already did and made me crazier than usual.

My kids each started a new school and wouldn't be on the same campus for the first time in their lives. The spouse was dealing with the transition from military to civilian. I was adjusting to living under someone else's roof with 90 percent of my belongings being stored across America. I was planning to open a photography studio in a small town where I new few people, and even fewer people well enough to tell about my business dreams. We had a weekend of revelry celebrating my husband's retirement from the Marine Corps, with friends and family coming in from all over the States. I planned two parties for that weekend and drove to the airport that's 70 miles away five times in 10 days. And then there was the little thing of my husband preparing, packing and planning for a year-long contract job in Saudi Arabia. I wasn't feeling like being very social and meeting new people. It seemed like it would take a lot of energy I just did not have. All I wanted to do was stay home and work on projects. There was, and still is, a lot of crap going on in my life, and these projects are my way of coping, of attempting to maintain my sanity. And, here I am, about five weeks later, and I am feeling more like myself. I actually don't mind being around people again and am looking forward to meeting new ones. And I still have a dining room set, a drop leaf table, hutch and an entertainment center turned bench project to work on. I have given myself another month to get those done.

Your way of coping and remaining sane may not be to spend three weeks refinishing a desk. Maybe you're more of a 30-minute spring cornucopia person. Or a go-for-a-3-mile-run girl. (more power to you, there.) But you must find something that makes your heart happy through tough, stressful times. It will do yourself and everyone else around you a favor. Yes, it's OK to be a little selfish and take up time (and space... yikes... sorry, Peg) for yourself so you can be stronger and ready to take on the world once these challenges are over. Because have you seen the world lately? It could use a little taking over... ;)