I love the soft, brown bunnies in my yet-to-be-planted garden patch.
Driving around town yesterday, I realized that when I pray to God, I believe He can answer and will bless. But I think He will do so in a just enough kind of manner.
He can provide, but I don’t often trust that He will do so lavishly or abundantly. I limit Him in my mind; I protect my expectations. I thank God for His just enough provision.
Sitting in my car, I felt the nudge of–and conviction of–the Holy Spirit that perhaps God wants to do “immeasurably more” but my just enough manner of faith wasn’t welcoming this activity of God.
I read Psalm 145:7 and how people “will celebrate the abundant goodness” of God. I read Ephesians 1 and how God lavishes upon us the riches of His grace. (Is there a better verb in all the world to describe God’s love and abundant goodness towards us? Lavish! He lavishes!)
Psalm 145 also proclaims that God fulfills and satisfies our desires. Might I increase my faith and expectation? Might I realize where I’m expecting just enough?
Instead of just enough, I think of abundant goodness this morning. I pray God increases my faith to know His lavish manner toward me.
Gone are the days of me, slathered with sunscreen, pulling a rolling cooler filled with tea and grapes and carrots. Gone are the days of weathered novels read through smudged sunglasses while pausing to talk to every neighbor. Gone are the days of coaxing children off diving boards, cheering deep end swimming, and battling wasps on the way to the ice cream truck.
All finally old enough to sign into the pool without a parent, my daughters depart with their own friends just as I did that summer after 5th grade.
And I stand in the kitchen and consider this new era of my life.
I wake up. I need a turn around day.
I’ve missed my walk and all my healthy eating. I’ve missed the nests and photography.
Instead, I’ve been mostly over-caffeinated, dehydrated, and. . .blah. But it’s never too late! We can turn it around at this moment!
The things needed for joy and order (at least for me) include walking, healthy foods, nature, and creative expression. It took me 40 years to know what makes my heart build a nest and sing wherever I am.
So for a few minutes, I walk with my friend and then wander home, back to the tasks of the day.
I find a waterfall of pink.
On the walk home from school I see the familiar flash of emerald. I stop and wait. He returns, darting into the azalea.
He hovers, this little marvel.
I feel blessed, chosen.
I race into the house to announce the arrival of hummingbirds. Wherever they’ve been, they’re back. It’s finally warm enough, and the flowers they love are blooming.
For years, I’ve been hunting for their nearly impossible to find nests. Maybe this summer, I’ll find one! Can you imagine? They are so difficult to find because they look like little knots or bumps coming out of a tree limb or on the bark.
Meanwhile, I mix the 4 parts water, 1 part sugar into the feeder and place it in the backyard.
Now, I wait.
I love using these questions for personal growth:
1. What habits in your life help you, or hinder you, from achieving your goals? What can you change in your environment to aid your growth?
2. What must happen each day in order for you to feel joy and purpose? What’s normally true of those days? List the first things that come to mind.
3. When was the last time you reached a goal? What happened and how? How can you apply that to what you’re currently facing?
4. How do you define health? How would you describe your spiritual, emotional, and physical health today? What next steps could you take to improve each area?
As it turns out, sometimes even a daughter doesn’t know her mom’s whole glorious life, and interviewing her unearths fabulous treasures.
I gather my daughters in the kitchen and tell them some extraordinary things about their grandmother. They call my parents Gigi and Papa. I tell them about how, when Papa was in Vietnam, Gigi lived and worked near Hollywood Studios. I tell them about the time she was approached by a photographer as she sat in the live audience of the Carol Burnett Show and was asked to model for Revlon and Kodak–which she did.
I tell them how, one day, she was invited to appear as a regular on the The Johnny Carson Show as a model bringing a fruit basket onto the stage, but she declined. She was too busy working at the Farmer’s Market and waiting for Papa to return from war, and she didn’t want to model and flirt on live television.
She declined! She declined Johnny Carson! Something was more important than Hollywood fame and glitz and glamour, and I think about the direction her life would have taken had she appeared on television.
Years later, I tell my daughters, instead of Hollywood work, your Gigi designed and decorated the wing of the hospital at Ft. Lewis for wounded and recovering soldiers. She turned that hospital wing into the most beautiful, restful, nourishing recovery ward. The General personally honored her in his own home that year.
And instead of Hollywood fame, she also created the first Officers’ Wives’ Club at Ft. Ord and renovated a space for the wives to enjoy.
I love thinking about my mom’s place in military history.
Most of these stories, I didn’t know. I never asked, and they never came up casually in the course of 40 years. My mom called me yesterday to fill in some more details to her life, and I take notes to tell my daughters. She laughed about encounters with celebrities, but of all the grand memories, however, she wants to remind me of two things:
The sewing machine: she tells me how the sewing machine work paid for my college education at the University of Virginia.
And she tells me, finally, that she can get an orchid to bloom three times a year. She doesn’t know many people who can do that. And then she has to get off the phone. She’s late for a pickle ball game.
As I’m collecting some treasures to pass on to my daughters about their talented grandmother, I decided to interview my mom. She has no social media presence and no public recognition, but you will not believe the incredible impact she has had through her little sewing machine.
I thought she might have some business lessons to pass on, and she granted permission for me to tell her story. Perhaps her story will encourage a small business owner in your life.
In 1972, mostly self-taught, my mother established herself as a design seamstress. She made a smart business move that year: she designed the window treatments for the generals’ homes on the military base where my family lived. She never had to advertise her design business back then because people who dined with the generals wanted that look in their own dining rooms. My father and mother traveled to the city to buy my mother’s industrial sewing machine that she still has in her home today. She named her company Custom Interiors.
And her phone didn’t stop ringing with work requests.
Business lesson one: Place your product in the hands of influential people.
On every military base, my mother left a trail of fabric and thread. Before becoming a military wife, she tells me she was a fashion designer with a label called Bradford Originals: Elegance and Distinction. She occasionally designed wedding dresses for clients, and her designs were featured in international boutiques, but because of the travel demands of the fashion industry (and her military life with children on the way), she stayed local and focused on interior design.
Business lesson two: Decide how to thrive within the circumstances of your life.
When my dad was next stationed at the Pentagon, my mom ran a sewing workroom out of our home in Alexandria, Virginia that specialized in colonial window treatments. She advertised in the Mount Vernon Gazette with a picture of herself surrounded by bolts of fabric in her sewing room; she promised custom draperies delivered in two weeks. Eventually her business grew to include installers, upholsterers, and other seamstresses that she trained. That little workroom, the one where I heard the whir of the sewing machine and the music she played and the hearty welcome home when I walked through the door from elementary school, designed window treatments for dignitaries ranging from international lords and ladies to multiple senators and congressmen. Many of the establishments in historic Old Town, Alexandria, feature my mother’s work in every window.
She was an expert in a historical design, and people wanted it: My mother was also a key designer for the window treatments for the Ann Pamela Cunningham buildings at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Her workroom also, and perhaps most notably, designed the window treatments for the President’s Dining Room, also called the Oval Dining Room in the White House, installed during the Carter administration. Sometimes I think about presidents dining in the White House and how a little piece of my mother’s sewing workroom is part of something so special.
Business lesson three: small enterprises that create authentic products connecting people to beauty and meaning can impact the world and make a difference in history.
But nobody would know. The only way you would know about my mom is through a magazine spread years ago in House Beautiful. You might have seen her work in a Decorator’s Showroom or on a Tour of Homes. Mostly, you would only see her if you visited our home on Little Hunting Creek where, through the window, you would see her sewing away, designing the coveted Mount Vernon Swag and Jabot, the Roman Shade, the Padded Headboard, or the Working Balloon.
Business lesson four: Do the work. Don’t worry about success or fame or money. Focus on the art, and the rest follows.
She created beauty and authentic historical designs, and the rest is history. She loved to sew, and she made a career of her love of fabric, colonial history, and beauty.
Business lesson five: find a way to weave together things you love into a service to others. This kind of work just might sustain you for a lifetime.
My mom concludes the interview talking about her “humble little sewing business” and refers to herself as a design seamstress instead of the savvy business owner she was for nearly forty years. She reminds me that she didn’t just love interiors; she designed stunning exterior gardens as well that were award-winning and just as impressive as her interior designs. My mom’s retired life involves the cultivation of a beautiful garden, but her sewing machine occasionally whirs back to life.
I’m so thankful to have interviewed her about her career to pass on to my daughters. Perhaps you might ask some retired people in your life their memories of their “humble businesses” and learn their secrets that you sometimes can’t learn from textbooks.
And now, I’ve put it down for our family records.
I’ve been passing on some lessons about keeping a home from my mother, who owned Custom Interiors in Alexandria, Virginia and invited clients into our home as a showroom for beautiful interiors.
I grew up in beauty–the kind of award winning beauty featured in magazines and in historical places that wanted my mom’s special touch and ability to create a welcoming interior. Her style was more French Country with a mix of Mount Vernon Colonial, so imagine majestic window treatments and beautiful fabric patterns and rugs. We’d come home and feel welcomed by sights, sounds, and smells. Everything was designed to welcome us home.
She taught us to leave a room so it welcomes you back. We’d leave the home and make sure beds were made and rooms were tidy so when we returned, the rooms welcomed us back. It wasn’t just about making a bed or cleaning the dishes before leaving for errands; it was also about cleaning the house before we left on longer trips. We’d want to return to peace, order, and beauty.
I tell my daughters what it means to leave your bedroom for the day so it welcomes you back that night. Does it feel welcoming–peaceful, orderly, and beautiful–or does it feel like when you enter the room you’re entering chaos?
Leave in such a way that you’re welcomed back–in rooms and in life.
I’m planning to interview my now retired mom on some of her greatest lessons for beautiful interiors–and beautiful living– to gather a collection of gems to pass on. I’ll post more in days to come.