Beauty from the inside out

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.07.24 PM 3Long before I ever thought about trying my hand at fashion blogging, I wrote a series of posts about what makes a woman beautiful. You can find those posts here, here and here.

As I mentioned in the first of that series, the Bible speaks of “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” that “does not come from outward adornment.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) It also says “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

If these things are true, and I sincerely believe that they are, why in the world am I blogging about fashion? Nowhere does scripture say that a godly woman shouldn’t concern herself with style, dress in fine clothes, wear elaborate jewelry or use make-up. It simply says that her true beauty shouldn’t depend on these things. It ought to come from within.

Some Christians emphatically declare that inner beauty is all that matters; that attention to outer beauty is sinful vanity. I disagree completely! True, a nasty, mean-spirited woman dressed in designer clothes and made up impeccably, is still mean and nasty. Unless something happens to transform her from the inside out, that ill-tempered spirit will soon become evident and we will see through her attractive appearance. Similarly, a beautiful spirit can be hidden beneath a frumpy or unkempt exterior, but sadly, it may not be noticed. It’s our outer appearance that often attracts people to us and makes our inner person readily available to them.

Clothing, hair and make-up can be an asset without becoming an obsession and, like it or not, the way we present ourselves sends messages to those who come in contact with us. Rightly or wrongly, we live in a culture where people do judge a book by its cover.

What does your appearance say about you? Does it tell the world that you care about yourself, that you matter, that you’re worth the time it takes to look after yourself? I think it should!

Clearly, we need balance in our lives. We need to do those things that nurture inner peace and beauty, but if we want them to shine through and be seen,  it behooves us to put a little effort into our outward appearance too. In addition, looking good is a great confidence booster!

Looking our best doesn’t mean being overdressed and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Here’s a comfy, casual look that I might wear to the grocery store on a cool spring day.

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I’m wearing dark wash jeans from Old Navy, a Reitman’s t-shirt, cute sneakers and a very special bright pink hoodie that adds a pop of colour to my otherwise neutral outfit.

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The prints on the pockets are the hands of two of my young grandsons! They live over 1300 km from me, but when I wear this gift I feel just a wee bit closer to them.

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And this is hidden on the inside… from my son and his wife.

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Don’t I have a creative daughter-in-law? She’s definitely one of the beautiful women in my life!

As good as my last scan

Fellow NET cancer patient and blogger, Ronny Allen, published a post awhile back entitled, “I’m only as good as my last scan.” That sentiment definitely resonated with me as I never know what to say when people ask me how I’m doing. For the past while, I’ve been feeling absolutely great, 100% even, but unless I’ve had a recent scan, I really have no idea how I’m doing on the inside. That’s why I was actually looking forward to this week’s treatment and it’s follow-up scans, the first look at my cancer in 6 months.

Today, let me walk you through what this two day process looks like. On Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. Richard and I sat down with Dr. Sandy McEwan, scientist and doctor extraordinaire and head of my cancer care team. I told him how great I’ve been feeling, he told me how great I look, and I signed consent for the treatment procedure. He also shared some of the recent findings of the clinical trial that I’m part of including the exciting news of one patient who has been surgically proven to be tumour free!

Next, we were off to the volunteer run Sunroom Cafe to kill time over a cup of tea while we waited for the next step which was having my IV inserted at 11:00. Shortly after that, we headed up to the third floor to check into my private room in the nuclear medicine corner of the inpatient ward. In preparation for the treatment itself, I was given an anti nausea pill and a saline drip was started. Then I sat back and relaxed until the arrival of the radioactive Lutetium-Octreotate, which had just been flown in from the Netherlands where it is produced. At that point, Richard had to leave and I continued to relax  while it flowed through my veins seeking out and attaching itself to my tumours. Because I’m part of a clinical trial, there is lots of monitoring to be done, so Michelle, who administers the treatment, was in and out of my room over the next hour or so constantly checking my vital signs. My blood pressure remained good and she was astonished by my slow, steady heart rate. Obviously, I wasn’t experiencing any stress. Why should I? After all, this was my sixth treatment and I’m an old hand at this now!

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Once the Lutetium was in and the lines were flushed, the IV was removed. If I lived in the city, I’d have been free to go home, but since I live a couple of hours away and had to be back for my scan by 8 o’clock the next morning, I stayed the night. Richard came back to visit bringing me a Subway sandwich as my one and only complaint about the Cross Cancer Institute is the food. It’s so bad that even the staff apologizes for it! Dr. McEwan dropped in to see how the treatment had gone and then I settled in for a quiet evening. I spent awhile visiting and exchanging stories with the patient in the room next to mine, a retired farmer from northern Saskatchewan. At the Cross, Lutetium is administered to three patients at a time.

I slept well and was up bright and early to head back downstairs for my scans. After spending the night at our son’s place, Richard met me there. For the full body scan, I had to lay perfectly still on my back with a pillow beneath my head and another under my knees. Covered by a warmed blanket, I was quite comfortable as my body slowly moved beneath the enormous camera just a few inches above me. Dr. McEwan had planned on having a second, 3D scan done as well, but that machine was down. The technicians were working on it and if he’d felt it was necessary, we’d have waited around until it was up and running again. He was certain, however, that the first scan showed all that we needed to know. My cancer is stable! The tumours haven’t grown and there aren’t any new ones. There’s also no sign of recurrence of my second, unrelated cancer. While it would have been nice to hear that the tumours were continuing to shrink or that, as in the case of the woman mentioned above, they had disappeared completely, that is most unusual and no change is also good news.

I hope Ronny doesn’t mind me borrowing his title, but he is right. I’m only as good as my last scan and right now, that’s very good!

F is for Fashion

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When you’re shopping, how do you decide which items of clothing to add to your wardrobe and which ones to leave behind?

Let me introduce you to several words beginning with F that can help make those decisions easier.

The first thing to consider is fit. In the words of Stacy London and Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear fame, “If you don’t have fit, you don’t have style.” The key is to try things on and look in the fitting-room mirror with a critical eye. Do shoulder seams lie in the right place? Are armholes sufficiently high without cutting into your armpits? Does the garment pull across your shoulder blades? Is the length appropriate? Is there puckering or wrinkling anywhere? If you’re unsure about fit, try on another size for comparison. Then, if you’re seriously considering buying an item, leave the dressing room and head for the three-way mirror! Don’t buy anything without first checking the fit from behind!

Fit and flattering go hand in hand. First of all, consider whether or not the garment suits your body type. Does it accentuate your good features and disguise the less desirable ones? For example, I have a boyish figure; straight up and down with very little waist definition and narrow hips. The shape of this tunic gives me a more feminine profile. The three-quarter length sleeves draw the eye away from my waist and the fabric drapes slightly over my mid-section hiding the middle age muffin top that I’ve been battling with lately. The handkerchief hemline and wide band at the bottom give the illusion of girlish hips.

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Knowing which colours flatter you is also important. Back in the 80s when colour draping was all the rage, I met with a Colour Me Beautiful consultant and learned that I was a Spring.  I already knew through trial and error that black or white near my face made me look like a corpse and that gold jewelry was much more flattering on me than silver, but knowing my colours and carrying my little booklet of fabric swatches with me when I shopped was invaluable. It gave me the courage to try colours I’d never worn before and taught me to reject the ones that didn’t look as good on me. Though we were all categorized according to season back then, I understand that in Europe and the Middle East six newer themes have since been introduced: light, deep, warm, soft, clear and cool. In either case, having your colours done is fun and well worth the cost. Keep in mind, however, that nothing is forever set in stone. In recent years, as my hair has taken on more silver highlights, I’ve discovered that I can now wear black. Silver jewelry also looks fine on me now.

While we’re on the topic of colour, it’s a good idea to think about whether or not the garment you’re considering can be worn with other items that are already in your closet. If you have to buy a whole new outfit to go with it, it might not be a wise purchase.

The next F word is feel. Regardless of how well the garment fits and whether the colour suits you, if you don’t find it comfortable or you don’t like the texture of the fabric, you won’t enjoy wearing it. You should also ask yourself whether wearing it will boost your confidence or make you feel self-conscious. The tunic shown above is 95% polyester and 5% spandex. I find the lightweight, slightly stretchy fabric extremely comfortable and I feel great walking into a room in this garment.

It’s also important to think about whether or not the item is functional.  Does it fit your lifestyle? Where will you wear it? For example, I spent most of my career working as an elementary school teacher. My days often involved chalk, poster paint and paper mache, so my working wardrobe needed to be washable. I also had to be able to comfortably crouch down beside a student’s desk to help him with his work. As I was on my feet most of the time and I was the teacher who played on the swings and jumped rope with the kids when I was on outdoor supervision, I definitely needed comfortable shoes. Your needs might be entirely different. Now that I’m retired, I no longer need a working wardrobe, but I still want to look my best wherever I go.

Another important consideration is whether or not the item is affordable. Okay, this one doesn’t start with F, but I figure that the two Fs make up for that! Everyone has a different price point, so again, I can’t tell you what’s right for you. In clothing shopping, as in most other areas of life, I’m quite frugal which does start with F! I invariably head for the sales racks when I enter a shop and I love thrift store shopping, so I seldom pay full price for my clothing. The tunic was purchased late last fall at Laura in South Edmonton Common at a fraction of its original price.

The last F word might seem odd, but I think fun should also be on the list. I agree with fashion icon, Iris Apfel, who said, “I think getting dressed should be a very joyful and creative experience.”

Sneaker love

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Do you call them running shoes or sneakers? Here in western Canada, we use the terms interchangeably.

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Here’s a fun pair that I’ve had for years. I love wearing them, but I neither run nor sneak in them! In fact, even if I’m just going to do a lot of walking, I want a higher quality shoe that provides better support. For that, I depend on my trusty Merrells, pictured below on the steps leading up to the Jaffa gate in Jerusalem. The dried mud that’s clinging to them is a reminder of the previous day’s climb to Herod the Great’s hilltop palace, the Herodian. That’s just one of the amazing places they’ve taken me since I purchased them in the spring of 2011. They’ve hiked trails on the Pacific island of Saipan, walked the streets of Tokyo, climbed the Great Wall of China and explored many interesting places closer to home.

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After five years of wandering the world, I know that they’re going to give out on me one of these days, so I picked up a new pair during December’s Boxing week sales. They’re still sitting in their box in the bottom of my closet. I wonder what wonderful adventures they’ll take me on?

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If you’re looking to hit the trails in a durable, supportive hiking shoe, I would definitely recommend a pair of Merrells.

For working out, I wear this pair of Avia cross-trainers. The wider sole on this style of sneaker gives me more stability and support when I’m lifting weights.

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While I have sneakers for various purposes as well as some that are just for fun, not everyone enjoys the luxury of having any shoes at all. New Missions, a non-profit, non-denominational Christian organization, has been establishing churches and schools in Haiti for over 30 years and the Dominican Republic since the year 2000. Through child sponsorship, New Missions provides children with quality education, a daily meal and regular medical care. Today, approximately 10 000 children attend New Missions schools; 10 000 children who need shoes to walk to school. Through the New Missions Give Sneakers campaign, you can help cover all those little feet with brand new sneakers! Visit givesneakers.com to find out how to get involved. The campaign started on April 1 and continues until June 30. While you’re welcome to purchase sneakers and send them to the collection point in Orlando, Florida, postage is expensive, so making an online donation is also an option. I have determined that if I buy myself any shoes between now and the end of June, I will make a matching donation to the Give Sneakers campaign. Why not join me?

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Spring is in the air!

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.07.24 PM 3Spring is coming to the Canadian prairie. The geese are back, the gophers have come out of hibernation and there are tiny sprouts appearing in my flower beds. Soon it will be time to put away our winter wardrobes and bring out spring and summer clothing. This is also a good time to take a look at what to keep for another season and what to dispose of, but how do we decide?

One suggestion that has worked well for me is to turn every hanger in your closet backwards at the beginning of each new season. Then, as you wear each item, turn it’s hanger back the right way. At season’s end, it’s easy to see which items, if any, have not been worn at all. Those should, of course, be the first to go. If you happen to live in a part of the world that doesn’t experience seasonal change, you could simply do this once every six months or even just once a year.

The next question is what to do with the items that you’ll no longer be wearing. Unless they are too worn to be of use to someone else, they can be sold or given away. Gently used, quality clothing and designer fashions can be sold through consignment stores that keep a percentage of the sale price in return for their services. In addition, there are many online buy and sell sites available. You can most likely find one or more of these in your local area. There are also thrift stores, women’s shelters and other charities that are happy to accept clean used clothing.

Before you get rid of a piece of clothing that you haven’t worn recently, you might want to consider whether or not it’s a classic item; one that won’t quickly go out of style that you might want to reintroduce into your wardrobe at some point in the future. The single breasted grey blazer pictured below is such an item. Until recently, it hadn’t been out of my closet since I retired from teaching several years ago. Now, it’s almost like having something new again!

The end of the season, before clothing is put away, is also a good time to check for minor repairs that might be needed. Are there any loose buttons that need to be secured or hems that are coming down? Make sure everything is clean before putting it away. This is a good time to have dry cleaning done so that everything is ready to wear when you take it out of storage again.

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My dark wash Old Navy jeans are new, but the blouse, originally from Reitmans, and the belt were purchased at the Good As New, our small town thrift store.

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At 5 foot 8 inches, I’m about 2 inches taller than my husband. Although he says he doesn’t mind me wearing heels, I feel more comfortable in flats. This pair was purchased at Payless last October using my birthday discount.

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I like the versatility of wearing something more than one way. My question for you today is, do you prefer these looks belted or not?

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 It snowed again after these photos were taken, so it’s a good thing that I haven’t put my winter clothes away yet. It won’t be long though. Spring is in the air!

Blessings in the ordinary and mundane

What are some of the most ordinary, mundane tasks that you perform on a regular basis? Have you ever thought about the fact that there are blessings hidden in every one of them?

I hadn’t either until I was doing my Bible study homework yesterday. Our ladies group has recently started doing Priscilla Shirer’s study, Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength. In yesterday’s lesson, she asked us to list five ordinary tasks that we perform every day. That was the easy part. Later in the lesson she had us look back at the list and beside each task, write down what it indicates about God’s faithfulness and kindness to us.

Referring to the fact that Gideon had wheat to thresh despite the hardships and oppression that he and his people were facing (Judges 6:1-11), she wrote:

“Gideon’s story reveals that even your most mundane duty has a twinkle in the favour of God, for if He removed His blessings completely from you – taking away your home, your family, your work, your possessions – the need for many of your daily tasks would disappear. Don’t despise the very things that signify your seat under the umbrella of God’s goodness each day.”

What an eye opener this simple exercise was for me! One of the tasks that I wrote down was brushing my teeth. Is there anything more ordinary or mundane than that? What could possibly be the hidden blessing? Then I thought about the fact that I have access to unlimited clean, healthy water. I am not in danger of contracting a water borne disease every time I brush my teeth! Globally, approximately twice the population of the United States, or some 6.63 million people, do not have access to clean, safe water! 1.6 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases, including cholera, due to their lack of safe water and basic sanitation. Many more are plagued by tropical diseases and intestinal parasites.

Getting dressed is another routine task that we all engage in, so what’s the hidden blessing? I have a closet full of clothes to choose from and the financial resources to buy more if I ‘need’ them, while there are many who have nothing but the rags on their back. I can even blog about my wardrobe! (Come back tomorrow for the second instalment of my new Fashion Friday! feature.)

Cleaning the bathrooms is one of my least favourite household tasks, but when I consider that approximately 1/3 of the world’s population doesn’t even have a toilet to clean, I know how blessed I am! Astonishingly, more people worldwide have a cell phone than a toilet! Almost one billion people still defecate in the open, a practice that leads to the spread of disease and the contamination of drinking water sources. I don’t mind using an outhouse when I’m camping, but after living and travelling in parts of the world where I rejoiced when I found a western toilet to use instead of a “squatty potty”, I’m pretty thankful to be blessed with toilets to clean!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. There are hidden blessings in all our humdrum, routine tasks if only we have the eyes to see them!

What are some of your least favourite tasks? What are the blessings hidden in them?

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Introducing Fashion Friday!

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One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about blogging has been following and getting to know a number of other bloggers with interests as varied as my own. Along the way, I’ve started reading several fashion blogs and learned a lot about my own personal style. As a result, I’ve decided to add a weekly fashion feature to my own blog! For the foreseeable future, every Friday will be Fashion Friday here on Following Augustine. In between, I will continue to write about a wide variety of other topics.

I’ve recruited my husband as photographer and you’ll be seeing lots of pictures of me in upcoming weeks, but I want this to be much more than just a “look what I’m wearing today” feature. I hope that together we can explore the topic of personal appearance and how what we wear affects our daily lives. I look forward to examining a wide variety of topics related to how we dress and how we present ourselves. You can expect posts on everything from fabulous footwear to dressing on a budget, and packing a suitcase to purging your closet. I also intend to do a bit of investigating and share what I learn about some of my favourite clothing retailers. I want this to be an interactive feature, so I will be encouraging you, my readers, to participate by sharing your insights, ideas and questions in the comment section.

I have no desire to look or dress like fashion icon, Iris Apfel, and I don’t imagine that you do either, but you must admit that she has injected fun and flair into her own personal fashion and, at 94 years of age, she has definitely played a part in making growing old cool! I may not want to dress like she does, but Apfel, who first made her name as an interior designer, would be just fine with that. In her own words, “People should try to personalize their own outfits. It gives them a chance to be a bit creative and then they don’t look like everyone else. I think the biggest fashion faux pas these days is looking into the mirror and seeing somebody else.”

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Watch the behind the scenes video of Apfel’s recent photo shoot for the Financial Times How To Spend It fashion special, here, to hear more of her personal take on style.

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So, how do you find your own personal style?

Please join me here on Fashion Fridays as we explore questions like one this together!

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