Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Red Dresses, Good Books, Better Friends, and Love

   Hearts can fill up with love in so many wonderful ways.

   Through trial and error, with hundreds of dazzlingly positive experiences and some painful ones, our Dinner Club With a Reading Problem is seeing Love revealed in ways we will not soon forget. We are learning lessons and making memories.

Misti, Melissa, Kerri, Margi, Tracy, DeLana, me, Steph, and Amber
at a well earned lunch in midtown OKC's Iguana Cafe.
DELICIOUS. And the friendliest proprietor and most exciting decor in town...

   This past Friday night our famous little Oklahoma Dinner Club With a Reading Problem gathered at the cozy and stylish home of member Stephanie. We were there to discuss our most recent selection, Bonhoeffer, but also to celebrate a sort of anniversary within the group and to shower Steph with our heartfelt love.

Here we have Kerri, Margi, Misti, our hostess for that night Stephanie, Melissa, and Amber's leg.

   It was almost exactly a year ago that we all gathered at Steph's house to discuss Before I Go to Sleep. Those in attendance will never forget Amber's expressive narration of a particularly racy passage... Ahem... The night was as fun and wildly memorable as ever book club is, but none of us had any idea then that it would become a sort of marker in time. Steph wasn't feeling so good, though not for any obvious reason, and we all noticed how exhausted and weak she was.

   Just a few weeks after that early 2012 event, our Stephanie was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that dramatically changed the course of her new year, really the rest of her life. Her heart had contracted a virus that was keeping it from pumping out enough blood and causing her serious health complications. In a brief space of time she had big decisions and big adjustments to make in her life. Oh! And she also turned forty, which she did with enviable grace and laughter.

   DCWRP rallied around our only non-reading member in little ways, keenly aware that our human efforts are just that: Human. Imperfect, desperate, and temporary. But still valuable and needed. We also prayed and sent her as much positive, hopeful energy as we could collect. Then she showed us with her sweet, laugh-out-loud spirit how to face scary things with a smile.

Stephanie and me at Seri's house, December 2012.
Handsome and I have known Stephanie off and on for almost twenty years. 
Reconnecting with her these past few years has been a great joy to us both!
I have all these years looked up to her in a thousand ways 
and without exception always leave her presence feeling better than I did before.

   Steph shared this happy one-year testimonial with friends and family just a couple of weeks ago:

One year ago today I was diagnosed with Viral cardiomyopathy (a virus that attacks your heart) that day my life changed. Living in a storm and not knowing how close to death you are is scaring and reassuring at the same time. I have followed Doctors orders..No alcohol, low sodium diet (it sucks). In June I got a pacemaker/defibrillator luckily I haven't been shocked!! Then I became a patient at the Integris heart failure clinic..I have had conversation about heart transplants and medical devises that I didn't know existed. But I'm alive and learning to live my new life...dealing with fatigue, dizzy spells, and panic attaches to name a few issues. I looked forward to years to come. And I'm thankful for all the help from family and friends. Love you all

   So heart health awareness began to hold special meaning for our kaleidoscope little group of women.
   Then later in the year, thanks to Erica's book choice, DCWRP read the memoir by Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, who also happened to have pioneered a fun little project called the Travelling Red Dress. Have you heard of it? Her message is pretty simple. It's a very straight forward encouragement for women to embrace whatever makes us feel vibrant and alive, indulged and happy, sexy, or even silly. It can be an excuse to wear that over-the-top red cocktail dress, for example, even if you have no special event to match it. It can be any red dress or any dress or article of clothing at all, so long as it helps you express your inner self and allows you to exude joy. It's all about heart.

   So that little red seed was planted, quietly and peripherally.

   Then as Stephanie was enduring heart treatments and surgeries and growing in her knowledge of heart health, she started emailing us about her desire to participate in this Red Dress Project. It seemed perfect! She was also secretly plotting big ideas about starting a foundation to help other people in her position. Fresh in the thick of this new personal challenge, and she was already thinking of others. That is Love, folks. And it caught like wildfire.

   So at an autumn DCWRP gathering we all chatted up the possibilities. Then, at the December cookie-decorating-Little Women-discussing party, we planned it. February, designated as the Heart Health Awareness month, would be our time.

   We fished out from the group's extended family a talented young professional photographer and set a date. Our site? The gorgeous Oklahoma State Capitol. It all felt like a magical intersection of energies and opportunities.

   Which brings us back to present day, this past weekend...

This is the interior view of our Capitol's dome.
I am a native Oklahoman and love this place so much.
But Saturday morning I felt like a total tourist, gazing up and around 
at every beautiful tile, oil painting, and state symbol.
Oklahoma really is something special, you guys. 
I am so proud to call this place my home.

   Saturday morning, then, we all got dolled up and dressed in our personalized bits of red and met at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The group's wardrobe choices ranged from shimmery knee-length cocktail numbers to a gorgeous floral kimono, a sharp red blazer, a pin-up style wrap dress, an adorable flouncy mini skirt, and my goofy altered vintage slip. We all took the advice aiming at personal expression and ran with it! I have to admit, I felt nervous at first, showing up in something I thought only I would like, but that nervousness quickly melted and was replaced by lots and lots of fun.

   Be yourself, ladies, always.

   Some of us carried Starbucks, some of us clutched to bulky coats to hide our tentative glamour, and some of us even brought "touch up" prettifying supplies. It felt almost like a pre-Prom gathering. It was quite chilly,  and we were trembling. Although perhaps the trembling was more from high excitement than low temperatures. Everyone had a camera out or a phone or both, and for the next two hours there was not a dull moment.

Amber in her kimono (which I desperately want to steal) 
and Misti, who helped us coordinate the fun event,
waiting in the hallway and also watching a string of rally attendees walk past.
We happened to be at the Capitol the same morning 
a large group was assembled in support of the Second Amendment.

Tracy with Stephanie
Tracy is secretly my twin spirit in many ways.
She has no idea how often her youthfulness, energy and goals inspire me.

   Stephanie arrived in a floor length ball-gown style red skirt sewn by her very talented Mom, who has been by her daughter's side ever week this past year. We hear of time after time when Steph's mom is shopping, cooking, or cleaning for her. Truly no greater love on Earth.

   Anyway, Stephanie was promptly stopped by Capitol security and "wanded" suspiciously. She told the gentleman it was her first time, and we all got a big laugh! How could he have known how special she was?

How nice of the security guard to walk back for a posed photo!

   So, truly, the next two hours were packed with activity. We all smiled and posed and cooperated as best as a large group can in an echo-y marble building.

We used a few props, circled around Stephanie in different configurations, and eventually grew bold or relaxed enough to take individual photos.

This is DeLana. She is one of the most elegant women I know.
She shared with me a lovely essay she wrote about age appropriate dressing, 
beauty, and how we view ourselves as women.
I have her permission to share it with you, and that will be happening very soon!

My weirdly altered vintage slip-dress had come all but un-assembled 
after the hand-dying process, leaving me a bit more tattered looking than I had intended.
So while I played on Instagram, Seri was sweet enough to tear off some loose threads. 
She is one of our youngest members but still always finds ways to mother us lovingly.

That pretty young woman in black is Ruthie, our photographer. 
She really could not be any sweeter!
She and her husband Andy are expecting their first child this year.
Congratulations you two, and thank you so much for Saturday!
That large painting in the background is of Seqouyah, 
an Oklahoman Native American from the early 1800's
whose work to establish a written language for the Cherokee Nation 
led to skyrocketing literacy and played a key role in Oklahoma history.
Our schools have a Seqouyah Book Award program, among many other honors for this man.
How poetic that our book club event was being overlooked by his gaze.
Kinda chokes me up.

I love the oil painting on the far right, of a classic Oklahoma homestead.
DCWRP read Grapes of Wrath last year, set during the Dust Bowl,
and this year our state is on the verge of recovery from another severe drought.

Our wildly inappropriate use of a brass handrail on the balcony overlooking the chamber.

I fell behind the group frequently, 
because despite living here for most of my thirty nine years,
Saturday was my first visit to the Capitol.
It is breathtaking.
Speaking of breathtaking, look how pretty everyone is!
What a vision of femininity you all are.

Will Rogers, famed humorist and beloved son of our Great State.

   These are all my personal, unskilled, candid shots, folks. I admit to all flaws as a photographer. When the the professional images are shared I will share them, in turn, with you.


   So this is some of the love between us in book club. For two years now we have grown big then squeezed closer, expanded and retreated, reading books and learning about each other and this wide, wonderful universe as friends. We have shared secrets and circled around those of us who hurt, as we did with Stephanie this past weekend. We have pushed beyond our comfort zones and found ways to take up mantles, in this case red ones. We have celebrated life and love.

   Love is so powerful. It feeds us and grows us, breaks us and heals us again, and it brings to our lives a depth and a light that cannot be faked.

   I hope you have Love like this near you. I hope you are a conduit for it, and I hope you are learning from it.

   Steph, thank you once more for bringing us all together for this special event. We love you from the bottom of our paper-lined hearts, and we are all so excited to see what you'll do this year to spread your loving energy!

"If you want to be successful, it is just this simple:
Know what you are doing.
Love what you are doing.
And believe in what you are doing."
~Will Rogers






  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. You helped me remember many things that I take for granted every day.

  2. I love this red dress idea. And I love all you beautiful women in the bold color. Looks like a wonderful time!

  3. One mind and one accord you ladies are. Open thoughts and display of color and fun makes for great harmony.

  4. Every lady at least have a red dress in her closet. I love it.


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