Girl groups just want to have fun

Rockford Register Star

Fun idea: Pull off your own “extreme” home makeover.

You’ve seen all the creative ideas on HGTV. If only you knew how to spruce up your home, right? Cindy Piper, a self-taught interior decorator who works at My Secret Garden in Rockford, says it’s not as hard as you think. Plus, you can make it fun by getting your girlfriends involved to share ideas and hard labor.

Here are some of Piper’s tips:

- Evaluate what you have. Piper wants you to know at least this: “There are no rules. It truly is what your heart desires.” From there, determine whether accents like your rugs and lamps are outdated. Sometimes taking a few things away from the settings in each room could do the trick before you even have to buy.

- Take photos and bring scraps as you shop. Once you have an idea of what you need, take snapshots of your home. If you like a particular fabric or color, take a few pieces with you in a zip-top bag. Measure any furniture or spaces beforehand, too.

- Mix old with new. Experiment with family heirlooms nestled in other items. Include a framed photo of your grandparents or a handkerchief from a wedding inside a cloche.

- Play with the “garden feel” this summer. Now is the time to bring the outside in. Experiment with bouquets of baby’s breath, ivy, hydrangea or fern. Think green. “I almost always have green somewhere. It’s the color of life. It could be in the form of foliage, walls, carpet. Treat it like an open canvas.”

- When in doubt, contrast. “We get set in a matching mode, but I think things should complement each other.” For example, if you have blues and aquas, try pairing with pale yellow, pink or green to convey a “watercolor look.”

- Get help if you’re really struggling.

Serious idea: Don’t forget the war in Afghanistan.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be half a world away, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. All it takes is an ear to listen or a hand to reach out.

Some background first: While Iraq makes headlines, less is said about the war in Afghanistan, which the U.S. began after 9/11. In six years, U.S. troops have helped bring back schools, roads and electricity after the Taliban disbanded. Still, forces have resurged, Americans are fighting again and civilians are suffering.

Jean Killingsworth reached out when she heard of a local Afghan refugee family who needed clothing. What started as a one-time donation in 2001 has turned into a bond with the mother, two boys and three girls. They’ve gone ice skating and shared dinners.

“It just sort of happened. It’s like a door opens that you didn’t know was there,” Killingsworth said.

“You can’t beat knowing other people and seeing each other as human beings. You aren’t strange, you’re just different colored birds or different kinds of flowers in the garden, but you all get along.”

Dawn Gessner has kept an eye on the war because it’s a part of her life. Her husband, John, served as base engineer at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, then in Iraq and Kuwait for a 15-month tour starting in 2002. He has since been deployed to Dallas as a project manager with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Last fall, Gessner and a few others started Operation Affirm, which stands for Armed Forces and Families Imparting Resources and Ministry. 

The group, made up of mothers, wives and anyone who wants to listen, meets the first Monday of every month. Members also send care packages: They take cash donations but also the stuff troops need in hot weather (powdered drink mixes, personal fans, medicated lip balm and moist towelettes).

Operation Affirm meets at First Evangelical Free Church in Rockford. For more information, call 815-877-7046, ext. 222.

“Roadside bombs, IEDs, those can throw (family members) off,” Gessner said. “To be able to talk to others in that same situation gives you a common ground.”

Book ideas: Hit the road.

Let this be the summer that you and your girlfriends venture into new cities. Or if your vacation schedule is packed, you all can get away with a good book. Check out this mix of tales about freeing your spirit and journeying the unknown. Suggestions come from the Rockford Public Library and Barnes & Noble.

“Eat, Pray, Love”

By Elizabeth Gilbert

352 pages, 2006

This memoir takes you through a one-year exploration of life in three countries with the newly divorced author. In Italy, she falls in love with the cuisine. In India, she meditates. And in Indonesia, she falls upon a healer. Driven by curiosity, she yearns to find true happiness and spirituality.

“50 Best Girlfriend Getaways in North America”

By Marybeth Bond

264 pages, 2007

Bond interviewed hundreds of women to find out their favorite vacation spots in this informative, inspiring guidebook on bonding and adventuring. The book is divided into categories like birthdays, reunions, places to heal, retail therapy spots and pampering retreats. The details are unbeatable, like this one: “Best Places to Heal When You’ve Been Dumped: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.”

“Provence A-Z”

By Peter Mayle

304 pages, 2006

Consider this your encyclopedia to all things about this South of France region. It breaks down life in Provence as natives live it: a sourcebook for Provencal culture, history, folkways and cuisine. Mayle, who has written frequently during his two decades in Provence, has given fame to the region, which stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Southern Alps.

“A Walk in the Woods”

By Bill Bryson

274 pages, 1999

Critically acclaimed travel writer Bryson is determined to walk the Appalachian Trail with friend Stephen Katz. But you’ll have to find out if they actually finish the 2,200-mile trek. Bryson provides humor as they come face-to-face with bears and humans, but he also offers detail on the trail’s history and ecology.