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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Back in my high school days, the Drama Club was one of my favorite extra-curricular activities.  I participated in every production that occurred while I was a student.

My all-time favorite role was Penelope (Penny) Sycamore, the mother in You Can’t Take It with You.  This wacky woman, the matriarch of an eccentric clan of characters, was always at her typewriter, writing plays.

As the climax of the action nears, we learn WHY Penny writes plays–because eight years ago, a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake!

I think about his whenever I talk about the peacocks in my house.

We moved here nearly seven years ago, after our previous home burned down.  For three weeks John and I and the “little kids” lived at my sister’s house, the big boys stayed with friends, and our dog hung out at my other sister’s (Emily was away at college).  We needed somewhere to move quickly, somewhere that would accommodate our large family and our need for an in-home office.

We ended up in a home that had been customized by the prior renter, who apparently had a thing about peacocks.  There’s a peacock stepping stone in the garden and a statue just outside the front door.  There are peacocks painted on either side of the front entry and another in the breakfast nook.  There’s even a tiny one in their family coat of arms which we’ve chosen not to paint over in order to give this very new house a little bit of history.

peacock 3peacock 2peacock 7peacock 1

Now we could have asked our landlady to paint over all the peacocks.  (We did ask her to paint over the red tree on the living room wall which was encircled by the words “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one, single, solitary step.“)  Or we could have just tolerated the peacocks.

Instead, like Penelope Sycamore did with her misdelivered typewriter, we embraced the unexpected.  Searching for meaning, I found that peacocks have been a Christian symbol of resurrection, which seemed fitting as we left our old lives more or less in ashes and started all over with a new home and new possessions.

And, as it happens, Cracker Barrel has a collection of peacock decor items which have over the years put me in serious danger of becoming a crazy peacock lady.  I have a peacock lamp and a variety of decorative items like candle holders and vases in peacock colors.  I bought throw pillows to match the theme and eventually plan to paint one wall a peacock blue.  I even have peacock shoes!

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As I wrote the above, I realized that maybe there’s a reason why the role of Penelope Sycamore meant so much to me.  I don’t know whether I absorbed something from her, or if the casting was foreshadowing, but there is more of Penny in me than I ever knew.

Like her, I’m the mother in a houseful of rowdy people who may or may not be related to me at any given time.  Penny welcomed a Russian ballet teacher, an expat grand duchess, a drunken actress, and the mailman (who never left) with unfailing hospitality and good humor.  When my boys were younger it was not unusual for our house to be filled with people I had never seen before.

Penny didn’t let her family responsibilities get in the way of her personal pursuits, and neither do I.  Like Penny, painting or typing with the chaos all around her, I’ve learned to tune out all but the loudest screams while I blog or read.  I ignore the shenanigans in my basement just like Penny remained unfazed by the sounds of exploding fireworks in hers.

Like her, I’ve learned not to care about being conventional but rather to follow my heart and allow my family members to do the same.  Penny equally applauded her husband’s fireworks, her son-in-law’s printing, her older daughter’s dancing, her younger daughter’s engagement, and her father’s snake-collecting.  It never occurred to her to worry about what others would think of the family’s lifestyle.

Penelope Sycamore was completely secure in herself and her family.  She didn’t even think about whether other people would like her or not.  She was able to put worry aside, fully inhabit her days, and enjoy life as it came.  I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

I will not die an unlived life . . . I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid . . .

~ Dawna Markova

Thank you, Penny.  Now bring on the peacocks!

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Whenever I think about gratitude, I always come back to one Bible verse:  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I first heard this verse a long time ago, and it wasn’t at Mass or in religion class.  I was ten years old, and for our reading class everyone was supposed to adapt a scene from a favorite book into a play.  I attempted a scene from The Hobbit, and it was a failure.  But my best friend chose a scene from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, a book which I would go on to read several times.  She asked me to appear in her scene, playing Corrie’s sister, Betsie.

You can read the rest here.

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A Perfect Day

Yesterday started out with some extremely crappy news from our (former) billing company.  [Good news in disguise, y’all.  Hindsight.] But the rest of the day, thankfully, was wonderful enough to tip the balance on my happiness scale.

It’s Fall Break for William, but not for Lorelei, but I let her “ditch” (her words–“play hooky” was what I called it) so that we, along with Emily, who had the day off from work, could go to Dollywood.   It was a perfect October day–the high just reached 70, it was sunny and breezy and the air was full of flying leaves and smoky smells–yes, you could just about insert every autumn cliche and hit the mark for yesterday.  Dollywood is having its Harvest/Gospel celebration and they’ve festooned the place with pumpkins and mums.  It was beautiful and even though it was crowded no one wanted to go on the water rides except us apparently so no lines!

lorelei pumpkin

As I was waiting on William who was in line for the swings (along with the train, his favorite ride) I was looking at Facebook on my phone.  I saw my friend Helga posting some familiar looking pictures and realized she was at Dollywood too!  Now I say Helga and I are friends–and we are–but we had never met in person.  If memory serves, we got acquainted online a couple of years ago through our mutual comments on my friend Katie’s blog.  I’ve written before about the connection I feel with my virtual friends, so it was the absolute highlight of my visit to Dollywood when I heard someone hollering my name and I looked over at the next ride and saw Helga!  We only had a second to exchange a big hug before she had to get on the ride with her darling granddaughter but I am still smiling. [Still smiling as I read this over.  There’s nothing like the thrill of meeting an online friend in real life.]

After dinner at our new favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge (Fusion Cafe, which is Asian because if you dine out with William it pretty much has to be Asian) we went home to wait for Teddy, on his way home from Notre Dame for Fall Break.  John had gone to pick him up Thursday, and they were estimated to arrive at 8:30.  However, John texted me that Teddy wanted to stop at the KCHS football game first.  I remember my first visit home from college, and how my family didn’t understand my need to spend time with my friends during my brief visit.  So I accepted the two hour delay, and got my first glimpse of Teddy in two months via Facebook!

Teddy with some of his high school football buddies, taken by Patrice Staley, proud mom to Reece, the handsome cadet in the middle

Teddy with some of his high school football buddies, taken by Patrice Staley, proud mom to Reece, the handsome cadet in the middle

 

When Teddy finally got home at almost 11, William was the first one to get a hug.  We had to make him let go so the rest of us could get a turn.  Then Teddy came in and sat down at the counter and said the magic words: “Do you have any food?” I was THRILLED to get out my frying pan and cook for him. 🙂  And finally I was able to get a little information out of him about school and what he has been up to for the past two months.

Teddy eventually went back out to go see Jake, who was at a friend’s house, and then I sat down with William and watched the last half of The Return of the King.   It was one of those rare days in which no matter where I was or what I was doing at any moment, I felt like I was exactly where I should be.  I need more days like that.

 

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That’s my counter, waiting for tomorrow.  We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in several years, and I expect to be cooking all day.  I hope to have only the turkey to deal with on Thursday.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was so comforting, following the same pattern every single year.  We ate dinner at Mima’s at 2 p.m. and supper at Granny’s later on.  At Mima’s there would be turkey and giblet gravy; at Granny’s there would be ham and dumplings.  (And many other things too, of course!)

But divorce, marriages, kids, and deaths have intervened.  We’ve never really come up with a permanent Thanksgiving plan like we had back then.  Thus added to the stress of preparing for the holiday is the stress of deciding where and how it will happen.

We started hosting the dinner before we even had a house big enough to do it, with a table that filled the entire living room of our ratty apartment.  Once we’d moved to the Victorian house, which had a dining room made for that kind of thing, we were the natural hosts and we filled that role for a long time.  My sister and I took turns a couple of times once she had a house.  But for the past couple of years we have gone out to eat and then met later on for homemade desserts.

But if you are a parent you know that kids thrive on tradition and DEMAND that it be followed.  My kids have never approved of this going out to eat on Thanksgiving business.  So this year I am cooking again.

I’m making the turkey, of course (and I plan to document just how I am doing that for my post tomorrow),  the gravy (sorry, Mima, no giblets in mine!), the dressing (I’d like to try something adventurous but when I’ve added craisins or nuts in the past my family members have disapproved), sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes (something we added for John–we never had them growing up), pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and possibly apple pie if I don’t get burned out before then.  And I’ll also be supplying the tea (VERY sweet), the cranberry sauce (the kind that keeps the shape of the can only, please!), and the sweet pickles and olives (because Mima always had them).

My mother is making the rolls and the green beans.  My sister is making casseroles (she is big on casseroles and invents her own recipes) and her mother-in-law is (I think and hope) bringing a ham (I’m the only big ham fan in the family so we never have it; I hope she will leave me some leftovers!).

I feel like I am whining all the time but I do feel just a little melancholy about not having special china and crystal any more.  We used to set a beautiful Thanksgiving table.  That was John’s contribution and he always did a wonderful job.  He even did fancy things with the napkins.  Rather than even attempt to replicate that I think we will be more casual and do buffet style and sit wherever.  It is easier anyway–I used to get so worn out from serving all those plates that I was just about too tired to eat!

What about you?  What’s on your menu for Thursday? What Thanksgiving food can you just not do without?

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“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18

I first encountered that quotation as a child when reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister Betsie have been imprisoned in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their Amsterdam home.  One day Betsie reads this Bible verse and declares that she and Corrie are going to thank God for everything about the situation they find themselves in, like the fact that they have been assigned together, that there was no inspection so that they retained the Bible, even the crowded condition of the barracks which will mean more women with whom to share God’s word.  But when Betsie starts giving thanks for the fleas in the barracks, Corrie objects: “Not even God can make me grateful for a flea!”  Her sister reminds her that the words were “give thanks in ALL circumstances,” not just in pleasant ones, and adds that “fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

Betsie’s faith is justified when the soldiers who routinely rape the women in the other barracks avoid their unit because of the fleas.

I haven’t reached the point yet of thanking God that our house burned down.  Maybe I will someday.  But for now it is enough to recognize some of the very real blessings that would never have come our way otherwise.  Today I am thinking about the blessings of friendship.

I think of a couple at church who were barely acquaintances before and became our friends because they offered us office space to use until we found somewhere else to live and work.  I think of a friend whom I had not talked to in a while, and his wife whom I had met only once, who went above and beyond with gifts and time and financial assistance and concern.  I think of people whom I knew at our kids’ schools, especially football parents, whose kindness and support has bridged my innate shyness to make me feel closer to them.  I think of my new next door neighbor, whom I would never have met if I had not moved here, and the book club she invited me to be a part of, and the many fun evenings I have spent in her company.

And I think of YOU, my dear online friends, especially those in the blogging world.  Because the fire made me blog more–I HAD to write, to process this experience:  I am still processing it, obviously.  And I don’t think I would have become as involved in these online communities if it had not been for the fire.  Being online was a comforting refuge, something familiar and safe when things were strange.

I love this month of Thanksgiving, and the challenge that so many of us strive to meet to post on Facebook each day something to be thankful for.  It can be life-changing to realize that no matter how bad things seem there is always, always something to be thankful for.

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I love sharing pictures of my new house with you and I hope you like seeing how far we’ve come since September.  The reason these postings are few and far between is that the rooms have to be clean before I photograph them (got to keep it Pinterest safe!).

Today’s feature is Lorelei’s room.  Her room makes me really happy because it is a blend of a few salvaged things from our old life and new things that were given with so much love.

I also love it because she’s seven and it’s about time she had a nice room to call her own.  When she was born we still lived in our big Victorian house.  There were four generous bedrooms and one small one–so guess who didn’t have a room of her own?  Not that she cared–she slept in bed with Mommy and Daddy, we kept her clothes in a dresser in William’s room, and her toys were in a basket in the den.  We were excited when we moved to the next house–there was a small room just right for Lorelei.  There were problems, though.  No closet–except for the utility one with the leaky, noisy AC equipment.  Her room was part of what had originally been a mother-in-law apartment, which meant she had to go through Teddy’s room to get to hers–and Teddy did not always want her barging in.  Finally, it was a long way to Mommy in the middle of the night!  Inevitably, she ended up sleeping with us again.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Her room suffered only water and smoke damage, so we saved a few things, some of them quite precious, as you will see in the pictures.

This picture (one of a pair) hung on the wall of my Uncle Walter’s nursery, just about 100 years ago.   My grandmother unearthed them when my little sister was a baby, and they hung in her room throughout her childhood.  When we moved to the Victorian house, we put them in William’s room (he was the baby then).  I don’t even remember why, but they were not hanging up at the time of them fire, but were in a sheltered spot in the basement where they suffered very little damage.  My middle sister had them reframed behind special glass to preserve these treasures and now I have them back–the only family heirloom I have left.

Detail from the picture above

Here’s another picture that made it.  Actually all the pictures on Lorelei’s walls were saved, but most have now been relocated to other ares in the house–including a couple now in the room of their original owner, big sister Emily.

One of the very first people to respond with concrete assistance after the fire was Laura, a friend from law school days whose generosity I wrote of in an earlier post.   Her little girl is growing up and was ready to part with her four poster bed and matching mirror, and her Disney Princess lamp.  And Laura loaded all this up in a U-Haul trailer and drove to and from Nashville (that’s six hours round trip, folks) less than a week after the fire.  Did I mention that we had not even seen her in over ten years?  I hope it won’t be that long until we see her and her family again.

A bed needs a mattress and sheets and pillows and such, of course, and those were provided by friends from church.  They had them ready long before we had a house to set them up in.  Aren’t they pretty?  And other people provided spares, both old and new.

We used an end table (and where it came from I couldn’t say) but we still needed a dresser.  Enter more Good Samaritans!  If you live in Knoxville you’ll have heard of The Brown Squirrel furniture store.  I’ve been hearing the commercials my whole life!  And its owners have kids at KCHS.  Mrs. Matthews came by the house with a notebook and a measuring tape, asking what we still needed.  Within a couple of days, we had a dresser and a rocking chair.

Note the afghan, another treasure salvaged from Lorelei’s room. It’s the one Mima made for Teddy’s crib.

One last piece of furniture rounds out the room–the fanciful bookshelf below, which was a gift to Emily on her–I think–seventh birthday.  I did the best I could, but it’s still a little sooty.  Like so much of the furniture we once had, it came from Myrtle’s Mess.

Oh, and did I mention the closet?  No one likes to think of a little girl having all her pretty clothes burn up.  When it came to donated clothes, Lorelei won the jackpot.  I had friends I’ve never even met in real life mailing her boxes of beautiful things.  So thank goodness that her new room also has a walk-in closet!

Here is Lorelei on her very first night in a new bed in a new room in a new house:

Just don’t ask me where she sleeps now.

 

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As I’ve written before, I love Easter.  It’s my favorite holiday.

This Easter felt like even a bigger deal than usual to me.  For one thing, all holidays post-fire feel like milestones.  I know what happened to us doesn’t compare to a death in the family, but things are different now.  Not only are we in a new place, but we’ve lost all the trappings of celebrations past–the baskets, the bunnies, the decorations.  Easter has never been about decorating for me, but I do particularly mourn the loss of my three Polish Easter eggs, brought to me from Poland by a Georgetown History Graduate student back in 1990 when I was the secretary of the History Department there.

So the first thing I had to do was use the last of my Target gift cards for an Easter Basket shopping trip.

Jake with the new Easter baskets, waiting for me to finish up at Target

Stress and finances have made inroads into the once annual excursion for new Easter clothes–getting a new Easter dress was practically a religious observance for me well into my college years, and I took great pride in the matching outfits I scored for the three “big kids” when they were small–but this year several of us decided to get some new things.  Jake had a nice suit John bought him last fall, and he and I found an Easter tie (thank you to the giver of the TJMaxx gift card!).  John took Teddy out suit shopping, but finding a suit that would accommodate his large chest and relatively small waist proved impossible, so he ended up with a blazer and pants.  I took Emily dress shopping, and I actually used my own Christmas Kohl’s gift card to get some new things for myself (more on my lack of personal possessions in another post!).  The little people were content with “new to them” items given us after the fire.

I waited a little late (Yikes! the day before!) to go bunny shopping.  It turned into a three-hour odyssey, and in the end finding matching bunnies for four out of five kids (one considers himself past wanting bunnies on Easter) proved impossible.  Lorelei has carried her sheep around every day since, and William was delighted with his possum (to replace one lost in the fire) so I needn’t have worried.

The Easter Bunny brought plenty of candy.  There was much speculation by William and Lorelei on the nature of the Bunny, where he comes from, what he looks like, why he does what he does, and who his “minions” are.  There were also sweet rolls for breakfast.  There are always sweet rolls (hot cross buns, really, only I’m not crafty enough for that so they are just glazed) or cinnamon rolls made from the sweet roll recipe (and I was trying for less mess and stress) on Easter morning.  This was my mother’s tradition, but the glitch this year is that no one has the recipe any more.  I had copied it down years ago in my notebook of special recipes.  My mother lost the original and had taken to calling me if she needed it.  You know what happened to my notebook.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe online.  Between the two of us we figured it out–they tasted like they were supposed to!

Easter Mass is the greatest celebration of the Church year.  We made sure to arrive early–in fact we were so early we had to wait outside for the previous Mass to finish up!  But that was okay because we were treated to an Easter Parade as folks exited, and we got to talk to the people who go to ten o’clock Mass!  The Church looked beautiful, and we sang the right songs.

 

We’ve had guests over many times since we moved–four birthday celebrations and a Christmas Open House–but we had not yet hosted a holiday dinner.  We went out on Thanksgiving, and my sister did Christmas.  We had not hosted a holiday dinner for quite some time, actually–the last time was two Easters ago, at our then-new house, the house which is now burned down.  We were so happy and hopeful that day, with no way of knowing either the very bad or the very good things that were headed our way.

Anyway, I decided Easter would be a relatively stress-free way to begin our turn at holiday hosting.  We made a rule that no one could bring more than two things.  My mother brought fried chicken and angel biscuits.   My sister Anne (Betsy and her husband were not with us this year) brought macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.  I made baked beans, green beans, and sickeningly sweet tea–just the way we all like it.  Emily made lemon bars and mint juleps.  My father and stepmother brought a butter pecan cake.  Anne’s mother-in-law brought a ham.  And even Lorelei made some cookies (with Jake’s help).   All together there were 18 of us for dinner!  We did it buffet style and it went smoothly and was delicious.

Of course Easter would not be Easter for the little people without an Easter egg hunt.

photo credit: Emily Sholly

It was a truly blessed Easter.  How was yours?

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