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Mima–my maternal grandmother–loved working in her yard.  In my mind’s eye I see her kneeling in front of her porch, setting out marigolds and impatiens in the rich black dirt she’d bought at Kmart.  Later she’d move to the bed by the street, where the peonies and iris grew.  She’d water them with the garden hose, and if a car sped by too quickly, it might get a wetting as well, along with a hollered, “Slow down!”

We had flowering shrubs at our house, but no garden.  So on early damp May mornings, we would leave home a bit early, and drive to Mima’s house.  She’d meet us in the front yard in her housecoat, scissors in hand, to cut irises which she wrapped in wet paper towels for freshness.  These were our “flowers of the fairest” for the May Procession at Saint Joseph School.

When I discovered that I was a gardener too, Mima was right there encouraging me, giving me bags of dirt or mulch out of the trunk of her car, bringing me flats of pansies to set out in the fall, watching my little kids so I could plant daffodil bulbs.

So even though my gardening style is very different from hers, wild rather than manicured and centered on perennials instead of annuals, I often think of Mima (who died nine years ago) when I am in my garden.  I feel close to her then because it is a passion that we shared, and if such things are genetic, then my love of gardening is an inheritance from her.

It was around 20 years ago that Mima decided to move to a retirement community.  Eventually my mother moved into her house.  She kept the flowerbeds weeded and the yard mowed, but gardening is not her passion, and irises have to be dug up and divided every three to five years.  Mima’s irises haven’t bloomed in 15 years or more.

When my mother decided to move, it was Mima’s flowers I thought of most.  What would happen to her flowerbeds? Too many times I’ve seen new owners dig up and destroy treasured plantings without a second thought, intent on making the yard their own.  So when the house was sold, I went by with my trowel and dug up several irises, some peonies, and a small nandina sprout for good measure.  I put them in my own garden and hoped for the best.

The first spring came and went without a bloom.  I didn’t expect anything out of the peonies–which normally take a few years to establish–but I was disappointed in the irises.  Someone told me I had likely planted them too deeply.  I resigned myself to having to transplant them at a later time, and this year I was pleased to see that they had multiplied by a factor of three or more.  At least they were healthy, even if they didn’t bloom.

Then, the miracle.  I saw flower stalks and buds, almost overnight!  And yesterday morning when I went outside this was the first thing I saw:

iris 2iris 1

It would pretty much be impossible for me to exaggerate the extent of my excitement at this discovery.  Besides making it immediately Facebook official, I’ve made every member of the family come out to admire it and to share in my joy.   This morning a second one burst into bloom and there are many more to come, as you can see here:

iris detailiris in context

Perhaps next May there will be a sequel involving peonies.  For now I am thrilled that this bit of Mima’s garden lives on in mine.

 

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Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

september-11-remember-the-love

 

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When I was a little girl, Labor Day meant watching Jerry Lewis, waiting to hear our names called out on the telethon for our donation.  It meant fried chicken and deviled eggs and buttermilk ice cream at my cousins’ house.  Later it became the day that my cousin and I got to appear on the local telethon to turn in the money we’d made at our annual backyard carnival.  Always it was the last real day of summer before the first full school day.

Well, Jerry Lewis and his telethon are a thing of the past.  School started almost a month ago.  Some years we get together and eat burgers with the family on Labor Day; more often than not we take advantage of a Monday off to engage in actual LABOR–John and I will probably conduct a file review today.

What Labor Day will always be for me now, I imagine, is an anniversary.  Because on a Labor Day evening, five years ago, while we were thankfully absent from home, this happened:

fire 1

Every year in advance of this day I think about it, and contemplate writing some kind of profound post.  This year was no different, especially since it’s five years–kind of a significant anniversary–and September 5 and Labor Day once again coincide.

But despite thinking about it a few days ago and starting to plan out in my head what I would say, it took looking at my Facebook memories this morning (at a post I penned on the one-year anniversary) to remind me to sit down and write this today.

I just mentioned the anniversary to William and asked him what he thought about it and he said it doesn’t really matter to him anymore, that it was a long time ago and he didn’t lose anything important.

The events do have a certain remoteness, and I find myself looking back on them as though I were watching a documentary about something that happened to someone else.  It still seems so incredible that it happened at all.

I find myself paraphrasing Ronald Reagan and asking myself, “Are you better off now than you were five years ago?” The answer is an unqualified YES, even after all the losses.  The fact is that we were miserable in that house, that it was an exceptionally difficult time in our lives for a variety of reasons.  I don’t know what would have happened if the house had NOT burned down–obviously, the passage of five years would have brought changes although they would not have been the same changes–but it’s fairly certain at least that we would not have been living here, and living here has shaped our lives in interesting ways.

I’ve written before about the love and community we experienced and what a gift that was (and I remain wracked with guilt over my failure to finish all the thank you notes).  Does all the above mean that the fire was a blessing and part of God’s plan for our family?

Well, I don’t believe that.  Nor do I expect I will ever really “get over” it.  But I am grateful that our passage through the fire landed us where we are.

-Smoke your PAIN but keep the ASHES forever.-

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So maybe coffee is not for you. (I suppose people like that exist, hard as it might be for me to understand it!)  Well, I had the opportunity to enjoy a free three month subscription to a club for tea lovers recently.  My honest review follows.

We actually drink a fair amount of tea around here in addition to coffee.  William especially likes to start his morning with “strong black tea” and we all enjoy relaxing cups of chamomile or blends meant to promote sleep and relaxation.

Simple Loose Leaf shipments include at least four samples of various kinds of tea each month, and a three-month subscription will only set you back $17 each month (plus I’m going to share a coupon with you if you keep reading).

Notice I said “loose leaf.”  Most of us are used to our tea coming in little tea bags.  I remember when I first got married my mother-in-law gave me a tea ball for brewing loose tea and I didn’t know what it was for!    Of course the nice things about loose leaf tea is that you can experiment with how much you want to use to make a brew that’s right for you.  And the nice folks at Single Loose Leaf kindly provide you with reusable bags so that you will be ready to brew your first cup as soon as you open your box.

https://i1.wp.com/www.usfamilyguide.com/blogpromos/892/sll-promo-03.jpg

I’ve received two boxes so far, each with five varieties of tea:  Citrus Hibiscus Herbal, Cranberry Citrus Herbal, Ginger Peach Rooibos, Pumpkin Spice Rooibos, Jade Oolong, Japanese Sencha Saga, Lavender Sencha Green, Kenilworth Ceylon Black, Ceylon Supreme, and Bird Nest Pu’er.  You can see there is something for every palate!   Herbal teas are my favorites, but the only one here that is a bit . . . unusual . . . is the Bird Nest, which is fermented.

Each shipment comes with a card describing each tea and offering suggestions for proper brewing, as well as a discount good for future purchases.

Personally,  I think this club is a great value for tea lovers.  It would make a special gift for anyone you know who enjoys tea.  And unlike the coffee club in my last review, you don’t need any specialized equipment to brew the perfect cup.

My readers get to save! 25% off Gift Membership or Ongoing Subscription signup – Use code: 25HOLIDAY
http://usfamilycoupons.com/coupon.php?regionid=75&bid=12278&dealid=2122

 

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So I haven’t blogged for a long time.  Because birthdays.  Most specifically, this year was my husband’s 50th birthday, which he had been anticipating for some time.  We had a special party, and I thought I would share some pictures of the big event.

We had a great turnout–about 100 people–and even the staff at Deadbeat Pete’s said it was the best party they had ever attended!

Instead of using a traditional guest book, I created a questionnaire for the guests to fill out and enlisted the help of DJ John Rutherford (who was amazing) to make sure everyone remembered.  I’m going to gather them up into a binder along with all the cards John received.  I know he will enjoy reading them over again and again.

guest book page

I also created a hashtag for the event and printed up cards to put on all the tables.  This was not as successful as I don’t think a lot of people who came are as active on social media as I am.  🙂  However, many people did upload their pictures to the Facebook Event page!

#Happy50JTS

 

I used Canva to create both of those, as well as the invitation, which we disseminated with a Facebook Event page, an Evite, and even by hand. 🙂

You're Invited

To make sure that people didn’t forget our upcoming event, I posted several pictures each day of John from birth up to the present, which he said made him feel very loved!  The one below might be my favorite:

JohnS.6

John said this one of him and Emily (who shares his birthday and turned 25 this year) was his:

john emmy baby smile

Besides food and drink and cake and dancing, of course a milestone birthday demands toasts.   To finish this post, I want to share with you what I said about John.  It was a pleasure and an honor to get to stand up in front of everyone to sing his praises.

First of all, I would like to thank everyone on John’s behalf for coming to help him celebrate tonight.  It means a lot to him that so many people turned up for this milestone.

John was 19 when I met him—he was delivering mail at our dorm, and my roommate, who was in the same French class, introduced us.  For an entire year, we called him John Paul, because that was what he was going by in French class and we thought it was his real name!  I wrote about meeting him in my diary, saying that he was “a very funny guy.”

John didn’t wear suits every day back then, but he was certainly more dressed up than almost everyone else, and we formed the opinion that he came from a well-to-do family.  We never would have guessed that his father had been a steel-mill worker and that his mother was a waitress, and that he was the first person in his family to attend college.

As we got to know John, he shared with us that his father had died when he was 18.  By the time he spoke of this, it had been about two years since it happened, which seemed like a long time back then.  But of course it wasn’t very long at all, and he was still reeling from the effects of that loss.  His dad was 49, and that’s why reaching this 50th birthday has always been a big deal to John.

Anyone who knows John can tell he is a natural leader.  He has held numerous leadership positions starting in high school.  When I met him, his plan for his life included joining the Foreign Service, living a bachelor lifestyle until the age of 30 or so, running for political office, and never having any kids!

Like most of us, John’s life took a different path from the one he envisioned back then.  Instead of being in the public eye, his choices have led him to be instead an unsung hero, someone whose life is centered around faith, family, and making the world a better place.  The kind of hero who uses his many talents to help the less fortunate, whose job representing indigent parents and neglected children is more vocation than career, who always puts his family ahead of his work, who worries more about helping his clients than getting them to pay their legal fees.

John is generous to a fault.  Everyone in this room knows that they can count on John to do anything asked of him, even when it’s personally inconvenient.  He is the kind of friend that anyone would like to have.   

Today it’s time for us to sing songs about the unsung hero, or at least to toast him.   So let’s raise our glasses and I will finish this with an Irish Toast:  “I have known many, and liked not a few, but loved only one and this toast is to you.”

jts5032

Jake, our oldest son, toasting his dad.

 

jts5031

Teddy, the middle son (and middle child), adding some humor to his toast

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You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.
– Maya Angelou 

You can’t go home again isn’t just metaphorical for many people.  The first home I ever knew–the married student housing apartments where I lived with my parents until I was four years old–was demolished not long ago to make way for intramural sports fields.  The last home I lived in was burned nearly to the ground, destroying almost everything we owned.

burned down house

At this time of year, hearts turn toward home, and I am no different–but I find myself longing for places that are no longer available.  I was fortunate to live in the same neighborhood for most of my childhood.  My closest cousins and my maternal grandmother lived there too, and my paternal grandmother lived across town.  Holidays followed a predictable, safe pattern:  Thanksgiving lunch at Mima’s and supper at Granny’s, then Christmas morning at Mima’s and Christmas afternoon at Granny’s.  That was the way it was for 22 years, until divorces and deaths intervened.   Until recently, one childhood house remained:  my mother had been living in her mother’s old house.  When she sold it earlier this year, the last link remaining to that childhood stability was gone.

As the oldest in my family of birth and the first one to have a family of my own, providing a home for the holidays has most often fallen to me, and I hope that my children have fond memories of those days even though the places and patterns have shifted over time.  My favorite adult holiday memories took place in the Victorian house where we lived for eight years.  Despite its somewhat decrepit condition with its large formal spaces it was ideal for entertaining.  It was the house for which we collected not-quite-antique furniture, piece by piece, the one we decorated with portraits of our children and religious icons.  To me it was my dream house, and when we had to move out for financial reasons I was devastated.  No house has really felt like home to me since.

Victorian House

For the two years after that, we were renting a house that never felt comfortable or safe.  Part of that, I think, was because it was not really ours and we weren’t sure how long we would be able to stay there.  When it burned down, destroying everything, it was the completion of the loss that began with our move.

Since that happened four years ago, I feel I have been trying to regain a sense of home.  We are still renting, but we have plans to buy the house we have lived in since just a few weeks after the fire.  I have started gardening again, putting down literal roots.  But I struggle with decorating, acquiring knickknacks, hanging pictures, really committing.

house and garden

Almost everything in the house–right down to the dishes we eat from and the sheets on the beds–was given to us.  We are surrounded by reminders of the love of the people in our various communities every day.

And that’s part of what made me realize that to me, home has come to mean something other than a house.  When I think of home, I think of Knoxville, my hometown, where I have spent all but five years of my life, the place where I was married and where all my babies were born.  Whenever I return from a vacation, my heart feels a little lighter as soon as I cross the Tennessee line.  The road sign that reads Knoxville – 12 miles always lifts my spirits.  And probably the most welcoming sight in the world to me is the Knoxville skyline, with my own parish church at the very front, visible on the interstate as we drive through town.

IC from CP

My roots in this town are deep–my father’s people have lived in this area since the 1700s.  Even though my husband has only lived here 25 years, he has put down roots as well.  I may not know in what house we will be celebrating the holidays five or ten or twenty years from now, but I know the party will be in Knoxville, my forever home.

Home to Me

This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls

November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb

November 15 – Ashley @ Narrative Heiress

November 16 – Rita @ Open Window

November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls

November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow

November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365

November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing

November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels

November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room

November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes

November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life

November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

nablopomo

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So today is Love Your Lawyer Day, which you can read about here.

Y’all, this is not a joke.  Now, we are not a hyper-sensitive bunch here, and we can laugh at a good lawyer joke now and again, but the constant vilification of the members of the legal profession can get a little tiresome.

Especially if you know MY lawyer.

Law School Graduation edited

My lawyer works hard for his clients every day.  Even though he is appointed to represent many of them by the State of Tennessee, which means they are not the ones paying him.  Even though the aforementioned State of Tennessee has not seen fit to give appointed attorneys a raise in 20 years.  Even though attorneys who represent the poor in Tennessee are among the lowest paid in the entire United States.

But if you are a poor person being represented by MY lawyer, you would never know that.  Even when he has reached the cap for your case, or the cap for the calendar year, and is working for FREE.  He will keep working, and he will keep looking out for your interests, and he will give your case the same attention he gives to that of his paying clients.

My lawyer treats his clients with respect and dignity.  Most seasoned attorneys do very little indigent defense work because it is not profitable.  My lawyer is proud to be able to provide his indigent clients with the benefit of his twenty years of experience.  He stands up for them against a system that is often unfair to them just because they are poor.

My lawyer cares deeply about the neglected kids he represents as Guardian ad Litem.  He visits their homes and takes the time to form a relationship with them.  He talks to teachers and counselors if necessary.  He takes very seriously his job of determining what is in their best interests.

My lawyer worries about the fate of his juvenile clients.  He knows that they are just kids, and that kids do stupid things.  He knows that many of them have had the deck stacked against them from the start.

My lawyer always sends out his bills late because he is too busy taking care of his clients to take the time to review and initial them.  He is not in this for the money (though luckily for our family I am the administrator of this office and I am not as altruistic as he is).  He is always lowering his rates, giving people deals, cutting their bills, offering payment plans, forgetting to record all his time, doing things for free.

My lawyer answers his phone at night and on weekends, even if he is trying to rest, unless I turn the ringer off.

My lawyer doesn’t have a fancy office downtown.  He works at home so that he can spend more time with his family.  Even though he ALWAYS has work to do, he makes time to come to every school function, meeting, or conference.

My lawyer looks like a lawyer.  Seriously, he gets stopped on the street and asked if he is a lawyer! He wears suits every day, which he likes to accessorize with seasonal ties and socks.

My lawyer is a good lawyer, even though he doesn’t always think so.  His hard work pays off and he gets good results for his clients.  People who have legal troubles are not happy, and they aren’t legal professionals, so often they are not as appreciative as they should be.  They don’t always pay their bills, even when they are very satisfied.  But he keeps right on doing his best for them.

My lawyer is my husband and my best friend.  He is a good lawyer and a good man, and he deserves a day like this.

If you have your own lawyer, show him or her a little love today.  And if you don’t, I can recommend a great one.

John with Cat

##LoveYourLawyerDay

nablopomo

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