My Forever Home

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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 grandparents 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

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Let the Preparations Begin!


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?

Easter Blessings

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?

It's a First

I’ve got the tree undecorated by the end of the Feast of the Epiphany! Yay me! And I did it all by myself, because Emily went back to college yesterday.
The tree is still in the house but I’ll have it out within the hour. Just waiting for one of my teenagers to help.
Below are some of the many snowflakes I took off the tree. We got all new decorations of course. I seem to have gone overboard on the snowflakes.

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Christmastime is here . . . NOT!

The rest of Knoxville–the rest of the United States–may think it’s time to celebrate the Christmas season, but we Shollys firmly insist on celebrating Advent first.
For those who don’t know, in the Church calendar, Advent is the season which precedes the Christmas season, a time of watching, waiting, and preparing for the coming of Christ.  Christmas does not officially begin until the day itself, and continues until Epiphany (that’s the twelve days of Christmas, not the twelve days leading up to it, as I have heard some claim recently!).
Now, I’m not the Grinch, and I don’t require that my family abstain from all the festivities that started the day after Thanksgiving, but we do try with varying degrees of success year to year to observe some Advent customs at home.   We attended our parish’s Advent Workshop and made an Advent wreath which we light and pray over, although not every night.  I ordered a couple of CDs that I like to listen to during Advent before breaking out the Christmas carols.   I took down all the harvest-themed decorations and left my mantel bare except for candles.   Some years we hang Jesse Tree ornaments.  The ones my three big kids colored eleven years ago are ashes, of course, but I got a new set this year for the little ones to color.  Maybe they will be ready by next year.  And some years we have an Advent Calendar.
Like everyone else, the way our family does things at this time of the year is governed by tradition–in this case, my tradition.  My husband was raised Protestant and his family’s tree went up right after Thanksgiving (not that this doesn’t also seem to be true for a lot of Catholics I know!).  But when I was growing up we always had an Advent calendar, and our decorations did not go up until well into December.  More than my family’s practices, though, my love of the Advent season was shaped by my experience at St. Joseph School.
Every morning right after Mass everyone in the school would stop in the hallway beside the elevated area where the statue of the Blessed Mother used to stand.  There we had a cedar tree that served as Jesse Tree until right before Christmas, when it was re-purposed as a Christmas tree.   One of the 8th graders would hold up the ornament of the day and would read the verses that went along with it.  Then Sister Janice would lead us in an Advent hymn like “The King of Glory,” and we would sing it as we walked back to our classrooms.
I looked forward to these mornings with great anticipation and the ritual really did awaken in me a feeling of excitement that had nothing to do with presents and Santa Claus.
We are having a Christmas Open House this year.  Normally we have our parties between Christmas and New Year’s, which should be days of celebration rather than days of throwing out the tree and tearing down the decorations.  Who ever heard of having the party before the guest of honor even arrives, after all?  However, we are going out of town after Christmas so we have to party the weekend before.  That means our tree will go up sooner than December 21 or 22, which is what I prefer.
But for now we will watch and wait just a little longer.