Yiayia and Papou

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I’ve always loved this ring. It belonged to my grandmother, my mother’s mother. My grandfather gave it to her shortly before they were married in October 1927. She gave it to me on my 18th birthday.

I wore it occasionally when I was much younger but I almost lost it once which relegated it to the locked safety of my treasure box. I’ve been thinking about my grandparents a lot – this month being not only the anniversary of their wedding but also of their respective deaths – so I pulled out my grandmother’s ring a few weeks ago and I’ve been wearing it ever since. I forgot that I have her hands. Seeing her ring on my finger reminded me. Anyway, I figured if not now, when? Seriously.

It doesn’t seem possible that my grandmother has been gone for 29 years today. She and my grandfather, who died 6 years later, were integral, everyday parts of my life. I always miss them, but I feel it more lately. I don’t know why.

When I was little we lived with them in DC, in the house my mother grew up in. After that we saw them at least every weekend and up until they both died, I almost never went to bed without talking to them on the phone. When I went to college, I’d talk to them on the pay phone on my hall and my grandfather wrote me letters every week. There’d always be a little bit of cash in the envelopes, for apples, he’d tell me. I’m not proud to say that I’m pretty sure I used it for booze. I still have his letters, every single one. He was so happy and proud once I finally finished college and grad school; it took me awhile to figure out what the hell I was doing there, and I know that was a source of worry for him. For a Greek man of his generation, he was a very progressive thinker that way, wanting and encouraging education for his daughter and granddaughters.

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In the treasure box in which I keep my grandmother’s ring, I also have all of the letters my grandfather wrote to her while they were courting. She kept them all, every single one. And the telegrams they got for their wedding too. I stayed up late last night pouring over them all.

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I keep my grandfather’s Mason ring in the box too. He had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. I loved them and I was always touching them and holding them and fiddling with his ring. Which is probably why my Mom took it off his finger and put it on mine as we stood by his bed together on the night he died, 23 years ago. Later, my Dad fitted it with some soft leather inside so it wouldn’t fall off and I wore it for years. In the box as well is the handkerchief my grandfather gave me from his suit jacket pocket, the one I cried all of my tears into when we buried my grandmother.

I also have my grandmother’s wedding dress and bouquet of roses, both are in very poor condition, actually crumbling, but I can’t part with them. I found them wrapped in tissue paper on the floor of one of their closets when we were getting their house ready to sell.

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I don’t remember the details of how exactly my grandparents met or where, I only know that they married in 1927. Once they got here from Greece, my grandmother started out in New Jersey and my grandfather in Connecticut. She worked at a family restaurant and he worked at a lock and key factory. I don’t remember how or why they ended up in DC, only that they spent their entire marriage there in a row house they bought with the cash they’d worked for and saved.

They were born in different villages in the Peloponnese region of Greece but didn’t meet until they came to the U.S. My grandfather came first, on his own at 18 years old in 1916. My grandmother came at 12 years old in 1920, accompanied by her uncle, my great great uncle. In middle school I wrote a story about her journey called, “She Came To America”. I still have it in one of my bazillion boxes in the storage room. They both came through Ellis Island and they both had siblings here to receive them. Neither of them ever went back to Greece; they had difficult lives there, especially my grandmother, and they came here hoping for better but carrying their burdens with them. My grandmother’s mother came here a couple of times but didn’t stay. I remember my grandmother calling for her in Greek as she lay dying. “Mama, Mama…”

My grandfather was a DC taxi cab driver for 50 years. I have so many memories of riding in the back seat of his cab with my sister and grandmother. We’d sing his favorite song, “This Land Is Your Land” and eat peppermint swirl lifesavers, the pink ones, remember? He loved America, he was so proud to be here. He was not formally educated, but was wicked smart. He wished he could have been a physician and he would have a damn good one too. He was highly interested in physical fitness and health and read all he could about it. He could still jump rope well into his late 70’s. His favorite medicine was a shot of whiskey and a raw clove of garlic, and he always reeked of garlic too. I loved that, still do. He was very focused on good nutrition and lectured us about it constantly. That, and keeping our cars well oiled and maintained. He was so proud of his last taxi cab which had 450,000 miles on it. Original engine and all. No lie. He gave me my first car, an old – but well maintained – blue Dodge Dart.

My grandmother worked as a Congressional Hostess at the U.S. Capitol for, I don’t know, 25 years. I loved going there and being with her at work. Congressional Hostess is fancy talk for ladies lounge/restroom attendant. She took care of the Congressional women’s lounge and restroom area and hosted not only the Congresswomen but also the female family members and friends of both Congresswomen and men. She had many friends at the Capitol who just adored her and her Greek cuisine. She was a gentle, sweet, loving soul – who could also curse like a sailor – and she always held the hands of whoever she was talking to in hers. She always smelled like rose petals and she loved vanilla fudge ripple ice cream with banana slices on top. Whenever my sister and I slept over, the 4 of us would always eat that for dessert as we watched Lawrence Welk or Hee Haw.

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My Mom was born first, in 1939, and she was their pride and joy, their everything. Her brother, my uncle, was born 11 years later. He was ok for awhile and then suddenly, he wasn’t. And then everything changed.

My grandparents spent the rest of their lives being devoted parents to a profoundly disabled child. And it was brutally painful and beautiful. AND somewhere in there my Mom got lost in the shuffle and that was brutally painful. And so unfair. My grandparents didn’t love my Mom any less – they adored her – but there wasn’t enough of them to go around or something. They were compromised. They told themselves she was ok. Despite – or maybe because of – the pain, my Mom worked like a dog to make them proud and to realize the dreams they had for her. She was the first in her family to go to college, to finish any kind of formal schooling at all.

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They were always a very regular presence in our lives, like I said, and they helped my parents with us kids A LOT, but they were preoccupied by and sad about my uncle, always. And that was on top of the baggage they brought with them from Greece. They loved us like crazy though, that was obvious, and there were happy times like our regular Sunday visits and cab rides and holiday meals and sleep overs and my grandparents’ 50th anniversary party and our birthdays and graduations.

I remember watching my grandmother – with both sadness and awe – as she fed my uncle and kissed him and looked at him as only his mother could and brushed his jet black hair over to the side like he was a little boy and said prayers for him as she held a small icon of Jesus up to his lips. I never really thought about what it was like for my Mom all those years, especially as a child.

I remember being upset with my Mom sometimes when my grandmother was dying because I hated that I could sense her anger at my grandmother. I didn’t understand it. It took many years for me to understand it, but of course I do now. The 6 years between her death and my grandfather’s was good for my Mom in a way because it gave of them time to make things right. He apologized to her for not being there for her for the rest of her childhood. He told her it wasn’t her fault. Even though she knew that intellectually, she needed and deserved to hear it. I think it took a long time for her to believe it, though.

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Not long after my grandmother died, my grandfather fell and broke his hip in their old house in DC and so we moved him out to Columbia to be nearer to my folks. I used to go over to his senior apartment to hang out with him and then we’d go to Friendly’s or even McDonalds’s once in awhile. He was a health nut but he did enjoy an occasional quarter pounder with cheese.

No matter what, even though it wasn’t at all easy, I’ll never forget the good and loving care my parents gave my grandparents as they aged, got sick and died. Never. It was one of the greatest lessons of love and loyalty and honor and respect I’ve learned, actually.

My uncle outlived my grandparents and became my Moms responsibility. She took good and loving care of him too, even though it was so hard. He died in 1995 when Husband and I were on our honeymoon. It was always a complicated, painful thing for her but I know she would have loved to have a brother to share her life with, I know she still feels that loss.

This morning after taking Boy to school, I had another one of my impulsive ideas and lately, when I get them, I tend to act on them which is totally unlike me. But anyway, I blew off my morning agenda and kept driving on Georgia Ave to Gate of Heaven Cemetery. After my grandfather died in 1991, I used to go there a lot and just sit. And cry. But I don’t really remember going there since then. I’m sure I have at some point but it’s been a long time. Anyway, it took me about 45 minutes to find them. I remembered the general area but not the detailed location, so I walked up and down many, many rows of gravestones. There are a lot of people buried there, obviously, and a lot of Greeks. I finally found them and I just sat and talked to them for awhile, nothing major, just wanting them to know we’re ok, thanking them, hoping they’re resting peacefully, missing them, wondering how in the world they could have been gone for so long and how I’m suddenly 51 and my Mom is 75. Then I left to go buy some flowers and some baby wipes. I went back to the cemetery and cleaned up their gravestone and put the flowers in the vase with water and then I took a picture to send to my Mom. It made her really really happy.

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I didn’t really intend to get into all of this but it’s been on my mind and I went to the cemetery today, so there you go. There’s so much more I could share about my grandparents and our lives together. Maybe I will sometime. And maybe sometime I’ll write about our odyssey with Boy and the parallels to my grandparents’ situation. But not now. They’d adore him, though, my grandfather especially.

In Which I Discuss My Love/Hate Relationship With Cooking

I DO NOT LIKE TO COOK. There. I said it. I’m just now getting to a place where I can say it and not feel completely inadequate as a woman. And I have to regularly rein myself in when I believe even for a second that it’s some sort of character defect.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately and although I love to read about food and I love to find and save recipes and I love to look at and take photographs of food and I love to watch cooking shows and I love to buy food and I LOVE TO EAT, I simply don’t like to cook. It’s actually not simple. It’s more like a complicated love-hate thing. But whatever, because I’m not all that good at it either.

All four of us enjoy watching the Food Network, even Boy which is pretty funny when you think about it because the kid only eats 5 foods. We all love shows like Iron Chef and Guy’s Grocery Games, but probably my favorite cooking show is The Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten seems so normal and calm and happy, she makes it all look so easy and relaxing and appealing in a non-condescending way. Or maybe it’s her house in the Hamptons that I like. I don’t know.

But I do know that I don’t like to cook. I want to like it, though, does that count? I buy food magazines every month. I read them and I enjoy them too. I have a bunch of beautiful cookbooks and a list of others I want to buy for myself. I’ve bookmarked and highlighted many pages. I love reading essays and memoirs about food and cooking and foodie travels. I want to eat my way through Italy someday and then write all about it. But I still don’t like to cook. Maybe there’s a tortured, frustrated cook hidden in here somewhere. If so, I hope I’ll find her. Kind of like the whole writing thing. I don’t know.

My mom and my grandmother passed down many wonderful recipes to me – mostly Greek. Both of my sisters are good cooks too. So what happened? Why did I not inherit the cooking gene? I don’t know. I do know that I was very tuned into the barometers of both my mother and grandmother and I was a homebody, always around when they were cooking. I soaked up their emotional energy like a sponge. Even though they are/were so good at cooking and they claimed to enjoy it and I – and everyone else in the whole wide world – loved to eat their food, they never seemed like they were having much fun during the actual cooking process. Actually, it appeared to be the opposite. I think I was so tied up in the emotion in their kitchens that I perceived as negative, I never paid attention to the cooking process at all. They sighed A LOT and they often seemed stressed and they were so freaking hard on themselves. And I was already up to my eyeballs in hard on myself so I wasn’t interested. It just didn’t ever seem worth the trouble to go back and actually learn. Not even a little, even though I have many happy memories of actual meals shared with family and friends. But I did learn to sigh. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the sighing is a Greek fatalistic thing that’s not necessarily indicative of being unhappy. And that the emotion I perceived as negative wasn’t always actually negative, it was more of an intensity thing, which is a whole other story for another time . But still. Definitely inherited that sighing gene.

The thing is that there are so many layers of meaning folded into meals prepared and shared with family and friends, old and new. And THE TABLE. Is there a better metaphor for bringing people TOGETHER? I love that part, the relationships (in small, tolerable doses), stories, traditions, history and symbolism, and the food itself of course, definitely the food. I just don’t like the other parts. I don’t know why exactly. I think because it stresses me out, triggers me in some way, and I don’t know how to make that part go away. And we all know that I need more stress like I need a hole in the head. But I’ve convinced myself that ALL of the parts are inextricably woven together and you just can’t know what comforting, wonderful memory will be tucked away in the heart of someone you’ve fed from your kitchen. Wow, just writing that makes me gag a little but whatever, it’s a thought I think a lot. Even with all of the sighing, I just can’t bring myself to blow the whole thing off, so I keep trying. And then I give up for awhile. And I then start again. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin too, I don’t know.

Husband likes to cook and he’s quite good at it. He definitely has that whole Greek-culture-food-is-love thing going on. He loves to feed people. He’s good at throwing stuff together without a recipe too. He also happens to make a huge mess in the kitchen which messes with my psychology but I’m quite good at cleaning up. I actually enjoy cleaning up more than cooking, so there you go. That’s one of my gifts, CLEANING UP. Ugh. Sometimes I wish I could be like him in the kitchen, eyes happily focused on the finished product and totally blind to the mess being made in the process. He just doesn’t see it. On weekends, and occasionally during the week, we mix it up like that – he cooks, I clean – and it’s a relief.

But as the primary meal provider in this house, I do cook because I love my family. I can follow recipes but I have no cooking flare. I can rock a microwave but I can’t even grocery shop the right way. I’m not sure how one can drop $200 at the grocery store and not have what she needs to prepare even one complete meal. But I can. What I really love, personally, is meals prepared with a very few, fresh, simple ingredients and a very few, easy steps that are clearly written down, preferably with photos. I do go thru phases when I experiment with new, more involved recipes and when I am motivated to do a better job at meal planning and when I try to will myself to enjoy it, but it always falls apart for various reasons…picky eaters, snobby palates, getting pissed about the uneaten leftovers, our insanely busy schedules, failing to convince myself that it’s worth the effort, my crappy grocery shopping skills, emotional baggage, blahblahblah. Another complication is that 3 out of the 4 of us are deeply committed carnivores and I am not so much of one. Plus, if I handle or look too closely at raw meat, I’m definitely not eating it, maybe not even sitting at the table with those who do. I’ve started to take off my reading glasses and wear plastic bags on my hands when handling meat to shield myself from the details but it doesn’t always work. So anyway, I quickly return to default mode which is making sure I have what I need to cook the basic things I know most of us will eat on any given day and that’s it. Not so creative or inspiring or enjoyable. Just another thing on my to-do list that I think we all get sick of. That’s the part I hate because I want to love it, or at least like it more. But I don’t. I wish I was a good cook. But I’m not. I want them to have warm layered foodie memories tucked away in their hearts. But I don’t think they do. I think they have memories of one too many nights of pasta, tacos, panini sandwiches, or grilled chicken thrown over salad, and nowhere-near-as-good-as-Yiayia’s-pot-roast even though I use the same freaking recipe. And SIGHING. I cook because I kind of, sort of want to, but mostly because I have to. If it were up to me, I’d be keeping it very simple the bulk of the time and if not, most of what I’d choose to make if I ignored everyone else around here wouldn’t be so pleasing to them, I’m sure.

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This was my breakfast today, just my speed. A very hearty multigrain toast with guacamole, farmer’s market tomato slices, a little bit of salt and pepper, topped with feta.

I keep a file of recipes that I find during my wandering on the internets and I always save them with the intention of actually making them, sometimes I do, but not usually. I have a big list right now just staring me down, daring me to try again. I had a request from Girl for butternut squash and black bean soup which actually excited me and so thank you college, I guess, because where else did THAT come from?

The last few things I made that made me happy were open-faced croque monsieur, a fat flushing soup, and pumpkin chili. Was it worth the effort? Maybe. The first went over very well. I served it with spinach salad and it got rave reviews, actually. I even pulled off a good bechamel sauce with skim milk. The second? Well, I loved it – it was vegetarian and nutrient rich and hearty – but I had to give some of it away to my neighbor who said she liked it – because no one else would eat it. Husband told me it looked like diarrhea. The last went over well with Girl and my parents, and I liked it very much too. Husband is not so much a fan of pumpkin but he tasted it and he was kind. Would I have liked it as much if I hadn’t gotten the recipe from the Thug Kitchen cookbook? Yes, I would have. I liked it so much that I’ve eaten it for lunch everyday for the past week. And threw the last bit of it away this afternoon. Because, leftovers.

A few of my FB friends asked for the recipe, so here it is straight out of the book, along with my own photos because I like this part.

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My token cooking flare was using my immersion blender to puree the chili a very little bit – which I loved because it made it a little thicker – and topping it with tzaziki and guacamole. Next time I think I’ll serve it – to myself – on a bed of brown rice.

And just for the record, I do not find Thug Kitchen’s foul language gratuitous in the least. I find it highly motivating. Hilarious, actually. I’m gonna try their enchilada recipe next. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Interestingly, writing this has inspired me a little bit and as I finish up this blog post, I have a vegetable polenta casserole in the slow cooker. I did it for me because writing this also made me feel a little sad. I’m not sure why. I need to think about it more. But anyway, hopefully, Husband and my folks, who are coming over today, will like it too and if not, they and Boy will be very happy with all of the food that’s typically found at our house on Sundays during football season, wings, nachos, etc. And I won’t be bitter. And I won’t sigh. Ok, I always sigh but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy.

Maybe I should ask my Mom for some cooking lessons, finally, sighing and all, because the woman knows her way around a kitchen. We could start small, one recipe at a time, so we don’t knock each other out with all of that sighing. Wish me luck.

Monday, Revisited

It’s Monday! My favorite day of the week!

Once I got Boy off to school, I started my Monday morning like always, collecting my marbles. I did some writing. Then I ran to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the library. I cleaned the joint up because there was a serious toy explosion over the weekend plus a bunch of other stuff all over the place. I texted with Girl a little bit. She’s kind of homesick today – I figured she would be, I miss her too after having her home for fall break – but she’s very happy and proud about a 96 on a history midterm. BOOYAH. I dealt with the gnarly bushes out front. They grow so fast and they have prickly branches and I always get those prickly thingies stuck in my fingers, even though I bought heavier gloves. Annoying. Anyway, I got my boy’s Halloween crap up in the yard. It looks good. I didn’t get a walk in because I ran out of time, but that’s ok.

I was feeling pretty happy with myself, really productive. Plus the weather was gorgeous today, so I especially enjoyed my time outdoors. I went upstairs to take a quick shower before heading out to pick up Boy and as I walked down the hall I realized I hadn’t made the beds and immediately I thought, “LOSER”.

Yeah. What kind of bullshit self-talk is that? It’s not like I’d been sitting around doing nothing. Is that a woman thing or a mom thing or a me thing or what? I don’t know but it’s completely messed up.

I thought about it as I showered and dressed and then I went on auto-pilot, started to make the beds. I stopped abruptly and thought, “HELL NO! I’m gonna boycott the beds, a big fat symbolic F YOU to that trash talk I just laid on myself for no good freaking reason.”

I started down the steps and then I turned around and went back up. And yes, I made the damn beds because leaving them unmade messed with my psychology way too much.

The end.

Home Is Where The Hope Is

She’s home. For fall break.

A disclaimer before you read further: this turned into a jumbled mess of a blog post, I think. Sad and happy. Ugly and beautiful. Hopeless and hopeful. I hope you’ll hang in there with me til the end, which is actually the beginning, just like it always is.

About a week ago one of Girl’s closest high school friends texted me to ask if she and the boys (a group of kids who call themselves THE CREW) could surprise Hope at the airport.

Girl was expecting me to pull up to passenger pickup in the van, but instead, she crashed into 5 of her friends in baggage claim who couldn’t wait to see her and to shower her with love.

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The timing of this fall break trip home and the surprise her friends cooked up couldn’t have been better because the girl has had a really rough week.

It wasn’t a college-related rough week, though. Her transition to college has been smoother than any of us ever imagined it would be. She absolutely loves it and she’s doing really well. College suits her. I knew it would if we could just GET HER THERE (that’s another story for another day).

So, back to the rough time. I don’t know how to say this delicately, so I guess I’ll just say it. A friend of hers from church committed suicide a little over week ago. Like so many who knew and loved him, Girl was devastated, confused, profoundly saddened, utterly shocked and she wanted to come home for the first time since she left in August. She needed to come home.

As far as we know, no one knows what happened with him or why he did this. Apparently this kid was the very last kid anyone would have ever expected to take his own life. No one seems to know when he crossed over into the kind of despair that makes people want to die. The shock waves continue to reverberate in the community. Maybe his family is piecing things together now as the days pass, I don’t know, but I cannot even begin to imagine their pain.

I still don’t know how to talk about it because it’s surreal. A friend of Girl’s committed suicide. Suicide. Even the word is hard to say, so heavy with stigma and pain. Why is it so hard to talk about? Why don’t we want to talk about it? Even in this case, it seems like it’s being whispered about. Girl’s friend was by all accounts an amazing, beautiful boy and the way he died doesn’t negate that. It never will. I’m talking about it because I think it’s really important for the kids who are still here and grieving. And for the kids who have ever felt alone and hopeless.

I never met this boy. But I heard his name a lot from Girl and I knew that she thought very highly of him, that she could depend on him. I was especially grateful to him for the loving kindness he showed her during some difficult days she had in her junior year of high school. They became friends.

Some of the difficult days she had that year were the result of being very lonely at school. In typical fashion, she kept her head up and kept smiling, kept hoping, kept believing and kept trying until she couldn’t anymore. And then she was sad. Really sad. She had one very good friend there and she maintains that friendship, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the loneliness. Once she finally acknowledged what she was feeling and bravely shared it with us, she was relieved that we knew, even though it was hard.

But there were some days, some nights, when she was so quiet and up in her room for so long that I was worried. I checked on her a lot. She never, ever said or did anything specific to lead me to think she was in any kind of danger, but she was so devastatingly sad. She just wasn’t herself. She wasn’t sleeping well. She stopped singing in the shower. That sounds silly, but it felt like reason enough for me to be watching closely. She was grieving the loss of an entire community that she tried so hard to become a part of while trying to stay true to herself at the same time. We talked about it all, including how the kind of sadness she seemed to be feeling can be a HORRIBLE LIAR. It can make a kid believe that a permanent solution to temporary pain, no matter how awful it is, might be a good idea. She looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m ok with that. Because you don’t always know and it’s not always obvious and I felt like it was my job to go there as a parent. We kept talking as we addressed what was happening at school and figured out what to do about it.

Sometime in there is when this boy from church reached out to her, restored some of her hope in kids her age. He didn’t know what was going on, but he must have sensed something and he was extraordinarily kind and encouraging during a time when Girl needed that more than anything.

He could clearly SEE her as the child of God she is and he was so selfless and relentless in his pursuit of her friendship and in making sure she knew she was valued and special and loved.

He would say to her, “I love you and you are not alone”. He’d say those exact words. I wonder if he needed to hear those words too. I wonder if he would have believed them. I don’t know.

You can imagine why his suicide has especially rattled Girl. And, frankly, me too. As far as we know, no one knew he was in despair and the thought of him suffering alone has made her feel very sad. Because he wasn’t alone. He was loved and adored by many. He was a kid who appeared to be always happy, always reaching outside himself for the good of others, always hopeful. Girl said he never, ever talked about himself, he was always trying to go deeper with other people in an effort to know more. He seemed to feel some sort of responsibility to be there for other people and he poured himself into them. And people were in awe of that. And aspired to be like him. Maybe he sacrificed too much, maybe it was all just too much. Maybe he didn’t know how to share his humanness or his pain. Maybe people couldn’t see it. I don’t know.

Girl shared what happened with one of her professors this week because, ironically, she’s writing a paper in her Great Conversations class about the destructive nature of putting humans on pedestals. She got stuck during the editing process for obvious reasons. Suddenly her topic became MUCH more personal. She was immobilized by pain. The way this prof responded to her friend’s suicide and to her dealings with her paper was BEAUTIFUL.

Anyway, Girl switched high schools mid junior year and it was quickly life changing for her. We should have moved her sooner. Fit is everything. In a short time, she found an entire community of wonderful friends at her new school. She’d always had good friends outside of school, primarily at church, but so much time is spent IN school. It’s so important to have strong connections there, to feel like a valued part of the community. Free to be your real and full self. Happy and sad. Beautiful and ugly. Hopeful and hopeless. Giving and receiving. Not alone.

And so she’s home now. And she’s sad about her friend and she’s grateful for him and she’s talking about him. There is a bond there that will never be broken. She’s comforted knowing he is in heaven. More than anything, she wishes he’d known that whatever it was that was going on, he was loved and he wasn’t alone, ever. She wishes he’d believed it could get better. She wishes she’d known his insides more than she did.

And at the same time, she’s happy to be with her friends who are here with her now, in all of their wonderfully imperfect humanity. And it feels strange to her. Happy and sad. Up and down. And she’s not alone. None of them are. She’s had a good weekend doing all sorts of things with her friends and it was just what her soul needed.

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She’s happy to be home with us too and we’re beyond happy that she’s here for a few days to recharge and be comfy. We’ve missed her presence in our house. A LOT.

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And I’m so thankful that she’s a kid who still curls up in bed with her Mommy when she needs to.

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For the past week, ever since we found out about her friend, Girl and I have been texting and talking on the phone more than usual. And we make sure to say, “I love you and you’re not alone. Ever.” May her friend’s memory be eternal and may his family and all who knew and loved him be comforted during this difficult time.

Wandering

A funny thing happened the other day on my way home from dropping my car off at the local service station for some routine maintenance. Instead of walking straight home as I planned, I just walked. And walked. And walked. You guys know I love to walk. I could walk til Kingdom Come.

The weather was gorgeous and there was no pressing reason I had to rush home. I had planned to deep clean the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms after having done the main floor and “wreck” room on the 2 days before, but I spontaneously blew it off.

As I walked, I felt really, really lucky. And so thankful to have this freedom and flexibility. I felt thankful for good health and the physical ability to walk and walk and walk. I felt thankful to live in this town that I enjoy so much.

And yes, this is ME. No one hacked by blog. No guest blogger either.

I took some photos along the way and my day turned into a field trip of sorts. Spontaneous field trippin’. It was time really well spent.

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First, I zig zagged through some parking lots and then looped around to walk an area of town that I like. I’ve always admired an obviously historic, grand, brick manor house that I pass during some of my longer walks, so I finally stopped to take a closer look. I snapped a couple of photos, careful not to trespass as its a private residence. I looked it up on the internets, too, because I knew nothing about its history. This is Olney Manor, built in 1937. It was constructed on a 114 acre estate originally owned by one of the Olney Farquhars. The house now sits on about 3 acres, retains many of the original farm buildings behind it and is well shielded by trees. There is a large, contemporary residential subdivision that surrounds it on the same street.

As I passed Olney Manor, I could have taken a right turn to head in the direction of home. I’d walked 2 miles by then. But nope, I didn’t. Instead, I turned left. I could see our town’s Antique Village in the distance and it was hollering my name so I listened. I was pretty pleased with myself at that point for being so WILD. Or something.

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I passed this on the way. I’ve never even noticed the house or barn or whatever it is that’s back there. I’ve always loved the peace sign, though, and I’m so glad I stopped to take this photo.

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This is Olney Antique Village. We’ve lived here for a little over 4 years and I’ve only been inside this place once or twice. It houses the shops of 4 antiques vendors plus a home furnishings store called Hollace Clare. Good thing I had very little money on me and no car, just saying. I had a blast window shopping, though. And also talking with the shop owners, two of them especially.

The proprietors I had conversations with have been at Antique Village for 20-25 years. Business is relatively slow, and they told me that their main business comes from furniture sales, not so much the smaller treasures. But there was plenty of both and I poured over it all as the owners told me stories about different pieces, how they obtain their inventory, some of their travels, how they got into the business, stuff like that.

I think I’ll do some Christmas shopping there this year. The hell with Pottery Barn.

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Hollace Clare is not an antiques place, but OMG I love it. I mean just look at some of this stuff.

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I want this TEAL sectional.

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This is kind of, sort of how I plan to paint a small cabinet in our dining room.

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After I got my fill at Hollace Clare, I went next door to the Swedish antiques and gifts place. It’s another really fun spot to wander through.

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I wish I’d taken a photo of the huge, gorgeous antique kitchen storage bench I saw there. The seat could be opened for storage and also, along with the seat back, pulled out flat to fashion a bed. I’ll have to go back to try to check it out more closely, but I bet it’ll be gone. I did take one photo of this painting of a boy playing guitar, just because I thought it was sweet.

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Next I went to Sisters, Sandwiches and Such for a cup of white bean chicken chili (my favorite) and to check out their funky painted furniture pieces.

The place is owned by a couple of sisters who love to cook and also to paint vintage furniture. Their place is housed in another historic Olney building a block or so away from Antique Village.

When we first moved moved here, I bought a pair of old chairs from them that they’d painted and reupholstered. I actually paid only $30 for one and they threw the second one in for free. They don’t have too much inventory right now but I check back periodically because you never know what you’ll find there. The sisters actually sparked my interest in painting some of my things myself and even gave me a few tips, which was pretty cool.

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This is one of the chairs I got from them.

When I finished my chili, I figured it was time to point myself in the direction of home.

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I stopped by the Backyard Naturalist because it was on the way and it really is a great little gift shop. Jewelry, pottery, wind chimes, books, notecards, garden flags, stones, that kind of thing. Plus, it has everything you’d ever need or want for feeding and watching birds that visit or nest in your yard.

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Then I crossed the street to see if my car was ready. Didn’t expect it to be, but since I was in the neighborhood, why not? Personally, I like Fletchers for routine maintenance. It’s a family owned business that’s been in this community for 50 years. Small town kind of place. Not fancy. AT ALL. But friendly, convenient, reliable, trustworthy.

Anyway, my car wasn’t ready so I kept on walking. I cut through a few parking lots, crossed a main street and would you look at that…

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Can’t be bad to have a HomeGoods and a TJMaxx with a paint store sandwiched in between within walking distance of your house. It just can’t.

I made my way through another parking lot and was finally on the path to home. I love this long stretch of road, especially in the fall…

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Yeah, it was a really good day for wandering. And I got about 6 miles in too. I think I’ll do it again soon.

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You Want To Go Where?

Last night Husband and Boy were both asleep and I’d just finished soaking in the tub when I got a text from Girl. It was late, about 10pm or so, and we texted back and forth for a good half hour, maybe longer.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

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Obviously, our actual conversation was much more involved than that. And while I might have been an asshole a couple of times, I mainly was NOT.

The story is that she went to an informational meeting about a service learning trip to India being offered by her college. It captured her interest immediately and she was so excited about it, she had to text me as soon as she got back to her dorm.

I told her I love her heart and her passion for people. I truly do. And then I reminded her that she told me she thought she wanted to stay in the US this summer, probably to work at the local church camp.

Yes, but that was before she found out about India and the college’s many years of experience taking students there to participate in this service learning program where “the mission is to respond to respond to issues of poverty, displacement, gender discrimination and social exclusion by initiating and promoting transformative and inclusive education, community based initiatives and campaigns in collaboration with Civil Society Organizations, Faith Based Organizations and Social Movements.” The program is a secular, non-profit organization, committed to enabling women, children and other marginalized groups realize their rights.

Oh God.

I told her I love the idea of service learning. And I can see why she wants to do something like that. I can see how it fits her interests and goals.

And I was sitting in bed thinking YouDoKnowImGoingToBeAwakeAllFreakingNightNowRight? But I was also cheering her on. I felt crazy.

I might have been an asshole after that – briefly – because I was scared.

I asked her since when is she interested in India and if she’s aware that India is pretty much a hell hole in that it is not known to be a safe place for women. It’s actually very dangerous made worse by its corrupt police force and it is foolish of her to be willing to put herself at risk given the readily available information. So, NO. Stay home and work to improve this hell hole.

She very eloquently talked about not having a heart for any one specific place, but for the whole world. For all people. She wants to go everywhere. She said service learning trips are unique to college and she thinks this would be a one time chance to go in the safest manner possible with 12 fellow students and a professor.

She told me her school has been executing this trip for 15 years without incident, the group stays in civilized conditions on the closed campuses of the respective organizations. She heard an upperclassman talk about his experience on the trip and how it forever changed his view of the world. She wants that.

She told me that she will not live in fear. I don’t want her to either, I really don’t, even though I’m probably the one who has made it hardest for her. Truthfully, I’ve done a number on her, trying to protect her from the ugly, foul world we live in, too many safety talks, blahblahblah, even as I worked to encourage her to imagine all of life’s possibilities and to give her wings and freedom. I always wanted her to be a full participant in the wide, wide world, but in a safe or at least SAFER context. Is that wrong? Despite me, she has always been able to see and experience life’s beauty. The beauty has always spoken more loudly to her than the ugly or the fear. Thankfully, overall, she has ended up in pretty good shape, the best of me and her father, but mainly just her own self.

She talked about realizing the reason she loves English and she loves to read stories is not because she loves analyzing literature – even though it is one of her gifts  – but because of the people, the characters, caring about them and their journeys. The reason she is considering teaching at some point is because she loves people and she wants to be part of their experiences of growth and discovery. She said people are her passion. Loving people is her gift. An introverted people lover.

I might have said something like “why can’t you go to Appalachia like a normal kid?” but I’m not sure. And seriously, is there anything wrong with me momentarily wishing she’d just get a summer job at Yogiberry for gas money and leave it at that?

I know this is about her own journey with God, too. She loves God. Sometimes it scares me how much she loves Him. And trusts Him. She told me she thinks she should go to India because God tells us to use our gifts and if we are being honest, her gifts don’t include construction work in Appalachia or anything like that. Her gifts are tied up in caring about people and writing and traveling and working to understand other cultures and build bridges. She spoke passionately about believing she’s EXACTLY the type of person these organizations want to learn what they have to teach. And believing she can share it going forward by putting it into action in ways that utilize her gifts. She is being driven by a growing sense of purpose and responsibility.

I told her she sounds like my Dad. She said, “you know I strive to be like him, Mom, right?”

She is like him already, maybe more than she knows.

Girl is wise beyond her years and she has an inner confidence that can be surprising for someone so young. And yet she’s reluctant to be out in front; she’s a gentle spirit, a quiet leader. I read somewhere that quiet power doesn’t make a lot of noise. It’s like light. It shines and makes things grow.

I told her again how very much I love her heart. I love her heart for people. I love that she wants to go everywhere and see and understand ALL THE THINGS. I love that she wants to grow and share her gifts.

AND I told her we can talk more with Daddy when she comes home next week for fall break. My inclination is to say she should get her first full year of college successfully under her belt and if she still feels this way next fall, she can apply for the trip then. They go every summer. It doesn’t have to be THIS summer. She seemed ok with that. Sort of. We’ll see.

She told me she is exploring what major to declare with guidance from her advisor because she went in undecided at the last minute. Right now she’s leaning toward majoring in something like Sociology or Political Science with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. She is thinking about some sort of nonprofit work for awhile, maybe then grad school and/or teaching. We’ve come a long way from I want to study Literature to I don’t think I want to go to college to I think I want to take a gap year to I want to be a teacher to now. Who knows, but clearly she’s finding her way.

Truth is, she’s doing everything I hoped for her as she started her college career. She’s living her own life to the full, taking advantage of all of the resources and opportunity before her, figuring out who she is, what she wants to do. And more. I’m so happy for her, and proud.

Even if I still think, “Why India? Why YOU?”