The Receiving End of Hospitality

Recently I read a humor piece by a man who hates HGTV.  One of the reasons for his disgruntlement is that every couple buying or renovating a home claims to want a space for entertaining.  He writes:

"Maybe it’s just me, but I like to have people over approximately once or twice a year, tops.  But every couple on these shows has to make mention of the fact that they love to entertain. They love to have people over, and this open concept living room and kitchen is just perfect for entertaining!  Personally, I would add extra walls to give me more dark corners in which to hide when people visit."

This made me laugh, even given that fact that we entertain regularly.  Our house becomes a hub for friends, neighbors, and family on special events, like our recent Fourth of July bash which had so many side dishes that I dubbed it The Thanksgiving of Summer.

Plus, with my husband's job as a college football chaplain, we have large groups of young and hungry people over on a weekly basis.  We feed them from a crock pot so large that it resembles a trough.

Our brand of entertaining, though frequent, is rarely glamorous.  It's more like an assembly line where twenty guests make their way through our kitchen in a line and devour 15 pounds of taco meat, or pulled pork, or spaghetti with meat sauce, depending on what meal we prepare in bulk that week.  There are no frills, but there are plenty of dishes afterward.

This past weekend, though, I was on the receiving end of hospitality.  We visited my husband's aunt and uncle who live about an hour a way for the day.  It was a large gathering with cousins and cousins' children (who, according to Google, are called "cousins once removed," in case you wondered but, like me, can never keep the nomenclature straight.)  And there was food -- lots of food! -- and I prepared none of it.

I simply made my way through their kitchen in a line, sampling a bit of everything, and was so grateful for the hospitality.  When I commented on being chilly, my aunt-in-law (which is a term I'm making up, but think that Google would accept) loaned me a sweater.

I felt extremely welcomed and cared for.  It's good to be hospitable, and it's equally good to be on the receiving end of hospitality.


To the Next Crop of Young Mothers

Early yesterday evening I saw a teenage neighbor and her friend drive down our street, windows down, radio playing, friend in the passenger seat laughing, wind blowing through their hair.  It was the picture of freedom.

I watched with admiration.  It's been a while since I've looked like that.  I no longer leave the house at 7:00 in the evening, windows down, by myself or with a friend.  When I'm pulling away on our street, it's now in a minivan with three school-aged kids in tow.  I'm the mom shuffling kids to the pool with a tote bag for towels and sunscreen, or to the library with a tote bag for books, or to the grocery store where I forget our reusable tote bags and exit with too many plastic bags instead.  I always seem to be carrying things, like a Sherpa.

I'm the opposite of my teenage neighbor and her friend with the wind blowing through their hair.

Yet, as I watched their car disappear down my street, I remembered that years ago, when my children were babies, I often felt undeniably trapped during the evening hours.  I could get through mornings and afternoons, but evenings sapped my resolve.  My girls were most fussy after dinner, and I'd spend those languid evening hours rocking and pacing with a baby crying in my ear, feeling as if the walls of my house were closing in on me, that I might never make it through.

There were some desperate nights then.

Now, with school-aged kids, even though my days still brim with activity, shuffling, whining, correction, meal preparation, and cleaning up after messes, it's not quite as hard as those early years.  When I watched my teenage neighbor drive away, I experienced a small surge of wistfulness at her freedom -- just enough to remind me of how powerful that urge had been years ago, how I had felt that I needed to get out or I'd suffocate.

I don't feel that intensity any longer.  It's easier now.

But I know that some moms, especially you dear young moms who can't even slip out to Wal-Mart by yourselves for twenty minutes because babies need to nurse and toddlers are clingy, do feel this way.  The baby keeps crying, the walls are closing in, and you feel -- even though you love your children -- that you're losing a part of your mind or yourself.

It's real.

And, as I learn mostly in hindsight, it's a stage that passes.  You get yourself back. 

One day we were the teenagers driving away, carefree.  At some point, we might be the mom rocking the baby, watching the teenagers in the car and wishing it could be us.  And maybe, just maybe, someone older watches us when we're with our young children, reminiscing wistfully about those earlier years because their own children have grown and are now gone.  Life is funny.  The cycles keep cycling.

But, today, if you're going through a hard part of the cycle, give yourself grace and keep going.  It will pass soon enough.  Somehow it always does.


These Days, You'll Find Me in the Garage

We no longer can park either vehicle in our garage.  The entrance to one stall is blocked by a truckload of rocks that were delivered from a local home and garden center and now await their slow removal, wheelbarrow-full by wheelbarrow-full, as they get placed in our garden landscaping.

The other stall is slowly getting taken over by piles for the garage sale we'll hold at the end of the month.  As I carry boxes of outgrown clothes, books we'll never read again, and unneeded household items, I already hope for the elusive garage sale impossibility: that every single item will sell.

Between the boxes, I've set up drop cloths and a station where I'm working to refinish a cabinet, a bookshelf, and our kitchen table.  I finished the kitchen table once before and was so pleased with the results -- dents had been filled, Sharpie marker and other stains from the kids had been sanded off, and the new driftwood gray finish was a vast improvement from the old blonde wood.  My good work was short lived, though: months later, the kids spilled a bottle of nail polish remover on top of old work papers, which caused the print to transfer onto the table, decoupage-style.  So now I'm sanding it down and trying once more, hopeful that this could be the time that actually sticks.

This lifestyle of putzing and painting, working with my hands and cleaning up the messes from the rest of the year, fits the month of July, the one month where I'm most distant from academia.  In July, if you need me, you'll find me in the garage.


New Things: Vacation Edition

Last week we went on vacation with my husband's family.  Each summer for the past ten years, we've traveled together for one week each summer to the shore of Delaware, sometimes near Fenwick Island, and this year on the north side of Bethany Beach, toward Dewey and Rehoboth.

For obvious reasons, I love the idea of vacation.  It's a chance, quite literally, to vacate your normal routine.  I stepped away from teaching and campus, and I checked email just enough to be considered borderline responsible.  This was good. 

Even better, vacation is a time to have new experiences, a few of which I'll detail here for you.

1) Car Troubles.  About halfway to the beach -- deep enough to be far away from home, yet not deep enough to be close to our destination -- the transmission of our minivan spontaneously died.  It was ugly.  I never had given much thought how we'd navigate a breakdown on the highway en route to vacation, and I'll spare you the details, except that it involved a long wait and small rental vehicle.

I should add that our rental car was the cleanest vehicle that I have traveled in for the last decade, which (almost, but certainly not quite) made me forget about the accompanying expenses.

2) New Running Trails.  Almost every morning before the heat of the day, my husband and I took a run.  I'd like to report that we ran together, but he's much faster than I, so he'd join me for my first mile (his "warm-up") before I'd continue at my slower pace.

I found new trails that were flat, well-marked, and happily populated with a handful of walkers, bikers, and other runners.  Even though I got turned around one morning and ended up running a mile more than I had intended, I always aim to pick safe and easy routes when I'm in unfamiliar locations.  (One generally unstated life goal is that I refuse to become the subject of a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" article. Safety first, kids.)


Plus, one of the trails led me to a scenic outlook where I paused to catch my breath, watch the water on the bay, and take a picture of my feet, because you take pictures of your feet when you're on vacation.

3) Kayaking.  Our rental house had a kayak for our use just a short walk away, and one evening while I was on a solitary kayaking expedition, I saw a bald eagle.  He was so close I could see the yellow of his beak as he flew overhead, and then he landed in a pine tree where I sat and watched him, paddling every so often to keep myself anchored to the spot.

I had no phone with me to capture a picture, but I think I preferred just having the moment to myself.

4) Funland.  There's nothing new about our family visiting Funland at the Rehoboth Boardwalk, given that we've been taking the kids there for years, but this year Funland had a new ride: the SuperFlip 360.  I was born for rides like this.

But the moment I loved the most -- even more than riding with my kids, or the happy nostalgia of the books of green Funland tickets -- was when we met a 100-year-old woman who was in line to ride the tea cups.

That is how you live life.  You ride the tea cups on the boardwalk when you're 100.

5) The Fractured Prune.  Nobody in our family quite understands the name, but we were told a few years ago that we should visit a Fractured Prune doughnut shop.  This year we finally did.  I'm generally not a huge fan of doughnuts, as I have plenty of other dietary vices, but these were good doughnuts. 

6) Yahtzee.  My mother-in-law and I played four rounds of Yahzee during the week.  When we play, we don't just play a single column, either; we play Triple Yahzee, which gives you more places to bury bad rolls.  I was on a hot streak for three games (one game I rolled four Yahzees! Four of them, I tell you! That's a new record!), but I was slaughtered during the final game.  Alas, you can't win them all.

7) Sunscreen.  We've had this one bottle of sunscreen forever.  It never expires, and we frequently use it, yet we can never finish it.  My husband and I both marvel: how does this sunscreen never run out?  It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Well, this vacation, it finally ran out.  I have her to thank.

Now we're returning to the standard nuts and bolts of life back at home, like unpacking, doing laundry, buying groceries, and getting caught up with the mail.  It's good to come back to regular life, but I'm always thankful for that week-long chance to vacate it in the first place.

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