The Necessity of Close Community

 

 

The disasters of the past 2 months have been a sobering reminder to America of a fact our grandparents knew all too well:  community matters.  It’s a strange paradox, this modern American lifestyle.  Through Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and a veritable array of electronics, we’re connected to the world in our cars, homes, work places and everywhere in between in the blink of an eye; and yet, we’ve never found ourselves more isolated.  We collect thousands of friends on Facebook, but we don’t know and connect with anyone face to face.  No one knows us or our families and we don’t know them either.

I praise God that one of the indomitable qualities of the American spirit is our willingness to rally to our neighbors during times of devastation, but I propose that we do ourselves a disservice by waiting for a disaster to build a close relationship with our community.  I propose that the time to begin building a community is when times are good; the old saying that the time to make hay is when the sun shines isn’t just for the farmers among us.  So let’s talk about why community is important and how to get connected if you feel like you’re not.

What IS Community And Why Is It So Important?

The definition of community is a group of people living in close proximity, as in a neighborhood, village or city, but community is so much more than a group of people sharing a zip code!  Community is also a group of people sharing a common interest, purpose or goal.  Consider the days of early America, when our fathers were literally carving out homes in the wilderness, struggling to survive in weather they’d never experienced, against disease they had no names for, with new foods they’d never grown or eaten before.  Their goal was plain and simply survival and without the support of their community and neighboring communities, America wouldn’t be standing today.  Consider the water bucket brigade stories, when men, women and children would line up shoulder to shoulder and pass water buckets to put out a wildfire and protect a neighbor’s home.  Consider the countless stories of families in need finding baskets of food, firewood, medicines and necessities on their porch, left by unnamed benefactor.  Without community, we perish.

But not only is community necessary for our survival, it’s necessary for our well-being.  Whether we consider ourselves strong and independent or not, everyone needs encouragement and support.  We need the wisdom of the older generations, the enthusiasm and energy of the younger, and the validation of our peers.  A close, honest community gives us hope during difficult times, courage to pursue dreams and face challenges, and joy from intimate friendships.  Life is not a solo sport, my friends!  We NEED community!

How Do We Begin Connecting With Our Community?

The good news is that beginning to connect with our community is easy, but it won’t happen accidentally.  Intentionality is the name of the game here.  If you’re going to plug in, get connected and start building relationships within your community, there has to be an element of commitment, just like any other priority in your life.  Admittedly, it may feel awkward at first; it’s hard to be the new person or family, but push past that awkwardness and begin the process of getting to know your neighbor and your town.

What are some ways you can become engaged with people living in your zip code?

  • Attend a nearby church
  • Volunteer to mentor at the local elementary school
  • Read to children at the library
  • Become a ‘room mother’
  • Take meals to new mothers, widows and shut-ins
  • Donate your time and supplies to a pet shelter
  • Visit nursing homes
  • Join a local quilting guild, exercise group or sporting club
  • Host a block party
  • Organize a neighborhood clean-up
  • Candy stripe at the hospital
  • Take food to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  • Create a fundraiser for a charity
  • Serve at a Veteran’s breakfast
  • Turn a vacant lot into a community garden
  • Eat at the local greasy spoon
  • Go to high school football games and cheer the loudest!
  • Teach a class (gardening, sewing, canning, crochet!)
  • Get to know small business owners by shopping locally
  • Attend local festivals, fairs and parades
  • Take a class at a community college, extension office or parks department
  • If your neighbor has a yard sale, go.  If children are selling lemonade, buy a cup.  If the little old ladies at the local church are having a bake sale, buy cookies.  Donate to missions.  Buy Boy Scout popcorn and Girl Scout cookies.   In whatever ways you can get to know and encourage the people living around you, do it!!

Here’s the thing:  I know you’re tired.  I know you’re busy.  I know your schedule only gets busier over the next few months.  I know you have a lot of good things coming up;  football games, holiday meals, office parties, school recitals, Christmas shopping and family gatherings.  But as my pastor says:  don’t let the ‘good things’ prevent you from doing the best things.  Don’t let the busyness of life distract you from one of the purposes to life:  to love your neighbor as yourself and by extension, your neighborhood.  Become that smiling, familiar face that your community can depend on to show up and support them, encourage them and help them in difficult times.  All my best—

 

 

Home Warming – Or – Hygga For Beginners

 

Home warming has taken on an urgency for me of late.  As I’ve said before, I am no fan of winter.  I don’t like wind and snow.  I don’t like cold body parts.  I don’t like the 14+ hours of darkness and having to wear a dozen layers of clothing just to walk to the mailbox.  I’m a total summertime, heat-loving southern girl and about this time of the year, I can feel the dread building.  I wouldn’t call it depression necessarily, but a “funk” is quite apropos, I think.  I become sluggish, perhaps a little withdrawn and melancholy.  So the last year or two, I’ve put extra effort into creating an environment to lift the funk and enjoy the season; the Scandinavians would call it hygga, our grandmas would call it home warming.   Both people groups would call it creating an atmosphere of welcome and coziness, of little luxuries and creature comforts, of warmth, kinship and familiarity.

In times before central heating, electric lights and 24/7 communication, home warming/hygga was necessary for survival, both physical and mental.  We needed the season of rest, the tactile warmth, the small comforts and the togetherness to survive and thrive during those long winter months.  Unfortunately, our culture has rejected the psychological benefits of slowing down and gathering in…and it shows, my friends.  Up to 20 percent of Americans suffer from some form of SAD (winter blues) marked by decreased energy, lack of concentration, lack of interest in friends, family or activities.  Many turn to light therapy to treat SAD, and I think that’s great, but there’s still the psychological angle that we’re missing.   That coziness of home and family creates a sense of well-being that we still desperately need, maybe now more than ever!

So what are the steps we can take to begin home warming and make the coming cold, dark season one of blessings instead of burdens?

Home warming at its best!

  • Light a fire.  There is simply nothing that creates coziness in a room and draws people together like a crackling fireplace.  A natural wood fire is obviously the best choice, but even a gas or electric fireplace can create a similar effect.  Pull a chair close, add a thick throw and a warm mug of tea and that’s absolute bliss right there.
  • Use candles, flameless candles or lanterns.  Overhead, task lighting has it’s purposes, but there’s nothing like those little pools of warm, flickering light!  Coupled with warm fragrances, candlelight creates a literal “light in a dark place” that we are instinctively drawn to.  Think of Christmastime when there are no lights on in the room except for the lights on the tree.  That’s hygga at it’s best.
  • Add scents.  Nothing fake and perfume-y, thank you very much, but perhaps simmering spices in the steamer pot on the woodstove, boughs of pine or rosemary to toss into the fire, honey-scented beeswax candles.  Fragrance is a powerful connector that shouldn’t be overlooked!
  • Incorporate texture.  This one is huge for me!  Think of those traditional, cozy fibers and fabrics and incorporate them into every aspect of your life.  Warm angora sweaters, comfortable fleece-lined hoodies and leggings, thick wool slippers, downy comforters, flannel sheets, faux fur, thick knit throws, Sherpa coats, felted wool mittens.   Even on a modest budget, with some savvy shopping, you can incorporate plush textures, comfortable fabrics and warm fibers into every room and closet.
  • Bring the outdoors in.  Decorate with pinecones, evergreen boughs, chipwood baskets full of kindling for the fire, dried flowers and leaves in a wreath, a small stack of logs by the fireplace.  All these elements will help you feel connected with the outdoors even when it’s too cold to go outside.
  • Mindful indulgence.  This is a tough one for most Americans.  Our pendulum tends to swing from one extreme to another; from absolute deprivation to complete abandonment.  I think home warming/hygga during the cold and dark of winter calls for measures of indulgence that warm both body and soul, but those measures should be balanced with thoughtfulness and self-control.  Think small portions of excellent quality chocolate (no Hershey bars allowed!). REAL hot cocoa topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of red pepper.  Buttered tea sweetened with a teaspoon of honey.  Freshly popped kettle popcorn.  Mulled cider or wine.  A slice of warm pie.  A cookie fresh from the oven.  Savor the experience!
  • Enjoy simple, wholesome food.   Close on the heels of mindful indulgence is the need for basic, warm food.  Nothing warms body and soul during wintertime like a pot of bubbling stew, a warm loaf of bread,  a roasted chicken with root veggies or a hearty, cheesy casserole.  Keep it simple, my friends!  We don’t need complicated recipes and elaborate presentations to make a meal that nourishes our family and friends!
  • Relax with favorite activities.  Put down your hand-helds, America, and pull out a board game, a puzzle, a favorite book, cuddle under a blanket, watch a family movie or do a craft.  It’s no waste of time to slow your body, settle your mind and de-stress.  While we can’t hibernate (Oh I wish!), we can set time aside to rest and enjoy ourselves.
  • Spend quality time with family and friends.  I’m not talking about throwing elaborate dinner parties; just gather around the fire, enjoy a meal together, tell stories, play games.  Be with people that make you feel content, loved and connected.
  • Go outside.  Ugh.  I don’t like this one smidgen, but it IS beneficial to bundle up and get some fresh air.  (At least that’s what I tell the kids after we’ve been snowed in together for 5 days and I’m about to come totally unhinged.) Take a walk, play in the snow, ride your bike or just take a car ride to see the scenery.  Nothing will make you appreciate a warm hearth, cozy slippers and a steaming mug of cocoa like freezing your fanny off outside. 

I don’t know what the Old Farmer’s have predicted for this year, but I’ve already begun the process of home warming for winter.

The heavy blankets are coming out of storage to be aired, yarn is being knitted or crocheted into hats and scarves, firewood is being stacked and the pantry stocked with small indulgences like quality teas, chocolates and coffees.   While I can’t control the arrival of the season, the length of the day or the bracing temperatures, I can control my response.  When the {{{brr shiver shiver}}} arrives, I plan to greet it like an old friend and enjoy it’s company for a short season and I hope you will too.  Til next time–

The Importance of Tradition in Modern Life

 

 

The Importance of Tradition; baking Christmas cookies to bless others.

 

The importance of tradition has weighed heavily on my mind over the past couple years.  My husband and I are of that age where we’ve begun losing parents and suddenly we are the matriarch and patriarch of this crazy little Lynch family.  The elders are gone.  The aunties and uncles and grandparents are gone and we’ve become solely responsible for instilling heritage, values and memory into our children.  It’s a daunting task in many ways and there are moments when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  Tradition is such an emotional topic, especially when there are children involved, but I think there’s substantial enough value in creating and carrying on tradition that it necessitates sometimes-uncomfortable conversations. So let’s talk about what traditions are, why they’re important and how to develop them.

Merriam Webster defines tradition as:

Definition of tradition

  1. a:  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom) b:  a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable

  2. :  the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

  3. :  cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

Kinda dry, though accurate.  It’s beliefs, it’s customs, blah blah blah.  But I love what Megan Cox says in
The Book of New Family Traditions (Revised and Updated): How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day:

“any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”

Love that!  It’s the purposeful and intentional repetition that creates a magical moment out of the mundane.  It’s not just the doing of the tradition, it’s the knowing that we’re going to do the tradition and that there’s an importance behind it that goes beyond the doing of said tradition.  (Does anyone else think that sounds like something Captain Jack Sparrow would say?? lol)

Why are traditions so important?

  • Family traditions are an important tie to our culture, both national and familial.  They’re a special reminder of our heritage and an amazing opportunity to teach children about our cultural and religious histories.
  • It’s a thread that ties the generations together.  In many ways, a tradition is a memorial, a remembrance of who we are and how we got there.
  • It strengthens a family’s bond and provides a manner of security and comfort which is hard to find in this topsy-turvy world.  Just as children thrive with the repetition of bedtime routines, holiday traditions create a stability and constancy that kids crave.  There’s a security in knowing that Mamaw is going to bake the turkey, Uncle Chris is going to hand out gifts and Daddy is going to read the Christmas story.
  • Traditions connect us to the earth and the seasons and nowhere can that be seen as prominently as a farming community such as ours.

How do we go about creating traditions if we don’t have them already?

  1. First, start slow.  Take the time to decide the purpose you’re searching for behind a new tradition and try to incorporate facets of old traditions into the new.  The familiarity and constancy will serve you well.
  2. Create, change or drop what doesn’t work.  Oh, I know, this one might sting a bit, but if you’re looking to create memories and long-lasting traditions, you have to be flexible enough to bend when something isn’t working.  That may stir up some uncomfortable feelings at first, but remember that the point of traditions isn’t just to tie us to the past but to give us hope for the future.
  3. Make it personal and fun!  Tradition shouldn’t be drudgery and only you know what will work in your particular circle.  I’ve read these great traditions that people celebrate around Thanksgiving where they all stop and write down something they’re thankful for and then they read them afterwards, over pie and coffee.  Ugh.  While I love the idea on paper, application is a different story.  Do what works for you, not that family.

So how about some fun ideas to get you started on the road to family traditions?   I don’t think they have to be particularly impressive or expensive activities to be of value.  In our family, when I was a young girl, the opening of the gifts always began at 6pm promptly and not a minute sooner, no matter how we begged, pleaded, moaned or whined.  Instead of a big meal, we ate cookies and finger foods and drank special Christmas punch at my Mamaw’s house.  Now with my own children each Christmas Eve, Santa loses/hides the stockings and the kids spend a half an hour hunting the house high and low for them.  Which gives Mom and Dad and extra half an hour of sleep.  (Yeah.  Great tradition!)  Easter baskets are always hidden too, but the most excitement is when someone loses a tooth.  There is always a trail of fairy droppings (confetti) from the back door to the lucky recipient’s room and a dollar bill folded into a fancy origami figure.  I don’t know why, but that’s a big, Big deal.  My kids are older and don’t believe, but they still anxiously anticipate hunting for the stockings and Easter baskets.  Our 4th of July tradition is to drive down to the county fairgrounds and sit in the bed of the truck playing card games while we wait for the fireworks show to begin.  On Black Friday, we decorate the tree, on Beggar’s Night we battle it out with our church family for the best trunk or treat decorations, on the first Wednesday of December we serve a community meal at our church for our Village festival, and on the last day of school before Christmas break, Petunia always delivers small packages of homemade baklava to teachers and school staff that she particularly loves .  Not impressive, not expensive, but we do it every single year and that’s what makes it so meaningful.

Still not sure what to do?

  • How about a bank-holiday feast?  Is there a day the whole family is home from school/work and you can enjoy a special meal together?  Bring out the fancy china and do it up!
  • Is there a cause or a charity that you think is worth supporting?  Make a weekly family event out of it.
  • Churches offer any number of activities, especially around the holidays:  community meals, festivals and volunteer opportunities.  Pick one and do it…every…single…year.
  • Make an annual, local road trip.  I have no desire whatsoever to go to Disneyland, but I love driving to Amish country during the fall harvest to see the sheaves of wheat drying in the field.  And the kids love to laugh at the horse poo in the road.  Psssh.
  • What about performing random acts of kindness?  Say on the first day of every month, your family goes out and kindness-bombs total strangers in whatever manner you see fit.
  • Visit nursing homes and sing carols or go to the shelter and help with strays.

The possibilities are literally endless.  Just commit to creating a tradition, decide the purpose behind the tradition and let your imagination run!  I’d love to hear what you come up with, so let me know!  Til next time!

  

 

 

 

Recording Family History

 

 

I won’t lie to you.  When we bought our farmhouse, it was a HOT MESS.  It’s 14 rooms were jam-packed with furniture, books and clothing, most of which went straight into the dumpster as a result of decades of neglect, but every once in a while, we found a real gem.  On the top shelf of a bedroom closet, we found a pair of journals, stained and rodent-nibbled, but legible, recording our farm’s history from WWI-WWII.  Much of it was daily records of the happenings on the farm; how much milk Bessie gave, the going rate for a dozen eggs or a barrel of flour, the weather, a recipe for a cake that could be baked with rationed ingredients.  But then there were some zingers such as ‘my granddaughter was borned today, but I can’t visit due to the influenza’, and one that stated ‘Italy surrendered today’ (9-8-43).

Recording history:  Italy surrendered.

These people are long gone, their families moved on and left the area, but that glimpse into their lives remain.  Our great-grandmothers understood the importance of recording history and so they carefully recorded births, deaths and marriages in the family Bible, saved guestbooks from weddings and funerals, clipped wartime notices, retold the old stories and kept encyclopedic records of daily life.

 

 

Before the advent of digital storage, receipt books were the most practical means of preserving family information.  Left as an heirloom to children and grandchildren, receipt books contained the vital information, intimate details and tried-and-true wisdom that the next generation would need to prosper.  They often included favorite recipes, effective homemade cleaners, schedules, and suggestions for dealing with illness, housekeeping, laundry and child-rearing.  As late as the 1940s, receipt books were a common practice, but fell out of use in our post-WWII culture.  Thankfully, some of these old records were preserved and eventually published, and they give us a valuable glimpse into the lives of our fore-parents, outside of the officially sanctioned history books.   I’d like to see a revival in the old art of record keeping and I propose that it needs to begin with us!

 

 

I’ve kept a receipt book since my children were small.  It’s nothing more than an old journal but it’s being filled with what I think is necessary information.  In short entries, I’ve recorded vital family information like births and deaths, but more importantly, I’m recording family stories, favorite recipes and bits of information that could prove beneficial when my children are adults raising their own children.   You’ll find a recipes for Isaac’s fried corn, Mara’s breakfast cocoa and our favorite biscuits.  You’ll also find stories about the day they were born, funny anecdotes from their early years and simple “feel better” home remedies.  There are stories of our faith, ideas for home, folklore and sweet messages from me to my children.  Sometimes I think it’s a silly thing to spend my energy on; other days, I feel like I’d give my right arm to know how my great-grandmothers would have managed a particular situation, which just validates the need for this sort of record.

 

 

So here’s my challenge for you:  I double-dog dare you to put pen to paper and begin recording your family information.  Yes, you could blog or do spread sheets or something, but I think paper and pen would serve your children better.  For several reasons.

  1. Technology changes and what may seem like a practical method now may be completely and totally obsolete in 20 years.  (See 8-track tapes.)  Books will ALWAYS be superior to digital information, though a digital back-up is not a bad idea.
  2. There’s a special connection made when you read it in another’s handwriting.  I have my grandmother’s recipe box and I love digging through, reading the old recipes written in her hand.  I can’t explain it, but it’s real.  Give your children the opportunity to see your world through your writing.
  3. A blank journal page and pen force you to sit, still your hand and settle your mind.  There’s no copying and pasting, no cropping and editing so you have to think it through ahead of time and I believe that creates an intentionality that you don’t get from a blank Word document.

The truth is we live in a rapidly evolving culture.  We’re more transient now than we’ve been since the inception of our nation, our generational spans are longer and our homes more broken than ever.  Those 3 elements create the perfect storm in terms of losing our family history and identity, but a simple hand-written (or Word!) receipt book can turn that tide, so I urge you to begin the practice today.  It’s going to feel weird at first, I admit it, but you are under no pressure to write a novel!  Use your own words, your own dialect and don’t apologize for it; no one is going to police your writing!  Now I know the next words that are going to come out of your mouths—-I don’t know what to write!—-and so I’m going to offer you a list of writing prompts.

  • A recipe for your children’s favorite dishes
  • Anecdotes from your childhood, like memories of your first home or favorite grandparent
  • Wisdom that you received from an elder
  • Life hacks that you KNOW work
  • Stories from the day your children were born or the day you got married
  • Suggestions for warming homes
  • Favorite child-rearing tricks
  • Family holiday traditions and where they started.
  • Health/medical issues that may effect your children one day
  • Family tree stories
  • Stories from the first day of school
  • Skills that you think are vitally important.

Having just lost 2 parents in as many years, mortality is real and in my face of late.  The fleeting quality of life is more real to me now than ever and so is the urgency to make sure my kids KNOW who they are, where they come from and how they got here.  Keeping a receipt book is one of the ways I’m making sure that happens.  I hope you’ll accept the challenge as well and begin while today is still today.  Til next time—

Resting From Labor

“He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” —Benjamin Franklin

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” –Leonardo DaVinci

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” –Ovid

Resting

 

Our Paps and Grannies knew the importance of resting.  It was both the cure and the prevention for anything that ailed you, from fatigue, illness and anxiety to stress, depression and sore muscles.  Combined with a glass of warm milk or hot cup of tea, there was nothing restomh couldn’t fix.  In our Judeo-Christian culture, until recently that is, Sunday was set aside as a day to cease labor, reconnect with family and worship the Creator.  As important as ceasing to labor, it gave us an opportunity to rest our minds from the trials of everyday life.  But we’ve gotten away from that.

Resting is a dirty word in American culture now and has been for several decades, it seems.  We love to go-Go-GO, work harder, faster, longer with no lunch breaks or vacation, nights, weekends, holidays….it’s all about climbing that ladder! No resting for the weary!  Filling every hour with productivity and fruits of our labors.  We can’t afford to waste time and energy when there’s so much to be done!!  And now, we’re farther behind than ever.  Our bodies are worn out from physical stress, our minds are frazzled from anxiety, our families are disconnected because we’re never home and even when we are home, we’re not there.

It’s time to take a breather.  To give our bodies a chance to rest and rebuild.  To give our minds a time to slow down.  To refuel for the next challenge.  To rebuild relationships.

It won’t happen by chance, my friends, we have to be intentional about it.  Plan a day each week, or even an afternoon, to spend napping in a hammock, playing board games with your children or listening to the roar of the ocean.  Eat a simple meal.  Take a walk.  Go to church.  Call your mother.  Relearn the age-old practice of resting—your mind, body and family will thank you.

I wish you a blessed, happy, relaxing Labor Day!  Til next time—

 

 

Practicing Biblical Hospitality

 

Coffee and hospitality are kith and kin

I learned the art of hospitality at my Mamaw’s elbow.  When I was young, her house was THE place to be.  It was a little 5 room house in the middle of nowhere with no air-conditioning, but it seems there were always people there.  For holidays, we just squeezed extra chairs into the little kitchen and made do.  In summertime, everyone piled outdoors and we spent the humid, buggy evenings under the Catalpa tree or on the porch swing.   Aunts, uncles and neighbors sipped coffee or iced tea while the children waded in the creek and my Mamaw swatted flies.  It was the same way at my Great-grandma’s in eastern Kentucky, bless her heart, except the house was even smaller and she was much older.  We never really DID anything, we just WERE, and that was enough for everyone.  My grandmothers were experts in the skill of cordial reception.

I don’t feel like hospitality is a skill that comes easily for me.   By nature, I’m a bit of an introvert.  Okay, truth be told,  I could probably become a recluse pretty easily.  Given the drama of modern life, I could totally check out, lock the door, gate the driveway and spend my life communing with myself.  But as hospitality is a quality synonymous with my Appalachian/Tidewater/Southern culture, I’ve made the decision that it’s a skill I’m going to learn, even if it kills me!  So recently, I started studying hospitality and had what can only be described as a “Well DUH!” moment as I discovered that I had NO CLUE what hospitality was about.  Despite the fact our culture uses the words entertaining and hospitality interchangeably, there’s a world of difference there.  According to the Free Dictionary:

Entertain: To hold the attention of with something amusing or diverting.

Hospitality: Cordial and generous reception of or disposition toward guests.

Well now, those are very different meanings.  It’s not hospitality I loathe, it’s entertaining.

Entertaining says “Look at me and what I did to amuse you!  My house is spotless, I worked hours on your meal, I perused Pinterest for a solid day to find the perfect dessert recipe, I folded your napkins into little swans.  Aren’t I amazing?!  Aren’t you entertained?!”  It’s about impressing people, and impressing people isn’t about loving them, it’s about loving you.

Hospitality says “You look exhausted.  Why don’t you come over for supper tonight?  We can have leftover pot roast.”  It’s about taking the focus off self and placing it on others, who likely need the focus far more than you do!  It’s a means to imitate Jesus, who fed the hungry, welcomed the poor and washed the feet of his Disciples.  It’s worrying less about the place settings and more about who is sitting in the place across from you.

So why don’t we practice hospitality anymore?  Several reasons come to mind.

  • First, I think we’ve absolutely confused hospitality and entertaining.  Hospitality is peace and comfort.  Entertaining means stressing out over how the house looks, the meal we’ll serve and where the salad fork goes.  Life is stressful enough without inviting more stress in so why bother?
  • Second, we’re so stinking busy with work, school, kids, extracurriculars and volunteering, who has the time to add anything else to the schedule?
  • Third, we live in a culture obsessed with perfection.  We watch these silly DIY programs that show us how our homes SHOULD look with the perfect appliances, granite counters, expensive art work and perfect shade of navy blue paint on the walls; and our homes don’t look that way, so we’re loathe to have people in.  But friends, it’s all an illusion.  THOSE homes don’t look like that except through creative, deceptive editing.
  • Last, we’re afraid.  Of being judged.  Of making mistakes.  Of being too real.  Of feeling awkward.

But as we can plainly see, it’s possible to offer a “cordial and generous reception” regardless of whether your carpet is stained, your place settings are mismatched or you burned the biscuits because you were too busy talking.  Hospitality is all about being with people.  Doesn’t that lift the burden of having people in?

If you’re a follower of Christ, the practice of hospitality isn’t a suggestion, but a command.  We’re called to meet the needs of people around us, which can be a daunting task, especially if you confuse hospitality with entertaining.  But let me make that task a little less daunting by offering these words to you:  Jesus never said serve 5-course meals with fine silverware on an heirloom mahogany table.  He said “Feed my sheep.”  He never said, when I was a stranger, you rented a bouncy house, threw a themed buffet and had the cutest party favors.  He said “You welcomed me in.” Isn’t that beautiful?  Jesus just ate with people (fishes and loaves!), comforted the sick and the poor and we should do the same!

So for those of us (self in particular) who sometimes struggle with the idea of opening ourselves and our homes to strangers…what are some baby steps to help us learn the skill of hospitality that our grandmothers practiced so effortlessly?

  • Start slow – What if you asked one couple to come over for coffee once a month?
  • Keep it simple – Elaborate meals and presentation are not required.  How about pizza on paper plates and cold iced tea?  Or as the weather cools, a bonfire with marshmallows and spiced cider?  Coffee and cake after church?
  • Look to fill a need – Is there a new mom that could use a break?  A house-bound neighbor?  A college student just home from school for the semester?  Feed them!
  • Do it on the cheap – Don’t get hung up on elaborate ingredients, expensive china or new furniture.  See:  Keep it simple.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Like any other skill, hospitality improves with practice and eventually it will become second nature.
  • Accept invitations  A simple way you can learn to offer hospitality is by accepting hospitality.  What did your host(ess) do that made you feel warm and welcome?  What would you do differently?

We all want to be world changers.  We want to know that our lives count for something and that when we’re gone, we’ll leave the world just a little better than when we got here.  Perhaps the most practical way we can effect that change in today’s hurting world is by opening up our hearts and homes and welcoming in a stranger.    Til next time—-

 

 

A Soft Place To Fall

Summer vacation ended today and my sweet children returned to school after a long, lazy break.  It’s odd…you don’t realize how quiet this big, old farmhouse is until the kids are gone and there’s no one fighting over the remote or wrestling the dogs.   With the return to school comes a return to homework, projects, flute practice, recitals and a flurry of other events that leave us breathless long before our winter vacation begins.  Throw in Mom and Dad’s busy schedules, commitments to church and community and “bonus” activities like birthdays and holidays and our lives feel more harried than ever.

It wasn’t til I returned to work after 12 years of being a stay-at-home-mom that I learned the importance of warming the home; not literally of course, but in spirit.  After a frantic day at school, the only place I wanted to be was home, with my people, gathered in around the fireplace.  The thick, plaster walls of this home that’s seen 2 centuries of life serve as a shield from the noise and desperation of the world outside.  A warm home is a refuge; a place to nurture the senses, restore the spirit, rest the body and calm the mind.  A place to drop all pretense and immerse yourself in the warmth of family.  Home is not just a house, but a haven, a place of respite.  So how do we go about creating a soothing environment that will comfort our family after a long day in the world?  Let’s use the five senses to map out a warm home.

The #1 thing that makes a room visually uncomfortable is clutter.  There’s something I find incredibly calming about clear countertops and tables.  Our eyes need a place to “rest” and surfaces that are covered in papers, junk, knickknacks and personal items create a frantic space that doesn’t allow that rest.  It took me many years to figure out that simply clearing off the kitchen counters, supper table, desks and side tables reduced my anxiety.  Isn’t that crazy?!  So clutter is enemy #1!  Color and lighting in your home also serve to enhance or detract from the mood.  Of course, this is all subjective and everyone’s preferences will be different, but there’s a coldness to overhead, task lighting.  It creates harsh shadows and feels sterile and busy to me, for lack of a better word.  Unless we’re actually working on a task that requires bright, overhead lights, I prefer the soft glow of table lamps and electric lanterns.  When it’s cold and dark outside, I feel especially comforted and drawn to those small, cozy areas of light.  Not sure that lighting really affects the mood of the house?  Imagine a home that’s dark except for the glow of the Christmas tree and it’s hundreds of twinkling lights.  Home, in the most literal aspect, should be a light in dark places.

Fragrance is also vitally important.  Of course we don’t want our homes to smell bad, but how much thought do we give to the impact that a pleasant fragrance has on the mood of our home?  There are certain scents that are indelibly etched in my mind, in connection with particular people.  I cannot smell the aroma of cinnamon Redhots without thinking of my grandmother’s kitchen and a particular dessert she was fond of baking.  Fresh, wild honeysuckle reminds me of my mother-in-law.  Buttercream, of my mother and her favorite candles.  Scent is a powerful, powerful force in creating mood and memories, so why not use it to further enhance the comfort of your home?  In fall and winter, I keep a simmering pot of water on the back of the wood stove, full of cinnamon sticks, apple peels, whole cloves, used vanilla beans and whatever else I happen to have laying around the kitchen.  In spring and summer, lighter fragrances like hyacinth, lilacs and citrus are favorites.  A favorite trick of mine is to crack the front door when it’s time for the children to arrive home from school….so they can smell the aroma of dinner or dessert as they’re walking up our long driveway.  Typically, you can see when they catch that first scent of home as they quicken their pace toward the door! 

Inarguably, taste is my son’s favorite sense and the one he enjoys practicing most at this moment lol.  My children know when they come home from school each day there will be a small, delicious treat on the kitchen counter, along with a glass of iced tea, local milk or a mug of cocoa.  We don’t do a lot of processed or fast foods, so their snacks and meals are simple, hearty fare that reflect my Appalachian/Tidewater upbringing.  We enjoy seasonal homegrown veggies and carefully preserved fruits all year ’round and my little food-snob children are pretty quick to point out when restaurant food doesn’t taste as good as home cooked.  Love that!  They closely associate homemade food with celebrations and will happily tell you their favorite meals and what Mom does that makes them so special.

Aside from visual, touch is my most important sense when creating a comforting home for my husband and children to come home to.  Our home is 3100 sf, with 14 rooms and 10′ ceilings, but it feels cozy to me.  The carpet in the living room is soft and plush.  The fires in the wood stove and fireplace are warm and beckon you closer.  The old down throws invite you to cuddle with someone, even if it’s just our Pointer, Molly!  There are comfy feather pillows to rest weary heads and thick mattress toppers to rest tired bodies.  The tactile comforts of a cozy rocking chair pulled close to the fire and a blanket pulled up to my chin…oh that’s bliss.

And finally, the last sense is sound.  What is the soundtrack of your home?  Yelling?  Noisy TVs and electronics?  Conflict?  Rattle-y appliances?  Slamming doors?   Oh Mercy, sound is so influential to the mood of your home and it’s the sensory area I’ve had to work on hardest.  After a long, hard day, no one wants to be greeted with harsh words, so I practice putting extra care into greeting my husband and children with kind words each afternoon.  The TV is shut off and the first words they hear are how much I missed them and I hope they had a great day.  No quarreling about messy rooms or chores that need to be finished.  No loud appliances.  No yelling at the dogs for digging in the flower beds.  I want the soundtrack of our home to be loving words in a gentle voice.  And laughter, so much laughter!

Our lives are more stressful than they’ve ever been before and so it’s absolutely vital that we make our homes a soft place to fall.  Our spouses and children need to know that at the end of the day, no matter what school or work held for them, home is where their peace lies.  When they cross that threshold and close the door, the world has been left behind and what lies inside is comfort, coziness and acceptance above all.  Our grandmother’s practiced this skill—that’s why we have such wonderful memories of time we spent there!  While we can’t necessarily rush out and buy new plush carpeting, expensive artwork for the walls or eider-down quilts for the beds, we can use what we have at our disposal and invest ourselves into our houses to create an atmosphere worth coming home to.

Til next time—–

 

Christmastime’s A Coming…

 

I know.  I know.  You don’t have to say it….it’s WAAAAY to early to be thinking about Christmas.  But my friends, if you subscribe to the idea that handmade and from the heart is the way to go for Christmas gifts, NOW is the time to start thinking about it.  I don’t know about you, but beginning around early-November, our schedules take a dramatic uptick in general busyness.  Of course there’s Veteran’s Day remembrances and breakfasts, followed closely by Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  Not long afterwards, our little town holds “Christmas In The Village”, complete with a parade, shopping, and a free community dinner at our church.  Then there’s Petunia’s band recital, a church play with it’s weekly practices and Christmas Eve worship.   All of which I love and would hate to miss and would hate to miss, but there’s only so many hours in the day!

Schedules aside, in the past few years, my thinking about gift-giving has changed.  Oh Lardy, it used to be that I would work myself into a frenzy trying to buy the perfect gift for everyone on the list; children, adults, neighbors, siblings, parents, cousins, sibs-in-Christ.  And the older we/they got, the more difficult it became to buy gifts, especially with loved ones who live out of town or state and so the obvious thing to do was purchase gift cards.  Then one Christmas, I kid you not, we sat down in the living room and exchanged gift cards with our siblings.  That’s to say, we just traded them.  I must have had the most ridiculous look on my face as the full impact hit me.  We did nothing more than pass a gift card to the right and accept one from the left.  (Close your eyes and visualize that.)  The following year, things changed.  Well, my attitude changed.  My job as a dear sister and auntie wasn’t to make their Christmases;  my job as a sister and auntie is to love them.  And one way I can love them is to bless them with a little gift I made with my own hands, just a simple reminder of my affections.

So now, homemade gifts are at the forethought of my mind and my goal is to have 90% of the preparation done by Halloween.  Which admittedly is a big task!  I try to come up with new, fresh ideas each year as no one wants the same gift year after year and to which I can only say—God Bless Pinterest!  Some gifts that have gone over incredibly well in the past few years included handmade, scented soap with a homegrown loofa sponge and crocheted cotton spa cloths,  Anna/Elsa crocheted hats for my niece, homemade blackberry cordial, pans of baklava, jars of homemade maple syrup and so on.  For this year, I’m considering baking extracts,  blackberry mead, small quilted pieces, flavored honey, herbal tea blends and new scents of soap.  If things go well and I learn to weave baskets, there may also be a small basket or two to offer.  With the kids returning to school, I’ll use the lull to begin creating gifts and hopefully be finished well before my target date.

I’d like to share a trick with you that has served me extremely well in the past few years:  a gift closet.  So, memory isn’t one of my stronger points and invariably, I’m going to forget *someone* from my list and invariably, that person will show up on my door with a gift for me.  Que c’est embarrassant!  So over the past few years, I’ve built up a small collection of gifts that I keep on hand for just such an emergency!  Some of the handiest items have been small 31 totes and Longaberger baskets, candles, coffee mugs, books, candle frames, lotions, stuffed animals and inexpensive games.  A couple cute pieces tucked into a nice tote or basket make a sweet gift for anyone and you never have to worry about the person you’ve forgotten.  At least that’s been my experience with a gift closet!  Now is a great time to get started stocking your closet for the upcoming holidays.  Don’t be afraid to shop markdowns and seasonal items….a quality gift is a quality gift, no matter when you bought it or how much you paid for it.  Now get to it….it’s only 132 more days til Christmas!!!

Til next time, my festive friends!