Goodbye: doors

Several years ago I wrote a poem—which I’ve since lost—about the doors in my house, all their openings and closings, their slammings, their lockings. Sometimes their replacements. And the way they look now, all open.

Other than the front door, my favorite door is the back door that opens from the back living room to the back porch. It has built-in blinds that can be opened or closed, pulled up or down. It’s one more way we let in the light. Every morning I open them up, and every evening I close them. I love the combination of a door with blinds.

Except for these other doors in the house, originals from the ’70s, which don’t have blinds, exactly, but slats. The doors open to closets, mostly. I don’t understand the point of the slats. Are the closets suffocating? Does the monster inside them enjoy a smidgen of light?

As I do with all my mysteries, I consulted Google. They’re called louver doors. Supposedly, they add charm.

Are you feeling charmed?

Charmed can mean, according to more handy-dandy Googling, polite pleasure, as in, “Pleased to meet you, charmed, I’m sure.” Or it can mean protected by magic, as in, “Hi, my house is haunted but in a good way.” Have these charming slats protected us? Possibly. By forces beyond our control? Surely.

So, thank you, slats, for whatever you’ve kept out or kept in. for lending a little of your charm.

Goodbye: garage

The two-car garage was one of the perks of this house. Our previous garage was a single, so it’s been a luxury to park both cars—one a pickup—inside. There have been seasons when we didn’t park in the garage, like when our son used it for a weight room, but for the most part it has been a wonderful slice of storage. There are built-in cabinets, and we have a bookshelf in there, full to bursting. But my favorite storage place is the corner cabinet, just off the kitchen. My sentimental cabinet.

It’s tall, almost floor to ceiling, with three deep triangle-shaped shelves that come to a point in the back. I use it to store my extra dishes, fine china (never used) and Christmas china (often used). Each year around Thanksgiving I make the switch from a mixture of my white French Countryside and my grandmother’s Desert Rose to a hodgepodge of holiday settings. Some belonged to John’s grandmother, some to my mother, and most are gifts. Want to know what to buy me for Christmas? One cute Christmas bowl, please. Or a mug. Or a platter. None of it needs to match.

My sentimental cabinet also has my grandmother’s crystal punch bowl and glasses, which she was certain I’d use for a birthday party for my daughter, who was under 10 at the time. I have a porcelain candy dish hand-painted by John’s grandmother. Also a few things items that are only meaningful to me, like a mug from TV show “Community,” which was a gift from my son.

I could give our 11 years in this house a subtitle: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Garage. Because I didn’t always love it. I worried over it, worried in it. I always meant to paint it and never did, to do a cool floor covering and never did. It is this extra space that I fill imperfectly and still love.

 

 

New Year’s Blessing from Captain Jim

I recently finished reading L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne’s House of Dreams,” the fifth in the Anne of Green Gables series. One of the best parts of the book is Captain Jim.

Anne, Gilbert, Leslie, Marshall, and Jim are all at the lighthouse, waiting out the old year.

A few minutes before twelve Captain Jim rose and opened the door.

“We must let the New Year in,” he said.

Outside was a fine blue night.

Everyone stands before the door and waits, each lost in thought. Then the clock strikes twelve.

“Welcome, New Year,” said Captain Jim, bowing low as the last stroke died away. “I wish you all the best year of your lives, mates. I reckon that whatever the New Year brings us will be the best the Great Captain has for us—and somehow or other we’ll all make port in a good harbour.”

Happy sailing in 2017, friends.

Have Yourself a Melancholy Christmas

If you don’t recognize Christmas as the season for melancholy, then you’re not paying attention. There are two places where we’re expected to be of good cheer: ads, which promise to make our days merry and bright (for a fee); and Facebook, which, let’s face it, is created by algorithms. The songs, the movies, and the TV specials are written by real, live, heartbroken humans.

Here are 12 examples:

  1. “Charlie Brown Christmas”—Not just the tree but the rejection.
  2. Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in “Meet Me in St. Louis”—The big picture window, Judy singing, Tootie weeping, then the destruction of the snow family.
  3. Speaking of snowmen, “Frosty, the Snowman”—Melts.
  4. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—Worse than the reindeer games, there’s parental rejection and a baffling Santa.
  5. “It’s a Wonderful Life”—Driven by a suicide attempt.
  6. “A Christmas Story”—“Oh, my god! I shot my eye out!”
  7. “The West Wing,” “In Excelsis Deo”—Featuring homeless veterans and others who die on Christmas Eve.
  8. “The West Wing,” “Noel”—Everyone’s favorite holiday diagnosis, PTSD. Courtesy of exquisite cello-playing by Yo-Yo Ma.
  9. “Blue Christmas”—Courtesy of Elvis.
  10. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”—Minor key and words to match.
  11. “White Christmas”—“Just like the ones I used to know.” He’s stuck in “Beverly Hills, L.A.”
  12. and of course, “A Christmas Carol”—I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

As I make my melancholy list and check it twice, I realize I could easily double it. Because Christmas is the perfect season for sadness. It’s the one day of the year you actually have an excuse. Just tell the stranger who suspiciously eyes you sniffling that you can’t make it home for Christmas, and they’ll put an arm around your shoulder. Or say you miss your special somebody at the holidays, and you’ll get a sympathetic smile. If you are being visited by ghosts, I’d keep that quiet, but if the haunting has moved you to tears over the plight of your co-worker, whom you previously ignored at best and despised at worst, by all means, weep openly. Then buy them the biggest goose in all of London (or your fair city).

Maybe it hits you in church on Christmas Eve. You don’t have time to be there, but there you are, as the soloists’s attempts at glory and the pastor’s attempts at depth blow past you. Until you all light the candles and sing “Silent Night,” and somehow that third verse sneaks up on you, the word “redeeming.” Then you’re a puddle and you don’t know why. But somehow, as the service ends and you walk out into the dark, there are things you know.

[Spoilers follow]

You know singing carols around a tree is good for the soul. You know you’ll get to spend next Christmas in St. Louis. You know Frosty will be back again someday. You know that together you will defeat the Abominable Snowman. You know Clarence will get his wings. You know you will never receive a better Christmas present. You know Mrs. Landingham is coming to Arlington Cemetery. You know Leo is the guy who jumps in the hole with you. You know Elvis will never die. You know “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has been around since it was sung in Latin, so you have centuries of comfort in your “lonely exile here.” You know you can have a white Christmas with every Christmas card you write. And you know that although Christmas is often hard—oh, so hard—it’s not a humbug.

 

Goodbye: front door

Previous goodbyes are here, here, and here.

I made a pitch to bring the front door with us, but that would’ve meant replacing it before we listed the house, and frankly, we had other things to do.

When we bought the house, it had a plain brown interior door serving as a front door. It was the opposite of curb appeal. Also, the house was built in the ’70s, when the homebuilding motto seemed to be Whatever You Do, Don’t Let In Any Light. So as soon as we could, we replaced the front door with one made mostly of glass, to let in light anyway. The new door is red (barn red), and the glass swirls to form a cross, if you look closely.

If I want this particular door, I can buy another one just like it (this one came from Lowe’)s. Or I could paint the beige front door on the new house a barn red. The new door is half glass and also has a cross, a less swirly one. The new home was built in a different decade, when light was deemed permissible, so glass is less urgent.

Glass not only lets in light but implies a degree of transparency. When I toured Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2012, our guide pointed out that the new buildings built after the bombings of The Troubles were made of glass, “to show we have nothing to hide,” he said.

More natural light also means less artificial light. Painting the interiors of this house in white and light neutrals, opening the blinds every morning, and even cleaning the windows brings in light the original builder never intended. Sure, light does show flaws. But after the troubles, there is nothing to hide.

Goodbye: front porch

Previous goodbyes here and here.

You’ll notice a theme in these posts—from the outside in. I remember the day we first saw this house with our realtor, and we walked all around the outside before going in.

This front porch is smaller than the one at our house in Waco, but it’s still big enough for a swing. The new house has no front porch, so I’ll be leaving the swing.

It was a Father’s Day gift from my dad to my husband. Our son was born later that same June. Instead of buying me flowers, Dad filled our one flower bed with 60 petunias. I fed babies on that swing and read to squirmy children on that swing.

Once we moved the swing to this front porch I had many a phone call—pleasant and less so—on that swing. I read to myself there. I watched storms there. Often I prayed there.

Letting go of the swing and the front porch feels like letting go of the kids. But then again, this new house is our empty-nester house. Our son is gone, and our daughter goes to college soon. Tis the season to let go.

But it would really help if the new owner just happens to mention, “Oh, I love that front porch swing!” If someone is going to love this front porch as much as I have, it will be easier to leave it.

Goodbye: back patio

Continuing my goodbyes to our house, as started here.

This house was our rental when we moved to Fredericksburg, and when we realized we couldn’t afford anything else, we worked out a price with the owner, who was anxious to divest himself of rental property.

Originally, the house had a tiny back patio with a rusting tin roof. After a hailstorm brought us a new one, we expanded the roofline and the patio on a chilly day like today. (It was 18 degrees, and the workers had a little fire pit going.) Since then this patio, with a ceiling fan and an octagonal picnic table built by my husband, is my favorite room of the house.

I’ve spent countless hours writing out there. I wrote most of The Joy of Poetry there. I wrote The Joyful Partnership of Poetry and Memoir workshop there. I wrote 11 years worth of articles, features, WOTYs and columns there.

But this fall I’ve written more inside. First it was too hot, then it was too cold. We rearranged the room off the patio, which is the brightest room in the house, and now it’s easier to work there. I’ve been writing a new workshop, Tea Time: Writing Our Leaves and Our Lives, inside. I hope it will be okay, but not writing outside doesn’t feel okay.

The patio is a microcosm of our history with this house—we took hail and turned it into a home improvement project. Every square inch of this home is better than we found it, although sometimes it took a crisis for us to act.

Our new house has a smaller patio on a smaller lot, meaning no room to expand the patio, hail or no hail. The picnic table/writing desk will come with us. My writing will have a new view.

Goodbye: maple tree

We are moving … 2 miles. (I use the numeral 2 instead of the word “two” so there is no misunderstanding.) Same city, same zip. We are staying in town, buying a new-to-us house. This is why there is a For Sale sign in our front yard as of this morning.

When we moved here eleven years ago it happened fast, and I didn’t get to say all my goodbyes. So I am starting today, with the maple tree that until Monday was in our backyard.

A crew came to take it down, limb by limb. Four or five guys, a couple of ladders and a cherry picker picked it apart. It took a couple of hours to dismantle something that took decades to grow.

Now there is only a stump, a large one, reminding me how grand this tree was. My favorite. My first maple. They don’t grow where I grew up. It was twice taller than the house, and its leaved turned in the fall—no small miracle for someone who grew up with only cedars and live oaks.

The tree died—though we didn’t know it—in the drought. We’d been homeowners before but not during an Exceptional Drought (official designation). We didn’t know to mulch it and give it extra water. I would have emptied out the dogs’ water bowl on it every day if I’d known.

A year or so ago we had the city come and trim it off the power lines, and I got my hopes up because as soon as that dead weight was gone, the maple sprouted fresh greenish-red shoots. It was a sign! I started dumping out the dogs’ water on it every day to help it along.

But it was too late for signs. The tree was dead. The new growth quickly withered. The trunk turned black in splotches, like some kind of tree plague. And we would have left it there, a blackening splotch, until we decided to sell the house. You can’t tell a potential buyer, “Pay no attention to the dead tree.”

So we took care of the problem. The problem was that a tree should never have earned such a label. The maple became a problem because of weather and ignorance.

Our new house has two small trees. I don’t yet know who they are. The neighborhood is heavily treed, just NIMBY. If there is another drought, which is likely, I’ll know how to care for these little ones.

The stump startled me this morning after bringing in the dogs from our walk. The tree never looked that big until it was cut down.

I poured out the dog’s water over what was left of the maple. Not a baptism, but a preparation of the dead, which in this case means neither burial not cremation but being ground into mulch. Feeding the other trees in the backyard long after we live 2 miles away.

When tea saved the day

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Homecoming. We were sitting in the stands at McLane Stadium, waiting for the sun to pass us by and leave us in the sweet, sweet shade so we could enjoy a Baylor football game without sweating. When all of a sudden, everyone in our section noticed an ad on the Jumbotron for iced tea. And not just any iced tea—iced tea from McAlister’s Deli.

We all looked at each other, like we’d seen a sign from God and needed confirmation. The questions came fast: Did that really say they’re selling iced tea? Here? Today?

John confirmed it, naming the sections where McAlister’s tea was now—glory hallelujah—available. Amen.

I had already purchased a bottle of Aquafina water. It’s the first thing I do once I get through security, buy water from the first seller I see. Four bucks is silly, but not egregious when I can refill it at water fountains. At the previous home game against Oklahoma State, with the 1 1/2 hour lightning delay, I refilled the bottle many times.

But iced tea! Sweet and unsweet. Sweet John could be happy, and unsweet Megan could be happy too.

No one in our section got up immediately to buy the nectar, but as the game went on, each of us returned from our trips to the concession stand not with a black Baylor cup of Dr Pepper but with a crystal clear 32-ounce cup with a lid imprinted with the McAlister’s Deli logo and pierced with a thick green straw.

We sipped slowly, amazed at our good fortune. How were we, of all people, so blessed?

Yes, $6 was a lot for tea, even if it was “handcrafted,” but I doubt any other $6 purchase has given me such pleasure.

By the end of the game, since so many of us had tea, it became important to keep our cups close. We love our neighbors, but we do not wish to accidentally share each other’s libations. I’ve made that mistake before, grabbing John’s sweet tea in the car instead of my unsweet, and the most horrific gagging noises ensued—noises I could not make on television in case small children were watching.

I kept the cup with me as I left the stadium, sneaking it onto the city bus. (It was empty, Mr. Driver. I don’t throw out tea or fail to finish it.)

I knew I would keep this cup for a while. It would become my new car cup, refilled daily with tea before running errands. It wouldn’t last forever. Nothing good ever does. But it wouldn’t need to. Only until the next home game.

Shelly Miller’s “Rhythms of Rest”

It’s finally here–Shelly Miller’s book on Sabbath, Rhythms of Rest.

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I am different from most people in her Sabbath Society because I was already well-acquainted with the practice of Sabbath. It was part of my life for 10 years. It was the subject of my first blog, “Sabbath Says.” I even did Sabbath the way Shelly does. It was not legalistic. It was about relationship. Relinquishing. Rest.

And then I stopped.

Again, my reasons were different. I did not get too busy. I did not let it slip away. Instead I—we, our family—entered what was essentially a three-year ICU.

If you’ve ever been in an intensive care unit or had a loved one who spent time in one, you know it is not restful. People are always coming in and out of the room. It’s never quiet—the machines continually beep and hum and drone. It’s never peaceful. It’s 24/7. It has to be. If a crisis happens at 3:14 a.m., you need to deal with it, no matter what day it is on the calendar.

Our friends Kevin and Sandy spent approximately six months at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Much of that time was in ICU. Kevin’s life was at stake, and when it’s life or death, there is literally no rest for the weary. He did get to leave ICU but only through the exit ramp of hospice. Less than two weeks later he entered eternal rest.

When our ICU period ended, I wanted to get back to Sabbath, but I was scared. What if we suddenly needed to go back in? Was it safe to take off 24 entire hours? Maybe I should just stay ready for anything and everything.

At the time I was asking those questions, I was also getting ready to rewrite my manuscript for The Joy of Poetry. I was determined to write with pauses, to take one day off each week during the season of Easter so I could meet my self-imposed deadline of Ascension Day. I chose to rest on Saturday, and I told myself I only needed to do it for those five weeks.

That was spring 2015. I’ve been back ever since, however imperfectly.

During our ICU years and even after they ended, Shelly’s blog was just about the only Christian writing I could handle. I don’t understand why. It’s been hard because a lot of great friends have written a lot of great books. Maybe I’ll get to them when I’m more rested.

Because those ICU years have taken a toll. I stumble into Saturday with an existential exhaustion, and I know there may be more ICU stints in our future.

But today Shelly’s book is here. Today I will brew some vanilla caramel chai tea and sit on my front porch swing and read. I will read it slowly, perhaps over several days instead of my normal posture, which is to inhale a good book. No, this one is different.

When I finish, I’ll be back here to tell you about it.