Category Archives: hospitality

Still Summer

I know it feels like fall. School is back in session. Football games have begun. Life has resumed routine. Morning drives to school find me facing a blinding low-rising sun in the eastern sky. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back.

But it’s still summer for a little while longer.

Today I celebrated that truth by stepping off into the deep end of my daughter and son-in-law’s pool and swimming to the other side. It was my first time in the water this summer. The sensation was lovely.

My intention was to try to turn around the funk that seems to have settled around my shoulders, pressing into my heart. Surely water and sunshine would wash it away.

It was worth a try.

Several of my kids and my husband joined me. Others sat on the edge. We talked and laughed. We played games.

It was a relaxing space to regain perspective.

I wish I could say I left my troubles at the bottom of the pool with the leaves that have begun dropping, but it is not that easy. I wish I could say that I have leaned from Dewey to just live in the moment.

I am still practicing and being given plenty of opportunities to do so.

This afternoon brought laughter and connection and escape. It brought exercise and fresh air and a son-in-law who grilled hamburgers while we swam in his pool.

It brought goodness and kindness and another reminder that even when life is hard and unpredictable and wearisome, there is beauty and joy and love.

It’s still summer.

Canoes

We left New Jersey late Sunday afternoon with hugs and goodbyes and a bag of baked potatoes. While the women were at The River House celebrating the bride, the men were home grilling steaks with the groom.

Would your family eat these potatoes?

There was a tray of foil-wrapped potatoes that had been baked and then overlooked. My mind immediately went to a meal I could prepare with them. I am always grateful for a gift of food, especially at the end of a full weekend when I am returning home after a 5 hour drive to a fridge with sketchy contents.

A bag of New Jersey baked potatoes traveled home with us. I used them for supper last night in the form of Canoes, which is our version of twice-baked potatoes.

Here is the recipe:

Canoes
Baked Potatoes

Butter
Sour Cream
Milk
Cooked bacon
Shredded Cheese
Green onions or garden chives

The proportions, and amounts are based on the number of potatoes being prepared. I don’t follow direct measurements I just put everything into the Kitchen-Aid and mix it together until it looks creamy and delicious. The ingredients can be adjusted based on taste preferences and fridge contents. It is a forgiving, flexible recipe.

Slice potatoes in half and scoop out the middles. Put the insides in a mixing bowl and the skins on a cookie sheet (like canoes).

Add a bit of softened butter and sour cream to the bowl and mix well.

Begin adding milk until desired consistency (like making mashed potatoes).

Chop the cooked bacon into bits (or just use bacon bits if you have them). Stir the bacon into the potato mixture.

Add the shredded cheese, saving some to sprinkle on top.

Season as desired (salt/pepper/chopped green onion or chives).

If you have people who don’t like onions, then scoop out some filling into the potato skin canoes before adding onions to the rest.

Sprinkle the tops with cheese. Sprinkle a bit of chopped onions or chives over the ones that contain onions to mark them from those that don’t.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until everything is heated through and the cheese is melted. You may need to adjust the time or temperature for your oven.

Enjoy!

This is a delicious summer recipe. I served it last night with sliced watermelon, a salad filled with goodness from our garden, a heart full of thankfulness for daily provision and happy memories of a special weekend.

Mother of the Groom

How am I the mother of the groom? How did this happen?

Tears streamed down my face and sobs filled my chest as I curled on the bed in the guest bedroom of my soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s childhood home. Her parents had graciously invited our family to stay with them for bridal shower weekend. Here we were.

It was late. I was tired.

We arrived Saturday evening in time for appetizers and dinner. Wine flowed freely into my glass. The large, gracious house was filled to the brim with family and bridesmaids, all converging to celebrate the beautiful bride-to-be at her shower the following day.

Experiencing Dana’s family space made me appreciate even more all of the times she had stayed in ours. There was a clear difference in size, decor, and number of people, yet she always was gracious about our accommodations when she visited us.

I did my best to avoid comparing and conjuring up stories of what everyone thought of us. This time was to celebrate the woman my son loves with his other family who loves him well. I was grateful to have a weekend of shared space together.

The 321 mile drive from Virginia to New Jersey was worth it, especially since all of my children can now tend their own rest area needs. In an act of brilliance my husband handed each passenger $5 at the beginning of the trip for any necessaries they may require along the way.

When we first met Dana, the not-so-little-anymores were 8, 6, 5, and 3. Now they are 15, 13, 12, and 10. They are all as tall as her or taller. I was struck by that reality as we emerged from the cramped mini van and crowded into the backyard. There were all of these big people. They were mine!

Gathering a plate of brisket, corn, and potato salad, I headed to the dining room where bridesmaids were seated around the table. Listening to their laughter and conversation took me to a young place inside. How could I be the mother of the groom when I felt younger than these women surrounding me? Where did time go?

This feeling is what followed me upstairs to bed that evening. It carried me into the space where my daughters were staying, Dana’s childhood room. A collection of Snowbabies lined a high shelf while her American Girl Dolls rested on another. A shelf of books caught my eye as did the bulletin board full of pictures, my son with her in many of them at various stages from ages 17-24.

All this is what primed my heart for the tears that began to flow, first in the presence of my teenage daughter standing beside me in the room, then with my husband comforting me in ours. Both offered kind space for my feelings that felt so big.*

I woke to coffee, quiche, and preparation for celebration. The bridal shower was beautiful. The joy was real. It followed my night of weeping.

I am here.

It happened because of grace.

*Edited to note that the flowing tears were only from me and not from said daughter and husband. They just kindly did not judge.

Tin Roof Sundae

I arrived at my friend’s house exhausted from a seven hour drive. What feels different from the last trip is the intensity of emotional work in addition to the changes and transitions going on at home.

Mid-winter is also not an active time of year. That first trip was an adventure and foray into the unknown. Now I know a little more about what I am showing up for. It is also spring, a beautiful, yet busy, time of year.

I remember when I was a young girl my Aunt Marilyn came to visit us on Nicholson St. in Maryland. She drove down from Michigan. I’m sure I spent the day eagerly anticipating her arrival and all the fun we would have together.

When she finally reached us, her first words were, What a drive. I need a nap. She lay down on the couch for a rest as we waited nearby for any indication that nap time was over and she was rested. (Meaning, any sort of movement whatever)

That is how I felt when I arrived. I set a timer and went to my room for a rest. After 30 minutes of quiet I was ready for a walk. We walked to get ice cream.

It felt good to move after a day in the car, and the company was wonderful. We walked and talked and chose our ice cream.

When I saw Tin Roof Sundae was an option, I knew I had found my choice. There are several stories there about me and ice cream sundaes and where Tin Roof Sundae ice cream enters my story. I also understand better why Peanut Buster Parfaits are my Dairy Queen weakness.

Now it’s time to rest and write and read and talk and transition into what is coming. I am so grateful for a kind space and for kind people who care for my heart and soul so well.

To all of you who care for, have cared for, are caring for me on this journey, know that I am so grateful and hold you close at heart.

Final Destination

Stay in the left four lanes of traffic.

The friendly GPS companion voice alerts me to a fact of which I am well aware. There are a lot of lanes of traffic to navigate. I stay in lane two of four. Traffic zips past me in spite of the 55mph posted speed limit. I keep checking.

Pain calls me to tension in my wrists, and l realize I have a death grip on the steering wheel. Deep breaths in and out and a growing trust in the vocal cues of my virtual co-pilot allow me to relax just a little.

I drive regularly on 81. There are a lot of trucks there, too. I am familiar with truck traffic, just not the kind outside of Chicago in more than two lanes. I strain to hear the next exit number and almost miss it. A last-minute swerve of faith puts me in the right direction. I breathe a prayer of thanks.

If there’s a traffic jam, you sit in it.

Choosing to move from the middle lane jammed with trucks to the left passing lane that is zipping along, I cut some travel time and break free of the congestion. Now to find a gas station with restroom facilities. I am still learning to stop at the last rest area before transitioning to a new traffic pattern, even if I don’t think I have to go.

Only I can know if I have to go to the restroom. No one else can do it for me. Here is a formula for me to remember from this day forth. 8 children + 46 years old = always stop

Today’s leg of the journey is short, only four hours compared to yesterday’s eight. Four hours is still a long time, though, and I am grateful for the coffee break provided by a friend and for an Allpoint ATM, since the tolls are taking a toll on my cash stash. I failed to thoroughly research that part of the trip. There are a lot of toll roads.

I should really look into EZ Pass.

After finishing the audio book, I caught up on podcasts for the remainder of the trip. Arriving in Batavia at my AirBnB, I was pleasantly surprised.

This is a restful, gracious space, kinder than I could have imagined. When I booked my (closer) location in December, I had no idea that the weekend before departure I would receive a message that my host had unexpectedly died (which is never expected), and my reservation was cancelled. This reservation was made last-minute, and is exactly right. I feel so grateful.

Exhausted from the drive, I plan to hunker down for the evening. There is a jacuzzi tub to soak in and a yoga studio on the third floor. The house is large and quiet and so right for this trip. Am I in denial about an early morning tomorrow and the beginning of three days of training?

Hmm . . . maybe?

Goodnight! Especially to the homefront. You are loved.

And missed.

 

On the Road

It was a full day of driving once I got on the road at 8:45, headed to a friend’s house in Toledo for leg one of my trip to Certificate 2 training in Geneva, IL.

Originally I thought I would rise and get on the road before everyone else woke up, getting a chunk of driving behind me and winding up at my destination in the early afternoon. It didn’t quite work that way, though.

I wanted to say a proper goodbye to everyone and didn’t want them setting pre dawn alarms and trying to get up before me. I decided to keep my usual routine and leave after dropping the girls off at school.

And walking Dewey.

Time in the car was long. I am grateful for Sheetz restrooms and turnpike service areas. I packed plenty of fruit, water, and protein bars to eat in the car. I’m listening to An American Marriage on audio book after hearing an NPR segment on it a week or two ago. A Contigo mug from home kept the coffee hot all day.

I arrived at my friend’s house at 5. Warm hugs and delicious stir fry awaited before we headed out to exercise. By exercise I mean enjoy the hydro massage tables and massage chairs and then decide we were really tired and ready to return home.

Hot tea and relaxing conversation, and I am ready to retire for the evening. I may stretch the kinks out on my yoga mat before hunkering down with a book to relax my eyes and brain. It is a luxury to be in my room by 9, one that I do not take for granted.

Thank you, Home front, for your tireless work to help this happen. I miss you all and am so thankful for you. Hugs and love!

Friendship Friday ~ Esther

I know what you do in your spare time. 

Esther’s knowing eyebrows move up and down rapidly. She says this each time I tell her, or she overhears, that I have eight children. She seems to know what everyone does in their spare time. When a portly man passes us on deck she looks to me and says, I know what HE does in HIS spare time.

Esther is 88 with bright eyes and a foggy mind. Attentive to her appearance, her thin white hair is updone with various clips and combs, topped with a black floppy bow. This gives the appearance of a crown which helps me to remember her name. Queen Esther. The black bow is a fixture of her look each time I cross paths with her.

She introduces herself as Esther the Pester, but I cannot bring myself to call her that as so many passengers do freely. Hey, Esther the Pester! To me she is just Esther.

She is the one who ends up with the heartiest portion of food at our plated dinner each evening. While my plate arrives with a small piece of fish and some steamed vegetables, Esther’s is piled high with pasta, topped with a chicken breast or two.

Oh my, I’ll never be able to eat all of this. Do you want some? This question is rhetorical, as Esther begins cutting into chicken and sliding pasta onto my plate. She comes from a time when it was a sin to waste so much food. I agree that it is wasteful, but how did I end up the starving child that Esther must feed?

I take the food onto my plate graciously, for along with the generous sharing of her food is the generous sharing of the wine she has brought on board. It is not a bad tradeoff. My glass is filled and refilled copiously.

Esther was a beauty in her day, I am told. I believe it. Her eyes still sparkle, and her smile is free. The deep wrinkles on her face give her character and don’t seem dour at all. She, or someone who loves her, is attentive to her appearance. She looks attractive and smart in her dress.

Each night the photostaff takes several pictures of our table. Esther looks lovely in every picture. She really does. This hints that she looked pretty good once upon a time.

I used to live in Hollywood at Hollywood Studios when I was younger. Several other girls who lived there became actresses in movies. I could have, too, but I wouldn’t cooperate. She says this with that up and down eyebrow movement of hers. It’s pretty clear that cooperating would have involved sleeping with someone somewhere along the line.

This conversation took place eight years before its time, back in 2009. The media had not yet exploded with Hollywood (and beyond) sexual harassment allegations. If hashtags were even a thing, they were not yet mainstream. I was just a young woman listening to an old one relate her life experience and a part of her story.

I assure Esther that I’m glad that she didn’t cooperate or we might not be sharing a table on this cruise ship. I have no other words to offer. Only presence. We sit.

If I get ice cream for dessert will you have some? What flavor should I choose?

Something in me senses that Esther is a Butter Pecan kind of girl, which is exactly what I request for her.

I am right!

Friendship Friday ~ We Belong to Each Other

Last fall I sat in a hospital waiting room late in the day drinking a cup of black coffee from a vending machine. I had pressed the code for a cup of comforting hot chocolate, but out came black coffee, so black coffee it was. It tasted good because I was so tired.

I was waiting to see how my friend’s mother was faring after a traumatic accident on my street. When her text came through asking me to come, I went, and remained throughout the day until returning late.

We belong to each other. All of us.

Sitting alone in the waiting room of the trauma center, I plugged my earbuds in to play music while journaling. I wanted to disappear into my own world, oblivious to those around me.

An older woman wrapped in hospital blankets was wheeled out from the treatment area and left beside me. Alone. Unable to stay isolated in my bubble, I felt compelled to demonstrate presence as she dozed.

I unplugged.

A local man recognized her and walked up to say hello, startling her awake. He introduced himself as a friend of her son, and while she did not remember him, he knew her. She began to explain her plight, how she fell the day before while riding on public transit, because her scooter was not secure.

He asked if Ray knew she was here. I sensed that Ray was a mutual hospital connection who would know her and could help. He looked over at me and asked, Are you here with her?

We had never met before, but I was with her.

The man tried to call Ray’s number, but did not get an answer. I’ll keep trying. Maybe he is in a meeting. He turned to leave.

I looked at the woman and she at me. She began to talk. I listened. She had been there since 5:00 that evening. It was 7:30.

A text came through from my friend asking to get some food for her mom who would be discharged soon and had not eaten. I took the order and stood up to go. Turning to my new friend, I asked if I could get her food, as well. She said yes.

I returned with her requested ham sandwich and Dr. Pepper as a nurse was preparing to take her back to receive further care. I was grateful for the handled bag I had taken at checkout as I hung it on the arm of her wheelchair.

She said, Thank you. I answered, Of course. Enjoy! We smiled knowing goodbyes having shared the sacred space of a hospital waiting room together. I took food back to the tiny trauma room that housed my friend and her mom.

The hospital is an hour from my home. We may never meet again in this life. But for an hour in the ER, the woman in the wheelchair and I belonged to each other.

Just like we all do.

Friendship Friday ~ Dewey’s Doggie Morning

My daughter faithfully rises early each weekday morning to walk and care for her dog. She is often up before me, pulling on a coat and slipping on headphones before grabbing the leash. I remain in my room, doing my morning routine, preparing to engage another day.

One morning, I heard unusual scrambling and barking from Dewey upon returning from his walk. Run-in with ZephyrI conjectured. She’s the boss of us all. I wonder what is up with them this morning. He must have crossed her.

I stepped out of my room to find a ball of white scampering around and under the dining room table with Dewey following closely behind, barking and snapping at it. It was another terrier.

I found Louie this morning on the walk. He was loose, so I brought him here to call his owner.

Sure enough, the name on his tag read Louie, which was kind of funny considering we have Dewey. We wondered aloud if they had been at the SPCA together, and if there was a Huey out there, also.

The morning routine continued as Dewey and Louie dashed around underfoot, reminding me of why I was hesitant to get a dog in the first place and why we have only one. Steve called the number on the tag which went directly to voicemail. He then offered the following words while preparing to drive Kirk to school:

I’m going to walk Louie around the block to see if someone is looking for him while Kirk finishes getting ready.

I got in my car to wait for the girls to come out for their ride to school. They exited the house as Steve returned from his walk around the block with another little dog under his arm.

I think they belong together, because this little one came running up. I had to grab him quickly before he got away.

Then there were three! I was laughing out loud in disbelief. The little brown dog had no tag. Of course we called him Huey.

Please don’t call the SPCA until I get home. The little brown dog is SOOOOO cute! Can we keep him?

I was beyond my comfort zone as Steve deposited the dogs in the backyard while I assured my daughter that I would make no sudden moves without her. We left for school.

I am not exaggerating when I say that at the top of our street there was a large white dog off-leash doing his business. No human in sight.

We are not even stopping for Donald! We have GOT to get to school. 

I returned home to the sight of two dogs looking longingly at me through the fence.

Inside, Dewey was waiting by the back door. I opened it for him to join his friends in the back yard.

There was an incredible amount of cuteness.

Then it was time for me to go to breakfast with my son. This meant bringing Dewey inside but leaving the others out in case their owner should come looking for them. Can you guess the dynamic here? Which dog is supposed to be coming inside?

Please can I come in, too?

After a leisurely breakfast downtown, my son and I returned home to an empty yard. The dogs had been picked up. At least I hoped so!

The call came later. The dogs had, indeed, made it home, and we had made a fun family memory. I’m grateful for caring hearts, bounding dogs, and healing laughter.

Also for a fenced-in yard.

Oh. And the little dog’s name is Chance.

Update

It’s dark here on the back deck of my grandparents’ home in Clinton Township, Michigan. The hum of the air conditioner unit competes with the chirping of the crickets, as the light from my phone competes with the stars.

Man-made sound and light drowns out those of nature.  The chatter in my head drowns out the still, small voice of the Spirit. I am pushed and frenzied and expanding to hold much, as I struggle to rest in the arms of the one who holds my expansive soul.

I turn the phone upside down on my lap to brighten the night sky. My eyes adjust to the shades of dark and the silhouettes of trees against the gray sky. Overcast clouds allow stars to shine behind, not through, them, as one or two dare to peek out before being hidden again quickly.

My last visit to this area was 26 years ago with my family and fiancé the summer before I was married. Michigan, the place of childhood vacations and Christmas breaks, was a chapter closed.

This week I returned with my mom and daughter and my brother and his daughter to visit my mom’s parents. Four generations gathered in a place I had never been. It is one that many of my older children have visited, taking trips with their grandparents.

It was my turn.

It is strange to inhabit a new space filled with childhood memories. Walking through the newer, modern home with its unfamiliar floor plan, I felt the walls and shelves both comforting and disrupting with their familiar decor. Much is from another era that I remember vividly, yet is also a blur.

This has been a visit full of laughter and tears and deep conversations. There have been times of wrestling and struggling in my heart concurrent with unexpected joyful and aha moments.

I have gotten face time with precious family members who hold shared memories and also surprises. I have drawn a clearer picture of people I love, as their faces and stories come more fully into focus. Hearing their perspectives, impressions, and experiences has brought unexpected tears along with head-nodding laughter.

I have connected more deeply with my people.

Those places of connection are settling in my heart as I ponder all the conversations that these days have held. The thing about real life stories and connections is that they belong to their own tellers. This is a space for mine, and for what I choose to process and share of it.

For now it is this picture of feet side by side and propped on a table as laughter rang out while tales were told.

And also the bowl of M&Ms that kept me grounded when I needed some space and chocolate.


Goodnight, Friends. I know it is late, but this is when it is.