Friday, August 29, 2014

Sorting Stuff and Those Copper-Coated Baby Shoes

The blue storage tub that was pushed way to the back of our cement-floored "sump pump" crawl space. It is hard to get back there, and a bit musty, so I don't venture very often. But, we are trying to sort through our piles of stuff in preparation for a move. It is time to get serious...

We have been in our current home, in northwest Indiana, for almost 20 years. It is amazing how quickly that time has passed. As I tackle the monumental sort and salvage task, I am learning a great deal about my sentimental, pack rat tendencies.

In this particular bin, I discovered yet one more box of baby things. My "baby" is now 16 years old, almost 17. I found a little pair of shoes, a tiny red sweatshirt with "Door County" embroidered on it. A slightly stained t-shirt from our trip to Cape Cod when my daughter was only six months old. There is the padded Bible and her mini, board version of Good Night Moon. In the same box was a copper-clad pair of shoes turned bookends that belonged to my husband.

All choked up and sentimental by this unexpected trip down memory lane, I showed the slightly stained bib to my daughter. She wrinkled her nose. "Eeeewwww. Why didn't you throw that away?"

Honestly, I don't really know!

It is amazing how much stuff we can acquire without even trying. Was it only 20-something years ago that Milt and I, newly married, struggled to furnish the rooms of our new house? Today, we have boxes of things that we haven't looked at in years. We have more than 100 VHS tapes - some personal, many movies we love and haven't yet acquired on DVD. I have piles of cookbooks that are no longer as necessary, thanks to the Internet. We have at least 30, yes 30, gallon cans of semi-used-up paint in every color and shade. Pastel mint green, taupe, multiple shades of ivory, a horrible, vivid blue I'd rather forget.

So I sort, and sort, and sort some more.

I make rash, vengeful decisions. I grit my teeth and put those copper-shoe bookends into a plastic giveaway bag. Then, feeling a bit nostalgic and guilty, I snatch them back out again. Poor things, all neglected. What will the people in the thrift store think that some heartless mother donated her own child's baby shoes? No, they must go. Soon I find myself entering crazy zone with no ability to discern what should stay and what must go.

For those of you who are now worried, know that I am okay. I've come out of the other side. Deep breaths. Lots of sighs. Some photos snapped. The giveaway pile is growing. I realize that this is how those scary hoarders begin, so I've had a garage sale and called the donation center. 30 boxes and bags piled up to go in the garage.

Maybe I'll add the copper shoes to the mix.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Here is the Church: What My Children's Church Pastor Taught Me

When I was in grade school, a young couple, Rich and Cheri, were hired to pastor the youth at our little First Baptist Church. They were students at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, and in exchange for housing, they served part-time at our church.

As a part of their job, they would hold a children's church service every Sunday morning in our slightly mildewed church basement. I don't remember if we were dismissed from the adult service entirely or were sent down just before the sermon, I do remember that we loved it.

The group of about 30 kids, kindergarten to 6th grade, would rush down the linoleum steps as quickly as we could to take our place in the rows of metal folding chairs. They were arranged like a mini-sanctuary with a wobbly wooden podium front and center, the upright piano pushed to the right. We were squirmy and energetic, a hum of nervous energy in ruffled bobby socks and clip-on neckties.

Cheri would get us started with the singing. We had plenty of audience participation songs "Stop! and let me tell you" was one of our favorites. Volunteers would hold up the cardboard STOP and GO signs as we sang along to the peppy tune. Sometimes I would try to accompany the group with my limited piano skills, stopping and starting as I hit the wrong notes.

As kids, we were encouraged to participate in all parts of the service. We sang solos, played piano or our new school instrument, and passed the offering plate. Rich would give us a mini-sermon. Cheri would help us memorize a Bible verse - wiping away words on a blackboard as we tried to remember the disappearing sentence. We would have "sword drills", struggling to find the location of Bible verses in our King James Bibles. If we won a contest, we would "fish" for prizes behind a blue sheet with an actual pole. They were imaginative and fun, but it was still in the style of church.

Our favorite part was at the end of the service when they revealed who had been sitting in the "quiet chair." They had selected one seat in the "audience"...if you had been in that seat AND had also been quiet and well-behaved, you received a beautifully-wrapped present. If not, well....I don't remember that part.

Rich and Cheri inspired us because they took us seriously and helped us learn to "do" church. They taught us that we were the church, we didn't just attend it. We were a part of it, included. They modeled Christ to me, even at a young age.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Rich on the phone. I am in my late 40s, and Rich and Cheri now have grown children and grandchildren. I work at a Bible college, the same college from where they graduated, and they were just about ready to head back to the mission field. They have served in the Philippines and now are teaching and leading the church in the Ukraine. Rich is teaching the local church about the role of missions. He said some of the pastors are learning about evangelizing outside of their home country for the first time. Cheri has hosted the first-ever women's conferences in the Ukraine, spreading over the borders into neighboring countries. Women are hungry for that encouragement and the fellowship of other Christian leaders.

They are serving God and returning to the Ukraine, even during a time of fighting and persecution. They realize that their task this year won't be easy.

As I listened to that same calm voice that had spoken of God and the church to me so many years ago, I was profoundly thankful. I am glad God sent Rich and Cheri into my life at such a young age. I am glad they took the time to invest in children who grew up to care about Jesus and taught me that the church is so much more than just a building. I am glad He has honored their lives of service and that they are still serving God so well today.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

They truly represent Church to me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fannie Farmer and Victorian Cooking: A Book Giveaway!

I picked up this fabulous book, Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball, and decided to host a book giveaway so you can love it too! If you are a foodie, a Downton Abbey fan, or just someone curious about what it was like to live in Victorian Boston, you are in for a treat (or, rather, a 12-course extravagant meal).

Chris Kimball is a chef and magazine editor and owner of a Victorian era home in Boston. After researching the Boston Cooking School and Fannie Farmer, he decided to undertake the creation of a meal that perfectly replicated the common foods, cooking methods and style of turn-of-the-century urban America.

He had help, of course, but cooked a beautiful meal on a wood-burning iron stove in a steaming hot kitchen - so hot that the chef's pants melted onto her legs. I thought this entire book was fascinating - and (for the truly adventurous) it includes recipes.

They made a mock turtle soup which involved making stock from a calf's head. Calf's hooves were boiled to create gelatin (a bit disgusting) but the product is gorgeous.

Apparently formal Victorian meals involved as many as 12 courses served in two hours or less. As many as 131 pieces of silverware were used for each person for each meal. The silver covered dishes we see in formal settings were useful as Victorian diners did not want any smells coming from the kitchen. Because of this, the kitchen was set far back from the dining room and food needed to be carried down long drafty hallways...thus the covered dishes.

You will enjoy his careful research and the trials and tribulations of recreating the past. They filmed this as a television special. Also interesting is the study of Fannie Farmer herself, who was a rather practical version of Julia Child - a woman who knew how to cook, teach, and market herself.

As a faithful watcher of Downton Abbey, I found this book often making me think about those formal dinners at Downton. I know you will love it.

To enter to win - just leave a comment! I will choose one person and send you the book!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You Wear a Pompadour to Church? Review of Adventures in Churchland

I can't believe I missed this book when it was first published! Adventures in Churchland tells the story of rockabilly drummer Dan Kimball and his search for Jesus through the harrowing world of the evangelical church.

They were not prepared for him with his Doc Martens (and flashy yellow stitching) or his slicked back, 50s-pompadour style hair. He was even less prepared for evangelical worship songs that sound like Celine Dion and Christmas pageants where men wore bed sheets as costumes.

I found myself chuckling and nodding out loud - and wincing more than once - as I read his account of an "outsider" approaching the church with honest questions.

Dan has it right. It's not about what we think church "should" look like. It's about Jesus.

He finds his way in through an 83-year-old man in London who gives him a cup of Ovaltine and invites him to meet the real Jesus.

This is a book about Jesus and church and finding your way home. It is a book about the need to shed our preconceptions of what church is and what church-goers should look like. It is a book that speaks truth in a way that is easy to hear.

As someone who was raised in the church and loves the rockabilly scene, I adored this book. I want all my friends, believers or not, to read it. The foreword is written by rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. There is a chapter about the faith story of Johnny Cash.

It challenges those of us inside, those dyed-in-the-wool churchgoers, to step outside of our comfort zone and make sure that not all of their friends are Christians. We are too isolated. We lack relevance. We need to be in the world, but not of it. Amen!

If you haven't read it, please do so. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Selling Your House Without Losing Your Mind

This summer, our pool has decided it would prefer to be a lovely shade of green.

Despite my best efforts, the pH-level has been bouncing all over the place. The bleach is often ineffective. It wouldn't be so bad, but we are trying to sell our house. Nobody wants to buy a home with a Kermit the frog, pea-green pool.

My husband and I have been working like crazy to keep our home ship-shape. Now I'm not the neat-freak type, so (normally) I am quite happy if my house has only a light layer of dust. This summer, however, we have had to make it look like we live in a model home. Not easy with a dog, a teenager and an elderly mother-in-law.

At our last showing, we spent an hour running around the house like crazy people - dusting, cleaning, and spritzing air freshener. I even plucked a few orange Tiger lilies and threw them in a cut-glass vase on the coffee table.

The buyer walked in, took one look, and left in 3 minutes.Three minutes! He didn't walk through the house, look at the backyard or go downstairs. He probably didn't even notice the lilies!

Can I say, "Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhh!!!!!????"

In the early spring, we bustled around completing our unfinished home projects. We "neutralized" our house as much as we could, and then put it up for sale by owner. After a period of time, we gave in and listed with a Realtor. Now, we are in the hardest part of all: waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more.

Unfortunately, the buyers who have looked at our home don't fit the type who will probably buy it. Our house is a family home with swimming pool, nearby park and elementary school. One couple was older - and didn't like stairs. One was a single woman who didn't want maintenance. One buyer said my retro furniture made the house look old (she did not appreciate our vintage style). Sigh.

Through this process, I've come to a firm conclusion: Selling your home can make even the sanest people crazy.

So if you are considering a home sale in the near future, here's a few suggestions:

1) Get rid of any smells. Stock up on Febreeze. Use a Borox/water solution to wipe down baseboards and basement walls. Clean the pet cage. Get rid of old boxes and stored clothing. Walk around your house sniffing the air like an Irish Setter. Be persistent.

2) Declutter. Throw out half of your possessions - just kidding - but a at least get rid of a good portion of them. That old fish tank you've been saving in case you ever decide to raise tropical fish? Time to ditch it. Get rid of the threadbare afghan, the half-empty boxes of stale cereal. Toss, toss, toss. Call the local thrift store and delight them with the bounty of your excess.

3) Neutralize. For us, that meant bidding farewell to my ever-so-creative, Mary-Engelbreit-inspired kitchen floor. It was a lovely red/yellow/green varied pattern. Now it is a very, every-person appealing patter of beige and lighter beige. My super-cool 1950's vintage curtains? Replaced with a lovely pair of tan drapes. Sigh. It looks like we're living in Pleasantville: all grey and beige and normal.

4) De-personalize. Pack away the photos of your family. Take your personal info off the fridge. Make it look like a very pleasant hotel with no sign of the previous inhabitant. Well, as much as possible. We left our teen and mother-in-law's rooms alone. But, the main areas are cleared of our gorgeous, smiling faces.

5) Take a break. You need some days to kick up your feet and heels and relax. This is stressful! Be kind to your spouse. Try not to overdo each home showing (easier said than done). Allow yourself to have time to just be - go out to dinner, watch a movie, barbeque, take a walk. Remember that your sanity is key to surviving this long process.

6) Be patient - and try very hard not to take rejection personally. One site said that every review of your home will be negative until someone makes an offer. So true. Read the reviews of home buyers, but take each comment with a grain of salt. They may have a hint of truth in them - but they aren't objective. These home buyers have something very specific in mind - and it just might not be your home.

Most of all, keep your ultimate goal firmly in mind. Remembering why you are going through this time of insanity will ensure that you keep a smidgen of self-respect during the coming months.

Best of luck to you, my friend. We are in this together.

Your house is beautiful.

You are beautiful.