Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tree

Christmas was a puppy nipping at my heels this year, the minute we'd left Aunt Ruth's house from Thanksgiving dinner. I don't usually get the Christmas bug like this, but seeing my newsfeed full of pictures of lighted trees and comments about Christmas music sparked a little Christmas fire in me and it was time to get a tree.

On Sunday, after our second Thanksgiving feast at my in-laws' house on Saturday, I noticed a little greenhouse on the way to church.

I told Pete about it, and late in the afternoon, he declared, "Let's go get our tree!"

We drove the mile or so to the greenhouse.

It's a little place. Just a few trees out front, and a few tables inside lined with homemade wreaths. The man watching the shop that afternoon, who was not Walt Davidheiser but apparently another long-time local, showed us the machine where evergreen branches are twisted around wire forms into thick, bushy wreaths.

He also showed us every tree.

It didn't take us long to pick one we liked most. It's a douglas fir, with nice soft needles. We also chose a wreath with a pretty blood-red ribbon.

The shopkeeper asked if we'd like to take his truck to drive the tree home. It was a moment out of Norman Rockwell. Or Smallville. The friendly old tree seller, so steeped in his trade he smells of pine needles, offering the use of his beat-up old baby blue Chevy pickup truck to two youngsters, new in town, as they prepare to take home their first live Christmas tree. It was perfect.

I worried the tree, standing not much more than 6 feet high, would look tiny in our high-ceiling'd drawing room. But after Pete cut off the lower branches and we wrestled it into its stand, it stood proud and tall in the corner like it was grown for that very purpose.

Christmas is settling in nicely at Euroclydon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


It's costume season. Walking through Target recently, I overheard the following exchange.
Mother: This is cool. The devil?
Child: I don't want to be scary.
Mother: This is pretty too: the flamenco dancer.

Tubes of white creme makeup, colored hair spray, adhesive eyelashes in purple lace... these things are only for sale in October. And watching ordinary people carefully select Witch's Brew nail polish or a curly black wig with silver highlights or a headband with pink leopard ears is quite amusing.

I'm not that into Halloween, really. But some friends of ours host an annual Costume Party for Halloween that gets pretty intense. One year someone dressed as a fisherman. In addition to the cargo vest, fisherman's hat, and fishing pole, he had built a canoe out of cardboard which was held up around his waist by suspenders. Inside the boat, he'd fashioned a pair of pants into a set of legs, so it looked like he was sitting in the boat, even though his legs actually extended beneath the boat, allowing him to walk around. His fiance dressed as a fish in a huge felt costume stuffed with balloons to make her appear plump. Her face was visible through the fish's huge gaping mouth.

This, and other elaborate costumes, are commonplace at the Halloween Bash. So when the theme this year was movie characters, we knew we had a lot to live up to.

Husband chose his character first. Mr Tumnus, from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The chance to dress as a faun was irresistible. I wanted to be a counterpart of some sort, so although he petitioned for me to be Lucy Pevensie, I chose to be the White Witch, Jadis.

We tackled the Tumnus costume first. We already own an old-school black umbrella, and used some empty cereal boxes and kraft paper to make packages. A red scarf would make him appear dressed for a wintry day. For horns, Husband fashioned small bits of wood into pointed nubs, drilled holes in them, and strung them on a length of floral wire. The wire formed a nearly invisible headband, keeping the horns perfectly in place.

For hooves, Husb constructed stilts by screwing an old pair of dress shoes into a two-by-four and then connecting that to a base which he whittled in the front to resemble a split hoof. We had found a pair of furry sleeves at Goodwill. It was unclear what their original purpose had been, but we put them around the stilts to cover the shoes. The angle of the shoe meant that he was nearly walking on tiptoe, but with no support under his heel, like even a stiletto would provide. This made his entire foot appear to be the ankle portion of faun's legs.  and they made the perfect ankle portions of the goat hoof.

The most important part of the costume, though, was the fur legs. Husband bought some fur fabric at Joann's and we embarked on our first sewing masterpiece together. Using a pair of pajama pants as a pattern, we traced and cut out four faces for the pants: two fronts and two backs. Then, lining them up carefully, we fed them through the sewing machine and slowly watched a pair of pants emerge. A quick tutorial from youtube on sewing an elastic waistband, and we had wearable pants! It was our most triumphant moment as husband and wife, I think. Seeing those pants come into existence.

When he first put them on, they were quite obviously a little too short.

His real ankles showed between the bottom of the pants, and the top of the goat ankle. So we had to make extensions and sew them onto the bottom of the pants. After that, they were perfect.

The Jadis costume was next. One small element of the costume would be shoes. Whatever else I wore, the shoes would have to be white and appear snow-worthy. I have nothing that fits this criteria. So I stopped at ReUzIt on the Tuesday before the party to find any shoes that would fit. A pair of black heels with squared-off toes seemed right so $4.75 later I was on my way to Walmart for white spraypaint.

Thursday afternoon, when I got around to painting them, I found - to my great distress - that the shoes were either incomparably stainproof, or else just made of some completely paint-resistant fabric. As much as I sprayed on there, not one drop of white paint stuck. The shoes were decidedly black. And staying that way. Time was running short and in addition to shoes, I still needed my icicle crown, a dress, and a fur stole.

I knew the key to my Jadis success would be the dress. If I failed in my dress shopping, I was prepared to wear my own wedding gown as a last resort, but it seems irreverent to wear one's own bridal gown as a costume. So I was on the hunt for a thrifted one. I'd tried three thrift stores with no success. It seemed no one donated their wedding gowns to Goodwill anymore. By Thursday night time was running short, and I'd found nothing. I had to find a dress.

I google-mapped thrift stores with my zip code and after finding the first one was only children and baby stuff, I went to the second one: the local Goodwill, which I'd not yet visited. It looked mammoth from the outside and I was sure I'd meet with success inside. But inside, I was met with this:

Yes. A Goodwill of bins. Where everything is sold by the pound. I was immediately discouraged. A wedding dress was certainly not hiding in these bins. But I took some time to browse the shoe section and found a pair of Nordstrom Comfort white pumps, size 8 1/2, with broad heels that wouldn't make me feel like I, too, was walking on faun ankles all night.

I had time for one more Goodwill, one I'd heard excellent things about, one 30 minutes away, but that was open 'til 9:00. I called Husband, told him I'd be a little later, and made my way there.

Stepping inside, I saw the costume attire gathered toward the front of the store. Goodwill knows its October purpose. But no white gowns. Then, across the room, I glimpsed a fabulous billowing white wedding dress hanging on the wall. I beeline'd to the dress and found the price tag. $100. My heart sank. The costume party is intense, but not $100 dress intense. Across from the first dress, I saw another one. "$25 As Is" As is? Broken zipper? Huge rip? Wine stains down the front? Nope. A nickel-sized black stain, possibly pen or marker, at the right hip. I snatched it from the rack and into the dressing room, hardly believing my luck. I put it on.

It fit! It fit as in I-could-have-worn-it-as-my-actual-wedding-dress fit. A size 8 dress, there on the rack, a week before Halloween... The faun pants triumph was matched, possibly surpassed, by the sheer triumph I felt walking out of the dressing room with the perfect Jadis dress gathered up in my arms. Before I left, I walked around the store and happened upon a rocking chair, an exact match to rocker we already have. It was $10. So I hauled the chair and the dress to the checkout line, paid $35, and headed home, more satisfied than I'd imagined possible at the start of the evening.

At home, I tried on the dress with a length of white fur fabric Husb had bought to try out as faun ankles prior to the ankle sleeves we ended up finding. It looked perfect. I sewed the ends into triangles so it would have more of a shawl appearance, then safety pinned it to shape around my shoulders so it would stay in place.

There was just one day left, and I still needed a crown. I had some icicles (thanks to my mother-in-law!) so I just needed a tiara to attach them to.

Friday after work, I hit up the Dollar Tree for a pink tiara. It had an edging of pink fur and a plastic gem butterfly at the peak, but I tore that stuff off, spraypainted the whole thing white, and superglued the icicles to the tiara's points. OK, Husb did the supergluing on Friday evening as I was hairspraying my hair into wild White Witch waves.

When it was time to go, I think we looked pretty authentic.

We were, I'm shocked to say, extremely impressive to our costumed friends at the party. Forrest Gump, Wolverine, Mary Poppins, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Esmeralda, and Quasimodo were just a few of our party companions, and all had impressive costumes. Tumnus and I, however, were awarded Best Costumes! What an exciting honor!

There has been little in our marriage so collaborative, or so successful, as our efforts on our costumes this year. I am proud of our Best Costumes Award, but I'm more proud of our mutual creativity and the achievement of making things together.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gold Star

This was a gold-star weekend. At every turn, it seemed, I was doing something else that I loved just as much as the last thing I was doing.

1. Me, Daddy, and Celeste.
Dad and I took a 14-mile bike ride through some of our favorite roads. It was somewhat backwards from our usual route, but it was good. We planned in a few good hills, took a scenic stretch down the Schuylkill River Trail, and stopped at Bike Line to get our bikes inspected for the MS-150 City to Shore this weekend.

Celeste and me are ready. 75 miles. Bring it on.

2. Treasure Hunting
After the ride, we returned to 1550 where Mom was still working on setting up my new laptop. I wanted to find something in my old bedroom (I forget what now) and ended up pulling a filing box of my childhood school stuff out of the closet. Just about the time I started leafing through it, Sister came in the door! She was visiting for the day for dinner at MomMom's that night. It was a little family powwow there in the living room. I love my new home, I love living with Husband, but there is something so sweet about a little taste of the past and hanging out with the fam at 1550.

Check out this fitting 2nd grade journal entry I found from 1994.
3. Organizing
I came home, showered and changed out of my biking spandex, and then went over to school for about an hour to organize a big shipment of teacher supplies that came in on Friday. When this shipment of things comes, it's my task in the office to organize it according to what each teacher ordered. So I have to crosscheck the packing slip with my ordering document and divy out all the items to the right people.

I didn't get it nearly done and spent most of today working on it. When I finally finished and all the teachers picked up their markers and erasers and construction paper and gradebooks, I felt a bit deflated. I need a weekend job in a warehouse. Sorting shipments is just way too much fun.

4. Dinner with Grand-Ones
Mom and Dad both had birthdays this week, so MomMom and PopPop had us all for dinner Saturday night to celebrate. Grammy also came. We dined like royalty on MomMom's chicken casserole, broccoli and corn casserole, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cake. When we were arriving, a fine misty rain was falling. A brilliant rainbow spread its arms across Narvon.

5. What you rejoice in, you resemble.
Our new pastor, Jere Scott, preached for the first time this week. He used a text in Ezekiel about the idolatry of the Israelite elders to encourage us to search our own hearts for their source of joy. His reminder of what happens to our hearts when they honor anything above God led to the good news of Christ who is the only One who can give us a new heart altogether, a heart that will be inclined toward Him.

4. Baby Time
I love the nursery. I spent second service there this week and snuggled some of my favorite little boys. It's probably the most selfish service opportunity. I mean, what's hard about spending an hour hanging out with your friends' perfect little babies?

5. Cleaning
In preparation for the Bible Study starting here this Wednesday, I dove in headfirst and cleaned. OK, only the downstairs. But it felt awesome. I also did a little Autumnal decorating.

Yes, I know I need a heap of cinnamon scones in that cake stand. I'll work on it.
After all that, I felt so high on life that I was up by 5:15 this morning, the time I should be up every morning. With a weekend like that still throbbing in my veins, I feel so abundantly blessed that the week just gleams before me like a yellow brick road.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Afternoons

Two Sundays ago I did this.

I had some extra time between a friend's late afternoon thirty-one party and the evening prayer service at church. So I went to the park and crocheted. A large group of people were celebrating something down the hill under the pavilion, so I sat up on a bench along the walking path. The happy shrieks of kids on the playground and loud country music from a radio layered in the background while I worked. I rarely do something so different and refreshing on a Sunday afternoon, but I'm learning to make Sunday a day of rest. 

A bench, some yarn, a book, and a clear sky. That's all it takes to reset my mind and heart and prepare me for a new week.

Today I took Sunday slowly too. 

I made an afternoon cup of coffee. 

I continued my self-taught sewing lessons.

I toasted some almonds for trail mix. 

Sunday is becoming my "practice relaxing" day. I'm really awful at relaxing. I've got to have all the chores done before I can even dare to rest, and we all know the chores never ever get completely done. Because of this, I have to put enjoyable things on my To Do list along with errands and gardening and cleaning out the car and doing laundry. Reading a chapter of a good book or working on my latest crochet project are just as hard to complete as those undesirable tasks. 

It's because of my inability to make time for rest that I've banned chores from Sunday afternoons. Maybe it's bowing to my need to have things on a list to assign Sundays as Relax Day, but if that's what it takes for me to take rest seriously, I think it's worth it.

Am I the only one who finds relaxing impossible? 
What are some good strategies for integrating rest into the week? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Upgrading and Restoring

Two years ago, just after we got married, we got iPhones. Life with Nella, as I christened my phone, was fabulous. She came with me everywhere: to the beach, on amusement park rides, indoor rock-climbing, out on snowy wintertime walks, on bicycle rides, and on countless little adventures. I dropped her only once and she sustained no damage. Nella was everything: my connection to the world (my constant link to email and facebook), my mini diary (storing scores of little memories), my planner (holding not only my calendar, but reminders and To Do lists too) and my entertainment. Let's face it: Nella became my addiction.

This month, we were due for an upgrade with AT&T. An upgrade! I tried to be excited, but I was a little sad. What would life be like with a new, better iPhone? How could I betray Nella? Hadn't she been such a friend to me?

At the AT&T store two Fridays ago we learned that our new phones would be $100 each, but that we could likely get trade-in credit for our old iPhones if we were willing to trade them in. That sounded ok as long as I could keep everything Nella had been storing for me for two years. So we talked to Krista about retrieving apps from the cloud and were assured that contacts and photos could also be transferred to the new phone via a fancy schmancy iPhone machine.

Then I asked about texts and notes and voice recordings. These, I was told, were associated with the phone and would not come over through the magic machine. I panicked. I need my notes. Not only do I have notes of Christmas gift ideas and to do lists and important things to remember, but I have memorable quotes from my old people - funny, one-of-a-kind sentences uttered impulsively by my clients with dementia, an irreplaceable record of cute things they said. So I frantically started emailing the notes to myself. Then I did the same with voice recordings, which were also from my clients.Even as I preserved these little memories by emailing them to myself, I felt sad to give up Nella. What is it about a piece of machinery that takes such a place in your heart? Why does a bundle of plastic and metal matter so much? I hope I'm not alone in thinking that it does.

In the meantime, Marquita got Husby's new phone set up and plugged in for the transfer of data. She looked up the serial number of his old phone and found it would be a trade-in value of $64. This was better than we thought! We'd only pay $36 for the new iPhone! My phone came out to the same value.

Husband's data transfer, Marquita learned when she plugged in the two phones, would take 35 minutes. This was OK since we had both brought our books. We sat in the car for half an hour, waiting for the transfer to be done. When we came back into the store, Marquita's face was grim. Husband's transfer had completed just fine. However, when she plugged in my two phones, the transfer time was estimated at two hours. Marquita didn't want to tie up the magic iPhone transfer machine for two hours - and we didn't really want to wait another two hours in the parking lot - so she suggested I take the two phones home, copy what I wanted to save onto my computer, then plug in my new iPhone and copy the pictures onto it. This sounded logical. So we took Husby's new iPhone, and my two phones back home.

I looked at over 1100 pictures that night. That's how many pictures were on my iPhone. Two years of sunset pictures, food pictures, dressing room shots, and should-I-buy-this photos I'd texted to friends. That night I went through all the pictures and whittled it down to just about 300. Then, I plugged Nella into the computer and copied those pictures onto the hard drive. When I plugged the new phone in, it opened in iTunes and asked me a deep and distressing question.

You have previously synced another Apple device to this computer. Do you want to restore the current device from Brittany's iPhone or set it up as a new device? 

Restore? Restore is a bad word. Restore means delete. Overwrite. Eliminate. Restore is anything but restorative, in the technological sense. Restoring is losing. But yet, setting it up as a new device seemed silly too since the old device, known to my PC as Brittany's iPhone and to me as Nella, was no longer going to exist in my life.

Puzzled, I called AT&T. The operator who answered knew nothing. She transferred me to the Apple department. Ah, I thought. The Apple Department. Someone living in California who works for Apple, has a view of palm trees outside her cubicle window, makes tons of money, owns at least two iPads, has sassy piercings in her eyebrows and works overtime at the Genius Bar for fun. Surely, she will know about restoring. I explained my plight: to restore or not to restore.

"Hmm," she said. "I really have no idea. You can always go to apple dot com slash support and type in your question there."

I love Apple - really, I do. But I was disappointed.

I said thanks anyway, and hung up.

And now the question burned into my eyes from the screen. Restore? Or set up as new device? You must choose!

I felt like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, squeezing shut her eyes, turning her face away, and signing on the line under "for all eternity."

I clicked "Restore."

The next forty-five minutes were torture. The progress bar just crawled from left to right at an absolute snail's pace. I was a wreck. What was happening! Would my brand-new iPhone be wiped clean from this restoration? It was a feeling of sheer panic.

I confess: I am slightly embarrassed about all this. I stared at that progress bar for nearly the entire forty-five minutes. Except for the few minutes when I closed me eyes to let Husband pray for me. Yes, I needed God's hand of peace. It was that bad. In that interminable block of time, I grew increasingly aware of how insignificant my worries really were. So what if I lost everything. I'm sure the phone would still work. And hadn't I copied or emailed to myself everything important anyway? What if it woke up from its long restoration and was blank. Wouldn't a fresh start be a bit, well, refreshing? Did I need the emotional and digital baggage that Nella had so willingly carried for me for so long?

I was just on the cusp of admitting that it would be OK to see my new phone wake up empty and memory-less when the restoration completed. The iPhone shut down, and booted back up. And what was there after the restoration?

Everything. When she woke up, Stella (I think I'll call her Stella) had Nella's wallpaper on her lock screen and home screen. She had my text message history. She had my notes, my photos, my recent calls log, and my alarms. My apps were even all back in the same places. Stella was Nella, reincarnated! Restored!

I didn't need to drag the photos I'd copied onto my hard drive over onto Stella. And it was a good thing because it turned out not to work anyway. I had everything I'd been so worried about right there.

The next day when I took Nella back to the AT&T store to trade her in, she was only worth $55. The day before she'd been valued at $64 and I was a little annoyed. Krista at the store said the values change by the day, so I could try again another day, but I didn't want to come back. So I took the $55. It was worth the nine dollar loss in order to have Stella be my new Nella.

For a few hours, the night before, Nella and Stella had been together. I carried them both from room to room, little twins.

I asked, when I finally turned Nella in, where the trade-in iPhones go. Nobody seemed to know. They just get packed in white boxes and mailed back to the iPhone return center. Nella's memory has been wiped, and as much as I wish she were like C3PO who will start a new life somewhere never knowing the adventures he had before his memory was cleared, I know Nella is just glass and plastic and metal and she never knew anything to begin with. Maybe the term "memory" for electronic devices is a little misleading to emotional people like me.

Anyway, the whole point here is two-fold.

First, if you are going to get a new iPhone, do it the way I did. Buy the new one at full price. Then take the old one and the new one home, plug in the old one and let iTunes back it up. Then plug in the new one and choose Restore. You don't need to freak out for 45 minutes like I did. Go take a walk. Or a shower. Or a nap. Relax. It's restoring. Soon, your new iPhone will be just like your old one and - if you're lucky - she'll have a rhyming name.

Secondly, distance yourself from your digital appliances. The panic I felt when Stella was restoring from Nella's backup was unhealthy. My priorities are mixed up if I feel this way over a phone. Yes, take care of your things. Especially your expensive things. But lay up more treasures in heaven than in your pocket. Every now and then, turn that phone off.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012


At some early point in my science learning, I was taught about taproots. If I remember right, a plant with a taproot has a single, thick, deep root with fine, fibrous roots fingering their way into the surrounding earth. If the plant in question is a weed, you're in luck because the taproot shape makes it quite easy to get the whole root system out with a single tug.

It was this teaching that I pondered this evening while pulling weeds on my new brick patio. Many of the weeds were equipped with the handy taproot system which made for ideal removal. And I learned something this evening: I like weeding.

There are a few things I miss about our "yard" at our old apartment. I miss the bunnies and the sky-fuls of fireflies. I miss the cemetery and my Thinking Rock. I miss the stone wall and the gate and the raspberries and the hawk we saw there once.

But at Euroclydon, our new home, I love my yard. I love the flowers. I love the patio. I love the mowing and pruning and weeding. I love the morning birds and the nighttime "birds," the bats. I love our shed, our driveway, the Russian sage behind the house, the big maple tree, and the butterflies. I've found my inner hobbit, in love with things that grow.

My roots are growing deep already, but they're not taproot. I think pretty soon it will take more than a single tug to pull me out of this ground I'm starting to love. My roots are spreading wide, deep, and tangled. I think I'll grow well here.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Priorities

We've moved! Hurrah!

We are totally and completely in love with our new home and getting used to being homeowners. It's been awesome, but then again, the first bills haven't arrived yet...

Life at our new house has changed a few priorities for us already. Here are a few homeownership keys we've learned in the past week:

1. Use cold water. I used to wash dishes in hot water. No more. That oil cost us a fortune! I'm not heating up water unless I have to.
2. Yardwork. Trimming, mowing, pruning, cleaning up... We're now responsible for this little .2 acre of ground and we're gonna treat it right!
3. Hospitality. God has been so unbelievably generous to us with the gift of this beautiful home. It is our joy to take advantage of opportunities to share it with others.
4. Go outside. After two years of living in a small upstairs apartment, it is so delightful to be able to open a door right off the kitchen and breathe fresh air! I spend as much time going in and out of our doors as possible.
5. Soak up natural light. Do I care that the sunshine came in my window on this Saturday morning and woke me up before 6:00? No. I do not care. I can't get enough of all this natural light and I'll gladly be woken up at dawn for the pleasure of seeing sunlight.
6. Say "Hi." At the farmhouse, we didn't ever get to know any neighbors. Now, at our new home, this town is our town and we hope it will be so for a long time. We want to be a friendly presence in the neighborhood.

It already feels like we've lived here forever. We love it.