On Generosity

The five of us spent a long weekend this past July exploring the western side of our home state of Virginia, puttering down and then back up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a fun few days of exploring places we had never been before. We found downtown Roanoke to be delightfully eclectic and Natural Bridge State Park to be rightfully impressive but, more than any other stop on our trip, we really loved the little town of Lexington, Virginia.

Lexington is home to two universities that sit, quite literally, side by side: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We set out to explore both while we were in town. We learned that Washington and Lee was named to honor, in part, George Washington. He saved the school from what was certain closure in 1796 through the gift of about $20,000 in stock. A gift that, at the time, was tremendous. It allowed the university to stay afloat and continue operations.

A friend had recommended touring the Lee Chapel while we were on campus so we headed there next. We were probably the only ones on the tour that didn’t know Robert E. Lee’s history with the university or that he was buried in the basement with the majority of his family members only one floor removed from where we were standing. The chapel itself was simple but lovely and, as we learned from the docent, had been saved from ruin in the 1960s by a corporate benefactor that funded the restoration of the trusses that give the chapel its beautiful curved interior ceiling.

A building we would not be standing in on a campus that would no longer exist if not for the generosity of others.

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When our summer travels took us back to the Midwest earlier this month, we decided to break up the long drive with an overnight stop near Pittsburgh. I booked a hotel and messaged a lovely friend I met earlier this year that I remembered lived nearby. I asked if she’d like to meet up for dinner and we made plans to pick a restaurant. When I mentioned I’d have my family with me, she didn’t even hesitate to suggest that we all congregate at her house instead and order in pizza. “The kids can jump on the trampoline and run around,” she explained. I’d never been to her home or met her children or husband nor had she met mine but when she realized we’d all be there, after traveling a fair distance in the car, she was quick to offer an evening that would be easier on everyone.

During that same trip home, a neighbor from the street I grew up on made the same offer when I asked about grabbing lunch together while we were in town. I used to babysit her kids when I was Henry’s age and I had not seen her or her husband in way too long. She didn’t even blink before suggesting we all congregate at her house for lunch. Which we did, spending a glorious afternoon in her home and on her back deck, enjoying great food and great company and gorgeous midwest summer weather which is better than anyone else’s summer weather anywhere. It was so much more pleasant than navigating a restaurant with my three kids.

Two generous women, crafting some of our favorite memories of the trip through something as simple as hospitality.

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Millie has recently taken up skateboarding. She borrows Charlie’s board and helmet and tools around the garage or the nearby school’s playground. I’m not surprised. Millie and skateboarding: makes sense. Last weekend, she convinced Bob to take her to Starbucks and then over to the skate park in the neighboring town. Bob said yes. Bob always says yes.

Now, the skate park is an intimidating place. The first time we took Charlie there, he was too overwhelmed to enter the fray. But, Millie wanted in. In with all of the people that really know how to skate. The experts whizzing by without helmets and knee pads – or shirts – doing fancy footwork and trick moves. It’s all very busy. Except for the teenager there early that Saturday morning that wasn’t too busy to spend 45 minutes teaching Millie some basic skateboarding skills. Bob relayed the story about how kind and patient this kid was. I was surprised and also touched at how much time he had spent with her.

Turns out, Bob said the kid was there with his father who was also helpfully pointing out useful things his kid could teach Millie.

Generational generosity, taught by example.

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I’ve been looking for more ways to be generous. Looking for more ways to give of my time, my talents, my voice, my money. It’s so easy to get busy and frazzled and to forget. Forget to help. The teacher that needs a room parent. The friend that needs a night out. The kid that needs an unbelievable amount of patience.

Generosity is rarely about the big stuff, like saving a university. It’s really all about the other stuff – the smaller stuff.

My hope is that we all find ways to be more generous. To recognize a need and step in to fill it.

Can’t hurt, might help, as the saying goes.

Strung Together

On a recent weekend away, we stopped at a national park to take a look around. The temperatures that day had climbed into the high 90s and it was unbearably hot. As Henry stepped out of the car, he lamented the heat exclaiming, “UGH. It’s so HUMID.”

From somewhere on the other side of the car, Millie replied calmly and clearly, “No, that’s just the sweat of your enemies you’re feeling.”

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Bob decided to make pancakes for the kids. It’s always fun to watch them groggily emerge from their bedrooms following the scent of maple syrup. When Millie wandered in, Bob immediately went to embrace her in a good morning hug which she crankily declined.

“If you even so much as look at me, I will stab you in the brain with this fork,” she declared whilst wielding her breakfast cutlery. We all looked up from our assorted tasks and collectively responded, “Whoa, dude. That’s way harsh.” Millie looked at Bob and exclaimed cheerily, “I’M JUST JOKING!”

As she turned and walked towards the table we heard her mutter under her breath, “Don’t worry. This fork probably couldn’t penetrate the skull anyway.”

Everything is fine but also we’re all sleeping with one eye open.

Speaking of Millie, she is our easiest-to-please eater. She always has been. She’ll try most any food. She’s adventurous and curious. She gets ridiculously excited about her favorite foods. She’s positively giddy when I make her most treasured meal – ground beef tacos seasoned with that orange seasoning mix you get in the packet at the grocery store.

Bolstered by virtually unfettered access to cooking competition shows on Netflix, the kids suggested we have a family cook-off showdown of our own. Charlie and Bob decided to pair off (of course). Millie decided she would be the judge (of course). That left Henry and I as a team (we always are).

Each team picked a night to prepare dinner and Millie had an elaborate and indecipherable points system that took into account originality, presentation, and whether or not dessert was included.

I don’t want to knock Bob’s kitchen skills but Henry and I totally won. Hands down. It… wasn’t even a competition. But, it took like, three hours to prepare dinner from (mostly) scratch and, my word, I would not last as a pioneer wife. I was too tired to even touch the dishes. Also, let me know if you’d like my sister’s winning recipe for meatloaf. There weren’t even any leftovers.

We’ve been making it a point this summer to come together for dinner most nights. Between my work commitments and the kids commitments, both dinner and dinnertime had become a scattered and random affair the first half of the year. We just simply fell out of the habit.

But, we kickstarted the effort this summer. Gathering each night around the dining room table to chat and laugh and linger. And, it’s been lovely. Turns out, my kids are very funny and I enjoy spending time with them after all.

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Speaking of dinner around the table, I finally found the wing chairs for my dining room that I have been searching more than a year for. I found them on Craigslist. I wasn’t sure if people still USED Craigslist but, out of desperation, I logged on looking for wing chairs I was certain I would never find. Turns out, a nice elderly couple downsizing from their large suburban home near the city was selling exactly what I was looking for.

Now, here’s where I admit that I’ve never, ever purchased even a single thing from Craigslist despite using the site years ago to offload dozens of furniture pieces over the course of four homes and two major house renovations. I’ve only ever been a seller. Never a buyer.

I was a little nervous when it came time to pick the chairs up and I had to take Henry for moral support but the couple could not have been nicer, the chairs were exactly as described, and they only smell ever-so-slightly like someone else’s house.

I am now completely addicted to looking for gently used, high-quality furniture at rock bottom prices sold by old people moving to patio homes. Turns out, those are the people still using Craigslist.

Speaking of my new chairs, it feels like the dining area is finally complete. It’s organized and decorated and soothing – something I’m trying to duplicate in every area of our house.

I am on a mission and that mission is to organize the hell out of everything.

I’ve been cleaning and clearing out every corner of our home. Every room. Every closet. Every nightmare underneath-the-bed scenario. Every single space. Ruthlessly discarding every piece of garbage that is anywhere. My kids are so confused, too. I’ve tried to “include them in the process” like all of the good advice columns tell you to do but there is a point where it’s just not really possible anymore and someone has to be the grownup and tell Millie that not every gum wrapper is a treasured piece of art and explain to Charlie that there’s a limit to how many deer skulls one ten-year-old should have in his bedroom.

But, they’re on to me. They know I’ve been throwing things away without their permission. Millie started grilling me about what happened to an Easter basket with a broken handle she got as a party favor two years ago that I dragged out from the back corner of her closet and threw in the garage garbage can approximately six minutes before her interrogation began. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I had no idea. I mean, I’m just straight up lying at this point.

Someday, my kids will read these words and realize that their mother lied and lied to them about what happened to that puzzle of the solar system they never even once put together or that stuffed animal that was kind of ugly and they will confront me with the truth and I still won’t feel even an ounce of guilt.

 

Signs of Summer

1. This pile of last-day-of-school papers and projects and general backpack detritus that has been sitting on the chair in our front hall for the entirety of the three weeks school has been out. I mean, really. At the very least, someone should probably deal with that lunchbox on top, right? Good lord, what if there is food in there. Bob and I are both just kind of pretending this whole foyer situation doesn’t exist. It’s really working for us.

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2. Me, shouting at varying levels of intensity and annoyance:

“Close the door, please!”
“Hey! You left the door open!”
“Can you PLEASE shut the door!”
“WHY is the door OPEN?”
“WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING THAT YOU CAN’T SHUT THE DOOR ARE YOUR ARMS BROKEN BECAUSE IF THEY ARE THEN USE YOUR FEET BECAUSE I AM LOSING MY MIND AND DO YOU WANT ME TO LOSE MY MIND STOP TALKING THAT IS A RHETORICAL QUESTION BECAUSE MY MIND IS ALREADY GONE”

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3. Charlie planted a small garden from seeds right outside our bedroom window and then proceeded to stare at the soil every day for weeks waiting for something to emerge. He was willing his plants to grow with the very power of his mind. The day something green appeared was his very best day. I wasn’t in on the garden planning but was pretty excited to have a supply of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers right from our own backyard this summer. Relevant to this story is the fact that I make a zucchini bread that the kids love (primarily, I’m sure, because the recipe calls for one entire cup of sugar per loaf). I haven’t made it in a while though because we’re no longer members of a CSA which used to be our primary source for zucchini. When the kids ask when we’re going to make the bread again, I always reply, “When I can get good zucchini!” Charlie took this to heart and planted an entire garden plot of zucchini. It is the only thing growing in his garden. I’m going to need more sugar.

4. Camps really are one of the very best parts of summer. The kids get to pursue activities they are interested in and I do not have to do anything to assist them in that pursuit because (totally) underpaid high schoolers and college students help them live their dreams.

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5. The unrelenting, ever-present worry that my children are spending too much of their time in front of screens. This is the same story. Every single summer. The same deep-seated fear that they’re wasting their summer watching prank videos on YouTube or building kingdoms in Minecraft. Or, whatever it is they do in Minecraft. I’m really not sure. I’m not even sure I can keep dedicating bandwidth to worrying about this. It’s just a thing that… is. The kids live a rich life full of different adventures and responsibilities and they regularly get fresh air and stuff so, I don’t know. I’m trying to be breezy but I will probably still fret about this for the next eight weeks.

6. My children’s continued lack of appreciation for the time and energy Bob and I invest in showing them a good time. I mean, this is not the face of a kid that is about to appreciate an $85.00 dinner. Because, that’s what this particular meal cost and that’s the best Charlie’s attitude got and I have some regrets.

7. I just ate three ears of sweet corn for dinner. That, I do not regret.