How to Have a Grateful Heart

img_5977“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

-Thomas Merton

 

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We’ve such happy memories of being married on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-one years ago. Coming together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and an unmarried guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much happier now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November in its entirety; to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d always read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve img_5577waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to actually be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5

 

Band-Aid Bread (Recipe Included)

Band-Aid Bread  (Recipe Included)

fullsizerenderMy friend Renee had experienced weddings of all three daughters. The addition of sons-in-law and lots of grandchildren happened  in what seemed like no time at all. I was newer at all this so I was picking her brain. She called the marriages and new relationships “expansive”. Renee is one of those people that when she speaks you want to scoop up every word. She doesn’t just toss words out like some of us do. Since she didn’t offer an explanation for expansive I knew I’d find out for myself.

We prayed for our kids’ future spouses their entire lives. It seems like such a far off prayer, and then before you know it your son or daughter finds just the right mate. It’s magic. An  incredible answer to our hopes for them. As our family began to expand, I saw in myself an attitude of wanting the new people in the family to like me. I guess I wasn’t completely comfortable with my in-law status—sometimes I felt like I was in middle school with the insecurities.

One way to show love and bring folks together is to feed them. I’ve always believed that sharing a meal around the table is the best way to really know people and bond with them. As soon as you pull up a chair to the table, you’re all on common ground. No one is better than the other one and the table joins you together with an invisible cord that causes everyone to breathe easy and be their authentic selves. At least that’s the way I see it.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I planned our  Sunday lunch. It would be one of the first times our new daughter-in-law Mary would join us after church for lunch. I baked bread. Artisan bread is so easy to make; it just takes a little planning ahead. Homemade bread always seems special and that’s what I wanted this meal to be. The bread stood out so much in the meal that I honestly don’t remember the other items we had! You’ll soon see why.

I took the loaves from the oven as everyone was seated. There’s nothing like that aroma of homemade bread. The butter was on the table, softened for easy spreading. Ahhhhh….. The slicing began and suddenly the chatter became silence. I gazed toward the table from my post at the counter—my eyes connected with a look of shock on Mary’s face. She had just bitten into the bread and was pulling an object from her piece of bread! Time stood still. A band-aid! Oh no! What? How? Words popped out of my mouth with no thought whatsoever. “Mary, welcome to the family. You’ve now passed your initiation to become a real Freshwater!” We all laughed and even proceeded to eat the bread, disposing of the tainted piece. Mary reminded me that I’d told them about cutting my finger while preparing vegetables the day before. I had wondered what happened to that band-aid!

This wasn’t really Mary’s initiation into the family. It was my initiation into being real. Surely nothing could be more embarrassing than what I’d experienced with the bread. I remembered the word expansive from Renee. In families we are blessedly stuck with each other. As we grow we expand in understanding and love as we include more people and their unique attributes from which to learn. We grow as individuals as we tangibly move toward each other. Even after that fateful Sunday lunch, breaking bread around the table is still my favorite!

 

BAND-AID BREAD -my version

2 packs of quick rise yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt; Band-aid, optional
6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough

Cornmeal

1. In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups very warm (about 100 degrees) water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

2. Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough. It’s best that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.

3. When ready to bake, sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel. I use parchment paper on a round stone with cornmeal sprinkled on it. Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees, preheating baking stone for at least 20 minutes.

4. Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

5. Place shaped dough on prepared pizza peel and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it in lidded container. (Even one day’s storage improves flavor and texture of bread. Dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in airtight containers and defrosted overnight in refrigerator prior to baking day.) Dust dough with flour.

6. Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts (or in a tic-tac-toe pattern). Place dough onto preheated baking stone. Pour 1 cup or more hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

There are many Artisan Bread recipes online. I just thought it would be fun to include my version here. Enjoy!

 

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

img_7521When I was a single mom, a long time ago, my two children and I shared a home with my friend Nancy and her twins.

Next door to us lived an elderly man and his wife. The husband was so friendly, always with a huge smile. We invited them over a time or two, just to be hospitable. I remember that he would say over and over again, “My wife and I want to have you over for a visit some time, but we have to get the house cleaned up first.” We’d say, “okay”, but somehow I knew it would never happen. His outward appearance and even the exterior of their home seemed bent on perfection. I could tell that his home would never measure up to the standards he sought for guests. It saddens me when I recall my former neighbors and the folks who’d have gained much from knowing them.

It also saddens me when clients tell me they hide when they hear a neighbor knock at the door. They’re afraid they’ll be evaluated and come up short. I believe, on the other hand, that people are more comfortable in imperfect homes.

Clients have told me that they avoid “sterile” homes of relatives because they can’t relax. They’d constantly be afraid to track in or spill something. It’s a lie that neighbors have “perfectly together” homes. Unless the home is more like a museum and no real living goes on.

I’ll never forget the times I ran to my best friends’ homes, in the most difficult seasons of my life. More than once I dragged my two kids along and invaded Barbara’s family meals and celebrations when I needed the comfort of family. They welcomed us into the fold as if we were kin. My favorite memories happened in homes. We had real conversations and relationships went to deeper levels. I always felt encouraged.

Here are some tips for welcoming folks in~

If someone shows up at the door without notice:

  • Kick the clutter out of the pathway and welcome them with a smile and a glass of water.

If you have a little notice before someone arrives:

  • Have your front door/porch area neat and inviting.
  • Keep your home tidy and clean enough. No toys as tripping hazards, or piles of dirty underwear in the entrance. You can stuff clothes in the laundry or closet if you need to temporarily.
  • Place dirty dishes in dishwasher or the sink so the counters are clear.
  • Cut some greenery or flowers from your yard and stick in a jar or vase on the table, or  pick up flowers from Trader Joe’s.
  • Light a candle near the entrance.
  • Turn on lamps— use lighting for warmth.
  • Have fresh fruit in a bowl and maybe popcorn or snacks.
  • Offer something seasonal such as pumpkin spice tea. If you’re really inspired, bake something with a wonderful aroma!
  • Quickly swish the toilet and wipe counters and surfaces.
  • With a big smile, greet your people at the door.
  • Do not apologize about your house and point out all the negatives,
  • Focus on them! Let them know you’re happy to see them and you care about them.
  • If the air is chilly, offer a throw.
  • Just enjoy your time together. Do you realize how valuable a listening ear is? I am forever grateful and changed by the friends who have listened.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2

“The ornaments of my home are the friends who frequent it.”  Emerson

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

IMG_8087I love helping folks stage their homes when they are selling. Staging makes an enormous difference.

I also enjoy helping clients stage to stay.  If you are living in your home— as opposed to marketing to prospective buyers— your home should tell your story.

I have been privileged to be invited into many homes since I launched my organizing/staging business thirteen years ago. I’m honored and humbled that clients would invite me into the most private —and sometimes most embarrassing— part of their lives.

 

 

Observations I’ve made when visiting homes:

  • If a house is hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees it says, “Go away”.
  • A dirty or cluttered entrance is not welcoming.
  • Most people don’t know the best way to arrange furniture.
  • They do not have a specified purpose for each area.
  • Pictures are hung too high or incorrectly.
  • Traditional design principles are not embraced.
  • Clients are stuck with old furnishings that currently don’t work.
  • They have been talked into purchasing furniture that does not meet their needs.
  • They make an erroneous assumption that a container of some sort will make them organized.
  • They plan a costly and expansive construction project thinking  their problems will be solved.

Tips for making your home truly yours:

  • Create areas for conversation so that you can look another person in the eye when you’re chatting. Don’t line the walls with furniture.
  • Every little spot does not need to be filled. Empty space is restful for the eyes.
  • Decide what is the main purpose for each area or room. Do you play games, visit with friends, read or watch television? What furnishings are needed?
  • Think creatively when choosing pieces of furniture. Repurpose second-hand items to suit your current needs.
  • Don’t get bamboozled by impressive ads of expensive pieces that look like they’ll solve all your problems. Make shopping decisions based on your own unique needs.
  • Choose lamps that are adequate in size. I’m surprised at how few lamps I see in homes and how small they are.  I often ask, “Where do you read?” Lamps are important for warmth and ambience in addition to reading.
  • If you have a rug in your main living area, make sure it is large enough to incorporate furniture into a warm cohesive unit.
  • Locate the focal point in your room–usually the largest decorative feature— if possible set your sofa parallel to it.
  • Make sure your accessories and decorative pieces are things you love and use. Have just enough old things to weave the stories of generations together. Don’t obliterate your current life with all the old stuff.
  • Be open-minded. Furniture items eventually become a part of the wall and you may not realize that your crowding can be alleviated by simply moving out one item.
  • Before embarking on a huge reconstruction project bring in the experts! You may be able to solve  your problems by rearranging and repurposing.
  • Lastly, don’t design your home around what you think other people will like. Create an environment for you and your loved ones! When you are comfortable in your home the feeling is contagious and others will want to share it with you!

Having a beautiful home isn’t an end in itself—its purpose is to provide joy and peace in the place you live.

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

After residing in the same place for nearly thirty years our neighborhood feels like a big family under one roof. Carolyn’s in the office, Susan and Kathleen are in the dining room and I’m in the kitchen. The others are scattered aro52043549-senior-woman-meeting-smiling-young-family-flowers-at-the-doorund the house and sometimes we pass in the hallway. We know we’re there for each other and we’ll call if we need anything.

Pat mows for us regularly now. It’s a huge blessing because we have a large lawn.

When a pipe burst and we had no water, Shari came over and helped me carry dishes to her house to wash. We showered there for days.

Ruth used to walk through my back door to borrow something or to bring me a yummy treat. I loved that she always wanted me to see her new paint or wallpaper. It was fun to get excited about our projects. Once I was in angst about a paint color for the living room. I’ll always remember what she told me. “Don’t worry about it— it’s not a marriage!” That phrase has helped me many times when I worry over a decision.

There is one thing I learned early on about making friends with neighbors. Asking a favor, even to borrow some sugar, can initiate a relationship.  One neighbor is now a close friend. In the early years I was struck that she always had it together.  I wanted to be friends but I didn’t know if she’d ever need me or if I could add value to her life. One day I was in the middle of a baking concoction. I desperately needed an ingredient so I knocked on her door. She gladly gave me what I needed. Looking back, I really think our friendship started then. I’ve always been glad when a neighbor needs a cup of flour or a can of tomatoes. It brings us together in a unique way,

I remember when Leigh lived across the street. I’d sent some soup over to her. She brought the bowl back full of camellias. She said her mother taught her never to send a container back empty. I liked that.

Years ago, another neighbor, Bill, lost his wife and was all alone. John was a baby so I would knock on Bill’s door and ask him to take a walk as I strolled John. He talked about our walks until the day he died. It taught me that little acts can make a big difference. Even now as I’m remembering him, I’m reminded to break out of my little world, and show interest in a neighbor.

Cookies are always a good excuse to knock on a neighbor’s door. One family brought us a bouquet of flowers to thank us for the cookies I delivered. Our daughters became good friends.

46395966-diverse-neighbors-drinking-party-yard-conceptPeople don’t tend to move from our neighborhood until they die. We sit with them as they’re passing away, when appropriate. We attend their funerals and bring food. We go back home and try to adjust to life without that special one. We remember the times we were with them at the Christmas party or the times a knock came at the door and there was Barbe delivering Maxine’s amazing homemade dumplings. I’ll never forget all the sweet people we have known and lost. I can see them right now in my mind’s eye.

I’ve been lamenting a potential move from our home– but the real loss would be the people we’ve grown to love.

Do you know your neighbors? If not, I urge you to take a step and reach out in some small way. You will be the one who benefits most.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

Frederick Buechner

Moving

Moving

Optimized-IMG_6952Some people like to move. I don’t understand these people. I once got to know the mom of my daughter’s friend in high school. She actually expressed her frustration in living in the same town longer than usual. Apparently two years was the length of their typical stint.

I felt like I was speaking with an alien. Or maybe I was the alien. We spoke different languages. I have to admit I have such admiration and fascination with the “movers”. Clearly I have something to learn from them. As for me, I had trouble changing the front door color the first time because someone thought it should always be blue. What a big step for me to take a risk and paint it red.

Warning…. BIG FEELINGS AHEAD!

Why would anyone want to leave their HOME? It’s my home—my porch, my windows that look out to the azaleas, the forsythia, the dogwood. Why would I want to leave? I can tell who’s walking up the stairs by the sound of footsteps and a certain creak of the floor. I love my porch swing— I love watching birds at the feeder. I LOVE my kitchen, especially since we finally replaced the pink laminate, and built the amazing green cabinet that I designed.

I love to hear family and friends come through the front door—especially the ones who just walk in. I love that every room groans with memories.

I can still visualize the tea party Katherine had when she was five. The little girls were so cute in their frilly dresses and hats.

The wonderful times around the big dining room table when when talked and laughed for hours. Our birthday dinners, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, Sunday dinners–gathering around the table is the very best! The many showers and parties we’ve hosted to celebrate new marriages and new babies.The Bible studies and small groups that lasted for years!

I recall the soccer games in our huge backyard– the time we hired our neighbors to be officials for John’s birthday party. They were pre-teens, but looked liked real referees to eight year old boys.

The Christmas stockings were hidden every year with miles of string attached. Some years they were discovered in the pear tree,  an air vent or in the fireplace. Tom’s skills knew no bounds.

We broke ground on our house the very day we brought John home from the hospital. That was in 1988. For months and months I would drive over to the property with our three kids and watch the progress with great excitement. A few years later we brought our baby daughter Katherine to the only place she’s called home.

Today I’m struggling. I wish I weren’t such a mush when it comes to things like houses and memories. But the truth is I am. I absolutely hate the idea of moving away from this house and living in another city. But sometimes, as we journey through life, things happen unexpectedly and we are led on a course that is different from what we anticipated.

Right now it seems that my husband’s job change may require a geographical relocation in the not so distant future. So I’m processing, grieving and trying to focus on today.

I’ve repeatedly taken comfort in the words of Oswald Chambers (My Utmost; March 19).”Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the  One Who is leading.”

That One leading is the One who has always been faithful to me. So now I wait in expectation, and trust as much as I am able, knowing that all we be well.

“Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:20

The priceless value of Home

The priceless value of Home

5621046815_cdec2d46cf_mMy morning walk took me past former homes of  close friends. I was feeling lots of emotions as I passed those houses. I pondered, as I walked, why I was feeling so sentimental. Relationships, that was the answer. In those homes I established deep friendships with people. Now, to be honest, I know many people who have lived in this community- it’s one of my favorite areas. But those feelings didn’t register inside as I passed the other houses. I’d been in some of them at various times, but there were no memories of growing friendships, of talking and laughing, even growing together.

Walking past Harriet’s, I recall the warmth and how welcomed I felt. I remember her first color scheme. It was beautiful, we all thought at the time. Then the time came for the red and yellow to be replaced with softer, more neutral tones. I remember where all the decorative pieces were placed and how she had such a knack for decorating simply and beautifully. I remember the laughter, the Monk watching and so much more. It was always a treat to be there.

Next door were the Kelly’s. They were always hospitable and welcomed our small group with open arms. I was always amazed how Barbara found time to prepare multiple dishes of food for all of us. Also, all the right beverage choices. She made me want to improve my hosting game. We laughed, prayed and shared together in that home. Always listening for their golden retriever and hoping he wouldn’t bust out of his secure place and bust up our gathering. I also remember their antique table with a marble top just like one that we have.

Emily’s was the fun house. Mostly because Emily lived there. Of course, Dave’s giant wooden play set in the backyard was not to be missed. It was an engineering marvel. And a child’s delight. What a joyful family, and their joy spilled over into their happy decorating schemes. I loved being there with them. I always lingered longer than intended because Emily and I could never stop talking.

The priceless value of home! That’s why I launched Tranquiliving in 2003. I’m passionate about helping people optimize their homes. Not to make them perfect—not to prepare for a photo shoot. We are building a happy healthy foundation on which life grows! It’s where life happens and relationships thrive.

What does home mean to you? Do you enjoy having friends over? Or is it difficult to let people in? If you typically meet in restaurants or coffee shops, why not make your home the place for your next get-together with a friend? It doesn’t have to be perfect! People just want to be with you!