House Speak

House Speak

I take frequent walks and the houses I pass always grab my attention. As part of my Tranquiliving business, I give staging consultations to folks selling their homes. I’m hyper-vigilant about every single exterior detail of a house—the curb appeal.  After all, the exterior is the introduction to the entire home. Many a buyer will turn away before getting near the entry if they’re unhappy with what they see!

First prize for the Most Unwelcoming House (my conscience prevents me from calling it a home!) goes to one I saw last week. Of modest size, and plopped down in a pleasant  little community, this place had no less than four large NO TRESPASSING signs. One of the signs was posted on the front door! Right where some people might hang a wreath or place a brass door knocker. I gulped when I walked past. I had to turn and walk by a second time just to let it sink in. I couldn’t help but imagine the story that had transpired beyond the front door. Had they incurred a devastating tragedy? Or was there one too many a proselytizer or Girl Scout? As a resident in that house, I wonder what kind of mood you’d fall into as you returned to your own home?

That house took the cake as my parents would have said. Next in line after the no trespassing house would be the house that is completely hidden behind shrubs and trees. You’re not sure there’s a house there, so obviously you don’t feel welcome.

Plenty of other dwellings I’ve seen could qualify for second or third place.

Twenty-one items that might make a home feel unwelcoming:

  • trash littering the yard or bulging garbage bags
  • broken down bicycles or cars
  • excessive toys covering the porch or yard
  • an ambiguous entrance—not knowing which door to use
  • a walkway that’s difficult to maneuver because of overgrowth or clutter
  • dead plants, grass or shrubs, especially near the entrance
  • dirty front door or peeling paint on door or trim
  • decorative metal that is discolored or damaged (I’ve used metallic spray paint rather than replacing certain items.)
  • cobwebs or hornets’ nests overhead in porch or entry area
  • burned out bulbs at night
  • dirty or broken light fixture
  • ragged door mat
  • inordinate number of yard ornaments
  • scattered tools or plumbing and construction materials
  • excessive and mismatched yard or porch furniture
  • broken or dated flower pots or too many pots
  • plastic flowers (sigh)
  • missing shutters or ones in need of paint
  • peeling house paint
  • Christmas decorations displayed when it’s not Christmas
  • a mailbox that’s seen better days

If you want to be welcoming to friends and neighbors you don’t need perfection. Pretend to be a guest and imagine what another person might feel when they walk up to your door. Clean it up, declutter and bring cheer to yourself and others by having one or a few healthy plants near the entry. But not twenty.

If you’re putting your house on the market, you still don’t have to achieve perfection but you should come a little closer to it! Be intentional to create curb appeal that is new, fresh, clean and green. You don’t want to run anyone off!

Now please excuse me; there are a few things I need to tend to outside:).

Thoughts on a Quiet House

Thoughts on a Quiet House

The sink shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least one stray cereal bowl filled with water…waiting to be washed.

The desk in the entry way is naked—where are the keys with the antique bent silver spoon?

The window by the kitchen table is still smudged by sticky baby girl hands—it won’t be cleaned today. It’s a sweet reminder of the laughing little one looking for birdies and squirrels. (My big feelings have clearly taken me to desperate places!)

There aren’t enough dishes to fill the dishwasher.

The blankets and pillows on the sofas stay obediently in their spots.

Piles of laundry that bugged me for so long are gone. Even the laundry room is on a brief vacay.

One week ago our home was bustling with hurriedness and so much chatter and laughter. “Pull up another chair to the table…crowd in…there’s room at the table for you!” No extra chairs needed today.

I’ve been known to grab a neighbor, and drag her to my house for potluck….to clean out the fridge or scrounge the freezer and eat up what we have. Sharing life gives me life.

Spontaneously invite a friend! You can be sure that your fare is as good or better than what she’d eat alone. No need to make a production! And it’s always better together.

Two in a home are better than one. And ten are better than two. We are not meant to be alone. What a treasure loved ones are and what a comfort to connect to other souls; other spirits.

A house shouldn’t be so quiet. No sounds of hurried footsteps dashing out the door and no goodbyes and I love you’s quickly called out.

The porch light is on, but why? No one is coming. New habits new ways new normals—they are all harkening me on to the new chapter.

When our kids were little and there was zero alone time, my friend Cynthia and I would chat on the phone in the mornings. We’d discuss what we learned from Dr. Dobson on 90.5 about parenting and wifing. More than once we discussed the verse from Proverbs 14;4.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Oxen are messy and eat a lot. They’re expensive and time consuming. The manger would be clean without them; but they provide a great harvest. Their benefit far outweighs their drawback.

My friend and I imagined that theoretically we could have a tidy clean house with everything in order. But what benefit would there be to an empty house? We wanted to learn to embrace or at least accept the poopy diapers, never ending laundry, the continual spills. One day we’d miss those little rug rats.

When you’re there it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be here. And isn’t it funny that so much of the time there is a longing for the other season rather than a full on reveling in the present. We humans are so weird and impossible to please; or maybe it’s just me.

An advantage to having lived through lots of years is that you begin to finally realize that each season prepares you for the next. Every single one is as valuable as the one coming. God is always faithful. So why should I fret and why should I be sorrowful? Right now He’s preparing me for what’s ahead and even in my melancholy and tender emotions my hope is in Him. All the days planned for me are written in His book.

The Most Powerful Force

When our kids were young and Saturdays rolled around we had Family Night. We encouraged our children to invite friends; it was a fun way to introduce some of them to our Christian faith.

On one occasion my husband, Tom, asked everyone, “What’s the most powerful force in the world?” The kids shouted out names of all sorts of weapons, military powers and super heroes. No one came close to the right answer. My husband has never been one to cut corners when illustrating a point. He took each child separately, blindfolded, from the room to touch something that would give a clue to the correct answer. Each one had a turn but no one got it. He then brought the object into the room for everyone to see– it was a cow tongue! They threw their hands over their mouths and almost gagged!

The most powerful force, Tom taught, is the tongue. Our tongues to be precise. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21).

Today I was reminded of that long ago lesson after I chatted with a young woman working at the dry cleaners. I had the nudge that I often get to say something affirming. It’s so uncomfortable to say something personal to a stranger, but I’ve realized it gets easier as I do it. I told her I really liked her smile. That her smile was pretty.

As I walked to the car I recalled a time many years ago when an older lady that I admired told me I had pretty eyes. I don’t think anyone had ever told me that before.

On another occasion, at a friend’s wedding, the pastor who had officiated came up to me and said, “God has not forgotten you.” He knew that I’d become a single parent due to a divorce I didn’t want. Those years were hard. His words were just what I needed at that moment. And he was right—God had not forgotten! Clearly, positive words have stuck with me all these years and I’ve rehearsed them in my mind many times.

This week Katherine and I were pulling together an outfit for Grandmom to wear to the wedding. As she tried on her dress she instinctively put her hands over her neck and commented on how bony it was. She wanted it covered. After hearing her say that for over thirty years, I realized how pretty she looked with her neck area showing. I told her as much. I realized I’d grown deaf to that comment. A comment that had most likely been said to her many years ago and had stuck. It was not true but she’d believed it.

Sadly I also remember some very hurtful things said to me forty or fifty years ago. The power of life and death? I hope my words never have such a long-lasting negative effect!

I think it’s somewhat intuitive for me to hesitate before I say something unkind. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1). But, to say something intentionally positive takes a little more thought. It requires that I dismiss, for a moment, the thoughts swirling in my head and focus on the person in front of me. Probably easier for an extravert!

What comments can we make to someone today that will bring them life? What positive words will we speak to ourselves?

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

–Proverbs 12:18

The Best Christmas Gifts

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When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

 

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. This was not a status I sought or ever dreamt I’d experience. But I had to make the best of it. In my care was a precious toddler son and a baby in my belly. I’d say that I had more time than money. But time wasn’t really that plentiful—to make ends meet I daily cared for five additional children in my tiny home. Time available still out-weighed the money, I guess. I took stock of materials I had and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made for my mom. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and covered the edges with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that today! I had embroidery thread and cloth to stitch so I made my dad a cross-stitched framed picture of a deer. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort! I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking treats, probably chocolate chip cookies. Those were difficult but memorable days. It’s funny when you think about what things are most important and the gifts that are most special.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. Again, I decided to make all of our presents. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand.  I think I had more fun than the recipients. Maybe not a stellar year for them, but fulfilling for me!

These days I almost don’t recognize myself. In years past, on December eighteenth, I would have been scurrying around, frantically shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. This year I’m embracing imperfection in all of its glory. I’m not getting everything done that I’d like to do. Grace  is what I’m giving myself. I’m savoring the moments and saying yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. This year I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before.  Here are some personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. Every year she holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and spends more time taking his bow. The quartet “sings” with the biggest smiles you can imagine. Then, Santa appears!  The folks jump up from their seats to give him the biggest hug ever. As you watch their interactions,  you know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations by the Occupational Prep class at a local high school. I’m amazed at the knack my daughter has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and the hope I have for their future! And I almost said no to her request to come! It was cold and dark, it was on Market Street, I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. I’m so grateful that she persisted!
  • Spending time with our first grandchild. Pondering the significance and blessing of bearing children and knowing and enjoying our children’s children. What a gift.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the work. They are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Enjoying the new clients I’ve met in my Tranquiliving business during the holiday season. One lady is ready for her children to join her for Christmas because of my help. Another will be hosting a party for her friends since we conquered the paper piles together! Everyone has a story and they’re all important!
  • Christmas music!
  • Gratitude for our grown sons and the way they love their wives.
  • Our daughter’s upcoming marriage to a great guy that God chose for her!
  • All the notes and cards from my husband while he’s working in another city. And for our thirty-one years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count. Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge

Hurricanes and Other Storms

Hurricanes and Other Storms

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I started writing a blog post last week, but somehow I couldn’t get excited about describing emotional trauma caused by mountains of clutter in a home I’d visited. While I was writing, something happened–Hurricane Matthew. I kept imagining mothers in Haiti hovering over their babies while the winds were sweeping away their flimsy homes. My mind was scrolling through images I’d either seen or imagined.

I experienced my own angst as I heard the familiar scary howling sounds in the pitch darkness just outside my walls. I’ve lived near the coast my entire life and gone through many storms. Night is most difficult because you can’t see what’s happening right around you. I recommend Benadryl for these occasions. I was caring for an adult daughter with severe cognitive challenges and a very sweet mother-in-law who has her share of memory issues. When the lights went out I consciously spoke in soft sweet tones trying to keep my charges “happy”. I kept reminding myself how fortunate I was to live in a sturdy brick house.

Nearly a week after the storm, the images keep coming through social media, I’ve had to fight feeling overwhelmed. I hurt so for the victims. How can I complain about hurricane inconveniences when others have suffered much more in comparison? As I was praying for the ones hurting and also for my own heart, God reminded me that I’ve weathered my storms, and others have weathered their own. We can’t determine what storms we’ll encounter. Only our Creator  knows what we’ll face. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God is sovereign —”He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)  What I can control is the way I respond to what comes my way. I’m not helping the Haitian people by worrying, but I can help in a small way by supporting the efforts of people who are serving. (http://samaritanspurse.org) And I can pray.

As I sorted through all of this in my mind, I recalled other storms in my life. Hurricane Frederick is the one I associate with becoming a single mom. My little boy was nearly two and I was pregnant with my daughter. I never planned to “single parent”, but sometimes those storms come along as well. I remember the winds whipping up as I dragged all the garbage cans, chairs and flower pots to safe storage.

I remember that my little boy, Ben, and I moved in with our friends, the Beavers. We ended up losing power for many days and the short distance between our houses was blocked; huge trees littered the streets. Neighbors brought thawed food from freezers and cooked on grills. We disinfected the water we’d saved in the bathtub by adding Clorox. We lived with our friends for at least a week or so. The closeness to loved ones balances the memories of painful realities in my life at the time.

A baby shower for Kathy had been planned during the time of “Frederick”, which of course, had to be postponed. When Renee hosted the party a few weeks later, it took on a festive hurricane theme!  Cynthia, the cake decorating genius, created a disaster themed cake; broken Twix candy bars became strewn trees.  We rearranged the art on the walls in a lopsided fashion and turned decorative pieces over as if a wind had blown right through the home. We agreed to use no lights, only candles and kerosene lamps. And……Spam was on the menu! Spam became an undesired symbol of the hurricane during the aftermath.  It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re hungry!

Just one week ago, this house, belonging to our friend Grey, was torn in half by a large oak tree.  Amazingly, he was spared from harm— dashing from his bedroom as he heard the tree coming down. God’s love in the midst of the storm. Writing has helped me to recall difficulties I’ve come through and most importantly, God’s faithfulness. I take comfort; knowing He will likewise be faithful to His other hurting children. I’ll keep donating drinking water to our North Carolina neighbors and help however I can.  And I’ll remember to let go of things outside of my control, which is nearly everything.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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