Potlucks, Paranoia, & Pumpkin Pie (part 1)

I did attempt to end the last blog post on an “up” note, but as I look back on it, it was kind of a downer of a post in general. So let’s have a chat about the potluck, that “forced” hospitality as I called it, which brought on the whole bowl-crashing, bread-destroying chaos on Saturday night.

Sunday morning, as it turns out, was much better. J got up early and made an “easy no-knead what bread” recipe, which got rave reviews, and since it only rises once, we even made it to Sunday school. After church, we ended up with about two dozen people here for a potluck.

Here’s the background about the potluck situation: The goal eventually is to have sort of an open-house/standing-invitation potluck every week after church, but for now, once a month is about all we can manage. The more we think about community and consumption and food habits and fellowship and Sabbath-keeping (whew!), it seems that these all need to come together, somehow, in a concrete way. Eating out at a restaurant after church, as seems to be the tradition in both of the places we’ve lived since being “real” adults, somehow just doesn’t work for us. It feels wrong, and I tend to go with my gut instinct on these matters.

So, our solution: low-key potlucks.

So, my problem: I am not low-key.

You see, most days I love my house, and the grit and the grime and its unfinished-ness doesn’t bother me. But when my brain realizes that we’re about to have people wandering through, something in me seizes up. (And it doesn’t matter if it’s a horde of college students coming over for theology reading group on Thursday nights or if it’s my parents or my friends or what.) It kind of bothers me that one wall in our living room still has the cracked mud and plaster showing; that our mantle for the fireplace is still in the basement, not stripped of paint; that the baseboards are unpainted, chipped, and in many places, just missing; that we still have old-lady curtains hanging in the living room; that our leather furniture is flaking off…clearly not real leather. And that doesn’t even begin to get to the bottom of my issues–dirty sinks and toilets, sticky 50s linoleum, crumbs on the counter top, laundry piled in front of the washing machine… oh my goodness, I have such issues.

It is certainly paranoia. Shouldn’t hospitality be more than a clean house? At the very least, it shouldn’t involve pretending to have it all perfect and together. That’s not being very honest–and dishonesty and hospitality can’t go hand in hand. Or maybe I’m crazy. (Okay, we’ve established that already.)

Some of our closest friends in Texas always had an open home, always invited people into their apartment, no matter if there were dishes in the sink, books all over the coffee table, kids’ toys on the floor, dust bunnies sneaking around, cats crawling all over you.

I always wanted to be like that.


And maybe someday I will be. But let me tell you, when I am freaking out because guests are about to arrive and J gently reminds me, “Hospitality is not about having a clean  house,” well, most of the time, I am not happy to hear it. In fact, most of the time it makes me want to scream.

But I’m growing. Really.

[Potluck part 2 coming very soon.]

And Yet Another Reason…

On lots of Fridays, I don’t have to drive down to campus because I spend the day at home grading papers, catching up on a freelance project, and doing homework. This morning, it was nice to sleep in until 7 am, and my slower morning resulted in J leaving the house a little later, too. A little bit after 8, as he went out the front door, I followed him out to check on our mums on the front porch. They weren’t looking so swell, so I took a few seconds to pull out the dead leaves, and then I grabbed the watering can and headed inside to fill it. (I normally fill it outside, but it was pretty cold this  morning and my hands were already beginning to go numb. I was standing in my PJs and robe, so I wasn’t exactly dressed for a cold morning.)

I turned around to head back into the house as J drove away and, unfortunately for me, when I tried to open the door, I found it to be locked. As is our habit when we leave in the morning, J had locked the door knob latch on his way out, not expecting me to follow him out the door, much less pull it closed behind me.

It was too  late to run after the car and try to get his attention to come back, and I didn’t have my phone or keys tucked away in the pockets of my robe. Hm. What to do?

Then I saw A’s car sitting out front. SCORE. Yet another reason why I am thankful I live in community (and that our “community” has a downstairs bedroom).

I walked around to the back door first, just to make sure it wasn’t unlocked, and then wandered over to A’s window and knocked, really loudly. His curtain moved, and then he peeked out, eye brow raised. I waved a cheery “good morning” and gestured toward the back door. After a few seconds, he appeared at the back door. I was thankful.

[Thank you, friend!]

What makes this story even better is that I came to find out that about a week ago, J found himself in the same position, knocking on A’s window to be let back into the house. Awesome.

So… maybe we better hide-a-key.

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Community is…

…a borrowed sewing machine.

I am particularly a fan of the carrying case, eerily reminiscent of the special X-ray machine box that Will Smith carries around for the entire length of The Pursuit of Happyness.

A few weeks ago, I bought some cool fabric at IKEA (hooray for deals in the clearance bin) and set out to make some curtains and a few pillow covers. The only problem was that I did not own a sewing machine, nor had I sewn in many, many years. My debut was a stuffed animal, a purple coiled worm actually, in eighth grade (family and consumer science project), and I think the only other time I used a sewing machine was in college when I made a random pair of PJs for J. That said, I remember thinking back in eighth grade that it didn’t seem very hard, not even the bobbin-changing part, so I thought I could handle it now, fifteen years later… if only I had a sewing machine.

Luckily, I have a network of ambitious folks I know in my little town, so I sent out a query e-mail asking if anyone had a sewing machine that was actually portable. The truth is, I didn’t know what that would look like, but I assumed it would exist. The first reply I got was “I don’t even know how to sew on a button,” and that person shall remain nameless. But then I got four more responses–all positives!

So, voila! A sewing machine at my disposal. As it turns out, the bobbin-thing is kind of tricky, but courtesy of the internet, I was able to find instructions for this particular brand of sewing machine, complete with pictures. I was impressed with myself, if I do say so.

I made two sets of curtains, one over the sink and one in the laundry room, and two covers for throw pillows in our living room. If only I could get myself out to Fallmart for some white thread, I could finish up the other curtains I have planned. But my anxiety about that place has been described elsewhere.

Oh, one other thing: I didn’t even own any straight-pins when I started the project, so I borrowed those, too. I’ve been wondering why everyone I know has one of those stuffed tomato things to hold her pins. My mom sure did, my grandma did, J said his mom did, and these borrowed pins came with a tomato. Why? Why a tomato? Why not, say, an orange? Please shed some light on this.

ReStore-ing Community


My husband has helped out at Habitat for Humanity during our church’s annual “Mission Blitz” for the last two years, but this year it was pouring down rain. So instead of going to a work site and putting his power tools to use, he ended up sorting through window blinds at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. If you haven’t heard of this place, you have got to find one and check it out.

Since then, we’ve come to know and love our Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and not just because the proceeds go to Habitat construction projects. For one thing, when J finally got me back there to look at a whole bunch of old-fashioned (i.e., second-hand) wooden window blinds that were a really great deal, we couldn’t find them with the other window blinds. After hunting for awhile, and nearly giving them up as sold to some other lucky soul, we found them piled near the door in the “FREE” bin. (“Cheapskate” is my middle name, after all.)

What makes ReStore even more appealing is that it’s right beside Fallmart (see this post for how I feel about Fallmart), so when we pull in at the light, I can glance over my left shoulder and say, “Take that, Fallmart! I prefer second-hand goods anyway–so there!”

That is my true nature coming out.

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Lessons from the Land Without Dishwashers (#1)

Living in this land without dishwashers, we’ve learned a few things about community. The first one is pretty obvious.

1)   Community is messy.

And of course I mean this both literally and figuratively.

Whatever community you find yourself in, whether it’s intentional community with homeless people sleeping on your couch (probably not) or just your close circle of friends and family–you and your spouse, friends who come over for a movie and popcorn, or the extended relatives for a twice-a-year holiday feast—it’s still messy. Who hasn’t in some way experienced community right inside the four walls of her house, and who hasn’t experienced the physical mess it leaves behind? It’s dishes in the sink, clutter on the coffee table, dirty towels in the bathroom, dirt on the welcome mat.

That’s what having people sharing the same space does, even if you’re the kind of person who pays someone else to clean it up for you when it’s all said and done. You’ve seen the mess, so you  know what I’m saying.

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The Land Without Dishwashers*

When we first wandered through the house that was to become our permanent home, a few things stood out to me. One of them was the green linoleum in the kitchen. Another was the charming archways between the downstairs living areas. Another was the unfortunate bathroom situation upstairs—a bathtub less than four inches from the front of the toilet bowl, for example, making it impossible to, well, sit on the toilet.

What I don’t remember is whether it struck us, during that first walk-through, or the second, or the third, that the kitchen did not have a dishwasher.

Maybe we noticed at the time and decided it didn’t matter. Maybe we thought we’d remodel the kitchen someday and be able to squeeze one in. Maybe.

Regardless, our little, green-lineoleumed, oddly-shaped kitchen does not have a dishwasher or room to add one. As a result, one of us spends a great deal of time in front of the sink, washing dishes, and the truth is that it’s rarely me. (This qualifies as yet another reason why my husband is awesome.)

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On Renovating Bathrooms & Sleeping in the Basement

Since last week’s post was a throwback to early house renovations, and because, coincidentally, this week my dad is in town once again to help work on our house, I thought I’d offer a shout-out and a post from 2010. Thanks, Dad. (And let’s not tell anyone you’re sleeping in the basement again this time, okay?)


When we bought our house (and up until three days ago, actually) the upstairs bathroom looked like this:

In case you can’t tell, the most notable feature of this bathroom is the slim four or five inches between the toilet and the tub. As has been noted previously, the hubster and I are both extraordinarily tall. This posed a problem.

As in, sitting on the toilet required your feet to be in the bathtub. Ahem.

So J devised a plan to move a wall a few feet in one direction, pull out the toilet, swing the tub around, replumb all of the old cast-iron piping, and, well, a partridge in a pear tree. J is very handy, and I’m patient, so we dove on in. This weekend, our first dad came to visit to help with the demo work and reframing in the new wall.

I suppose that driving almost ten hours in a car in order to do some back-breaking labor (I’d say ‘literally’ but you wouldn’t believe me, though I saw how it took three of them to carry the plumbing down the steps) is a commitment to community of sorts, or you could say it’s just being a good dad. Either way, it’s admirable.

But there’s more.

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Floors & A Future of Hospitality

We moved into our house almost four years ago and spent quite a bit of time that first summer doing hands-on fixer-upper projects. We were painting and scraping and mudding, tearing down walls and moving plumbing. We were picking staples out of old flooring, one by one, and we were sanding down the hardwood and laying tile. But amidst all of that life-before-children chaos, we were also planning our future life within those four walls. Enjoy!


So we finished the bear of a task of refinishing our floors last week. Now we just wait for 72 hours for the polyurethane to harden. Sanding ended up being more difficult than expected, though not because of the threatening warnings on the upright sander we rented from big-box-home-improvement-store.

I like that you can read “dismember” but little else.

Apparently on really old floors, if the wood is slightly warped, then the new dummy-proof sanders don’t work so well, since they’re made not to sand through your floor if you leave them in one place too long. Basically, we sanded and sanded and sanded, and barely made a difference. J ended up needing to go back through by hand with a belt sander and do every square inch of the living room over. For real.

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Yard Sales, Lost Houses, & When Zucchini Bread Is What You’ve Got

My neighbor Ashley and I organized a multi-family yard sale back in April, which took place in my yard, since it’s on a corner and is pretty spacious. Folks from church stopped by, folks we didn’t know stopped by, and our neighbors stopped by. An old man picked through my VHS collection because he thought it was an incredible deal that I was selling 4 for 25 cents each or 10 for $1. (Think about it.) I sold three giant boxes of books for dirt cheap to a woman whose son has a brain disease and reads voraciously all day. I let three shy little daughters of a non-English speaking mom into my house to use the bathroom. I learned that people are more likely to buy furniture–even old, icky furniture that we picked up years ago alongside the road (and blogged about it)–if you put a $3 price on it, rather than Free. For real.

I have been on a less-is-more trajectory for some time now, and it felt good to go through our house and ask honestly whether we needed particular items. The answer to “Could we make due without this?” is nearly always yes, by the way. In fact, sometimes I think I’d be happiest living in one of those 348 square feet apartments from the IKEA showroom.

And then sometimes I don’t.

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Chaos, Community, & One Small House

Last weekend, I read an article in the real estate section of the local newspaper about a single-family dwelling with over 5,000 square feet of finished living space. In an interview with the current owners, the husband/father praised the size of the children’s rooms (which each had their own private baths) by saying that in their old house, the kids had to play in the basement together but now they could all play in their own separate rooms. And, he said, when the family hosts big parties, there can be twenty kids playing upstairs and the dozen adults downstairs never even know it.

Based on the photos that accompanied the article, I think it quite possible that my entire house could fit into this larger one’s foyer without much squishing.

It was quite coincidental that I read the article last weekend on the same day that we moved the Bean into our room to squeeze eleven people into our house, eleven people sharing two bathrooms, eating fruit loops together in the morning in shifts, laughing at our wacky children’s antics.

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