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Late last fall, I undertook the job of refinishing our nearly 30-year-old kitchen table and chairs. (Wow, that just sounds so…old.)

The table is a well-made classic oak clawfoot table – it goes from a 4-foot round to a 5- or 6-foot oval with the addition of one or two leaves.

The chairs are Windsor-style. The table was a hand-picked gift from my parents and four chairs were bought as unfinished from Builders Square (before they were bought out by The Home Depot.)

If you’re not a kid, you remember oak in the mid-80s. It came in one glowing hue, fondly termed “golden.” Mine was a tad darker than some, but it still gleamed brightly. When Swimmer Girl outgrew her high chair, baby made five, and I found a pair of chairs similar to the others. They were pre-finished and didn’t match the others, but at least we had seats for everyone and one to spare.

I overlooked the set’s dated and mismatched stains as long as possible, but the table’s top was starting to show its age in profound ways. In many places, the finish was finished. Gone. Finis. Drinking glasses left dark water rings that soaked into the wood and took forever to dry. This is the “before” picture.

IMG_4545And truth be told, I finished those four chairs in haste so we would have seating – they were never my proudest project.  Looking back, I was juggling a toddler, a full course load in college and trying to manage household duties. In those days, DIY was just coming into vogue – there were no blogs or cable shows to inspire us, and home improvement store selection was pretty bare bones. I had little time or money to spend on stain and sealers, so I did what I could with what I was readily available. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I started stripping and sanding, I had to smile at the chair that was the designated toddler seat: it had bare spots rubbed where the booster seat slid back and forth. And it had a chewed spot on one of the rungs. My best guess is frequent toddler food spills led to enthusiastic dog licking…and occasional gnawing.

After a quick strip and light sanding, my pieces were ready to stain. I used General Finishes gel stains in nutmeg for the table and java for the chairs, and a waterproof sealer.  That sounds really fast, but the fact is I did it as the season was cooling down into damp, rainy weather, so there were several days’ drying time between coats, and I changed my mind on the finish coat, so instead of finishing in a week, it was more like a….month? (I’d like to say we ate in the dining room every night in the interim, but the truth is, we ate out more than we ate in that month.)

I admit my mind wandered while I researched stains and labored over the refinishing process. I thought of my friends who either have or covet a rustic farmhouse table: rectangular shape, plank top, and chunky legs. Bench seating mixed with old-style sturdy chairs.

I briefly contemplated changing out our table and chairs for something new – either a farmhouse table, or an old-fashioned school table with swing-out seats, like this one from World Marketschool cafeteria tableBut I couldn’t justify the expense OR the waste of discarding a perfectly good table and chairs that just needed a little TLC.

When I was I looking around at my options, I discovered that “farmhouse table” isn’t as narrowly defined as I thought. It seems the common tie that binds this style is rusticity. No sleek, glossy, polished glass, brass or chrome in sight. No lovely, delicate Queen Anne-style cherry legs. Those pretty tables are reserved for formal dinners and diners.

A farmhouse table is for leisurely, boisterous, talkative family suppers and hearty breakfasts. Claw-foot and other pedestal tables, be they square, round or rectangular, are now incorporated into the farmhouse family. And that suits me fine…now that its finish is updated, it will hopefully serve as our family’s favorite eating spot for many more years. No pretense, just a sturdy spot to gather us together for the holidays and the everydays.

Have you refinished any furniture lately? It’s not hard, just time-consuming. But I can vouch for the fact that the time you spend sanding and staining may give you time to reminisce…and that can be a pretty good use of your time.

Happy refinishing,
Terry

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The secret life of parents

Last Friday was prom night.  Swimmer Girl is a planner, so by Friday afternoon, her dress was hemmed and hanging in her closet, her nails were gelled, her hair and makeup were done, and she was putting on the finishing touches before her date arrived. On cue, she glided down the stairs, pinned on his boutonniere, slipped on her corsage, posed for  indoor pics and outdoor pics, and was tucked into her date’s ride just before a rain shower began.

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During the pre-prom primping, she asked me if we were doing anything that night. I mentioned that Mr. Official and I were going to dinner in Nashville.

Now, she has seen us head out for dinner, overnight trips, weekend getaways, and even week-long vacations without her, but I guess it hadn’t yet sunk in that our lives are no longer  completely intertwined with hers.

I watched her have that moment of  stunning realization: her parents have a life, separate and apart from her and her brothers. I witnessed the same moment with each of our sons, at about the same age. While they won’t admit it, I think before this epiphany, each of our children thought we simply deflated into catatonic  2-D figures that sat on the couch and waited for them to return from dates and activities with their friends.

I guess we created that assumption. When our children were young, we were with them round-the-clock almost constantly. And on the rare occasion when we had a childless outing, we made sure they were well-cared for by adults they knew and we trusted. We made them aware of our plans in advance, and assured them we would return on schedule.  And so they grew up with a perception that their parents lacked spontaneity…or any real social life to speak of.

But now the secret is out, the jig is up. Our children see us as people who do things other than raise children. Which is a good thing, considering we have almost worked ourselves out of that gig.

Happy Monday,
Terry

P.S. If you’re wondering where my garden updates are from now on, please check out my Garden Coach blog posts. You’ll find all the gritty details on my garden week-by-week over there.

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The American Dream is not 24/7

We live in a time when we think we can defy the laws of time (if not space or gravity…yet) and we pride ourselves on the fact that our society is always up and running, all day, every day.  It’s some kind of badge of honor to be able to shop, buy gas, or go through a McDonald’s drive-thru any of hour of the day or night. And yes, I realize that many of our goods are produced round-the-clock and that efficiency is part of what keeps prices in check. And that shift workers may need to buy milk and bread when they get off work, even if that is in the wee hours of the morning.

But this “always on” mentality is coming at a high price and I don’t think it’s what God or nature intended.  There’s a really good reason we have darkness each day: before modern times, it enforced a time of rest every day.  There were excellent reasons why God commanded days and weeks (and occasionally years) of sabbath, aka rest, for His people and the land.

We like to think we’ve overcome those pesky obstacles with technology, and we disregard the underlying reasons why rest is good. We’ll sleep when we’re dead, or so the saying goes.  Unfortunately, our choices to run non-stop don’t stop with us; we impose our choices on others, too.

In fact, those of us in the middle class may think we’ve never had servants, but in reality, we have created a de facto “servant” class:  it’s just called by the more politically correct term of “service” or “retail” industry.

And just like the manor lords of old, we expect those employees to cater to our whims and we rarely give their needs or comfort a moment’s thought – we simply expect them to wait on us hand and foot, 24/7.  On the rare occasion we do recognize their presence, it’s often while we are being petty, demanding and impatient “masters.”

Let’s not kid ourselves:  we’re not the modest middle-class folks we like to think we are.  We place more demands on those who serve us than any aristocratic class ever has.

And being a personal servant in the Gilded Era was no cakewalk, but arguably, certain aspects of the work environment was more humane and civilized, and certainly more dignified.

Before you decide it sounds like fun to see a midnight showing of a movie (or attend a movie on a holiday), think about the employees who must be there to sell tickets, pop your corn and make sure everything runs properly.  Is it worth it when you begin to contemplate how many lives you’re disrupting to indulge yourself?

When you decide to make a late-night run to the grocery store for ice cream, look around at how many employees are on hand, just to serve you.  Many–if not most–would prefer to be at home with their families, but they agree to work all night because the store owner wants to earn your business, O Great Customer.

I realize that few people will take up my challenge to bring back Sunday as a day of rest (and truth be told, we don’t always adhere to it, either.)  But can’t we all agree to postpone our Christmas shopping by a few hours and let retailers know (by our absence) that we won’t be enticed by dead-of-night “deals” dangled in front of us?  The same deals could be offered during normal business hours the next day.  It’s highly unlikely that a store won’t be able to serve all its customers if it doesn’t get a headstart on the day.

We didn’t get in the mess we’re in because retailers suddenly got a wild hair to open their doors longer and longer hours.  It started with consumer demands, and the only way the tide will turn is if we withdraw our demands.  And honestly, wouldn’t we all be better off if we gave it a rest?

Happy Monday,
Terry

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Falling back into single-tasking.

I thought summer was crazy-busy, but October took the grand prize for topsy-turvy scheduling, multi-tasking , living out of a suitcase and having precious little time to just breathe.  I haven’t been pulled in that many directions since my stint in the corporate world.  if I had any rose-colored aspirations of returning to those glory days, I’m now reminded why I gave up that life years ago.

I could trot out the old metaphor about how life is like a river and sometimes it’s a slow-moving lazy river and other times you’re frantically trying to navigate the rapids and stay upright. But I won’t.

Instead I will just say that for today, I’m committing myself to a slow and steady pace.  Sometime today, in between work tasks, I’m going to get in an hour of workout time and tidy up the house and then fix an honest-to-goodness dinner for my family.

But not all at once.

One. task. at. a. time.  Forget multi-tasking:  I want to single-task my way through this day, pretty please.

And tomorrow I hope to repeat the process, with one twist:  I will be casting my vote for the next president along with the other stragglers who failed to take advantage of early voting.

And maybe – just maybe – I will find by Friday that this week wasn’t as frenetic and frantic as the past several weeks have been.

We’ll see.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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Swimmer Girl and I spent seven days (or 168 hours or 10,080 minutes…however you wish to parse it out) exploring as much of New York as we could.  We visited the must-see tourist sights and found some places off the beaten path where we tried to blend in with the locals, although I suppose our mannerisms and drawls gave us away.  Here’s an abbreviated version of our week, sans pictures.

The good?
1. The shopping, from SoHo with all its quirky little stores and shops, all the way uptown where FAO Schwartz still has the keyboard floor, to the delight of all who step on it.
2. The shows.  Wicked was wickedly good, but Mamma Mia was Swimmer Girl’s favorite.
3. The food…most of it anyway.  Benjamin Steakhouse was amazing, even if we were the only two unaccompanied females dining there and the only two sharing a steak. Tony’s DiNapoli fed us homemade, fresh and wonderful pasta; 5 Napkin’s burgers  were worth the late-night trip to the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen.
4. The history.  Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, Central Park, Washington Park, South Street Seaport and the World Trade Center memorial each offer a glimpse into various aspects of our country’s unique heritage.  The American Museum of Natural History seems as vast as the nation it tries to encapsulate, and the newer  BODIES exhibit is fascinating.  Wall Street is unabashedly and unapologetically American and the Empire State Building offers a breathtaking view of the city that does not sleep.

The bad?
1. The blisters.  Manhattan is jam-packed with stuff to see and do at every turn, and every square inch in between.  Most of it is within walking distance of wherever you are. But make no mistake, it is a HUGE city. Even on feet accustomed to running and walking miles every week and wearing comfortable daytime boots and shoes, my feet had the least amount of fun of any of my body’s members.
2. The crush of humanity.  Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by a throng of people, all trying desperately to ignore each other.  (Think “Black Friday” shopping crowds, everywhere, every day.) For those of us who are raised with lots of room to roam, a little of that much togetherness goes a long ways.

The ugly?
It breaks my heart to say it, but….Macy’s.  Going in, I had such high hopes for the flagship store of my favorite chain.  Such a HUGE disappointment.  Bigger is NOT better, at least when it comes to their brand-new “World’s Largest Shoe Floor.”  We bought….oh, let’s just say “several” (*cough*) pairs of shoes on this trip.  But none at Macy’s.  Why?  Because the service was insufferably bad.  I would still love to have a Macy’s right here in Murfreesboro, but they can keep their New York sales force. In the balance, the Clinique counter staff was much more friendly and helpful, so maybe it was an off night on the shoe floor, or maybe it’s something about people who deal with feet that makes them simultaneously snarky and inefficient.

The best?
Spending uninterrupted time with my daughter, admiring the ease with which she figured out the subway schedule and negotiated with Chinatown street vendors, and savoring her first bite of the big apple.  And being greeted at the airport with a big hug from Mr. Official, and once again sleeping in our own beds.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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The final firsts and lasts

Remember your child’s firsts?

First tooth, first roll over, first bite of food, first step…and the biggest first of all:  the first day of school.  As parents we anticipate those milestones and celebrate them with delight.  But as fun as they are, we’re inevitably looking ahead to the next first.  And if/when additional children come along, their firsts go by at warp speed, sometimes becoming one big blur.

So what happens when your last child does things for the final time?  They are moments that fill a parent’s heart with pride and joy, but it seems more important to cherish them than to look beyond them to the next milestone.  Swimmer Girl is several weeks into her senior year.  The first day of school slipped up on us but we made time for a picture of her holding her first day of school, before she threw her new backpack in her trusty little SUV and headed out the driveway.

I love bittersweet. I really do.

That hasn’t always been the case, though. Learning to love bittersweet was an acquired taste with chocolate.  You don’t scarf it down like milk chocolate.  It should be eaten slowly so you experience all the nuances of the flavor and texture.

Bittersweet has proven to be part of the parent “package” too.  Raising children seems like a never-ending job when they are tiny and rambunctious, but when they are nearly grown you suddenly realize there is precious little time left and it runs out faster than sand between your fingers.  Mr. Official and I have been extraordinarily fortunate:  our children’s teenage years have had a few bumps and moments that tested our patience but in retrospect, they were minor and were far outweighed by the joys of watching our children grow into young adults, with their own ideas, goals, hopes and dreams.

Now that school is in full swing, we’ve had a few “lasts” – it was the last time I had a stack of registration paperwork to fill out, and the first (my last) orientation meeting for swim team. She recently emceed a beauty pageant she participated in last year, finishing out that activity with a flourish.

Applications are off to her top choice schools, and literature pours in daily from many other colleges and universities.  Football season is in full swing, so Friday nights are busy for the girl and her daddy – sometimes at the same school, but often not.

Our final fall break trip is planned.  For our grand finale, we’re doing the Big Apple.  It will be her first trip to NYC, but probably our last mother/daughter getaway, at least for a while – college doesn’t lend itself to slipping off for a beach week in October.

Once the swim season is underway in earnest, we’ll careen through fall into Middle Son’s graduation in mid-December and then the holidays.  It will be a whirlwind year of last firsts. After we ring in 2013, we will be in the homestretch to her graduation in mid-May.

Until then, I’ll continue to savor the bittersweet flavor of final firsts and lasts.

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“Thanksgiving” by Norman Rockwell

I wrapped up my Thankful Thursdays series last week.  I’ll let you decide if it was intentional or a miscalculation.  (Before you decide, remember I do hold degrees in accounting and finance.  On the other hand, I’d rather balance a buzzing chainsaw than our checkbook.)

Anyhoo.


The six-week countdown was a good reminder of just how much of my life falls under the blanket heading of “blessings.”  But they are/were pretty general in nature, and occasionally I suspect God likes to hear some specific thank-you’s from me.  So here’s just the tip of the iceberg of detailed things I’m grateful for, from A to Z. Some of these are more profound than others, but really – shouldn’t we be grateful for everything we have been given, whether it’s inconsequential or completely essential to our life?

A is for Anthony Shea.  Oldest son, owner of Sadie, my beloved grandpuppy.  He was our parenting guinea pig, and seems to have survived his childhood with a fairly well-adjusted outlook on life, and has become a confident, fun and capable young man.

B is for books.  Starting with the Bible and winding my way through cookbooks, Dr. Seuss, my beloved literary giants, even frothy fiction on the beach.  Books are one of life’s greatest and simplest pleasures.  The smell of bookstores and books, new or old, the way the spine creaks when you open a book for the first time.  And the way a well-crafted story draws you into it, and makes you feel and think differently when you’ve finished reading it.

C is for chocolate.  It is and will always be my favorite flavor in the whole wide world.  Creamy milk or smooth and dark – it’s all good.

D is for David Brice.  Younger son, and the child everyone would vote as most like his mama in so many ways.  He too somehow survived his “wonder years” under our parentage and has a way of looking at things that is uniquely his own.  Life with Brice will never, ever be dull.

E is for Eden:  my birth family.  My grandparents, aunts, uncles and my parents and brother all bear this name and they surround me with love, and I love ’em back.  Without them, I wouldn’t be!

F is for football.  It took me a long time to be able to say I love the game, but recently on a trip home (after another frustrating defeat), the car was filled with football talk about the game and upcoming high school matchups that would lead up to the state final championship. And I realized I was in my element.

G is for gardening.  There is something about watching seeds become seedlings and the smell of fresh-turned dirt in the spring that brings me in tune with the One who created me and everything I see when I’m down on hands and knees, tending to things of this earth.

H is for Highland Heights Church of Christ. My spiritual family.  May God bless every one of my brothers and sisters.  It’s not about the place, it’s about the people and the faith and hope we share.

I is for ice cream.  Homemade is best.  A hot fudge sundae can cure almost anything, and an offer to slip out for some ice cream can make an ordinary evening rather extraordinary.

J is for Jesus.  He is my savior, my king, my teacher, my brother.  Everything I need to know about living in this world, I can learn from His example and teachings.  Without Him, I would have no hope for anything beyond this life.

K is for kisses from the dogs.  Puppy kisses are wet and sloppy and their doggy breath is stinky.  But they love me and  never tire of letting me know they do.  The trust and unconditional love of a dog is a treasured gift.

L is for Lea.  Many years ago, my husband’s family opened their hearts and shared their name with me. My mother-in-law is an amazing and precious woman, my brothers- and sister-in-law are as close as blood.  You don’t marry your spouse’s family, but I think I got a pretty good deal when I married into this one.

M is for marshmallows. Roasted and toasted, or all soft and gooey floating on hot, hot chocolate.  Everyone’s life should include some puffy goodness every now and again.

N is for needlework.  From the time I was a child, the women in my life taught me to use my hands to sew, embroider, crochet and knit.  Admittedly, I am not an artistic person by nature, but with a needle in hand, I can create something useful, soft to touch, and pretty to look at.  I’m grateful to those who taught me, and I’ve enjoyed teaching others.  It’s a pass-along gift from one generation to the next.

O is for the Olympics. For thousands of years, humans have pushed their bodies in order to compete against each other.  Watching Olympic athletes is both inspiring and deluding – they make it look so effortless we sometimes forget how much blood, sweat, pain and tears it took them to reach the place where they are.  But it’s a marvelous tradition that has stood the test of time, and continues to challenge us to be better tomorrow than we are today.

P is for polish.  I have a plethora of polishing and cleaning concoctions.  The smell of furniture polish says the house is clean.  Squeaky shiny mirrors and doors let light sparkle and glow.  The simple act of buffing and polishing something from dull and dirty to a soft sheen or high polish reminds me of how God works to remove my rough edges and and dirty spots.  Not to mention, a fresh coat of polish on my toes can make me happy from head to toe.

Q is for Q-tips.  Pure genius.  So small, so soft, and yet so totally useful. And cheap.  Really.  Just try to imagine life without them and then you’ll be thankful for them, too.

R is for rainy days.  There is something healing and soothing in hearing rain drop to earth.  It’s a cool respite in the middle of summer, a gentle noise that can lull us to sleep.  Naps on a rainy day?  Pure, simple pleasure.

S is for Shelby. Our youngest child and only daughter.  Swimmer girl is a beautiful creature inside and out.  I am humbled by her faith, and awed by her capacity to love and understand others, and her love of God and life. Sooner than I care to think about, she will be ready to strike out on her own, and I can’t wait to see how her life turns out.

T is for Tony.  Aka Mr. Official.  And truly, my better half.  God must have thought a lot of me to put this man in my life.  There’s so much more I could say, but if you know him, you know why I love him with my whole heart.

U is for uniforms, especially those worn by men and women who defend and protect us.  Since ancient times, soldiers have worn clothing that sets them apart from civilians, and I am always proud and humbled when I find myself standing next to a member of our military, whether they are in their dress blues or whites, or fatigues.  They have stepped up to the line and set themselves apart by their actions and their attire, and they have my undying admiration and respect.

V is for vacations. In my life, I’ve been privileged to visit from sea to shining sea and quite a few of the places in between.  The thrill of packing in anticipation of a trip, experiencing new vistas and foods, finding just the right keepsake to bring home, and finally returning to our own beds after some time away gives us memories that last a lifetime, and sometimes a new-found perspective.

W is for water.  It’s not only what we’re largely made of, but it replenishes us when we drink it, invigorates us when we jump in, cleanses and calms children (and adults) before bedtime, and reminds us of God’s power and presence when we see his handiwork in thundering waterfalls, mirror-like lakes and pounding ocean waves.

X is for Xerox and X-rays, and all the other marvels of the technological age we live in, where we can replicate anything at the touch of a button, and peer inside our bodies and see babies growing, pinpoint cancerous tumors to remove, and see broken bones that can be made good as new.  We live in a truly amazing era.  And what we know now simply points out how much more we don’t know.

Y is for yoga.  It is part physical, creating flexibility, strength and balance.  It’s also part mental, soothing and calming with steady breathing and focused attention.  An hour of yoga is an hour well spent.

Z is for the zillions of blessings I haven’t begun to list here.  Try to count your blessings, I dare you. They are infinite and they just keep coming, so keep enjoying the life you have and thank God for the the good things He sends your way.  As Harriet Beecher Stowe so eloquently put it,

“Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude.”

Today is the big day.  It starts with the Macy’s Day Parade (shout out to Evan O’Neal, who will be marching in it!) and turkey and all the trimmings. I pray for safe travels for all of us going “over the river and through the woods,” and an edifying and peaceful day of giving thanks for all we have.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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