Household


It’s been an epic year for our little Kamin family.  Baby girl has grown by leaps and bounds. We switched to one income. Almost a year ago my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent two incredibly invasive surgeries, all while unsure if the c-word would win the battle anyway.  The circumstances and ensuing emotions, both new ones and those from stowaway baggage, have been exhausting.  I don’t have a lot to say about it yet, but a nap sounds wonderful.  🙂

Here are a few of the gifts in our lives that keep us afloat:

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thanksgiving

 

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Seriously.  These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

Seriously. These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

We are so grateful for the sustaining fellowship we’ve experienced through our faith, family, and community this past year.  It gives us great hope for the future.

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Garden planning.  Because we need to see things grow this year.  Because we need the Lord to be caretaker of us and our work.  Because we want miracles to sprout in our backyard.  Goodness.

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“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth.  The first is by war… this is robbery.  The second by commerce, which is generally cheating.  The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God…” – Benjamin Franklin

I work at a grocery store.  The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak.  Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year.  Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge.  Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.

However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all.  There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.

From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal.  I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off.  And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.

“You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season?  Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool?  We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions.  (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.)  We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what?  Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon?  Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?

What’s the goal of the day?  Is it a time to revel in our resources?  Maybe.  Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here?  Definitely.  Would we celebrate if we were alone?  I wonder.  To whom would we voice our thankfulness?  What is grace or gratitude without community?  Where can they live without relationships?

So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community.  A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.

Say grace, says Chesterton.  Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote.  Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy.  Speak favor and pardon to one another.  Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.

Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos.  Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.

In the last 30 years (read: my lifetime) I’ve had the fortune of watching several members of my family grow to very old age.  Eight of them lived to their eighties, one all the way to one hundred.  She especially grew sweeter as she grew older.  Her body became dependent on the help of others, and her heart seemed to follow, finally embracing what it had always needed.  She doted on her great-grandchildren, spent hours studying the pictures of a great-great grandchild she’d yet to meet.  She was tiny, sweet woman with beautiful wrinkles, bright eyes, and terrible hearing.  Her eyes were clear and blue through the end and she taught herself to read lips with them, so that while she struggled to participate in group discussions, she persisted with one-on-one conversations and tenaciously kept abreast of her family’s affairs.

My childhood memories of this woman are distinct from the later years.  I have clouded images of an old house with a fascinating church organ we were not allowed to touch.  It was slightly dank and the pink-tiled bathroom may be solely responsible for my continued aversion to that color.  Nana didn’t talk with us much then, that I remember.  She worried a lot and had neck pain that bothered her intensely.  She mostly sat in her rocking chair and adjusted her  brace, her feet occasionally touching the floor.  My sister and I would sit across the room or explore carefully outside while we waited for the visit to end, never stepping too close to the small fence which continually sank further over the eroding cliff that bordered her property.

When she moved into the retirement home, it was with readiness for her life to wind down.  She could no longer take care of her belongings or keep herself in health.  She whittled that house down item after item to fit into a small kitchen-less studio and anticipated a small and quiet ending.

But she was wrong.  Nana lost her independence, the home where she raised her child, the neighborhood she had inhabited for fifty years.  She gave up what had become her life, and she then came alive.  She signed up for water-color painting and we each have her paintings displayed in our homes.  They are simple, but beautiful.  She took a tai chi class and felt the pain in her neck lessen.  She had friends to lunch with each day and took it upon herself to learn the geography of her new town, though she never drove a car again.  She took pride in “treating” us to breakfast with her saved up dining points and wasn’t satisfied until the table was filled with every variety of juices and Eggo waffles available.

Most people in my family maintain that giving up her home and responsibilities added many years to Nana’s life.  And when eventually her health outlived her money, her dependency, and her joy, reached yet a new level.  She became less and less the woman we had known, or even she had known.  If you ask Jaron to do his impression of Nana, he will put on his best high-pitched voice, turn his head to the side while he snaps his wrist and says, “Oooohhh, ooh!!”.  In her later years it didn’t take much to make Nana smile and even an attempt at a joke in her presence got you the rich reward of that expression which Jaron felt the need to master.  She thought less and less of herself and became younger and more beautiful in the process.

As I approach the second third of my lifespan, I think often of Nana.  Here’s to the force of aging.  Here’s to the loss of our self-sufficiency, control,  and possessions, which we would never accept if given the choice.

Tonight I’m making salad for my aunts and uncles.  Watching the vinegar reduce.  Watching it become sweeter over heat.  Thinking of my Nana, and looking forward to an evening basking in the beauty of the people surrounding me, while I can.

(It’s a fun autumn salad, if you’re interested: Caramelized Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad)

He looked out from the cliffs at the remnants of pink setting over the Pacific, noticed the birds silhouetted above the horizon and heard the seals calling back and forth on the sand below.  We huddled against a railing near dozens of other tourists and couples in famously scenic La Jolla, ready for the mood-setting twilight and hoping to glimpse the elusive “green flash”.  I watched as he exhaled, paused, turned toward me, and with emotion in his voice said, “You know, if this was a video game, it’d be a lot more beautiful.”

In that moment I knew, with a certainty I’ve rarely felt before or since, that I was dating a nerd.  This was not exactly my first indication of that fact.  The first time I met Jaron I took one look at his striking features, shook his strong, calloused hand, and thought, “Well, he won’t be an issue.”

Among these striking features was a dorm sweatshirt for “Moyer Hall”, the residence at our college where all the computer programming students lived. Next there was a pair of extremely faded jeans that tapered down to end far too many inches above a pair of furry, skinny ankles which stuck out of over-sized hiking boots that had clearly never seen a day outside.  He wasn’t sagging exactly, but his sweatshirt was just short enough that each movement of his arms unintentionally exposed a bit of midriff, equally as furry as the ankles.

Despite all these warning signs the joys of working in ministry and making music together quickly drew us close and it wasn’t long before the nerdy boy came to San Diego to meet my family.

His comment on the lacking beauty of the fallen world in contrast to the embellished digital one was not the end of the conversation that night.  You see, this “gamer” I had begrudgingly begun to fall for was in the middle of an internal revolution.  I wish I could say that it was the inspiring time spent with me that spurred the change, but even before we met he had begun to hear whispers from the Spirit.  Jaron had started down a road that he would eventually bring me along.  He was learning to discern engagement from exploitation. He proceeded to explain to me that night that he had spent too many hours trying to find the feeling of climbing a mountain without ever breaking a sweat.  He had spent too much conversation on fake battles and codes without ever connecting them to real conflict or confusion, on the virtual embodiment of characters motivated by winning rather than saving.

Since that time he has taken me along into these real experiences: hiking volcanoes and counting mosquito bites, singing in clubs rather than just the shower, writing essays without having an assignment due (and, of course, to our greatest playground for gritty living: marriage).  Together we have taken baby steps toward the courageous involvement with art that consumption alone cannot provide.

Just a few years into our pursuit of a more artfully engaged and financially down-to-earth lifestyle we came across The Rabbit Room. In this semi-circle of artists there seemed to be no exclusivity, no specific hairstyle or ironic t-shirt required.  Just support for the journey and a mutual admission that none of us is yet an expert.  The lessons that I began to learn from Jaron almost ten years ago I continue to learn with him in this community.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but the hard-won art of these Rabbits illuminates the same truths to new people, in a moment’s language.  And when the truth is spoken, they continue on, looking for a way to say it again, for someone else.

The artists that were present this weekend have spoken my language before I knew how in ways that have changed me eternally.  Their work does not promote escape, but holy entanglement.  It is not numbing entertainment; it is soul distillation.  And, oh, how I need it.  I am so grateful to this community, to those who host it, and to each artist who shows up over and over and hollers, “Y’all come!” despite what fear, despite what interruption it brings.

* If you’ve been reading along with me for a while, the beginning of this story may seem familiar.  It is.  Like the choose-your-own-adventure books I loved so much when I was little, many stories start the same way.  Both are true.  🙂

I was not an Anne of Green Gables girl.  I didn’t read the entire series of Little House on the Prairie. When I was given a Skipper doll I immediately cut her hair off to have a tomboy cut.  Or maybe it was my sister’s Skipper.  I did watch BBC’s “Pride & Prejudice” a few times in college, but that had less to do with the fancy outfits and more to do with good company and the opportunity to feel like a rebel as we indulged in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade while watching.  And the fact that I had an inkling that I, like Elizabeth Bennett, was one of the few with the stellar combination of wit and intrigue to one day win a worthy but seemingly unwinnable man like Mr. Darcy.  I was right, but that’s another story.  🙂

Somehow in spite of all this tomboy training, last weekend I was home, car-less,  with hot tea in hand and a severe thunderstorm outside when I happened on an episode of Downton Abbey, a BBC Masterpiece Classic I had not heard of before.  It would seem I’ve finally caught the bug for historical fiction in fancy dresses cause two days later I had watched all seven episodes.  The story begins with the introduction of the family of a British earl during the days of the waning power of royalty and aristocracy in England.  The earl has three daughters, none of whom can receive his inheritance, and is surprised by the news that his nephew, who was to come and care for the abbey and his family one day, has died in the sinking of the Titanic.

To the dismay of everyone involved, the earl must now pass on his great wealth and title to a third cousin, a middle-class lawyer.  The lawyer is a prideful man who smugly regards himself as “self-made” and snubs his nose at the frivolous lives led by his family and at their request that he now live as they do, with more servants than family members.  One evening at dinner he made it known that he had no wish to give up his vocation and would just find time to manage the affairs of the vast abbey on evenings and weekends.  At this, the earl’s mother, played by Maggie Smith, turned to him and said, “Hwhaattt…. is a wheek… eendt??”

Jaron and I, along with many others our age, are in ways trying to undo the dynamic that this lawyer’s generation began.  We are trying to carve out a life that is not about our employment.  For days and episodes after this scene, those words kept returning unbidden.  I’d get home from work and feel entitled to use the rest of my day for leisure, talking myself into ignoring chores or even productive hobbies because I had earned my free pass being on my feet all day at the store.  And there it would be… Maggie Smith’s voice again.  What is a weekend?

Work and responsibility, as Maggie’s character so perfectly pointed out, are utterly distinct from employment.  In a time when the five day-work week was just beginning to dominate, the upper and lower class still had no use for it.  A task was a task, regardless of the day of the week and their life and work were largely indistinguishable from each other.

A life’s work couldn’t very well be expected to fit into a specific schedule of employment.  It’s an important distinction for us, as people who wish to have a life’s work to show.  We live in a time when being an artist, writer, musician is not often a viable career choice.  We also live in a time when the culture tells us that the career is a means to fund the entertainment.  We “work” so we can “play”.  We must be diligent if we don’t want to get caught up in the confusion – if we want to be people who know the glory of working hard in every area of our lives and the peace of rest in each part of our lives, as well, rather than the exhaustion of mere employment and the numbness of being entertained.

So Jaron and I bought a house.  Again.  I know, we talked and talked about what a relief it was to no longer be home-owers, how much freedom we gained.  And it was true.  We came down to Nashville, put our heart and wallet into a record, each got a  job (Jaron’s, Katherine’s) that has been wonderful to us, and lived in a (mostly) care-free apartment.

So what could possess us to purchase another home?  To sink years of money and time into merely a place of residence?  We have no idea.

Actually, we have loved our decision so far.  We were able to find a smallish foreclosed home, absolutely within our budget, in a very quiet neighborhood, still close to the city and the community where we’ve fit so well here in East Nashville.  It even has a broad-leaf evergreen in the yard, which was on the wishlist.  Here are a few shots of what we’re dealing with.  There is quite a bit of work behind us, and much more ahead.  Just how we like it.  🙂

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