I know it’s a cliche beyond cliches to write about what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.  Regardless, sometimes you just gotta embrace your own unoriginality.  So, just in case you wanted to know, these are the things that I am grateful for this year:

  1. Liv. A year ago this time we barely knew each other.  Today we’re living together.  A girl couldn’t ask for a better roommate.  We share the same slightly macabre sense of humor, the same fondness for plain speaking, and the same understanding that the world is a strange and wonderful place.  We’ve only lived together for about five months now, but believe me, they’ve been an eventful five months!  She was with me through the ups and downs, the boy-crankiness, the days when all I could think about was dancing, and all the rest.  She is a great blessing to me, and I am deeply grateful to have her in my life.
  2. My new home. When I moved this summer, it had been six years since I had lived in a place that I could really call my own.  First I was traveling non-stop with a national youth ministry retreat team, then I spent a year back at my parents’ house, then three years with another family first as their nanny and then as a roommate with increasingly little ownership of my living space.  It’s the kind of pressure you don’t notice until it’s released.  To live in a place where my presence is welcomed, not merely tolerated, where people want to know how I am and are willing to rejoice with me in my successes – it’s an amazing thing.  I am deeply grateful to live in a house that is truly my home.
  3. Being able to leave unhealthy relationships. At my old living situation, I was stuck in between a controlling mother and her immature but increasingly rebellious teenage daughter.  I considered it part of the price I paid for living in what seemed an ideal location for school.  The money rent was cheap, but the emotional rent was pretty high, particularly when they were fighting.  I can remember too many times hiding up in my room trying not to listen as they screamed at each other.  Last Christmas the mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, which is killing her.  I moved out in June, and haven’t had very much contact with them since.  Recently I went back to visit, and found out, among other things, that the mother and daughter are choosing to spend their last days fighting viciously with each other.  I am grieving for their short-sightedness, but also so glad that I am not there, and not in the middle of this.  This is one mess it’s not my job to clean up, and I am deeply grateful.
  4. Anna helping me dance better. About this time last year Anna put out the call for people willing to learn how to teach.  I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near the skill level necessary, but I also knew that the university swing club I belonged to needed to start training teachers and I was one of the few even remote possibilities.  One of Anna’s requirements for teachers is that they be serious dancers, committed to constantly improving their dancing, and she’s willing to help them get there.  Last December I was videotaped for the first time, and started coming more regularly to the weekly practice sessions.  I started to work seriously on my Lindy basic, and on Charleston.  I learned partner Charleston, reworked my frame, and began learning how to style and improvise within my dancing without throwing off my lead.  It’s been a great joy to feel myself get better, to experience the pleased reactions of those I dance with, and to finally start being able to have the joyful, playful, fun dances I had always dreamed of having.  Today I am three or four times the dancer I was a year ago, and I am deeply grateful.

Last night, in an event that will live in swing dancing infamy, I first made a guy abandon his cookie to dance with me, and then elbowed him in the mouth. Yeah. What made it worse was that I’d been watching him dance all night, and waiting my chance to grab him. He was enormously sweet about it, but Lord. I’m still blushing. The last time I did that to a guy was well over a year ago, on the night I managed to elbow first Eddie and then Trey. That was also a night that will live in swing dance infamy. Though Trey did say he’s glad to be off my injured list now. But why do I have to have a list at all? I just haven’t been dancing enough lately. That’s what it is. Dang vacations…

In other news, Monday night I made bread just because I could. Have I mentioned that I love having a kitchen that’s really mine? Yup. Pretty freaking awesome. It’s good bread too, though I didn’t use a recipe, so I’m not sure if I can replicate it. But that doesn’t really matter. Bread is bread, and it’s good just by being itself. Especially if I made it. I’m not bragging, just speaking the plain, natural truth. Really.

In other other news, I really need to get a new mattress. The mattress I had been sleeping on belonged to my Previous Roommate, so I left it behind when I moved. When my family brought over my bed (one of a set of antique twin beds that used to belong to my great-grandparents and now belong to me) they grabbed one of the mattresses out of the attic to go with it. Only I think this mattress may be as old as the bed. I swear I can feel every spring and coil in the thing. So can my lower back. It’s been letting me know about this. Liv lent me some foam egg-crate type stuff, which is helping a lot, but it’s not the same as having an actual, back-supporting mattress under me. Finances are tight right now while I’m waiting for some of my school finance stuff to get straightened out, so it could be a little while. In the meantime I’ll be pinching pennies and dreaming (literally) of pillow-topped cushiony-ness.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Er, type. Whatever.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my oldest sister Michelle went off to college. On the wall of her room, she taped up a collage of pictures and graphics and headlines clipped from magazines, catalogues, calendars, and Lord knows where else. This made a deep impression on her younger sisters, me included, and we all became incorrigible clippers. We’d go through all sorts of printed material, tearing out pictures of beautiful things and beautiful people, interesting bits of text, articles to read, whatever caught our fancy. While sometimes the clippings have become wall collages or other works of art, they have a tendency to lay unloved in vast unsorted folders, waiting for that magic day when we’ll finally Do Something with them.

Among the long lost belongings I was reunited with in my recent move were two file cabinets stuffed to the gills with, well, Stuff. This included two large file folders labeled simply Unsorted and Unsorted II, filled as full as they would hold with clippings. Going through them has been like opening a time capsule on my five-years-ago self. I can see how food-mad I was (I was, after all, in chef school). There are untold recipes for things like Thai Basil Gelato and Cumin Braised Short Ribs. There are restaurant reviews and chef’s profiles (including a lengthy article on Nigella Lawson, whose book How To Be A Domestic Goddess gave me my e-mail address). There are articles discussing the virtues of stone-ground grits, and whether organic wine is really any good.

Through all the clippings, I can see how much the girl who assembled them was longing for a home. There are endless pictures of living rooms and kitchens, bathrooms and cozy sitting areas, all decorated in cool, peaceful shades, full of comfortable, interesting details that invited you to come in and stay a while. There are pictures of quirky, unusual furniture; how-to articles on ways to make a space really your own. I was living in my grandmother’s house at the time, both my home and manifestly not my home. I longed for a place that would really be mine, a place that could be my safety in a world that was as precarious as my grandmother’s health.

At the same time this girl longed for adventure and far off places. There are so many travel articles for places like Istanbul, Vienna, hidden nooks and crannies of Australia, tropical islands, and the south of France. The girl I was never wanted to live an ordinary life, and Dayton, OH was feeling a size too small.

In the end, I got the unordinary life. My grandmother died, and four months later I was part of a travelling youth ministry team traversing the length and breadth of the continent. All my domestic daydreams got packed up and put away for another time, another place. Since then I still have yet to live in a house that is really mine, although my current living situation is perhaps the closest I’ve ever come. In the meantime, I’m not the same woman I used to be. My dreams have changed along with me. Those clippings are beautiful, but I’m not sure how much of them I want anymore.

So I had this modesty moment yesterday.  I’ve been thinking about modesty a lot lately (having just finished writing, you know, thirty pages on it and all).  I’ve been coming to the realization that I can’t modestly wear t-shirts with writing across the front.  God just didn’t give me that kind of body.  But this is hard.  I have some t-shirts that have sayings that are funny, and wonderful, and bring joy to my heart, like “You’re mine for the next 3 min. 30 sec.” and “Need to dance.  Please help.  God bless.” and, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.” and the one all in Latin that, when translated, says “If you can read this you have too much education.”  I love them so much that it’s hard for me to care that they might be a problem for someone else.  Sigh. 

However, little by little I’ve been being convicted that I need to let go of the shirts.  It’s a respect thing.  I want to respect the men around me, and I want them to respect me too.  It’s hard to respect a girl when all your attention is being drawn to her chest.  So yesterday when I was packing, I went through all my t-shirts, pulled out the ones that have writing on the chest, and set them aside.  I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still didn’t like it much.  But then, something marvelous happened!  When I told Liv what I had done, she sympathised with me, and then said, “Well, what if you turned the shirts around so the writing is on the back?  You could wear them then, right?  You’d have to cut the tags out, of course.”  And I thought, well, why not?!  When I went home I tried the shirts on to make sure they fit the same, and then spent a very joyful five minutes cutting out garment tags.  It was great!  Hurrah!  I can still wear my shirts, and I am so happy. 

This funny thing has been happening lately.  I’ll be going along, maybe driving somewhere, maybe working on German, whatever, and without realizing it, I start humming.  It’s usually classical music, most often a snatch of Pachebel’s Canon.  Historically, I have not been much of a hummer.  (I may be a humdinger, but not really a hummer…)  I have been known to break out into random bits of song on occasion (usually swing songs), but that’s a trait I share with my whole family.  So this humming thing is new.  When it happens, though, it’s accompanied by a deep feeling of peace and well-being.  I feel happy.  I think Pachebel’s Canon may be my Happy Song.

What’s making me so happy these days?  Well, happiness is always a mystery, but I think it’s a combination of a number of things.  I’m about to move, which is huge.  I haven’t been happy with my current living situation for some time, but my current roommate is suffering from liver cancer, and I didn’t feel like I could leave her.  Then maybe a week and a half ago we had a talk, in which she told me that she doesn’t think she needs me there, which frees me up to leave.  So I am.  I’m moving in with Liv, one of my best friends, who owns a house on the other side of campus.  I’m all excited.  I’ve started my garden there already, and have started moving things in.  It’s been a long time since I was able to be really domestic in a place that felt like home.  It’s just good.

And then, there’s being all done with school papers.  I wrote two for this last semester, one 20 pages long with 71 footnotes, and the other 30 pages long with 110 footnotes.  The second one got way overdue, and became such a millstone around my neck.  It was so good to just finish the thing, and send it off to my eagerly waiting professor.

In other news, it looks like I’m going to be able to strike one more thing off my list of Things To Do Before I Die.  I’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle, but never knew a motorcycle owner well enough to have the chance.  Then I met Zeke: tall, blonde and handsome in the high-cheekbones sort of way.  Also snarky as all get out, and not a bad swing dancer.  Also funny enough to make me laugh until I (on one occasion) wet my pants.  Also completely not interested in theology.  (sigh)  And eight years younger than I am.  But he has a thing for motorcylces and owns three.  This winter he promised me that he would take me for a ride when the weather got warmer.  It’s warm now, and we’re making arrangements for this ride.  It will be at night, on smaller roads (not the interstate), and we will go fast.  That’s all I know so far.  I’ll let you know how it goes…