Little House, Big Table

a place where real people gather

I have been holding on and holding on to so many things…things that I know I should be letting go of. Mainly my boys. Mainly because I love being a mama and it’s what I most identify myself with.

But lately? Lately our house has been full and I’m feeling the need (urge?) to push the big bowling ball out and deliver this kiddo into the world. He’s a man now, has lived on his own, came home again with dirty work boots and piles of work clothes and tools everywhere…and is probably the most like me of all of mine. That bugs him…and bugs me too.

It’s time. It really is. And in seven short (though not if you are laboring and trying to push the baby out) days, he is heading out to a new job, in a new state. I’m looking forward to what our relationship will become and I know he is too.

I’ve been protecting my heart on the work front as well. Empowering some, keeping silent with others, listening lots, talking very little and trying to lay low. It’s a very strange place for me to be…until today. Today I rallied my team for the coming year and was reminded of how much I like what I do.

I’m also setting boundaries…healthy boundaries. Days begin, breaks happen, days end. No more responding after hours and working late into the night.

And then there has been this. A new bible study with friends. We’re doing 100 Days to Brave alongside the book of Esther and I’ve been sitting in the garden at lunch time and journaling my heart away.

It feels…right. And good.

We are soon to settle into a new family normal here. Boy #1 is arriving from China next Tuesday for a three week visit. Part of that will be moving Boy #2’s car and work things to another state. Boy #3…the baby, is about to start his senior year of college.

And this guy? Sabbatical for the next semester. Lots of reading and learning are in store for him, as well as serving in a church. But lots and lots of time home too…which means I have a super sweet dinner date most evenings.

I like him, so it’s all good.

=)


The boys all request their favorite meals when home…or when about to leave. One of them is fried pork chops – buy the super thin boneless ones, bread and fry in olive oil with lots of kosher salt and pepper. Super healthy…haha. But they eat them right out of the pan and the only thing I serve them with now is a big green salad. In the old days I would make homemade mac n cheese and roasted green beans, but they’re maturing…and my grown up kids are HUGE veggie eaters.

This meal reminds me of being a little kid again…and I think my boys feel that way too. And so, a few times of year, it’s what I’ll make to keep them coming home to mama.

I have been reminded this week of how beauty rises out of ashes…and how very blessed this life I have been given is.

There was no tragedy. No one was injured or diagnosed or died. But a work meeting this week left me reeling…and hurt. I cried. For days. I cried until there weren’t any more tears and then cried a bit more. It wasn’t the criticism, but it was the way it was handled.

But then I began to see that God was showing me that there were things I needed to see. That often times work places aren’t healthy…and that goes for churches and the secular world. That I need to create, and maintain, healthy boundaries. That the team I work with on a daily basis is special, and hard working, and kind. That I am more than what I was told…that it does not define who I am.

And through all the tears, I was given the clearest vision of my life.

Home.

I have a home. One here, that is full. Full of people who I am thankful to call mine. And another home waiting after this soot filled life on earth ends…one that I see as having a long table filled with people needing to be fed.

There is so much more than what we see.

So enough about all that…and on to the good this week. The weather finally warmed and it’s now HOT, so the AC has been running all day and night. The fig tree is bursting with figs…so many that I’m worried it will collapse and the garden flowers now need daily water in order to hold their pretty little faces up. And s’mores with peanut butter cups really can make everything feel better.

=)

This week was also filled with many long walks and many long talks and many quiet prayers and many long suppers in the garden. Oh…and an early morning rain that was completely unexpected and gave everything a good soaking.

So here we sit. Another week done and another beginning. There’s work to be done, meals to be planned…and cooked, a dog to be walked.

I’m ready…whatever might come. I could worry about it getting worse but I’m going to trust that my hand is being held and my heart is being protected. Even when it feels ugly, I know the beauty is always there.

=)

There’s lots of big, and little, life stuff happening in our little world..I have one moving out of state in two weeks and another coming home for a short three week visit. The third is gearing up for school starting, I’m stressed about tuition payments and my work life is all topsy turvy. Bedrooms are being cleaned out and reorganized, the washer is going all day long, boxes are being packed and multiple trips are being made to the dumpster.

All that has meant I haven’t been sleeping well lately…the kind of not sleeping because my brain just won’t stop thinking all kinds of thoughts that most likely don’t matter…yet still bother me.

And then I don’t want to nap because I want to sleep at night and then the same cycle repeats itself. Which basically means I’m grumpy and groggy…though thankful for the art of afternoon coffee.

=)

Panzanella with farmers market tomatoes and day old kalamata olive bread – probably one of my favorite meals ever!

I’m trying to focus on the the good stuff and not on the ‘what if’ parts…like, there is a beautiful tree in the back yard EVEN IF it doesn’t grow $100 bills.

=)

The garden is so peaceful during the daytime and I’m trying to take advantage of that and spend time reading or writing or planning dream vacations or counting the figs on the tree. (50 or so this season, in case you were wondering…) The garden becomes a bit more animated at happy hour and then downright loud by sundown. Our poor neighbors. We do invite them over but for some reason, we keep forgetting that we don’t live in a 100 year old farmhouse in the middle of 10 acres and instead live, literally, attached to our neighbors.

Oops.

This season has one downside…and it’s a BIG one. This past winter was super rainy in SoCal, and super rainy brings lush greenery and gorgeous flowers. And…SPIDERS. So. Many. Spiders. The kind of spiders that drop right down in front of your face while you’re eating dinner and make webs in walkways within minutes.

Ick.

Hasn’t stopped us from having long, loud dinners…but I’ve got super scanner vision and a broom nearby at all times.

Earlier this week we did a quick run into Costco for a few staples, came out with an 8×10 carpet only to remember we drove that guy that I like so much’s car. Or maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea? I do feel it’s part of my lot in life to humanize the ritzy county we live in…and a carpet hanging out of the car helps that cause.

Friday night we grilled up some marinated tri-tip, multiple trays of vegetables (peppers, asparagus, zucchini and onions) and served the whole thing on top of a big arugula salad. Friends brought some great wines, another walked in with whisky and ta-dah! we had a party.

Two spiders crashed it, too…and our dog is absolutely no help. He knows exactly where to park himself under the table where a slick hand slips him some treats and completely ignores the creepy crawlies.

Last December we totally Marie Kondo’d our attic and it felt so good that we did the same thing on Saturday to our outside storage shed. So much was tossed/donated..in fact, most everything found a new home if we hadn’t touched it in the last year.

It’s a little space that holds a lot…basically everything a garage would hold. Our extra freezer is in there and so is our water heater, plus all our beach equipment. The big question…how many boogie boards does one shrinking family need?

Today has been quiet. Church this morning, which isn’t quiet for that guy that I like much since he leads worship, but quiet for me in that I just show up. Tonight we are firing up the pizza oven and since the fridge is somewhat empty, we will get creative with our pizzas. I ordered einkorn flour and am trying my regular dough recipe with it, so we’ll see how that goes. It does have a beautiful golden yellow color!

And tonight? Post pizza, I’m praying for sleep. The kind where my brain completely sleeps too.

This summer season I am doing a few things differently than usual. Rather than being completely unscheduled for a few (rather glorious) weeks, I’m involved in a journaling ‘class’. The daily prompts show up via email while I am sleeping and have me writing in the early mornings in the garden while I listen to the neighborhood wake up.

It feels good to write again after feeling like that was something that I had left behind (or that had left me behind) and I am loving the joy that is there as I write all sorts of words down.

And the prompts are sometimes a bit heavy, which I’m finding I like too.

Makes me think.

Summer days are all pretty similar…coffee with that guy that I like so much while catching up on the world news (sigh), a load or two of laundry thrown in, the garden gets watered, we shower and head out on a few errands together…usually involving a breakfast or lunch at a fun place, a stop at the market for whatever is going to be cooked that night and then home.

Home.

I love home. It’s not fancy, it’s not big, it’s not always (gulp) picked up. But it’s ours and my favorite people in the world call it home too.

Our home is in this interesting season of life and for those that are walking through this same season, or have walked it already, then you get it. Home used to be FULL OF BOYS.

Full.

Of boys.

And now it isn’t…or it is, but it’s full of boys who are transitioning out. Matthew lives in China, Alex is moving in a few short weeks to Colorado for work, and Brian is starting his senior (what????) year of college.

So those people listed above (and if you know me in real life, you know I use the phrase ‘you people’ a whole lot) all have either one or both feet out the door.

But that guy that I like so much and I?

Empty nesting is on the horizon.

But, and maybe I’m alone in this…but now what? Is it ok to think those thoughts? Is it ok to feel a little (or kinda a lot) unsettled at what’s next? I mean, will our little house on our little street continue to be a place others want to gather?

But then I get little bits and pieces of clarity thrown in there. Friends who show up because they need a hot meal after a long day of work. Others who come because they have things to work through and need a little advice or maybe just a glass of wine and a moment to breathe. Grandkids (and where are mine, boys? Dad and I are ready!) who are beginning to come with their grandparents and feel so at home because we have a scaredy dog.

So maybe that’s this season. The in between season. The one where the children begin leaving and the friends keep coming.

And so I keep feeding people…to keep them coming. Maybe it’s not for them, but for me.

And there are other important summer things too. Like Season 3 of Stranger Things and panzanella with home grown tomatoes and figs from the tree with honey and goat cheese and 80’s music playing way too loud all afternoon and evening and doing a Bible study of Ruth with a girlfriend and Esther with another and long walks around our neighborhood lake.

All that ‘life goes on’ things help make all the changes a bit easier.

I boarded a flight for Florida work meeting earlier this week and I’m still in the process of figuring out where I am and why I’m here. But my work life is a whole ‘nuther story and I find myself praying daily for wisdom and clarity. I like what I do but it’s just sometimes a place where I don’t feel as if I belong…and that’s not such a fun place to be.

But God knows my situation. God always knows. And I’m leaning into him.

missing my puppy, too – isn’t he cute???

I’m a homebody. Sort of. I think even bigger than that is that I’m a family body. Wherever my people are is where I belong and I find myself floundering when I’m not with them.

I miss my people.

I miss feeding them, cleaning up after them, complaining about them.

=)

The night before I left, I cooked a big meal…enough for lunch takers to take for lunch and dinner eaters to eat for leftovers. It’s an interesting Italian meal…pork cooked in milk, which doesn’t make sense until you smell it cooking. You need a blender for this one – or an immersion blender, which goes against my ‘no fancy tools’ motto.

But it feeds a crowd, unless you are turkish and don’t eat pork. (Alev! 😎)

Roasted Pork in Milk

4 - 5 lb bone-in pork shoulder 
kosher salt and pepper
6 T olive oil
2 cups white wine
4 cups whole milk or half & half
8 whole cloves of garlic
12 large sage leaves

Heat oil in a large dutch oven until hot. Salt and pepper pork and brown on all sides in olive oil.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and cook at 350 degrees for 3 1/2 hours.  Pork should be falling apart - if not, cover and cook a bit longer.
Remove pork to a large plate and cover with foil. The remaining sauce in the pot will look curdled - use an immersion blender and blend the sauce until smooth. Add pepper and salt to taste. Gently shred the pork into large chunks and put back in the sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes and a big salad.

Occasionally we will wake up the next day and think that it would be easier to sell the house and start over rather than wash all those party dishes…and hello? Who still uses glassware that can’t go in the dishwasher?

Ummm…us. Because it’s so pretty after all. And I like ‘real’ dishes – so I do it to myself.

The 4th of July was fun, no matter what the kitchen looked like the next day. We fired up the pizza oven, invited a bunch of people we like, added an extra table to the garden and poured wine. Lots of it.

Our neighborhood has the best fireworks display. People drive in from all around to watch and we just have to grab chairs and walk to the end of our street…which is exactly what we did. Then all came back to the garden for cocktails…and another pizza or two.

sausage, peppers and onions..so good!

This year we had a 6.4 earthquake in the middle of the party – the rolling kind that was rather subtle and took us all a while to figure out what was going on. There was another the next night – 7.1 this time (all centered quite a ways away, so not too strong…but long!) and now we are all thinking of earthquake kits that need to be updated. Ours was packed 15 years ago and had things in it like pop tarts and a football, complete with a mini pump. Because we had three boys back then and the football was a necessity.

=)

Anyways, the morning after the 4th, I made a few almond croissants (thanks to Trader Joes freezer section) and multiple cups of coffee. Occasionally I’d glance over with hopes that the kitchen might’ve cleaned itself and once I realized it wouldn’t, and we were having friends for dinner in the garden later that day (again! love that!), I filled the sink with soapy water and washed all those glasses.

And like my mug says…JOY. Because it really is a joy to have such a beautiful place to share with others.

This past week was quiet, followed by a filled up weekend. I am technically off work for a few weeks but the phone calls and emails continue to trickle in with people needing things…but it’s still been a welcome, much needed break.

I had grand plans of cleaning out our storage shed as well as the laundry room. I also had wanted to paint the boys bathroom and replace all the broken things…the rusted light fixture and mirror, the toilet paper holder that was ‘accidentally’ ripped off the side of the vanity, the towel bar that has been hanging by one screw for, I don’t know…years?

Instead, last week I caught up on my (valentines) hallmark movies, lunched with a girlfriend, breakfasted with another, dinnered at the country club (that was super fun!) and spent not one, but two full days in my pjs. TWO. Basically, I came to realize that if I didn’t have a job, I might never, ever get dressed.

And then last night that guy that I like so much came up with a plan because I needed a diversion. Or intervention? Conversion? Aversion? Basically, I needed to get out of the house. In real clothes, because sometime last week I became one of those people who walks their dog – and gets their mail in their mismatched, wrinkly, yes I slept in them last night, pajamas.

Yep…just keeping our sky high real estate prices classy.

So off we went today an hour or so north of us to the Huntington Library – complete with a Gutenberg Bible, early manuscripts of Shakespeare and Chaucer and then there are acres upon acres of botanical gardens.

But the true highlight for me was high tea in the rose garden. Scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, finger sandwiches – egg salad and chicken salad, mini quiches, and pots of hot, fruity tea.

I always feel like I’ve been on vacation after having high tea. No one rushes you, everything feels just sort of grown up, and in the end I feel like it’s more of an event than a sit down meal.

And I like that.

Back home for bbq’d burgers with grilled green chilis and jack cheese. I didn’t even make a salad or cut up some fruit or make some tater tots to go with them…just a burger on bun, on a plate. Cuz we are fancy sometimes…and mama was tired.

The wine though? Yum! A gift from a friend who just returned from a trip. Definitely deserved a nicer meal to go with it, but oh well.

=)

stays in the garden. Again, it’s not a fancy place. There is a pizza oven which was purchased last summer in lieu of a family vacation. There is always a tablecloth on the table, most (if not all) that were brought home from random Italian markets…and at a price point of no more that 10 euro each. And there is always a whole bunch of laughter and stories shared.

He’s saying ‘are you going to eat ALL of those???’

I’ve been keeping a journal of our parties for a long time now. It’s just a little notebook in which I put the date, who was over and what we ate. Sometimes I add a little story, sometimes it’s just the menu, sometimes a recipe if I tried something new.

Most times I update it a night or two after the party, sitting at my kitchen counter, sipping a cocktail that guy that I like so much has made. If he quit his job, he’d become a mixologist.

=)

It’s so fun to both look back and remember specific garden parties and also to get meal ideas when I’m in a cooking slump.

People really don’t care what they eat. They really don’t. BUT…and trust me on this – if you are going to serve fancy cocktails, have lots of food to soak up the alcohol. A bowl of nuts doesn’t cut it…but a bowl of pasta (even if no one eats carbs anymore) does.

My favorite cocktail to serve in the summer months is a Spritz. It’s been a thing in Italy forever, but now it’s a thing here too. I’m a purist…no ice, no sparkling water.

Italian Spritz

2 oz aperol
6 oz prosecco
1 orange slice

Pour aperol into a long stemmed glass. Top with COLD prosecco and an orange slice. 

Because it’s not just about me.

My family and I live in a little (as in LITTLE) house on a little street smack dab in the middle of southern California. We made the decision a long time ago to stay in the starter house that we could barely afford, because it turns out you can buy a house, but not a neighborhood.

And we like our neighborhood.

But more than that, it’s this little house that has raised so many, fed so many, blessed so many. And we know, without a doubt, what a gift we have been given.

There’s a saying…bloom where you are planted. And planted we were, and bloom we have, all those years ago.

While we liked the pink flamingos…our association did not. =)

There are a few of us who live, or have lived, here. There’s that guy that I like so much, who spends his life serving the church. And because of what he does, we have a ‘family’ that is huge.

The real branches to our vine are below. Three boys, our trio, all miracles with stories of their own. Their whole lives are journaled on my old blog http://www.ahousefulofboys.com, which I’d love to somehow move over here but have no idea how??? The poor guys have been written about for decades and are probably thankful for a little breathing room.

There’s Alex, our middle born. He’s the tallest and loudest of the bunch, who spends his days wiring buildings so the lights turn on and off. Every family should have an in house electrician,

There’s Matthew, our oldest. He lives in China, teaching music to college students. In Mandarin. He started a business there, too, so we question whether he’ll ever come home. So thankful for technology so we can talk lots!

And then there’s the exclamation point…Brian. He completed us. He’s a senior in college, working lots of hours when not in school and will someday fix all our aches and pains. For free I hope.

Alex, Brian, Matthew

As for me, I have a job that I like that allows me to be based from my home. It helps pay for college and humbles me daily. But most of all, I love to feed people. Give me a houseful, whether it be my boys or family or friends and seat them around our garden table. I want to watch the cares of the world leave them for a bit. I want to hear their stories, laugh and pray and cry and drink wine with them. I want their plates – and belly’s, full of food. Not just on the weekends…people need to eat every night of the week.

Don’t they?

Not so long ago in a far away country, we visited a garden.  It wasn’t big and it wasn’t fancy…just a small gravely courtyard behind iron gates with lots of plants and twinkly lights. In the middle of this garden were a few long tables with lots of candles and plenty of chairs all around.

We sat down, our family of five.  That guy that I like so much and I ordered prosecco, which was poured into a pitcher and served in small water glasses. It was the end of the work day for the locals and we watched as something special began to happen.  People slowly started to wander in.  Some stood while others sat down.  Drinks were poured and conversations began.  And soon, food began to come out of the tiny kitchen…simple food on big platters and in big bowls.  Everyone eventually sat down all around us and as the sun began to set more wine was poured, stories and laughter became louder and bigger, a basket of blankets appeared as the temperature dropped and slowly (or maybe not so slowly at all), the stress of the week left and the joy of the weekend arrived.

But here’s the thing…it wasn’t a Friday night.  Or a Saturday night.  It was the middle of the week…but it sure felt like a weekend.  And that garden?  It awoke something in me as I was eating a bowl of simply, yet lovingly prepared pasta.

IMG_6582.JPG

It was as if God very gently whispered…and suddenly, quietly, I just knew.

I knew we needed to venture back home and create a ‘garden’ of our very own. A place where people would be fed.

Fed physically.

Fed emotionally.

Fed spiritually.

Our house is small.  So is our garden.  There are lots of plants and twinkly lights and often times prosecco is poured into pitchers and served in water glasses. And our table? Well, it is always big enough for one more chair to be squeezed in.

This is my new place where I’ll share glimpses of our garden..what we eat, the stories that are told, the people who visit.  So welcome.  I’m glad you’re here.

~Michele