The signs of new growth and spring reveal themselves all around me. The verdant green hills with dew as I walk in the morning, the warming of the air in the afternoon and the chirps of bird chatter heard through my window at dusk. I find myself emerging from my self-imposed exile into one of the busiest party months of our calendar year. Each weekend is full and, although no one within our household has a birthday this month, our extended circle of family and friends most certainly do. The boys couldn’t believe their grand aunt Linda was a youthful ninety-two.
Five of our dear (not acquaintances) friends share a birthday on the 21st alone! Spring definitely brings in new life LOL!!!
I often ponder the things that propel me forward; items that motivate me such as music. I play the instrumental version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” the Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs establishing my daily groove. But recently I discovered an inner source of inspiration from something unexpected; the text from my girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday table setting reminded me.
Just yesterday I walked through the department store where we had registered for the above items almost two decades before. While the hubs had lingered by the knives and practical pots and pans, I gazed longingly at the china set above; particularly the tea cups. Listed upon the paperwork was the check box for china and I hadn’t imagined any of our guests purchasing these items for us. The soon-to-be hubs had impatiently called to me; waiting to use the scanner on his beloved pots. I hastily scanned the impractical items; knowing this was a luxury we couldn’t well afford. It was because of the tea cup.
And over the years, in the various far away places the hubs traveled; he brought home tea sets. From Japan, India, Korea. I was happy to lend my set for a teen tea party of Cinderellas. The sets within my hutch are used primarily for holidays and special occasions. My mother-in-law watched as we loaded these items in my girlfriend’s car. Are you giving away your china? she asked, aghast.
Last year I had found myself explaining why we owned these dishes and sets to my sons. A girlfriend had begun to declutter her life and inquired if I’d give her tea cups and saucers a home. They were beautiful, unique sets of ornate Victorian flowers and gilded rims and so I offered my hutch for safe-keeping; in the event that she would change her mind about giving them away. To my hubs’ chagrin, I used them for the first month almost every day; my sons secretly enjoying the fancy cups and sticking their pinkies out. What’s the big deal with the tea cups, Mom?
No immediate answer had come to mind. Over the months I slowly put the tea cups away and dusted my china hutch; much like I did with my own mother’s cabinet as a child. My weekly chore was to keep the glass doors to my mother’s china cabinet clean. She’d happily gaze at her china; the stuff she rarely ever used. Upon her death there were very few things I took from my childhood home as I went about the motions of putting it up for sale. It was only the china set inside her cabinet, that was her most prized possession. As a young girl I had longed to use her tea cups. I’d never gotten to use them.
It is one of my boys’ favorite table settings; their Lola’s gold- rimmed china. My extended family remember it well and, at Christmastime when I host, the memories come flooding back of my mother’s obsession with the china she never used. Unlike my mother I choose to use the items in my china cabinet whenever I can. For bookclub. For dinners with friends. For birthday parties. They are well-used. As our extended family grows larger I no longer have enough dishes to accommodate everyone. The hubby proclaimed a moratorium on any new item of china entering our home. We live in earthquake country. They will be the first to go.
For Lent I chose to give up eating out.
After Sunday services our weekly ritual is to have Sunday brunch. I abstained while my sons grabbed doughnuts and returned home with an idea in mind. Let’s have a tea party! I exclaimed to the hubs. I am grateful my husband is tolerant of my random ideas to “play house” with me. I cheerfully set my green table with our every day stoneware; chosen at the same time as our china set, and asked the boys if they would like to be invited. Accustomed to my bursts of craziness the boys only acquiesced upon smelling the aromas of the chocolate chip scones the hubs made for our tea party. Soon our family of five, dressed in our church clothes, sat down for our Irish breakfast tea with scones. They opted for coffee.
My choice to not eat out is more than the simple words imply. My lack of discipline and self-motivation is its weakest when having to deal with food. After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan the hubs and I began to delve deeper into where our food originates from. We struggled with the ideals of organic and sustainable farm practices versus affordable and diverse food choices. Each evening after work I am uninspired by the contents, within my fridge, to create chef worthy dinners for our family of five. It is cheaper and faster to conveniently purchase fast food or pre-made dinners. Two weekends ago when we chose to celebrate our youngest’s accomplishment of completing his 26.2 mile progressive marathon at Dodger’s Stadium; we asked him where he would like to celebrate. He had first declined going out to eat; knowing my Lenten resolution to not eat out. But for his special day I cheated and he surprised all of us with the place he most absolutely, was dying to try.
We thought he was joking. He had heard the hubs and I regale tales to our high schooler about driving off-campus for lunch. At aged sixteen my girlfriends would jump into my Toyota Tercel and we would drive, off-campus, for 69 cent tacos at this establishment. The hubs has similar memories but as adults, we have never taken our family of five here. Eventually we were able to talk our son out of this choice; to head to a sit-down establishment. But of all places to choose in a metropolitan city with diverse restaurant options; this was his first choice. Our boys have not been brought up with the food groups of: McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King or Taco Bell. Occasionally the youngest and I grab a chocolate frosty from Carl’s Jr. as we head back to work after pick-up on his early minimum day.
By choosing to not eat out I am forced to create slow, home-cooked meals. I tend to be an organizer, the coordinator of our schedules, events and tasks but I choose a laissez faire attitude with regards to meals. It takes organization to create dinners on a tight schedule as I drive sons to and fro to various activities most weeknights. I know that in order to get optimal health results the real choice to be made is in monitoring what you eat. Portion control. Planned meals. The things where I lack self-discipline and hunger gets the best of me. Every. Single. Time.
It is difficult to not sample everything when I am in attendance at various celebrations. Both sides of our families host large gatherings with a plethora of food. When times got lean the hubs clamped down on my tendencies to host get-togethers and parties. Like my family hosts before me: my mother, my cousin, my in-laws, I enjoyed bringing out my best things to share. But hosting created a lot of work and stress. The cleaning, the decorating, the purchasing, the hostessing and then the cleaning and putting away. Was it worth it? Although we valued the time with others it became work when it became expected that we were to host. For holidays. For parties. For everything.
But the inner party planner is being awakened once again. The hubs knows that my tea sets are coming out; enjoying time with others and letting go of the notion of expecting the same in return. The hubs now sees the value in the giving; his own mother creating elaborate dinners unselfishly, for the love and joy of sharing it. It was in sharing my tea cups that brought me the realization that the people gathered before us did not care about the dust bunnies in the corner, the cracked tile or the elaborate china.
It is in connecting with others that we find meaning; whether it be good or bad. It is how we grow and renew.
I steep the Irish breakfast tea and contemplate this idea in my mind. It is our family tradition, this celebrating of events within our short life spans. I want my children to remember the tea cups, the parties, the friends and family who grace the stoop of our imperfect home and our messy lives. Those who remain through the years are the keepers; for better and for worse.
I’ll drink to that. Happy Birthday to all my beloved friends and family members. You know who you are.