Meet the Manse

When we started looking for housing in Virginia, we decided to book a rental at first unless we found something that we really really loved. On the one hand, we're really hoping to NOT move again for quite some time--after all, this will be our fourth residence in five years(!). But on the other hand, if we were going to commit to a house long term it needed to be something we really loved.

Then we met this lovely old dame:

She's a gothic cottage built in 1848 and has served as the manse (the house a church provides for the minister) for the local Presbyterian church until this year, when the church decided to sell.

The house has a pretty interesting history.  The Ladies Sewing Society purchased the lot for $316.00 and construction on the house began in the spring of 1847 using bricks salvaged from the first church, a 1797 structure located in the cemetery.  Reverend William White and his family were the first to live in the manse when it was completed in 1848. Stonewall Jackson was a member of this church and often socialized at the manse, long before he was known as Stonewall. Near the end of the Civil War, in the spring of 1864, General Averill’s Union troops camped in the manse yard for three days. Dr. White moved among the troops, preaching and talking with as many as he could. (The only loss recorded was Dr. White’s horse, Charley, which was confiscated.) When the Civil War ended and Robert E. Lee came to town as president of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University), it's assumed that the Lees and the Whites socialized together at the manse. 

Although she's in pretty good shape for a gal of her age (great bones! original woodwork & fireplaces!), she definitely needs a little attention and sprucing. (Please bless it's (a) not an Amityville Horror house and (b) not The Money Pit or Mr. Blanding's House.)

We closed on the home at the end of October and have been doing some work on the landscaping and the house before we move in next month. While Greg has seen it in person on a couple of his stateside trips, I'm making all of these decisions from Australia SIGHT UNSEEN, guys. 

We decided to go with a creamy white (Alabaster by Sherwin Williams) and light light warm gray (Agreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams at 50% tint) on all of the walls (except the dining room, which is in Dutch Tile Blue). The diamond window panes are in a subtle gray (SW Dovetail Gray). Some accents (two of the fireplaces, the built-in bookcases in the library, and the lower kitchen cupboards) are in SW Needlepoint Navy.  Here's some of the inspiration for our selections (yay, Pinterest!) --note these are NOT photos of our house, just some samples of interiors we liked and used for our decisions:

Stay tuned!

Elect yourself president

I find myself alternately wanting to talk about the election and wanting to talk about anything but the election. Let's just say I think there's still a lot of mental ground for me to cover before I figure out (with a nod to West Wing and Hamilton) "What's next?"  

True to form, I let my typing fingers untangle my thoughts. Those ramblings reach their expiration dates almost as soon as I write them; mostly the words that come out are only helpful to me, ushering me through the wilderness of my gut responses in search of a more helpful, forward oriented place. 

As Brene Brown would say, here's the story I'm telling myself.  One of my best takeaways from Brené's last book was her way of framing personal (vulnerable) conversations by starting with "The story I'm telling myself is...." I love it because it signals right up front that we are all products of our personal histories; our responses to any one event are often constructs that necessarily include a lot of unseen tributaries and back story. You don't argue and say to someone "no, you're not telling yourself that story;" rather, it can help us get to a place of understanding by revealing the layers behind an opinion, fear, or response. The stories are not necessarily fictional (they may or may not be objectively accurate) but certainly true to the person telling it.

In that spirit, here's the story(ies) I'm telling myself about the election. 

The story I'm telling myself is that I am complicit in whatever I am silent about. I am anxious and deeply worried and telling myself that voters have been sold a bill of goods by a Machiavellian, self-serving, manipulative politician who showed himself to be willing to appeal to the basest, worst fears of humanity for his own purposes. The message he has cultivated and allowed to perpetuate here and abroad puts many ill at ease (at best) and changes our esteem and position in the world whether we like it or not. History has its eyes on him. The story I'm telling myself is that we're being blind to history's lessons. 

"History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes." Mark Twain

As a woman, a mother, a sister, and as someone who has been on the receiving end of sexual harassment and even assault, I think people were far too quick to accommodate and excuse his terrible record with women. I feel it viscerally and personally and can't help but fear that many men with similar viewpoints see this election as tacit approval of that kind of behavior (crime). The story I'm telling myself is that I'm less safe with someone with that unapologetic personal history leading the nation. Also that society is much tougher on a woman's weaknesses than they are on a man's.

I'm worried about kindness and open heartedness. I'm concerned for children and families who struggle, about research funding and programs in my field that are known to improve outcomes and capacities of children and families who need help but which will, sadly, get cut. The story I'm telling myself is that the vulnerable are more vulnerable now. I want to work to find ways for that not to be so.

photo via

photo via

Alongside my gut-deep worries I do feel hope, if not necessarily in being pleasantly surprised by the president-elect (but that would be great!) then in the potential of inspired individuals working together. Here is a story I am telling myself today: 

You can elect yourself president. To paraphrase Gandhi, be the president you wish to see in the world.* You are in charge of your life, your family, your home. It is your kingdom, the land where you are president. The story I'm telling myself is that this is, at the core, what America is about.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds." - Abraham Lincoln

"Love shared anywhere transforms situations everywhere. Your life is your corner of the garden; tend to that and you tend to the world." -Marianne Williamson

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther

"Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." Wendell Berry

Honestly, I'm not really that zen about this in person. I'm still cycling through disbelief and anger and all the other rest stops in the process but ultimately I have to concentrate on what I can control. This is what I'm holding out in front of myself, a vision of compensating in some personal, small way for whatever deficiencies the new administration may bring or ugliness his rhetoric may invite. 

Elect yourself president. Act on your sense of goodness. Let your light so shine. It will be in the contrast with darkness/uncertainty that your light will transmit even more brightly. Don't be afraid to let it. 

"We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sure future. For the world is changing." John F. Kennedy

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."

Finally, besides hope in collective individuals, I return to my lambent faith. The story I'm telling myself is that the same God who oversees creation and joys and blessings also watches over and guides us in our confusion and clamor:

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
~Denise Levertov“Primary Wonder” from Selected Poems

I really do believe that.
What stories are you telling yourself, my friends? I'd love to hear them even if (especially if) they're completely different from mine. Tell me, email me. Let's have a conversation. 


*Though Barbara Bush's quote (about your house being more important than the white house) is a lovely one, I propose we don't limit our influence to our own homes. Let your influence be felt everywhere you go. Speak up. Make a difference. Hold others accountable and be accountable, President You.

It's the too-huge world vaulting us

Sam's graduation/valedictory week in his words (excerpted from a family letter with his permission):

These last few months were my school wrap-up period. All the festivities, ceremonies, and hooliganism that accompany the traditional graduation process included: 

1. Games! Our House and School Captains played some friendly (but fiercely competitive) games against the girls' school. Earlier this year, there was a game of netball in which the boys dressed up in the girls' uniforms (with skirts and all), and this month we had a game of ultimate frisbee (boys won, 9-0) and a game of bellyball, which is a game the girls' school made up, a kind of fusion of kickball and wiffle ball with giant mats as bases (Maddy you probably remember it). The outcome is still disputed due to some cheating scandals, haha. 

Also we did the Staff v Student Debate! Since I'm on the Year 12 1st Debating team, we debated a team of staff on the topic "That all classes should be 8 minutes," with the teachers for and us against the topic. We threw them a curveball, though, and proposed a countermodel where all classes are 8 seconds. Predictably, we lost, but not without a good fight.

2. Valedictory Dinner and Chapel. After Grandma and Grandpa got here, the graduation happened in full force. The Valedictory Chapel and Dinner is the closest to a cap-and-gown graduation ceremony you get here. I sang the Irish Blessing and another song with the choir to send the Year 12s off, which got me a little teary. I've sung that same Irish Blessing arrangement to all the Year 12s since Year 8 and then sang it to my own Year 12 group. The Valedictory Chapel was a good ceremony as well: they read a 20-second description for each student, which is really nice to see everyone and the awards they got (it did end up taking from 6 to about 11 to do the Chapel Service and Dinner, though, which is the major drawback).

3. MUCK UP DAY!!!! THE REAL THING EVERYONE IS WAITING FOR! It's our tradition to do a massive senior prank day, school-wide and also in each house. For the centerpiece we decided to build a giant wall in the Quad-- about 13 feet tall and 100 feet long. We stayed at school after the Valedictory Dinner to put it up which meant we were at the school from 11 pm to about 2:30 am building it. It's a miracle we got it up and it stayed up. If it had been rainy or windy, it could have fallen over on some poor Year 7 walking next to it. Luckily we had gotten together the past two weekends to do some prefab work. It was pretty legendary if I do say so myself.

Prefab wall prep

Prefab wall prep

Buildlng the wall

Buildlng the wall

The front of the finished wall

The front of the finished wall

The back of the wall

The back of the wall

4. Mock Assembly, Final Assembly, Walk-out. The morning after building the wall, we got to school, showed off our mucking up skills, and then had Mock Assembly, where we did a parody assembly making fun of students and teachers (all approved by school leadership of course, but still with some signature boys-school style humour) and then the Final Assembly, where the School Captains (including me) made farewell speeches.* Then we did the walk out, where we hug and shake hands and say goodbye to everyone as we do one last walk around the Quad.

Walk out (I'm in the front of the seniors walking down the middle)

Walk out (I'm in the front of the seniors walking down the middle)

Now I am just doing some studying for IB Exams in November and some college applications stuff. And [after school holidays end this week] even though we've done all the graduation stuff, school is still on for 2 weeks more for the IB kids. 

. . .

*My farewell speech at Final Assembly:

A lot of today is about the end. The end of our status as Year 12s, the end of the term approaching, the end of our schooling (except the IB suckers who get to stay on another two weeks).

But I don’t want to focus on endings—if only because I know that if I do I’ll start crying. I would like to talk about the new beginnings that are approaching, and how we can make the most of them.

As the Year 12s’ time comes to a close, we instinctively think back to our beginnings at the school. I think of mine, exactly four years ago, when—ready or not—I nervously entered into the school. It was a struggle for the first few terms: from struggling to find friends, to getting lost every day, to getting used to an unfamiliar atmosphere, beginnings can be hard.

And we’ve all had our beginnings here, whether it was in kindergarten or Year 7 or Year 11. So here’s what I ask of you. Make everyone’s beginning the best it can be. Make sure all new students get the opportunity to access the unique community that we all love.

After my shaky beginnings, you all helped the school to become an indisputable part of me. Your kindness, sense of community, and above all, friendship overpowered any feelings of insecurity and fear. I think of the poignant words of E.B. White in Charlotte’s Web:

“Why did you do all this for me?' Wilbur asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

Though you may think that accompanying someone alone at lunch or offering a kind word to an hurt soul may be small, it is a tremendous, invaluable part of our community. Don’t forget that, and make sure to help along everyone who is beginning at our school.

There’s another beginning, too: a beginning of a new age at the school. We are entering an era of change. The largest of these is the school going co-educational, but the gradual changes continue as time goes on and new students enter these corridors. These changes aren’t bad, though they may be unfamiliar; many of them are for the best. 

But in the midst of change, it becomes important to know what we want to keep—what makes this place so much more than just a school. That may differ from person to person—if you asked all of us up here what defines the school, you would get 130 different answers—but there are constants: friendship, a sense of humour, mentoring, and probably Mock Assembly. Each of you need to find what makes our school special and make sure we never lose sight of our fundamental values.

I know that this beginning of a new age will be guided well by your new school leaders. I know that they will make fantastic leaders, and I can’t wait to see the great things they will do in the next year.

Now you might be thinking now about how I’ve ignored the actual occasion today, but I haven’t. The final beginning we now face is the beginning of a new age for us Year 12s. In just a few minutes, we will be saying farewell to the overpriced Gatorade in the Canteen, to Sarge’s brusque “Quiet down please boys,” to high-stakes games of pool in the Year 12 Common Room. We will be saying goodbye to the halls that held countless before us, and that will hold countless more. We will leave all of you.

But we look forward to our next step, and it is good for us to move on, even if we feel like we could stay here forever. All our paths will be different from now on, but have this starting point in common. We will always have this place at our core.

As we end now, and as we all begin in our different ways, I’d like to finish with a passage from On the Road by Jack Kerouac:

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? –it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Sam the Eagle

When we moved to Australia four years ago we didn't know if Sam would be able to finish the U.S. boy scout program--because (of course) they don't do it here as part of the youth program at church like they do in the states--but luckily there was a brand new BSA troop being formed in Canberra led by a group of outstanding, make-it-happen parents.  Sam jumped right in and it has been, I daresay, an even more crucial part of his life here than it was in Boston. The numbers have fluctuated as American families moved in and out of Canberra but they've kept up an ambitious schedule of adventures and learned to support and lead each other, this fairly ragtag (but in the best way) group of boys between 11-18. 

They meet each week at the embassy. Unlike most American families here, we're not affiliated with the embassy but when Ambassador Berrey heard that Sam was working on his Eagle he personally reached out to encourage him over the last year and offered to host the ceremony if he finished. Every time he saw Sam he would not only remember his name but also check up on how he was doing and tease him about being all set to host the party. It was not the only thing that kept Sam trudging toward finishing his Eagle rank but it was a gracious nudge and reminder that he had a lot of people cheering for him.  

The ceremony gave us a chance to thank many people who have helped Sam along the way here: the headmaster and housemaster at his school, his friends, church leaders, and the scouts and their families. Because security is tight at the Ambassador's residence, we weren't able to bring a camera but one of the scout families who has ties to the embassy had clearance so we are grateful to Lynnea for these photos:

The invitations sent by the protocol office: we had no idea it would be so fancy shmancy!

The invitations sent by the protocol office: we had no idea it would be so fancy shmancy!

All the pins. And Sam already has a chance to pay it forward as an Assistant Scoutmaster for the next few months

All the pins. And Sam already has a chance to pay it forward as an Assistant Scoutmaster for the next few months

Taking the oath

Taking the oath

Such a great dad. Greg's spent countless hours doing scouts with Sam, serving in some capacity for pretty much the whole 7 years.

Such a great dad. Greg's spent countless hours doing scouts with Sam, serving in some capacity for pretty much the whole 7 years.

Sam's scoutmaster, the Ambassador, and Sam all gave talks. 

Sam's scoutmaster, the Ambassador, and Sam all gave talks. 

Friends from school (in case you're wondering, Ben's striped blazer means he's a sports team captain)

Friends from school (in case you're wondering, Ben's striped blazer means he's a sports team captain)

Headmaster Garrick (left; think Dumbledore equivalent) and Mr. Cameron, Sam's housemaster (middle; think...McGonagall?) 

Headmaster Garrick (left; think Dumbledore equivalent) and Mr. Cameron, Sam's housemaster (middle; think...McGonagall?) 

It was such a happy day and it worked out perfectly that Maddy was there for her visit at the time. We missed Lauren and Patrick, though!

It was such a happy day and it worked out perfectly that Maddy was there for her visit at the time. We missed Lauren and Patrick, though!

(from left) the 4 Waddoupi, Ambassador Berrey, his partner Curtis, scoutmaster Chris Odell.

(from left) the 4 Waddoupi, Ambassador Berrey, his partner Curtis, scoutmaster Chris Odell.

Just for fun, let's take a quick glimpse at what that boy looked like back when he started on the path to Eagle back in 2009 and a few since then:

He's been so enriched and blessed by the incredible mentors who have contributed SO MUCH time and energy to help the scouts learn and grow. So grateful. Forward, march...

Newsy bits

Lauren and Patrick moved to Atlanta shortly after their wedding, driving across country as an extended honeymoon coda. P had an actuarial internship there over the summer and the move was intended to be temporary but he was offered a really great permanent position that they've decided to accept. They're in Utah this week picking up all of the gear and wedding gifts they left behind in April and are slowly furnishing their new apartment that replaces their temporary (and cockroach infested) one. Life is good in newlywedville. We're looking forward to seeing them at Christmas. And, of course, since we're moving to Virginia at the end of the year, we're excited to be in the same time zone and a day's drive away.

Maddy wrapped up a great first year at university and worked at two (paid, yay!) internships this summer: one as an economic development coordinator for a small municipality (think Parks & Rec) and one at a political consultancy/communications firm (think--what? Scandal? I don't know, I'll have to ask). She spent the summer shuttling between those two jobs, which were a couple of hours apart, and bunking with generous family members. She's excited to be able to stop living out of her car and move into her first genuine, non-dorm apartment this fall. She's got a lively, close group of friends and has been dating and attending missionary farewells and weddings all summer long. She's here in Australia this week for a quick visit and farewell tour before starting school in a couple of weeks. If we let her leave, that is.

Sam is smashing through all the milestones and rites of passage lately. He turned 18 this month, had his Eagle Scout Ceremony, was sustained to receive the Melchizedek priesthood last week at stake conference, has taken the ACT/SATs, is preparing and deciding on college applications, and completing the string of IB assessments and papers that this particular term in Year 12 demands. He's vice-captain of the school and has had a lot of growing opportunities--speaking at assemblies, helping with school-wide leadership and decisions as they transition to an all-boys school to a co-ed one. At some point he'll move up to full fledged driver from learning permit but he'll have to find three spare minutes to bundle together first. 

Greg has done some fun winter hikes and camps with Sam and the scouts, including a four-day snowshoeing + backpacking trip in Kosciuszko National Park. He is heroically straddling two jobs with one foot in his new role and one in his current job.  This will continue until we move in late November, with him rotating time in DC and here. They're both technically with the same company but very different roles and he's handling it like a champ. I marvel at the way he can be completely swamped & pressured at work but you'd never know it in his interactions with us at home, other than he's sometimes awake in the middle of the night with all the thoughts. There's never tension spillover--he can separate those things from his general outlook on life. With me you can always tell what's brewing: sometimes a stress stew, sometimes a bliss souffle, usually some kind of combo platter. But, oh, there's spillover. 

As for me?  I've gotten fairly hermit-y here in Australia winter lately but I'm still here! I'm prepping for the courses I'll be teaching in January, working on a social science research project here in Canberra, doing some long-distance house hunting and tackling the move to-do list in between. (The moving company comes next week to catalog our belongings and then will pack us up for the slow boat shipment next month!)  I got glasses. Two pairs that are hello-aging multifocals and a bunch of reading glasses (favorite blues pictured above) that are scattered on the flat surfaces and in drawers all over the house. I've become enamoured with bullet journaling (hat tip Sarah). I miss writing--I think I've had enough of a mental/creative hibernation season and am keen to create again. Times and seasons, they keep rolling by.


Listening:
 Your Best American Girl by Mitski
First Days of Spring by Noah and the Whale
Cloves album Xiii

Reading:
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Watching:
The Olympics,
old episodes of Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, &
we loved & binge-watched Stranger Things 

Joining in:
Ann Dee Ellis's memoir group with daily writing prompts