Category Archives: Holidays other than Christmas

A Tale of Two Easter Baskets.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThe first married holiday that Kellan and I celebrated together was Easter. We’d been married for all of ten minutes, and I had no sooner hung up his and her bathroom towels when quite suddenly, Easter was upon us.

In my family, every holiday is a rather grand affair. Growing up, Easter around the Peterson table often included our immediate family, and no less than thirty of our closest friends. [Really. Thirty. My Mother is the only woman that I know that has forty place settings of her dishes, and makes good use of them on the regular.]  My Mama would cook impossibly elaborate dinners while my brothers and I dusted the furniture and lit every Yankee candle in the house as strains of classical music lilted from our grand piano as my Daddy played.

Petersons know how to celebrate. Our holidays overflow with food and dear friends and the happiest, happiest noise. We ardently believe that it’s not a party without a crowd, to the point where one Thanksgiving after my family had recently moved, I forlornly looked at my Mother and in all seriousness, asked if we could drive around town looking for unsuspecting homeless people to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. [An idea that was heartily applauded by my siblings.] I was quite convinced that to celebrate with only our immediate family would have been absolute MISERY from which we might never recover.

I digress. Last year, Easter rolled in slowly, like a quiet morning fog, and took me by surprise. Though we had no friends to be invited, [save the deli-man, with whom I had been carefully cultivating my one and only New York friendship over quarter pounds of oven roasted honey glazed turkey,] I was determined to do the very bare minimum, and make an Easter dinner. I felt like the Whos on The Grinch who Stole Christmas, gathering hand in hand in the heart of Whoville to bravely sing da-who-dores even though their trimmings and trappings had been stolen by that wily old Grinch.

The day before Easter, I bravely plugged the fanciest grocery store in town into my trusty GPS, and ventured onto the highways and byways of upstate New York. After much angst and great inner turmoil at the meat counter, I threw caution and $18.94 to the wind and splurged on a perfect rack of lamb. Grocery list ready in my hot little hand, I had channeled my inner 1950’s housewife and Pinterested my heart out—luscious scalloped potatoes, buttery yeast rolls, a Greek salad and a decadent chocolate pie…we were friendless, but by George, I  was going to SAVE EASTER! As I stood in the check out line, a veritable mountain of Made in China Easter candy infused in franken-colors not to be found in nature caught my wandering eye.

For a heartbeat, I considered putting together an Easter basket for my newly-minted husband, but quickly thought better of it. After all, what man on earth would think to make an Easter basket for his wife? I didn’t want Kellan to feel badly, and so I opted to forgo the whole thing. His Mama had already given us baskets, I consoled myself. You are wife of the year—anticipating his every move! YOU SHOULD WRITE A BOOK ON HUSBANDS.

That very evening, after groceries had been safely tucked away and our little apartment had been dusted [old habits die hard, friends!], the handsome man that I’d called mine for mere weeks grinned at me from across our living room, and with twinkling eyes casually mentioned how excited he was to give me my Easter basket the next morning.

I immediately googled “signs of an aneurysm”, confident that I’d just had one. Come again? YOU made ME an Easter basket?

I was shattered, ready to write off my entire month of wifehood as a dismal failure. Twas the night before Easter and all through the house, there wasn’t so much as a tiny chocolate egg, because his wife was a louse. My fragile new-wife ego was hanging on by a gossamer thread, and gravely, I stared at Kellan as though he were the next of kin.

Honey, …I didn’t get you an Easter basket.

He looked almost startled. Quietly disappointed, he slowly assured me that it was okay.

Hi. Have we met?

IT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

I had crazy eyes. It was 11:00 PM, or as I like to call it, the stabbing hour. Frantic, I looked at Kellan and firmly announced that I NEEDED to go get him an Easter basket. No amount of cajoling and pleading and I-don’t-even-want-one-ing would dissuade me, and ten minutes later we were in the car. [Oh yes. To add insult to injury, the man had to drive me to Target so that I could get him an Easter basket.] I flew through the aisles, hastily tossing candy, trail mix and plastic green grass into my little red cart while my husband [who had, of course, been exiled from the store to maintain a sense of mystery about the whole miserable endeavor] waited for me outside.

The next morning, I handed Kellan a white Target bag filled with the previous night’s plunder [and, I’m sure, the receipt] because in my haste to give him an Easter basket, I’d forgotten the actual basket. He laughingly made a crack about his white trash Easter bag and I was all PARDON ME IF NOT ALL OF US CHOOSE TO JOIN YOU IN YOUR LIFE OF EXCESS.

You can bet every marshmallow Peep in town that I didn’t make the same mistake this year. PLEASE. This year, I tried not to look too eager for praise as Kellan awoke to a perfect wicker Easter basket full of enough candy to make his butt feel like a bean bag chair for the next decade. The whole thing was very Normal Rockwell.

Da-who-dores, indeed.

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Filed under Family, First World Problems, Holidays other than Christmas, Marriage

Make Them Eat Cake.

I am INSUFFERABLE about my birthday.

However, I adamantly maintain my innocence, because it’s really not my fault. As a little girl, my parents celebrated my birthday for the entire month of April, effectively making April THE MONTH OF ME. I was like a tiny fascist dictator, merrily barking orders about what I wanted for dinner and which Anne of Green Gables VHS tape the family would watch that evening. Thus, with a solid month of build-up and sweet anticipation, my parents inadvertently created a complete monster by teaching me that April 19th was a national holiday. The message was unmistakably clear: the world celebrated Jesus Christ in December, and Ashley Peterson in April.

Now, a necessary clarification: my love of birthdays has very little to do with gifts. I love a good present as much as the next girl, but for me, celebrating is more about the time and effort put in to planning fun things that we can all do together, and less about unwrapping. [This does, of course, become null and void if somebody wants me to unwrap round trip tickets to Paris.]

Kellan and I had never been in the same country for my birthday until last year. And y’all, I just KNEW that my first married birthday was going to be HEAVEN. I had big plans for a nine course breakfast in bed and a sweet surprise date and MAYHAP a brass band to follow me around, heralding my impending arrival everywhere I went.

Also balloons.

Unfortunately, in a wildly unexpected [read: TRAGIC] turn of events, several weeks before my birthday my darling husband informed me that he had a board meeting that was going to last  THE ENTIRE DAY. I laughed and waited for Ashton Kutcher to pop out from behind a nearby potted plant, because I was clearly being PUNKED.

Sadly, Ashton was nowhere to be found. Constraints of the English language make it utterly impossible for me to communicate the vast depths of my despair over this bombshell, but suffice it to say that I was certain that human civilization as I knew it, was crumbling to the ground.

April 19th dawned, and Kellan attempted to ply me with bacon by taking me out to an early breakfast. He then left to attend his meeting while I breathed into a paper bag because THIS WAS NOT MAGICAL. My Mama was all PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER ASHLEY. IT’S A BIRTHDAY, NOT VIETNAM, and I was all THIS BIRTHDAY IS GOING TO DRIVE ME TO HARD DRUGS.

I spent the day driving around the block soulfully belting “It Matters to Me” by Faith Hill with all of the pent-up angst of a menstrual seventh grader. I felt like Faith and I were united in our uncertainty of getting through tomorrow but commitment to bravely soldier on in the face of insurmountable tragedy.

My beloved returned right before I fell asleep. Clearly, there was nothing that he could have done to change his meeting and spend my birthday with me…but that didn’t stop me from staring at him like he’d just burned down an orphanage and crying like a small, emotionally disturbed child.

I told you. Insufferable.

They say that marriage is about clear communication and a steady supply of Merlot. In our house, one of those is always easy to come by, mostly because you can buy it for 6.29 and that’s cheaper than marriage counseling. But in the spirit of WORKING on our communication, in the aftermath of the Great Birthday Disaster of 2013 I sat Kellan down for a coming to Jesus moment.

Honey. LOOK. I know this one wasn’t your fault, but I don’t feel like you’ve really GRASPED the month of me. We need to have a little chat about birthdays.

The best relationship advice that I ever got was from my Mama way back in high school, when she looked me in the eyeballs and soberly informed me that men can’t read minds. That is just the HIGHLY unfortunate, sorry state of things. And so, I benevolently broke it down for Kellan. I told him all about breakfast in bed and balloons and the brass band. I informed him he didn’t need to buy me anything as long as we could just HANG OUT, and I gravely confessed if he ever had another board meeting on my birthday, there was a distinct possibility that I would go to prison for arson and spend the rest of my life in an orange jumpsuit watching bad daytime television and eating jello pudding with a plastic spoon.

My wise husband took me very seriously.

And so yesterday at the Dickens’ house was not April Fools Day. I woke up and my sweet husband beamed, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MONTH, HONEY!”

Indeed it is

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Filed under Family, First World Problems, Holidays other than Christmas, Marriage, Then I found $5.00

Happy Birthday, Ian!

IMG_1672I remember the day Ian was born. [His actual birthday, if you will.] After nine months of excitedly listening to my Mama’s belly with my toy stethoscope, and impatiently wondering when new baby would get here already, Stephen and I were taken to the hospital to meet our newly-minted little brother.

We arrived, and Ian “gave” each of us a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal. I was instantly enamored, because this kid came with accessories. My love can be bought, apparently for $9.99 at the Disney store.

Of the four Peterson kids, two might be described as angelic, and the other two might be described as Ian and I. We were so startlingly similar that it was laughable. From his dry sense of humor and wit [two qualities in a person that I rank above compassion and integrity], to his overly-enthused love for theatre and music. When he was a kid, he attended every single play, musical, and choir concert that I performed in [and let’s get one thing straight right now: we called them legion for they were many], and when we got home he would inevitably ask me to “teach him”. Ash. That thing you did with your voice? How’d you do that? How’d that song go again? Show me the dance. And so we would crowd around the baby grand, or dance wildly across the kitchen floor as my eager understudy learned.

Ian and I loved singing together the most. It was perfectly normal to find us spending hours sitting at the piano, rotating who played and singing every song that popped into our heads. I miss that.

I miss Ian every single day. I miss him especially today, as a ten thousand memories dance across my mind and I long for heaven. I remember Ian sitting on my parent’s back porch blowing out candles a year ago today, before everything changed. Just as vividly, I remember a three year old sitting in his highchair with blue frosting smeared over every inch of his face.

A friend told me yesterday that she planned to wish Ian a happy birthday, because he was still alive and celebrating it, just with better music and better cake. Yes. Today, I am not sad for Ian. I am unspeakably sad for the people who love him and miss him daily. Minute-ly. [To his friends going karaokeing tonight in his honor: thank you.] And today, I have nothing profound to say. Nothing to make it better, nothing to ease the sting. I’m just a sister that misses her little brother. I’m a sister that spent last night looking at every single picture of her brother tagged on facebook and watching every recorded song that he sang. I’m a sister that will bake a very chocolate cake with 22 candles, and blow them out alone in my apartment. I’m a sister that will bake a cake every year on July 12th, because this missing my little brother will never, never get easier. And I am a sister that will choose not to remember him as the cancer kid with his face plastered on luminaries and jumbotrons. I do not remember Ian as the kid who died—I remember him as the kid who lived. Who, thanks to Jesus, still lives.

A lot of you never got to meet my brother, and you’ve never heard him sing. He wrote this. :)

Happy birthday, baby brother. I love you so much!

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, Ian

Let Freedom [Really] Ring.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi's age.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi’s age.

As I watched red, white and blue sparks rain down across the night sky on July 4th, my heart felt like it might burst right along with the fireworks. I am grateful to have been born in a country with as much freedom as we enjoy in these United States, but I find it difficult to stomach the sheer privilege of it all when millions of people can’t begin to imagine what freedom tastes like. An agonized world begging for intervention presses their noses to the window while I watch fireworks and revel in my comfortable, free life. It feels ugly. It demands an unflinchingly honest examination of the way that I spend the days and dollars that I have been given.

Several weeks ago, I read a book called “Sold” by Patricia McCormick. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl named Lakshimi living with her family in a small village in Nepal. As finances grow tighter and meals become smaller, her stepfather forces her to take a job to support her family. Believing that she is to be hired as a maid in the city, Lakshimi journeys to India where that little girl is hastily sold into the horrific world of prostitution. Her story is searing, heart wrenchingly impossible to read and still, impossible to set aside. I read the book in one sitting, unable to tear my eyes away.

At the end of the book, the author leaves us with this chilling note:

“Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.

As part of my research for Sold, I traced the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels, provide them with medical care and job training, and who work to reintegrate them into society.

But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity.

Some go door to door in the country’s most isolated villages to explain what really happens to girls who leave home with strangers promising good jobs. Some of them—even women who are ill with HIV—patrol the border between Nepal and India on the lookout for young girls traveling without their parents. And some are facing their traffickers in court—where it is often their word against the fathers and brothers, husbands and uncles who sold them for as little as three hundred dollars.”

To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry.  We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry or sleep on the street or be imprisoned in a brothel in India.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Seven [RUN to buy it. It’s ruined my life in the best possible way, and now I’ve got Kellan reading it so it can ruin his too.] and in it, she echoes this tension. She wonders with me,

“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick or protect the window? Would they see the spending on church builds and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?”

It’s Monday. The sparklers have died, fireworks have fizzled and the grills have been turned off. At the end of this holiday weekend, I am left with the indelible impression that our freedom is cheap if it is hoarded. Jesus entered right into the very heart of our pain and took it from us to set us free. It cost Him everything. How will this change the way that we live?

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, Hope, Justice

Sorry, Candy.

photo (1)Memorial day weekend. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

You might remember that just before the holiday weekend hit, I came down with the black plague. This, however, did approximately nothing to dampen my enthusiasm over our very first Albany visitors flying in on Saturday morning, and thus 11:00 AM found me out of bed for the first time in days, standing in rather confused Niquil’d daze with a crowd of overly-caffeinated New Yorkers holding tiny American flags and one proudly oversized “Welcome Home, Heroes!” banner. I, on the other hand, was holding four glazed munchkins from the airport Dunkin Donuts and one rumpled tissue.

Welcome to Albany, Colin and Jess!

Kellan and I were silly excited to have them. He’s known Colin and Jess since he was a freshman at Duke, and they were some of the first friends that I met after we started dating. I’ll never forget it. We were in DC having dinner at Colin and Jess’ quirky little apartment with the purple wall, and as we sat down to eat I noticed that their dining room table had a couple of names carved into it. They began to tell the story of how as newlyweds, they’d purchased the table from Craig’s List for a song with the idea that each friend that visited them would use Colin’s pocket knife to sign it.

Cute idea, right? It was, until Colin’s eyes lit up. YOU need to sign the table!JCP_2901

Ruh-roh. While I adored Kellan Dickens right off the bat, we had been dating for a matter of days and I was far from sold. I was weeks away from heading back to Africa for another year, and quite uncertain as to whether our little romance could handle an ocean between us.

Jess and Kellan both enthusiastically chimed in, excited at the prospect of Kellan and I signing the table together.

My heart raced and my head spun. I mean, a dining room table is forever. All I could think about was Kellan’s poor next girlfriend [probably a vapid blonde-headed floozy named Candy] sitting down to dinner a year or so later, wondering who on earth the Ashley next to her boyfriend’s name was. How do you delicately inform your brand-new boyfriend and his you-just-met-them-half-an-hour-ago best friends that you probably shouldn’t carve your name into their dining room table because you’re not sure if you’re going to be sticking around?

Help me, Rhonda. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out a way to gracefully extricate myself, and so it was with enormous hesitation that I signed my name. Which wasn’t enough for Kellan, who decided to take up half of their table with THIS little number:

DSC_0018

Fan. Tastic. Thank heavens it all worked out in the end–I think that one might have sent Candy straight over the edge.

Bronchitis and all, having Colin and Jess come for a couple of days was just what the doctor ordered. It was so glorious having good friends here that I found myself wishing I could bottle the feeling up and store it away for the rough days. I spent most of the time that I wasn’t coughing attempting to convince them to move to Albany,  and I looked so pitiful that we may just have a shot at this thing! So really, my bronchitis might have been serendipitously timed.

Silver linings, people.

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, My favorite people

Happy Birthday Darrell?

Several days ago, I received an email from a woman in my small group. Y’all. She is just the sweetest thing and I probably would have packed my most prized possessions into my little blue duffel bag and run away by now if not for Betsy. It was Betsy that told me where to find coffee and had me over for a turkey wrap when I was going straight-up stir crazy and considering burning our apartment down. She once forwarded me a groupon for local cupcakes, and for that she has my undying love and eternal gratitude.

Our small group meets every other week, and given my propensity to keep running back to North Carolina, I’ve only been in town for one. [Kellan, on the other hand, has been attending since he moved to NY last August.] Happily, the Dickens’ had no travel plans this week [Scratch that. The Dickens’ had no travel plans that would interfere with our Tuesday small group.], and we were giddy at the prospect of human interaction again.

As I mentioned, Betsy emailed Kellan and I earlier this week, asking us if we remembered that it was our turn to bring the snack to small group. Given my stellar attendance record of ONE TIME and the fact that I generally operate under a total state of cluelessness in Albany, I hadn’t the foggiest idea. Thank heavens she said something, or we would have been that couple that punts on snack and EMBARRASSING  There’s nothing like showing up to small group expecting to get something chocolate, only to be met with a halfhearted plastic cup of seltzer water and shame instead. It would be enough for me to excommunicate MYSELF.

Betsy informed me that Darrell’s birthday was this week, and mentioned that traditionally their sweet small group tries to do something special on birthdays. She suggested that I ought to conspire with Darrell’s wife Angela to figure out what his favorite dessert was, and maybe stick a couple of candles in it.

Which I would have been THRILLED to do, had I only been able to pick out either Darrell or his lovely wife Angela out of a line up. However, I assure you that for 100,000 dollars I COULD NOT.

Enter panic, stage right. The people in this small group are currently my only shot at friends in this god-forsaken city, and I’m about to make them all hate me. Who is Darrell?! Did I meet him? Why can’t I remember names? I really need to start doing crosswords and playing Sudoku. How do I get ahold of Angela? What if he has childhood birthday baggage and I just bring it all back? Maybe he wanted a piñata for his seventh birthday party but he didn’t get one because HIS MOM FORGOT WHO HE WAS.

I’m going to screw up the snack. THE SNACK! What if Darrell is allergic to nuts and I make something with nuts?! OH LORD I’M GOING TO KILL DARRELL.

I began to resign myself to a friendless existence in Albany. I would simply cower at home, living out the rest of my ill-fated days drinking bourbon and watching old Matlock reruns while Kellan went on to live his life without me. Maybe I would channel Miss Havisham and wear my wedding dress for the next fifty years, because if I was going to be a deranged recluse, I was going to do it right.

In a blinding cold sweat, I managed to feverishly peck out a secretly-panicked email to Betsy. Um, hey. YES to snack. SO pumped for Darrell’s birthday. …some pointers as to who he is and a phone number might help?

Sweet Betsy to the rescue. She didn’t make me feel stupid or guilty for my inability to remember names- and lickety-split, I had all of the information I needed to celebrate the man of the week.

You’ll be relieved to know that we made it through small group last night intact, and Darrell is not only still alive but seemed to enjoy his chocolate supreme while graciously overlooking the pink birthday candles.

To my knowledge nobody hates me yet. In fact, to my knowledge, nobody has any strong feelings about me whatsoever.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00

Happy Halloween!

JCP_4017 bwSo, I totally lied.

Kellan did NOT leave on his business trip yesterday—instead, after weeks of bending the truth and trying desperately not to spill the proverbial beans, my sneaky husband flew to Maryland last night to surprise his sweet Mom for Mother’s day.

Which would have been precious and perfect if we’d ONLY GOTTEN THE DATE RIGHT. Imagine our utter astonishment this morning when we learned that Mother’s day is, in fact, NEXT Sunday instead of this weekend.

What year is it? What country am I in? And why did none of you tell me this? I thought we were friends. Here I was all “What about Cinco de Mayo!?”, when apparently there was really nothing to worry about at all. The margaritas are safe! [Of course, approximately 84% of the time when my Mother and I say we’re “out running errands”, we’re really out drinking margaritas so chances are my margaritas would have been safe either way. Please don’t tell her I told.]

It was a sweet attempt—both of us flying home to be with our Mamas. Unfortunately, I believe we did more harm than good as both Mothers are now left pondering where on earth they went wrong raising two adult children that have no grasp whatsoever on the socially-accepted calendar. But it’s too late to apologize, and can’t be helped now. Like using WiFi at Starbucks, they’re going to have to celebrate on OUR terms.

Besides, we’ll be busy passing out candy for Halloween next weekend.JCP_2624 bw

I am thankful for my Mother-in-law for a myriad of reasons, and here are three:

  1. I hear that most girls have to pretend to like their mother-in-laws. I have a wretched poker face, so this would have been a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. Thank heavens, mine happens to be the kindest person that I’ve ever met. Period.
  2. She is my saving grace on family game night. The Dickens are a competitive lot, friends—so family game night is NO JOKE. Unfortunately, I have this unhealthy propensity to burst into tears if I think someone is angry with me during a game of Monopoly. TAKE PARK PLACE I DON’T WANT IT ANYMORE!! I’m not going to lie, I think every single marital problem that Kellan and I have can be traced back to one fateful game of Settlers of Catan. Though come to think of it, battling another couple in Wii bowling didn’t help a thing. Baby, I need you to TRY. I AM TRYING!!! Thankfully, Gina approaches game night with the same “Why can’t we just be FRIENDS!?” giggly attitude that I do. In fact, we often team up together, and the first time she helped me cheat I almost peed myself laughing. [Never fear—our underhanded tactics have yet to win us a thing. We pose approximately zero threat to our competitive compatriots.]
  3. She’s a dark horse. Is Gina the sweetest person I’ve ever met? Hands down. But she’s also one of the funniest! I’d divulge details if I COULD, but let’s just say a conversation that she, Keri and I had about my bachelorette party STILL makes me laugh out loud every time the story dances across my mind.

Happy Mother’s day, Moms. Whenever on earth it is.

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Filed under Family, Holidays other than Christmas