After we had eaten our Thanksgiving feast, we made new stars and lifted them into the sky.

I don’t know when Cathers had the idea of adding Chinese Lanterns to our Thanksgiving celebrations, but it was an inspired thought!

I love paper lanterns. They are such a simple idea. A few bits of fragile tissue paper and a bit of meths-soaked card one minute and then a glowing, floating beacon of light the next.

You need a partner in crime to help you: one holds the lantern aloft, the other stoops underneath with a match or a taper to light the card at the bottom. Very slowly the lantern fills out with light and warmth. And then it begins to lift…

I’m not sure we go for symbology here at Matryoshka Haus. We didn’t say a prayer or perform a rite with these lanterns. We had some fun. And yet there is something about the act of releasing a lantern that lifts the soul.

You stand and you wait, feeling the insubstantial weight of the paper get gradually lighter in your hands. You feel the feeble warmth from the flame grow and the light dance around you as the wind catches the flame.

Gradually you have a sense of an imperceptible pull on your hold and you find yourself releasing your grip for a second to see what will happen. No, not yet. Soon. Maybe now…?

With a gentle lift the lantern is away. At first you feel like you’ve made a mistake and there will soon be a fiery mess at your feet. But no, up it goes. Slowly, then faster and higher. Like a gentle and majestic jellyfish it rises into the air and over your heads and is carried away.

Chinese lantern floating away.

As you watch the lantern rise, you feel lighter. You feel like your spirit has been lifted up, into the heavens with your man-made temporary star. You might not have prayed, you might not have wished, but for a moment you realise that your worries are less present and your heart less heavy.

And you smile.

Being Thankful

The London Matryoshka Haus community gathered together recently to celebrate Thanksgiving. Shannon brought this American tradition with her from the US and it has become a wonderful, looked-forward-to part of our community calendar. I don’t know if we do it right, but we have turkey and stuffing and wine and lots of good company. We eat together, we drink together, we laugh together and we are thankful, together.

This year has been a tough year for many of the Matryoshka Haus family. Shannon, Andy, Thomasin and myself have all been homeless. Shannon’s father died. Rachel N’s business failed. There has been sickness and heartache and a lot of bad or lost jobs and underemployment. People’s hopes have failed to come to fruition and… well, y’know, sometimes life just seems a little tough. I know there have been plenty of times when we have got together and it felt like everyone round the table was having a bad week. And for good reason.

But however hard things might have been we found plenty to be thankful for that weekend. We were thankful for each other, for the genuine loving support that there is round that table, like no other group of people I know. We were thankful for places of shelter and hospitality that restore us: Helen & Cathers’ offering space for Sam; Sue and Iain making a healing home for Shannon in Chichester; my own journey from home to home receiving generosity and a welcome embrace again and again.

We were thankful for Holly’s arrival at Sweet Notions; for Becca becoming an integral part of the TI team. For Rachel J (currently) buying a home close by; for Jo getting a home of her own after many years. For Cathers’ job with Made in Marylebone and for the Design Camps being so successful that they are no longer needed.

We are thankful for new members of the community: for Phil & Sarah, Naomi and Nills. For every new friend. For every successful meeting. We are thankful for the many new ties across the Atlantic between American friends and Brits. We are thankful for those who want to join us here, especially for Carl and Regina and their family who hope to be part of the London family by next Thanksgiving.

If there is any symbol of hope and joy in our community, if there is any one thing that we can all agree with are overwhelmingly thankful for, it is for Jacob. At our Thanksgiving gathering last year he was barely a week old and only 2 days out of the hospital. He captured our hearts that day and has held them very soundly ever since.

Jacob at 11 months old

Jacob is the most good-natured baby I have ever met. He genuinely loves everyone he meets and warms to new people quickly. He has a winning smile and a marvellously dirty chuckle. In short, he is the perfect embodiment of what our community hopes to be to each other, and what we hope Matryoshka Haus can be to the world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Giving Thanks

We intended this to be a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ message on Thursday. Sadly, our server went down the night before, and it took a little while to get it back up and running…

In London, five days before ‘official’ Thanksgiving, the Matryoshka Haus community gathered for its annual celebration of giving thanks. While it might seem strange for a British group to celebrate an American holiday, this regular opportunity to be thankful for what we have is a special time for many of us.

Our community is at its strongest when it is gathered around a table. To manage this within a restricted space, our Thanksgiving meal took place in the garden, with candlelight, coats and scarves. We made time to remember the difficulties our community has faced over the last year, and to celebrate the many things we were thankful for. Lanterns were lit in honour of what we were grateful for, looking beautiful as they floated away into the London sky.

Thankful light

We are grateful for so many things – the blessing of new relationships, homes, jobs, health and new life – especially in the face of many struggles. Nothing represented our thankfulness better than a small person whose arrival was greeted with (actual) screams of delight. Jacob, who turns one this week, was just days old at last year’s Thanksgiving. We as a community are now rejoicing with his parents in the blessings that a year of his life has provided.

We pray that you will be blessed this Thanksgiving weekend and that the coming year will be filled with even more reasons to be thankful.

Faces lit by the glowing lanters

Sharing families

Last month we had the honor of taking our lovely English friends to our favorite river spot on the Guadalupe. It was such an enjoyable weekend, catching up with all that is going on with everyone from London.

Justin and I have truly enjoyed being able to spend this time with everyone and even getting to introduce our children to the people with “funny” accents! We love what God is doing with and through this wonderful community and are so grateful we have been able to be a part of it.

My journey began when Shannon invited the Jill Reno Collection in May 2011 to host a Sweet Notions design camp with the women at the Marylebone Project…what an amazing group of women and a life changing experience for me!

Then Justin and I were invited on the Chateau Duffy adventure in France…an unforgettable adventure with men hanging off the roof and the women working like little ants stacking clay tiles.  We loved being there with you all and know that we have made friends for life and can’t wait to do it all again!!!

– Lisa Carpenter

Brad with Justin & Lisa at the Chateau Duffy reunion

Thanksgiving – an English perspective

As an English person, I’ve generally been rather bitter about the extra holiday that Americans benefit from in the last week of November. As the British comedian Jimmy Carr described it on Twitter:

“It’s Thanksgiving today. Long story short it’s where Americans give thanks to the English for inventing them. You’re welcome.”

Before the Americans reading this get offended, don’t worry, I’m deliberately being glib. The establishment of the colonies is a complicated historical event that I’m not going to go into in this post…

Anyway, this year I was very pleased to welcome the holiday (albeit a day late) into my life. On Friday, a community of 40 people gathered in Mile End to celebrate and give thanks – and to eat a vast quantity of food. I am very thankful indeed…

I am thankful that we were blessed with professional chef Richard (and his wife Robin), who flew in from Texas to cook for us. [I am less thankful that the Turkey was named Millicent on Twitter prior to eating – my pseudo-vegetarian sensibilities mean that I’m not so keen on eating named animals. But the fact that Millicent, once cooked, had to be transported from Bethnal Green to Mile End in a taxi rather makes up for it. Comedy.]

I am thankful for the opportunity to use a fiercely powered blender (and learn some new skills). My black-bean hummus may have looked ‘interesting’, but it was delicious. If someone could send a blender my way, I’ll be knee-deep in hummus before I know it!

I wasn’t sure that I’d be particularly thankful for eggnog, but it seems that it is actually the alcoholic beverage of the Gods (at least Shannon’s Step-Dad’s recipe is). Yum.

I’m less thankful for the invention of American Football. The ball is a silly shape, meaning that it doesn’t bounce/travel through the air in the way that one would expect it to. This means that one looks like a total idiot when one tries to kick it in the air, only for it to return to earth narrowly missing one’s head…

I’m especially thankful for the presence of a 5 day old baby at Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for his safe arrival; his intense adorableness; and the fact that I got to hold him for a few blissful minutes. Honestly, there are few ills in the world that can’t be put right by a cuddle with a newborn. [I actually have a theory that there would be fewer wars if world leaders spent more time holding babies…]

Most of all, I’m thankful for Shannon and the Matroyshka Haus community. For Shannon, who had the idea in the first place; and the community that’s gathered around her – both of which are now very special fixtures in my life. A year ago I barely knew most of the people I spent Friday with; now, I see them most weeks.

I believe Thanksgiving is all about family, and I’m really pleased that I got to experience my first one with my London brothers and sisters.

A version of this post originally appeared on Liz’s blog.