My parents arrive tomorrow, on Christmas morning. (What? No, I would never make a joke about my dad’s beard looking more Santa-esque each year.)

I’ve loved preparing for their visit. We (finally) got the guest room in order, cleaned the apartment and did a couple small projects that have been on the to-do list, I’ve got a freezer full of goodies and am working on an all-American-in-Dakar Christmas dinner now.

As I pulled the key ingredients out, I thought of the people who gave them to me. The French’s onions from Valerie, brown sugar from the Jordans, Georgia pecans from my grandmother, sweetened condensed milk from Lauren…

Then I went to tackle another preparation so characteristic of my mom that it made me laugh. I remember growing up when we’d have people come stay with us (family from the US, Peace Corps Volunteers needing a break from the village, people evacuating from Liberia…), she would write each person’s name on a clothespin and pinch it to their cloth napkin. It served as both a place marker and a way of tracking napkins so they didn’t have to be washed after each meal. (Very functional Africa. Totally un-Lemon & Lavender Africa.)

This also meant that for months, years, later you’d come across a clothespin with the name of a person who had stayed with us and remember that time together.

I pulled out a handful of clothespins to mark with our names and found this one from when Cheikh’s mom visited last year.

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To all of our family on the other side of the globe, we think of you often – but especially at Christmas. We love you and miss you. Merry Christmas.