November 29, 2009

readying my heart

It is no secret that I love Advent. I really love Advent. It helps me to let Christmas sink into my soul and to really celebrate the season, instead of rushing on through... checking off a million items on that dreaded to-do list... somehow missing what Christmas is all about in a flurry of check marks.
Last weekend our Sunday School took a field trip to a little farm... to play with the animals, to prepare for our Christmas program, to pose for pictures. My job was to take those pictures... and I took tons of them. I was kneeling in the dirt, I was standing on an unsteady rough stool, I was in the midst of the shepherds and animals at the manger. Taking picture after picture. I was hoping to get some great shots... really great ones. The sun was shining and the air was beautiful... and the whole morning exhausted me!
Later... going through the pictures, the reality of where I was struck me... and the tears started. In the moment, I was running and doing my job, but never once did I stop and revel in where I was. At the manger. In the midst of the shepherds and the animals. Sitting in the straw marvelling at the arrival of a newborn king. In the company of angels.
To look at the pictures... you would not guess that I was not in the moment. I think I am quite accomplished at that... putting on a good face and stumbling through, with no one the wiser. But it is not how I really want to live. I want to be present in the midst of it all. I don't want to miss a thing... and most certainly not the arrival of the King.
Today we light the first candle of Advent... and I am planning to sit down as a family and read a bit. And share our love for Christmas. The reason for Christmas. Of course, the best laid plans don't always fall into place... but if I don't plan for it I know that there is no chance of this time being set aside. So I plan... and I pray... and I sit my heart down in the straw and wait... for the best gift Christmas brings.

November 28, 2009

in preparation

As the hustle and bustle of Christmas sneaks in, I realize I should be taking advantage of this time to rest... but Advent is beginning and I want to be ready.
With my wreath.
With my candles.
With my heart.
So I have my Christmas songs playing, and my fireplace(the dvd variety!)burning. And as I haul in a few decorations from the garage, it is starting to feel festive. My nativity has made its way from the curio cabinet, where it sits all year, to its place of honor on the piano... and my book shelves are now heavy with the stories of Christmas.
At least one room looks pretty. The rest of it looks like the seasons threw up. Fall leaves and jack-o-lantern pumpkin pillows mixed in with snowmen and gingerbread men... it will all get sorted and put away... in good time. Right now? No... I am playing nurse. To the boy who got his big toe stabbed with a needle. All the way through. In one side and out the other.
But amidst the piles of festivities, I sit ready. To enjoy it all. To make the most out of December... and the joy that hides behind that hustle and bustle.

November 27, 2009

i want you to know...

Today... I needed to bake a few more sweets.
Need? Well... yes! A peppermint swirl cake(with peppermint hot fudge)for dinner at a friend's house and red velvet cupcakes for another friend's birthday tomorrow.
So the extent of my Black Friday shopping included a 9am trip to Publix.
So what was it I wanted you to know?
As I was reaching for the peppermint extract, I saw three rows of almond extract...
... and I did not pick one up! I actually laughed when I saw the boxes all lined up! This time, I knew for certain that I did not need any more almond extract!
But I am nervous... about the new instinct not to buy it.
I only have two bottle left! I'm bound to be out the next time I need it...

November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving

The congo squares are in the oven... and the parade will start in just over an hour. While those things speak Thanksgiving to my heart... there is more.
There is always more... and that is something to be thankful for in itself. God gives and gives... and all I have to do is receive. Sometimes it just stops me in my tracks. I deserve none of this... and yet, here I am in the midst of a beautiful life. My cup of blessings is overflowing... and I wonder why me?
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, with your cup overflowing with the things that really matter...

November 24, 2009

finding blessings

It will come as no surprise… to me, or anyone else… that real life can bog a Mom down. We give every ounce of our very beings to our to-do lists. Husband. Kids. House. Work. Life. And sometimes it leaves you standing at the open freezer door with nary a dinner idea in sight. Until, of course, you hear your Mom’s voice in your head telling you that you are letting all the cold out and wasting electricity...
It’s been that kind of week. Racing through to the weekend only to discover that the plans I had made have simply worn me out. And now it is Tuesday… and reflecting on the week, I am wondering if there is a moment worthy of unwrapping at all.
It makes me stop… and really think. Past the exhaustion. Past the worry. Past all that makes up my to-do list… and look into my heart. And there… I seem to find all of the blessings, that without Tuesday, might have been left in the field to wither.
Digging around in the bushel of my life, I smile…
At the silly hats Laura tried on at Target… and her exclamation over the one with a real peacock feather.
At the spontaneous outburst of the Scooby Doo song… sung in duet by my son & I.
At the blanket that still has the grass stuck to it… and holds the memory of Eric & I laying out in the backyard at 4am in search of shooting stars.
At my oh-so-close-to-thirteen boy flopping down across my lap and snuggling in.
At the conversation my daughter and I shared over soup & a sandwich.
And at the way he drew me away from the freezer door and took me in his arms.
It is time to harvest these blessings… and hold them close.
They are gifts from above.
From His heart to mine.
And not only worthy, but necessary to unwrap.

November 23, 2009

gingerbread starts with g

**updated with new pictures!**

Gingerbread is a long standing tradition in our family.
Gingerbread cookies, dressed in royal icing overalls and aprons...
but most especially gingerbread houses.

Somewhere in that ever-creative mind of hers, my Mom dreamed up a gingerbread house design, and went to work. She sold them at craft fairs... and by word of mouth. They were as delicious as they were beautiful. Some years there were 300... and other years many less. Some years they sold... and I remember one year when they didn't. Boxes were piled high by the door... to be donated somewhere. Thinking back, I can only imagine a fraction of the pain in her heart, as I am sure we could have used the money from the sales... or even just for the supplies. But she gave them away... and never let on her disappointment. And every fall, the Big Bertha mixer would be fired up once again... and the scent of cloves and ginger and molasses filled the house.
I do remember a summer... when the mixing started early. For just one house. My Mom entered the Good Housekeeping gingerbread house contest. It was a mansion. Two stories. A veranda with a gazebo and delicately piped railings. A Pez chimney... and royal icing fir trees. It was... beyond spectacular. And we all just knew that this house would adorn the front cover of the magazine. Somehow... we were wrong. And when the issue was delivered to our house we were astonished. The winning house may have been deserving... to their eyes, not ours... but it was the second place house that boggled our minds. It was a roughly made version of the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe. And I knew that not even rose-colored glasses would make it appear more lovely than the mansion that my Mom had built with hope and anticipation.

Making the gingerbread houses became a family affair. When we were too little to place the candies just so, we sorted them. Buckets upon buckets of Necco Wafer "shingles" were sorted piece by piece. And we could only eat one if it was broken. We did graduate to placing the candy on the house... and that is one of my favorite memories. Mom would squirt out the royal icing and my job was to come along behind and place and space the M&M's just so. I was used to doing things quickly to please my Mom... and so I did my best to be fast and accurate. It became a racing game... which made us both laugh. And to this day is we start a task together she will say No Racing! But I can't ever seem to help myself.
As the years went on... my Gramma took over the shingle sorting job... and my sister & I helped more and more with the decorating. All sorts of jobs... snowing at the base of the house... planting gumdrop flowers and candy canes... even playing Mother Nature and snowing on the roof. Beautiful memories... every one.
Florida's humidity is too much for gingerbread houses... and the special order cookie cutter no longer punches out villages of houses. But on the morning of Christmas Eve... my Mom will make gingerbread houses with her grandkids. It won't matter where the M&M's get placed... or if the snow covers the entire roof. It won't even matter if one of the kids licks their fingers before they touch the candy. It is just a tradition... carrying on in a new sort of way. And it makes my heart smile.

It is A to Z Monday at Jen's... I wonder what she has cooked up over there.

November 20, 2009

the bazaar

We don't get to go every year. Seems like our November weekends are particularly crazy... marching band, boy scouts and work. But this year, the timing was right and I was thrilled that I had half of an empty square on my calendar... and that it lined right up with my Mom's church bazaar. She works so hard every year... starting the day after Christmas when she hits the craft stores in search of clearance, and ending in a heap when bazaar day is done. How I love to browse those long tables and admire the handiwork of the church ladies... and I love that with a glance... I know which items were made by my Mom's own hands.
But we don't necessarily go to shop. The kids & I go to work. In the kitchen. Because not only does my Mom organize the front tables, she & Bob also put on a five star lunch! Chicken salad, taco soup, meatball subs... a few slices of tropical carrot cake! My job is to make the sandwiches... and scoop out the chicken salad to top off a salad. Laura works the counter, making and serving up the coffee and filling the orders as quickly as they come in. And Camden? He is the heart breaker. His job is to bus the tables... and he is good. So good, in fact, that the church ladies nearly swoon. And practically throw one dollar bills at him! Oh yes, that boy made over twelve dollars in tips!

Bazaar day is a day I love. Lending my own hands to something so near and dear to my Mom's heart, and being a part of her world. And most years I go away from it with tears in my pocket. Don't worry... they are tears glistening with joy and with gratitude. You see... these people... they appreciate my Mom & Bob. They see their hard work and know that these are two special people. A church is not ever just one person, or a few... it is about all of the hands that serve and worship Jesus. And my parents make sure they do their part and give all they can... and probably a little more. When the church members figure out who I am, they go on and on. About how much my parents do, and what a difference they make. And so my eyes tear up. Because while I hoped and prayed for their faith, I never quite thought to dream of this for them... and it is as much a gift to me as it is for their church. And I am ever thankful that God's dreams reach so much farther than mine.

November 19, 2009

searching for the season

There is no company coming. There is no food to prepare... besides the Congo Squares, which will only take an hour. All I am expected to do is show up... and really, that is okay. But it is just one week away... and this girl is desperately searching for Thanksgiving. I have stepped forward with a thankful heart, as I do most days. I have decked out my house in all sorts of fall splendor. I have made lists of the blessings He has bestowed on me, and still... I feel like I am missing something. Even the cat seems to have more holiday spirit than me... and it leaves me feeling all muddled inside.
I suppose I am missing the trees and the colors. The green palms are swaying, and many are already adorned with white twinkling lights. There is not a stitch of fall left in the stores... or even a stray orange sprinkle. I long to sit in the open arms of fall... but in my busyness, have I forgotten how to rest? I have been going full-steam ahead for weeks now... just placing one foot in front of the other... trying to make it through. But while my feet are running, my heart seems to be lagging behind... and I realize I just need to slow down if I am to enjoy anything at all. My heart need not rush trying to catch up with the world and dive right on into Christmas.
Perhaps there is too much pressure... to feel. Shouldn't it be enough to play with my family the day before Thanksgiving, and mix up those Congo Squares, and maybe a batch of blessings mix? To snuggle up on the couch and wait for those magnificent balloons to fly? To join my parents and share a holiday meal, with God in the midst of it all?
As I lay out these plans... I wonder why I am searching for something I already have. And today... instead of slogging through my blessings and checking them off like a grocery list, I will choose to splash in them.

November 17, 2009

the readers

They have always loved books.
Laura was an early reader. Three months into kindergarten I brought home a few learn-to-read books to practice with her... thinking that it would be a good start. She was thrilled... and proceeded to sit right down and read every word. The first time through. And there has been no stopping her since. My daughter would rather read a book then do anything else. If you see her without a book in tow, please let me know... because there is likely to be something really wrong!
Camden started slowly. He wasn't too interested in the words... or even the letters. He just really loved the books themselves. He would lay on the floor for hours (yes, hours... even at two and three years old!) amidst a shelf's worth of books, turning page after page. In first grade he was still struggling...and I truly believe that if not for his love of books themselves, he might have given up on reading. But that summer... someone gave him a stack of Garfield comic books. I will never forget the day... we were driving along and a shout of glee-filled laughter filtered up to the front. What are you doing back there? And he replied... I'm reading. And I could not stop those tears from falling.
Saturday morning we were making our way to Gramma's... and Laura had her nose in her current book. Camden was just watching the world fly by as we closed the distance between home and Gramma's. Looking up for a moment, she noticed that he wasn't really doing anything. No video game. No book. And she said I have another book with me if you want to read it. Igiggled to myself... not surprised at all! She went on to explain the plot and added in that she thought he would enjoy it.
And so... those readers of mine... they read.

I love to seek the beauty in the ordinary... and I love Tuesdays at Chatting at the Sky!

November 16, 2009

helping hands start with h

Two H's.
Six hands helping her two.
And a lot of fun.

Every year my Mom makes a hundred (or so!) cheese balls for the church bazaar... along with a ton of other fantastic goodies! This year...she planned on mixing up the cheese balls on a day when I was off of work, and school was out. So... on a breezy Monday morning, Laura, Cam & I set out to lend our helping hands.
She was all set up to start... and when we arrived she sat down with Laura & Cam to explain their jobs. Doubling recipes. Measuring spices. Using the big knife... and the food processor. Laura & Cam loved being in the kitchen... and having some independence. I... was nervous. That our "help" would actually be not-so-helpful and the job would take twice as long to do with so many hands. Getting in the way, rather than speeding up the job. But there was no need to worry. We laughed. We worked. We played... and we finished hours earlier than if my Mom had done it all on her own.
I really hope my kids remember this day. I hope they tuck this memory into their hearts... and smile whenever they come across a cheese ball. I hope that someday... they will have the chance to work in the kitchen with their own grandkids... and that they will show the same patience that their Gramma showed them. Because working together... hand in hand with your family... is certainly a memory worth cherishing.

Happy A to Z Monday!

November 13, 2009

this ends tonight

Last football game.
Last hurrah for the season.
And I am missing it already...

speechless and running

The sun was dawning on this brand new day as I traced my usual path... but, in glancing up, there was nothing ordinary about the sky. Beautiful pinks and golds merged the clouds together with the sky above me... and I wish I had toted my camera on my morning walk. With my eye to the sky, I drove my daughter to school... and watched further beauty unfold... each moment seemingly more beautiful than the last. Returning... I promised myself that I would not pass up this day... this moment. Putting the car in park, I ran inside to grab my camera... and captured the beauty... or at least all the beauty that a lens will allow. And I stood... just soaking it all in... and marvelled at the heavens.
Next time a sunrise steals your breath or a meadow of flowers leaves you speechless, remain that way. Say nothing, and listen as heaven whispers, "Did you like it? I did it just for you."
-Max Lucado

November 11, 2009

a most beautiful gift

It is Wednesday, and I am almost regretting taking Monday off. Almost... but not quite... because it was too much fun mixing up cheese balls with my Mom and my kids. But the week is looking long. Any other week I would be rejoicing that tomorrow is Thursday... but now I am just hoping for the energy to get through a few more days.
It is Wednesday. And Wednesday is piano day. I love it dearly... but in the getting there I start to droop. Leave work. Drive half-way home. Pick up Camden in the Super Target parking lot, where either Eric or Gran meets up with me. Drive back within two miles of work. Enjoy Camden's 30 minute lesson. Drive home. Make dinner... fall in a heap on the couch and cringe at the view. But all the while, I know there is only one more work day and I can make amends for the housework that has been left to itself and multiplied in my absence. But not this week. Monday off... work Friday. To prepare for our big fundraising event on Saturday.
After work today... as I was heading down five flights of stairs, my phone rang. Eric. Please don't tell me you have already left for Target. But I push aside the thought and answer with, I'm sure, a less than pleasant hello. His voice, twenty miles away, had a big idea. How about I drive into town with Cam so you don't have to drive all the way out here? I almost cried. But instead I breathed a thank you... and smiled. Honestly... the gift he gave me in that moment was more beautiful than if he had presented me with a dozen roses. And in his thoughtfullness, I am blessed with that extra bit of energy I need to get through the week.

November 09, 2009

finding lost time

Life keeps us running... and lately, with all of Laura's marching band events, we are putting one foot in front of the other faster than usual. We love it... but the weekends are gone before we know it. And it would be an understatement to say that there are things that are not getting done at our house. This weekend, we decided to push on through Sunday and catch up. Laundry? Groceries? Vacuuming? No... we caught up with each other. Because there are some things that you cannot put off another day.
We spent the afternoon wandering back through history... at the Old Florida Festival. While the wind swirled around us it seemed to also whisper the stories of days gone by. We laughed when the telegraph man described Morse code as the original text messaging.
Laura marveled over the lap weaver... and Camden made rope. Thankfully, not quite long enough to tie up his sister. We all stood, fingers in our ears, waiting for the cannon blast.
And while we explored the yesterdays, we discovered today... and enjoyed it as a family.

It is Tuesday... and I am thankful to have this family day to unwrap. See what the others are unwrapping today at Emily's Chatting at the Sky.

imagination begins with i

... and so does ice.

My Florida boy dreams of snow. I sometimes think there is nothing he would like better... to see it snow... to live where it snowed... to live in an igloo. It didn't surprise that he was attracted to this pile of ice... dumped after a long night at the concession stand. And I wasn't too shocked that he wanted to play in it. Scooping it up in his hands, he tossed it up into the air over and over again... making it "snow." Didn't matter if clunked him on the head... in fact, I think he thought that was just as much fun.
Watching the joy and excitement on his face filled my heart with laughter. Try as I might, I could not capture the moment on film, and decided that the best way to hold the memory close to my soul was to put down the camera... and join in the fun.

It is A to Z Monday at Jen's Unglazed...

November 03, 2009

back then & here and now

Spending a day (or two) down in the dumps has got me thinking... and when I think, I am bound to learn something... mostly about myself. And I realize how much of the way-back-then affects my here-and-now. Sometimes it makes sense... and sometimes it doesn't. But I am learning, just the same.
I have never been particularly self-assured. At some point in my life, my shyness shifted to a great sense of self-doubt. No matter that my Mother assured me of my beauty and my gifts... when your peers decide that your worth is based upon their own ideas, no amount of motherly love can negate it. If I am to pinpoint the moment my childhood innocence was shattered, it would bring me back to the four-square court in elementary school. A game I was not good at, but at least I kept trying. It was finally my turn... and I recall feeling relief that a very good friend was choosing the next category. I whispered to her please don't pick songs because while I did listen to a radio, I didn't know any song titles beyond Row, Row, Row Your Boat. I don't think I will ever forget the look in her eye... as she purposely looked at me and announced Song Titles. No repeats. Devastated? You bet.
Just a year or so later, we moved. And of course... I was the new girl. And all that it implies. The trying and the teasing and the friendlessness... the longing for a peace. Eventually I did find that... and quickly came to know that having just a few true friends held more value than a crowd. And those people... miles away... I still count as friends. And their friendship is beauty to my heart.
These days... I am still growing. My shyness does not last quite as long, and once you get to know me... you know all of me. But I still know the real value of a few people who you can really count on. And I suppose... that is why it hurts so much to be hurt. One small disappointment from a true friend is more painful than a slight from an acquaintance. And while it haunts my heart... I am eager to climb out up over the dark wall. And I am getting there.
Where there once was a dark wall of steel erected around my heart, the wall I am building today is one of lattice. Open to let the sun shine in... and out. Woven with vine... that is all Jesus. He covers my sorrow with His outstretched arms and leaves hope. Even now... at almost 38... I am still growing and learning and building. I am not standing still. And that is something that I am thankful for.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5

Tuesdays are about the messy, the lovely and the unexpected. The messy? That is me. The lovely? Jesus. And as for the unexpected... I guess it could be the lesson. Or the growth itself. Unwrap a Tuesday with me... with Emily. And all the rest of the Tuesday gals.

November 02, 2009

journey starts with j

I'm pretty certain that journey is the same "j" word I chose last time around... but as I have voiced, time and again... it is my blog and I can break the rules if I need to! And today... I had to find a word to go along with what I really wanted to share. And so... journey it is.

This year, the chosen theme for the Marching Pride is Around the World... hence, the globe... that incidentally, after searching hi-and-low for one and asking everyone he had a number for, Mr. Best-Band-Director-Ever, was still less than impressed with this one. But I had one... it was free... because it was in my son's closet. Anyway... the theme is our Journey. The band marches their way through songs from Cuba, Great Britain, France and the USA. Of course, they have to make a stop at the Holiday Inn, which is a great crowd pleaser. Please... do not look up the lyrics for this song. Please. Mr. BBDE was completely unaware that there was a version other than the "clean" one he found on itunes!
Saturday, all of the county bands gathered and showed off the hard work they have been putting in... and it is the highlight of the marching season. But the highlight of the show? It has to be when all seven bands join together and play our National Anthem. It was an amazing moment. Standing with my hand on my heart... the tears rolled... Along with the sweat. A beautiful fall day, for sure. But I would have ordered something less than 90 plus degrees...

I can't believe that marching season is almost over. It is always too short... but all the more the reason to sit back and enjoy the journey.

Turns out... I did not use journey last time... I chose Jesus. I wonder if anyone else had to repeat their word!? Find out at Jen's Unglazed for A to Z Monday!

November 01, 2009

happy halloween, part 2

So here they are... my Halloween sweeties. All dressed up for a night of sugar-filled fun...

I was not really the nice mom when it came to Laura's Halloween costume. At fifteen, I figure they should be done trick-or-treating... but who am I to say no to a gathering of great girls? So we put our heads together (with some accessories around the house) and made her into a gypsy. A very pretty gypsy... if a Mom can say so! And she had a blast with her friends. Is still having a blast... as trick-or-treat turned into a sleep-over party.

And this kooky son of mine... with no influence from anyone, he decided that a lawn gnome would be the perfect costume. And when I told him it was picture time, he wandered out to the garden and planted himself! So full of fun and imagination... he makes me laugh on an hourly basis. He was slightly disappointed in the trick-or-treating venue... as we left our neighborhood for the first time, but he had fun with his buddy and later, making s'mores around the fire.

Not to be left out of the Halloween fun...
Eric dressed up for the annual marching band trunk-or-treat. His costume was quite appropriate, seeing as how he is in charge of the concession stand. Get it? A hot dog grilling up a human? Hmmm... and I wonder where that son of mine gets the crazy streak...

As for me? I am content to put Halloween behind me. While for most it is just plain fun... for me it was full of hurt feelings. Mine. A gathering I wasn't invited to... an argument about what time I was leaving to flee my neighborhood... in order not to see the gathering begin. I'm just glad it is over. I will gladly pack all of the decorations away today and put out my Thanksgiving dessert plates... because they really make me smile. And I will try... to focus on the good things all around me... and pray for the strength to push all of the lingering hurt away.