Monday, December 28, 2015

It's A Wonderful Life--Really?

When I was growing up, I couldn’t understand all the hub-bub (yes, I just said that) about Frank Capra’s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.  As an omniscient teenager, I thought, “Yeah, this is great.  George has a really bad day at work, comes home, hollers at his kids, belittles his adorable wife, berates an undeserving schoolteacher via telephone... and then, he goes out and gets drunk.  That’s so wonderful.”  A really feel-good movie.  Fun for the whole family.  As long as you’re not his family.

As the plot progresses, he’s involved in a hit and run (poor tree), fleeing the scene of said accident, and resists arrest.  Whee--this is a delightful picture.  Quite the role model, he is.  Now before you string me up with those eighty-percent off twinkle lights that you bought at Target’s After-Christmas sale, please realize that I do come to my senses.  Eventually.  It takes a bit of life-living to appreciate good ole George Bailey.  And his obvious skill at lassoing the moon. 

Enter Clarence Odbody, Angel, Second Class.  If he helps George Bailey straighten out his act, he will earn his wings.  He definitely has his work cut out for him.  George has reached the end of his rope, having lost sight of the moon.  And, his Buffalo Gal.  And their painfully adorable offspring.

The adventurous George finds himself tethered to a town, a family business, a staying put that he never intended.  Upon his father’s untimely death, he “mans up”, sends his younger brother to college with the funds intended for his own European adventure, and weds the lovely Mary.  Instead of using their “honeymoon fund” for a whirlwind week in The Big Apple, Mary offers up their little nest egg to keep the family business afloat--on their wedding day.  Ah, Mrs. Bailey.  And, then the “wedding night” in the old estate.  Complete with turntable-cum-rotisserie, candlelight, and singing cops.  Just the beginning of their “bricks without straw” life together.   But what they built was far more significant than they could ever dream.

George has the unimaginable opportunity to see what life would have been like if his whiskey-induced blather of “I wish I’d never been born!” had come to fruition. He sees a town gone to pot, dilapidated shanties, burlesque bars, and seedy characters.  His mother becomes a hardened boarding house mistress, having lost her only son in a wintry drowning accident--George was not there to save him, of course.  The lovely Mary is now the old-maid librarian and the despicable Mr. Potter runs the whole show. 

You never realize how many lives you touch--until see those lives devoid of your impact or influence.  George’s life of sacrifice, while exceedingly difficult at times, when the grass seems greener “anywhere but here”, was for something.  Someone. Somebody.

He may not live in the most cosmopolitan of cities, in the finest mansion, driving the latest in automobiles.  His passport may lack stamps of entry.  But, he has a wife who is devoted to him, children who think he could truly lasso the moon, and a community of friends who give out of sacrifice and loyalty, often saying, “If it hadn’t been for you, George...”  The Savings and Loan is saved--by those whose lives have been changed, not because of a signed check; but, because someone believed in them.  Gave them a chance.  All those diamonds in the rough.

And, Clarence earns his wings.  And, how do we know this?

The hub-bub is justified.  It’s A Wonderful Life--Really.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas: A Candlelight Carol

Candlelight Carol

How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How do you measure the love of a mother
Or how can you write down a baby's first cry?

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Silent night, holy night, all is calm and all is bright
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born

Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Silent night, holy night, all is calm and all is bright
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation
A child with his mother that first Christmas Day

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Silent night, holy night, all is calm and all is bright
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born

~John Rutter

With gratitude to our Minister of Music for sharing this beautiful piece with us. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It Was Not A Silent Night...

"It was a labor of love.  
But, the baby in the womb
He was the maker of the moon,
The Author of the Faith,
Who could make the mountains move."

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Fourth Candle of Advent: Bonhoeffer

“...And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” 

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In The Manger

Now, we wait.  Preparing Him room.  And heaven and nature will sing.  

And, the fourth candle is lit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

20/20: An Anniversary Post

Recently, I read a quote that said, “In our deepest moments, we say the most inadequate things.” As we’ve approached this milestone for which the traditional gift is china, I have found that I, the overly-verbal, oft-times emotively-outspoken member of this duo, simply can’t find the “right” words to encapsulate these twenty years of life together.  Is it enough to say my heart--and my life--is full?  Full of memories, laughter, silence, tears, challenges, joys, and many dates spent at local bookstores?  “Two-step” newlywed apartments, a baby boy, our first home bought, a baby boy, job changes, tornadoes, and wild Blaze roses that grow in spite of us.  

Songs, quotes, and poems abound.   It’s all of them--and yet none of them.

So, in true, ESFJ-style, I present you with a list.  Of lessons learned.  Unsolicited tips.  Big bag of duh discoveries.  There is no formal title--perhaps just points on which to ponder and reflect.  It’s stuff.  Life stuff.  “We have made a life together” stuff.

1.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.

2.  Read aloud to one another.  Seriously.  It’s fun.  Scripture.  Winnie-the-Pooh.  Whatever.

3.  Hire a good wedding photographer--and let them make your album.  The likelihood of  you making your proofs into a real album is slim.  

4.  Eat meals together--it’s habit forming.

5.  Seek out seasoned couples for mentoring--and perspective.  And good food.

6.  Laugh often.  Preferably not at inopportune moments.

7.  Encourage each other’s “out of the ordinary” endeavors.  Like running a half-marathon.  Baking a cake from scratch.  Finishing a dissertation.  Going on a mission trip with twenty-five junior high kiddos.   

8.  Learn that silence is okay.  Quiet is good.  'Tis a hard lesson to learn for extroverts.

9.  A “just because” card goes a long way.

10.  Washing the dishes or making the bed is just as sexy as a dozen red roses.  It’s a gift, ladies.  

11.  Sometimes, you just need a hug.  

12.  Ask for his opinion.  And actually listen.  

13.  Slow dance in the kitchen.  Spotify on the nearby Mac is a beautiful thing.

14.  Establish traditions--even the smallest of rituals can smooth out a rough day.

15.  Find a foolproof chocolate chip cookie recipe.  And a go-to salad.  

16.  Watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” every so often and give thanks that you are NOT married to Ray.  

17.  Learn the difference between entertaining and hospitality.  A bowl of popcorn and an old movie is golden.

18.  A gentle touch, in passing, is a lovely thing.

19.  You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  

20.  Put away the distractions and listen.  Or just be.  No iPhone.  No laptop.  No Book of Face.  No nothing.  Less is so much more.

And, yes, in keeping with the traditional gift for these two decades, we plan to dine at our favorite local Asian eatery.  

We’re nifty like that.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Light of Joy--Third Candle of Advent

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.
An angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around.

Joy to the World, the Lord has come.
Let Earth receive her King.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
~Psalm 16:11

The third candle is lit.

Friday, December 11, 2015

I Wish I'd Said That...

"...The pagan gods were not there to be known; they were there to be feared.  They were not there to be loved; they were there to be placated.  They were many, and they were temperamental.  The people lived in fear of these forces, which could lavish great prosperity on their households but could also scorch the earth beneath them.

But, Israel's God was different.  He was definite, and his character was immutably fixed.  And they were to love him for it with everything they had.

They were to love him with all their heart.   In the seat of their deepest dreams and desires, in the place where they wrestled with their sorrows and clung to flickering hopes, they were to love him.

They were to love him with all their soul.  In the place that made each individual unique, in the inner court of the mind where decisions were made, in the forming of the bonds between friends and lovers, as well as in the coming together of a community, they were to love him."

~Behold The Lamb of God:  An Advent Narrative
Russ Ramsey

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hump-Day Hilarity: Santa Claus Has Joined the Mafia...

Really.  Think about some of our traditional carols, says Tim.  For example, "Do You Hear What I Hear?".  Consider these lyrics.

"A child, a child, shivers in the cold,
Let us bring him silver and gold."

How about a blanket? 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Behold The Lamb of God--The True Tall Tale

About a decade ago, a young newly-wed couple gifted us with Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God (10th Anniversary--2-Disc Set, of course).  It was a treasured favorite of theirs and they wanted to share it with us.  I liked the look of the cover--a nod to Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.  So, we gave it a listen.  Again. And again. And yes, again.

It has become a staple of our Advent celebration.  He Who is Now Taller Than I learned the “Begats” song by heart.  And not to be outdone, so did Mini-Hooper.  As a mother, I completely resonated with “Labor of Love” and it is my favorite song on the disc.  Likely, it is one of my favorite Christmas songs.  Actually, it is.  Top Ten. 

For those unfamiliar with this “true tall tale of the coming of Christ”, it was written by Andrew Peterson and friends.  He invited a host of uber-talented musicians (Jill Phillips, Andy Guilahorn, and Ben Shive, to drop a few names) to make this happen.  They go on tour, each Advent season, bringing “Lamb” to a concert hall, sanctuary, or auditorium near you--hopefully.  In 2010, the Tour made its way to our neck of the woods, providing a wonderful mom-and-son date for the aforementioned Tall One.  No, I’m not showing favoritism.  The Tour has not made it back here since Mini-Hooper was old enough to appreciate it.  Let me know if you hear otherwise!

Lighting the first candle of Advent, musically-speaking, the singer invites us to “Gather Round, Ye Children Come” and listen to the old, old story.  He starts from the beginning--which is a very good place to start.  We walk through the Egyptian captivity until the Passover.  And, then we find ourselves in the desert.  With Moses.  And, then Saul. And then, King David.  

Lighting the second candle.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  And ransom captive Israel.  That mourns in lonely exile here.  Until the Son of God appear.  Rejoice.  And, the second candle is lit.

But, wait, there’s more. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Five Kernels of Corn

Honestly, I can't recall when I first learned of the "Five Kernel" story.  It might have been from my pre-school teacher mother's files--or from my Sunday School mental archives. Regardless, it is a story shared and a tradition practiced in our house since Mini-Hooper's first Giving of Thanks. Whether it's grocery-store candy corn--or five actual kernels of corn--it is a poignant yet simple object lesson. 

As you will recall, the Pilgrim's expedition from "across the pond" was fraught with peril and challenge.  Upon their arrival, the well-intentioned adventurers had no clue what awaited them.  They faced dwindling supplies, harsh seasonal changes, and a lack of practical knowledge about agriculture and simple architecture.  In truth, the band of hopefuls that boarded the Mayflower to flee religious persecution was nearly wiped out--amid sickness and starvation.  Legend tells us that just five kernels of corn stood between those folks and probable death. Thus, when the Pilgrims were rescued by both Divine intervention and Native knowledge of the land, they had much for which to be thankful.

Thus, the tradition of recalling past blessings and reflecting upon the ultimate Source of those gifts became a Thanksgiving tradition.  Each year, around a table laden with turkey, homemade cranberry applesauce (thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law), and the inevitable green bean casserole, we have five kernels of corn at our place setting.  We take turns naming something/somebody/someplace for which we are thankful.  Somewhere in my memory boxes, I have scraps of paper noting the response of our perpetually-growing offspring.  But, I do recall such things as simple as a new LEGO set (Mini-Hooper) or seeing a Gator football game in the Swamp (He Who Is Now Taller Than  I). Thankfuls for laughter, family, and the Truth abound.  

Five little kernels.  Five spoken words of appreciation. In everything, give thanks.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Evenin' Hymn Sing: Arise, My Soul, Arise

Arise, My Soul, Arise

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

~Charles Wesley (1742) 


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Praise of Inefficiency

In my pre-Mommy life, I was an event planner.  My days were ruled by to-do lists, timelines, spreadsheets, and “for office use only” boxes.  Clear plastic tubs (with color-coordinated lids, of course) with a detailed inventory of what was contained inside was adhered to each treasure of successful event must-haves.  We tailored our participant check-in processes to save time--and to conserve energy.  To say that we had these events “down to a science” would be no understatement.  Truly, I’m not breaking my arm to pat myself on the back--I had a hand-picked, elite team of fellow J’s (Myers-Briggs typologies) to help me execute these events.  Poetry in motion.

Fast forward a couple of years.  Much to my shock and chagrin, I learned that infants are not much into timelines or strictly-imposed schedules.  They have their own agenda and mission statement.  Which generally includes eating and sleeping.  Rinse and repeat.  I learned about flexibility and going with the flow--within reason, of course.  I suspect that my former colleagues would have been quite shocked by my new-found behavior.  Babies and toddlers are not models of "grown-up" efficiency.  Duh.

Former event planners never die, they just transfer their repressed desire for organizational office supplies to unsuspecting volunteer organizations.  The “they really should do it this way” DNA runs deep.  But, it’s all for the greater good.  One or two extra bits of signage there and a greeter here could have saved many people those dazed and confused looks, as they seek to find where they should check in/pick up/drop off.  Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have had evil thoughts about the need for meeting agendas, matching t-shirts, and tighter receiving lines.  But, grace is greater than all my Type A iniquity.

For the past year or so, we have been involved with a ministry that serves food-insecure children in the Madison County area.  Each week, there is an assembly line created in the warehouse where plastic grocery bags are packed with a dozen or so non-perishable items that help to ensure that these kiddos will have something to eat on the weekends--school lunch and breakfast programs are only available to them during the week.  To the outsider, it might look like a motley crew.  But, sometimes, it’s not all about getting the most amount of work done in the least amount of time.  Gasp.

Sometimes, it’s about fellowship and laughter as we pack our bags.  It’s about connecting with that precious recently-widowed “senior saint” who will go home to an empty house.  It’s allowing for folks who might just move a little slower--for whatever reason.   Sometimes, we just need to slow down.  And to realize that it’s okay to do just that.  Enjoy the process. More importantly, enjoy the people.  

This is not a lesson easily learned.  For some of us (ahem!), it takes years.  With lots of review and remedial tutoring.  I admit my impatience with “slower than a herd of turtles” drivers and grocery-store aisle loiterers who park their buggies in nearly impassable postures.  But, every so often, when my uber-J starts to rear its well-intentioned yet ugly head, I think of that warehouse assembly line.  Settle down, says that little voice.  See the people.  Not your project.

'Tis a rather delightful view.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Reformation Sunday, All Week Long

While we celebrated Reformation Sunday almost a week ago (according to tradition, Reformation Sunday is commemorated on the Sunday closest to--and not after--October 31), I believe that the words below, written by our pastor, Justin Wainscott, should serve as an all-the-year long reminder of the power of reformation. And, The Reformation.  There is much in our "orders of worship" today that came about as a result of Luther's bold statements, all ninety-five of them, being nailed to the Wittenberg door.  Soli Deo gloria.

"The Protestant Reformation was one of the watershed events in Christian history.  While it certainly had political and social ramifications, the Reformation was, first and foremost, a spiritual movement.  And while it could be argued that it began as early as the fourteenth century and was led by figures such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, it was one particular event in the sixteenth century and one particular person who was most responsible for this movement.

On All Saints Eve, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted a list of reasons why he opposed the Roman Catholic practice of buying and selling indulgences to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  That list of reasons, known as the 95 Theses, made the door immortal; and it sparked a movement that would change the whole of Christendom.

Five centuries later, we still feel the effects of that movement in very concrete ways.  The Reformers returned the sermon and its significance to corporate worship, making the preaching of God's word central to who we are and what we do.  They recovered the importance of congregational singing, ensuring the involvement of all God's people in worship.  The emphasis we place on every vocation (ministerial or otherwise) being a divine calling, we also owe to the Reformers.  And, of course, the doctrinal principles of the Reformation form the very foundation of all that we believe about the gospel--that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone...

Put simply, the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel.  In fact, all great revivals in Christian have been rediscoveries of the gospel--rediscoveries of salvation as God's free gift to undeserving sinners.  So today, we give thanks to God for that rediscovery, and we join with other Protestant Christians around the globe to celebrate and commemorate both the Reformation and the courageous people who led it.  For that is our heritage--a heritage we willingly and gladly embrace.  Thanks be to God for reforming His Church!"

~Published here with the author's permission~

The Wittenberg Door

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Party With A Purpose--Shop with Stella and Give to (St.) Jude

Please plan to join us for our Fifth Annual Stella & Dot Trunk Show to support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital--and Team Belle.  This event is especially meaningful to me--and I do hope you will share a bit of your evening with us!

As many of you know, five years ago, Belle Mitchell, the youngest daughter of my long-time college friend, Kelley, was diagnosed with Choroid Plexus Carcinoma--brain cancer.  She and her family fiercely battled this unwanted invader for almost six years--until Belle went Home on January 17, 2015.  Because of places like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital that provide world-class health care and progressive treatment programs in a hope-filled environment--at absolutely no cost to the families, the Mitchells were well-equipped to fight.  And hundreds of families are still in the war. 
Please help us support Team Belle--and hundreds of other precious cancer warriors--with this win-win event!  Do some holiday shopping for some special ladies in your life (or even treat yourself with a S&D happy!) and know that 100% of the net proceeds from the show go directly to St. Jude.  It's the gift that truly keeps on giving~ 

For those who may be out of town or simply have other commitments on Monday evening, have no fear, you can easily shop online!

Shop online for this "party with a purpose"
 here -

A Post-Script:  A heartfelt thanks to my dear friend, Kimberly Larsen (Stella & Dot--Star Stylist/Mentor/Trainer) and Courtney Goolsby, our local Senior Stella Stylist, for making this event possible!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hump-Day Hilarity: Make 'Em Laugh

This needs no introduction. Except for this:  if you haven't ever watched "Singin' in the Rain", you need to rent it/stream it/buy it/borrow it. Now. Or in a few minutes.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Evenin' Hymn Sing: He Hideth My Soul

He Hideth My Soul
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

~Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)


I will confess this is a favorite, a long-time favorite.  Likely since I heard a Southern Gospel quartet perform it, a cappella, with a bass and tenor in whose presence I hope to find myself beyond the pearly gates.  And, again, this morning, in instrumental fashion, through handbells.  Take these powerful words, with true harmonies or rich bells, and you're set.  Truth remains timeless.  Thank you, Ms. Fanny Crosby. 

Photo by David Arment

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's All About Atmosphere

Themed food is a favorite of mine.  Give me a holiday, sporting event, or cause for celebration (the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, say) and I am there.  So, when He Who Is Now Taller Than I came home with an edible assignment from his Physical Science class at Tutorial, I rejoiced.  Perhaps that is an overstatement.  But, there might have been a fist pump involved.

His task was to create an edible (and ideally, tasty) visual representation of the Earth’s atmosphere.  And, let me tell you that nothing says “atmosphere” quite like a trifle. Not just any trifle--we decided on a Death By Chocolate Trifle.  Wahoo--and pass the Cool Whip!

In our search for the perfect base, we brainstormed several ideas.  Crushed graham crackers, chocolate cake, a yummy cookie of some sort.  And on the sixth suggestion, God created the brownie!  Otherwise known as the troposphere.  

 Moving on (or up, as the case may be), the stratosphere was made of two cups chocolate pudding and one cup whipped topping.  Then, we crushed a sleeve of graham crackers to create the ozone layer--which, as we all know, has been destroyed by my generation’s use of Aqua Net and L’Oreal Mega Spritz.  Silly scientists, smog is for kids!


The mesophere was also composed of chocolate pudding and whipped topping, in a varied ratio from the stratosphere, one cup of each.  What about the ionosphere, you might ask?  Crushed Oreos, of course.  Then came the thermosphere--a delicious concoction of whipped topping and marshmallow creme (eight ounces and seven ounces, respectively).  And for the exosphere?  Chocolate chips, don’t you know!

Good stuff, great fluff.
Somebody had to "remove" the filling...
Completing the exosphere.
Voila--the atmosphere!
Ready for the close-up.
 Here's the recipe, Pinterest-like, for those who might be interested:

1 box, brownie mix (We used Duncan Hines)
3/4 sleeve, graham crackers, crushed
2 boxes, pudding and pie filling, chocolate fudge, 3.9 oz each
2 containers, whipped topping, 16 oz each
1 bag, Oreos
1 jar, Marshmallow Creme, 7 oz
1 bag, chocolate chips, 16 0z (save some for congratulatory snacking!)
Trifle dish

Troposphere:  Brownie
Stratosphere:  Pudding (2 cups) and whipped topping (1 cup), combined
Ozone:  Crushed graham crackers
Mesophere:  Pudding and whipped topping, 1 cup each, combined
Ionosphere:  Crushed Oreos
Thermosphere:  7 oz (Marshmallow Creme) and 8 oz (whipped topping), combined
Exosphere:  Chocolate chips

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

The competition was fierce and the mulitlayer edibles were a-plenty.  I am proud to say that an "A" was earned--and this not-so-trifling trifle also won "Tastiest Project"!  And a $5 Sonic gift card.  To the victor go the spoils.  And the Sonic Blast, apparently.

I just learned that an another edible project is looming on the horizon.  The subject:  layers of the Earth's crust.  We have set the bar high.  

I'm thinking Double-Decker 'Smores.  Yum.  And yum.


Friday, October 9, 2015

It's Fall, Y'All!

A version of this piece was posted on Our Jackson Home, a fabulous new publication, available in print and digital formats, that highlights this Place.  Our little neck of the woods.  I hope you'll check it out!

While there are various signs that summer is making its exit--and fall is curiously peeking around the corner, the gradual disappearance of fireflies from our backyard is the flickering billboard announcing summer’s conclusion.  The days grow shorter, time spent in the hammock might require one to be cocooned inside a well-worn comforter, and the sunsets are all the more vivid.

Being a native Floridian, the home of only two seasons (pre-spring and summer), it was quite a treat to see the leaves turn color.  Don’t get me wrong: the vibrant fuchsia of the hibiscus and the lush green of the ubiquitous palm tree is quite lovely; but for this girl, the oranges, yellows, and reds of autumn are equally so.  Yes, I was the one, in central Pennsylvania, with my then-infant son (now known as He Who Is Taller Than I) tucked safely in his rear-facing car seat, who would pull off the side of the road, and pick up an armful of fallen leaves.  And, of course, I kept several small bags in my glove compartment to do such things!

In fact, those colors so captured my imagination that the main living areas of our home reflect my fall fascination.  It was no surprise that many of the colors to which I gravitated and, in some cases, ended up on our walls were called such things as Bear Claw, Autumn Blaze, and Golden Moon.
"Yes, I'd like a small Bear Claw and a decaf Autumn Blaze with whip, please." Actually sounds more like a local coffeehouse.

Fall also ushers in apple season.  And, thank goodness for easy slow-cooker apple sauce recipes that make the house smell like a Yankee Candle.   It is during the fall that I channel my Nana who was a Jackie-of-all-trades--and Mistress of most of them.  She sewed, embroidered, crocheted, baked, and canned.  She canned everything--tomatoes, applesauce, beans, and the like.  So, the apples are purchased, the slow cooker finds an almost-permanent place on my kitchen counter, and off we go.  Thank heaven for the nifty Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer that also sits on my countertop.  It must have taken Caroline and Laura Ingalls hours to peel such a bushel.  Now?  Fifteen minutes and poof!  Happiness in the aforementioned Crock Pot.

Of course, this particular season brings in other delights for me and my family.  College football, pro football, and watching the highlights of those leatherheads.  I make Nana’s Famous Crab Dip and we cheer on our favorite teams.  I am a fan.  My sons, especially my eldest, are fanatics.  To give you perspective, we don’t have cable or satellite anything.  (I’ll pause here for the collective gasp!).  It’s not a weird homeschooling family thing.  In Davidic fashion, I “won” a battle with a cable Goliath.  Let’s just say they weren’t completely forthcoming about all the fees, quid pro quos, and the fine print that an electron microscope would struggle to fathom.  Naturally that means that we do not have the requisite 147 channels through which to surf.   Generally speaking, we find most of the games we want to watch online.  And, you’d be amazed at the number of games offered on ESPN-Spanish.  Since my eldest fanatic is currently taking Spanish I, he can watch the games and might even be able to understand what is being said! 

I do feel compelled to issue a shout-out to those dear friends who are cable subscribers and graciously open their homes and their armoires for the big games.  Themed food, multiple screens, and comfortable seating.  Better than any sports bar in town.  And, there’s no cover charge.

As the temperatures eventually drop, our backyard patio becomes host to our iron fire-pit, compliments of Lowe’s.  Though it has not been in the family very long, it has seen a great deal of action.  Birthdays celebrated, stories shared, relationship challenges dissected, and of course, s’mores toasted.  There is just something mesmerizing about fire.  There are evenings where conversation around the fire is non-stop and seamless; yet, there are nights of reflection that ebb and flow.  Much like the flame.

Truth be told, I still pick up leaves.  And, I’ve been known to iron them between two sheets of wax paper--to make them last as long as possible.  And some of those “crafts” just might make their way to some refrigerator doors in South Florida.

Just like toasting S’mores over a open flame, you’re never too old for that.  Never.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hump-Day Hilarity: Umm...Selfie

When you accidentally select the "selfie" icon on your phone.  Terrifying, isn't it? 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Not A Fan of the Ziosk

The Ziosk "revolutionizes the dining experience with interactive promotions and next generation pay-on demand." So saith their website.  So, essentially, if I don't provide the "next generation" with a distraction that eliminates the need for conversation, I can rely on Olive Garden to do so?  Rather than ask my server to attend to the needs of our table, by eyeballing our water glasses or making sure we have enough of those addictive breadsticks, we're supposed to tell a machine that we need something.  So, I should tip the Ziosk then?

Who decided that this would be a good idea?

Generally speaking, when you go out for a meal, you are doing so for one of several reasons.  Firstly, you may have been given a respite from the responsibility of providing said nourishment; thus, you are also relieved from the food preparation, maintaining the needs of the eaters, and the clean-up.  Or you might be celebrating a special occasion and want to share that with others.  Perhaps you just want to gaze longingly into the eyes of your beloved, over a shared slice of Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake, with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background.  It's an escape.  A vacation from all the distractions of the daily grind.  The last thing you want is another electronic device that must be "managed" in order to produce your desired outcome.  Or one that "revolutionizes the dining experience" by interrupting the opportunity for human interaction--gasp--with trivia games.  Whoopee pickle.

It's bad enough that there are so few dining establishments out there, be they fast food or "good food served fast", that are television-free.  Of course, if you go to a sports bar with the intention of watching Florida annihilate Ole Miss in the Swamp, multiple giant screens in every nook and cranny of the place are expected.  That's what you go there for--to watch the game.  Or games.  I totally get that.  Been there, done that, bought the hot wings.  But now, we have this lovely addition of a tablet sitting atop our dining table.  And the server has  abdicated the role for which they were hired-- to attend to their customers--by relying upon some buzz or beep to tell them that another Coke with no ice is needed at Table 10 or Table 46 wants another slice of Tiramisu?  What's next--a portable water station at each booth for convenient self-service?  Dude, I can stay home and do that.

That's not dining out. That's drive-thru service with a linen napkin.  I can pull up to the Golden Arches menu-tron, tell the person with the Madonna Mic what I'd like to eat, confirm my order and determine how much it will cost me.  I proceed to the window, pay my debt, and get my food.  And, I don't even have to get out of my car--or tip the server.  Last Saturday evening, we walked into Red Robin, a restaurant chain who has apparently drunk the Ziosk Kool-Aid, to celebrate Mini-Hooper's birthday.  Our server took our drink and food orders, and then disappeared. Some other kind soul brought out our food.  Because we didn't use the Ziosk to let her know that we needed more water, we nearly passed out from dehydration.  Okay, that's an exaggeration.  She only checked on us once--when she told us how to pay the bill on our handy-dandy Ziosk.  Then, when this time-saving device didn't work--twice--she harrumphedly took our card and processed it "the old-fashioned way".  "Harrumphedly" is my word of the day.  Use it in a sentence.  It's fun.

Because she rarely showed her face at our booth and she barely acknowledged the fact that I had a birthday meal coupon for Mr. Double Digits, there was no birthday hoopla.  No free hot fudge sundae.  Nada.  Perhaps, if we had told the Ziosk about the occasion for celebration, it would have baked us a cake.  Or sang "Happy Birthday to You".  I will grant you that this might also be a flat-out customer service issue.  However, her lack of "service with a smile"--or service, at all--was exacerbated by the presence of that nifty little tablet.  

I sincerely hope that this Ziosk thing will not become standard at our favorite local eateries.  Thus far, it seems to be a giant, conglomerate chain dining establishment kind of thing.   Call me old-fashioned, I don't mind it a bit; but, I like being treated like a human being.  One with whom you can converse.  One whose presence in a given place is something more than a beep or buzz--it is valued.  So, to the fabulous folks at Tulum, Asia Garden, and Carriage House Cafe, please continue to treat your customers as though you welcome their presence and patronage, with refills of that yummy Fruit Tea and bottomless pails of nacho chips.  And, we pledge to be patient, appreciative, and loyal.  Especially on Sundays.

Farewell to the Garden and the Robin.  It was nice knowing you.   This time, it's not me, it's you.  There's not room enough for all of us at the table anymore.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Double Digits for Mini-Hooper

Mini-Hooper (or the offspring formerly known as Ninja) turns 10 today.  A decade.  Ten whole years.  3,650 days on this earth.  Amazing.  

His arrival in our lives made He Who Is Now Taller Than I a big brother.  And, I was officially outnumbered, 3 to 1.  Unless you count the cat.  Which I don't.  She was never really much help in the "rally the girls" arena.  But, I digress.

While he rolls his eyes at stories of how my favorite Philosopher and I met--or how we got engaged ("Mom, are you going to tell that story again??"), he still likes to hear about his world premiere (scheduled C-section), who came to see him after Daddy held him (his godparents, my Community Bible Study sisters--Jenny Wilkes, God bless you for that decaf Caramel Machiato), and his first words ("Hey, everybody!  Watch me!").   True to his given name, he brings light.  And life wherever he goes.  And so very much of it.

Much like his Philosopher father, he asks questions and posits theories that often amaze--and confound--us.  I can only imagine what his Sunday School teachers think!  Mr. "Mom, I have an idea", he is never without multiple suggestions about how to do a particular thing.  And, he will lobby for it, energetically and persistently.  He is stubborn and holds fast to an idea, even as it is obviously drowning in an ocean of impossibility.  Yes, in that way, he is his mother's son.  Guilty as charged.

His boundless creativity astounds me.  Seriously. This kid can take a generic LEGO set and build the set, completely and thoroughly.  Within twenty-four hours, he is tweaking, altering, expanding, or disassembling to make a better product.  His eye for detail, in the LEGO world, and his ingenuity to make it happen, wows me.  I'm good for separating pesky little bricks that the tool can't conquer--and I seem to have a God-given ability to attach limbs to mini-figs.  Who knew?  Cool mom points, in his book.

And, he writes.  Currently, he has no less than eight short stories going. Some fan fiction (Harry Potter and Warriors), some featuring animals making around-the-world journeys, led by a squirrel who looks likes a marmot version of C.S. Lewis.  Picture a tweed smoking jacket.  Expressive eyes.  And a pipe.  

If you follow the Mini-Hooper trail around the house, you can capture bits of his personality and preferences.  You will find basketball shoes at the garage door (with socks stuffed inside).  A few steps into the hallway will be his  "Idea Notebook" with his Avengers mechanical pencil set atop.  On the living-room sofa, where he parked after rising groggily from his lower bunk, one finds a Calvin and Hobbes book.  Or Peanuts.  Or both.  From that vantage point, on the coffee table, you might see a LEGO replica of our living room, in progress.  Or our Math-U-See manipulatives, in lovely mosaic form, as giant coasters.  

Mom's musings must cease.  Time to get busy on the birthday menu.  Very specific.  It includes Cranberry-Feta Pinwheels, a yummy grilled Southern Living pizza featuring grilled corn, onions, and smoked sausage (prepared by Dad), and my BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing (lovingly known as the multi-adjectival salad, in our house).

But, the day shall start with a blueberry cake donut and chocolate-glazed confection from our favorite local donut place.  But, don't tell him.

It's a surprise!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Flashback Friday: ONJ

I'm not sure from what location in my cerebral cortex that this random synapse fired.  Perhaps it was a friend's recent excursion to the land Down Under.  Maybe it was a Keith Urban song.  Or this might just be how my mind works. 

Vintage ONJ. Sandra Dee. Or not so much.

Her country album. Yes, those were her roots. Musically speaking. Circa 1974.

But, this is a favorite of mine. Xanadu. Gene Kelly. I just blew your mind.

Happy Friday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Be Strong and Take Heart..."

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  Below is a post from September 2014 about our friends, Kelley and David Mitchell--and their youngest daughter, Belle.  It seems appropriate to share this with you again--as our hearts are still full and our memories are vivid.  Belle went home to be with Jesus, the very best of Physicians, on January 17, 2015.  This post is a tribute to those who continue the fight--on the front-line.  The families, the cancer warriors, and the amazing folks at St. Jude's who are finding cures and saving lives. And for those whose dining room table now has an empty chair.  

Five years ago today, my dear friend of two decades, Kelley and her husband, David, heard two words that would change the course of their lives.  “It’s cancer,” they were told by the doctor.  Belle, the youngest of their four children, was diagnosed with Choroid Plexus Carcinoma, a rare brain tumor.  I still remember getting that phone call from Kelley.  My heart broke with her--and for her family. 

We had just visited with their family in August--a long-overdue visit, I might add.  Belle had broken her finger in a car door and had some trembling in her hand.  Given the trauma to her little hand, this seemed like a normal side-effect.  Other indications that things just weren’t right eventually brought them to a neurologist.  And, the discovery of this tumor.  Brain surgery was immediately scheduled.  And, a treatment plan was prayerfully considered. 

Within a month, Belle and Kelley landed in Memphis, Tennessee to begin treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  On Kelley’s birthday.   We spent the day at the Zoo--the “smelly zebras” were a favorite--and the next day, she started treatment to battle this unwanted invader.  From the beginning, I was overwhelmed and so thankful for what St. Jude’s could and would provide for Belle and the Mitchell family. 

In 2011, after some conversation (and a challenge from the younger generation!), we decided to form Team Belle--Jackson, Tennessee.  And, let me tell you, this was just the beginning of what I came to call “oh my heart” moments.  Putting aside the fact that I turned forty, lost my non-athletic head, and decided to train for a half-marathon in honor of Belle, I  witnessed countless acts of thoughtfulness and generosity on behalf of the Mitchell family.  In the midst of ashes, there is insurmountable proof of the promised beauty.  Only He could orchestrate such events.  And touch so many hearts.

People joined the Team from Kansas and Mississippi--because they read Belle’s story and had to be a part of this.  Young friends from a local church saved up their allowance and donated it to St. Jude’s in honor of Belle.  They prayed.  Hers was a face that looked like a friend, a younger sister, a neighborhood playmate.  The sweetest place in Jackson--HaliHannigan’s Cupcakery--well-known for their tireless support of our community and warriors in the cancer battle themselves, have been on the front lines of raising awareness and funds by sponsoring Belle Day, giving 10% of all profits since the beginning of our local Team efforts.  Families, unknown to me, giving sacrificially, simply because they were grateful for the health of their own children--and they wanted to help Belle win her battle.   Another sweet young friend makes and sells Band-O-Loom bracelets for Belle.  Oh my heart. 

September is Child Cancer Awareness Month.  These dear friends, and too many others, are more aware of this disease than most of us.  Places like St. Jude, Target House, and Ronald McDonald House provide support, first-class health care, a place to live, and community--at no cost to the families.  Absolutely no cost. 

I can’t even pretend to know what it has been like to walk Kelley and David’s path these last five years.  I do know this one thing--it is their faith in God and the constant prayers of countless people who have sustained the Mitchell family.  Below is an excerpt from Belle's CaringBridge site--straight from Kelley's heart.

“These past 5 years have brought many blessings in many ways to our family.  We have had moments full of joy and laughter and made memories that we will cherish forever, but along with the triumphs, we have also had to live in the face of reality and with the fact that Belle's prognosis is not good.  We were reminded of that once again this past summer when yet another tumor appeared.  So, it's your prayers for strength and trust that mean the most as well as the love that we are shown on a daily basis.  ‘Thank you’ doesn't begin to express the amount of gratitude that we feel.” 

Kelley and I go way back--PBA--1992!

Kelley and Belle at the Memphis Zoo--October 2009

Ain't it the truth? July 2010

Back to school and sassy--September 2014

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” ~ Psalm 31:24

To learn more about Belle's journey, visit her CaringBridge site by clicking the link.
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, click the link.
To financially support St. Jude's via Team Belle, click here

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's A Top Ten List

David Letterman asked me to continue his time-honored tradition.  Okay, so, he didn't. But, what would life be like without those iconic top ten lists?  As I go about my day, in my Family Manager role (I am so not a fan of the term "stay-at-home mom" because as most moms in this role can attest, we are not always at home), there are certain things, gadgets, or simple pleasures for which I am exceedingly grateful.  And, in some cases, they make life easier.  Or encourage my offspring to rise up and call me blessed.  That's always nice.

So, here is my list, in no particular rank or priority, of the Top Ten Things That Make Life Groovy for Those Of Us Who Work Inside The Home.  Or perhaps, it's just groovy for me.

1.  Flatbread--Yes, I arrived late to this party. But, flatbread is the 21st century equivalent of mini-bagels.  And, their dressed-up cousins, mini-bagel pizzas.  Some flatbread, pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, and pepperoni slices--and poof, a quick snack/lunch/hold-you-over dinner is on the table.

2.  Wrinkle Shield--I am now the proud owner of a dryer which has this delightful setting.  Should a load of clothes finish their stint in the drying unit, and because one is otherwise occupied with other domestic duties (or finally putting on lipstick!), and the clothes are not immediately rescued, this lovely mechanism kicks in.  It tosses your clothes about for another five minutes, seemingly counts to ten or so, and repeats the cycle for a few more rounds. Brilliant!


3.  Spotify--Anything from Zumba to Favorite Soundtrack Songs (hello, Footloose and When Harry Met Sally!) to Miles Davis and Horace Silver.  And some Amazing Grace and Gone Country in between.  The extra bonus is the creativity that one exerts when naming personal playlists.  My favorite?  Poison, Pawprints, and Polo.  

4.  Candles--I just like them.  They smell good.  They look pretty.  That's all.

5.  Library Cards--It all started with Story Time in Fall 2002, when He Is Who Is Now Taller Than I was just a wee lad.  When you're on a first name basis with the librarians and circulation folks, you know you're a library geek.  I embrace it.

6.  Washi Tape--If it weren't for the packing of a care package for a missionary family in South Africa, I would have never learned of this fabulous stuff.  Being the only two-legged female in our household, I was not aware of the benefits of Washi Tape. Until now.  It comes in all colors, patterns, widths, and such.  And it makes simple tea light candles into great party favors for bridal showers.  Whee--and Squee, too!

7.  Yard, Garden, Hammock and/or GreenSpace--Having grown up in apartments or duplexes for most of my life, we never had much of a green space.  Or at least one that was conducive to growing things.  Nor did we really have the time to grow things.  Plants need water to grow--on a regular basis. Yeah.  No matter how big or small your space may be, make it yours.  Grow stuff.  Plant flowers.  If I can do it, anybody can.  

8.  Rotisserie Chicken--Much like ramen noodles, there are so many yummy things one can create with a $5.99 Savory Rotisserie Chicken from Kroger (with your Kroger card, of course).  Chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, and chicken enchiladas.  For a major score, you could combine the aforementioned Flatbread with the Rotisserie Chicken, and make a wrap of any Mediterranean flavor--or a Barbecued Chicken Pizza.  

9.  Sonic Happy Hour--How can you beat this?  All slushes and drinks, half-price, for three whole hours?  Bliss.  Although Taco Bell and a local McDonald's franchise trying to drum up business have jumped on this bandwagon, too.  Sonic Cherry Limeade.  It's the bomb.

10. "Mr. T"--No, it's not the mohawked opponent of Rocky--or burly member of the A-Team.  It's this nifty little guy in which you place loose tea leaves and steep him in your hot water.  It's even more fun when your "sister-from-another-mother" gifts with you such a conversation piece.