Friday, December 29, 2017

Embracing the Change

The days after Christmas are quiet.  The fireplace makes the house snug and the pace is slow.  Before the calendar moves full steam ahead again, I enjoy finding time for reflecting.  This post began, in my thoughts, as three things I learned during Christmas.  I started a mental list of "notes to self" that had become clear to me over the last few weeks of Christmas - and holiday celebrating, in general.  I like to process, to ruminate and, yes to over-think things.  But these notes were good things and helpful - not only for my family but, particularly, for me.

As my list began to take shape, it quickly became obvious that my thoughts, and lessons learned, easily all fell into one category.  Change.  Not simply change, but my willingness to not only accept change but to embrace it. Even to enjoy it.  For me, this was huge and it had a major impact on our holiday.

The first one, or two, or five Christmases after you lose a loved one are hard.  They are forever different and it can take several holiday celebrations to process the changes and to establish the new.  Of course, this was true for me as a grieving mom.  Christmas would never be the same - but there would still be Christmas, and even the reason to celebrate Christmas.  It just took me quite awhile to reconcile that in my heart and to find the ways my family could "do" Christmas differently.

But grief is not the only thing that can bring change at the holidays.  It might be that married children want to stay at their home, begin their own new traditions, or even spend the holiday with "the other side." Numerous other changes in family dynamics - divorces, marriages, new babies, etc. - can impact everyone.  Perhaps a job or other move has you continents away from what is familiar and "traditional" for you at Christmas.  Finances, health or other circumstances might force you to do things completely different.  For someone like me who not only thrives on routine but really depends upon it...these type of changes can threaten to do more than drain your holly-jolly but they can truly rob your joy.

One silly example for me, this year, was food.  Food has always been a cornerstone of celebrating in my family - my family growing up and my family now.  The place might change.  The people around the table might even change from year to year.  But, the food.  The food you could depend on.  I'm not a cook and I'm not even claiming the food I serve is amazing - but it is a huge part of traditional celebrating.  For years, I have been battling to save the tradition and still please my family of "diverse" eaters.  My grown children do not eat like they did when they were younger.  Nor do I make them.  Our house can quickly become a paleo, vegan, sugar-free, meat-lover, dessert-lover, gluten-whatever nightmare.  No two agree and most are completely opposite of another.  This year was different.  It was not about the food.  Yes, I served food.  Only one food purely for sentimental purposes.  The rest was...well, interesting.  And, it was fine.  Truly, I think everyone was relieved that the "white elephant" of another holiday buffet had left the room!

The real joy was not in the food served - or what was not served - but in being able to enjoy a holiday that did not fit my mental image and expectation of the perfect Christmas.  Yes, change can be hard.  Change can even hurt.  But sometimes, change be okay.  Even enjoyed - and the beginning of something new.  One more note to self:  some things, however, are sacred. Cinnamon rolls, with Tyler's recipe, will never change.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Quick Christmas Thought

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  Luke 2:19

This verse has been in my Bible reading repeatedly these last few weeks.  This makes sense seeing it is a part of the Christmas story but this idea of pondering has been on my heart - and in my thoughts - too many times not to recognize it.  I just love the King James Version of scripture so much - for so many reasons....but the language is beautiful.  Much like the word ponder. To think about, contemplate, reflect or meditate on.

That is exactly what we need to do today, tomorrow and the rest of the hours of Christmas.  There is so much to do, to enjoy and to engage in as we celebrate Christ's birth and, if we are not careful, we forfeit the opportunity to really ponder that God himself took on human flesh.  Was born in a manger.  To save us from our sins.  I encourage you...take time to ponder.

Have a blessed and very merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Remember. Be Grateful: Erica's Visit

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year....and one of our most favorite weekends of the year, too!  My husband's daughter (and her family, as in - the grands!) live in Florida and we do not get to see her (or them) very often; however, every year just before Christmas, she comes to visit her dad.  We all look forward to it every year and, then, enjoy every minute of her visit.  I thought I would document some highlights here - to remember and be oh so grateful for.  Honestly, the best part of her visit is always how much my husband enjoys it......that just makes my heart happy!  Here are some of the other "bests"......

Best part of DC:  We always take a day to go into our nation's capital.  Very touristy but she loves it!  I think she has a picture of the White House from every year she has been here, although it pretty much looks the same every year.  The White House is a drive-by but we try to find a different place to explore each year.  This year we went to the Eastern Market and to the Holiday Market.  Both were a lot of fun but the Holiday Market was our favorite.  It was packed and full of Christmas.  Christmas sights, sounds, gifts, dancers, food! and holly jolly people....the atmosphere was fantastic!  It was also cold that day.  I'm not about the cold but it did make it feel even more Christmasy:)

Side note - the churros at the Market were ah.mah.zing!  I don't suppose stuffed churros are new, but they were new to me and I totally approved.  Yum -

Best new tradition:  We went out two different evenings to ooh and ahh over the Christmas lights.  Thank you, neighbors, for doing an extra nice job this year!  Apparently, people have time to not only cover their yard and homes in lights but to also synchronize them to holiday music.  Who knew.   But on the second night, we stepped it up a notch and had a Christmas lights scavenger hunt.  (Thank you, Pinterest!)  We laughed and yelled and got a little competitive - and had a great time!  Next year, it will be game on.

Best food of the weekend:  Youtube for the win.... thanks to Nicki at My Bashful Life, we all got in the kitchen and made an upside down apple pie.  Mind you, I don't really care for pie but this really was delicious.  We made it as a family - which was fun - and we devoured as a family, too!!  I am definitely not a food photographer...but it really was just that good!!

Best mall moment:  Our weekends always involve eating, lights, sight-seeing (of sorts), eating, gifts, laughs, etc., and we always make time for shopping.  Adults-only shopping is a treat, in itself, for Erica:)  I have been trying and retrying (to no avail) to take a photo that could possibly work for New Year's cards.  We were walking past one of those high-end furniture stores....they have super expensive furniture but they also have beautiful displays, including trees.  We were those people taking photos in the displays.  The sales lady was even helping:)  Funny, but embarrassing.

Best hallmark moment:  "I'm dreaming of a white weekend in Virginia" is pretty much Erica's theme song.  It was cold but a no-snow weekend - except for the fifteen minutes after she landed.  Not kidding.  The whole time she was taxing into the gate, and as we walked to the car, the lightest, prettiest flurries were everywhere.  Straight out of a Hallmark movie.

She was beside herself - over flurries.  I was just as thrilled that was the extent of it.  (I'm not really a scrooge but my heart does long for palm trees and sunshine.  In December.  Especially in December.)

Best gift:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Making Ready

I hope I can express my thought this morning without sounding completely trite...but I have spent the morning getting our guest room ready.  (The candy dish still needs to be filled but, yes, the photo by the bed is my sweet Tyler when he was five - and cute as a button!!)  Amid all the dusting (not my favorite chore) and even the laundry and fresh linen, not only was my heart so happy but I could literally sense the excitement of "company" arriving on Friday!!  We've been planning this visit for months but, this morning, the anticipation was real! 

Two things I noticed - besides the fact that I really enjoy singing Christmas songs and jingles while I work!  One: the cleaning was not a chore. Let's face it, on an average Tuesday morning, dusting and vacuuming are simply housework.  But, today, I was getting ready for someone we love. I want the room to not only be ready but to be welcoming, comfortable and to have that "feel at home" atmosphere, and so I was enjoying working toward that goal.  Two:  the little things I've ignored or overlooked in the past weeks really stood out.  Where do those little stains come a room we so seldom use??  I should have been more on top of it.

Doesn't that really embrace the month of December - the Christmas season that leads up to celebrating Christ's birth?  For weeks, we are preparing and making ready so we can truly remember, reflect and rejoice in Jesus' birth.  Making our homes say welcome and, then, preparing our hearts as is a joy and not a chore.  We can use these weeks before Christmas to run ourselves ragged and to deplete our joy (as much as our bank accounts) or we can meaningfully anticipate the birth of the One who loved us so much to take on flesh, arrive in a stable and dwell among us.

I think that is a reason to sing just a little louder!!

Friday, December 8, 2017

How Many Gifts for Christmas?

The prompt for this week's Five Minute Friday is only.  Random question:  have you ever looked up the definition of only?  This is what I got:

"and no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively."

That certainly makes things crystal clear??  Even without an official dictionary explanation, I think we all understand what only means - but I don't know if it is just me...but "only" seems to carry with it a negative connotation.  Only one cookie.  Only one winner.  For some, even "only one life" or one chance to get it right.  Only seems limiting or restrictive and something in our human nature just seems to balk at that.  Or, at least, exhale a heavy sigh.  Hopefully, this post will not of the negativity of "only" but it will be an encouragement.

GO - When my husband was a boy, he received one gift at Christmas.  One gift.  But he never thought of it as "just one gift" but, instead, as "the one gift!"  It was the highlight of the year for him.  One gift designed to not only excite and please but to also show much love to him.

(Hmmm - there is some real application to the real meaning of Christmas there, but that wasn't exactly the point of my post.)

My husband remembers, even now, many of those gifts.  Even the year surrounding each gift.  In contrast, how quickly have the multiple gifts of my children's childhood been forgotten?  We have been guilty of many - as in too many - gifts.  Too much wrapping, too much spending and just too much.  ( do not help with this problem!!)  :)

Although we have gotten much, much better, I have often wondered how it would be to simply choose one perfect gift and then give (and receive) "only" one gift on Christmas morning??  I've even mentioned this to my family before.  Their (sincere) question in response was "why?"  Why, indeed?

STOP - It is not necessarily a specific a number of gifts that I seek.  A limit of five gifts, three gifts, or simply (only) one gift is not, by itself, making Christmas more meaningful, drawing me closer to the savior or making any of us the least bit holier.  But there is much to be said about limiting the excess of Christmas.  Excess can be all throughout Christmas:  excess baking, eating or indulging of sugar.....excess shopping and spending what we cannot afford.....excess social events or parties with calendars far too committed.....even excess in trimmings, decorations, and efforts to create the perfect display of Christmas.

This type of excess is exactly what does draw our hearts away from the true joy, the real peace and the actual reason for Christmas.  I seek it every year but there is no magical formula, or the perfect number of gifts, for creating a heart to really celebrate the manger and the babe born there...born to be our savior.  I have to guard my heart.  Guard my time.  Choose carefully.  Examine motives.  And be willing to let go, say no and eliminate the excess.  That is my pursuit this season.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Little Christmas Q&A

Something just a little different today - at least, for me.  I saw this Christmas Q&A and thought I might join the fun.  My real goal for this blog is not to be "about me" but to encourage others in their Christian walk and life of faith and, ultimately, to be "about Christ."  But I do write the blog and so a few personal thoughts, now and then, could be helpful....and certainly, you will know me so much better when you discover if my tree is real or fake?!?:)

Let's get started:

1.  Real or Fake tree?  We always had a real tree and some of our best Christmas memories are taking the kids to hunt for the perfect tree - especially the cut your own ones at a tree farm!  It was a highlight.  Several years after it was just the two of us, my husband and I were visiting a Christmas holiday show and saw the most beautiful white tree - obviously decorated in splendor by professionals.  We immediately began trying to recreate that tree.  We bought our first (and only) fake tree.  Pure white.  And then spent way, way too much money for pink and purple ornaments - which were all gorgeous but looked not only out of place but garish (um, ugly!) in our home.  We used it twice (just to soothe the regret of our impulsiveness) and, believe it or not, we have not had a full-size tree since.  We have several small, relatively undecorated, trees that work into displays around our home.  And I'm okay with that.

2.  Favorite Christmas Cookie?  I love snickerdoodles.  Actually, I love oatmeal cookies, any cookie with coconut and even Oreos.  I just love cookies.  But my favorite at Christmas is actually Haystacks.  It is the only time I really enjoy butterscotch - but melt it over Chinese noodles and its Christmas magic.

3.  Home on Christmas Morning or Travel?  At home.  We traveled when the children were little..."Over the River and Through the Woods" we often went but now we let them come to us!

4.  Clear or Colored Lights?  Clear.  Only and always.

5.  Send Christmas Cards?  This is something I stopped doing after Tyler died.  We have tried sending New Year's Cards but they require a photo worth sharing....and those don't often happen around here:(

6.  Stockings or No Stockings?  No.  We never had a fireplace and stockings just seemed out-of-place without one.  We now have a fireplace and we have some stockings but they are completely decorative!

7.  Favorite Christmas Carol?  All I Want for Christmas is You- not sure if that counts...but when my daughter was a teenager, or thereabouts, she loved this song. We would get silly listening for it and then sing along at the top of our lungs - and now it just brings a smile to both of us.  (Okay - sometimes, I'm still singing along!  She is much more mature.) Its usually one of the first songs you hear in stores, etc....and our holiday season has begun once Mariah sings! 

8.  Christmas PJs?  My husband is a good sport but I'm pretty sure he would draw the line at family pjs.  Never have done that.  Everyone does get a new (silly) t-shirt on Christmas Eve - and, sometimes, there is a new pair of cozy pajama pants to match - like this year:)

9.  Favorite Christmas Present Received?  After our second child was born, my husband had a jeweler friend design and make me a mother's ring.  It was not only beautiful but, for my gift-challenged sweetheart, it was just the sweetest. (And, he had it re-done when our third baby arrived!)

10.  Favorite Christmas movie?  Home Alone.  The original.  The real reason I like this is because my husband loves it.  Loves it. He does love him some slapstick comedy!??!   No matter how many times he sees Kevin outwit those burglars, he dies laughing.  Then, we do too!!

And last:

11.  Early Shopper or Last Minute?  I tried shopping early one year.  Totally forgot about those gifts - found two strays.  In February.  Can't shop last minute either.  Way too stressful.  I'm pretty much done and almost finished with the wrapping this year.  Wrapping is the one thing I tend to put off.  I just don't enjoy it but my husband has been all about wrapping this year!  Hooray for wrapping elves!!

Are you finished shopping?  How about wrapping?  This week is baking for me.  Time for some haystacks??  Actually, I have four new-to-me recipes to try!!  Fingers crossed......

Friday, December 1, 2017

Draw Near This Christmas

December first.  Hard to believe...for so many reasons.  Thanksgiving has come and gone - and seems like it was months ago (not just seven days!).  I missed my Thanksgiving recap and my
look back at November.  These things stress me out - and I told myself this was the year of no stress!  So, with that as my push to move-on.....I'll jump straight to Five Minute Friday.  It is a great way to push reset and to start this new (and final) month!  The prompt today is near.  Writing for simply five minutes....and without (excessive) editing - which I will not allow to stress me:)

GO -   It's a familiar scene.  You are excited and anticipating a wonderful visit with someone special.  You find the comfiest seat in the room and pat the spot right next to you.  "Come - sit here," you suggest - inviting that someone to come close.  To be near, making your time together even more intimate.  These visits, conversations and time together (side by side) are the ones of extra connection.

Of course, you first have to be sure the space right next to you is clear.  If there happened to be "stuff" - laptops, magazines or that load of fresh laundry waiting to be folded - in the way, you would quickly move it aside (or stuff it behind the couch...depending on the guest!).  Left strewn about, all that day to day stuff would come between you and the close visit you want.

As I mentioned, this year I am wanting an intimate holiday.  With my family, friends and, especially, with my savior.  God himself born as the babe in the manger.  I have already started trying to re-focus and to reclaim the calm - to savor the beauty and holiness of Christmas. I want to draw near to Jesus. But,  in the blink of an eye (or 100 tiny white lights), so much "stuff" can pile up between me and my best intentions.  Between me and the Christ of Christmas.

END - the five minutes are gone....but my final thoughts.  To-do lists are not wrong nor are most of the things-to-do on those lists.  The extra activities of Christmas - they are fun and even meaningful.  But all of it must be put - and kept - in its proper place and in perspective.  The things of Christmas aren't supposed to draw us away from Christ.  The activities of the season should have meaning - creating memories and bringing extra joy...not simply stress.  And there should be purposeful, intimate quiet times with the savior.  Drawing near.

There are several ways to be more intentional this year but one suggestion is a Bible reading plan - one specific for Christmas.  Or perhaps a devotional for the month of December.  These type of plans keep you on track, help focus your thoughts and give you direction during your quiet time.  Over the years, I have read some very helpful and practical, as well as wise and thought-provoking devotions.  Of course, there have been some I have started that I did not enjoy as much.  That's okay - just keep looking.  I suggest you find something that leads you to scripture so you can get in God's word and allow Him to speak with you personally as well. 

Certainly - the true reason for this season - for Christmas - is found near the manger.