Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Wrap-Up Randomized

Our Christmas holiday at home has been wonderful. What we lost by not being with our relatives, we gained in extra time and freedom in our own home. This has been a true vacation for us all. There is nothing quite like having the time to do whatever you want at home with no schedule and no stressful demands on your time.

However, there were demands like staying up late and eating homemade treats at any hour of the day or night. It was demanded that we watch extra movies and play board games. We were required to have parties with friends. And some of us insisted on napping at least once a day. We all agree that we have made the most of our quiet Christmas at home.

But there is a downside to all this unstructured free time. Some of us have become a little lazy. Which is why I am doing my Christmas wrap-up on New Year's Eve and why the following is so randomized. Just some snippets that I want to preserve. Like this shot taken with my new wide angle lens.

And this one, because I like how the reindeer are silhouetted.

And this one taken Christmas morning before the kids awoke and the mayhem began.

And this one of my favorite Christmas ornament given to me by an old Atlanta friend who was a real peach herself.

And this one because they look so cute digging into their stockings.

And this one because who doesn't love algebraic humor???

I love that the boys asked for these shirts instead of ones with Angry Birds on them.

And the last snippet, where we wish you a Happy New Year!
May 2012 hold joy, health and prosperity of spirit for us all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Promises of Christmas Future

Today is Christmas Eve. It's an "off year" for our family gathering meaning that my family, the one I was born into, gets together to celebrate Christmas only every other year. The opposite years are generally committed to my husband's family. We travel during Christmas, no matter which family's year it is. However, this year is off for both families. We are not travelling and we'll be waking up on Christmas in our own home. Santa will be coming down our Chimney this year. I honestly can't remember the last time we were home for the holidays. It was odd to wake up today, on Christmas Eve, in our own home and not start the day by stuffing suitcases into the car for a nine hour drive.

While both sides of my family will be missed this year, I am enjoying being home so far and know it will be a Christmas to remember. They all are in their own way. This one is particularly memorable due to my niece. She started her Christmas two days ago by receiving a gift of life in the form of a stranger's stem cells. This gift will unfold for her and all who love her over the next several weeks as her body accepts this gift and makes it her own. A truer gift we can not imagine and none of us need to unwrap anything else this year. Thank you selfless stranger and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

All of our Christmases are memorable, maybe not remembered by exact year but memorable by event. While our Christmases are steeped in tradition, something unique usually happens each year to keep it fresh.

Traditionally, leading up to Christmas, we count down the days by the daily ceremonial cutting off of a button from the homemade Advent calendar. The calendar is a strip of festive red felt dotted with fancy buttons for each day of December. Each evening in December, an anxious child lops off another button to signify the occasion of surviving one more day of anticipation. For a child, the thrill of being the button-cutter is the highlight of many a cold December day.

I don't know the true history of this tradition in my family. My grandmother Oma may have started it as she had an impressive fancy button collection and was skilled in the domestic art of button sewing. My own mother continued this tradition for my siblings and me. I started the tradition for my own children as you can see from this vintage photo.

Sadly I have killed the tradition with my ineptitude for sewing buttons and my complete refusal to even to try. Bah Humbutton, I say. But the tradition lives on in our memories and is an homage to the days when women did crap like sewing buttons. Embracing women's freedom everywhere, we have this guy instead. He only requires that we move a tethered button from numbered slot to numbered slot each evening. And no sewing.

Another holiday family favorite is the traditional holiday nudity.

Don we now our gay apparel has a whole different meaning in our house.

Decorating this way is fun but it adds another reason for my husband to dislike hanging the outdoor lights.

Every year the children write a note for Santa which they leave by the chimney on Christmas Eve.

This is followed promptly by the traditional reading of select chapters from the Harbrace Handbook and Elements of Style.

This really gets the children's attention and readies them for the long winter's nap that is Christmas Eve night.

But before bedding down on the Eve, each child opens one Christmas present. Traditionally, it is their Christmas pajamas. If Santa's going to see you sleeping, you have to be wearing new pjs, right? This is one of those traditions that works about twice and then after that everyone feigns their excitement. Grandma tried to liven it up one year with the addition of a wool thong she had crocheted.

As you can imagine, this holiday tradition did not stick.

When we all are together on Christmas, fun and spontaneity are the rules. Wacky holiday activities abound like karaoke without the lyric prompts...

...the Biennial Ugliest Foot Competition which is strangely won by the same person every time...

...and last year's extemporaneous tribute to lederhosen.

Yes, my family knows how to have holiday fun!

So on this Christmas Eve morning, even as I miss my large family holiday gathering, I appreciate the ghosts of Christmas Past. I will cherish this Christmas Present with my little family

 and anticipate many Christmas Futures with my larger family once again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All Shall Be Well

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I was asked recently why my blogging has reduced to dribs and drabs over the past few months. I gave an evasive answer because I hadn't formed the real one even for myself yet. The evasive answer danced around busy-ness and focus on other things. Admittedly, there is some truth to that. But after thinking about it more, I came up with the rest of the answer.

While I have been focused on other things and I have been busy, I also have felt the need to be quiet. From the start, my blog has been a place for me to be funny, sarcastic, even poignant at times. It's a forum where I talk about my family, show off some photographs and paint the everyday things in life with a bright brush.

It hasn't felt appropriate to be funny or sarcastic these last few months. And being poignant is a vulnerable position to be in these days. Poignance quickly becomes tearful if I'm not careful. So to keep it all in check, I've gone quiet.

In place of my blogging banter, I've been listening, thinking, praying, hoping and believing...all quiet, productive activities.

Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance. It is laying hold of his willingness. - Julian of Norwich

I will continue to do these quiet activities in honor of someone dear. One day from now, my niece will have a bone marrow transplant. All of us, she, her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, her doctors, her nurses, her donor will all be listening, thinking, praying, hoping and believing.

And soon joyful noises will be made by all of us when all manner of things are well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Twas the Week Before Christmas...

...when all through the house not a creature was believing, not even my spouse.
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, but nobody's buying St. Nicholas' wares.

The children are nestled all smug in their beds
While visions of irreverence danced in there heads.

What is going on here? There will be no visit to see Santa this year. I asked the boys, like I do every year, if they want to go see Santa and they said, "No." Neither boy wants to make our annual trip to see Santa. I guess now our annual trip is no longer annual but now nostagically past tense as in 'Twas.

The obvious question is 'Twhy don't they want to see Santa? You would think the only proper answer from my middler-schooler, 'twould be the answer that I have been expecting from him the past few years. You know the answer that starts with, "I don't belie...."  But I didn't get that answer. The answer I got 'twas unexpected.

"Santa's a creeper," they said.

 "Twhat did you say?" I said.

In our house, "creeper" is a general term for a suspicious character, a weirdo. My niece coined the phase and even the facial expression we use to notify other family members of a creeper in the vicinity. So, when they said, "Santa's a creeper," they gave the creeper face to match.

2007 - Note no picture of little brother this year. Assumed beginnings of creeper theory.
The boys went on to explain why dear Santa is now a creeper. Their arguments are compelling. Top on the list was he knows when you are sleeping. Yes, I guess that is a bit odd.

Next was the idea of young children sitting on a strange old man's lap. It's good to know the concepts in the Cub Scouts Parent's Guide on Child Abuse that we have religiously covered with the boys every year have really made an impact.

And lastly, there were some ramblings about Santa coming into houses under the cloak of darkness, another inarguable concern.

I however believe that all of this creeper talk is merely a parent-friendly way for the boys to communicate the real answer that starts with "I don't belie..."  The boys know these are words are hard for parents to hear. These words hold so much more than an end to a fun, decade-long caper. 

 I don't belie...means Mom and Dad, I'm growing up.


It means the teenage years and driving and moving off to college and having a family of their own are right around the corner. It means that you have to drop the magic for a little while before you can start it again and share with the next batch of believers.

But it doesn't mean that joy of Christmas is over. It just means we can all start to appreciate a deeper reason for the season.

Laurel Valley, Townsend, TN November 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Making Music Right

I am a huge fan of a particular musician. This particular musician isn't widely known. His songs aren't played on the radio. He writes great songs and plays any instrument. He has several CDs which are available on, iTunes and Rhapsody.  This musician has been playing guitar since he was fourteen...too many years to number...and has been songwriting, playing and performing since 1991...twenty years and counting. He has a day job but continues to gig around our local area.  And lucky for me, he performs nightly in my living room.

Bo Weevil (a.k.a. my husband) has a new CD just released this week.

Make It Right is full of Bo's signature-style tunes, all written and performed by him along with some fantastic accompanying musicians.  Consistent with his previous releases, many of Bo's songs are tributes, both in name and in style, to musicians of the past who have influenced him. Avalon John is a direct nod to Mississippi John Hurt while My Cup of Tea and Going, Going, Gone pay homage to the jazz greats of the '30s. Bo works in a little contemporary country heartbreak as well with his lamenting Whiskey Won't and Feeling Blue.

The title track Make It Right holds special importance for both Bo and me. This song is the most heartfelt one he has written to date. It is a love letter to me and our relationship. As with all long standing loves, ours has ebbed and flowed, been tried and tested, grown while we've changed. With each challenge, we have returned to the truth and clarity of what we hold dear for our lives now and in the future. Bo says it all in Make It Right. Baby, I love you too.

Speaking of love letters, there a few more on the album. They are all written for one special person, but I'll let you pretend they are for you and yours if you like. To begin, I'm sure you can all identify with the relaxed swing of We've Just Begun. Makes you want to drink up all the good in life and love.

I must confess that I may have taken Bo for granted a time or two. Haven't you gotten caught up in the busy-ness of it all and forgotten to let your honey know how you feel about them? Bo reminds us to keep our feelings front and center in Baby, Can't You See 'cuz love is what makes it all worthwhile.

There is some darkness to be worked through and Bo does so in A Million Miles Away. We've all lost someone dear and this song tells the tale of a man's crushing loss of his wife.  The song is a stepped-back way for Bo to express some of his feelings of losing his mother earlier this year.

The album has several upbeat numbers to balance the ballads. Bone to Pick and Untry-Kay Ooz-Blay display Bo's musical sense of humor.

My personal favorite has to be My Cup of Tea. It's a stripped down ensemble of guitar, brushed drums and clarinet playing a sultry jazz shuffle. The lyrics are poetic, unexpected and vintage. A combination of lyrical and musical perfection.

I may be biased, but this is my favorite Bo Weevil album of all time. And I really do think it's his best. Another thing that makes this album special to us is that we collaborated a bit. In addition to listening to all the early versions of the songs, I also did all the photography for the CD layout. It's the first time we have "worked together".

Songwriting and recording your own music are a bit like put your life, your thoughts, your feelings out there for all to hear, read and of course, critique. But I don't think you can find a bad thing to say about this post or this album.

Make It Right and all other Bo Weevil releases are available on CDBaby, iTunes and Rhapsody. Check them out!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Going to the Dogs

A few weeks ago, we further cemented our status as typical, suburban, middle-class Americans. We already had the two kids, the minivan, PTA memberships, and the fenced backyard in the burbs. So what else did we need to lock in our status? A dog.

We had been cat people up until two weeks ago. Not cat people in the socially awkward, cat-lady sense of the term, but we had only had cats as our pets for all these twenty years together. The boys have had gerbils and fish, but I don't count those as pets. They are more like science experiments. There is a lot of scientific research to be had with these types of "pets".  How long will a fish live under such unclean aquarium conditions? What will a gerbil do if the only attention it receives is during its biweekly bedding change which is done by a disgruntled mother? You don't really want to know the answers to these scientific queries. But just know that these are not real pets.

Cats are pets and they are easy. Cats like to be fed and have their fur stroked upon command. Then they sleep for upwards of 16 hours a day. Our cats have always had dog-like personalities; they like to be around people. They greet you at the door. But then, unlike the dog, they leave you alone when they've had enough of you.

With dog-like cats, why did we get an actual dog? I can blame it on several friends who have gotten dogs within the past year. Jan, Kelly and Becky - you are all on notice as accomplices in this matter. Your dogs have won my children's hearts or at least created their new liking of the idea of a dog. Up until they were around your dogs, my sons only tolerated dogs. Now they like them (some of them anyway).

I can also blame it on Smokey IX, the University of Tennessee mascot. Every time Smokey is shown during the televised football games, I just melt. I love the idea of a blue tick hound like Smokey, one that is clean, well-behaved, fully trained and unfazed by 100,000+ screaming fans. I could own a dog like that.

And then there's the notion that a boy just needs a dog. I think there was an Andy Griffith episode on that theme. Maybe even a Brady Bunch episode too (remember Tiger?) The boy-needs-a-dog idea was planted in my head during my formative years in thirty-minute, sit-com increments. So actually now, my two real life boys need a dog no matter what my logic might say otherwise.

So, we adopted a pound puppy. She's a mix, though of what we're not entirely sure. She's smallish but not so small that she can't be considered a real dog. We believe there is some sort of Corgi in her lineage due to the squat-length legs. We know she has some hound (maybe just a smidge of blue tick way back in there somewhere) in her because she's got a hound face. She came house-broken (yay!) and she only gets up once in the night to be let outside. She's six-months-old and about twenty-five pounds. We love her already. And so does our cat.

And now both our boys are complete.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts Redux

Happy Black Friday! This is the greatest day EVER!

No really. I don't care about Black Friday. It is the most confounding day ever. I have never understood the allure of spending a day shopping amidst a crazed crowd all hopped up on caffiene and the I-wants and the That's-Mine! I know this is one way some folks spend their holiday family time with shared shopping goals or a divide-and-conquer strategy. But that doesn't qualify as family time for me. The whole idea of the day is a personal affront to what the day before was really meant to be. Thank you, Retail Industry, for always being ready to direct our focus for us. We seriously can't think for ourselves without you.

I have been doing some thinking for myself lately which is one reason my blog has been so sparse this month. I've been thinking too much to post anything. I'm ready to break my posting silence. In the spirit of November, Black Friday aside, this post is about all there is for which to be thankful. Even in the face of a heartbreaking reality, I am still thankful.

I looked back at what I was thankful for this time last year. I go back and read past posts from time to time to see how I've changed or in this case, not changed. Interestingly, my 2010 and 2011 thankful thoughts are so similar in fact that I can just repost my thankful post from last year. It can't be improved upon this year.

Thanksgiving Short List circa November 2010 and still applicable today

We are on the downside of November, sliding quickly into the Thanksgiving holiday and I have not said one thankful thing on my blog this month. Last November, I participated in a bloggers game of listing things I was thankful for. I spent a little time each day thinking of things for which I was thankful.

I didn't participate this year because frankly I have been too busy to commit to anything else. It was the daily posting that I couldn't commit to, not the thinking about my many blessings. I think about those everyday even in the midst of my busy-ness.

Since I only have a few days of November left, I'll have to make a short list of thankful things. In contemplating my short list, I went over my 2009 list. It included some fluff, I must admit. Mocha lattes and wooly socks for example. While they are nice, do they really belong on a list of thankful things? I guess when you live in 2010 middle class America and pretty much have access to most things, they do. Spoiled children rarely appreciate the important things they have.

Since I only have time and space for a short list, I need to get real for 2010. So, here's what I have been thinking about but not posting these past 20 November days:

  • My family. All of them. From the ones I wake up with in the morning to the ones I rarely see or talk to.
I got nothing else on my short list. Sure there are many things that I could mention, many things that are important to me and make my life better, more fun, easy. But my family, all of them, are the most most important aspect of my life, of anyone's life. Have you ever known someone without something they considered a family? They probably didn't have a whole lot of positive stuff going on in their life.

Family, no matter how you define yours, is a web of support and a safe haven from the worries of the world. I've got that. I am thankful for that. I hope you have that too.

So as to not be overly sentimental and schmaltzy about the family thing, let me point out that my family is also a source of belly-laughs. We all have a great sense of humor. I know everybody thinks themselves funny, but my family really is. Just ask any of us.

I guess having a funny family would be second on the short list. I'm looking forward to spending some time with my funny family this holiday season.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Halloween of Epic Fail Proportions

While the department, grocery and big box stores are already stocked, ready and have you thinking ahead to Christmas, I am going to bring you back in time. We'll only go back a few days. But I'm not ready to zip past Thanksgiving and embrace the big winter holiday just yet. How could I? I haven't told you about our Halloween celebration yet.

After last year's Harry Potter masquerade, I felt we had a challenge ahead of us this year if we wanted to better our costume showing. How could we improve on this?

We even hired extras to go along with us as Mr. & Mrs. Weasley.

Let me preface this whole thing by telling you up front - we did not exceed last year's high level of clever costumery. We failed. Lack of cohesion was our downfall. I had some grand ideas for our family costumes, the best being to dress as the partial cast of "Gilligan's Island."

Then the fight ensued..."I'm Gilligan!"     "No, I'm Gilligan!"

My suggestion that there be two Gilligan's was promptly shot down as a terrible idea. That's not possible, they said. Being so young, inexperienced and unfamiliar with Gilliganology, they didn't know that there were in fact two Gilligans at one point.  They didn't recall the episode "Gilligan vs. Gilligan" in season 3. You know the one with the Soviet agent sent to discover the castaway's true mission? It happened.

The Gilligan costume argument was so heated, the kids revolted and decided to go out on there own. By "revolted" I mean, they decided not to dress up as a group with their parents. Lack of cohesion killed the groupthink.

Hubby and I were voted off the island so to speak. Which gave me another great idea: my husband could dress as an IT executive who was dressed as a Survivor contestant. So we raided his closet for a threadbare dress shirt and slacks, ripped and shredded them a bit, then rubbed them on the garage floor to emulate the dirtiness of tribal living. We made a buff. He wore a fake immunity idol and he carried a backyard tiki torch. Perfect. Sadly, there are no pictures to record this fabulous costume. Photographer, how did that happen?!

Now that the husband's costume was taken care of, I had to come up with something for myself. I wasn't about to go as a female Survivor contestant. I am not a twenty-something that could strategically wear a buff to cover all the important parts. And while I am a forty-something, most people don't enjoy looking at the forty-something female Survivors, no matter where they wear their buffs.

But I wanted to be clever and the pressure of last year was looming heavy. So I searched the internet for "great costume ideas" and chose one. I laughed out loud when I read it. I thought it was super-clever and easy to do. I have everything I needed in my own home already. Here it is:

Isn't that great?! You know what I am, don't you? I knew you would get it. Strangely, every person who actually saw me at the two Halloween parties to which I wore my costume did NOT get it. What? You actually don't get it either? You were just being polite?

Okay. Let me help you. Maybe it would help if you could read my sash better, although the folks at the parties had no trouble reading my sash. It says, " Blessings."

Now you get it, right?

No? Really?

Yeah, I didn't think so. I'll just tell you, like I did all those party folks. I'm a "blessing in disguise."  Apparently, dressing as an idiom is not as clever of an idea as I thought. It sounded so much better when I read it on the internet really late that night, the night before the party when I was running out of time. Maybe it was the idiom itself that made it an epic fail. Maybe the  "bird in the hand is worth two in the..." idiom would have gone over better. I don't know.

Anyway, back to kids and their revolt. By "on their own" I mean, they told me what costumes I had to make for them. Looking back, I am not sure which part of me making their costumes equates to being on their own but that's what a mother does. Maybe I should have dressed as an indentured servant? So I, the indentured servant, got busy and here were my tools. Orange t-shirts and a hot hot iron.

Velour iron-on letters and a bag of candy corn.

The candy corn has nothing to do with the costumes and everything to do with keeping me happy and vertical in the wee hours of the night while I ironed on FORTY-FOUR individual letters on the TWO t-shirts.

But I'm not complaining. I was happy to see my two Percy Jackson clones, happy in their costumes. Happy because they really were dressed like themselves...t-shirts, jeans, the hoodies that they donned for Trick-or-Treating. Perfect costumes for my boys who don't like to draw too much attention to themselves.

The Lightning Bolt was an extra touch.

You can tell which one was into the role a bit more than the other.

Even with the lost Survivor photos, the failed idiot idiom costume and boys dressed like...boys, we still got copious amounts of candy and tons of fun with our neighborhood friends.