Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Year in Review

Tim, Noah, and I plan on a very calm night home with each other to ring in the new year.  The most excitement will probably come from whoever wins at dominoes and making bets on whether Tim can hold out for the ball to drop.  ...And I couldn't be more pleased with those plans!  There comes a point in your life when you realize parties are overrated and the best possible place you can be to ring in the new year is home with your family.

As this year fades by the hour, I thought I'd stroll down memory lane and recap the highlights and special moments of Twenty-Ten.  Well, at least the first half, since I didn't begin this blog until July...

January...New Year
     Tim was elected Chief of Beaver Dam Fire Department.  Although he's been a firefighter for 25 years and held many offices in various departments, I think this was a milestone for him.  I know he wished his Jr Fireman was there by his side to see it but I imagine that is why he works as hard at this job as he does, knowing Austin is looking down on him proudly.
     Noah reached double digits this year, turning 10 on the 19th.  He summed it up best with a, "You really wouldn't think one year would make a difference but it really does!  I'm in the double digits now, Mom. That makes me so much older!"

February...Firsts
     Noah got his first taste of snow cream. I don't think he's ever had it, unless he was a toddler and too young to remember.  When I called him in to help, he said, "You are making that with SNOW? Are you crazy?!"   I explained, this is something Mom & Dad had quite a bit when we were kids.  He then says, "What if somebody peed in it" (someBODY - not someTHING) I chuckled to my self, wondering if he imagined random people peeing in our yard.
     We surprised Noah with his first trip to Patty's for Valentine's Day.  As many trips as Tim and I have made there, experiencing his first visit was the absolute best. 
     Noah also attended his first dance at school.  Leading up to it, I asked if what he planned to wear and if we needed to buy an outfit.  He looked at me like I had three heads and said, "Mom, it's just a school dance....not the Jr Prom!"
    2010 was Noah's first school basketball season and he did an amazing job.  Each game we watched him grow and become an even better player.  He also picked up his first nickname.... Brickwall Blair!

March Moments...
     I'm so happy I capture funny moments we have with Noah.  Helpful for this blog...but most of all it will be great to look back on when he's grown with kids of his own.  Here are two funny stories from March:

Noah and I went to see Percy Jackson last night. I love taking him on little "mini dates" with me for some one one one time. He is growing so fast and I feel like these dates help me continually connect with his ever-changing self!  As usual, he was a hoot to hang with. When we walked in, he took charge of ordering our tickets, popcorn, cokes, etc. We got there early so we had first pick of the seats and settled in our own personal row.  Noah decided our popcorn needed a little more salt so he went back out into the lobby before the show began. Suddenly, he came running back in, popcorn spewing out the bucket and leaving a messy trail behind him.   "Mom, Mom! The so-and-so brothers are out there!" he shouted.  I stared blankly, not really knowing who that was or why it was exciting.  "The so-and-so brothers! You know, from wrestling!!" he stated, rolling his eyes and not impressed that I didn't know them personally.   So I asked him if he talked to them or got their autograph anything, since they were so totally cool and right in the next room.  He scoffed and said, "No...they are normal people, Mom, with lives outside of wrestling. They just want to see the movie in peace."  ....well, put me in my place! :)

Not to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it but there is a somewhat emotional scene near the end where the long lost father gets to see his son face to face and talk to him for the first time. I have goosebumps and am internally thinking, "Awwww."  Noah leans into me and says, "I would SO be asking him right now how he turns into water and not wasting time with this stuff!"  ...that's my boy!

April...Spring Fling?!
     Well, I know I'm his mom and so I find everything he says funny but this story just had to be shared again as well.

     So, Noah is about to go to bed the other night and leans in to give me a kiss and hug.  He says, "How do you get your breath really fresh?"   I smile and say, "Why, do I smell good?"  He says, "No." ....(so much for my self-esteem!)  Then he says, "What is the deal with mouthwash? What does it do"   I'm chuckling at this point, "Why, got a girl you want to kiss?"  He ignores me and goes on to ask questions, "What is better a mint or mouthwash?" and we discuss dental hygiene for a bit.  I ask again, "Do you have a girlfriend or something I need to know about?"  He smiles and says matter-of-factly, "Nope, but I figure it is about time to go out and get one."  At this point, I'm all but rolling in the floor with laughter but trying to remain composed so he'll continue to talk to me.  I say, "So, do you have someone in mind. Got a girl in your scope?"  Without missing a beat he says, "Mom, like all good hunters, I've picked out the best deer."  Now I can't hold it in anymore. I'm laughing and I kiss him good-night.  The next afternoon I ask him how did hunting went.  "No good he said. Didn't have the ammo," pausing, he sighs and says, "Which basically means, I didn't have the guts, Mom." 

May....milestones
     Exactly a year and a half since Austin's passing, we formed the Austin's Legacy Scholarship Fund and fully funded the first scholarship.  Our first fundraiser was an amazing success and with each person who attended, it was like a heaven-sent hug to my soul.  By the end of the tournament we had raised $1200.  The donations raised allow us to fund a project that will not only remember Austin but impact the life of another deserving child. And that is everything Austin was about - helping others and lifting them up.  Throughout the course of 2010, we ended up funding three scholarships.  The first to be given May 2011.

June...
     One of the blessings of marrying Tim was gaining another mother in June.  We shared many things in common, including a love for Tim and our boys....cooking for our family...watching HGTV....and our birthdays one day apart, although they are in January.  I always wondered how she got the name "June" when she was born in January.  Never did I imagine we'd lose her the month of her namesake.  June's passing was a bit of a surprise and painful for us to watch, as cancer attacked and defeated her so quickly.  We did have the blessing of spending those last few days and moments with her though and words said during those quiet times in her room will forever be treasured in my heart.  We miss her but a comfort for us was in knowing her sweet grandbaby was waiting at Heaven's gates to greet her.  It helps to know that Austin has his Mamaw June by his side and we await the day we're all reunited.
 
July...Summer Fun
Summer always seems to fly by but this year it really was shortened, due to the school calendar. The kids were out for exactly two months, which in the summertime, is about a blink of your eye. I've tried to make the most of it though and create some special memories for Noah...


Mega VBS week - attending both a day & nighttime bible school in the same week
Movies...Movies...Movies! ...and don't forget the popcorn (extra butter for Noah)!
....Our favorite by far was Despicable Me!
First camp away from home...Trooper Island
Hot Potato Salad.....Homemade Ice Cream.....S'Mores......Hot dogs....oh, and popcorn!
4H camp with Tina
River fun = Boat riding....Fishing...Tubing
Work with Mom day
Impromptu Zoo trip with Mamaw
Lightning Bugs....Honeysuckle......Cloud pictures....Star Gazing
Ahhhh....Summertime!

And that brings us full circle to the beginning of this blog.  Hard to believe I've been posting for six months.  I'll save the space and instead of recapping what I've already written about, I'll leave it open for you to browse.  If you didn't start reading from the beginning, here's your opportunity.  Each month is captured on the right for your reading pleasure. 

Thanks for stopping by...hope to see you again in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finding Joy

As 2010 winds to a close, I pause to think back over this year and I wonder what the next will hold.  I'm not one for looking too far into the future, as I know how quickly this life can leave us.  Instead, I face each day with the gift that it is and hope for the most out of it.  I try to live each day so that when I bow my head as I go to bed, I can present the gift back to God and hopefully show him something good that came from it.

"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."

Starting another year, also leads me to remember back to 2009, our first year without Austin.  Looking back through my notes, I read again what I wrote about it; and from the beginning, you can sense the worry and pain I feared would meet us that year.

I've never started a year with this much uncertainty, fear and sadness. To know that I'll face an entire year without my son by my side tears me to the core. The only thing that keeps me going is God, Noah, and honoring Austin's memory....Who knew life could change so fast? In an instant, my simple, ordinary, blessed life would turn upside-down.


Thinking back to that note, rekindles all those painful memories of those first few grief-stricken months but it also shows me how far we've come.  There were many points in 2009, and even days in 2010, that I've felt uncertain.  That I've feared for our family's wellness.  That I've been overcome with complete sadness.  But how true it was and has been that what kept me grounded first and foremost was God, helped along with a daily dose of Noah, and working to keep Austin's memory alive is how I find myself here, two years later.

I'm proud of where we are now, though far from the end of this grief journey, because I know that Austin would be proud - and is - of how we've coped.  I truly don't think this path ever ends though, when faced with child loss.  We just face life with a different perspective.  We look at mountains and know that no obstacle is greater than what we've already experienced.  We appreciate the simple, joyful moments of life for what they are.  We are grateful when joy greets us unexpectedly but we also seek it out, knowing those moments are what fills us and helps us face the next day. 


"What you thought before has led to every choice you have made,
and this adds up to you at this moment. If you want to change who you are
 physically, mentally, and spiritually, you will have to change what you think."


Wishes for a blessed New Year to each of you filled with God, family, and joy!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Discovering Talents

We had "Christmas Craft Day - Part 2" today to finish the crafts we ran out of time for on Saturday.  The big kids were excited to do the sand art project I brought and the little ones were occupied with clay.  After the last top was plugged on the sand vases, most of the kiddos wanted to finish painting the stepping stones they started on the first day.  Since Noah's was already complete, he moved to playing with the babies and the clay.

Within seconds he held up the cutest little carrot, complete with leaves and all the details.  It looked so good you could almost imagine it would crunch if eaten.  I told him he should make a rabbit to go with the carrot, which again he master sculpted in a matter of moments.  Once everyone realized how good he was - and he figured out he enjoyed it so much, Noah began taking orders.  An hour later, he'd made french fries, complete with salt sprinkles, a bitten tomato with seeds, a pig in the grass, and a sushi roll with child-friendly chopsticks and wasabi sauce!  The details in the sushi were amazing and I think we may have a Michelangelo on our hands. Maybe all those years of sitting in the floor and squishing Play-Do with him planted a seed!

I always love it when new talents are discovered from a child, like unwrapping a present they begin to emerge.  On the way home I complimented him again and he just beamed with self confidence, thanking me.  Hours later on the couch, he thanked me again for saying something about his creations.  It just goes to show you how a kind word can lift someone.  You never know what a single sentence can do to someone's self esteem.  Maybe it just made his day and he'll never care about playing with clay again...or maybe he's found a new way to express himself and we'll be buying a pottery wheel! 

It's just my job - and my pleasure - to mold him into the person he's meant to be and to fill his life with happiness along the way.  He certainly does mine.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not just a day, it's a season...

I'm surprised at the number of people who take down their tree and pack up the decorations so soon after Christmas.  I guess I just love this holiday too much to confine it to a single day.  I look at it as Christmas is not just a day, it's a season and a spirit, and one I want to hold on to for the rest of the year.

I enjoy sitting by the fire surrounded by twinkling lights.  Hours could be spent daydreaming into the tree, pausing on each ornament and recalling the memory of when we first brought it home.  Christmas night we snuck out to the hot tub and were whisked away into a winter wonderland.  It was a beautiful and peaceful way to end such a special day, mounds of white frosting all around us, soft snowflakes drifting through the air, and to watch the sparkle as the lights cast a soft glow on the snow.

We spent Sunday afternoon holed up in the house being lazy and catching up on more Christmas movies we've recorded.  I'm committed to watching them all...even if it does take me the rest of the year!  We ate leftovers and snacks, never really having a sit down meal but it was a nice change.  And we spent the remainder of the day playing board games, until Noah's cousins surprised him with a visit.  They are nearly grown now and he doesn't see them often.  It made my heart smile to hear them laughing and playing in the floor, like old times.

Last night, we treated Noah to dinner and a movie.  It was a nice steak house but he ordered a burger.  The waiter asked him how he wanted it cooked and he glanced confused between the waiter and me.  After I said "well done" and it was just us, he whispered, "nobody has ever asked me that before!"  Tim and I just giggled, as we always love sharing new experiences with him.  The newest Narnia movie was our choice and such a wonderful one.  It is my favorite of the three and I think I could watch it again and again.  If you see one movie this year, this would be a great one.  We ended last night with a leisurely drive through the Fantasy of Lights.  Noah created his own carriage ride by opening the sun roof and riding atop my truck.  Among the magic of the lights, I hope he felt like the little prince he is to us.

I've so enjoyed the past week and all the special moments of the season.  It's a blessing that I have even more time off, for the remainder of 2010, and so I plan to soak up every ounce of Christmas that I can.  Too soon, the busy life of juggling schedules,work, and school will return.  I'm soaking up the spirit of this season to last me through all of the new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The No-presents Present

 If you were to survey a handful of kids months from now, most of them won't remember what they got for Christmas.  If you survey a handful of adults, I can pretty much promise you the majority couldn't recall what they got as a child.  Knowing this, and looking for something a little "more" this Christmas, we changed a tradition at my mom's house.

Some years we've bought presents for everybody, some years the adults have drawn names, but no matter the year, we've always given presents to all of the kids.  Of course they loved it and it would be crazy excited chaos in mom's living room...for about 15 minutes.  And then would be over.
 
But this year, we came up with the idea for each sister to be in charge of a craft for the kids.  This would mean instead of twelve presents from the three of us, we would each bring one "special gift." Mom added a craft, and some of ours ended up being more than one box, so it worked out that each child opened one box.  We explained to them that whatever they opened wasn't just for them - it was for the entire group and they had to share.  (Lots of confused glances at this point.)  By the time the first box was opened, we shared the news with the kids....the rest of the morning would be spent making crafts together!

The kids seemed somewhat excited as they all found a seat at mom's dining room table.  The craft that would take the longest to complete and dry was done first.  Each kid got to make stepping stones each designing their own, from hand prints, to their name, to a silly face with a pickle nose.
 
I was amazed at how eager and patient they all were to start the craft.  Even the little ones listened and followed the directions. 
 
Fifteen minutes in, we all glanced around at the table, maybe a little teary,
 and realized how special this day would be. 

Painting magnets was the next craft.  Again, each kid was so careful and diligent in selecting colors to paint - and even giving - in trading with each other if one didn't like their choice.  You could feel the true spirit of Christmas in mom's dining room.



Stained glass ornaments followed, which we found to be a bit more difficult for the age ranges.  We ended the craft day by decorating edible Christmas trees, knowing cleanup would be required by the end.  Each kiddo got an ice cream cone, green frosting, and an array of sweets to decorate it.

The kids loved this craft, even the big ones, although they ate about every other decoration they picked up.  Towards the end they got a little silly and started a frosting fight.  It was certainly a sweet ending to a perfectly sweet day!

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages boxes, or bags!

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."



"Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

Presents last a moment....memories last a lifetime!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Lights

Traditions are sometimes difficult when someone you love is missing from the moment.  My heart tugged from missing Austin yesterday and pulled towards Noah and enjoying the memories all at the same time.  As I called Noah into the kitchen to work on our holiday baking, I could feel Austin there with us and knew he would want us to continue this activity as we always had. 

We were having a hard time getting the white chocolate to melt to dip our Oreo balls, and had already burnt a batch, when Noah ran to his room to get something.  Seconds later he returned with a tiny lightning man toy.  He sat him beside the stove and said, "Help Mom!"  It seemed as though I'd have to stir the pot until my arm fell off when all of the sudden a beam of light from the window hit the little man and he started to glow.  I shouted to Noah and we stood there looking at the single ray of light, covered in goosebumps, and noticed the chocolate was melted.  Smiling at each other, we commented that maybe we had a little extra help from a special chef with our baking today.

Another holiday tradition we have is to drive around and look at Christmas lights.  When the boys were younger, I can remember pulling on coats over our pjs and taking a thermos of homemade hot cocoa for the ride.  We'd sing Christmas songs as we slowly drove by each display.  Typically, we'd do this on Christmas Eve but with the weather forecast, Tim and I decided to go last night after Noah got out of ball practice.  We wanted to surprise him with Patch, our dog, and dinner on the go, as we drove around town to see the lights this year.

While waiting for him to come out, we noticed a little boy in a truck on the other side of the parking lot.  Every so often his little head would pop out of the sun roof and he'd shine a flashlight around.  Tim grabbed the long flashlight he keeps between his seats and they began to play.  Blink, Blink...and a quick duck inside the safety of his truck....slowly peeking out to see Tim's blink, blink back.  After a few moments of this, Tim remembered we were in his truck (fully equipped for fire) and he hit his flashing lights.  The little boys mouth made a giant O as he jumped down and whispered something to his mom.  Whenever Tim would stop, the little boy would blink his flashlight and shake it until he turned them on again.  We laughed and played this game until Noah arrived.  I was thankful for the light mood it brought to us as we set out for another tradition without Austin there.

As we pulled over for a dashboard dinner, I commented on the glow behind a building in front of us.  Slowly, a shining ball of moonlight floated up above us.  It grew and glowed and followed us on our drive to view the lights.  Honestly, it was one of the best displays we saw last night, as we were a little disappointed at the low number of houses with lights.  Towards the end, my Christmas spirit was starting to deflate, as my hopes of seeing several beautiful lights did not happen.

When we arrived home, snuggled by the fire to warm, I looked out on the deck and noticed how high the moon had risen.  Beside it was a single star and it reminded so much of the Christmas star of Bethlehem.  It was simple and beautiful and I thought back to that special night, so many years ago.  That star was the first Christmas light.  It didn't take hundreds or thousands, not some large display to announce the occasion.  Just a single, simple light, sent to guide the wise men to find a newborn child.

And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother and fell down and worshipped him..."

I was thankful to be reminded again of the reason we celebrate this most glorious season.  It has nothing at all to do with decorations, trees, or presents.  While those traditions of Christmas are fun and memorable moments, it is the gift of God's love that we should be celebrating.  And, while we miss Austin still with every breath, I cannot imagine the beauty he sees this year in Heaven.  What an amazing birthday party it must be when you are with the guest of honor at Christmastime!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Traditions

I'll apologize now, in case you don't see a post again until Sunday.  With it being Christmas Eve Eve, this may be the last free moment I have to myself to collect my thoughts and write them down.  If I fail, know that a lovely recap of the holiday events will be waiting for you before the weekend ends!

Today was spent mostly in the kitchen, with my little chef by my side.  As is tradition this time of year, we spent the day making cookies, candy, and snacks for Christmas day.  I also snuck in prep work for tomorrow's annual Christmas Eve meal.  This will make it for an easy day tomorrow, just throwing the last of it together while Tim dunks the turkey in the deep fryer.  I'm all about a simple, easy holiday this year so I can focus on true meaning of the Christmas!

I love spending time in the kitchen with Noah anytime but it seems extra special this time of year.  We make goodies that our bellies only get once a year, all while listening to the musical sounds of the season.  This year, we've experimented and added some new yummy treats to our collection.  Our first attempt at peanut butter fudge was pretty good, if I do say so myself.  Although messy, he enjoyed making Oreo balls today and has discovered a love for Muddy Buddies.

Christmas Eve morning we'll make our yearly batch of homemade donuts.  It seems like just yesterday that Noah was barely tall enough to see the top of the stove, while shaking the paper bag of donut holes, with a smile sweeter than the cinnamon sugar coating.  Now, he's eye level with me and thinking a step ahead of me most days in the kitchen (and out)!  The three of us will finish up the day with chocolate chip, forgotten, and no-bake cookies, until there's no room left on the counter or butcher block to hold all of the desserts!  Then, we'll settle in for a snugly, snowy evening by the fire and watch holiday movies together.  When sleigh bells in the distance give us their cue, we'll send Noah off to bed for what will seem like hours until he finally falls to sleep.  And then another day of traditions and memories begins!

For those of you who stop by regularly to read this blog, thank you. 
Your feedback, prayers, and kind words are some of the sweetest gifts I could ever receive. 
I wish all of you a very, Merry Christmas filled with wonderful moments, family, and God's love!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

joy in memories

I find comfort in pictures.  They are snapshots in time that capture moments and memories of our past.  When loved ones are gone, those photos are all that remains.  They tell a story and share the life of those we've lost.  I treasure each photograph of Austin and am thankful that I took so many photos throughout the fourteen years he blessed us by being here. 

Last year, the only way I knew how to count down the days leading up to Christmas, was to celebrate each year we had with him through photos and memories.  This slideshow shows him from his first Christmas at only six months, to our last day with him, in which he helped decorate our home for the holidays.  Even though tears fall each time I see it, I'm thankful for those photos as they allow me remember each special year.


I also wrote an entry every day on his blog leading up to Christmas, which shared thoughts and memories of each year with him.  Having such a love for a writing has been a blessing to me because I always kept journals and filled his baby book with moments and milestones.  From our 1st Christmas, to the 5th Christmas, to our last full holiday  with him in 2007, I'm so grateful to have this collection now so that even when I'm not here to share his story, he will live on.  

As hard as it was to relive each memory of Austin's life, his blog is so special to me now.  I can go on and search any topic, any date, and relive the moment all over again.  And, I know that Noah and other family members will have this collection of memories that tell Austin's Story for generations to come.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom & Noah days

I did a search of my blog to see if I've already written about this topic, and to my surprise I haven't.  Since I started this blog in July, I thought that I would've captured one our of days before now.  And yet, maybe it's been that long since we've been out for a full-on day.

The idea is simple and we've done days like this since he was born.  Whether it is a day out with Tim or me, he has our undivided attention and gets to fully pick the itinerary.  We've been counting down the days to Christmas break, knowing at least one day would provide such a treat.

For the past several weeks anytime I've asked him what he wants for supper, his reply is sushi.  Since we live in a small town, good sushi is nearly an hour away.  I promised him on our "Mom & Noah day" we would do just that.

He also wanted to finish his Christmas shopping for Dad and wasn't quite sure what else the day would hold.  We were lucky to find just what we wanted for Tim at one store so we didn't need to fight the crowds at the mall (mini JOY!).  With the extra time after lunch, I suggested going to a movie. 

I love going to the movies but I'm not a fan of the price tag that goes with it so it is somewhat of a special occasion when we go.  Having only two choices with our arrival time, we opted for Tangled.  It was a sweet movie and met both our needs, having the sappy love story and the funny action that we both required. 

Our entire day together was pure joy for me, as anytime I'm with my special guy my heart is filled to capacity.  The absolute best moment though wasn't scheduled or even expected and that's what makes it so wonderful.  Midway through the movie I got chilled and reversed my jacket so I could use it as a blanket.  Noah shared a sleeve and snuggled into me, put my arm around him, and whispered, "Love you, Mom."  It's a good thing the movie had some tearful scenes as I had a good excuse for my wet eyes when it ended.  I hope those moments never end.  Maybe someday he'll outgrow wanting to snuggle with Mom.  To plan for that, I'm soaking up and loving each and every kiss, hug, and whisper, and storing them away in my heart.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas at Grandma's

I have many memories of Christmas at my Grandma's house but the one I treasure most is to hear her read the story of the birth of Jesus.  As has always been tradition at her house, before a present is passed out, those familiar verses are shared from the Bible.  It was Grandma's way of reminding even the smallest of children that the season is not about what's inside wrapped boxes under the tree.

There are so many vivid pictures in my mind of her wrinkled hands holding her Bible, glasses perched on her nose, and her sweet voice reciting the story and ending in prayer.  The room would always pause in a hush as we listened to each verse and would be filled with His presence, the greatest gift that could ever be given.

I'm so grateful for those memories because yesterday tradition changed.  Grandma is in her 80s and the effects of age  are visibly wearing her.  Her walk is slower and more cautious and her vision slowly fading with each passing year.  While I'm sure she could probably share that story from memory, she feared her eyes would fail her when it came time to read.  In a moment, the baton was passed to her only daughter, as she was asked to read the story for her.  I think it surprised everyone in the room, including my Aunt Becky, but we held back our emotions and carried on.  Perhaps it was Grandma's way of ensuring that this practice continues for years to come.

In losing Austin, so suddenly and unexpected, I am more appreciative now of every moment with those I love.  Life is short, whether you are here a few years or many decades.  While we had no idea 2007 would be our last Christmas with Austin, none of us really ever know what holiday will be the last with someone we love.  Knowing Grandma's age, it is evident that we have more Christmas memories with her than we'll make in the future.  And because of that knowledge, I treasured each moment by her side yesterday. 

Simple moments, from hugging her small frame both when I arrived and when we left, to sitting beside her on the couch and remembering so many years of doing just the same.  And while it was a bittersweet moment to see Grandma pass her Bible down, I have joy in the memories of so many Christmases past....and joy in being there to see tradition passed down to the next generation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Now all is well

The Sunday before Christmas our church is filled with beautiful music celebrating the birth of Jesus.  It is a time to pause and remember the real gift of the season.  Today we were treated to the angelic voices of our choir and the combination of enchanting melodies from an orchestra.  As the first warm tones from the ensemble floated through the air, I was embraced in peace.

While the musical story progressed from the first angel's visit to the celebratory last note of the King's birth, my heart was overflowing with the wonderment of Christmas.  It truly is the greatest story ever told and one I never grow tired of hearing.  Each time I am overcome with the realization of how big God's love is.  He sent his son to be born that day knowing the plan he had for him  - and for each of us.  This knowledge is amazing and incomprehensible at the same time.

When the congregation was led in joining in to sing "The First Noel," we were told that some consider the word Noel to be a shortened version of "now all is well".  Doesn't that just sum up the story of this miracle birth?  Our world forever changed one night in Bethlehem.  God's love and plan for us would ensure that now, all is well. 

The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

As I plan and prepare to celebrate this most glorious day this week, I am prayerful that I will remember and treasure what can be shared in one word.  Noel. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

His Night

Tonight was the annual Christmas dinner for Beaver Dam Fire Department where Tim is chief.  It was great to be out for a night, surrounded by Tim's second family, and celebrating another year.  You can see a sparkle in his eyes when he's around his guys and it brought me joy to be there for him.

Tim plans for several months leading up to their dinner, ensuring they feel appreciated and enjoy their one night out.  Since becoming Chief, he started recognizing years of service for any firefighter devoting ten or more years to BDFD.  He also gets them some type of gift and surprises them with it, not even telling his officers what it will be.  Being in the fire service for over 25 years, he knows what a thankless job it is and so I think he goes the extra mile to make sure they know how important each of them are.

Tonight though, they surprised him too.  After handing out several door prizes, years of service and the Firefighter of the Year award, a box was placed on the table by one of his officers.  The firefighters had ordered him a beautiful desk set complete with a bronze firefighter and his name plate.  (It will look wonderful in his office, in the hopefully new fire station, Tim's been working on for the past two years!)  At any rate, it completely shocked him and I could tell it was all he could do to keep his emotions in tact.  I appreciated that his guys were taking the time to recognize his leadership and all that he's done to help improve the department since being in office.  BDFD is truly his passion and it shows in the growth and stability that has come within the past year. 

I am always proud of my husband and the service he gives to this community but tonight was pretty special.  I found this poem tonight and I think it really captures the essence of a him - and all firefighters.

What is a fireman?


He is the guy next door - a man's man with the memory of a little boy.
He has never gotten over the excitement of engines and sirens and danger.
He is a guy like you and me with wants and worries and unfulfilled dreams.
Yet he stands taller than most of us.
He is a fireman.

He puts it all on the line when the bell rings.
A fireman is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate of men.
He is a man who saves lives because he has seen too much death.
He is a gentle man because he has seen the awesome power
of violence out of control.
He is responsive to a child's laughter because his arms have held too many
small bodies that will never laugh again.

He is a man who appreciates the simple pleasures of life - hot coffee held in numb, unbending fingers -  a warm bed for bone and muscle compelled beyond feeling - the camaraderie of brave men - the divine peace and selfless service of a job well done in the name of all men.
He doesn't wear buttons or wave flags or shout obscenities.
When he marches, it is to honor a fallen comrade.
He doesn't preach the brotherhood of man.

He lives it.



Friday, December 17, 2010

The good ole' days...

Whenever I catch an old sitcom from my childhood, I'm filled with memories and excitement.  It takes me back to the age I was when I watched the show and happy moments from that time.  My excitement comes from sharing the show and experience with Noah.  I love exposing him to my past but most of all I'm grateful to find quality, family friendly shows that I can trust to watch with him.

These days, it seems nearly impossible to find a sitcom, movie, or even cartoon that doesn't make me cringe.  I so want to protect his innocence and childhood and am really not ready for him to influenced by the sex, violence and language that most shows contain.  If it was on tv when I was a kid though, it's usually safe and contains some type of positive message or moral.  (Why did that have to change?!)

Two years ago, we introduced him to Little House.  This was my absolute favorite show as a child and I'd often imagine what life would've been like in Laura's days.  We rented every season from Netflix and spent most of that winter watching and sharing those wonderful life lessons.  Last year, Tim suggested Ernest one night as I was filling my queue.  One movie and Noah was hooked!  We've since re-watched every Ernest-movie ever made.  Tonight, I'm watching a movie with Neil Patrick Harris and I remembered Doogie Howser.  I knew it would be a show Noah would love but was sad to see it wasn't available instantly on Netflix.  One quick search on my tv though surprisingly found it airs frequently so I recorded the series.  This Christmas break will be the perfect opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and share some laughs with my special guy.

What were your favorite childhood shows?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Countdown to Vacation

Working for a non-profit will certainly never get me on the Forbes list but for most anyone who works for an organization such as ACS, we don't do it for the money.  The main reason I came here and why I continue to work here is because I believe in the mission.  There is no better feeling than to know the work you are doing is making a difference in the lives of others.  Each month, when I see the report of the number of patients we are helping, I'm filled with a sense of pride, appreciation and gratitude for my volunteers, and increased passion to do even better.

Another perk of working for a non-profit is that the time off is usually great.  Vacation days are cheaper than raises and bonuses; and the longer you work for an organization, the more days you normally get.  I'm blessed to be provided several days off throughout the year to spend time with my family and recharge my batteries.  The biggest of chunk of time I get to take is in the month of December.  Fortunately, my vacation time matches Noah's Christmas break.  This means I have 16 entire days off and won't see my office until 2011!

The extra time off allows me to slow down and focus on what's most important.  I get to sleep in, stay up late, and spend every morsel of my time with family and friends.  Noah and I get extensive "mom & Noah" days, as Tim's vacation schedule is not quite as good.  We plan to eat sushi, go to the movies, play board games, make cookies, snuggle...and anything else he wants to do!  We'll catch up on the dozens of Christmas movies we've DVRd, read books, color, and do crafts.  Hopefully along the break we'll play in a few snowflakes.  Of course family visits will be mingled in the two weeks as well, for both Christmas and other get-togethers. 

Tim is able to take a couple days off during the break and as of now we don't have concrete plans.  It'll be spontaneous, holiday-themed, and family-filled whatever the activity.  We'll finish out 2010 together with happy wishes and hopes for a new year.  While at work tomorrow, I'll be checking off each to-do with a smile and counting down to vacation time.  We'll have a busy weekend of ballgames, office parties, fire department dinners and ending Sunday with Christmas at Grandma's.  I can hardly wait for the moments and memories I know we will make!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joy for Others

Sometimes you don't need your own joy but are content with seeing the happiness of others, for as they say,  "Joy delights in joy".  Today that was the case for me, as many small but wonderfully joyful moments filled my day. 

I heard the good news that a sweet couple, who've suffered multiple child losses, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  She was due on Christmas day but I still say she's a holiday miracle.  I'm not even very close with the couple, just know them through a dear friend.  With child loss though you have a instant connection with anyone else who's walked the painful journey and so I wish them nothing but a happy, healthy and blessed life with this new arrival.

Noah was joyful this morning in getting to go to school and see his friends and teachers for maybe the last time in 2010, should the weather forecast hold true.  He was also excited that their angel shopping trip would still carry on and I delivered him to Wal-Mart in time to help.  It was wonderful to see a group of kiddos eager and anxious to shop for children in need.  The kids broke into groups with mini lists and I got some last minute presents I needed while waiting.

As I was leaving the store, I noticed a sweet man who's been in my prayers for the past several weeks.  He was in a motorcycle accident and suffered multiple injuries.  I remember how much his prayers meant to me, just five years ago, when he was among the first to arrive at my side in the ER.  Throughout my recovery, his visits and prayers always seemed to arrive at just the time I needed them most.  It was wonderful to see him out and about and in such good spirits - not that I'd expect any less from such a remarkable man!

By the time I arrived home, I realized I was grinning inside and out, so filled with happiness for others.  After all, that's what true joy is all about isn't it?  "A joy shared...is a joy doubled"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Sweetie

Ok, maybe I brag on Noah all the time, and I'm biased, but seriously, he is the sweetest little guy I know!  He started off this morning a sweetheart and it has carried through the entire day.  He's definitely been my mega-dose of joy today!

I let Noah stay up late last night, being that he had another snow day today.  I'm not sure when he went to bed exactly but I'm guessing around midnight.  This morning, Tim and I slept in a little since Noah didn't need to get up for school.  Shortly before the alarm went off, we had a soft knock at our doorway greeting us good morning.  He peeked his head in and whispered that coffee was perking and would be ready for us when we got up. 

It was such a kind gesture I decided to make breakfast, complete with a few slices of country ham (thanks, Mom!), biscuits, and cheesy eggs.  By the time I had it ready, Noah was nodding off on the couch but he ate with us and saw his dad off to work.  A few minutes later, he was snoring away and curled up under a blanket.  I just had to bend down and kiss his sweet and growing face.

When he woke up a few hours later, he mentioned again how worried he was about the angels his class had adopted.  Today was supposed to have been their shopping day and he'd been looking forward to it for over a week.  It impressed me and touched my heart that he would spend the past two snow days concerned about other kids, instead of lazily wasting away the hours off from school.  He mentioned it so many times that I messaged his teacher, letting her know that if there was anything we could do to help to count us in.

On my lunch hour, we ventured out to brave Wal-Mart and pick up some necessary supplies, should the "Ice Storm of 2010" hit.  While there, we also bought ingredients for our annual cookie baking extravaganza.  Next week officially starts break for both of us and I want to be stocked up and ready to cook. 

Of course we had to do a sampling tonight and are making peanut butter cookies, fudge, and chex mix. As we were mixing up a batch of cookies, I realized again how big he is getting.  I think he grows just about every minute.  I remember when he was barely big enough to see into the mixing bowl and had to use a chair to reach the counter.  Now, he's maneuvering through the kitchen like a young chef.  He caught me watching him tonight and smiled with that shy little grin he has.  And then he said, "I love this, Mom.  This is what Christmas is all about...being together and making memories."  Is it possible to love him anymore than I already do?  Somehow he makes that love grow every day!

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 days of Christmas

I didn't know until researching it a bit this week that the "12 days of Christmas" is actually meant to start on Christmas day and carry through to January 5, not lead up to the holiday.  I'd always assumed that it was to count down and celebrate the days until Christmas.  When I would hear the familiar song, I envisioned the true love was surprising someone with a gift each day until the 25th.

Our first Christmas without Austin was extremely difficult.  Losing him so close to the holidays made it so very hard to feel any sense of celebration.  Christmas evokes memories and feelings of being close with those you love yet we were facing the days without him.  I know that decorating our house was his last gift to us because honestly, had he not done it, I don't think we would have had a tree that year.  Looking at the angel that topped our tree and remembering his last day with us is what pulled me through that season. 

Noah helped too, as it is impossible to tell an eight year old to not be excited about Christmas.  He helped to begin mending our hearts that year with the joy he felt for the season, despite missing his big brother.  We tried to carry on with family traditions, remembering Austin along the way.  On days I wanted nothing to do with the holidays, it was Noah's smiling face that carried me along.  With all that we'd been through, I knew he deserved a special Christmas.

Tim was the hardest to fill with the holiday spirit but my stubborn soul wouldn't let him give up.  I think that is why we make such a good couple.  As cheesy as the line is, we do "complete each other" and where one lacks a strength the other steps in to help.  He's pushed me at the times I needed it most, and I for him; just like the time we made each other climb the highest point on our Smoky Mountain trip.  He pushed me through the first half and helped me forget my asthma and I pulled him the last to overcome his fear of heights.  We've always been there for each other to hold the other up, or stand beside, locking hands in unity.

That year, I came up with the idea of surprising him with a 12 days of Christmas countdown, hoping it would give him something to look forward to each day.  To be honest, I needed it as much as him as it gave me a distraction instead of marking the days on the calendar since we'd lost Austin.  So, I printed off the lyrics to the song and went shopping with my creative juices flowing.

Shopping for twelve items was harder than I expected but it became my holiday mission.  I was determined to find something special for each day to surprise Tim with.  The eve of the first night, I created a little card with the first chorus and attached it to a ripe pear.  Hiding in the utility room, I knew Tim would find it on his daily duty of taking out the trash.  He chuckled, gave me a peck on the cheek and took it to work for a snack.

I don't remember what I did all the days but the second day, I hid chocolate turtles and Dove bars with the next phrase of the song.  By the third, a gift card to KFC, he was beginning to look forward to his daily treat.  The 4th day was pretty cute, if I do say so myself.  I snuck into his phone and downloaded a ring tone of birds singing and attached it to my name.  That morning, when I called him, his jacket pocket began to tweet and I sang him the next line of the song upon his answer.

Day 5 was made complete with a surprise lunch and a bag of Funyuns.  (So, there were more than five in a bag but those little golden rings of goodness are too yummy to just give a few.)  With either the geese or the swans I hid rubber duckies throughout his van so he he'd find them along his day of making deliveries.  Christmas Eve, he received a gift of bubble pipes to take a break and have fun in his day, even though he had to work.  And, on Christmas morning, a little drummer boy figurine was placed beside his recliner with a steamy cup of coffee.

Each day brought a smile to both our faces, and even Noah as he was excited to see his dad's daily surprise.  It helped us come together as a family during a time we could have easily fell apart.  The song now holds special meaning and memories of our first Christmas with just the three of us.  Although Austin wasn't there that year physically, I have no doubt he was the special angel helping me plan and get through those twelve days, and every day since.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let it Snow!!

As long as I don't have to be out driving in it, I love snow.  Now, my husband is just the opposite.  He wants to be out behind the wheel, slipping and sliding around on the roads.  It's like a grown-up version of a little boy and a Tonka truck playing in the snow.  I've been calling him little Timmy all day.

I, on the other hand, nest into the house, bundled up in pjs and fuzzy socks, with a big pot of soup simmering on the stove.  I enjoy sitting safely by the fire watching the cotton candy flakes sprinkle onto the ground.  I love how snow frosts the tips of branches on the trees and adds icing to anything standing still.  And how soft marshmallow clouds form in piles in the backyard.  And, when the sun hits a patch of freshly fallen snow, it glistens, as if fairies have sprinkled it with glitter.  Snow is just magical!

Today has been blissfully lazy and with the frosty fluff still drifting down, there's no doubt school will be cancelled tomorrow.  While I'll have the luxury of working from home, Noah gets the best deal as there's not much better than a SNOW DAY!  He'll get to sleep in, watch tons of tv, play games, and I'm sure he'll venture out to play in the powdery gift from above.

I remember how fun snow days were when I was Noah's age.  (Heck, at any age their fun!)  Growing up, it seemed that everytime it snowed, it was enough to build a snowman, make snow cream, and go sledding.  I enjoyed decorating snowmen but wasn't so much a fan of the work required to build one.  I LOVED snow cream and think the person whoever figures out how to recreate that taste and sell it at Wal-Mart will be a billionaire.  My favorite thing to do in the snow though was sled.  We had all sorts of sleds growing up from the wooden type with metal rails (those things were dangerous) to the plastic varieties, both long and round.  The most amazing sled?....an old car hood.  I still don't know how we survived those treacherous slides down the pit mine hills, piles of kids on top of each other, as we sped so fast Clark Griswold would be jealous.

My most memorable snow was the year we built an igloo at my Grandma and Grandpa McGuffin's house.  I don't know if we were already off on break or it just worked out, but all the cousins were there, as well as my two uncles.  (I actually think this was the same year as the infamous car hood sled.)  Anyway, as soon as the sun was out, Grandma wrapped us in so many layers we could barely walk and we bounded outside.  Waddling through the snow, that in drifts was waist high to us, someone came up with the idea to build an igloo.

Now in my mind, it was an actual Eskimo igloo with perfectly formed square bricks of snow.  Who knows what it actually looked like but I do remember our uncles helping us build it.  That makes me think it was as big and amazing as I recall. We spent what seemed like hours forming the frozen hut, only going inside when we could hold our pee or feel our toes no longer.  The only good part about going back in was stripping down to my Dukes of Hazard underoos to sip on hot chocolate and eat the chili Grandma would have ready. 

We built the igloo in front of the big window in the living room.  This way, even when inside you felt like you could enjoy the frosty creation.  Even after the snow melted and our winter wonderland began to fade, the igloo remained.  It lasted weeks after the snow was long gone...and as you can see, the memory has lasted forever!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Little Bundles of JOY

I apologize for not posting yesterday but sometimes your day is so busy and joy-filled, there just isn't a moment to record it.  Another reason, and the subject of my post today, is it's nearly impossible to have free time to type when you have two toddlers in the house!

We had the pleasure of keeping my baby sister's little boy and girl last night, and nearly twenty four hours later, I'm just now able to put my feet up.  Bryanna and Allen will keep you running but it's good for the soul to run around with toddlers in the house.  By the end you're exhausted and you wonder how you ever managed raising little ones but it's a happy kind of tired.

I always love having them over; however, it was especially fun this trip because of all the Christmas decorations.  I'd almost forgotten the magic that a set of twinkling lights or a glowing snowman can create.  With each display I'd plug in, their little feet would be pattering behind me, followed by a gasp or a squeal by what they saw.  And although they are only two and three, they were amazingly well-behaved around all the decorations.  Little Allen would stand below the giant tree towering above him and gaze into it.  If he caught me watching him he'd quickly say, "My no touch, my NO touch" as if he had to reassure me what he was doing was ok.

I also enjoy spoiling them - after all isn't that what Aunts are for?  Not even arriving home from the ballgame until nearly 8, I knew they wouldn't make their bedtime.  We pulled on our jammies, turned on Charlie Brown, and had nuggets and fries on a blanket by the fire.  Several giggles, chases around the couch by Noah, and hugs and kisses later, we settled into bed.  This morning, Bry was first to awake and Allen shortly followed but both rose earlier than my guys wanted on a Saturday morning.  So, we tiptoed into the kitchen for some milk...and cookies for breakfast.  (Well, actually it was more of a snack, as once everyone was awake I did make some cheesy scrambled eggs!)

We spent the next few hours playing, running, tickling, and laughing.  We sang Christmas carols and cartoon theme songs, as the next show would come on the tv.  Uncle Tim gave them a treat with a visit to the station, complete with a ride in the firetruck.  And then home for more playing, chasing, giggling, and cartoons.  Popcorn on the floor.  Baby snuggles.  The sweet smell of their hair.  How soft and chubby their tiny toes are.  Many, many hugs and kisses...and a few tears along the way.  Oh, what a visit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Soul-touching gifts

If you've never read the book, "The five love languages," I highly recommend it.  You can even google it and take assessments to learn more about you and the ones you love.  What you learn from this book is that everyone is different when it comes to how they feel loved, thought of, or appreciated. 

For me, quality time shows me someone cares, especially with Tim and Noah.  It doesn't matter what we're doing, as long as we're together.  For Tim, I know his language is physical touch.  For some, it may be words of affirmation, acts of service, or receiving gifts.  Everyone has a mixture of how each of these rank in importance and falling last in line for me is receiving gifts.

Now, this is not to say that I don't enjoy getting gifts because I do; it's just that I don't connect feelings of love with it.  ...most of the time.  There have been a few gifts that really touched my soul and years later I remember the moment I opened it, who gave it to me, and all the warm-fuzzy feelings from that day return. 

One of the most special and touching gifts that Tim ever gave me is my family ring.  What surprised me the most and probably one of the reasons I love it so is because I knew he had to think ahead.  This is a little out of character for Tim, who is known for waiting until the last minute to shop.  With this ring, I knew he had to go to the store and order it, pick out the style, remember the kid's birthdays (and ours), and plan enough in advance for it to arrive.   It is one of the most special Valentine's presents I've ever received.  And really, when you think about it he was spending quality time ON me, just not with me present, which is maybe why it means so much.

Of course, the ring has sentimental value as well because each stone represents someone I love, and together it makes a beautiful piece of jewelry that represents our family.  It is also what I call a soul touching gift because it speaks to me on a different level.  It isn't just pretty, or nice to look at, but it means something for various reasons.

Yesterday, I received another gift that did just that.  It was an office Christmas party, one of two I'll attend this week, and for this location we drew names.  I don't "live" in this office so I don't see these girls every day of the week.  What I love about them though is that even though I may not see them but once a month, they really know me because they've taken the time to invest - and that shows me they care.  The gift I opened was no different; as soon as I pulled it out of the bag, it tugged at my heart.

Shortly after losing Austin, butterflies became very special to me.  There are many reasons, and if you've ever wondered why you can read here and also here.  It isn't something I openly share but it's obvious if you notice things in my office, or on my truck, or by reading my blogs.  The gift I was given yesterday included butterflies and was a beautiful piece of art that the giver made, which makes it even more touching.  With happy tears, I hung it last night by our fireplace, in a spot I'll often see.  It is a gift that truly spoke to me and one I will treasure for years to come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Out of the mouths of babes

There's not much cuter than some of the things kids say.  Sometimes I wish I had a notebook strapped to my wrist to capture all the funny comments that come out of Noah's mouth.  When it happens, I'll think - "Oh, I've got to remember that!" yet when it comes time to retell it, I forget.

The other night we were singing Christmas songs and Noah belted out, "deck the halls with all that's jolly!" but on the "fa la la" part he quickly faded as he realized it was a different version than I was singing.  He said, "Oh, I've always thought it was 'all that's jolly'!"

There's a couple words he commonly gets confused on and I sometimes don't correct him because they're so sweet.  For instance, he'll use the word pacific instead of specific.  And, for as long as I can remember, he's called tootsie rolls, twitsie rolls. 

I know there are so many more stories but for the life of me I can't remember any others right now.  Another post, another day I guess.  He did tell me a funny story yesterday though that I just have to share.  In planning for their school Christmas party, the teacher had made a list of needed items.  The choices each kid could bring were "salty snacks, 2 liters, veggies, chips, sweets, etc"  Noah said, "I picked 2 liters because I knew you had some under the cabinet and I thought it would be easy for you."  (awww)  Then he said, "But do you know some kids raised their hands and said, 'I'll bring ETC'?!"  I started laughing but then I paused and said, "Wait, you do know what that means, right?"  And he did.  He gave me a good definition and example and then we shared the laugh together.

Those little moments of joy are so quick and can often be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of every day, but really, I think those simple times of laughter at what your child has said are sometimes the best.  Each innocent phrase is a peek into a child's mind and a joyful glimpse of God's most precious gift to us parents.  I'm truly thankful for each and every one...even if I forget them minutes later!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sentimental Decor

Most of the Christmas decorations in my home have a story.  None are expensive but each are priceless to me.  Because most are one of a kind, a gift, or handmade, they are irreplaceable.  I love nothing more than to snuggle on the couch by the fire this time of year, surrounded by the twinkling lights, and gaze at my decor.  Wherever I look, a memory sits.  

I enjoy the soft glow of my willow tree angel collection, as greenery and white lights weave across the mantle, making a Christmas nest for them to be displayed.  Each angel has been given to me and shares a story about what they symbolize and the relationship I have with the giver.

Throughout the house, mostly in my kitchen and dining room, snowman peek from every nook and corner.  I love snowmen and just looking at one always warms my soul.  Many of them are also gifts and I remember the season and the person who blessed me with the treasured trinket.

Also in the kitchen is our kid's tree, which is full of pine cones and handmade ornaments from the boys.  Looking at this tree is a stroll down memory lane, as I recall chubby little fingers proudly handing me each one.  I also vividly remember the day we drove out to my mom's, walked into the woods and handpicked each pine cone.  We spent the afternoon gluing on glitter and tying on yarn to hang them by.  And my favorite part of the tree, the hand print star.  I traced the boys' hands and alternated big and little before gluing to a Popsicle stick.  The tree is a snapshot of our past and I'm filled with happy memories each time I see it.
My oldest decoration is a worn and tiny little caroler singing "Silent Night".  This was a familiar sight at my Grandma Coons' house for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I would sit in front of it and read the words to sing the song.  To this day, I can't hear that tune without thinking of this decoration.  I mentioned it several years back while visiting Grandma at Christmas and, to my surprise, she sent me home with it.  She commented that she'd thought several times of throwing it away, never imagining it had any sentimental value to anyone. 

And that's why I probably take such love and care with all my Christmas decor.  I hope that they bring my family happiness and memories for years to come - I know they bring so much joy to me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Caught in the Act

This little morsel of joy happened a few days ago but it's kept me smiling each time I recall it.  The other night, we walked in cold and hungry and I had neglected to plan ahead for dinner.  Tim suggested pizza and just as I placed the order online, he got called to a fire. I wrote out the check, went to change into my pjs and left the "man of the house" in charge. 

Still not able to warm up from the parade, I cranked up the fire and bundled up under a blanket and into my favorite seat.  The love seat has the best view in the living room, as it faces the fireplace and is right next to the Christmas tree.  I have the luxury of choosing which flickering light to get lost in...or both if I want.  The only thing I can't see from this spot is the front door, as our plump tree blocks my view.

Patch notified us of the pizza guy's arrival before the knock and Noah headed to the door with check in hand.  Now keep in mind I can't see any of the next scene, but only hear it through the pauses in Patch's incessant barking.  At some point Patch must've decided he needed to get up close and personal with the delivery man and bounced outside.  I heard Noah say, "Just a minute, please"...followed by a, "get in the kennel, you know better" and then the part that made me smile..."Sir, I'm sorry about that.  Now where were we?" 

After hearing the total, Noah hands him the check and says, "Keep the change, sir...and you have a great night."  I think it even took the pizza guy by surprise, to see a kid his age so polite and grown up.  He commented back a thank you and the same to him as he handed Noah our steamy, cheesy pies.

I didn't know whether to smile or cry, or do a mixture of both as he walked back into the room.  Almost 11, going on 20, I couldn't quite believe how much he is growing and changing.  Aside from being so mature through the pizza process, what impressed me most (and made me proud) was how polite he was.  You teach your children manners but you always wonder if they listen, and better yet, if they live out what you taught.  While I was in the same room, I was hidden and I honestly don't believe my presence had anything to do with his behavior.  It was sincere and real.  That's just my little man.

Tonight, he just added to the list of maturity milestones by offering to cook dinner.  When I told him what I'd planned, I expected him to go running, as he'd never made it before or even helped me.  Instead, he nodded and smiled with self assurance and set to following the recipe.  He carried out his chef role all the way to the end, even having me go sit down so he could serve me.  (Tim was again at another fire)  The two of us enjoyed a great meal (another proud moment) and some quality Mom & Noah time.  And, when Dad showed up a few hours later he was both shocked and pleasantly surprised with the chef's selection.  We can't wait to see what's on the menu next!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The best little coffee shop in town...part 2

As the warmer weather slowly fades into cooler days, mornings enjoyed on the deck become fewer and fewer.  When the snowflakes begin to greet me from my kitchen window as I start the coffee, it's evident that our private alfresco dining spot Tim and I love so much is closed for the season.  Luckily, we have another lovely choice just a few steps away. 

With the coffee perking and our new favorite breakfast (a poppy seed sausage roll) browning in the oven, I worked at opening our intimate little B&B for business.  We're pretty literal on the B&B part, and as I brought Tim in a steaming cup to his bedside, he smiled knowingly.  He sat up, began to fluff the pillows, and found our recorded "Positively GAC," while I brought in the breakfast treats and thermos.

Snuggled in bed next to my sweetheart, with a warm breakfast and inspirational videos on the tv, is about the best way I know to start a snowy weekend morning.  Two hands looped together, with the free hand holding a coffee cup, we slowly sip ourselves awake. 

It's so nice to just be lazy for those first few moments of the day.  We catch up on each other's past week and plans for the week ahead.  I cry over the next video and make him refill my cup so he doesn't see me wipe the tears away.  And, we finally give in to the begging dog who's been circling our bed with a wagging tail, as we finish up our last bites of breakfast.  It's the best little coffee shop in town...and the best part is, I can show up in my pjs!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

#1 Fan

Noah played an awesome game today!  I clapped so much that by the time the buzzer sounded, my hands were red and sore.  It was one of those nail biting games in the last quarter, and even though the opposing team squeaked out the winning basket, I was so proud of the way Noah played.

Our "Brickwall" had amazing defense, rebounding so many balls I lost count, along with blocks, knocks, and tips.  (Who knows what the correct terminology is, I just know he did great!)  Along with playing a tremendous defense, he scored nearly half of the overall game points.  With less than 2 minutes left in the game, his free point shot put us ahead.  The crowd roared but what brought a smile to my face was his expression.  He leaped in the air, chest bumped his teammate, high fived another, and roared a big, "YEAH!"  I love to see his excitement and pride on a job well done!

Of course all mommas think they're kid is the star player.  It's natural to root most for your child.  I certainly was a proud momma in the stands today, but even if he didn't score a point the whole game, I'd still be his #1 fan.  What I enjoyed most was watching his self confidence boost in having such a great game and seeing his continued improvement each time he plays.  I'm excited about this season and ready to yell for my favorite little, um...I mean big, player.  Gooooo #40!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sushi Love

I guess I've always been an adventurous eater and will just about try anything once. Sure, there's been some things along the way I've spit into a napkin but for the most part, I enjoy what I try. When I was younger I wanted to be a food critic or restaurant reviewer so I could try different foods for free. Now, my dream is to someday be a judge on Iron Chef...how cool would that be!?


Some of my friends poke fun at me when we go out to eat, as they're always interested in what I'll order. Perhaps they like to live vicariously through a risk-taking, thrill-seeking soul. I have a rule that I usually don't order the same thing twice, especially if it's a place I don't eat at often. I like trying new things and could never be someone to order "the usual" at a diner. My mom jokes that I've exposed her to more culinary treats than she has me, even though I am the child. I say that's what the oldest is for, to boldly explore with no fear and bring back samplings from her excursions!

One of my favorite "exotic" treats is sushi. I label it exotic because to some people, they just can't imagine eating it. Immediately everyone goes to RAW FISH and runs the opposite direction. There are many yummy rolls however that contain nothing raw or are so small and mixed with other items you don't notice. Sashimi is always raw and is just slivers of seafood uncooked, which I think is what grosses most people out. I've tried many varieties of both but I prefer the sushi. Spicy tuna rolls = Favorite!!

I love sushi but don't get to eat it often because it isn't something a lot of people will go with you to eat. I do have a few exceptions...my mom and Noah. It took Mom awhile and I think it became an acquired taste but now she loves it too. In fact, when she quit smoking for good a few years ago, I treated her to a huge sushi boat as an "I'm so proud of you" surprise.

I've raised Noah to always try something once, hoping he wouldn't become like his picky 'meat & potatoes-macaroni is a vegetable' dad! He loves seafood and rice so it was an easy sell. We did have a brief kink about two years ago when Noah asked what the orange sprinkles were on his roll. It was like a bad slow motion movie moment as I mouthed, "Nooooooo" to the waitress a second too late when she spurted out two words. Fish eggs. Noah's face turned green and I could visually see his stomach flip. He pushed his plate back and was dramatic the entire ride home, fearing the worst as baby fish were potentially hatching in his belly. It's taken awhile to get him back into the sushi world but I think, fingers crossed, he's returned.

Today, my mom and I both had doctor appointments so we were able to have lunch together.  And if given a choice, sushi is what we're picking!  I began piling my plate today with several varieties, all of which Mom wanted to know what was what, and I didn't have a clue to give her an answer.  Didn't seem like it slowed her down too much though, since her plate was fuller than mine in the end!  Aside from the yummy sushi, it was nice to have lunch and spend time with her.  All in all, a day with sushi and my mom is a good one! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Itty Bitty

I splurged tonight and enjoyed a mini Blizzard.  This may be the best invention DQ ever came up with!  In a world of super-sized jumbo double portions, it's nice to see something small for sale.  While I'm happy to save a ton of calories by switching to the mini, what I really love about them is their cute little size!

For some reason, I've always been drawn to little things.  I don't know why shrinking something makes it cuter but it does.  Whether it's mini pencils, fun size candy bars, our little Chihuahua Patch, White Castles, or anything else, if it's tiny, I love it.

When I was a kid I would imagine myself being able to shrink down and live among a tiny little world.  Wasn't Jerry's petite mouse house the most adorable thing ever?  Who wouldn't want to sleep in a sardine can and have a tiny thimble lamp?!   I loved watching the Smurfs and just knew I'd come across their village one day while exploring the woods beside my house.  And it's probably why I'm still drawn to Alice in Wonderland.  Just a drink from a petite bottle and she goes down, down, down, down and becomes little enough to fit inside a teapot!

As a child, it was fun to wonder what life would be like living under mushrooms and sneaking into teeny holes in the wall to hide from the cat.  Now that I'm an adult, maybe the fantasy of a wee world would be that everyone would be a size 2!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You're a mean one...

Short and sweet tonight (and maybe just a little scattered)!  When I've been up since around 4:30 a.m. it's really stretching it to expect much from me come evening.  I actually had decided to skip the post and head to bed but decided I could at least sit for the few minutes it takes to capture one joyful moment.

If there's one show I look forward to during the holidays, it's Dr. Suess' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  I love, love, love that cartoon and watching it signifies the start of the season for me.  As with any show I've seen multiple times, I know it by heart, and drive my family crazy by reciting each line along with the characters.

It was late last night when we arrived home from Noah's first game, but pumped full of excitement, I couldn't go straight to bed (even though I needed to).  When I noticed the DVR had recorded Grinch, I quickly clicked play and snuggled in for a festive treat.  It was December-eve and viewing the show, surrounded by all the twinkling lights of our trees, filled me with the Christmas spirit.  And the feelings continued this morning, on the still dark drive to Barren River, as I happily sang along to holiday tunes that rang out on every station I scanned.  I think, folks, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

So, my goal the next 24 days...is to enjoy it to the fullest.  I won't get caught up in the stress and chaos of the holidays.  I want to focus on the reason for the season this year and not all the other things that get in the way.  This Christmas, it isn't important what's under the tree but who is around it.  Or, in the words of my favorite green villain....It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Simple.  Prayerful.  Family-filled.  My Christmas Wish List.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prayerbook

Facebook sure receives it's share of bad press.  From hackers, to privacy violations, to causing a spike in divorces due to infidelity, one would wonder why you would even log on to such a site.  I guess I have a much different opinion of it though; but as with anything, it is what you make of it.

When I first joined Facebook, some five or six years ago, it was at the request of a youth volunteer.  I considered it a good networking tool but didn't really use it much in the beginning.  When my teenager mentioned creating a Myspace page, my mom alerts went off and we had a few lengthy discussions.  I decided to join and become his "friend" so that I could keep a watchful eye on him.  I quickly learned that Myspace was a little more youthful than I could pull off though and migrated to the world of Facebook. 

At first, I mostly kept my "friends" list to family but soon branched out to work friends and volunteers, which then led to church friends and school friends, and haven't seen in awhile friends, which inevitably led to I-know-you-because-you-know-this-friend friend.  And, after losing Austin, my friend requests exploded from adding his friends, teachers, and other connections.  Now, I feel like I have this global link to a world of friendships at my fingertips.

I'll be the first to admit that it can be a huge waste of time, if you let it.  I tiptoed in "Farmtown" long enough to see that when a game takes as long or longer to maintain than planting and caring for an actual garden, it wasn't for me.  I soon began blocking or ignoring any and all game requests, well, except for Scrabble!  I quickly stopped taking quizzes or any of the other time wasters, also because a large majority of them include viruses.  Now, I truly only use it to connect with others.

I use Facebook for a variety of reasons.  It's a quick and easy way to stay connected to our entire family, even those we don't see regularly.  I'm able to keep everyone in the loop with one quick message but also really able to connect with each of them individually, see photos, hear about their days, etc.  I catch up with school friends that honestly without this site, would probably only talk to every 10 years at the reunion, if I even went.  I love that it allows me to form deeper relationships with my volunteers because I get a snapshot of their personal lives and can share in their experiences.  It's a wonderful networking tool because I can communicate about our organization and connect with those facing cancer.  There's probably more things I enjoy doing with Facebook but what I love most is being able to unite with other faithful friends. 

My grandpa was a preacher and I remember the days of the telephone tree.  If someone was sick or in need of prayer, one could pick up the phone and begin the course of calls. I can picture my grandma at the kitchen table, recording the information before she called her next person on the list.   Or, one could wait until Sunday and mention it in church.  With Facebook, within seconds of posting, there's a flock of faithful friends ready to bow their heads in prayer.  I'm honored to take time out of my day to pray for a friend in need and in doing so, have found myself in more constant prayer and conversation with God than ever before.  I've witnessed it's positive power and I've felt the effects personally as friends have prayed for me and my family.  As such, I've nicknamed Facebook...Prayerbook.

Aside from the powerful connection to a praying resource, it's public.  It's a source of witnessing and as the status messages go out, it's a positive way for us to connect others to God.  I know I have friends on there that may be lost and need to see it.  Maybe they'll never step foot in a church, or even pick up a Bible, but they are getting a piece of Him and reading how faith changes things.  Maybe it lifts them up, just when they needed to see it most.  The knowledge of this certainly makes me take pause before typing in my status most days.  My positive comment may be the only one someone reads that day.  In a world filled with negativity and bad news, we all need joyful doses of encouragement.  I know I look forward to seeing posts from inspiring friends.  It's what keeps me logging into Prayerbook....or Facebook, as most people call it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I guess in some way I've been preparing for this post since I started this blog, and in doing so, preparing for this day.  Our first angel-versary for Austin was spent with family and we remembered him by spending the day playing board games.  The date fell on the weekend so it made it easy for all of us to be together.  This year, I knew from the beginning that it would fall on a Monday.  I requested a vacation day at the first of the year, knowing I would not be in the frame of mind to work; however, I knew most of our family, including Tim, wouldn't have that luxury.  Aside from wearing our shirts, I needed a way for all us to remember Austin together, while apart.  And that's when a little whisper nudged me with "acts of kindness."

What better way to remember our loving child, than to live by his example!  Austin will always be remembered for his giving spirit, having the heart of a volunteer, for lending a helping hand, and for giving amazing hugs to everyone he met.   Last night, I sent the challenge out to our family, as well as all of the supporters on Austin's memorial facebook page.  Today, to keep Austin's spirit alive, I asked everyone to do a random act of kindness. 

I suggested simple ideas such as....Smile at a stranger. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Volunteer. Make a donation to his scholarship fund, or your favorite charity. Buy lunch for the person behind you in line. Visit a friend. Send a card to a soldier. Adopt a family for Christmas. Hug somebody. Pay it forward.

Within minutes, and throughout the day today, I received so many messages and calls from loved ones letting me know they accepted the challenge.  And although I only ventured out a brief while today, I gave back too.  Whether it was letting someone in front of me at the checkout line, or the easy action of a smile, everything I did reminded me of Austin.  I proudly wore my bright green shirt for him and felt his presence everywhere. 

One of my final stops was to swing into McDonalds and buy a sweet tea.  I asked to pay for the lady behind me.  As she pulled up to the window, I could see her expression from my rear view mirror; she was both shocked and pleasantly surprised.  She questioned the boy at drive-thru and kept looking ahead to my truck, probably trying to figure out if she knew me.  I just smiled and drove on, hoping she'd pay the gift forward someday to a stranger, or someone in need.

I have no idea how many acts of kindness were given today in memory of Austin, or what a difference each of them may have made.  However, just the knowledge that those who love and remember Austin took the time to keep his spirit alive, has made what I expected to be a painful day a little easier to bear.  Many of the tears I've cried today have been in recalling sweet memories of our precious time with him, but they've also been in hearing stories of how he touched someone's life and continues to inspire and make this world a better place.

We will never forget you, Austin.  Your love continues to shine down on us. 
I will live my days to honor and keep your memory alive.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Austin's Last Gift

An annual tradition Tim & I started when we were first married was to decorate the house on Thanksgiving weekend.  Back then, some friends and family thought it was too soon.  These days however, it seems there are Christmas trees mixed in with Halloween pumpkins, both at the stores and on the streets.  We just thought it was a good time to stay in the holiday spirit and get the house spruced up before the hustle and bustle that December brings.  Aside from decorating we usually spent the majority of the weekend in our pajamas watching Christmas movies.  It's a family tradition we carried through the years with both boys.  They always looked forward to the extended holiday break and being able to pause and enjoy the beginning of the season.

The past two years, it has been bittersweet to decorate.  Thanksgiving weekend falls on the cusp of the anniversary of losing Austin.  Grief from child loss is always more difficult during the holidays but I think the pain is tenfold when the season marks the anniversary of their death.  You are dealing with the horrific memories of the night you lost them, in addition to the emotions of the season and realizing yet again they won't be here.

Our last day with Austin was spent decorating the house.  It was the perfect family day spent together, full of laughter and smiles, while Christmas music floated throughout the house and into the yard.  I couldn't have written a script for the perfect day for our family any different than the way it happened.  Except of course, for the ending. 

Austin had grown so much and surprised me on so many occasions that day.  He was so very helpful from the start of the day to the very end and it touched me that, while a teenager, he was still happy to be spending the entire day decorating with us.  He worked with patience at putting together the decorations outside.  He smiled during untangling the Christmas lights.  He paused to roll around in the grass with Noah, giggling.  He surprised us, while we went out quickly to gather supplies, by putting together the kid's tree that we place in our kitchen.  I took pictures and video of the boys laughing and taking turns hanging their handmade ornaments, filled with glitter and glue.  They never argued or fussed about which ornament went where.  And, Austin's face was filled delight the entire time.

As day faded into night, we only had our main tree left to finish.  At this point, Tim and I were exhausted and I mentioned leaving it for the next day.  Tears nearly filled Austin's eyes and in the sweetest voice he said, "Mom, we always do it all on one day.  Can we please do it tonight?"  And so we did. 

As he handed me ornaments, he'd comment about which ones he loved and what were his favorites.  He'd tell Noah about why that ornament was special or what it represented.  At the end, he reached with ease to the top of the tree to gently place the angel on top.  He was barefoot and we stood amazed at how tall he'd grown to be able to reach the top of a 7 foot tree.  We ended the night with a trip to Subway, just me and him, and back to the house for a night of Christmas movies. 

I remember then, and even more now looking back, at how peaceful he was that night.  I wonder if on some level his soul knew he would soon be home, just hours later.  If it is why he worked so hard to ensure our tree was up, as it wouldn't have happened in the nightmare that followed the rest of that season.  What I know for sure is that he had a wonderful last day here with us making precious memories that we now treasure. His last gift to us comes back each year as we decorate for Christmas.

Although pulling out the boxes of decorations remind us that we must celebrate another holiday without him, his spirit fills our home with each ornament we hang.    Tears may fall as we pull out decorations and set the angel atop our tree but our hearts are filled with the love he had for us all.  As we settle in tonight with the home decked for the holidays, I can imagine him smiling down on us saying, "job well done," and holding us in one of his soul-warming hugs.

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