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.

Linked with: An Inch of Gray

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leftovers

There's one time a year I eagerly look forward to leftovers....the day after Thanksgiving.  Even before the last casserole was wrapped and put away last night, I was already picturing a cold turkey sandwich with mayo and cranberry sauce.  Pretty sad when you're thinking about lunch the night before!  I even asked hubby, in a somewhat still asleep mumble this morning, to bring some white bread on one of his deliveries.  I really wanted my turkey sandwich!

Of course, for breakfast today I also indulged in leftover pumpkin pie with my coffee.  I nibbled on firecrackers for a snack.  And I had dressing for dinner.  I think I ate more today in leftovers than I did at yesterday's big Thanksgiving feast!  I probably enjoyed it more today though because I could eat with my feet up, relaxing in the recliner by the fire, and watching movies.  Yesterday, I was frantically running around since before dawn trying to get everything prepared on time.

This afternoon my mom, sisters, and kiddos even came back over to enjoy more leftovers.  That's certainly a once a year event.  When else can you invite someone for day old food and they happily say yes!  By the time everyone had made their rounds there was just a smidge or two of each dish so I'd planned to toss it out.  (As yummy as the leftovers are, you can only eat on them so many times.)  However, as I'm about to throw them in the trash my sister practically jumps in front of the can to save them.  I sent them home with her laughing.  Again, who knew leftovers were so special?

But then I think, isn't that what we all are?  All sinners, none of us perfect.  Used up and influenced by the world around us, we come to God mere leftovers.  He sees the beauty inside though and by trusting in him and letting him guide the rest of our lives, we become more.  We become special and valuable, able to fulfill his purpose.  How wonderful it is to know we can meet God broken remnants, a shell of who we want to be, and he changes us.  Our leftovers become the beautiful course he had planned all along.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day

From being up since before the sun and on my feet the majority of the day, this post will be short and sweet!  There are many, many blessings that I'm so grateful for today but among the best moments is waiting for me to finish.  Tim, Noah, and Patch are snuggled in the living room, movie ready, and all that is missing is me hugged up next to them.

Among my favorite moments the holiday.......

making Pilgrim hat cookies with Noah
crazy half asleep rants from checking the turkeys in the middle of the night
being in the kitchen with Tim before the rest of the world awoke
having my sister's laugh at my frantic last minute stress before everyone arrives
frantically working in the kitchen with my sisters to get everything ready on time
hearing my mom ask for the billionth time, "what can I help you do?"
watching the excitement in the kids faces when all the cousins are together
hello hugs
playing games with the family
Little Allen saying, "I wuv u berry mush"
having so much food we struggled to find a place to put it all
Noah's heartfelt and touching prayer
having the whole family gathered in a circle, giving thanks to God
Bryanna saying, "my hungry and more turkey" every 5 minutes
being able to serve Grandma Thanksgiving dinner for the first time
my sisters helping out by picking up and dropping off stranded family
Aunt Becky snoozing in the recliner in between the football game
deep.  fried.  turkey!
Noah wanting banana pudding before the dinner even started
and Noah running for banana pudding after he finished his plate
family laughter
goodbye hugs
 and all the simple and sweet moments in between


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful still

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I still remember where I was when I found this scripture the first time that it actually sunk in.  It was shortly after our wreck and I was finding it still very difficult to get around.  It must've been several months into recovery, as I was driving again.  After what seemed a lifetime of hobbling through the house and out the door, pulling myself up into the truck by my arms and finally getting situated, I was at the wheel.  Out of breath, frustrated, and in pain, I wondered why I was being put through so much.  Basically, I was having a pity party for myself.

To ensure I kept up with reading my daily devotions now that I was back to work, I had moved a bible and reading list into my truck.  Most days back then, I took my lunch at the park and spent time reading.  That morning, I decided I needed it in my driveway.  I opened my bible and before even glancing at the daily scripture guide, my eyes fell on the verse above.  It was as if God had taken his finger and pointed right at the line he needed me to see.  Instantly, I felt his presence and was forever connected to that scripture.  I decided then to make the most of the situation He had put me in, and to be thankful for it. 

That scripture spoke so loudly to me that I wrote it down on an index card and taped it to my sun visor.  I read it to myself every morning - and sometimes several points throughout my day.  Whenever I suffered a setback in my recovery or had an unusually painful day, I turned to it.   I would rejoice in the pain, and be joyful always for the chance to still be here with my family....I prayed continually and learned to pray not only in need but in thanksgiving, and to pray for myself last, if at all....and I was thankful for every single moment from sunrise to sunset.  The lessons from that wreck were many and although I'm weaker physically from it, it certainly strengthened me in more ways than I could ever imagine.

This week has been a roller coaster of emotions, as I sway from appreciating the moments I'm given to clinging to memories of what once was.  Thanksgiving comes at such a difficult time for us, only days before the anniversary of losing our son.  There's a constant mix of a longing to have him with us and striving to remain thankful for all I still have, and to live in the moment.  I turned to that familiar and comforting scripture again today and paused at each verse.  I am reminded to continue in my trust of God and not to question or doubt his wisdom and guidance.  I'm reminded to remain joyful, to focus on the moment and to live fully.  I am reminded to pray when I waiver, without ceasing, on good days and bad.  I am reminded to remain thankful for ALL my blessings, both from the past and the present, and to believe God has plan in it all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A child's prayer

When I picture Thanksgiving and think about all that I'm thankful for, prayer immediately comes to mind.  Much like a Norman Rockwell painting, I can visualize snapshots of families gathered at the table, hands locked together, heads bowed in prayer.  My favorite photo memory is of Noah with his cousins sitting at the kid's table in my Grandmother's utility room.

There normally isn't enough space at her dining room table to hold everyone at Thanksgiving so the kids were often set up in other rooms of the house.  Usually she places them in the living room on TV trays but one year a small card table was set in the laundry room.  Thinking back to the kids' size and ages at that time, I would assume it was because small kids, food, and carpet don't make a wise mixture.  The kids loved it though, as through the wooden swinging doors they had their own private dining area.

Even though we ate in different rooms, everyone would gather around Grandma's table for the prayer.  I peeked my head above the swinging doors to round up the children only to find they started without us.  My heart is still warmed today by that image.  Tiny hands in a circle, sweet little heads bowed, as Noah led them in a Thanksgiving prayer.  At that stage of his life, he was praying at length for things individually..."thank you God for our spoons, and forks, and cups...." so it lasted long enough for me to sneak Grandma and the rest of the family over for a peek as well.  It was such a touching way for us to begin our meal.

Children come to us on the breath of Heaven and I believe that they are often closest to God.  To listen to a child's prayer is maybe one of the most precious conversations our ears will hear.  I'm grateful for all the past prayers I've heard from my children and of the praying heart Noah still shares. 

Neither of my boys ever hesitated in leading us in prayer and never seemed to struggle for the words to say.  With both of them it flowed from their lips like a fountain of thanksgiving.  I notice now when we pray as a family, whether at home or in the pew at church, Noah needs to encircle us with a hugging embrace.  He works to ensure that both of our hands are filled with a loving hold until we are a twisted family pretzel.  It's as if he's presenting us to God as a unified group, interconnected in love and faith.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thankfulness

Last year, I challenged myself to use my status message on Facebook to share things I was thankful for, nearly the whole month of November.  I think it's a good thing for everyone to do, to pause more than one day in the year to remember and appreciate all we've been given.  I'll admit it had another purpose though, as focusing on all my blessings distracted me from the date on the calendar when we would face our first Thanksgiving without Austin, and then the first anniversary of our loss days later.

It's very much the same reason I started this blog.  What I can share with someone who's new in their grief from child loss is that sadly the pain never goes away; it doesn't get easier.  Time doesn't heal all wounds, rather it's what you do with the time that helps heal you.  Nearly two years later, there are days that are just as hard as the beginning.  What helps, more than anything, is holding tight to your faith and focusing on the positive.  I can look at this journey as "23 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days" without Austin...or nearly two years closer to being with him for an eternity.  Life here is but a moment compared the endless time we'll all be together again.  While here, I feel like it's my duty to God, and to Austin, to make the most of every moment...to live life fully...and to find and appreciate the JOY in every day.

So, this will be the "theme" of my blog this week....thankfulness.  Even amid times of pain and sadness, there are always moments to appreciate, celebrate and be grateful for.  I will continue to challenge myself to see the silver linings, especially in the coming week.

Today, I'm thankful for vacation....for a job that allows me to take time off to be with family during the holidays.  Between vacation time, our office being closed for Thanksgiving, and personal days I will take next week, I'm off until December.  Having this time allows me to plan, prepare, and cook for family this Thanksgiving without having to rush or stress over it.  The weekend will allow us to spend quality family time as we decorate for the holidays and hopefully finish our shopping.  And next week allows me time to remember my sweet boy and the blessings he brought his 14 years with us, and even the inspiration and love he still sends.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Once in a blue moon

The old Earl Thomas Conley song has been playing in my head all day after reading the news this morning.  Apparently tonight has an official "blue moon" and is something that occurs once a month, after the first full moon of each.  That actually seems pretty frequent considering the phrase "once in a blue moon" means something that rarely happens.  Anyway, astrology lesson aside, the song has special memories for me because it was a favorite song of my mom's growing up.

My mom has always loved music and raised us to appreciate all kinds.  In fact, she guesses that my eclectic CD catalog comes from the fact that she took a music appreciation class when she was pregnant with me.  I remember growing up listening to her listen to The Police, Kenny Rogers, and many others with quickly became favorites of mine too.  For whatever reason, I can still recall the day she brought home the Earl Thomas Conley record and how she played it until it was faded and worn.  The song she seemed to love best was "Once in a Blue Moon" and if I catch it nowadays on the radio I'm reminded of her singing in the living room of the house I grew up in.

It was a bit coincidental that I was humming the tune today as I drove to mom's house.  They are about to tackle a huge remodeling project and I brought my organizational skills to help her clean out the first few rooms to be made over.  I'm a very sentimental person but I don't need knick knacks to help me keep memories - Mom is just the opposite.  As we cleaned today she found a bathrobe she had when she was pregnant with my sister, some thirty odd years ago, a paper stocking with glittered initials "HC" she'd kept from my school project, and a maraca from my baby sister's first music set.  Needless to say, I helped her do some purging!

I guess everyone holds onto memories in different ways, and although I do keep some treasured trinkets from my childhood through today, I hold the biggest portion of them in my heart.  For after all, the best moments in life can't be captured in a keepsake.  They aren't something that can be bought from the store but in the special yet simple times spent with family. 

Tonight, Tim, Noah and I went outside to enjoy the beautiful evening.  The temperature was amazing for November and a brilliant night sky served as the backdrop for our own private showing.  What drew our attention to the deck was the amazing moon.  As we enjoyed it from the hot tub, it seemed to have hypnotising powers.  We all just sat in the calm, still of the night, covered in the soft light from above.  It was a magical moment and one that I will always remember, yet can't place in a box or on the shelf.  I will always recall it though when I hear those words, "Blue Moon."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A special guest

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a difficult season for us.  It was our last holiday with Austin, as he passed away just two days after in 2008.  This holiday reminds of our great loss, and as the anniversary is so soon after, it forces painful memories of that tragic day as well.  We get through these times because we're surrounded with family who love and support us.

The past few years I began cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  It began because Tim's mom, June, became to ill to tackle the task.  Last year, we decided to combine our families and I prepared one big meal.  Tim's mom and brothers came, as well as my mom, sisters, and all their kids.  It was a big crowd but comforting to have so many family members with us.

This year, we again are planning to invite our families but have included my grandmother and father's side as well.  Grandma hasn't really been able to cook a large meal for a couple of years and so she seemed eager to spend the holiday with us.  My mom's health is also suffering this year and she faces back surgery just a few days later.  It brings me pleasure to give back to them just by making Thanksgiving dinner, even if it means I'll be cooking for two days in preparation!

As I was planning out the menu and shopping list today, I paused to count the invitation list so I would know how much to buy for.  As I'm counting family groups, my heart always feels a tug when I have to now think "3" for us, instead of the 4 we've been used to for so long.  When I reached the final number, goosebumps scattered across my arms.  It was 23...

23 was Austin's baseball number.  It's been on the back of his jersey since he was old enough to hit off a tee.  23 has always reminded of us Austin, even more now that's he's gone.  He's used the number so many times to send us messages, I believe, just to remind us that's always here with us.  The fact that our family, all added together, equalled 23 was yet another reminder of his love.  While we will all long to have him here... to see his smiling face running to answer the door as each guest arrives...to hear that big boisterous laugh fill our room...and to feel those amazing bear hugs he was so famous for...this message from above wraps us all with his love and reminds us his presence is always near when we're gathered.


(You can read more of the history of #23 at his memorial blog...  "Austin's legacy" )

Friday, November 19, 2010

Surprise Recognition

Momma always told me, "It's better to give than receive," and it couldn't be more true.  I've always found more joy in giving to others, especially when it is a surprise.  And when it comes to recognition the same holds true, at least for me.  I enjoy planning and surprising those who deserve an award.

Today was filled with awards and surprises and it couldn't have been more fun.  This afternoon I spent a few hours with some phenomenal volunteers who donate their time to drive cancer patients to treatment.  This was the first opportunity I've had the new group together, since forming the Road to Recovery program in 2009.  At the beginning of the refresher I surprised the current drivers with certificates and gifts for their volunteer service.  All told, the volunteers were recognized for driving over 1,000 miles to take patients to and from their cancer treatments.  Pretty amazing!

I arrived home tonight long enough to catch a ten minute nap in the recliner before heading out for another awards banquet.  We told Noah a few days ago we had a dinner to go to but he had no idea why.  When we pulled into the extension office, he asked again why we were here and I told him it was some type of 4H night.  Little did he know, he was receiving an award.

Noah's enjoyed participating in 4H since last school year.  His favorite activity is Foods Club, as they meet once a month and try out new recipes (yep, he's just like his momma!).  He also went to 4H camp this past summer and participated in some day camps.  Noah was nominated to be activity director for his 4H club at school and was most proud that he was brave enough to give the speech it required to be nominated.  Most recently he was recognized with the Champion poster for his class 4H contest.

After the dinner they began to call students up and present various awards, which perked Noah's interest.  Could this be why we were here?  About half way through the program, his name was called and a big smile came upon his face.  He bounded up to the podium to receive his bronze medal, and posed with that sheepish smile he has, with the group.

Of all the presentations I saw given today and tonight, it was never the actual award that led to someone's smile.  A paper certificate, ribbon, or pin isn't what speaks to their heart.  What matters is that someone took the time to recognize their achievement or sincerely thank them for a job well done.  And I'll have to say, being on the giving end was just as sweet.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remembering through Recipes

If you've read more than one or two posts from me, it's not a secret I love food...to cook...and to share recipes.  In fact, my love for recipe swapping led me to create a group on Facebook to do just that.  While I can browse my collection of cookbooks or scan recipes online, the best ones are from friends and family who make it over and over and know that it is good. 

Of course my favorite recipes are those that have been passed down from family.  Food can have such an emotional connection and just the scent of something simmering on the stove evokes a flood of memories.  When I cook a dish that was shared by someone I love, I think about them both while preparing and serving.  As we're eating the dish, I'm reminded of them, especially if they have passed.  It is a way to keep a part of them with us and feel connected to them.  That is what I love about sharing and passing down family recipes.

The best recipes are those that really don't have one.  This is especially true for favorite dishes of my grandmothers and of my mother-in-law, June.  Perhaps at one time they followed a list and measured each item with care but over the years it burned in their memory.  Maybe they tweaked it a bit here and there and made it their own.  To learn how to make a dish like that isn't something you can call and get or just copy from a card, you have to be there with them while they make it.  And that's the wonderful part!

I'm so thankful that I took the time and that June wanted to share her recipes with me.  I will always treasure those memories of being in the kitchen with her and watching her work.  Watching her frail and tiny hands mixing, folding and baking with expert care always mesmerized me.  I'd practice a bit with my copycat dish and frantically write down tips and bits while we cooked.  My recipes never came out quite as good hers, even if I followed her step by step.  She just had a secret and a way of giving a splash of love to all her dishes that I never could recreate.

However, now when I make a recipe of hers, it's as if I can feel her in the kitchen with me.  I can imagine her perched on my bar stool and that sweet smile she had.  As we enjoy the dish later, I know she's soaking up the moment and overjoyed we're remembering her in that way.  June loved nothing more than cooking for her family and she was never happier than to watch her boys and grandkids savor every bite.

Today someone asked for a dressing recipe and it immediately brought back wonderful memories of June.  This was one of the first recipes she taught me, after my husband insisted I learn.  He very nicely but sternly said one holiday, "Make it like Mom or not at all!"  It took several years to perfect it but I'm proud to say June approved it with a smile and a nod.  (Her health became so bad that I began to cook for the family on holidays a couple years ago.)  It's comforting to know that this year, as I prepare our Thanksgiving meal, I'll be able to carry on her traditions and share a little piece of her with our family - and anyone else I pass the recipe down to.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A great day in the field

For most people, if you say you've been in the field all day they assume you've been farming, especially around these parts.  If you work for ACS, or any job that requires you to cover a territory, you know it has a different meaning.  For us, it means that you are out in one of your counties and meeting with volunteers and contacts. 

In my job, and most positions here, being in the field is something you're expected to do the majority of the time.  I'm rarely in my actual office sitting behind a desk and that's one of the biggest reasons I love what I do.  My job description and what is expected from me is very specific but what I do each day always changes.  There's a lot of variety and every day can bring something new.   I'm always happiest when I'm out "in the field" and spending time with the amazing volunteers I'm so fortunate to have.

Today was a very long and exhausting day but it's a good kind of tired.  I appreciate the soreness of my feet when the ache is from a productive work day.  I know that what made the day so great is because of who I was with.  As I said before, I have amazing volunteers - and wonderful contacts in the facilities and physicians I work with.  For everyone involved we all have the same passion and that is to help those facing cancer.  (Of course our ultimate dream is finding a cure and I can honestly say I'd be elated to be unemployed if that happens....or should I say when!)

Being with positive and passionate people just builds you up and it's hard to imagine having a bad day when you're with the right group.  All day today I was greeted with smiles and encouraging feedback, and it certainly didn't hurt that my boss was with me to hear it all!  She doesn't work out of the same office as me and so I only see her about once a month.  I always enjoy my time with her though and feel lucky to have her as a supervisor.  I learn from her every time we talk and it's just great to have someone you can trust and speak freely around.  She makes me a better employee and a happier one too.

More than anything, today was just refreshing to see my efforts producing results.  The relationships I work so hard to attain, develop and grow have and are paying off.  It's so worthwhile when things just click and work out the way you'd hoped and it makes me smile.  This post may seem pretty vague and in reality there isn't even anything concrete that I can write about that happened...it was just a really great day in the field!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sister Vents

A sister is probably one of the most complicated family relationships there are.  How can you love someone so much one minute and want to wring their neck the next?  There's an unspoken language with sisters, which probably comes from sharing a room and so much of your lives together.  With just a look or a laugh, we know what the other is thinking.

I love all my sisters, and my brother, but I'm probably closest to Wendy.  Coming from a divorced, blended family, she's my only full sister.  I never lived with my youngest two siblings and with my little sister, I was a teenager by the time she arrived.  In fact, we looked so far apart in age than when I had her with me, I'd repeat, "Let's go find Mom," because I didn't want people to think she was mine!  Even today, I feel like I mother Raven because I'm so much older than her.

Wendy and I are only three years apart so we really did grow up together.    Just about every childhood memory I have involves her, good or bad.  As we became older we chose different paths in life and haven't always been as close as I would've liked; however, through the trials of life the past several years, we've seemed to reconnect.

My sister and I are often told we look alike (I don't see it) but we couldn't be more different.  I say we're like two different flowers from a family garden - opposite as night and day.  She was a tomboy as a kid, I was a bookworm.  We completely followed the big sister, little sister descriptions.  I was bossy and wanted to control everything, she was a pleaser and would fall for any prank I'd pull.  We'd play happily one minute, would pull each other's hair the next, and I'm sure the on again/off again made mom want to pull out her own hair.  Now that we're older, I'm a little bit country....she's a little bit rock-n-roll, but we share a common bond of sisterhood that can never be broken.

Some day, I'll capture a few of my favorite sister memories of us growing up.  Today's dose of joy though comes in the form of complaining, which to most may seem pretty negative.  I just love that with Wendy we both know that no matter when, where, or how, we have a safe sounding board.  Whether it is by text, over the phone, or face to face, we can use each other to vent.  The daily annoyances in life can sometimes pile up until you feel like a living pressure cooker.  It's nice to know that I can let off a little stressful steam with her.  And she knows she can do the same with me.  Sometimes, we don't even have to respond but knowing that there's someone on the other end of the complaint makes you feel better. 

Sure, sometimes I may vent about her - she wouldn't be my sister if I didn't - but most of the time I like her on my side, knowing I can gripe about whatever or whoever and she's always there to listen. 

"Having a sister is like having a best friend you can't get rid of. 
You know whatever you do, they'll still be there."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Retail Therapy

I'm a picky shopper...I have to be in the mood to go, the weather needs to be nice, and it needs to be on my time frame.  I have a list and I don't dawdle or linger and spend time window shopping over things I either don't need or can't afford.  As such, I'm hesitant in shopping with others because it isn't something I can control.  On occasion, I do enjoy shopping with family, but it's because of the quality time together not because of what we're doing.  I'm also just as happy having the time to myself.

This afternoon seemed like the perfect time for a shopping trip.  I normally wait until after Thanksgiving but it's just too stressful, especially now.  Last year I tried shopping in my pjs but the slow websites, shipping charges, and the worry of the presents not arriving on time was too much.  As part of my plan to relieve as much stress from my life as possible this time of year, today was the day.

It was nice to shop at whatever store I wanted, to stroll the lanes as slowly - or quickly as I wanted, and most importantly...to leave when I wanted!  I stayed on budget and marked off nearly all the kiddos on my list, plus managed to sneak a few finds for myself.  I even took the time to sit down and leisurely enjoy lunch and a cold glass of sweet tea.

And it didn't bother me at all to eat alone.  I guess it comes with age.  There was a time I wouldn't dare go out without someone else, especially to have a meal.  With my job requiring me to be on the road so much, I think it was just something I learned to do.  As much as I travel, you either get comfortable eating alone or live on fast food.  Sure, having lunch with family or friends is wonderful but it's nice to eat by yourself now and then.  It gives me time to think or to just sit and be still.  Life is busy and chaotic, and you can easily fill your head with a million worries.  Sometimes it's calming to just...be.

Today was simple, relaxing, and a bit therapeutic.  I think I'll schedule these little trips more often.  Next time, I just have to remember NOT to include trying on jeans.  ...That never ends well! 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's all about Meeee!

It's not often that being startled awake at 3 am brings good news, except maybe on Christmas morning after Santa arrives.  This morning, Noah bounced into our room and loudly exclaimed, "Wakey, Wakey....it's 3:04!!"  He must've set his own clock last night when he and Tim trotted off to bed early in preparation for the first day of deer season. 

Although I'd offered to wake up earlier and have breakfast ready for them, Tim said he preferred to eat a big meal when they arrived home.  So, I stayed up past midnight catching up on on my favorite shows the DVR saves for me.  As such, I wasn't prepared for the enthusiasm of my ten year old after so few hours of sleep.  He wanted me to make him a bowl of cereal, and look at his cammo, and talk to Patch who was snoozing beside me, and everything he said ended with, "on my very first day of deer hunting!"

Tim was able to coax him away, promising Mountain Dew and a treat at the convenient store.  I woke up long enough to hug him deeply as he bent down to tell me goodbye.  After a short sermon on safety to them both, they were out the door and I was back to dreamland.  I woke up several hours later when I was good and ready to start my day.

The beginning of deer season produces two full weekends of "me time" to watch movies, wear pjs all day, and cook lots of yummy food.  I don't often take the time to make a big breakfast but this time of year is the exception.  I figure the boys are going to arrive home cold and hungry and nothing warms my belly better than a fresh hot plate of biscuits and gravy.  Although much to my horror, Noah asked for his standard cereal upon coming home this morning, we sat down and enjoyed the feast together.  While it wasn't frosted sugary bits in a bowl, he did clean his plate!

As they bundled up and headed back out a few hours later, I met my friend Mr. Recliner.  This is the time when I get to relax and watch the sweet and sappy love story movies that living with boys normally doesn't allow.  I can do anything I want, or nothing at all.  So far, I've cried at a romantic tale, worked on a few projects, occasionally did a touch of housework, and enjoyed a bit of reading.  My trusty lap dog has been at my side, also enjoying the lazy pace of the day.  Who knows what I'll do in the next few minutes, much less the coming weekend.  The great thing is I have the freedom to choose for myself!  In fact, I think the kitchen is calling for me now, and so I must go off and enjoy the sizzle when an onion hits a smoky pan.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just Breathe....

I've noticed this week, and probably most of November, I've been more stressed than usual.  Little things I would normally overlook are getting the best of me.  Some days, I feel like the cartoon character who's head gets red and steamy until it pops. 

I've had a headache for well over a week, and although I haven't made it to the doctor, I'm self diagnosing it as stress.  This week, it has seemed that nothing has gone right, or at least the way I planned it.  I've juggled the yearly fun of electing my medical benefits and trying to predict the future to select my flex card amount.  My schedule has changed a billion times.  Yesterday, I drove over an hour one way for a meeting that the other party forgot about.  Noah felt puny last night and I tossed and turned all night, worrying about him.  This morning, I hoped for the best but his last minute run to the toilet decided that a sick day was necessary. 

And then today I watched the trash collectors literally toss my trash can in the MIDDLE of the street.  My driveway was less than a foot away from them yet they chose to leave it in the street.  The past few weeks, I've noticed upon coming home that my trash can was in the street or blocking my drive and wondered if the wind was blowing it out there.  Today I discovered that I've obviously somehow offended the garbage gods and they've decided to take out their frustrations on my can.  As I went outside and noticed that it was the only can in the street, I had the little cartoon-head explode-moment and realized I am seriously over stressed!

It's obvious why I am.  I know to expect added frustrations, short tempers, hurt feelings, sickness, and all that from myself and my family this time of year.  As we mark the days on the calendar, we prepare ourselves yet again to relive the traumatic night of losing our beautiful and precious boy.  Some days it truly is overwhelming.

It's when I realize that the trash guy is stealing my joy that I know it's got the best of me.  So what is there to do?  Well, I can say that mine is an extreme instance, but who doesn't have stress in their lives? 
I understand and know where my stress is coming from.  I recognize it and own it when I need to.  I cry when I need to.  I vent when I need to.  I get down on my knees and pray when I need to.  And, when I don't think I need to.

And, I search harder for joy.  I find extra special doses of happiness in the simplest things.  I do the things that comfort me, whether it be in an inspirational song or a familiar scripture.  I pause at a beautiful sky and feel the connection.  I relieve stress by dancing and get the added benefit of a workout.  I savor each sip of coffee and let it warm me inside and out.  I hold my family extra close and linger just a little bit longer with each kiss or hug.  I laugh, and when I find something that makes me laugh, I watch it again and again....and I share it with others to spread the joy.

Dancing Babies on GMA

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grandpa Wavie

There's a photo hanging on my family wall of my grandfather, Wavie.  It isn't a picture that my memory recalls when I think of him, as I didn't know him at that age.  This photo was taken when Grandpa was in the service.  While I can't imagine him young and in full uniform, there are obvious signs that it is him.

Grandpa was a strong man, inside and out.  Physically, his large chest, big hands, and stature demanded attention and respect.  He only had to give us a glance as children to immediately correct our behavior.

His strength and size might have easily scared off someone who didn't know him but we all knew a teddy bear lived inside.  Those big arms loved nothing more than picking you up, in one quick scoop, and placing you on his large lap.  You felt like you were wrapped in the arms of a giant oak tree, both strong and soft at the same time.

When I look at this photo, I first notice how handsome he is, and when combined with his personality, can certainly see what led Grandma to fall in love with him.  I then focus in on his nose and ears and immediately recognize those features.  I remember Noah as a baby, sitting on his lap, and how he would instantly reach for both.  As his pudgy little hand latched onto to one, Grandpa would chuckle with that big room shaking laugh he had.

The photos in my mind of Grandpa immediately bring a smile to my face and a tug at my heart.  From his twinkling eyes, to the sweet lullabies he'd sing to us in his scruffy voice, I'm filled with treasure memories of a man I loved and admired.  He was often quiet, unless a child was around, and then the joyful expression on his face was contagious, as he'd bounce them on his knee. 

Closing my eyes, I can picture moments with him sitting at the kitchen table, white tank top and slacks, enjoying whatever treat Grandma had just made him.  We spent a lot of time at that table, the central gathering place of their home.  It didn't always involve food, though those were among his favorite times.

I remember the smile I could bring to him, just by walking in the door, and you always felt as if you were the only person in the room when his eyes would light up for you.  Of course, having a chocolaty Frosty from Wendy's in my hand for him always led to an ever brighter smile!  I loved spoiling him in his last few years with us with a special treat each time I'd visit.  In fact, he knew he could count on me for sneaking in chocolate shakes to his hospital room the few times he stayed there.

I think I could write a book about the beloved memories I have of my Grandpa.  Sometimes it's hard to imagine that he's been gone nearly seven years.  I'm reminded of him today, this Veteran's Day, as that strong and powerful man looked back at me from the wall.  It's flooded my mind with warm thoughts and moments through the years that I was blessed to have him in my life.  While I'm proud of his service to this country, I'm even prouder of the grandfather he was to me and I'm better today because of his love. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pride & Joy

It seems there is a lot of media out there lately about bullying.  I find it heartbreaking that there are children out there bullied so heavily that it leads them to suicide.  Because they are different, they're harassed, made fun of, or sometimes even worse, ignored.  When I think of a bully my mind immediately goes to school age kids but the sad truth is that adults do it too.  This world is hard and no matter your age, there are constant messages out there that you aren't good enough...skinny enough...rich enough.

Being kind to everyone is one of the biggest life lessons Tim and I have tried to teach our boys.  We wanted to raise them to always be nice to others, both knowing how it feels to be on the receiving end of a bully.  Whenever we've had the opportunity, we've stressed how they should take up for the little guy or not join the crowd when laughing at someone.  In most cases, we've tried to teach them to not be the majority.  It's easy to make fun of someone in a group, much easier than being the only one who stands up for them.

Most of the time, you wonder if those lessons really ever sink in.  In complete joy I can say that I know without a doubt it sunk in with Austin.  I'm blessed to have a beautiful wrapped present filled with letters from students he went to school with.  Each letter was written by kids at the high school, some of which he was very close with and some he barely knew.  What amazed and touched me was that no matter how strong their relationship was, every one of them had a positive comment to make about him and how he treated them.  This gift has brought us such happiness and we treasure each word.  You can read that story on the blog I've kept in Austin's memory at "Love Letters" .

Today, I learned again that it's sticking with Noah too.  I've really never doubted it as his sweetness is obvious, and in all the right ways he takes after his big brother.  We watched Glee this afternoon, since he finished all his homework at school, and the subject was on bullying.  I intended to use the show as a springboard to discuss the topic with him but I found him talking with me.  While I don't have a box of love letters sharing stories about how Noah has helped others, I can only imagine they are out there.  And I imagine his box will be filled to capacity by the time he is grown.  Nothing would make me happier or more proud.

"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it."
- Proverbs 22:6

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Growing up

I feel I must explain immediately the joy I'm about to post, as the reality of it honestly makes me a little sad.  It is a bittersweet joy, I guess.

I've noticed lately how very quickly Noah is changing and growing up.  It seems that nearly every day I can tell differences in his facial features or size.  Sometimes I want to reach out and push pause, holding onto the little boy I love so much.  My joy though comes from the excitement and happiness he expresses on each little change.

Other than the obvious physical growth, there are cute changes that tickle me daily too.  For one, Noah's become very concerned and conscious about his hair.  The poor boy was blessed (or cursed) with a head full of wildly misbehaving curls and a double crown.  As a baby and toddler, I loved his sweet curls and remember my tearful visit for his first haircut to shorten them.  When he was old enough to talk, he would express frustration in the time it took me to wet them in hopes the crowns would obey.  Noah would sigh and say, "Those double crayons won't stay down!" 

Now that's he a pre-teen, he, of course, is not happy with the hair God gave him and would give anything for straight shaggy hair.  I can completely relate, as there are many days my curls give me a headache and I fret over the time it takes to straighten them.  Most days, I give up and into the curls in favor of more sleep!  Noah however would love nothing more for me to spend my mornings carefully straightening each of his curly locks.  And Tim has joined in on the fun by picking on him, with an oh so gentle tousle of his hair, which sends Noah running to the mirror to check out each strand. 

Yesterday, we were on our way to the dentist so I let him have a small snack, knowing it would be a couple hours after before he could eat.  Before we walked into the office he did a quick mirror check.  I hoped he was checking his teeth, as I know that is what I obsess over before seeing the dentist, but something else caught his eye.  He sat there, gently stroking his upper lip, with a sense of pride.  Upon my insistence that he hurry up he said, "Yep, this stache is coming in nicely."  I didn't know if I'd make it into the office with still dry pants!

On the way home, he's giving me the play by play of the events from the chair, happy with his results.  He spent a lot of time bragging that he didn't have any cavities, even though I never seem to think his teeth are clean enough.  And then he commented about having his man teeth already.  I didn't know quite how to respond to that but I asked....and he went on to explain that the doctor said the teeth that normally don't come in until 12 years have started to arrive early (Noah's 10).  He was certain this was proof that he truly was becoming a man!

Yep, never a dull moment around here with our growing boy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kentucky Weather

There's a saying in Kentucky that goes something like....if you don't enjoy the weather here, just hang around, it'll change.  For most, I'd say that Kentucky weather is an annoyance.  I would agree that I was not a fan of the Ice Storm of 09' and would mark it down as about the worst weather experience of my life.  It's also not great for my closet that I have to keep a sampling of clothes to fit every season all year long, because you just never know what the temperature is going to be.  I'm not thrilled when summers like the past are so hot you could fry and egg, every hour of every day...sometimes even indoors.  And, if you suffer from allergies of any kind, Kentucky weather is very unforgiving.  Just ask my sinuses.

However, what I love about the weather here is that we do get to experience each and every season.  Sure, sometimes we experience each of the four seasons within a season but at least we have variety.  I couldn't imagine celebrating Christmas in a tropical holiday, nor could I imagine the 4th of July in the snow.  While it's nice to vacation at locations such as those, I wouldn't want to live there.  I enjoy watching the seasons change here, even if they don't always come according to our schedule.

My body has had a hard time adjusting to the recent time change.  Even before we moved our clocks back and hour, my body was telling me it was bedtime way before 7 p.m.  When it's cold and dark outside, I can certainly relate to the hibernating animals who take advantage of this time of year.   In fact, it's just what we did last night.  It wasn't even 8:00, and yet Tim and I agreed without even talking that it was time to go to bed.  Noah thought we'd lost our minds but we were able to coax him with the confusion of the time change, the darkness outside, and the fact that we always try to go to bed early on Sunday night.  I just feel it's a better start to the week when you've had a solid eight hours of sleep.

 Sometimes I wonder if God didn't plan for us to slow down a bit, as we transition from fall to winter.  It's easy to get overwhelmed with the calendar and the busyness of the season.  Between the two major holidays, most people's schedules are filled with a combination of the normal chaos between work, home and school, added with a juggling of parties, shopping, cooking, and all the demands that seem to pull you in every direction.  It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle that we truly lose the 'reason for the season'.

I appreciate that the weather this time of year usually sets the mood for staying in, snuggling up, and being home with the ones you love.  It's a reminder to me to never forget what's important in life and keeping a busy social calendar and mile long to-do list are not among them.  I'm looking forward to chilly afternoons cooped up in the house, sipping hot chocolate, and playing board games. 

My mind was already settled and ready for cold weather.  This past weekend, I'd finished up the job of pulling out the winter coats, hats and gloves.  I'd stored away most of the tank tops and swim trunks.  Tim readied the boat for the season and we covered it until spring.  And then we got today.  As I turned on the news for the week's weather, I was surprised to find out it would be unusually warm.  78 degrees doesn't seem quite right for November and I found myself wondering what to wear. 

While it put my fall-like mood on hold, I was thankful for the sunshine.  We get the blessing of a break, a gift of a few days of warmth.  I'm storing up the sun's rays for those long frosty days of winter that are just around the bend.  I'll hold onto to the joyful weather this week and remember it in the coming days.  I know our family will need all the comfort and joy we can store in just a few short weeks.  As November comes to a close, it will be a sad reminder of a life lost to us, during a time of celebration for most.

In fact, the weather this week reminds me again how little control we have and that all things happen in God's timing.  The timing of this lesson couldn't be more perfect, as I prepare myself and our family for the second anniversary of Austin's angel date.  Life, much like Kentucky weather, is unpredictable.  We must hold on to each day and soak up everything it has to offer...whether is a gloomy day filled with rain or an unexpected burst of sunshine.  Each day is precious and full of purpose.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." - Ecclesiastes 3:1

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shhhh....Be verrry, verrry, quiet...

It's probably because I'm a female but I've never really understood hunting.  I find it especially hard to think about shooting and killing a deer, which is my husband's choice of game.  Perhaps it because I think they're one of God's beautiful creatures and I could never imagine looking into those dark eyes and pulling a trigger.  Or, it could be that when I see a deer, I think Bambi and immediately go to a sing-songy happy place where skunks are named Flower and all deer have a cute little rabbit for a best friend.

I'm not a fan of the price tag that comes along with deer hunting, between the gear and ammo, and the small silo of corn we purchase prior to the season.  Nor do I understand why anyone would get up well before the sun comes out, unless of course you're leaving for vacation or scoping out deals at the nearest store.  However, I do appreciate the pockets of peaceful me time the hunting season brings and the well stocked freezer once it is over.

An unexpected joy of hunting came this afternoon.  This will be Noah's first deer season and he is beyond excited.  This past spring he completed his hunter's course with flying colors and has been counting days on the calendar ever since.  For the past several weeks he and Tim have been scoping out their spots, working on the stands, and scouting the deer tracks.  Today, I went along for the ride.

I'm waiting in the truck jamming to a cd when my phone rings and shows Noah's cute little face on the screen.  In a whisper he says, "Hey Mom...it's my first time in a deer stand.  (insert pause) ....Soooo cool!"  I giggle and look towards the wood line for his bright yellow shirt.  He waves, says he loves me, and hangs up. 

A few minutes later, he's at the truck, beaming with a huge smile.  As he gets into the driver's seat and begins to back up like a seasoned pro to the next stand, he tells me all about their plans.  Plus, he adds, a woodpecker has been chipping away (a real woodpecker, Mom!) at one of their steps so they'll need to replace it this week.  He chatters away during the whole vehicle maneuver.

Moments later he's frolicking in the field back to his dad for the next step, which included a walk to the pond.  I can't believe how tall he has grown as he bounces down the hill with Tim.  I watch the two of them interacting and my heart is warmed, feeling their bond.  When Noah makes it back to the truck on the final trip, he exclaims, "That's the most awesome thing I've ever seen!  There were HUNDREDS of deer tracks!"  The whole concept is really above my head but I'm filled with joy in his excitement. 

This will be a year he always remembers, whether he sees or even shoots a deer.  I think his biggest happiness comes from spending time with his dad.  Hopefully it will become an annual tradition for them and I hope that Noah's joy carries through and fills Tim too.  I know this year will be hard on him, as hunting was an activity that will always hold memories of Austin.  In fact, last year was so difficult he never went out at all.  I know that it is Noah's persistence and enthusiasm that has sparked the interest again.  I pray that they will have a safe and memorable season they'll both treasure for a lifetime.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heavenly Skies

I don't think I had the appreciation for beautiful skies until after our wreck five years ago when I grew to love and notice them more.  I'm sure prior to that life changing event, I looked at pretty sunrises and sunsets, on occasion, but I didn't have the connection to them as I do now. 

I remember my first peek of sunshine in the hospital, after being moved to a regular room.  For well over a week, I'd been in darkness, surrounded by the lonely walls of ICU.  In addition, the scars and injuries to my face, prevented me from seeing well in those early days.  That first morning, feeling the sun's rays on my arm seemed to instantly boost my spirits.  Unfortunately, the view out of my hospital window wasn't great but I could see the evidence of the sun each day and it was enough at that time.

Several weeks later, we were finally home and thankful to be there.  Because I was still limited to a hospital bed, I'd been moved into the living room.  It wasn't the ideal location but it was our only choice, as our bedroom didn't have the space.  And although I felt a little exposed being in the center of our living room, it did allow me to stay close to family and friends when they visited. 

The sun woke me on my first morning back home, as the thin curtain over the patio doors couldn't contain the morning's light.  My family quickly worked to install blinds, hoping to provide comfort for me, but I began asking for them to remain open at night.  From my spot, I had a front row seat to the sunrise each day.  I still remember the first glorious one I witnessed from that hospital bed.  It was as if Heaven was sending me a special hello, as bursts of beautiful colors and light stretched across the sky and onto my bed.  I broke down in tears, so grateful for another day with my family.  That sunrise expressed everything I felt in being alive. 

Those amazing displays of God's beauty became my morning wake-up call.  Each morning and each sunrise was a blessed symbol of the gift of another day. They filled me with hope and led me to what began my daily morning devotions.  It just seemed natural to pray after seeing such magnificence.  I prayed with gratitude for the extra time I'd been given.  I prayed for the physical strength I knew would be required to get through the rest of the day.

From my bed, I had the luxury of not only seeing each day's exquisite sunrise, but also each evening's gorgeous sunset.  Much as it had began, I ended every day in prayer and gratitude.  As the warm colors hugged my soul in hues of orange, pink and yellow, I began to mentally list the special moments and milestones of the day.  The sunrise became a sign of promise and hope, and the sunset was a reminder of accomplishments and progress.


When I was physically able to move back to my bedroom, I promised myself not to lose my appreciation for the two most beautiful moments of each day. In sharing the beauty with Tim, he grew to love and notice them too. When I was able to wake early enough to catch a sunrise, I paused with thankfulness. Most evenings, on the drive home, I was able to witness the setting sun. Sometimes I pulled off the road so that I could soak up each of the last rays before sundown. And if either of us caught a view that was extraordinary, we'd call the other one and share in that moment.

Sadly, I was faced with breaking my promise when we lost Austin, nearly two years ago.  When our sweet boy made the journey to his heavenly home, it was at the tree line just beyond our backyard.  For months, I didn't think I could ever watch a sunrise again.  The sunny spot in my living room I once loved was now flooded with painful memories, as my eyes would catch the area where our lives forever changed.  At some point though I found the beauty again, as each beautiful sky, whether a rising sun or sunset, was visible proof of a little piece of Heaven.  Standing beneath such celestial skies, I'm reminded of the divine and majestic views Austin must see every moment.  I now feel that those glimpses of glory are God's way of showing us a sampling of what awaits us all. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken legs at the farm house

Close your eyes.  What is the first food memory you can recall?

I heard this today on the radio, and although I didn't close my eyes because I was driving, I could see a vivid memory in my mind.  How special it is that the first bite of food, chorus of a song, or the scent of something, can bring back memories from your childhood as clearly as the day it happened.

For me, thinking about my earliest food memory, I'm taken back to a farm house that we lived in when I was barely 2 years old.  To my knowledge, there are no photos of this time; and in talking with my mom, she is amazed that I can remember at that young of an age.  It wasn't the house I grew up in, as we only lived there a short while.

As if watching an old movie, I can see the old house from my view of sitting in the highchair.  Mom is in the kitchen cooking and I'm by the table, chewing on a chicken leg.  Immediately my mouth waters, remembering that savory flavor.  From stories, I recall being told that I loved chicken legs so much I'd gnaw on it until it was smooth and bare.  And, much like a dog with a bone, I'd refuse to let go!

It must've been summer, as the windows in the screened-in porch were open and I could hear the sounds of the tractors on the farm.  I remember playing on that porch and watching the giant machines sprawl across the fields.  It's random, but recalling those memories brings about the smell of cocoa butter too.  My face had recently been burned and Mom was constantly covering it with a big stick of the lotiony substance, praying that it wouldn't scar.  To this day, if I smell cocoa butter, I'm taken back to that farm house.

I also have memories of eating in the living room and having tv dinners there with Mom and Dad.  I can recall the couch and the layout of the room, but funny enough have no idea what we were watching.  I remember the silver tin pan and the little cubby holes which held the food.  The memory is probably mixed with future ones but I can still taste the buttery flavor of the tiny peas and cubes of carrots.  Thinking about those packaged foods of childhood, I'm reminded too of one of my favorites, chicken ala king.  It came in a plastic pouch that I guess you dropped into boiling water to heat.  Mom served ours poured over toast.  I don't think they even sell that anymore but I loved the creaminess and comfort of that meal.

Thinking about childhood food favorites, my mind swirls with other memories... of Mom's huge fluffy biscuits, warm from the oven...of my great grandmother's sugar cookies and the sugary crunch mixed with the chewy goodness in that first bite...of Grandma Coons' sweet and different homemade spaghetti sauce...and of a steamy bowl of Grandpa stew that we pulled off huge chunks of soft fluffy bread to dip into....

There are a special set of early food memories with each family member I hold dear to me.  Food has a way of connecting us in the moment and in creating memories for us to recall years later.  It's probably why I get so much enjoyment in cooking for and sharing meals with the ones I love.  Writing this post has certainly made me hungry, and maybe it has stirred up some yummy memories for you too!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Comfy Routines

Ever had one of those days?  ...when the day just zaps you out? 
Today was one of those for me, as by the time the afternoon arrived, I was already tired and ready for bed.

Nothing bad happened at work and it wasn't unusually stressful, just busy, and there didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything on my "to do" list done.  Now, that's rarely ever the case where I work, and I'm used to leaving as big of a To Do list as when I arrived, but today just seemed to drain me.  The rainy weather and gloominess of the day probably just added to my sluggy mood.  This time of year, with the chilly dark mornings and quickly fading light in the evenings, it's easy to want to just curl up and withdraw from the world.

On the drive home I was mentally and physically spent and it is on days like this I'm grateful for the commute I have.  I've always tried to decompress before coming home so that I don't bring in the stress or chaos of the day to my family.  Good ole' KLOVE helped perk me up and set my mood, reminding me that this "life" is so much more than the day to day.  It always amazes me how God uses that station to send just the right messages to us when we need to hear them most.

One of the first things I do when I arrive home, after the hugs and kisses, is change into pjs.  It's somewhat of a mental thing, casting off the clothes of the day and leaving any worries and thoughts in the hamper.  It also helps that I love, love, love me some pajamas.  If you've ever read one of my blogs, it doesn't take you long to realize the mini obsession I have with jammies!  Now that the evenings are so much cooler, I find the pajamas are even more comforting.  In addition, having my little guy start a fire to warm up the living room, just seems to set the mood for a peaceful night at home.

It may seem like such simple routines, listening to uplifting music, wearing pjs, and sitting by the fire...but all of those add up to a pretty awesome night for me.  Simple, sweet joys.  Thankful moments.  One good night.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Voted!

It has always seemed such a privilege to me to vote and I have done so every election since I turned 18.  I'm not sure where the drive and desire to vote came from but it's something I've felt was my responsibility and right. 

I remember debating with Tim on who I was voting for in my first presidential election.  While I won't share who I voted for, and looking back I probably wouldn't vote that way now, I was very proud that I stood my ground and decided for myself.  I've always voted for the person, not the party.  And I've always voted with my head and my heart and with thoughtful prayer.

Having the freedom to vote is a huge honor, especially as a woman.  I read again this week the history of a woman's right to vote.  It is unreal what happened to those first ladies who stood up for themselves  - and for generations to come.  I'm grateful for their sacrifice and suffering so that now everyone has the ability to vote. And I cannot imagine anyone not taking the less than five minutes required to share their voice and exercise this right.

I've also always taken my children with me when I vote.  I believe that we teach by example, and in doing so, I hope that Noah will always remember our trips to city hall.  He was very interactive today, looking at the ballot as we walked in, asking questions along the way, and proud to be there with mom. 

As the lady handed us both our patriotic "I Voted" stickers upon leaving today, she commented to Noah about how he'll know to do so when he gets older.  He smiled and stated, "8 more years and I'm ready!"  My wish is that he'll always have that enthusiasm and pride on election day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Goooo Beavers!

It's time for basketball, and although I could care less who is playing on tv, I'm so ready for the season!  I only care because of my favorite little player...#40, also known as Noah Blair.  And maybe I misspoke, as he isn't so "little" on the floor.  Actually, he's about the biggest on his team, which is why it is only natural he's great at defense.

I remember last year Tim and I were sitting near the opposing team and overheard them in a huddle.  Their coach commented about needing to break away and get open and the kid said, "I can't get open anywhere cuz of that dang #40.  He's everywhere!"  We just smiled and gave each other a mental high five.  Noah's not mean or a bully on the floor but he's aggressive. 

His size can sometimes be intimidating for some of the smaller framed kids his age.  At one game, for some odd reason, they had a tiny kid playing against him.  The kid got the ball, turned to dribble down the court and met Noah, chest on.  He looked up, visibly gulped, and froze.  Other kids have tried to use the plow defense to get past him, only to find their feet in the air a moment later.  It wasn't long into the season that we fondly nicknamed him Brickwall Blair.

He had a great season last year, his first of school ball.  Now, we're another year older and a few inches taller.  Noah's faster and more skilled with the ball and I can't wait to watch him play.  Tonight's practice was just a little teaser and I think we're in for a wonderful season.  I'll be the one in the stands, rooting for the Beavers, and of course, my fave... #40.
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