Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: Year in Review

One of the joys of writing, for me, is the history it creates and the ability to return and relive moments.  As another year comes to a close, filled with it's share of mountains and valleys, plenty of joy and peaceful plateaus, I feel blessed.  I'm grateful for the lessons learned, the laughter shared, and the friendships formed.  2011 held surprises, opportunities and unexpected change.  Today, I'm revisiting some of those memories...

January -  My birthday gift was a dusting of frosty snow, but not enough to keep us from going out with my guys.  Impromptu trip to Lexington for work, but made the most of "me time" while there.  Noah shares my birth month and his party was fun from planning to finish.  We had a "Minute to Win It" theme, complete with countdown clock and prizes.  I'm not sure if the kids or adults enjoyed it more.  And the month was capped off by a thrilling surprise of winning a beautiful secretary, thanks to the help of my wonderful and supportive on Facebook.  Here's one of my personal favorite posts from that month:  Searching for Happiness

February - Snow, snow and more snow!  A mystery date, with tickets to a free concert, sent from a secret friend who never revealed themselves.  Valentine's Night spent in a work van.  Noah moments and puppy love.  Spring cleaning and new washer/dryer.

March - Noah's "big boy" bed - a queen, which he has nearly already outgrown!  AAU basketball.  Daffodils.  Last day of winter (aka Spring)!  New window screens.  Becoming a nun....if only for a play.
March Madness.

April - Spring Break.  Alfresco dining.  My little man's first job. Egg Salad & Sunshine.

May - Austin's Legacy.  Our first scholarship was given this month to a student who couldn't have been more deserving.  This month was filled with moments and memories of our boy, concluding with our annual fundraiser for his foundation.  Austin was shining down on us all month long.

June - sweet summertime...Drive-In movies, homeade ice cream, VBS.  Young love, group dates, first kisses.  Lake trips, boating, books on the beach and our anniversary trip.

July - Our first "tech free" trip.  Summer vacation.  More lake time, boating and fishing.  And this blog's Happy 1st birthday!

August - Casting calls.  Zumba.  Austin's memorial tree and it's amazing surprise.  A new addition to our family. 

September - 6th grade.  9/11 and my special Hero.  Festivals.  New Keds.  Fall is here!!!

October - Tweenagers.  Family Reunions.  Staycations.  The life of a leaf

November - a month of thankfulness and a Life of Thanksgiving.

December - 12 ______'s of Christmas!  PJ Day.  Christmas Classics.  A season of advent.

Of course every month of the year was also made special because of readers like you.  Thank you for not just visiting but supporting, encouraging, and inspiring me daily.  I wish for each of you a new year filled with blessings and JOY beyond your expectations!

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

Last night, after the wee morning wake-up, day long feast, crafts, and celebratory chaos, we settled into our living room by the fire to relax.  Though it was only 6 pm, I could've easily went on to bed.  In fact, I'm quite sure Tim caught a few z's on the love seat in between our conversations.  The kiddos were happily sorting through their holiday stash, giggling and content with the day's events. 

After a few shows on HGTV, I scrolled through our list of recorded movies.  Several of the classics appeared but I was a little dismayed to find that all of them were over two hours long.  I wasn't sure my tired old body could hang on that long.  Something kept taking my remote to "It's a Wonderful Life" though, and although the info showed it to be three hours, I clicked play. 

Tim, snoozing, awoke to black and white on the screen.  Curious, he sat up a bit and began to watch with me.  Before long, both kids were on the floor, intrigued by the old look of the film.  Half an hour in and we were all hooked, engaged in the story of struggling man who's life never seemed to go the way he envisioned.

George reminded me very much of my husband, Tim.  A simple man who earnestly wanted to help people - just because.  But a man who dreamed of more for his family.  A man who struggled, questioned, sought for answers.  In fact, I think most anyone could relate to George's life.  Especially the moments in time that bring you to your knees, those moments that make you wonder why you're here.  What you're worth.

"Each man's life touches so many other lives."

The movie was a beautiful journey, full of laughter and tears, much like life.  And such a wonderful message, at a time of year we all are reminded of the precious gift that life is.   God showed us that with the birth of his son, the story so many of us reflected on yesterday and throughout this season.  But he also shows this with each of us.  No matter how meager our beginning, how difficult the path, we all have a purpose. Whether we're here for a brief visit, or are gifted with a long life on this earth, God's plan hopes for a Happily Ever After for all of us.

"Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! How could it be anything else?"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm a Big Blog Now!

This happy little blog has taken off beyond my expectations.  Never did I think we'd see visitors from across the state - let alone the world.  This past summer, on my 1 year blog-versary, I was surprised with a gift of over 5,000 hits.  I'm continually amazed and touched that the healing I get from writing is also helping and inspiring others. 

I love my readers and enjoy hearing from them, meeting new friends, and connecting with old ones.  This blog has moved from more than a hobby or personal challenge, it is part of me now and how I view life.  Choosing JOY makes for a happier, healthier me and I'm so glad you are a part of the journey!

Last night, I decided to give this blog a face lift.  I took the plunge and dropped the "blogspot" on the web address, making it easier to type and find.  My baby has graduated - is born!  As I grow, so will this blog, with hopes of changing for the better every day. 

If you're a regular, THANK YOU - you have been my motivation and inspiration.  On days I didn't feel like I could find joy, I searched for you and shared my soul.  If you're new, WELCOME!  Snuggle in and browse around.  Visit the archive for past stories.  Share your thoughts with me.  And most of all, celebrate the JOY that is in every day!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas of Classics

Jealous of Noah's PJ day, I decided to create my own yesterday.  As it was my last day of vacation "freedom" before the kiddos were home for the year, I made it all about me.  Utter laziness was the agenda and I did it well!  I made myself feel better about doing absolutely nothing by reminding myself how busy the next few days would be.  Really though, who needs an excuse to kick back, cuddle up and watch movies?

I've recently found a love for old movies.  Classics.  "Meet me in St. Louis," as I've shared before, is a new old favorite of mine.  Someone told me that "Christmas in Connecticut" was also good and I was happy to stumble across it the other day (it was!).  Tim questioned why I was watching a black and white movie, yet he'll slide in front of the tv anytime he comes across "Gomer Pyle" or "Car 54" episodes. 

"Gone with the Wind" was my movie of choice yesterday, having never seen it before.  Though not a black & white, it's certainly a classic.  This movie was shot in technocolor, a rarity of that time, and it was certainly beautiful.  After spending a good chunk of the day watching it, I've decided to make a new mission.  Remote in hand, I began to search other classics to record.  I figure these next two weeks, as I'm hibernating into the new year, it'll give me a great head start to marking several off the list.

Truly, I'm a little embarrassed there are so many I haven't yet seen.  As Christmas is right around the corner, I lucked out on finding a few holiday classics I've never made the time to watch, such as, "White Christmas," "Holiday Inn" and "It's a Wonderful Life."  I'm eager to check them out, soon as they pop up on my DVR.  I also found "Casablanca" and am now scouring lists of the best classics, top 100 movies, and greatest films of all times.  It seems everyone is an expert and many of the lists differ.  For now, I'm going with my gut and ones I've actually heard of but never seen. 

Help a girl out.....what movies should make my list?  What's some of your favorite classics?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PJs and ABCs

Two of my favorite days of school were the last day before Christmas break and pajama day.  The last day of school before break was always filled with everything a child loves about Christmas - movies, gifts, parties, cookies, candy and more, all wrapped together with a happy little bow.  Pajama day meant one thing....more sleep!  Plus, even back then I had a semi-obsession with the comfy clothing.

Noah got an extra special treat as both of these days are combined for him today!  He went to bed excited and already dressed for school.  Instructing me to wake him up at 6:35, instead of the typical 6:00, he drifted off to dreamland with visions of all the fun he'd have the next day. 

With the extra time, normally spent prodding him to get ready, I decided to make a Last Day of School 2012 breakfast feast.  By the time he lazily joined us, he was treated to eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy.  We ate among the nervous excitement, giggles and glee of two kiddos, already planning their extended break.

As predicted, moments before we left the house, Noah paused.  I could see the wheels turning as he said, "Maybe I should just change into jeans."  He paced, visited his closet, paced some more.  All the while I'm gingerly encouraging him, reminding that this could very well be his last PJ day ever, as he's a 6th grader now.  After several minutes, he opted to stay clothed in the soft superman sleepwear.

He's always been that way, even back in preschool when most kids wouldn't give a second thought to wearing PJs to school.  One year, he even made me pull in and park to the side, second guessing his memory and worried he'd be the only one to show up under-dressed.  As kid after kid bolted out, donning slippers, robes and matching pj sets, he eased out of the truck, content with facing the day. 

On the way to school this morning, keeping with tradition of driving him to school so he would have an easier time of carrying in gifts and goodies, I was a little misty-eyed.  My little boy, who's not been "so little" for awhile, is growing before my eyes.  Today is his last elementary Christmas party.  Our final $5 gift swap.  Possibly the last time he'll get to stay cozy in PJ's at school.  Wanting to capture the moment, I grabbed my Iphone and clicked to the camera.  With a quick flip of his hood, as if he's used to paparazzi, he hid from my shot.  Oh well, I still know who's under there!

Happy last day of 2012, sweet boy!  May it be filled with the sugary goodness and excitement only Christmas can bring!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Mistakes of Christmas

Settling in with a cup of coffee, intent on reviewing my "12 days," I noticed a very big and obvious mistake.  Could it be?  I counted once, twice, oh goodness me!  Ooops!  I messed up.  How embarrassing to have only 11 posts on a 12 day countdown!  I'm not sure where I went wrong but in an effort to make this wrong a right, I'm adding the 12th, unexpected, mishap of a post.  Don't chuckle too loudly at me!

After a quick google search, I learned that many mistakes can be made at Christmas and I'm not the only one who is far from perfect.  The first six are mistakes to avoid and the last are movie mistakes.....See if you catch them the next time you watch one.  Enjoy!

Present Predicament
Gift tags fall off, even with the best taping jobs. 
To keep my sanity, and prevent mishaps like
the "guitar fiasco" I now leave little codes. 
In a Sharpie, I write on the bottom of the
gift the name or a * if it's not something they can
open without my attention.  I also use the
same wrapping paper for one person so
 it's easy to find and sort when
presents and ribbons are flying through the air.

Happy Birthday Jesus!
It's easy to get caught up in the
hype of the holiday and forget about the
true reason for the season. 
Be sure to set aside time to reflect
on the meaning of the day, start a tradition
 that's focused on Him, like reading the story
 of the birth of Jesus, or even giving to a
 family in need in lieu of extra gifts for yours.

Don't forget the batteries!
Nothing is worse than a disappointed kid
who can't use whatever toy they've just opened
because of forgotten batteries. 
I've wrapped mine before on top
as a "bow" to be sure they're included.

The gift that keeps on giving?
Just say thank you and find a use for it,
even if it's not what you wished for. 
Of course, it would be okay to donate
to someone in need or to use at
next year's Dirty Santa exchange!

Check it Twice
Ok, so I should take my own advice (on counting at least!). 
But a shopping list is never more important
than this time of year.  It's easy to forget who've
you've bought for - or better yet, how much you've spent. 
 I keep a spreadsheet (password protected!) so that it
tallies what I want to budget and deducts what I have left. 

Better Watch Out!
Last minute shopping is hectic (and costly)! 
Even waiting until Thanksgiving weekend,
only leaves you a few short weeks to finish your list. 
I always say I'll start early and never do
but at least I'm not a Christmas Eve shopper. 
I do catch the clearance toys in January,
which become my present bin for the year. 
 Last minute party invite? 
School request? 
My cabinet can meet the need!

- - - - - -
Home Alone
The morning the McCallister's are rushing to get to the airport, the kid from across the street is bothering one of the van drivers. In the scene where the van driver says, 'Gee, kid I dunno, hit the road,' you can clearly see the kid mouthing the words as the man speaks.

A Christmas Story
When Raphie's mother is working on the turkey on Christmas morning, there is a jar of pickles on the table next to the turkey. In the next scene the mother is coming up from the basement carrying a jar of pickles and places them on the table in the same place.

The Santa Clause
Near the beginning, Scott and Charlie are flying in the sleigh down a road next to a truck. During the entire scene, the truck driver is constantly jerking the wheel to the right and left yet the truck remains in a perfectly straight course.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
At one point when Clark is flying down the hill through snow drifts on his saucer sled after greasing it up you can see the guide wire pulling the sled.

Christmas with the Kranks
The tanning booth attendant changes clothes while looking for a band aid.

Surviving Christmas
When James Gandolfini hits Ben Affleck over the head with the shovel, for burning something in his front yard, he falls, but his head never hits the ground. You can actually see Ben Affleck holding his head up a few inches off the ground. An impossible feat for someone who is supposed to be unconscious.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Memories of Christmas

Christmas, such a beautiful mix of tradition, memories, promise and hope.  While children eagerly count down the days with bubbly anticipation, adults hold the reigns of time with a nostalgic grip.  I find myself a combination of both, treasuring each moment that leads up to the special day.

There's no way I could rank the memories of Christmases past or list my most favorite.  Today is just a random collection of the moments which often come to mind when I stroll down the snow white path of the holiday's memory lane.

Lifesaver Books - Santa never failed to bring a
rainbow read filled with sugary circles.

My mom talked of how special a treat it was when she was a child,
waking up to fruit-filled stockings. 
Santa continued the tradition with us,
though the fruit spilled out into boxes under our tree. 

White Christmases seemed to always greet us as we were growing up. 
My holiday breaks were filled with days spent outside
sleighing through the newly fallen fluff. 
Memories of padding ourselves with so many
clothes we could barely walk and staying out
until our noses and toes were frosty and red...
building snowmen and igloos...snowball fights...
and eating bowl fulls of snowcream.

Piling on the couch with stacks of
coloring books and crayons with Mom for hours. 
Saving the broken crayons to toss into
 the fireplace magically changing the color of the flames.

Flavors of the Season that only came once a year. 
Chex Mix...Fudge....Egg Nog...Nuts...

We did this so often as kids. 
Random houses of our parent's friends, especially during the holidays. 
You never needed to call ahead and make plans, just show up. 
There was no agenda, the television was rarely on,
and you just sat and talked. 
Miss those days!

From the boys' baby books:

Austin -
95' - What a wonderful Christmas!  You were old enough to understand this year.  Every morning you would turn the tree on and you ate almost every candy cane on it!  We took you to see lights several times and you loved it.  You also like Santa - from a distance.  You wouldn't sit with him.  You really enjoyed opening presents too.  You would tear a piece, throw it away and come back.  (my little helper!) 

99' - Your first request to Santa came on Christmas Eve.  We got a dusting of snow and somewhat of a white Christmas.  When you came downstairs Christmas morning, you said, "Wow!  I must've been really good!"  Santa left you a note thanking you for the cookies and you thought that was cool.  After the blessing at lunch,
you told us the best present you have is "Dad, Mom & Hannah"
 (I was pregnant w/Noah, who we still thought was a girl at that time!)

01' - You really questioned Santa this year.  I wondered, as we left out cookies and sprinkled reindeer dust outside if it would be your last year. 
You woke up ready to go! 
You bought both dad and me presents this year with your own money.

Noah's -
00 - Your 1st Christmas1  We woke you around 5:30.  In a short while you were ready to play with what Santa left you.  In fact, you got mad when we tried to get you to open your gifts!  You love the bows, they go straight to your head.  You are so cute to watch!

06 -   You were so inquisitive this year - and funny!  At our church celebration, your class was singing, "Mary riding on a donkey on her way to Bethlehem" but you were singing, "on her way to bake a ham!"  Then, at Nanny's you played Santa, asking everyone what they wanted.  Becky said, "peace on earth" and you replied, "Well, I'll have to tear it up if you want a piece of it!"
You said a girl in your class didn't believe in Santa.  "she said it's just your mom and dad that do it but I told her Wal-Mart isn't open that late at night!"

07 - Last entry is the hardest. I've put it off because it means you aren't a baby anymore!  This was a good Christmas.  You started counting the days in November!  You were sweet this year, saying all you wanted was for your family to be together.  I can't believe it's been nearly eight years since you came into our lives.  Your smile and sparkling eyes have brightened our world!

Precious Memories!

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Phrases of Christmas

Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and good will,
to be plenteous in mercy,
is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”
[a] (which means “God with us”). -Matthew 1:23

Like snowflakes,
my Christmas memories gather and dance -
each beautiful, unique and too soon gone.

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name. -Luke 1:46-49

Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace."
- Isaiah 9:6

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

And the angel said to them,
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you
good news of a great
joy that will be for all the people." -Luke 2:10

Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.

But Mary treasured up all these things,
pondering them in her heart. -Luke 2:19

Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us,
that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.
It may weave a spell of nostalgia.
Christmas may be a day of feasting,
or of prayer, but always it will
be a day of remembrance - -
a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, (14) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
- Luke 2:13-14

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Toys of Christmas

Elmo, Kinect, and Ipads may be all this rage this Christmas, but I'll take memories from my toy box any day. I may be biased, but personally think my generation had the absolute best toys.  I mean when you give the world leg warmers, hair crimpers, and the best music of the century, how could you not?!

What's interesting is that many of these have been re-introduced the past couple of years.  Perhaps it's because marketing knows 80's kids are now parents and we'll flock to them but mostly because "Dude - they totally Rock!"

Here's my Top 12 favorite toys from my childhood:

Weebles Wobble but they don't fall down!

View Master
remember these? 

Cabbage Patch Kids
Probably the first mob madness toy I remember!
My Grandma was lucky enough to get us
some before the shelves were cleared.
I felt so grown up, having my very own "birth certificate"

The Queen of all dolls. 
She's been through so many generations. 
I was Barbi crazy for awhile, having every house,
car, kit, and clothing available. 
*Never cut their hair, it doesn't work out quite the way you envisioned!

your very own robot!
...He's back in the stores by the way.

Shrinky Dinks
Loved these things!
Trace...color...cut out....Shrink!

Strawberry Shortcake
what's better than a scratch n sniff doll?
Blueberry Muffin was my favorite!

Rubix Cube
six faces, nine colors, endless possibilities
don't know if I ever solved it!

Lite Brite
oh, the hours I spent with you!

Space Invaders...Frogger...Pac Man
No gaming system has ever topped these games!

Can you remove the funny bone?

Fashion Plates
This toy so inspired me to become the next big fashion designer. 
 would've been bigger than Guess, GAP, and AE combined!

Did your favorite toy make the list? 
What was on your list for Santa as a kid?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 gifts of Christmas

I say the best gifts aren't what's wrapped under the Christmas tree but instead who's gathered around it.  However presents are a big part of the season and there's many aspects of gift giving I enjoy.  For me, the old saying, "it's better to give than receive" holds true.  I love the anxious excitment of children on Christmas morning...the expression of a gift that touches someone's heart...the thrill when they've been surprised with something they've always wanted.  And on the opposite, there's nothing quite like receving a treasured gift.  Each time you see or use it, you are reminded of the person who gave it to you, of their love, or the way it made you feel.

As such, I thought it fitting to post half of gifts I've received and the other of ones I've given....

"Accepting another person's gift is allowing them to express their feelings for you."

Tiny Finger, Tiny Keys
I don't remember receiving this gift but I know the story.
It was one of my first holidays and my parents had waited until Christmas Eve to get my gift, probably more out of necessity than procrastintion.  They found themselves in a snow storm and unable to get a ride to the store.  Though I wouldn't have realized it at that age, they were determined to give me a special surprise Christmas morning.  With no other choice, they trodded out in the snow, walking several miles through the snow and carried back a tiny wooden piano.  Thirty some odd years later, I still have it, even sharing it with my sisters and my boys when they were little.

Scavenger Hunt
Following the love of music all through my life, it was natural for me to join the band beginning at 7th grade.  My instrument of choice was the clarinet.  Instead of a traditional wrapped present, one Christmas at Grandma's, I found a poem.  Three or four lines left a clue of the next location and the hunt was on.  Upstairs, downstairs, to the back of the house and out on the porch, finally ending up back under the tree where three prints were found, artwork of music sheets and a clarinet, from my Aunt Becky.

Sentimental Stones
Tim and I typically don't buy for each other at Christmas, as we'd rather spend that money on someone else.  Some years we have purchased items for the house or other necessities.  One year, he surprised me with one of my most treasured gifts ever.  A ring with colorful settings, each stone representing a member of our family.  The meaning alone is I why love it but knowing that he had to plan ahead and place the order weeks in advance was touching as well.

Timeless Treasure
One of the selling points when moving into our home was the fireplace.  Having my first mantle, I commented for many years about wanting a clock to place there.  I was torn because I'd also wanted a grandfather clock, much like the one my Grandma still has today.  The boys surprised me one Christmas with a "grandaughter clock" - a mini version of the one I knew and loved, complete with the familiar chiming tones.  I'm reminded of their sweet faces with each hour's melody as they watched me open it all those years ago.

Christmas China
I use my wedding china only a couple times a year, but without fail, I always bring them out for our Christmas Eve dinner.  Gingerly taking down the delicate setting, piece by piece, and washing them by hand, I think fondly of my Grandma.  She began collecting this set before I was born, in anticipation of her first grandchild.  Though it was my wedding gift from her, Christmastime is when I'm reminded of them most. 

"You always get back much more than you give."

Snapshots in Time
Mom started a photo album when I was born for me.  I continued the tradition for my boys, in addition to scrapbooks for many years, with the plans of passing them on once grown.  A few years ago, I learned that Mom had very few photos of her childhood.  This set me on a mission to create a childhood scrapbook for her, calling family and making copies of their prints.  Her expression upon unwrapping and opening the book spoke a thousand words.
Big Gift for a Little
When Noah was three or four, he asked Santa repeatedly for one gift - a car of his own that he could drive.  Remembering how much fun Austin had with his, we found a jeep that seemed sturdy enough for Noah's tomboy tendencies.  It was so large, it seemed to take up half the space by the tree, spilling over into our doorway.  I don't know how Noah missed it, even though still sleepy eyed from the early hour.  His tiny hands went straight for the stockings, squealing in excitement.  After a point, the jeep caught his eye and he nearly fell over in delight.  Jumping up and down and shouting, "He did it!  Santa did it!" before hopping into in.  Nothing else under the tree got much of his attention once in the driver's seat!
Cart before the Horse
Austin always shared my love for music and the desire to play an instrument.  While in grade school, he began taking lessons after school for the guitar and soon after expressed wanting one of his own.  Though he was learning acoustic, we found an electric guitar we knew he'd love, along with a DVD lesson kit and music book.  I wrapped them separately, forgetting about the DVDs.  Christmas Eve, our annual tradition of opening one gift, led him to selecting that very package.  To my horror, he looked puzzled at the half opened gift, followed by the excitement in realizing what it meant.  "I'm getting a guitar!?" he shouted.  To which I quickly (and badly) stretched the truth, explaining that we thought the dvds could help him practice at home until we were able to buy one.  ...Good thing I only had to continue the lie a few hours! 
He was tickled beyond words when he opened the prized present Christmas morning. 
Treasured Collections
It was a given that Tim would begin to collect firetrucks and other firefighter items, even if he'd not planned to.  More than once a year, he'll get a fire trinket from someone.  Because of this, I rarely got him anything fire related.  A few Christmases ago though, I planned for a special painting to be done.  Though many of us in the family have artistic talent, one in particular did special paintings on saw blades.  Sending a picture of his station, I asked for a recreation.  Tim's not an openly emotional guy but I could tell he was touched by the trace of tears in his eyes when he unwrapped the gift. 

Tea Time
One winter, Grandma and I began drinking hot tea.  She had been given a sample case for Christmas and called me a few times a week to come share a cup with her.  Sipping selections from across the seas, we'd share stories and laughter, making precious memories.  I found a print containing a poem about our tea time and gave it to her one Christmas.  To my surprise, she "redecorated" moving artwork above her table that had hung for decades, replacing it with the new piece.  It told me she enjoyed our time together as much as I
did and I hope she's reminded of it each time sits at her table.

There are two gifts though you can't wrap or find on any shelf.  Both had to be included in my Top 12....

Gift of Time
Quality time with those you love are among the best gifts you can give - and my favorite to recieve.  A few years ago, I began to give "experiences" instead of a present.  Each varies based on the person and what would speak the most to them.  While you may spend money on the activity, giving your time costs nothing but is worth everything.

God's Gift
The ultimate present cannot not found in any store,
and the precious gift of Jesus is what Christmas is all about. 
Christmas celebrates the arrival of this gift but it's always available  - every day of the year. 
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

This is the gift I wish for each of you, this Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Activities of Christmas

Someone shared a story with me recently about their son.  Their family was doing the "Elf on the Shelf" which seems to be all the rage.  (Even though our kiddos are older, it does sound fun -just for the creative poses I could think up!)  Anyway, their elf had taken the baby Jesus from their nativity.  Their son was not at all happy about it, and with a huff, snatched the baby back exclaiming, "Baby Jesus belongs in the activity scene!"

While worth a chuckle, it also led me to this post.  Active, Busy, Filled are all words I would describe this time of year.  While our focus can easily be distracted on the wrong things this season, some of those activities are what makes Christmas fun.  I say if you have a healthy balance and your activities are Christ-centered and family-filled, they are worthwhile. 

Here's 12 activities we enjoy with our family during Christmas....

Viewing the Lights
aside from our Christmas Eve pj/cocoa tradition,
we love taking in the lights at every opportunity this time of year. 
At least once, we'll walk the park in Owensboro,
which is lit up like a wonderland. 
Closer and colder into the season,
we'll drive up to Evansville for one of their
drive-thru light displays.  As my hubby has a little
Clark Griswold in him, I have an appreciation for all
the work that goes into them!

It doesn't feel like Christmas until you've stood in line for an hour to watch a procession spaced five minutes apart between each float, most containing your neighbors and people you go to church with waving back as if they were famously strolling down the Macy's parade!  Kidding aside, there's just something magical about standing together as one community, all the excitement and possibility of the season bubbling through the street.

Window shopping
While I'm not a big fan of fighting the crowds in search for the oh-so-perfect gift that never seems to meet expectations, I do love the shimmer and shine of the windows.  I prefer an intimate local downtown street to stroll through but can also find happiness in perusing the aisles of the mall. 
Hand in hand, the smell of pretzels and chinese food in the air,
smiling in observation of the harried shoppers
and glad I'm not one of them!

Aside from our annual cookie baking tradition,
we bake this time of year more than any other. 
Banana Bread, cookies, candy, and all things yum. 
I figure it's ok to splurge that week of the year
before we pick up all those healthy habits again in January!
Stocking Stuffers
Stocking stuffers are about my favorite gift to shop for. 
Maybe it's the itty bitty size or the thought of tucking
 it into the corduroy socks that adorn my mantle. 
Or the sneaky surprise that comes with being Santa's helper!

We aren't big hobnobbers. 
Actually through the rest of the year, I'm usually the one hosting a party. 
We probably attend more parties in the month of
December than all others combined! 
While I normally prefer hosting, it is nice to visit other's homes this time of year.

Saturday we had Tim's firefighter appreciation dinner and the one request
from those attending was- no Christmas dinner at the dinner! 
Instead we feasted on prime rib & cheesy chicken.
Funny how we hold the turkey and dressing to the
end of the year and then stuff ourselves with it the entire month!  

Being a lover of the theatre, I always try to take in a play or two this time of year.
My favorite Christmas play is the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever"
- one I was in three different years through school. 
As such, I know every single line of the entire play.
"The Herdmans were the worst kids in the whole history of the earth!"
It's not an activity we do as much, now that Noah is big enough to break his lap,
but we try to squeeze in a visit or two with the jolly guy.  There's a house just down the street from us that sets up a sleigh the week of Christmas, complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  We like to go by and see him one night while looking at the lights.  Noah hasn't seemed to outgrow this tradition - and actually I hope he never does feel too big for the magic of Christmas.
This seems to be a lost activity and I miss it so!  I remember carolling with my youth group as a child and I loved it.  Of course, it was extra fun that the last stop - "the pastor's house" was my Grandpa's house.  Several years ago, when I taught the GAs, I got to reprise my role as we took the girls to a local rest home each year.  I may just have to round up a gang and go a knockin' to get my fix!
One of the reasons I love this time of year so is the extra time it means with family.  I love any excuse to get together and Christmas seems to give us that.  Meals, games, or whatever the activity, it seems to be a little more special when mixed with the jolly music of the season and the twinkling, sparkly decorations of home.

But of all activities, it is those spirit-filled, often quiet,
simple moments shared with God during Christmas that mean the most. 

My wish for each of you is a season full of all the wonder and joy of the season,
as well as all the family, peace, hope and God's love
 your home and heart can hold! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Movies of Christmas

I love movies but December is probably my favorite season to watch them.  Movies just seem a little more magical this time of year.  Perhaps it is the setting, as living rooms are transformed into winter wonderlands.  There's nothing quite like snuggling on the couch with the family, laps full of kiddos, pups and blankets, surrounded by the twinkling beauty of the tree and all things Christmas.  Add in a flickering fire and a creamy cup of coca and you're whisked away with the push of a button.

If we're not out and about, taking in a ballgame or holiday party, we're happy and content to be home taking in a Christmas movie.  We record new ones each year but no season is complete without seeing our favorites.  The Macy's Parade kicks off our viewing each Christmas and sets the mood for my DVR's busiest time of year!

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
"I'm cute! I'm cuuuuuuuute!"
A Charlie Brown Christmas
"Every Christmas it's the same. I always end up playing a shepherd."

Christmas with the Kranks
"You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?"

Jack Frost
Jack: You the man!
Charlie: You the man!
Jack: No, I'm the Snowman!

The Santa Clause
Santa: "You know, you look pretty good for your age."
Little Elf Judy: "Thanks, but I'm seeing someone in wrapping."

Miracle on 34th Street
"If you're really Santa Claus,
you can get it for me. And if you can't,
you're only a nice man with a white beard like mother says."

Home Alone
"Bless this highly nutritious microwavable
macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen."

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Clark: "It's a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club."
Eddie: "Clark, that's the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year."

A Christmas Story
"You'll shoot your eye out!"?

Meet Me in St. Louis
"Meeting him across the lawn for the first time would be so ordinary.
I don't want to be just introduced to him.
I want it to be something strange and romantic and something I'll always remember."

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon)
"Every Who down in Whoville,
the tall and the small, was singing,
without *any* presents at all!
He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it *came*!
Somehow or other... it came just the same."

I know I'm over my "12" but my list can't end without mentioning
Hallmark Christmas Movies
...never met one I didn't like!

Did your favorite make the list? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12 Prayers of Christmas

Short and sweet comments from me today, as the message is in God's word. 
These are great reminders for the true reason on this season and where our hearts and minds should be focused.  What a great countdown to prayerfully do with your family!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

12 Decorations of Christmas

When visiting someone's home at Christmas, I enjoy looking through their tree.  Most have stories, filled with a mixture of ornaments collected through the years.  A Christmas tree is much like a family book, the pages open among each branch, memories and milestones shared with each hanging trinket.  It is those stories, the timeline of our family, that make me treasure our tree and decorations at Christmastime. 

I realize I've written posts before on decorating our tree.  One just a few weeks ago about a special new addition to our family.  However, this was before knowing I'd have a "12 ____ countdown" and it's just not Christmas without a tree full of special ornaments, or a tribute to my favorites.  Join me, as I take you through our home this season on a virtual tour...

The very first ornament I ever purchased was one symbolizing our marriage.  I was drawn to the mauve ribbon that ran throughout it, as this was one of our wedding colors.  We were barely married six months, our first Christmas together.  Two love birds, already building our nest, and an unexpected gift of a child on it's way.  We shared so many dreams and plans of our life together, as we held hands hanging it that first year.  We've continued that tradition to this day, hanging it two hands as one and sealing it with a kiss.

Our next Christmas was filled with the joy and excitement that only a new baby can bring.  Austin was five months his first holiday under the tree.  Our little "Blair Bear" as we called him, this was the perfect ornament for his first Christmas.  Tradition was for him to hang this each year, pausing for a picture for Mom with that sweet, growing smile. 
...precious memories now as I hang it for him.

The next year I decided to start the tradition of purchasing a symbolic ornament for our tree.  Sometimes it was to celebrate a milestone, recognize a person, or a memorable event that happened that year.  Tim joined the local fire department it's first year, when he was barely 18.  Though a volunteer, he'd worked hard through the years and earned his way to becoming an officer.  This little mouse, climbing up to place the star on top, reminded me of his passion and dedication.  He's our tribute to Tim's devotion to the fire service and I love watching him hang this every year.

In 2000, our lives were blessed with a bouncing baby boy, our Noah. Continuing the "Blair Bear" theme, this was a special find.

I'm not sure when I began to collect snowmen but they've been a part of my decorations for as long as I can recall.  I love snowmen, so jolly and sweet.  Maybe it goes back to my childhood, where it seemed we always had a white Christmas and extended snow vacation.  Such fond visions of making snow angels in the crystallized fluff, sledding and rolling balls to form a snowman, of course saving a few smaller ones for a fight.  My house has welcomed dozens of snowmen over the years, most of them finding a home in the kitchen.  They are the only decorations allowed to join us for the new year.  I'll keep them out through February, or whenever the last snowfall greets us.  Their smiles warm my heart on cold winter days.  This is among my favorites, a gift from Noah one year, purchased
with his own money at the Santa store at school.

Our Kid's tree is covered in handmade decorations and ornaments from the chubby little fingers of my boys.  It would be impossible to pick my favorites on this tree but this one has special memories.  It's actually a necklace, we hang now as "garland" on that tree.  I so vividly recall Noah proudly handing it up to me one year, something he made at church.  "It's a neck-a-less, Mom.  
I wanted you to have something beautiful like you."  .....Heart hug! 

We found this beautiful angel while vacationing in the Bahamas on our Disney Cruise.  I packaged her ever so carefully in our luggage, hoping her shell wings would survive the travel home.  We have such fond memories each year hanging her, remembering our dream trip with the boys.
There's actually lots of angels on my tree, something I've always been drawn to I guess, and a seemingly appropriate decoration for a Christmas tree.  This is one of four angels in a set that float on our branches.  For many years, they were actually just "filler ornaments" and had no special meaning.  Our final Christmas with Austin though, that last perfect day, he seemed so touched by these.  Sitting on the edge of the couch, gingerly holding one in his hand, he looked deep into it.  As he hung it on the tree, light caught in the glass, sending it dancing around the angel and he softly commented about how beautiful it was.  "This is one of my favorite ornaments, Mom," he said.  So, of course, these four angels are extremely precious now to me.

There a certain set of angels which stay out in my home all year long, my willow tree collection.  They adorn our mantel, receiving a dose of holiday cheer with the addition of lit garland and ribbons this time of year.  The vast majority of them are from Mom, each symbolizing something special, often as birthday or Christmas gifts.  One Christmas, Mom gave me a large "mother/daughter" angel, which came with a smaller replica as an ornament.  Not having any ornaments from my childhood on my tree, this seems like a piece of it, even though it is new.

This isn't an ornament but a special decoration just the same.  It's one of the few keepsakes from the "12 days of Christmas" I did for Tim in 2008. 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.  That simple activity saved the both of us and helped us survive such a difficult time.  

The pain returns each season without Austin but we can now remember him with smiles as well as tears.  And my two favorite ornaments surround his memory.  One was purchased last year, containing a photo of Austin placing the angel on our tree that last day. It hangs just below the very angel he rested so easily that year atop the tree.  The final and newest, having just received it last night, is a golden yellow butterfly. 
A symbol we now treasure and always reminds us of Austin.

What ornaments are special to you?
Share some memories with us!

Friday, December 9, 2011

12 Cookies of Christmas

We're having a cookie exchange today, sort of an annual tradition.  I say it's more of a cookie buffet, as we don't bring the traditional "dozen for each person" and we end up eating most of what's there.  If we're lucky though, we'll each have a few cookies to bring home to our families.

Most years, I will whip up a couple batches of a new recipe I want to try.  These ladies are good guinea pigs!  In fact, trying new recipes is what brought me to some of my new favorite cookies to bake.  This year, I opted to go the easy route, as I've noticed most everyone else has done in past, and am bringing bakery bought.  Hey - it's still a cookie, somebody baked it, so it counts!

That brings me to my countdown #3 and a list of my 12 favorite circular delights.  I've tried to link you to a recipe (or close to mine) if they exist.  Many of my versions are handwritten in the smudgy, worn dog-eared cookbook sitting on my counter.

Not Mine
Of course homeade are the best, but I enjoy trying any cookie
and if I didn't have to slave over the oven to make them,
they're even yummier!  From the store, my picks are:
frozen thin mints, pecan sandies, shortbread

This is a new recipe I "borrowed" from my friend, Liz.
The link is above, which will take you to her  blog
(also a great read)!  They're different and oh so good!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
But I'm a picky choc chip connoisseur,
and in this case, it's basically just mine I like.
They're chewy, chocolately and the perfect size.

I don't know why but I really
only make these around Christmas.
You leave them in a warm oven overnight, hence the name!

Peanut Butter
simple, 3 ingredients, criss-crossed with a fork
Great to do with kids!

Red Velvet
my favorite cake of all time is Red Velvet (but it must be moist!)
when I happened upon these I was ever so joyful
-on the box of Duncan Hines cake mix

when I was little, my grandma made these in her school cafeteria but could never figure out how to reduce the enormous recipe for normal use. 
I stumbled upon a recipe a few years ago...happily!
I like this link because she shows pictures
 - they are time consuming but worth it!

Macadamia Nut
I'm a nut lover anyway so give me a cookie with nuts and I'll probably like it. 
What's odd is that macadamias are not my favorite nuts to just eat.  There's just something about adding it into a cookie alongside white chocolate chips.  I've never made them so I don't have a recipe.
When all else fails, there's always Subway!

Ok, I know these are not technically a cookie but they are chewy, chocolately
and you can bake them as cookies, so in my book they count!
I also like to make them as cupcakes, adding in choc or peanut butter chips.

Peanut Butter No Bakes
This is one of the few things Tim makes!
He never added cocoa, just doubled the peanut butter,
and now that's the only way I like them too.

Classic.  Chewy.  Chocked full of goodness.
These are a cookie you feel almost healthy eating.
I've never tried the recipe above but it looks good
and was recommended by other blogs.

The link above doesn't give you a recipe but a story of my memories of these sugary cookies with raisin smiles.  I have her recipe but they never come out quite like I remember.  She must've used a dash of love I just don't have!

Did your favorite cookie make the list?
Have a recipe to share?
I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

12 Traditions of Christmas

Day 2!  Traditions and Christmas go together like Cookies & Milk...Santa & Rudolph....Snow & Snowmen.  Traditions are perhaps one of my favorite parts of the season.  I love the sense of family and memories they evoke.  Here are my 12 favorite traditions, in random order. 

Deck the Halls!
It's always been tradition to decorate our home Thanksgiving weekend. 
I found several years ago it was the perfect window to get it completed
before the chaos of the season approached.
As this was our last activity with Austin before he passed,
 it is now bittersweet, but filled with special memories.

A Little Bling
Our tree is adorned with special individual and yearly memory ornaments. 
Although the tree has a decorative theme,
these are what makes the tree treasured.
More on this topic at a future "12 days" post!

Twas' the Night Before Christmas
Several years ago, we committed to spending Christmas Eve at home. 
It's our special day to be together as a family
celebrating the holiday stress and travel free.
We wear PJs all day, stuff ourselves from sunrise to sunset,
watch movies and play games.
We also let the kids pick one gift to open that night.

Country Ham and Gravy
After our Christmas morning presents are opened, and still in our PJs,
we drive to Mom's for a big country breakfast.
I look forward to this meal all year!  By this point, we are normally tired of the traditional turkey/ham/dressing so this is the perfect alternative.  My mouth is already watering thinking about it!

I Believe!
As long as you believe, Santa still visits. 
Over the years he's left footprints in the snow,
crumbs on the plate, and even letters behind. 
Austin discovered the "truth" about 5th grade,
 but still believed for Noah's (and his) sake.
One year, I even let him stay up and help "Santa" stuff
his little brother's stocking - but not his own!
At nearly 12, Noah still puts on a good act,
even placing the traditional cookies,
milk and carrots (for Rudolph) by the fireplace. 
And I', Santa, plans to leave surprises for years to come!

Kids Tree
About seven years ago, we started doing a Kid's Tree in the kitchen.
Using our original tree we bought our first Christmas, the boys would
decorate it with all their homeade ornaments through the years. 
It also contained old fashioned ornaments we'd do each year,
like popcorn strands, paper chains and pine cones. 
The "star" is made with their hand prints.
Some years it's been too hard on Noah to put up this tree
without his brother but its a treasured tradition either way.

Cookie Gifts
Noah and I set aside time to bake for one complete day before Christmas . 
Our entire day is filled with baking cookies and other treats,
mostly to give away.
We've done this for years, often before school closes,
so that teachers can receive them too.
This was one of Austin's favorite activities.  He was excited his last Christmas season with us, as he had big plans to treat several new teachers and friends from the high school.  Sadly he left us before he had a chance so I sent a box to his teachers that year with notes letting them know they were from him.

Story Time
My Grandma Coons always begins her Christmas gathering by
 reading the story of the birth of Jesus.
I have so many memories of sitting cross-legged at her feet,
listening to those familiar scriptures.
She's always helped remind us the true reason for the season!

Let there be Light!
Throughout the season we enjoy the lights in neighborhoods we drive through.
At least once before Christmas we'll pile up in the truck,
complete with blankets, pjs and homeade hot cocoa to view them thoroughly. 
Christmas music plays in the background as we gaze at the twinkling displays.

We started this new tradition last Christmas but it's
 one we're sure to continue for years to come.
You can read more by clicking the link above but basically we opted to discontinue buying presents for all the kiddos at Mom's and instead bring wrapped crafts to do with them.  They love it and so do we!
Presents last a moment....memories last a lifetime!

3 Gifts
This is a new tradition I'm considering starting next year. 
I just haven't decided which option to go with.
One of my friends does three presents for everyone
but each represent a gift from the wisemen. 
One is something useful, one is something valuable, one is something treasured
From others I've just heard, "Three was good enough for baby Jesus"
and in a spirit of less is more, I agree!

It's Better to Give
Our family has long "adopted" a family in need
or helped children from the Angel Tree.
I don't know of any better gift at Christmas than to
share God's love and abundance with others.
It's a tradition we've always treasured and been grateful
for the opportunities to give.

What are your family traditions for Christmas?
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