Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

This past year has been filled with it's share of trials and triumphs and as I look over the past 12 months I can't help but feel like there has been an incredible amount of growth in such a short amount of time. I will forever be amazed at how God orchestrates things for his glory, even when it might not seem like it at the time. Life on Cape Cod has been so full of blessings this year and I am thankful for each and every one of my friends I have here. I, of course, often find myself missing my friends and family in NH and daydream of ways I can connect the two places via a portal. I usually have to resign myself to being thankful that I have so many friends and family spread out over multiple states and there will always be a friendly face no matter where I travel. This last year has been a tough one in many ways as my family experienced several grievous losses, leaving many of us wondering why we haven't made a bigger effort in familial relationships, and for those closest to our loved ones who have passed on before us, very large empty holes that are simply unable to be filled. It seems that many people, my family aside, has dealt with many losses this year and my heart goes out to each one of them, as do my prayers. I am grateful for the friends and family that lent me their support during those hard times, and just as grateful for them during the good times as well.
Earlier this year my family had the privilege and blessing to be able to go on our first family vacation ever, and to Disney World! This was chock full of memories for us, and Rylee and Sammy are constantly asking if I remember this or that from our trip there. We are determined to return one day, when Sammy is a little older, when we have the finances to do it, and maybe even for an anniversary sans the kids... Who knows? All I know is this was one huge highlight this year for me.
Another one of the many blessings that have filled this year are the many friendships that have been forged through the various social circles I have been involved in. I have always been a fairly social person, although I have not always found my social niche. I fit in nicely among the theatrical, literary, and generally eccentric crowds. And then there are my Wagon Train. These close knit women are most definitely Kindred spirits, and in this crazy world, while I usually love just about everyone, I do not always find people I simply click with. My girls are such a blessing and I love each and every one of them. They are my encouragements, my comforts, and my confidants. With them I am not judged, just loved and accepted for who I am, flaws and all.
My children will forever be the highlights of my life and it is an honor to be their mother. They always know how to make me laugh, the exact times I need a hug, and have such a thirst for learning new things. Their creativity is boundless and to see the world through their eyes is pure magic.
Another one of the bigger things that have happened to Seth and I this year was the acknowledgment of the Call of God on our lives. He had been prodding us for years now, and both of us finally broke down and decided to answer that call. This is scary new territory for us, but we are both very excited for this phase of our life. We are working toward earning our Bachelors in Ministry, and have a strong feeling that we will eventually find ourselves in the church planting world, Seth in leadership and discipleship, and me in counseling. Whichever way this road turns, we are finally willing and excited to see what God does with our lives and how He uses us for His glory.
This was a year of enlightenment for me, as I have finally come to grips with a few lifelong struggles of mine. I have made some major changes in how I handle my ADHD by organizing my life and working hard. I have combated the PSTD by simply learning to let things go, and the anxiety by simply thinking things out logically- which can be hard for me as I think and process things purely on an emotional plane. With each of these struggles and shortcomings, I have grown leaps and bounds in overcoming them.
This was also the first year I have actually completed a New Year's resolution and finished my first novel. I have passed it out to a group of friends, who, when they find time in their busy lives, will read them and critique them so that I might be able to polish it and actually attempt to get it published- which might just be my resolution for 2011.
Another pit fall I seem to constantly find myself in is somewhere between keeping the house to the standards that I would love to say I keep for my family and reality, which is lived in. I plan on continuing to hone this skill throughout the new year, and I feel it is directly related to the aforementioned ADHD stuff I have been overcoming. I have also learned to let some things go, and have come to the conclusion that sometimes it is okay to let the house be "lived in" so that I may play and explore and create projects with my children. As the plaquard above my kitchen sink says, "Pardon the mess, my children are making memories."
My mind is now jumping around to many things I have learned and experienced over this past year, and my conclusion each times leaves me to know that my life is enriched with the people in it, and blessed because of God's constant provision. I have lost count on the many times that my friends, family, and church have come to be anchors and supports throughout the year, not to mention the many times that our needs were met in the most randomest of ways. God is awesome.
As the dawn of a new year fastly approaches, I hope that my perspective on life remains positive and that I continue to work on the self-discipline and logic that so often seems to elude me. I have vowed to value and treasure the people in my life, because they are often gone suddenly and we are left regretting all the time we could have spent together and now do not have the chance. May this new year bring opportunity, strengthen relationships, and the wisdom to listen to God's voice and calling. Here's to 2011 and the infinite possibilities it may bring.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Usually I am trigger happy with my camera, especially at holidays. This year however, I seemed much too preoccupied with spending time with family to take many pictures. However, I did manage to snap a few of Christmas weekend
Our Family Tree

Samuel tearing into his stocking.
When I was younger my mother decided to forge a new family tradition and started making stockings for family members out of canvas, painting unique and intricate designs on them. Every time a person is married and has a child, she makes a new one. I love these stockings and that my husband and children each has one.
Rylee examining the contents of her stocking.


Sammy and his Night Fury toy.

Our Cousin Sophie

Nana Lou (my mother in law)

Our cousin Joshua

Rylee unwrapping gifts and wearing her pretty dress.

Julie's Mantle

Auntie Lori (my sister in law) and Sammy

My father in his spot
 Christmas at my parents' house is no longer a 5 am ritual, as  people congregate here, traveling from their homes. We usually start Christmas around 10 am, or whenever people are all gathered.
Seth had the honor of reading Luke 2 this year. This tradition as not changed, and I hope it never does.

My mother's tree.
 Christmas in NH with family was wonderful and magical, and I have a feeling that for me it always will be. It was bookended by a pretty epic blizzard that we were brilliant enough to decide to drive home in... We made it home and have another year of memories to treasure. As I write this I look around my chaotic house filled with toys and packages and know that this next week has its work cut out for me, but know that we are so very blessed, not because of all the gifts, but because of the people in our lives that they represent. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas. I know we did.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Magic

The sound of my children's laughter will forever be emblazoned on my heart. Their wide-eyed wonderment as they catch those big fluffy chunks of frozen glory as they swirl and twirl through the air on their way toward the earth will be something I will treasure always. As I help my children make their memories, I often find my mind wandering to the bygone days of my own youth.
I am the oldest of five. I have two sisters and two brothers. We have had our share of adventures and memories, many of which are wrapped up in Christmas cheer. As soon as we grasped the concept of telling time, we began to camp out in the Girls' Room playing cards and reading books by the soft red or green glow of our night light. Every hour on the hour after Midnight struck we would knock on my parents' bedroom door pleading with them to get up and get Christmas started. My mother would usually cave at around 5 am when she would convince my father to drag himself, half-asleep, from bed and make his way slooooowly to the living room. We would all be gathered at the very edge of the hall outside the kitchen, trying to catch glimpses of the magic glow the Christmas Tree would cast from the living room. No matter how hard we tried, the angle was never good enough to catch that first view of the mountain of presents nestled under the tree. After what seemed like an eternity, my father would plant himself on the couch with the Bible and we would scrambled to the living room, hoping to be the first one to take in that glorious view. We would all find our stockings and a spot in front of the Christmas tree and my father would read the Christmas story from Luke 2. As we grew older, we all would get the honor of reading the Christmas story.
After the beautiful reminder of what the day is about, we would tear into our stockings, our favorite part of the Christmas Present Ritual. Somehow my mother always managed to find the best things to fill our stockings with, and no matter how hard I try, I do not think I will ever match her talent in stocking stuffing. Of course we all would get our token toothbrushes and chap stick, but she would hand pick things for each one of us right down to quenching our thirst for reading. My parents never had tons of money to finance Christmas, but somehow we always managed to get everything we wanted and needed. My mom had a way with making things magical and beautiful and stretching the almighty dollar, not to mention teaching us the basic virtue of being thankful for what we have.
I remember the year my parents would mysteriously retreat to the basement and build things like elves in Santa's workshop. We were forbidden to play in the basement that year as they would go down their religiously and build Something. I remember Christmas morning finding the biggest doll house I had ever seen. The floors were wide and it had carpet that matched the church and linoleum that matched my grandmother's kitchen. The outside of the house was painted cream and trimmed with brown just like our house. There was a jewelry box filled with Barbie shoes inside. There was a front door and windows and even some wicker furniture. Joshua got a wooden backhoe for the sandbox he could sit on and control the digger. Those toys got played with for years, and to this day I regret ever dragging my dollhouse outside and never bringing it back in. Years later, when my daughter was old enough, I asked my parents to make my daughter her own dollhouse. It is taller and beautiful and sits in her room. It, too, gets played with a lot. Those handmade gifts always carried with them much more value than the store bought ones.
Every year we would get a family gift in addition to the individual ones, and often times this would be the big ticket item. Sometimes it would be in the form of a board game, but there were years when even us kids would be surprised. I can remember the year my parents bought the family a VCR. We didn't have any video tapes, so they taped The Sound of Music off of the television so we would have something to watch. To this day I believe that video was the most watched movie in our house, in spite of the grainy quality and occasional snow. I remember the year they bought the video camera. That year is chock full of embarrassing home movies of my siblings and I (mostly I...) as we hammed it up for future generations. My husband will occasionally pull these out just to watch me pinch my nose and forget the words to Rudolf in my Christmas pajamas. Ahhhh, those awkward adolescent years!
One of the more amusing things I find at Christmas time is my mother's insistence on using a number system instead of name tags on all the gifts. I guess when she was a child, her and her brothers would shake their gifts and figure out who got what. My grandmother cleverly combated this by creating a number system and hiding the list in her unmentionables. Of course they all knew where the list was and figured out not only which gift was whose, but what they were. My siblings and I never set out to intentionally discover what our presents were, although we did like to shake the presents and proudly announce that each and every one was either a puzzle or underwear. There were those times, of course, when we would ruin the surprise by accidentally discovering a present or two while we were pulling back flips off of the window seat onto my parents' bed. And then there was the year that astounded all of us. I think I was about 9 years old. Caleb was not born yet, and Hilary was just about a year old. Jessica, Joshua, and I were pulling capers in my mom's room, and it was probably about a week or so before the Big Day. Her room is off limits around birthdays and holidays, but we didn't care. Flipping off of the window seat was too much fun. (Younger readers: do not attempt, you could break your neck and I was crazy....) We of course were discovered as flipping is never a quiet event when it involves 3 kids ages 7, 8, and 9. She hurriedly shooed us from her room and sent us in search of other means of entertainment. We awoke Christmas morning- well, we never slept, actually- the same as other years, and waited for our dad to find his customary place on the couch before we could rush the Christmas tree hunting for our stockings. It had to have been a good ten or fifteen minutes before Jessica stopped what she was doing and shouted, "Dad has a kitten!!!!" We all stared at him in astonishment. There he was, on the couch, cradling the sweetest orange kitten we had ever seen. We had all been hoping for a kitten ever since our cats Nicki and Casey died, but our parents had never given in. My mother thought the surprise was ruined the day we were jumping on her bed as kitty paraphernalia was scattered throughout her room in plain view. We never saw it. As we all forgot about the rest of the unopened gifts, we hurried to play with our new best furry friend. I remember holding him as we all pondered what to call him. He then leaped from my arms and scurried up the Christmas tree and back down. Such a spunky little kitty. "Frisky," I suggested. So it had been decided that until we could come up with a better name, Frisky he would be. He looked just like the kitten on the Frisky's kitten cat food box. It was perfect. The name stuck, and that cat has to be the single most wonderful magical cat I have ever encountered. He was individually all of our cat, making it a routine to rotate to a new bed each night. He always knew when one of us was sad, and he had the loudest purr motor. He knew all of our secrets, and frequented our thinking spots. I miss that cat, and to this day believe that orange cats have some kind of magic quality about them, although I have yet to meet another cat as wonderful as him. He died a few years ago, and I never cried so hard for an animal than I did for him. And while my husband may never be a true cat person, I will forever maintain that every home should have one, especially if he or she is orange.
These memories are endless and they continue to grow as I have my own children now and we forge our own traditions. Over the past 9 years we have come to establish that our Christmas Eve shall fall on December 23 and Santa brings the kids presents a day early, so that we can have the holidays open for the rest of the family while still having our special day to ourselves. One tradition that I carry on with my children is that Christmas Eve they get to open a present and it usually involves pajamas. We read a favorite Christmas story, and I happen to have two from my childhood: The Christmas Story and The Littlest Angel that are read often in our home this time of year. The children do not yet wake up every hour on the hour to drag us out into the living room to see what Santa has brought them, and I am not sure that will ever happen, even though I still have a hard time sleeping on Christmas eve myself.... After we have our morning together as a family, we pack up the car and the Golden Retriever and head North to spend the remainder of the holidays with our family. Seth's cousins host a huge family party and we love seeing everyone there. It is fun seeing all the little cousins play and watch the June babies grow. Christmas morning is spent at my mothers and she loves seeing my kids first thing on Christmas morning, perpetuating the traditions forged from my own childhood with the next generation. We gather around and read Luke 2, and this year my mother is revisiting her old tradition by creating stockings for her grandchildren this year so that my children too will know of Grammy's magic touch. This year will be a tad different as my brother Joshua and his wife are out in NY celebrating Christmas in their new home and my Grandparents are already south for the winter, but here's to new traditions. I am excited to see my brother Caleb's fiance Gabby, my sister Hilary, my sister Jessica and her girls and making another year of new memories with my family. Christmas for me is wrapped up in memories and making new ones. It is about spending time with the ones I love and treasuring those moments, as they are fluid and seem to pass all too soon. The wonderful thing about memories is that we can transcend time and revisit them as often as we wish.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Christmas Soapbox

We hear it in countless songs, we see it all over the television: it's the most wonderful time of the year. It seems split, however, when you look at the people around you. People are lonely, anxious, or irritated at the commercialism that haunts the holiday. People cannot get past that the holiday they celebrate isn't the only one celebrated, and get angry when wished something other than the holiday they celebrate. Some people are grieving, others lack faith, hope, or peace. Some people revel in the holiday festivities, joyous that they can give to their friends and family. People curl up in front of fires or gather together drinking hot chocolate and watching their favorite traditional Christmas special. Either people are happy and soaking up every bit of holiday cheer or they are miserable and wishing that this time of year would just hurry up and get over with.
I generally find myself all over the board on the holiday emotional rollercoaster, somewhere between the rise of holiday nostalgia and the fall of never having enough money to buy everyone everything I wanted to. Yet, Christmas is not about the soft glow of the Christmas tree. Hanukkah is not about candy coins. Of course we have our traditions, comradery, our share of distresses. That is all a part of this human experience we call life. These holidays are much more than all of that. It is a time to recognize the miracles that happen all year round. It is a time to find peace and joy in our lives that might otherwise be full of chaos and anxiety. Christmas, Hanukkah, and pretty much any other winter holiday is meant to remember what God has done in our lives, a time to cling to our family and friends, a time to pay it forward and make this world a better place to live in. So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, rather than being angry and letting it ruin your whole day, think for a moment about what that person might be going through. Say a prayer for him or her. The next time you feel rushed or worry about which bills you can postpone and which ones you cant, think for a moment of the families around the world who do not have roofs over their heads, a warm place to sleep, or food for their children. As our children open their many presents this holiday, remember to be thankful for the abundant blessings in our lives. And if there is anything we can do to pay it forward, such as committing to a cause that helps other people dig wells for clean drinking water or provide food, clothes, toys, and medical care to children who are less fortunate than our own.
Matthew 25:40 "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" (NLT)