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Preparing

As this week moves along and people all over are preparing for Thursday and Thanksgiving in all different kinds of ways, I too am preparing for the day.

Grocery list, baking, cooking (they are two very different things, you know), cleaning up, planning the timing around the parade *ahem*, and things like that.

But I’m also, just a little, working on preparing my heart.

An attitude of gratitude is something my Mama drilled in us.  Be thankful.  In all things.  I think she really liked what that guy Paul in the Good Book said about that.  She took him at his word.  And wanted us to live it too.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, I am looking towards next Sunday as well.  The first Sunday in Advent.

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Advent until maybe twenty-five years ago.

And I have continued to learn more and more since that time.

I love the rituals, the lighting of the candles on the wreath.  The getting ready.  The settling of the soul.  The quiet meditations and devotions.

Oh, the quiet.

Each year for the past four, I’ve hoped to start our school year early enough that we can take some time off from our traditional lessons to step outside the box in December and go in another direction.  And each year, for whatever reason, that has been torpedoed, and we’ve worked right up through the third week in December.

But this year?

*shhhh* Don’t tell anyone, lest the universe find out and totally mess this up for us, but I think it’s going to happen.

I want for us to have time to read Christmas stories, learn about holiday traditions from different cultures, watch Christmas movies, sing songs, make cookies, play, and not have every single day structured.

That’s my holiday wish.

I am very happy that we are heading in that direction.  I already have some books picked out to share with my littles.  I have a couple of “read every day” books that we will start on Sunday or Monday (it being the first and all).  One really sweet one that I’m looking forward to reading with them for the very first time is Advent Storybook  by Antonie Schneider, Maja Dusikova, and translated by Marisa Miller.   We haven’t read any of it together yet, but as I looked over it today, it touched my heart and made me smile.  I think we will all enjoy it.  It’s the story of a little bear who wants Christmas to come fast, so his mother agrees to tell him a story each night until then.  So there are twenty-four stories about another little bear and his trek to Bethlehem.  Very sweet.

Embracing the magic of the season, we will again pull out our copy of Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Yes.  That guy.

It’s a collection of the letters that were sent to the Tolkien family home over the many years his children were small and home.  The stories will make you laugh and want to hear them all over again…..and so we will do just that.

I came across the books The Jesse Tree: Daily Readings for Advent and Gobsmacked: Daily Devotions for Advent by Thom M. Shuman a few years ago.  These are both beautifully written Advent devotionals that I dearly love.  I ordered them as downloads, e-book style, from this website, as hard copies were not available at the time.  I love everything Mr. Shuman has ever written.  If you haven’t read any of his poetry before, please take the time to do so.  Powerful and grace-filled.  Beautiful.  You can find it here.

This time of year can be so wonderful in many ways, but it can also be hard.  For many the darkness is not just because the sun is going down a little earlier.  Many people struggle with loss and pain and brokenness that doesn’t go away magically, despite the wonder and brightness of the season.  It can be very hard when you feel like there’s a party going on all over and you’re the only one who doesn’t feel like going.

I am thankful for my writerfriend and friend, Dena Douglas Hobbs, who has written a contemplative book, “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope,” in which she walks with each one of us in that darkness.  She says it’s okay and is an encourager.  As November finds her way to the door and takes her leave, leaving behind only the memories, some harder to bear than others, Dena reminds us in her book that we are not alone.  and that the advent message is one of hope.  She writes, “God comes into our broken world to be with us, to heal us, to save us from not only our enemies, but even ourselves.”

Oh me.

Yes.

If any of you are local, you can purchase her book at Bare Bulb Coffee in Kathleen and a portion of the proceeds will go to support hunger missions.  If you are not, you can order her book here.    It is available as an e-book as well.

I also look forward to reading Dena’s latest work, a devotional for the littles, with my crew.  I can’t wait to hear their laughter over the antics of Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear.  And I just know we will be drawing pictures from the adventures of the little bear on his way to Bethlehem.  The story just lends itself to good conversation and good thoughts.

I am thankful that, as this season and so much hurries and scurries on by me, I can shut it all off for at least a few minutes everyday, and sit and have coffee with my friend Dena (which I’ve been lucky enough to do in person as well), and with Mr. Thom– quieting my soul in the midst of the chaos and darkness and looking forward to the Light that is coming.  And while I love my twinkly lights in my “roost” so much, they are nothing compared to the Light of Love and Peace.  That’s what my favorite thing about Christmas is–feeling my heart fill with both of those things.

May we all find that to be true–hearts full to bustin’ with love and light and a peace that passes all understanding.

Love to all.

Rainy Day Reading

It’s been a lovely, perfectly dreary rainy day today.

And I have loved it.

Days like this are perfect for reading, something I haven’t taken time out to do enough of  lately.

So, after I hung the cheerful twinkly lights across my back porch, which is my roost and sanctuary, I sat down to read.

And I read three books.  In a row.

Yep.  THREE.

I know, I couldn’t get over myself either.  Here I’ve been unable to really focus and read much of anything, and I go and read three books in a row.

*insert selfie high-five and pat on the back for me here*

Yep.  Yay me.

Oh, wait–did I mention they were children’s books?

Ah, well.  Ahem.

Yes.

Three wonderful books related to Thanksgiving.  They were all great stories. Well written, beautifully illustrated.  I loved each one, and if you can find them at your library or have time to go to the bookstore, you will want to read these too.  I just know it.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  I am sure I frustrated my Mama on more than one occasion because I was more worried about not missing my favorite performer than I was about helping her in the kitchen.  It just wasn’t Thanksgiving if I didn’t get to wave to Santa on the small black and white TV we had all those many years ago.

Now it’s the same.  I love watching it with my children.  I’m a little busier these days than I was back then, but I do love that parade.  The history, the wonderful floats and balloons.  And then I found this book and read it today, and I do declare it just made it all the more special for me.  This is the story of the puppeteer, Tony Sarg, who was asked by Macy’s to build puppets to be featured in the very first parade, alongside animals from the Central Park Zoo.  And as the crowds got bigger, Mr. Sarg had to make his puppets bigger so they could be seen above the heads of others.  A true story with great illustrations and facts galore.  I can’t wait to sit and read this with the littles and then watch it all click on Thursday.

This book tells the related story of why the parade was first begun.  It’s a fictionalized account, as the “real” Mr. Macy had died years before this story is set, but even with poetic license, this book does a beautiful job of talking about heritage and remembering who your people are and what their traditions were.  I love the spirit and the joy in this book.  And Milly let loose in Macy’s–how much fun would that be?  I’ve often said I’d like to go to New York City for 24 hours.  Only. (But I’d prefer to travel the ol’ wriggling of the nose method…..or floo powder, thank you very  much.)  Looking at the window displays in Macy’s and walking around inside would definitely make the “must do” list.

The last book I read today was the true story of how Thanksgiving almost wasn’t.  Did you know about this?  I am sure the turkeys, just like the one on the cover, are not happy one bit with Sarah Hale, the woman who wrote many, many letters over 38 years, asking that Thanksgiving become a nationally recognized day.  It was actually President Lincoln, in the middle of the turmoil and chaos of the war, who finally said yes.

This true story is told with a clever sense of humor.  I laughed out loud when I read this line.

“Never underestimate dainty little ladies.”  –Laurie Halse Anderson

I think I want this quote framed and hung, because there is more truth than a little bit in it.  Anyone who ever met my Mama knows that.

This book also had lots of interesting facts we shall feast on together tomorrow.  One little tidbit, Sarah Hale is the author of the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  Ms. Hale taught school and a student actually had a lamb follow her to school and wait for her all day.   The book also touches on Ms. Hale’s advocacy for education for women–wonder if she ever visited Wesleyan?–and her stance on women’s rights in general.  A great story that I didn’t know before.

 

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days of the year.  I love pie.  So there’s that–boy, do I love pie.  My Granny’s sweet potato with coconut, my Great Great Aunt’s Buttermilk custard–I miss them all.  And I miss my Mama’s dressing.  She would bake cornbread and let Daddy eat a little bit–but there were no leftovers for him to have the next day.  It went in the freezer for the dressing later on.  I think she started saving it a couple of months out.  That and breadcrumbs.

But I digress.  What I love the most is the being together.  The warmth, the stories, the memories being made.  This year we will be back at Blackberry Flats for the first time in years, and it will be quite wonderful–I’ve already decided.  The children will climb trees, and the grownups will talk, football will be on, and naps and third helpings are a given.

This year will be quite special as always, but thanks to the stories we are going to read and talk about this week, I think it will be even more so.  I can’t wait to hear their laughter over the illustrations and lines about dainty women being a force to reckon with.

Mama always encouraged us to be thankful every moment, every day, but I am grateful that we have a day set aside where quiet reflection is a must, where people dance in the streets to celebrate a melding of their past and present, where a puppeteer can make big dreams come true, and where the whole country comes together, if only for a day, in one accord.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love to all.

 

(and if you get a chance to read one of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts)

 

 

Thumbs Up

Yesterday the littles lightened their loads.

By several inches.

Both our Princess and Cooter got haircuts yesterday.  I suppose it was time.  Cooter has been mistaken for a girl more than once in the past couple of weeks, no matter what he was wearing, and lately our Princess has had more rat’s nests than a little bit in her head of hair.  It was just too long for her to brush well on her own.

It was time.

Going to the hair salon was a last-minute decision.  The best kind, if you ask me.  No time to worry or for plans to be derailed by someone being sick or for the universe to otherwise decide it doesn’t need to happen.

Our girl wanted her mid-back length hair cut to her shoulders.  I wasn’t sure how I’d make that work with a swim cap, and I mentioned that to the stylist.  She nodded and went to work.

In the meantime, Cooter was having his hair cut as well.  I think his stylist took four or five inches off the back.  He looks like a little boy now, older, with a neck and eyelashes.  Oh those eyelashes!  I had forgotten, his hair had gotten so long.  I kept watching for a reaction, and he had none until I told him he was looking like our neighbor who is in high school.  He beamed then.  I am not sure I’m okay with him wanting to look that old.  Or looking older.  *sigh*

I looked back over at our Princess, and she had easily had six inches lopped off.  I knew she was hoping for shorter, so I looked over with a big question mark on my face.  She looked at me, grinned her biggest smile, and gave me her best thumbs up.

It’s sort of her thing.

When she catches my eye during swim practice, more often than not, she’ll do just that–look over and grin and give me that big thumbs up.

And relief washes over me every time.

And joy.

My girl’s okay.  Better than. Look at that grin.

Today we had her birthday treasure hunt at Blackberry Flats.  Mama started doing this several years ago.  She wrote out the clues on sticky notes and stuck them around the house.  After Mama died, I put one together for Princess in honor and memory of the tradition. Our girl loved it.  After Mess Cat and Leroy moved in, one of the first things our Princess asked was, “Can we still do the treasure hunt?”

Mess Cat would have it no other way.

And today we went over for a visit with no time restraints requiring us to rush or hurry off.  Right before we left, Mess Cat remembered the hunt and I called out to my girl up in the tree, “Did you forget to do something for your birthday?”

I could see the wheels turning in her mind.  And then, that great big smile.  She came down out of the tree faster than I’ve seen her move in a while.  It was precious.

She bounced around the house with Cooter and her cousin Shaker right beside her.  Shaker had written out hints for each clue in case she got “frustrated.  Are you frustrated yet?”  With everyone working together, she found her surprise–a book picked out especially for her, in honor of the tradition–a book that we felt sure Mama would have chosen herself.

Sweet memories.

As I pocketed the clues–such great rhymes! (way to go, Mess Cat!)–to be tucked away in our Princess’ memory box, our girl hugged her aunt.  I asked, “So did Mess Cat do a good job on the hunt?”

And there it was.  That sweet smile that goes from ear to ear.  And the big ol’ thumbs up.

Well all right then.  I’ll take it.

Tonight I’ve been pondering who gave the first thumbs up and how it came to mean “it’s all good.”  I am thankful for the sign in general and especially when offered by my sweet girl as her way of calming her Mama’s nerves and saying, “Life is just about the best ever, isn’t it?”

I am also thankful for stylists who listen and visit with children and who don’t blink an eye when an excited ten-year old girl wants to hug them in thanks.  I give thanks for sisters who plan special events to keep the traditions going and to celebrate the memory of one we all love and miss, who was all about the fun and loving on folks herself.

May your day be filled with wonderful surprises and quiet moments of joy that have you giving life a great big thumbs up!

 

Love to all.

The Day My Life Changed Forever

Forty-three years ago today, around 3:30 in the morning, my life changed forever.  I don’t remember what it was like before that day, but on that day, I became a sister.

For Sister, who was the one who made me just that…..for the very first time–

 

When you came into this world,

my life changed

for the better

There are photographs of us, your tiny hand in mine

and it’s as though it’s always been that way

You younger, smaller, and yet

so much stronger than you appeared

You’ve worked harder than most

to take the next step, to keep breathing

to forge your own path

walking to the beat of your own drum

and here we are

Grown.

 

With you I learned to share and play fair,

we learned to do that together,

and I don’t think we’ve really forgotten how,

have we?

All those years it made me smile

when folks realized you were mine

and I would have taken any one of them out

had they hurt you or said anything untoward

It is still that way,

but the lines

are blurred

between good guys and bad guys

and so it’s harder for me to know

how to make it all okay anymore

 

The words over the years,

some kind, some not

the laughter, the whispered secrets

the dreams shared and the sorrows as well

Your voice is a balm to my soul

and your laughter takes me to a place

where no pain can come

And yet we are so far from where we’ve been

The absence of those who held us together

makes it all so hard

Words, Weeping, Worries, Woes,

and yet, in my heart,

you are still the little one whom I threw up on when I was five,

who helped me up when I fell down,

and you are the one who packed my dorm room the

night before graduation

you are the sister I held in my arms

when the baby was coming

and when the baby didn’t

You gave me the gift of watching birth

and I hope always to remember

that precious moment,

all the precious moments

 

Over the years you have given me strength and love

and challenged me to stand up and say something

when it all was on the line

The grief has aged us both, weathered our faces

and our souls

One day, when all the rocky road of this journey is behind us,

I hope we find ourselves sitting together,

once again,

with your tiny hand in mine

 

A Time to Listen, A Time to Write

Sometimes as a writer you have to realize when it’s more important to listen than to keep writing.

Tonight is one of those times.

I had a hard conversation earlier with someone I love and will always love, but it will be different from now on, I’m afraid.

Still trying to wrap my brain around the pain in that, I received a text from my oldest, Aub, about the video she’d just watched on my college sister’s Facebook page.

Wyanne is a very talented artist.  She tells beautiful stories with her paints and her brushes and all kinds of other materials.  Beautiful.  And that girl has fought a huge Giant over the past year.

Last night I talked about being frustrated with things that are NOT OKAY.

CANCER IS NOT OKAY.

But Wyanne’s still standing.

Not only that, she’s still painting and creating and sharing light and love in the world.

And wisdom.

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She’s made it through the storm and is working on picking up the pieces.  She’s got big beautiful plans.  Plans about creating art and community.

Now that, THAT IS VERY OKAY.

I watched the video, and like Aub, I was moved to tears.

We have so much.  We are so fortunate.

And we don’t even realize it half the time, do we?

Even when having hard conversations, I can hang on to the hope that reconciliation and healing can still come–because we’re still standing.  On the other side of the storm.

Here’s to my Wesleyan sister Wyanne and to all of us who weather the storms and then pick up the pieces when they’re over…..

and rebuild something even more beautiful and filled with love and light.

May you have a good day of listening to stories that remind you to appreciate where you are, and may you find hope in the midst of brokenness.

Love to all.

 

 

 

Thanks to Auburn for lettering Wyanne’s quote for me so quickly.  Love you girl.  And to her sweet bff, the originator of “That is NOT okay.”  It’s her birthday, and she’s pretty amazing too.  Happy Birthday, A!

 

Ode to Blue Pool Cue Chalk

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So much is wrong in this world,

so much not okay.

That’s what was going through my mind yesterday–

bullying, people fear mongering to get what they wanted,

spending money foolishly,

manipulating other people,

ignoring the needs of other folks,

leaving people out because they are different,

so many things like this and more,

as I scrolled down the screen thinking

THIS IS NOT OKAY

I opened another window

I needed out of this room with too much

heartbreak, anger, frustration

foolishness

I wanted to shake some sense into some people,

so I left

 

When I opened your door, and I found you

sitting there, waiting to be chosen

you took my breath away

and you brought back memories

of my friend and the first

two-story house I’d ever been in

Stairs were a big deal back then

we played up and down

up and down

and back up again

and there it was

The Pool Table

 

It made us feel quite grownup,

well me anyway,

to hang out, taking turns hitting the

balls

knocking them mostly

sometimes using our hands and the cue ball

instead of the sticks

We’d say “Rack ‘em up” and laugh

as though we knew what we were doing

 

But when I discovered you and

how it felt

to hold you and use you for what you

were created to do–

make that stick work better

(I guess, I’m no expert here)

it felt right

It felt OKAY

 

Yesterday when I opened that window

and saw you standing there, waiting,

my heart slowed and steadied

and I almost said, yes, I’ll take you home

But alas, there are no sticks or tables

or numbered orbs here to keep you company

and somehow just putting you on a shelf

for show

doesn’t seem right or

OKAY

you were created for a task

and when you, in all your blue loveliness,

give yourself, your whole existence

for just what you were created for–

it is a beautiful thing

 

Thank you for reminding me that

despite all the wrong in the world

there are still blue pool cue chalk cubes

in this world

ready and willing to be used,

a beautiful azure, already etched out

to make life a little easier

 

Thankfully,

there are some things still right with the world

and you are one of them

 

 

 

Stars and Lamplight

Some folks say the stars make them feel small.

That they look up and they see those stars and they start to comprehend just a little about how big the universe actually is, and then they feel very, very small.

Not me.

I don’t know which parent it was who taught me to look up and make a wish on the first star I saw each night, but it’s something that I still do today.  Though most of the time now the wish is a wordless sigh and more about hope than anything else.

When I got over the whole being terrified of being out at night in the dark under the stars, it had the opposite effect on me.  I felt pretty important.  Just me–and the stars–the lights of Heaven twinkling down.  I felt–

important.  Loved.  As though the Creator were handing me a beautiful painting to gaze upon, all for myself.

Treasured.  Related.  Intertwined with All That Is.

Friday evening on our way back home from Atlanta, when we hit the “parking lot” on the roads to home, the Fella used an “app” on his phone to map us a more “traffic free” way to get where we were going.

Next thing I know we are driving through neighborhoods and subdivisions just as the world was beginning to go dark.

And then it happened.

There were the twinkling lights.

And I felt smaller than I’ve ever felt.

It wasn’t the stars.

It was the lights in the homes we passed.

Lamps in living rooms, situated on end tables with an open book in the chair next to it.

Lights on in the dining rooms with the tables all set.

Porch lights on, waiting for the last of the family to arrive home for a cozy supper and a family movie night.

Lights on upstairs where children played or teenagers read or texted or…..

small.  Tee-niny, as we used to say.

 

There are more people in this world whom I don’t know than ones I do.

There are people who live and love and grieve and laugh and share and plan and dream and write and read and play and dance and swim and sing and cook and hate and help and jump and run and paint and…..

there are more people in this world than just me and mine.

It was when I saw the lights on in these homes–so intimate and precious–that the universe felt big to me.

All of those people with whom my path will likely never cross again?

They matter just as much as I do to the One who breathed life into me.

Just.  Wow.

It’s not all about me.  It’s not all about the ones I love.

There’s a whole world of hurting and love and beauty and brokenness that I’ve got no idea about.

And that–

that’s what makes me feel small.

And somewhat lost.  In the chaos of this world.

I think it might be time for a walk under the stars.

Tonight I’m thankful for lights shining through the darkness, giving warmth and comfort to those on the other side of the wall.  And for the reminder that we are all loved.  We are all treasured.  And we are all connected to each other.

Star light, star bright…..

Love to all.

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