A New Tradition, FunGiving

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the first Sunday in Advent.  Advent means “coming,” and this season is for quiet reflection and waiting for what is to come–the birth of Jesus.

I have decided to try and enjoy this season.  This time of year when the days are the shortest and the darkest of the whole year could be the hardest yet.  However, as a wise one told me today, “If you don’t have enough fun in your life, you’ve got to go out and make your own.”

It seems like the children started talking about Christmas early this year.  Maybe it started after Aub’s birthday in September.  I can’t remember exactly, but it for sure started in earnest after our Princess’ birthday two weeks ago.  I know it’s part of being a child, dreaming and wishing, but I could only take so much.  I don’t like all the “I want” talk.  I especially cannot handle the lists changing ten days out.  Enough is enough.  And we have enough.  So I started a “new tradition” last week.  On Wednesday I told my crew to write their letters, finalize their lists, whatever it took.  Wednesday was the last day to pick their three things to ask for.  They are allowed to put three things on their lists.  They might get other things, they might not, but the three is a good guide to let them dream and not go too crazy.

Wednesday.  Now there will be no more talking of wish lists and “what I want for Christmas.” That’s the new rule.  Shhh.  Tight lipped.  Tick-a-lock.  My thinking was get it out of the way and then let’s enter the Thanksgiving season, with an emphasis on Thanks as well as Giving.  So now we are in the waiting period of Advent in our home, but I’m also going to challenge us to celebrate a time of Giving.  Each day I want us to think of something to do or give (not necessarily bought–we’re gonna get creative here) to surprise someone.  How much fun could that be?

Yes, I know, it could be stressful, but I’m going to do my best not to let it become so.  As Mama would say, “It’s all for the fun of it.”  And it’s time to make our own fun.  Because you are never too old to run and hide and play games with your siblings or your children or surprise someone out of the blue.

Tonight after I talked with the littles about our plan for GivingFun, I heard Cooter as he walked out of the room, sharing his thoughts in the only way he knows how to–loudly.  “I think we should go out and sing Christmas songs and raise money to help our friends who are homeless.”

For the love.

So if you see us standing around somewhere singing Christmas songs with a baseball hat on the ground in front of us, “Will you please put a penny in the old man’s hat?”**  We may be out of tune, most likely will, but just know we are having a blast and it will go to a good cause.  It’s the season for waiting and quiet reflection and, as our family’s new tradition dictates, a time of having fun with the Giving of the season.  (So it might not be so quiet around here.)

It’s all about sharing the Love and Light and Hope in the darkness.  Wanna join us?  It’s bound to be an Adventure for sure.

**from the song “Christmas is Coming” Here.  Take a peek.  And yes, it’s the Muppets version.   Focusing on fun here, remember?

disorienting days of darkness

We had the great fun and adventure of making a road trip from middle Georgia to Alabama today to be with folks we love, friends and family, to celebrate new life and a birthday.  Cooter was very excited because he has never been out of state.  At least that I can recall.  I haven’t slept nearly enough in his almost seven years to be able to keep up with it all, but yes, pretty sure–he’s never been out of Georgia.

Road trip adventure.  Cooter's first time out of state.

Road trip adventure. Cooter’s first time out of state.

He found a friend at the party right off the bat.  He and Ryan ran around and played with all the girls that were there.  But mostly they played just the two of them.  As they took time out from playing to sit at the little table and visit and have a bite to eat, I heard Cooter talking with Ryan.  “We’re in Alabama right now, but we live in America.”

Oh good gravy.

(Note to self: Add US geography to the curriculum.  ASAP!)

As I thought about what he shared with his new friend, it occurred to me how disorienting a change of position, of place can be.  Even if it’s just for a day.  Life is always throwing us curveballs that require us to change.  Doctor retires, we have to find a new one.  Grocery store totally reorganizes, and it takes us a lot longer to get everything on the list.  A family member moves and we no longer have them to lean on in the same way.  The change can be disorienting, and much like Cooter, we’re not even sure where we are anymore.  Or where we came from.

On the way home this afternoon, I was all discombulated.  Alabama is on Central time, so they are an hour behind us.  This served us well on the way over, but on the way home I had to keep thinking it’s an hour later than my phone says it is.  My phone automatically knew which time zone it was in, but the car clock stayed on Eastern time.  And I’m not even sure what time the GPS was on.  It wasn’t much help anyway because this morning it led us to a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere and clapped and waved the checkered flag and said, “Congratulations, you made it!”  Do what?!

When we left our people in Alabama, it was still sunny and bright.  Within an hour the sun began its rather rapid descent.  It was as though gravity started pulling it a little faster down towards the horizon, leaving behind its memories of the day in pink and orange and purple hues.  I looked at the time on my phone, and it occurred to me that in Alabama, at least in the eastern part of the state, the sun sets around five at this time of year.

Oh my, that’s early.

The darkness of winter, on an old state highway.....looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.

The darkness of winter, on an old state highway…..looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.

The sky was almost completely dark by the time we crossed over the Georgia line.  There is no dark quite like the dark of being the only car in sight on a back road or state highway.  Pitch black except for the lights beaming from the front of my vehicle.  Our Princess had been very quiet in the very back, as “Leave it to Beaver” had us laughing across the state line.  She piped up right after it got dark.

“What time is it?”  She paused only a moment before asking, “Is it midnight?”

This reminded me of Cooter’s thinking it was much later than it was a couple of weeks ago, when I picked him up from Mess Cat’s because he wasn’t up for a sleepover.  The time change and the early darkness and the especially dark darkness that seems reserved for this time of year–it can also be disorienting.  Have us feeling lost and uncertain and have our senses all confused.  We were quite nearly home, and a sleepy voice came from the back, once again asking, “Is it midnight now?”

When we are disoriented, all we can do is go with what we feel.  When we feel tired and very small and overwhelmed by all the darkness that seems to go on forever, feeling like it is the end of the day is really quite logical, I think.

My friend Dena, who writes at Centering Down, talks a lot about darkness and fear holding hands.  She writes, “Yes, our times can be dark in many ways.  The close of fall and beginning of winter reflect difficulties that so many of us face in our lives.”**  She also writes about fear of darkness and how it can come from us not being able to see in the dark and how the dark can make us feel so vulnerable.  Oh yes, my dear friend, it certainly can.  I’ve heard it in the wee, small voices of each of my littles.  Bless them, the dark makes them FEEL wee and small.  Vulnerability is not anywhere anyone of us wants to live.  So we seek answers and we ask what time it is, for in the turning of this day’s page to the next one, there is hope.  And hope–some days that’s all that gets me up in the morning.

Tonight I am thankful for the joy of watching all of my children having fun and enjoying themselves.  I give thanks for hospitality so sweet–I asked what I could do and I was told, “Make yourself at home”–it nearly moved me to tears.  And made me want to find an extra bed and take a nap in that comfortable and comforting home.  All of the stories shared and laughter that came from the sharing warmed my heart and tanned my soul.  For a safe journey and a road trip on which the loudest sounds that were heard were not voices rising in anger or disappointment but the laughter of my Fella as he listened to the “Leave it to Beaver” episodes being watched from the back seats.  For deer that turned around and ran back into the woods and not in front of my vehicle, I am very grateful.  For Mess Cat and crew coming to play with Miss Sophie in our absence so we could relax and enjoy our day, I send out a huge “thank you ma’am.”  Most of all I’m so glad for a day filled with love and grace and community.  There is nothing like being with folks who love to hear children in church and who love to let children be children.  In the disorienting days of darkness, it is healing and helps get me back rightside up to surround myself with good folks and good times.

**My friend Dena Douglas Hobbs has written an Advent devotional, called “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope.”  You can find a link to it here on Amazon.  It is a gift for all during this special time of the year, Advent.  It is especially moving for those who know the darkness of which she writes. And she knows of the hope that can be found as well.  I have found comfort in her words.  Tonight I am thankful for her and her gift of writing which she shares with all of us.  ❤

Hootenannies, Turkey Eggs, and Treasures from the Past

Today was our Annual Fall Family Hootenanny.  My Daddy’s side of the family has been doing this for many years.  In the spring we have an Easter Egg Hunt and Wiener Roast.  In the fall it’s soup and Brunswick stew and barbecue.  And desserts at both.  Lots of desserts.  Our people can straight cook, y’all.

I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but my Aunt Bea–my Aunt’s older sister–who hosts the fall gathering decided to add an egg hunt.  A turkey egg hunt.  Yes, it’s a real thing, people.  The eggs are bigger, and there are not as many, but turkeys lay eggs.  And we hide them.

It was a delicious day.  The weather was fall perfect.  In Georgia that means highs in the low 70’s–we started off in jackets and eventually shed ourselves of them.  There were all kinds of foods–the Brunswick stew and the soup were two of my favorites.  The broccoli salad was also delicious, and I think it was new this year.  (Never did find out who made it, but if you’re reading this and you did, can you please send me the recipe?)

The dessert table overflowed.  So many good things, that Cooter said never mind about the stuff in the kitchen, he’d just start with the dessert.  I know what he meant. There was a genuine fear of getting too full to be able to sample all the goodies.  What I love so much are the things that show up at every gathering.  Traditions.  Like the mint chocolate chip cookies, the muffins, the lemon lavender cookies, the rice krispie treats, and the beet chocolate cake.  Y’all have no idea.  When I found out my Baking Cousin was bringing the beet cake, I immediately started craving it.  And that slice I had today was very good.  So good that I’m going to have to pull out that recipe this week and a can of beets (sorry girl) and try my hand at it again.  That sweet girl also offered to make the rice krispie treats–those were Mama’s things and bless my Cousin’s heart.  She also made the lemon lavender cookies just because my Aub shared on her blog how much she loved them.  That’s love right there, y’all, and we have it full to bustin’.  And if you could have seen the youngest great-grand of my Granny’s running around with a mint chocolate chip cookie his Mama made, he was just too cute.  That chocolate around his mouth let you know how good it was.

The "Katie cabinet" from my Granny's--oh the memories of reaching in there and getting out the Honeycomb cereal!

The “Katie cabinet” from my Granny’s–oh the memories of reaching in there and getting out the Honeycomb cereal!

When I first went up to the house and walked in the kitchen, this surprised me.  Granted it’s been a while since I was at my Aunt Bea’s house, but it wasn’t there the last time I was.  I asked about it, and as she began to tell me about what she’d done, the color went from black to yellow in my mind and I was back in my Granny’s kitchen.  This was the cabinet that Granny kept the cereal in, inside of those big plastic cereal containers that you could pour from.  I seem to remember Honeycombs a lot, but maybe there were other ones too.  I loved the Honeycomb cereal at Granny’s.  Eating it from the glass bowls with the daisies around the border.  That was happiness in a nutshell back then my friends.  As she told me about painting it, my aunt mentioned that it had always been called the Katie cabinet because it had come from my Great Aunt Katie’s.  She’s the one who cut our hair when we were little.  How one piece of furniture can trigger so many memories and so much history, I don’t know, but it did.

After the meal had wrapped up and we were outside visiting and watching the young’uns run around and play, my Aunt Bea called me inside.  She stood close beside me in the kitchen and showed me a true treasure.

My Granny's recipes for Brunswick stew--the real one AND the fake one.....but both are real good!

My Granny’s recipes for Brunswick stew–the real one AND the fake one…..but both are real good!

The recipe for Brunswick Stew.  Handwritten by my Granny.  At the top was the original recipe.  It began with “1 hog head (clean)” and “4 feet (clean).”  I think I remember this being cooked way back when I was little, and that is why I wouldn’t eat Brunswick stew for many, many years.  But my Aunt Bea’s Brunswick stew recipe came from the one written below, also in Granny’s handwriting.  It’s labeled “good” but also “fake.”  That made me laugh.  Granny knew what was real and what wasn’t.  But she’s right about another thing–it is GOOD.  I wanted to eat some of my Aunt’s soup, which was really good, but I also wanted to have seconds of the Brunswick stew.  Decisions, decisions.  These recipes were hand-written in a cookbook that had been Granny’s.  That is a real treasure to see.  I am so thankful that my Aunt Bea shared that with me today.  I look forward to wandering through the cookbook again.

Yesterday was All Saint’s Day.  Last night at our supper table, we lit a candle to remember Mama and Daddy and so many more who aren’t with us physically anymore.  Today was about remembering in a different way.  It is a celebration of my Granny and all of our people who have passed every time we get together.  I love it because we laugh and share stories and spend time just listening and being together.  It makes me sad because of the ones who are no longer with us–Mama and Daddy among many others.  Too many others. I found myself standing back and just watching and listening and soaking it all in.  It’s all just to precious and dear.

On the ride home I figured out why I write.  Finally, right?  These are the stories I would share with Mama during our phone calls.  Or with Daddy as I sat with him in the living room, as he told me the goings on of folks as they drove past his window.  I miss sharing my stories with them.  Daddy loved hearing about the great grands’ antics and Mama loved getting hugs more than anything in this world.  They would have loved being there today.  My guess is they probably did.

When I tried the broccoli salad today, I could hear Mama asking me as she would, “Did you try this?  Isn’t it wondah-ful?”  And when my Uncle, Daddy’s older brother, spoke, his voice had the same intonations as my Daddy’s, and it broke my heart.  In a good way.  Sometimes our hearts need a crack or two so the light can get in there.  And mine has been in darkness for a long, long time.

These family friends I was with today have surrounded me in love for my whole life.  They are the ones who say my name better than anyone else in the world.  There’s no explaining how to pronounce it to them, nor is there any apologizing for why I am the way I am.  They just know.  And love.  Oh, how they love.

What a surprise it was to see the Katie cabinet and Granny’s recipe and remember the dear person who raised my Daddy and let me sit and talk with her for hours, the one who would ask me before I left her house, “Do you want a pie?” or “How ’bout a jar of pickled peaches?”  Then she’d go on the back porch and pull a sweet potato pie out of the freezer or a jar of pickled peaches off the shelf.  It was a joy to remember her today.

Tomorrow I will gather with another group of people who loved my Mama, as we light a candle and remember her.  It will be an honor to remember the dear, sweet woman who gave me life this very weekend all those many years ago (yes, she was already in labor on November 1–she let me know that OFTEN).  And isn’t it funny that it falls on the same day this year?  I can’t think of a better thing to do in celebration of all she and Daddy went through to get me here.  Take time to remember and maybe this time, I’ll say “thank you.”  Because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t tell her that. Ever.  When she’d tease me about a weekend of labor, I’d always say, “And wasn’t I worth every bit of it?”  And my Mama, being my dear sweet and sassy Mama, would say, “Well I reckon so.”  Then she’d peer over her glasses at me.  “Most days.”

There have been years I was all about the celebrating, but this year I think remembering will suit me just fine.  And the candles that are lit will linger a little longer before they are blown out. They will be for remembering this year.  Remembering all the lights in my life that were blown out way too soon.  I miss them all so much.

Love to all.

My Cocoa Apple Cake this year.....recipe from my Baking Cousin's Best Cookbook Ever.  Just out of the oven.

My Cocoa Apple Cake this year…..recipe from my Baking Cousin’s Best Cookbook Ever. Just out of the oven.

Stitching Good Things Into Our Life Stories

Today we headed back down to the Fair.  You know, my very favorite time of the year.  Since today was the final day of the Fair, we loaded up the crew plus our angel and set out for fun and adventures.

20131013-212730.jpg

Despite the midway being my least favorite place, we spent time over there, and the littles loved their first time over there riding the rides.  The Fella had his fill after the Flying Kite ride where you lay down on your stomach and fly around and around in circles.  Mess Cat rode with our Princess, and the Fella rode with Cooter.  Yeah, I was the official photographer.  No rides for me.

Then it was time for my favorite place at the whole fair, the Crafts building.

20131013-212710.jpgThe quilts, the crocheted and knitted dolls, blankets, and other projects.  Canned goods and baked treats, camellias, paintings, photography, art by folks of all ages.  I love it.

Aub ran into an old friend while we were there, Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.  She shared her sweet tea with him, which made him happy happy happy.

Aub and Uncle Si.  He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition.  I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

Aub and Uncle Si. He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition. I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

While we were there, the littles carried on the tradition of painting a wooden figure/ornament.

Each year they paint something to bring home.  I love traditions.

Each year they paint something to bring home. I love traditions.

They also started a new tradition.  The leatherwork folks were there, and you could make a leather bracelet or bookmark.  They both enjoyed this. It made me smile because when I was in elementary school the leather bracelet with your name on it was THE thing.  I almost made myself one today, but held back–all for the children’s sake, you know.  But oh, the memories.

20131013-212657.jpg

What was most special in the building were the memories.  I saw the camellias on display.  In my previous life, I did love camellias.  While walking through, I came across someone I worked with twenty-five years ago.  Mr. T, such a kind soul, sold the number two peaches when I was working my way through college at Sunburst Fruit Packers in the summers.  It was a sweet visit to the past.

Then there was this.

20131013-212643.jpgThe art of needlework on display.

This is the first year that I didn’t spend time going through all the creative displays (isn’t this one lovely?), looking for our cousin’s handiwork, checking to see if she won a ribbon, and taking a picture of it.  Miss B was Mama’s first cousin once removed, as her grandmother and Miss B’s mother were sisters.  Mama was Miss B’s guardian, as she was mildly mentally delayed.  The true story as to whether she was born with the delay or something happened is lost somewhere in the family lore.  The important thing is she was cared for by people who loved her–first her Mama, then her Aunt, whom she adored, then a cousin, and then my Mama.  Each year Mama encouraged Miss B in her needlework, and when it was done, Mama took it to be matted and framed, except for the year she embroidered the state birds quilt, the year she made a butterfly quilt, and the year she embroidered a shower curtain.  Yes, she was just that good.  Here, you can see for yourself.

All those intricate stitches.  There's no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently.  She truly had a gift--of patience and with the needle.

All those intricate stitches. There’s no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently. She truly had a gift–of patience and with the needle.

She knew I loved sunflowers.  The one below hung in her room.  Each time I visited her she told me she wanted me to have it one day.  “I know how you love your sunflowers.”

I dearly love this gift from Miss B.  She stitched with love and skill.

I dearly love this gift from Miss B. She stitched with love and skill.

While Mama was at her HospitalStay in February, Miss B was taken to the ER and later admitted to the hospital in another town.  It was her lung problems.  While there she fell and broke her hip.  In the end, I guess she never really recovered from the surgery for that.  Her lungs just weren’t strong enough.  So exactly one week after Mama left us for a better place, Miss B followed her on the journey.  It was appropriate, I think, that Mama, who had taken such good care of Miss B in life, went ahead to pave the way for her journey there.

This is the first Fair that I haven’t had the adventure of looking for her work.  While she was in the hospital, some of her kind ladies came to see her and talked to her about how she had to get back home so she could work on her Fair entry. Weeks later, when I was getting her room cleaned out, a dear friend of hers and Mama’s came to help me.  She pointed to the sunflowers, “You know those are yours.  She wanted you to have them, said you loved your sunflowers.”

Tears.  Of sadness.  Of joy.  Of gratitude and admiration.

By all reports, most likely she should not have been able to create the beautiful pieces she did.  She was so patient and intent on completing each project.  When I was going through her things, I found this blanket.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted.  Single.  Crocheted.  For real.  The time she put in this.....unbelievable.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted. Single. Crocheted. For real. The time she put in this…..unbelievable.

Single crocheted.  Each and every stitch.  Pretty sure each color represents one skein of yarn.  The fact that it is single crocheted means it took a lot of time–no easy way out when you are making those tiny stitches.

She did what some might have deemed impossible.  Because she tried.  Because she focused, had a goal, and worked diligently towards it.  She also was very sweet and loved my family.  Our Princess was born on her birthday.  She was convinced it was because she had asked me to have her on that day.  From that moment on, our Princess was hers.  Pictures on her little mini-fridge in her room, and she cross-stitched ballet slippers for our Princess to hang on her wall.

Somehow I think she would have been proud of her Princess and Cooter today.  They set out with a goal and went after something that some would have deemed impossible.  Much like she did.  They set out to climb their own mountaintops…..just like her.

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone.  He kept on trying.  Way to go, bud!

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone. He kept on trying. Way to go, bud!

Princess made it almost to the top.  So proud of her.  The whole thing was her idea.  She set her sights and went after it.  Keep that up baby and you'll go far!

Princess made it almost to the top. So proud of her. The whole thing was her idea. She set her sights and went after it. Keep that up baby and you’ll go far!

Tonight after an exhausting day of many steps down memory lane, I will lay my head down on my pillow with a full heart and a thankful one.  Miss B was a beautiful soul with a simple, beautiful heart.  She found joy in pretty things and she shared beauty with those she loved.  Her handiwork is the stuff of family heirlooms, and that is how we treat it.  Most of all the lesson of her patience and determination and dedication will last for generations to come.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.  Go after what you want but be willing to work and work hard to make it happen.  Those are the great things to stitch into our stories. The needlework of our lives comes together one stitch at a time to form the big, beautiful picture we call this life.

A bit sappy and sentimental tonight perhaps, but how could I not be?  Trips down memory lane can do that to a person.  Wishing you all happy trails on your own memory lanes…..love to all.