Little Brothers and Big Surprises

When I was in the third grade, I learned to crochet.  I sat on the playground at recess with my third grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, whose gentle ways and lovely voice (especially when reading Charlotte’s Web aloud) were like a balm to my soul.  I don’t remember how the lessons came about, but at some point I had a crochet hook and some yarn, and she was teaching me how to chain, single crochet, double crochet, and Granny square.  I remember Daddy punching holes in a butter dish, and I crocheted a purse out of it.  That was one of the first things I ever made.

My biggest project I never finished was begun sitting on the catwalk next to Mrs. Turner’s chair.  My Mama was expecting a baby in the fall, and I was making the baby a blanket.  Back in the days before most folks found out what they were having, they made this–ummmm–lovely yarn, a pink, white, and blue blend.  A kind of “cover all your bases,” multi-purpose yarn.

I worked on row after row and somewhere along the way, I lost the energy, resources, drive, I am not really sure what exactly, to continue.  All I know is by the time my baby brother was born, I had a nice blanket for my stuffed animals that sometimes, over the years, doubled as a scarf when we played dress up.

Poor Bubba.

Last week he called me to let me know he’d mailed me a package.  He cautioned me to be careful when I cut the box top open…..it was just a few things, like piano books, and something he thought might belong here that had made it home with them after their latest visit.

We talked again on Monday, and again he mentioned the box.  Which was on my doorstep by the time we got off the phone.

I was curious, as I started to open the box that seemed to be bigger than just a few piano books and a miscellaneous something…..

and then there it was.

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My new rescued afghan.  Bubba talks about a place they love to go up there where he lives–the Gift and Thrift.  All the treasures they find there that he tells me about, I get a little jealous, I don’t mind telling you.  He had mentioned a while back about seeing some afghans there on occasion.  When he and his family were visiting right after Christmas, he encouraged me in my goal to make my own Granny square creation.  He’s called a couple of times to get my count…..of how many squares I’ve made so far.

But on one recent special day, he found himself in the Gift and Thrift and there was this afghan, and he thought of me so he got it.

But wait, there’s more.  In a ziploc bag in the box, there was a stack of Granny squares, just waiting to be joined together and made into something magical.

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Wow.

My mind boggled at the color possibilities–and what to create?

As I set the squares aside and looked at the afghan once more and a little more closely, I saw what a treasure it really is.

Twice in the rows on this creation, I spied with my little eyes, the baby blanket pink, white, and blue yarn…..the same yarn I’d started his baby blanket with a little under 39 years ago.

Well if that don’t beat all.

My heart is full.  To be known, understood, and thought of–that is love.  To have him be so excited about sending it and surprising me…..that was the icing on the cake.

Tonight I’m thankful for my Bubba, the little boy who changed my world all those years ago and continues to do so today, and for his wife who pays attention to things like what kind of piano books my littles use and picked out some especially to encourage them in their playing.

And the top piece of the Playmobil circus tent is back, and I never even knew it was missing.

My heart is full to bustin’.  I’ll leave it with y’all tonight.  Off to wrap up in a blanket filled with love and memories and dream about what to make with those squares.  Suggestions welcome.

Love to all.

 

The Best Kind of Gifts

This afternoon after going out on a few holiday jaunts, the littles and I came home.  They never made it in the house, as they saw their friends out playing in the neighborhood and took off to join them.

As it was growing darker, I walked down to my neighbor’s house to call the children home.  I saw Cooter and two of his friends working on something inside of the garage.

And Cooter was carrying this.

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Cooter’s buddies know him. His reputation as a stellar Star Wars fan might have gotten out. What a thoughtful and wonderful gift!

Turns out the three boys decided to “build” Christmas gifts for each other.  Two of them would create something for the third, and they all took turns until all three of them had a present.  When I walked up Cooter and J were finishing up a football “helmet” for their buddy A.  To some it might have looked like a box with holes cut out of it, but to those little guys, it looked like a helmet.

To me, it was beautiful.

And so much fun.

No electronics required.

I love imagination powered fun.  And when giving to others is involved…..well, it just about doesn’t get any better than that.

Tonight I’m giving thanks for the blessing of living on this little street where the children come in when the streetlights come on and pack in as much fun and adventures before that happens as they can.  I’m thankful for the blessing of the friendships between the neighbors and their families.  Most of all, I’m thankful for the spirit of giving and cooperation I saw tonight.

Our future, y’all.  I think we’re going to be all right.

Love to all.

 

Road Tripping Down Memory Lane with My Crew and Marie

Today the crew and I made an impromptu visit to the GW Boutique.  We popped in with the idea of doing “shelf checks” as the Fella calls them.  Two years ago I think it was, we made an in-house rule that gifts for all of the family living in this house had to be either homemade or purchased from a thrift store of some sort.  It has been the most fun, as we have had to get creative and really think outside of the box.

I can still remember Mama sitting on the couch right where I am sitting now, watching as we all (including her) unwrapped our GW gifts.  She looked over everything and said with awe in her voice, “You did so good.  This is amazing.”

What?  I outshopped the “on sale with a coupon” Queen?

So thankful for the memories of the joy and laughter of that last Christmas with Mama.

And yeah, I’m proud that she was impressed.

Today was a flurry of this one and that one (even the nearly grown one) coming up and handing me things to “hide” in the cart so the person whom it was for wouldn’t see it.  They don’t know it, but I’ve been shopping right in front of them like that for years.

At one point Cooter walked over to me and pointed to the cart I’d parked a few feet away.  “Okay, so don’t look under the cart.  I put your present under there.”

Ummmm, okay?  And who’s checking out with all of this stuff anyway?

A quick glance told me it was sizable and I knew what it was–I remembered seeing it on the shelf.  It was the Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker.

Oh my.

I explained to him that his sister or Daddy would have to bring him back if he really wanted to surprise me.  I also told him our blender would make ice for sno-cones I was pretty sure, so he amiably put the box back on the shelf.

They were all so excited it was precious.

The fact that they were excited about giving was not lost on me, and I am very thankful.

At one point during our shopping Cooter and our Princess came running up to Aub and me, “Look!  Look who we found!”

He's a little bit rock and roll.....

He’s a little bit rock and roll…..

I nodded.  “Wow, that’s cool.  Donny Osmond!”

They looked at me as though they’d never been so disappointed in me in their lives.

“Mama, NO!  It’s Elvis.”

Ummm, I don’t think so.

I explained to them who it was and how I knew this.  Many moons ago, I had a Marie Osmond doll, whose dress was a perfect match to this Donny’s outfit.

My great Aunt Hattie used to send Christmas and birthday packages that rivaled Santa’s pack.  She was just as good-hearted as she was generous and she loved us like we were her own.  Over the years she started sending my two sisters, Mess Cat and Sister, who were seventeen months apart in age, different Barbie dolls.  I was a little old for them I guess, and so the first year she sent them a Barbie, I got Marie.

She was loved.

Both of them–Aunt Hattie and Marie.

I told my crew the story as we walked through the store.  They nodded, and I asked them to go put Donny back.

A few minutes later, they came running up (yes I’ve told them not to run indoors, but this time I forgave them–it warranted running).

“Mama mamamamamamamamamamama!!!!!”

I turned to them to see what all the excitement was about.

They said, nearly in unison, “Lookit what we found!”

And there she was.

A little bit country.....bless her.

A little bit country…..bless her.  I reckon that’s why she’s barefooted.  

They were so excited.  Princess had found her, shown her to Cooter, and they both agreed I needed to bring her home.  And Donny too.

And for 88 cents apiece, that’s exactly where they came.

The littles were beaming and so tickled, and that was the best treasure of all.

But finding Marie–that was a close second.

Marie spent a lot of time, ummmmm…..unclothed, shall we say, over the years.  I loved to make clothes for Mess Cat’s Barbies.  Once I crocheted a whole set of dresses for bridesmaids, flower girls, and the bride of course.  And poor Marie? She was the model for them all.  I can’t follow a pattern to save my life, but I can crochet and try on and make adjustments and keep going.

See, Marie, she’s built just like Barbie.

Go figure.

And bless her, she never once complained.  After a while I stopped getting her redressed and just tucked her under my bed between fittings so as not to offend the delicate sensitivities of my way younger brother.

Oh the memories.

I’m not sure at what point Marie disappeared from my life.  It wasn’t as traumatic as the time Raggedy Ann left, so I really don’t know.

But I am glad she’s back.

And Marie is retired.  She won’t ever have to work as a dress model again.

Always the model, never the bride…..

Tonight I am thankful for the joy of giving I saw in my children today.  I am thankful for the fun treasures we found, and that I hope show up wrapped by Christmas morning.  Right now they each have their own gifts for others hidden away in their rooms.  If they are anything like their Mama, we’re in trouble.  Ah well, there’s always next Christmas.

Most of all I’m thankful for the excitement my littles found in bringing a memory to life for me today.  And I remember and miss my Aunt Hattie.  She was a dear soul whom you don’t find often in this life.  She’d have given us her purse she always toted around if we had asked her.  Bless her, I want to just like her when I grow up.

May you all come across a treasure that brings you a smile and a memory that warms your heart.

Love to all.

 

 

One Thing You Can Do

Today was an emotional journey for me, but that’s a story for another day.

Because this story begs to be told.  Yesterday.

While I was with my little guy at lunch, I got a phone call from Becca, co-founder of ABAN–the organization in Ghana that transforms litter and changes lives, whom I’m honored to call friend.  We talked about their journey and how far they have come and how excited they are with where they are heading.  Beautiful.  It was wonderful to hear her voice, and I strained to hear every word as I sat in a south Georgia buffet restaurant at the noon hour.

When I got home and took a moment to catch up on Facebook, I saw this video shared by Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary.

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/2rgt3x/-bringbackourgirls—rosemary-nyirumbe

In the response to the question, is the “#BringBackOurGirls” helpful, the nun being interviewed, Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, answered yes.  We need to shout it.  And often.

We need to care.  If we can do nothing else, we have to care.  And if you don’t, this nun wants to punch you–it’s the most peaceful thing she can come up with.  I love her.  She’s on my “I want to meet” list.  And it’s not as long a list as you might think.

As I pondered the story of the young girls forcefully taken–kidnapped–from their school in Nigeria last month, I thought about the young women of ABAN.  These young women, practically still girls, no longer live on the streets.  In the words from the ABAN website–they care for the whole person.

ABAN operates a 2-year holistic in-residence program in Ghana, Africa, that transitions young mothers out of poverty and off the streets of the capital, Accra. After a series of interviews, ABAN selects 20 apprentices aged 17-22 who show a strong desire to work hard to change their situation.

The coursework focuses not only on education and vocational skills but also on health and well-being. Our curriculum takes into account each woman’s innate sense of self. We believe that her identity, dignity, and ability are significantly molded by the health of her body, mind and spirit and her experience is guided by these principles.

In addition to taking care of the young women, the program also provides for their children.  And it takes care of the environment by upcycling 20,000 water sachets a month.

They are making beautiful things from trash and creating beautiful lives for those that had been left to the streets.

I know it won’t bring our girls back, but supporting ABAN and the work they are doing will protect these girls in Ghana, whose welfare is just as important.  It will provide them an education, a place to live, a future.  For them and their children.  It’s something.

There are several ways to support them.  You can shop for gifts or a treat for yourself.  It’s the season for wet towels and bathing suits and the like.  Their sachet lined bags are perfect for such as that.  I love the looks of their new products too, and I know the blessing bags will be perfect for keeping things organized in my tote bag.

Another way to change lives and the environment is to invest in these young women and their futures by making a one-time or monthly donation.  As of this afternoon, they still needed nine more sponsors of $150/month to be a part of the Annual Sponsorship program.  But even a $10 one-time donation makes a difference–it provides a Sister Scholar with National Health Insurance.  Check out more options here.

There are other ways to support them and be a part of the team making a difference in the education of young women in Africa.  Like them on Facebook.  Sign up for their newsletterHost an ABAN party for your family and friends.  Share their story. None of these cost anything. Tell folks about this program that was started by three college students in 2008 and has grown to include 25 employees, 20 apprentices, and 3 interns on 2 continents.  Amazing.

No, supporting this program won’t bring back those precious girls from Nigeria, torn from their families by the dark and evil in this world.  It won’t change things for them.  I believe, like Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, that we have to care, no matter how far away this might seem to us in this country, and that we have to make our voices heard.  #BringBackOurGirls is one way of doing that.

But supporting the life-changing good work of ABAN will change lives.  It will help them bring girls and young women out of the horror of life on the streets of Ghana.  It will protect them from the evil and darkness that threatens to engulf them.  It will be a turning point for their precious little ones–who may never have to remember or know what it is like to live life with uncertainty, without shelter, and filled with physical hunger and emotional needs.  And fear.

Because someone cared.  Because someone shopped for a gift that changed lives.  Because someone gave generously from their heart.  Because someone clicked like or forward or told their Mama, sister, uncle, best friend’s cousin’s groomer…..the more we share the story, the more impact it can make.  It’s another way of wrapping someone up in our love and offering refuge.  Another way to #bethefeather.

Hashtags are cool, and they can inspire change.

But today I’m throwing out the challenge for us all, me included.  Let’s go one step further.  Let’s do one thing today that can change the world.  One child, one young woman, one upcycled piece of litter at a time.  Let’s put our actions where our hashtags say we are.  The more women and children we share light with, the smaller the darkness in this world becomes.

Love to all.

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This was an interesting read here regarding social media and its impact in this situation.

 A story I shared last year about ABAN, all they do, and how precious they are to me.  Beauty From Trash and Healing Hearts

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Several years ago Oprah came to town.  She was supposedly going to select her studio audience based on letters written in about why the writer wanted to be there and whom he or she would bring with them.
As we’d been stationed overseas for a while, and because of the timing of the airing of her show (my children were underfoot at that point in the day, and let’s face it, she’s not always family friendly), I hadn’t watched her in years.  Maybe since college.  But I wrote and talked about how I would take my dear friend, who was a huge fan, with me.

Not.  Selected.

Oh well.

When the show aired, I recorded it and watched it later.  And that was the last time I watched her show.
It was her show called “My Favorite Things.”

Just no.

I don’t remember everything she gave out.  Some might say I was jealous because I didn’t get to go, but that is not the case.  I was sick to my stomach after watching.  I remember two things specifically that she gave out to everyone in the audience.  A refrigerator with a TV in the door and six gourmet cupcakes worth $50.

Say what?

I lost a lot of respect for her that day.  Here she is with all of this–power.  She could have bought and given out things that made a difference for the giver and the recipient (and so much more, because you KNOW some folks had to rush out and buy whatever because they saw it on her show).  But it didn’t go that way.  Today her favorite things list might be different.  I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t watched or read her magazine since then.  I do know that I saw this on the cover of her magazine on 14 November 2011, three days before my Daddy died, and it did not sit well with me.  “Things” –“If you’re looking for joy, you’ve come to the right place”.  What in the world?

Cover of O Magazine at the checkout at the grocery store on 14 November 2011.  I don't think she gets it.

Cover of O Magazine at the checkout at the grocery store on 14 November 2011. I don’t think she gets it.

Y’all why would anyone let Oprah “handpick” their gifts for the people they love?

Friday is the beginning of things getting crazy in the retail arena.  Actually I’m noticing that more and more stores are opening up tomorrow, Thanksgiving.  This makes me sad.  Are we so desperate for sales or for a bargain that we will forego the needs of folks to be with their families?  To be able to take time to breathe and give thanks, if only in the smallest of things?  I don’t even know.

So before the madness begins, I’m asking y’all to take a minute and browse through a few of The Happy Napper’s favorite things.  A few years ago I was introduced to The Advent Conspiracy by my brother, Rev.  It’s a powerful book to read, and it’s even more powerful as a study for a group of folks to discuss together.  The thing they share which breaks my heart is that the world’s water shortage could be ENDED with the amount of money spent on Christmas in THIS COUNTRY alone.  What?!  That right there.  It is a fact that broke my heart and has changed my way of “doing Christmas” a little more each year.  They break it down simply to–Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  Amen.

They offer lots of great ideas in the book and DVD.  Ways to give and let folks know you love them here at Christmas AND also how to help the world.  Your community.  Build relationships and make a difference.  Because I think that’s what we really want more than anything–to be loved and known and to make a difference.

I’m happy to share a few of my favorite things.  Thanks to my Aub for creating the links for all of these.  She knows that the gift of her time and expertise is one of my favorite gifts she gives me.  And I love her.  I think she’s getting it too.  One day she saw a purse on-line that was over $10,000.  She showed me and said rather vehemently, “Well that makes me just want to slap somebody.”

She gets it.

So without further ado, here is my list of My Favorite Things.

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Bare Bulb Coffee–If you aren’t local around here, find your own local coffeehouse or locally owned bookstore or such as that and support their missions by supporting them.  If you are local, they have the cutest little fabric coffee sleeves with a pocket for a gift card.  Great gift, great coffee, and you’ll be supporting missions that feed children in need and share great books and time with precious children from low-income families.  They also have art classes on a regular basis.  Make plans to paint with a friend and give that as your gift.  Fun and meaningful. They get to be with you and you with them AND you each take home a painting.  Awesome.

The Open Arms Shop–They make skirts and scarves from recycling t-shirts.  Y’all, they are the cutest.  The people working there are refugees from other countries trying to build a safe life for themselves and their families.  Beautiful.

Stitches & Paint–These folks are some of the best.  A family business, the husband and wife and daughters quilt the fabric–and they have an eye for cute prints–and make all kinds of bags and accessories.  My favorite of the favorites is their clutch wallet.  Mama got me a new print every year for my birthday.  Love this Georgia company.  (And they are fine people–they support missions as well.)  They’ll make you say “Vera who?”

Goodwill–aka The GW Boutique.  Y’all know I love ’em.  Name brand jeans for $5.  Please.  And we have found Legos and all kinds of toys like new there.  It’s gotten so my children beg to go.  We don’t always find something, but it’s always a fun adventure.  Last year we made a rule that all gifts from siblings to each other had to be something picked out at the GW.  They had so much fun!  The focus was on the adventure and finding just the right thing–not on how much money spent.  I think that’s a tradition we are going to keep.

LOVE146–The story behind this organization that works with young women who have been rescued from trafficking is a heartbreaking one.  It all started with one young girl.  In an undercover mission, they saw the young girl with 146 on her tag still had some fire in her.  She hadn’t given up like the others.  When they went back to rescue, she was gone.  But they remember.  The Christmas cards made by the girls in the Round Home are absolutely beautiful.

Living Water International–This is the mission directly supported by the Advent Conspiracy.  They work to get clean water for every person on our planet.  Such a simple thing, but it is so hard to make possible.  They have neat ways you can support them.  Pop over and check it out.  Clean water–hard to believe we live in the age we do, and not everyone has it.

Heifer International–My brother introduced us to them.  He bought a goat in our honor.  Yeah, he gets it.  He has just been waiting for me to catch up.  I’m trying, Rev.  Heifer has a great catalog of things you can buy in honor of someone, and it makes a wonderful gift.  I love it when we get our catalog every year.

St. Jude Gift Shop–They have really great gifts in their shop and sales go to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  This was one of Daddy’s favorite places to support, so yeah.  Go check them out.

Society of St. Andrew–They  work to put together volunteers to glean from fields and distribute the food to those in need.  A $12 donation will feed 600 servings of nutritious food to hungry families in America.  For your donation, you receive a beautiful Christmas card with unique artwork to give to your recipient.  Feeding someone in need in honor of someone you love–that is a beautiful gift.

BeadforLife–Make a difference in the life of a woman in Uganda, who is trying to create a better life for her and her family.  Our sisters there cut and roll beads from recycled magazines and newspapers, and oh–the beautiful jewelry they create!  If you are local, I have lots of their crafts I can show you–just let me know.  From bracelets to necklaces to jewelry bags, soap, and lip balm.  The person you give something from BeadforLife to will love the gift as much as the story.

ABAN–This is a beautiful story of young people making a difference.  Callie and Rebecca were college students who came up with an idea to help the young women living on the streets of Accra, Ghana and help rid the streets of the water sachets that littered them in bulk.  Thus, ABAN was born.  They have created some fabulous bags and accessories from the recycled water sachet bags.  The young women who are a part of the program are learning to dream, and they are gaining the skills to make those dreams come true.  Again, a gift with a  story that will make a difference.

Mossy Creek Soap–I love her soaps.  The different “flavors” are delightful and there is a scent for everyone, including her “naked” unscented soaps.  I recently visited with her and picked up a tin of the most amazing stuff  that works naturally on aching muscles.  If you know of someone who would love to make their own soaps, she has soapmaking classes on a regular basis.  Give them as a gift, or better yet, give it as a gift and join the recipient.  The gift of time with them and soapmaking. Win.  Win. Win.

Which brings us to another point of the Advent Conspiracy.  All gifts do not have to be wrapped in a box and paper. A gift described by one of the authors was a gift given to his wife.  One of her friends put together a book of notes from many people who loved her.  She had the gift of spending Christmas day reading all of the wonderful thoughts written just for her.  Beautiful.  We adapted this idea and put together a Hope Book for my Daddy one Christmas after his fight with Goliath began in earnest.  It had notes and stories and jokes and pictures that people who loved him wanted to share with him.  I cried putting it all together.

Other gift ideas that are outside the box are also relational.  Tie an invitation to have a cup of coffee out with you to a teaspoon or special coffee mug.  Give a bottle of nail polish with a note to have pedicures together to your sister.  A card with a note with a “gift card” for a picnic together or a walk in the woods is perfect for just the right person.  The point is to make the emphasis on the relationship and time together rather than the “thing.”

Over the next few weeks things are going to get hectic and crazy.  Don’t get caught up in the commercialism that takes away from the beauty of the Light of the season.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-shopping.  As a matter of fact, the places that give me my purchases in a paper bag with handles just turns my head.  But don’t let it run your life and take over your schedule.  Because it can.

I started off small the first year.  I picked one gift to change it up on.  Since that time several years ago, I find it easier and easier to step outside the box although some gifts are still bought at the store in a box or on-line.  It’s about trying to be more intentional and making the season more about time together than anything else.  Letting go of the stress and making more time for what is most important.

I’ve only included a few of my favorite things.  Please feel free to share yours with me.  I’d love to hear your gift ideas or what your most favorite and special gifts have been.

Wishing you all a day of great memory-making and joy!  Happy Thanksgiving.