Monday, December 26, 2011

To text or not to text?

Our pre-Christmas dinner conversation included my dad's obvious disgust of texting and the degrade of social skills that it will bring in our children's generation. I would say, we discussed it, but I just sat there and kept quiet in an effort to avoid the debate. I text, he knows that and we've had this conversation before. In it I feel as the burden of responsibility of the technological advance of our society falls on my shoulders and I am there as the single representative to back it up. My dad rambled on in his rant to explain how texting will eventually have our children socially dumb due to the fact that our current communication skills are lowering as fast as smart phones are rising in our society. He is convinced our children already have a hard time carrying on a conversation and texting, messaging and email will have our future generations completely unable to communicate socially, read body language or foster relationships.

I text, I like the ability to do so and appreciate that I have a record that I can look back to. If I need to have a conversation without anyone eavesdropping, I can text. If I need to ask someone a quick question, all I have to do is text the question and can expect a quick reply without having to rearrange my afternoon schedule to listen to someone talk endlessly about ailments, family drama and so on when I just can't commit to that conversation at the moment. When there is an event or something I need to know, I have it in a text and can easily find the conversation and remind myself without the need of post-it notes on my nightstand, fridge, car dashboard, and every crevice of my purse. I have all I need in one device at my fingertips and I find that quite convenient. I have even referred to a text record to defend myself when accused of saying something I didn't in a recent conversation.

Texting has it's advantages, however I do agree that it has disadvantages. Sometimes we prolong a conversation by waiting for a reply than just hitting the dial button and having an actual voice conversation that would take less time. Text messages void one's capability to pick up on tone, sarcasm and emotion which can lead to misunderstandings or a lack of attention when one desires or needs it. Though we "feel" more connected, texting, social networks and other technological advances can't replace the human's relational need of face time, create memories or foster meaningful relationships.

I let go of the conversation at hand, and gratefully welcomed a new one with the entrance of our daughter, her husband and children, and then sat to a full Christmas dinner spread across the table. After dinner we retired to the comfort of an overstuffed sofa and chairs and talked as family conversations go, interweaving between children, work, history and so on. As we talked, my daughter and her husband sat quietly on the couch playing on their phones. They were in complete oblivion from our conversation unless we specifically called on them to pay attention to something. Though they may have been texting too, they were in the most part playing games on their newly acquired phones. Still, the image of the afternoon plagued me later as I thought back to my irritation of my dad's ranting, yet the fact that his point was proven by my own children as they were unable to just sit and enjoy an Christmas afternoon in conversation with family. I don't fault them, I checked my phone a few times and even uploaded a picture of my daughter to facebook when she finally fell asleep beside me. Nor can we completely fault the phones as, for the most part, teenagers and young adults would rather play a game of pick up sticks than sit and have a conversation with older adults, phones are simply today's distraction. Still as smartphone users and parents of the next generation, we will have to use and teach moderation and the nearly extinct abilities to use reason and respect. Reasoning when is the time and when is not the time to text, play and update our status and respecting the people in front of us enough to put down the phone and be present.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Pajama Day...I think!

I love when my girls' school has pajama day and who wouldn't? Those few days a year they get to wear the most comfortable clothes on earth and spend all day in their pajamas. Frankly, I'm a little jealous and wish we could institute a few adult pajama days to be added to the national calendar so we could get away with the same attire at work. Of course, as adults, we are not nearly as cute as kids are in their pajamas and children's are much more modest than some of the adult maybe it's a good idea that we don't have adult pajama days. Nonetheless, as a parent of anti-morning girls, pajama days make my job easier. After their nightly bath they are officially dressed for school and one part of our morning routine is scratched off the to-do list as complete, thus helping life run a bit more smoothly.

Our elementary school will sometimes have pajama day for the whole school or each grade on a different day. So, when the girls told me last night that today was pajama day, I had to be sure. You see I love pajama day, my girls love pajama day and there's nothing bad about pajama day except for when it isn't really pajama day. Did that make sense? Let me explain. When my girls were in kindergarten and first grade they came home with notes as to each of their grades having pajama day, with one on one day and the other the next. The first pajama day came and I dressed my first grader in her pajamas. She left for school happy and comfortable, while my kindergartner was upset with jealousy that she didn't get to wear her own. Any parent of siblings know we have to constantly teach our children that they are not always going to get the same thing, be invited to the same birthday parties and have the same friends. This lesson is part of them learning that the world is not fair and though they are sisters, they are also individuals. I was finally able to diffuse her mood with the explanation that she would get to wear her pajamas the next day, as her grade wasn't participating the same day as her sister's. I dropped them off at school and headed to work thankful for a semi-smooth morning and with pajama day off my mind and out of my thoughts. 

Later that evening, I returned home to two unhappy children. My first grader was irritated that she was the only child in her class wearing pajamas and my kindergartner was angry that she was the only one in her class who wasn't wearing pajamas. This is what you call and epic fail for the mom team, as I apparently mixed up the notes. Not that either note had a grade specified on it, but still, I'm the mom, thus the fault is mine. As if I did not feel bad enough about the mix up, I later found out from my first grader's teacher that my daughter kept her jacket on all day in class so as not to allow any other children to notice what she was wearing. The unfortunate thing is that if either teacher or the school had called me about their attire, my girls, who wear the same size, could have met in the bathroom and switched clothes in an instant and the world as we know it would have been at peace. However, I did not know until it was too late and my "mommy of the year" nomination was withdrawn completely from the running.

So as I mentioned before, when my girls told me today was pajama day, I had to be sure, completely, positively and undeniably sure. It's not that I do not trust my children, but after the epic fail of my past, I don't trust myself. I instantly requested a verification of pajama day from other parents on facebook and was assured that it was, in fact, today. So today I sent my kids to school in their pajamas and though I was given all the reassurance it's the right day, there's still this quiet fear in the back of my mind that I failed once again as will be there every pajama day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Party #3: An Evening of Pampering

So Monday night started my week with my day job's Christmas party with an evening of elegance and I ended my week with an evening of pampering at my marketing job's Christmas party. 

In my marketing job I work for my sister Rachel, and when I say an evening of pampering, I mean she knows how to pamper myself and the rest of our staff. Arriving to an excellent meal of her homemade white chicken chili, cornbread and appetizers made dinner casual and relaxing sitting around the table enjoying laughter and fun filled conversation.

Now to the pampering part:
Each year Rachel treats us to thirty minute professional massage by a massage therapist that comes to her house and transforms a room into a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere. If you have never had a massage...I highly recommend it. I guess in my 34 years I have now had five massages, each a gift, and each making me question why I do not spend the money on myself and treat myself to one more often. There is nothing like the complete relaxation of highly skilled and experienced hands working out painful muscle knots while simultaneously eliminating the stress and tension that we carry on a daily basis. 

Not only does the massage therapist massage, but she is also a NuSkin representative who gave me a facial too. A massage and a facial left me completely relaxed and refreshed. No, I don't look like a different person or movie star, but the treatment gave me an instantly noticeable cleaner face. 

Another great evening with great company, food, and the pampering of a massage and facial. I went home and melting into bed with my body feeling completely relaxed leading me to a great night's sleep and thankful for an evening of pampering.

Christmas Party #1: An Evening of Extraordinary Women

December is not only the month of Christmas preparation, but Christmas parties. In the past two weeks I have had four parties and am beginning to feel the burnout. The saving grace is that each party has had a different group of people, location and theme. So this is the first of four postings of each unique party.

My first, a week ago Tuesday, was our Zumba Christmas Party. Yes, Zumba, that workout that I had only heard of a few times before I attended my first class almost a year and a half ago. The first class where I tried to hide in the back of the room so no one would see me as I tried to maneuver and contort my body in rhythm and motions that looked nothing like that of my instructor. I thought I would never be able to learn or keep up, but instantly fell in love with it just the same. With each weekly class I learned a little more and moved up another row or two until I reached the front which is where I always stand now.

I love Zumba, not only for the physical workout, but the mental one as well. It's my me-time that I'm not a wife, mother, employee or responsible to anyone for anything. I do it for no one but me, and no matter how many people are in class, it's just me and the music working out my stress and frustrations while having fun. While I know my body is in a high intensity toning session, I also know that each drop of sweat from my body includes a drop of my daily weights.  It's good for my body, mind, and soul and has become my non-negotiable appointment. While the scale still makes me a little frustrated, I know that muscle weighs more than fat, and I have definitely shed some fat on my Zumba journey. My body is not yet where I want it to be, but is much better toned and my clothes tell me this as they fit differently than a year ago. While I would love to get in a few more classes than once a week, my one Tuesday night is what I am able to realistically commit to. It gives me something to look forward to, but not get burnt out on by doing it too much. Of course I always try to make it to the numerous Zumba parties promoted in our area too as they are an easy and fun way to raise money with a few entry dollars for the many good causes they support. 

Our Tuesday night class began in our church youth room but quickly grew so much that we changed locations to the larger gymnasium of our local recreation center with the largest one night attendance being up around the count of ninety women. While we meet weekly, it's hard to really get to know these ladies during a hour of high energy aerobic dancing followed up by a grueling fifteen minutes of abdominal work out. That said, it was great to meet these ladies for out of the gym for a night where we traded our workout wear for real clothes, sweat for makeup and the workout for a little time of appetite indulgence. An evening where we each brought a food to share, an ornament to exchange and some time where we could actually meet the women whom we have been dancing and punching the air next too. A few stood up with a picture of what they looked like before they fell in love with Zumba. While they were beautiful before, as they are now, they were minus forty pounds here, another forty pounds there and one woman had lost over eighty pounds in just the past eleven months. It was an inspiration to me to hear these women share their stories and commitment to make positive lifestyle changes and see the results they should be so proud of. Each story of endurance and success brought a tear or two to my eyes and caused me to not only see them as my fellow work out mates, but as the extraordinary women they are.

Christmas Party #2: An Evening of Elegance

If you know me, I work two jobs. My day job is in a financial planning office specializing in life insurance and investments and my second job, I do from home in internet marketing. So again, I had two work Christmas Parties this week, the first one being for my day job which I am entitling "An Evening of Elegance". In the past, we have always had our Christmas parties at my employer's house which included a catered meal and a gift exchange of playing dirty Santa. While these evenings have always been excellent and enjoyable, my boss changed it up a bit and took us out to dinner at a fancy shmancy restaurant about 45 minutes away in the neighboring city of Anniston. The restaurant is the Classic on Noble, and while I have heard of it's exquisite atmosphere and palate pleasing food, I had never been myself. Luckily, we were let off work an hour early so that we would have a few minutes to get home and freshen up for our evening out.

After detoured routes around Christmas parade traffic and finding as close a park as possible we set out down the street obviously overdressed for the parade watchers of the evening. Finally, we walk up to the most beautifully Christmas decorated windows of silver and white and upon entering our destination are escorted to our reserved table upstairs. I'm a little slow to the table as I love the walls adorned with hanging art and am trying to get a look at everything as I pass and am keeping up with our hostess. Our table is topped with a cloth top, centerpieces and actually "set" with more than one fork and knife and complete with bread plates, glasses and a full dinner setting that would have Emily Post exceptionally proud and that you just don't find at any of our Gadsden restaurants.

I scan the menu in a somewhat panic at the prices and the fact that it is riddled with seafood of which I am not a fan, and am left with the only choice which is a steak fillet. I did mention the prices already had me in a panic, right? To be specific, I ordered the 8oz. Angus beef fillet served with pommes lyonnaise and topped with Cabernet sauvignon glazed mushrooms and onions. Sounds good right, oh, and "pommes lyonnaise" is just an expensive term for "fried potatoes". No matter the beautiful menu description or price attached, the meal was of generous proportions and absolutely amazing! Yes, very good and I managed to clean my plate and still have room to split a dessert of peanut butter pie which was equally amazing. It was a wonderful evening in a delightful atmosphere, great company and amazing food. I highly recommend the restaurant for those special occasions or when you are just in need of an evening of elegance.


I recently read a hilarious blog by a lady explaining her disgust of the over achieving moms who spend countless time and energy to rearrange closets, undecorate Christmas trees, bake cookies and create unfathomable messes by their Elf On The Shelfs....I am not one of those mothers. I am a wife and mother who works two jobs, has a busy schedule and I an actually life. My Elfcapes are not elaborate, but it hasn't taken exotic measures to excite my children every morning with their elf Ashley. I posted Ashley's first four days in a previous post and here are the rest from her vacation from the North Pole.

Day 5: Friday
The girls had been given a large bag of candy that Ashley stole away from the kitchen and spread out all over the living room.

Day 6: Saturday
Ashley, who apparently has a little streak of kleptomania, stole my husband's hats from our closet, stacked them into a pyramid on the coffee table and hid from underneath them.

Day 7: Sunday
After we spent hours putting up and decorating our Christmas tree on Saturday, we awoke Sunday to toilet paper hanging from it's branches. When I lived in Iowa, we called it, here in the south, we call it Rolling....yes, Ashley rolled our tree. 

Day 8: Monday
Ashley took a little longer to find this morning as she had somehow made her way into our refrigerator. I finally found her hanging on the ketchup bottle of the refrigerator door.

Day 9: Tuesday
We woke to find Ashley having had made a snow angel in a pile of flour on our counter.

Day 10: Wednesday
Ashley wrote her name in toothpaste in the sink of the girls' bathroom. It took a few days afterward of them using my sink before we could convince them to let us clean it.

Day 11: Thursday
Ashley knocked all the movies out from within our T.V. cabinet and spread them all over the floor.

Day 12: Friday
Ashley helped herself to an individual cup of our cherished Blue Bell Sundae ice cream, ate the last Oreo cookie that the girls saved for me the night before, was drinking coke from a little Christmas snowman mug and had surrounded herself with a few Christmas globes that had been in the girl's rooms. Yes, Ashley obviously spent the evening binge eating.

Day 13: Saturday
Ashley found a box of Dots candy and wrote her name with them on our kitchen counter.

Day 14: Sunday
Ashley wrapped herself up in a string of beads. This was probably a good thing being that she didn't make a mess with her arms confined.
Day 15: Monday
Though she took a little longer to find, we finally found Ashley sitting atop an arm of our kitchen chandelier.

Day 16: Tuesday
Ashley found our mismatch sock bin and dumped it into a small pile in our living room floor. After a thorough search, Ashley was found beneath the pile. 

Day 17: Wednesday
Apparently liking not only making messes, but just hiding, Ashley was found amongst the leaves of an indoor plant. 

Day 18: Thursday
Elves Rock The House! Or at least that's what Ashley thinks as she wrote it out in Cheerios.

Day 19: Friday
Ashley stole some of my lipstick and painted her nose. The girls woke up to tell me that Ashley had made herself to look like Rudolf. I happen to know that Ashley not only painted her own, but also lipsticked the girls' noses in the middle of the night. However, my children not being the stillest of sleepers, had no evidence of Rudolf noses in the morning. 

Day 20: Saturday, Christmas Eve
Ashley moved all of our wrapped presents from beneath the tree, pulled out the wrapping paper, tags, boxes, tape and scissors and had cut a row of paper elves, instead of dolls, out of the wrapping paper. This gave McKenna something to work on all day as she wanted to make her own paper elves.

It's Christmas Eve and Ashley won't be making any messes tonight. This is her last night in our house and with the entrance of Santa's gifts comes the exit of our little mischievous friend. The girls will wake up in the morning to what Santa brings them along with individual personalized farewell letters from Ashley. Within the letters Ashley tells them how she had to go back to the North Pole for the yearly birthday party they have for Jesus on Christmas Day. While she is excited to get back home and get a start on preparing for next Christmas, Ashley explains that she will miss the girls so much and can't wait to see how much they have grown when she returns next year. She gives the girls instructions on what behaviors to work on and to show a little more patience to each other as having a sister is so special and closes each note by telling them how much she loves them.

While having an elf adds a bit more to the nightly routine of a parent, I have to admit that it has been fun having Ashley around. Some nights I have racked my brain to stretch my creativity for her elfcapades, while some mornings I have woke in forgetful tooth fairy mode as I hurry to do something quickly before the girls wake up. Either way the girls' giggles and smiles have made each morning with Ashley a rewarding experience. While I am not the over achieving Elfing mom, I am the mom that has thoroughly enjoyed making this Christmas memory for my children.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Our Family Addition

Last week I posted a blog entitled "We're Expecting," a title I thought would generate some interest which the blog stats confirmed as it is my highest viewed post thus far. While it does thrill me to see the stats and know that I have readers, if you are just joining me, please continue reading as I believe there are much better posts. Yes, the title was a little deceiving, but does prove the power of how important a good title is to generate interest. No, we are not expecting a baby as I'm sure this is the conclusion many a readers would jump to, but if you read, we were expecting an Elf On The Shelf to come stay with us until Christmas. When I posted last week, I had an Elf waiting for me on hold at a local gift shop until I could make it in and was in a desperate search for an Elf Skirt which turns this elf into a girl with the simple cling of Velcro. In a score for the mommy team, I found the skirt four and a half hours away at the Christmas Tree Shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. No, I did not drive all the way there for an elf skirt, nor would I, no matter how many mommy points that would generate. No, we were there for the weekend and as my determination was quickly turning into desperation, a Google search of Elf On The Shelf retailers led the way and the skirt was purchased by my husband in a covert undercover mission while I diverted the girls attention to other areas of the store. While I toyed with the idea of letting our before named Ashley Elf appear and join us on our weekend away, I decided to wait until we returned home to as not lose her or have her to distract the girls from other weekend events.

Day 1. Monday
The girls woke up bright and early Monday morning with an Elf on our shelf. She was sitting on the tupperware container we had stored our Gatlinburg fudge in only the night before and had obviously ate a little bit. She also left a note in agreement to what Santa had told her of Gatlinburg fudge being better than any other fudge there is. The girls were ecstatic that their new friend had finally arrived and begged to take her to school with them, but of course I would not allow that.

Day 2. Tuesday
In an effort to make school mornings as easy as possible with two procrastinating girls, we have a nightly routine of selecting and laying out school clothes for the following morning. When we woke on Tuesday, the girls' clothes were thrown all over our living room along with books that had been knocked off a chair side table and scattered on the floor beneath.

Day 3. Wednesday
Ashley must have wanted to share a little of her home with McKenzie and McKenna because she created a winter scene in our living room. She took all the cotton balls from my decorative bathroom apothecary jar and had them covering the coffee table with Snowman Peeps scattered amongst her cottony snow. Ashley sat in the snow next to a peppermint candy themed Christmas tree ornament she brought back from the North Pole. Next to her was her written response on the same note the girls left the night before asking what she liked to eat in the morning. It turns out Ashley is very tired in the morning and doesn't eat during the day, but really likes the snacks the girls have been leaving for her at night. Again, the girls begged to take her to school, but again I would not allow it instead reaching a compromise to let Ashley ride to school with us. She staying in the back seat held up to the window so she could see our morning route, car line and the girls' school and was given to me to ride up front when the girls exited the car for school. She sat in the same place of my console all day with her eyes fixated in my direction, watching my every move.

Day 4. Thursday
Panties, panties...everywhere, well not everywhere, but in a trail between the girls rooms that would have Hansel and Gretel finding their way home with no problem. I woke the girls in a hurried rush as I had woke a little late myself and continued with our morning routine listening to the girls giggle at Ashley's nightly mischief.

While my husband keeps accusing me of having more fun with Ashley than the girls are, they are enjoying her much more. I will admit that it is fun tapping into the childlike creativity of being an elf. I never know what she is going to do until the girls fall asleep and I am forced to figure it out quickly before I go to bed each night. It is both entertaining and helpful to see what other's elves are doing in several of my friends' morning facebook updates. I find their posts give me quick and easy ideas where I may be over thinking and trying too hard to be creative thus making the elfing stressful. This morning I couldn't help but think that Ashley's notes could be very helpful in motivating the girls to get some chores completed without me having to nag them. Is that manipulative? Yes, maybe a little, but I'm not above a little manipulation if the girls will take direction better from their foot tall friend rather than they will me and avoid a argument or two in the meantime. If Ashley's going to live in our house, eat our snacks and make messes, I figure she could do something productive too and help the girls score some extra points with Santa by cleaning their room, fighting with each other less and taking some initiative in other areas where they are relying on us to baby them. Yes, Ashley is definitely going to explore this method and maybe December will be our month for some better habits to be born to usher us into the new year ahead. I'll update you on the progress or lack thereof.

Happy Elfing!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Someone asked me yesterday "What are you plans?" I had to answer "I don't know" which is a rarity for me. I've been thinking a lot about my answer in embarrassment and disappointment of myself for not having a plan. I always have a plan, a goal or even a list of plans, but right now it seems pointless in the many scenarios before me. That saying of "everything is up in the air" feels like a definition of what I have been going through and a plan is useless as I wait on everything to fall into place. Though it seems things have been falling all around me, they haven't been falling into place, but rather in a mess I can't seem to make my way through. Just as an infant struggles to force a shape into the wrong hole of a toy, I've been in a struggle to put things in place, but there just isn't a fit or a fix. The word that is scrawled across the blackboard of my mind is "LIMBO," and I neither like the game, nor the state of mind. In an effort to further understand, I looked up the definition:

A region or condition of oblivion or neglect:
A state or place of confinement.
An intermediate place or state.

...which led me to another definition...

The condition of being forgotten or disregarded. 
The state of being mentally withdrawn or blank. 

And now I understand why this is the word in my mind that I cannot run from, that I can't make disappear no matter how much I try to focus on other things, turn up the noise or put my fingers in my ears and sing "La La La La La" in an effort to ignore. Even when I try the ostrich-scenario of burying my head in the sand, the reminder of "Limbo" is still there. It's in waiting for a house to sell in a terrible housing market, it's in the uncertainty of the work day, it's in relationships with people I love who would rather ignore my existence than work on restoration, a vehicle in need of yet another repair and every other challenge that everyday life throws at me. It's the culmination of all these and more that plague me in this state of limbo and oblivion as if stuck on a page in a book that cannot be turned. That page where no matter how many times you re-read the text in front of you, the words won't absorb in your mind, but instead escape their meaning and are forgotten as soon your eye passes over them. It's the weight of limbo that hit me just outside of town as I returned from a long weekend away and tempted me to make a U-turn back in escape. It's this state of limbo that has me with no plans until a few questions are answered, weights are lifted and pages are turned so I can move from this place of confinement in the unknowns to making plans again...that is my plan for now and the only one I can make.

Monday, December 5, 2011

9 Hours, 2 Pottie Breaks and 17 Road Kills

Anyone that has children and taken a road trip knows that you can quickly run out of activities to keep the little ones occupied and distracted from the endless questioning of "are we there yet?" This weekend we took a road trip with our girls to Gatlinburg for an annual cheer leading competition that my daughter is a part of about four and a half hours away. Upon leaving our little yappers with my parents to dog sit for four days, they suggested we let the girls play the Road Kill Game. I know there are plenty of road trip games out there, but I doubt you will find this game in any activity books as it is one of my dad's originals and errs on the side of a little morbid and demented of a game to share with children. In the Road Kill Game, you simply keep a running tally of all the dead animals you find along the way of your trip. The first time I ever heard of the game was when my nieces road from Iowa with my dad and then drove back with my sister resulting in an approximate 28 hour round trip. They took their list, compiled the results and sent it to my dad in a nice tallying of all the dead exhibits they found. My dad was so impressed with it and the girls' follow through, that it became a framed and displayed souvenir of the summer trip. I have to admit I was rather impressed by the variety of specimens of their road side observations. So being that I failed to pack any other car activities, the Road Kill Game it was for our journey. I'll also admit that it does feel a little bad when you get excited to see a dead animal so you can tally it down on your notepad, but it did keep the girls entertained. Our list would have been much longer, but McKenna and I took very long naps on the return trip and probably missed a lot of victims. So here is our compiling of our 9 hour round trip Road Kill Game:

Gatilinburg Road Trip December 2011
Flower Pots: 2 (Yes, we realize that flower pots were not alive in the first place, but thought as ran over as they were they had been officially killed!)
Unidentified: 4
Dogs: 3 (This made us the saddest being the dog lovers we are)
Rabbit: 1
Chickens: 4 (We are guessing a cage door didn't get quite closed on a chicken truck.)
Deer: 2 (These make the messiest of Road Kill.)
Cat: 1
Total: 17 with the "Unidentifieds" winning. Yes, there are "winners," I said it was morbid. As McKenna would keep the tally, she would periodically update us on who was in the lead and who was trailing. Again, a little morbid, a little demented of a game, but the road kill is there so you might as well get the kids looking out the windows and using what's there in front, or rather on the side of you, to keep them occupied, using their animal, spelling and math skills. Happy traveling!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We're Expecting!

Yes, that's right, we're expecting in the Hodge house! We are expecting an elf to come stay with us until Christmas! Did you think I was talking about a baby? No, thank you, my hands are full enough as it is and my uterus has an aversion to such creatures growing inside of it. Sorry if I misled you, but I did get your attention, didn't I? So the real story is that we are getting an Elf On The Shelf to stay with us until Christmas. If you aren't familiar with what this is, don't worry, I didn't have a clue until last year when my many friends were posting about their elves's nightly escapades on facebook. An Elf On The Shelf is an elf that comes to stay in your home until Christmas. This elf's sole purpose is to keep watch over the home's children and report to Santa on how well they are behaving until Christmas. These little spies are also mischievous around the house, hiding, making messes and other creative little elf activities to keep them occupied when the children are sleeping or away at school. My girls were introduced to the elf last year by their teachers and would come home with giggles and stories of what the elf did in their classroom that day. We decided then that we would get an elf in our home this year, though I meant to pick one up on a post season sale, but unsurprisingly forgot. On a related topic, my sister is hosting a foreign exchange student from Thailand in her home, so I guess I could house an elf this year on the North Pole Elf Exchange Program, right? Yes, indeed, I'm not going to allow her to one up me on our ongoing parenting/humanitarian/super-woman sibling rivalry.

While I was planning on starting the elf inhabiting with the first of December, I'm assuming that other elf-participating parents began with the close of Thanksgiving. I say this because as soon as the girls returned to school from Thanksgiving break, they began talking about their elf and wondering when it would arrive. Thankfully, their best friend told them all they had to do was set out a glass of water, a few crackers, and a note to their elf and their elf would write them back with it's planned arrival date to their house. As efficient as they are, the note was completed before they even reached their bus stop and plans were underway for their elf to visit that night. Their note was left on the mantle next to a cup of water minus the crackers that their mom neglected to have in the house.

> Dear Elf
I really want an elf. I want 2 elves 1 good 1 bad. I want both that can be touched 1 baby 1 grown. I want the baby to be messy. Come even if we're not decorated.
From: McKenzie, McKenna

The next morning the girls were disappointed as their note and water were in their original place and there was nothing in return from their future friend. Turns out, our elf left it's note on the other side of the mantle >
Greetings from the North Pole!
Thank you for your letter. Santa gets lists and mail all the time, but us elves never get mail just for us. I have been picked by Santa himself to come to your house in a few days. Our elf records show that you have never had an elf at your house, so Santa won't let you have two elves this year. He said that if you take good care of me this year, maybe he will let another elf stay with us next year. So I am really busy right now in the workshop making toys and stuff. Santa won't let me come until I get all my list done. I think I will be all finished and packed to be at your house next Monday or Tuesday. I am very excited to get to come to your house. Santa told me you have dogs and I really like dogs. Please take very good care of me. I am used to Mrs. Clause taking care of me. She is really sweet and I have never left the North Pole before. Again, thank you for your letter. I have to get back to the workshop to get the rest of the togs made on my list.   
~ Your Elf

Well the girls were reeling in excitement and the morning ride to school was filled with questions and little known information about elves. They figured that their elf was probably at our house right that instant just to "check it all out Momma". Really? I being the "Google It" proclaiming person asked if they thought that our elf Googled where we lived. "Well of course not momma, they don't have wifi at the North Pole" answered McKenna. Elves have "Magic Powers" to locate your home and do all sorts of other things. I didn't even know my girls had all this elf knowledge, but I'm thinking I'm going to need to Google an 'Elves for Dummies' handbook to get me caught up on all the need-to-knows with having an elf in your home.

Now for all of you reading this and ready to call the Elf Gender Discrimination Hotline because I keep referring to our elf as an "it", please close the yellow pages and hang up the phone. The only reason I am calling it an "it" is because we are not yet sure if we are getting a girl or a boy elf. Of course my little ones want a girl, but all of the stores their mom has called is out of the Elf On The Shelf official Skirt that turns the initial boy elf into a girl elf. If a shipment doesn't arrive before Monday or Tuesday, the "it" is going to have to be a boy. Though it's been suggested that I make one myself or use baby clothes, my girls have seen the real thing and I'm not really sure if an imitation will be accepted. So at this point, we are going to let our elf's gender be a surprise.

The next night there were three notes left for the elf:

 > This one is McKenna's which apparently my computer and blogspot have joined forces against me to refuse to allow me to insert it any other way but sideways.

Dear elf,
You are very nice but can you please leave your note where I leave mine. I want to know if you are the baby before you come. Please tell me your name.

So I guess it's a little obvious that McKenna did not like the placement of the elf's previous note and she is taking charge of the situation to be sure it doesn't happen again. The concern of the elf being a baby or not determines if the elf is going to be exceptionally messy. (They are hoping for a messy baby, or at least something to blame their messes on....I'm onto them.)

This is McKenzie's in what I believe she must have really concentrated on her handwriting in because you can actually read it pretty well.

> And this one from both is just too sweet. The elf left a few notes again for the next morning and as requested they were left in the same place that the girls left theirs for easy finding. The elf also drank the water, ate the chips and really enjoyed the skittles that were left the second night. I can assure you that the elf is having just as much fun passing notes in the night with my girls as they are.

So as are expecting, you also can be expecting to read more about our Elf-scapades as Christmas approaches. As for me, it's late, I'm tired and I need to check and see what the girls have left their elf tonight! ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alone In A Room Full Of People

Have you ever found yourself alone in a room full of people? Is that even possible? Why yes, of course it is. If you have never experienced it, count yourself lucky or more of a social butterfly than I consider myself to be. It's happened before, thankfully so long ago that I almost forgot what it felt like to be invisible. Not the invisibility that you would love to have as a Stan Lee created Marvel super power. But the invisibility felt that coincides with feeling ignored or not wanted in the room in the first place. It happened just last week in a room full of people. When I say full, I mean one busting at the seams, where extra seating was brought in and there were still people sitting on the floor. I sat there in a still shot of a movie with the room rotating around me in slow motion allowing me to pick out and tune in to all the conversations that filled the air. But when I opened my mouth to speak it was as if in a dream where you are trying in panic to scream but there is no air to fill you lungs and no audible voice to be heard. And I sat there holding it all in to a point where I wanted to fold up and melt within myself. I'm not blaming the people in the room, it may have been me that put myself there by building walls of protection amongst all the emotional hurt that lingered within me, the emotional hurt that weighed me down in place despite my longing to run away. Again in that dream where you are trying to run but your legs are heavy, limp and unresponsive.

Kind of depressing right? Sorry, this is my emotional purging moment, my blog, so I can write what I feel. Well not everything I feel or I would probably have more enemies than I possibly have now, but a candid yet controlled amount of my feelings that I can purge safely. Why am I doing it? Because in speaking with others over the years, it's not a uncommon feeling to have, but when it's happening to you, you can tend to feel like you're the only one in the world to experience it. I was recently told in conversation with someone who has been reading, that the person could identify with what stories, thoughts and insights I had wrote about. She said it was similar to the thoughts she had, she just never found the words for it. While I love to write the encouraging, mind provoking posts, some days just aren't that encouraging. Some days you feel that you will be lucky if you just make it through the next hour without having an emotional breakdown, let alone make it to completely through the day. Some days you find yourself alone in a crowded room, that's real life and this is why I do it, this is why I will allow myself to be vulnerable.

There were many years in my life that I would look at other people, women especially, that had this look like they had it all together. They were beautifully dressed, accessorized and juggling marriage, kids, family, work, friendships, home and obligations with perfection and grace while even finding time to bake a batch of cookies for the new neighbor. In watching them, I created this fantasy that they were doing it all without failures. I created an unachievable image of something that never actually existed in the first place and beat myself up worse when I couldn't measure up. Those beautify family pictures that come in the frames at the home decor store are models, make believe, they don't exist! Yes, models and they have been make-uped primped, posed, photo shopped and everything in between before being put in that gorgeous frame. The last family photo we had was years ago at our church and my then 18 year old step daughter showed up with bright pink hair. Not a cute little strand or two like I honestly thought would always look great in her beautiful blond hair, but bright, bold, dark pink for family photos to be put in our new church directory. Yes, I was mad, did you read this was to be forever documented in our church directory? At the time, I was on the women's ministry team, the MOPS team (Mother's of PreSchoolers), and a few other leadership church teams. Church teams that would much rather have had the picture framed family from the home decor store rather than the mom with the bright pink haired daughter. While the color was fake and did wash out over time, the family is real. We still have drama, problems, issues, tragedies, tears, triumphs, laughter and good times. It's called reality and that is where real life lives.

Sticky Notes

Part of the beauty I have found in my laptop equipped with Windows 7 is the ability to use "Sticky Notes". While I am a list maker and a note taker, I do not want to have a desk, mirror or any other surface littered with post it notes and scraps of paper notated with every little thing. Okay, I will admit the refrigerator is an exception to this rule. Not that I like it, but with family schedules and reams of school paper notes home, I had to have some place to put all of it so everyone could keep up and I did not have to be the family calendar. So yes, my fridge is now the "Grand Central Information Hub of the House" so that I don't have to be in charge of the information that now fits nicely on a magnetized dry erase calendar. "Sticky Notes," or virtual post it notes, are my own personal notes I can stick in the desktop of my computer at any moment and delete away when need be. The problem is that I use these for quotes and thoughts too, most of which I acquired on one of those "finding myself" periods of life analysis and evaluation, and I now have a stack of them on my desktop needing to find a permanent home. I recently used one as my facebook status and was accused of having a little book of "Gandhi Nica"-isms that I just put out there from time to time. So here are my Sticky Notes or Gandhi Nicaisms...whichever you want to call them. After storing them here, I'm going to do a little housekeeping on my desktop, but I am sure there will be plenty of Sticky Note followup postings as I accumulate another stack. I find them helpful when I am questioning myself, measuring my people pleasing, my emotions and my intentions.

  • Arrogant ignorance judges, experience understands.

  • Living life is an intentional choice, not an involuntary function.

  • Say yes when it pleases you, not to please others.

  • If I'm not worth their respect, they're not worth my time.

  • I will not let other people's happiness dictate my own.

  • Do not spend your time waiting on others who wouldn't spend their time waiting on you. 

  • Sometimes in life you find yourself alone and in the middle of nowhere...sometimes alone and in the middle of nowhere is when you find yourself. (stole this but love it)

  • Ask yourself the question "am I doing what I am doing because I did it yesterday, or because I want to?" (passed down from a Gandhi-like friend)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sunday Bike Outing

I didn't set my alarm clock Saturday evening and because I am the mom and wife of the family, it's my fault we overslept for church Sunday morning. I admit it, it's all my fault...that and a few other things. But don't worry, this week is definitely making me pay for it and justice is being served to me on a not so silver platter. But, we won't go there. So back to my alarm clock, oh yeah, I didn't set it, and didn't wake up until 10:30 am on Sunday morning which was much too late to try to get ready and make it to service which started thirty minutes before. So instead, I made some Sister Shubert's Sausage Wrapped Rolls for breakfast, which was a hit among the little people. When I say made them, I mean I thawed them out, unwrapped them from the plastic bag and put them in the oven....yes, I'm very domesticated, I know. After working on the computer for a few hours, and yes, I do mean work, as I have a second job in marketing that I do from home, my husband offered the suggestion of loading up our bikes and taking the girls for a bike ride. This is something we haven't done before and sounded like a great idea for a family outing. This summer we spent most of our free weekend time on the river and now that summer is over, my girls and I are having river withdrawals to the point that when they asked to wear their swimsuits at bath time a few nights ago, I let them in complete understanding. For us, it's going to be a very long winter and we are going to have to figure out somethings to do to keep us entertained until spring.

So the bikes are loaded up, tires aired up and we head to the wildlife preserve trail behind our local mall which lies at the Coosa River edge. While I spent countless hours of my childhood riding a bike on the Sac and Fox trails of Indian Creek, the off road trick bike trails and through the my Bertram Road neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I have to admit I was a little nervous to take a seat behind the handle bars.  It has been many, many years since I have rode a bike. I know my old red Gitaine 10 speed was packed on the moving truck when we moved here when I was 14, but I don't remember riding it much when we planted our new home in Rainbow City. I asked my dad what happened to my bike a few years ago and learned that it had been bartered away in a yard sale being that I never used it and had forgotten about it myself. Hearing its fate gave me a complete understanding to John Mayer's lyrics where he asks "whatever happened to my lunchbox,when came the day that it got thrown away and don't you think I should have had some say in that decision?" But being a parent myself, I completely understand the need to purge away forgotten items so as not to completely drown in all the toys a child goes through over the years; this is what happened to John's lunchbox and my 10 speed. In irony, I take a seat on what was once our older daughter's bike who has long ago moved out, but forgot about it, and so it's now become mine until she ever remembers to reclaim it.

The saying about never forgetting to ride a bike  
proved itself to be true and there were no falls for me, however this was not the case for our McKenna who fell numerously as she adjusts to riding without training wheels. It gives me no pleasure in admitting that we as parents failed in the training wheel department and only took them off her bike this past summer. This was her first venture away from the familiarity of our driveway and the crushed stone and boardwalk decking gave her some intimidation and frequent falls.    

I had always thought the wildlife trail was named so because of the obvious duck and bird visibility, but apparently we have an ever present beaver population that was completely unknown to me. We spotted various beaver dams along the way and tracks crisscrossing the mud bottom of the lowered riverbed. This gave me a chance to use our outing as an educational experience for the girls while I told them about beaver dams, nests, habitats and everything else I could recall from a middle school research report from 20+ years ago. We decided this would make a good family google subject for us later when we returned home. Three days later we have yet to look it up, but it hasn't escaped my memory, so beaver googling will definitely be in the near future.
While I have walked the boardwalk that makes up this walking trail, I have never went completely over it to the little island it leads to. I think the length of the boardwalk was a little overwhelming to the girls as they saw it curve around the river edge and head to the unknown. Pushing them forward, I told them to imagine that we were on the wooden go cart track that we like to visit on Gatlinburg vacations and we are on a journey to explore the secret island ahead. They liked this and the fact that I had never been to the "secret island" either so this was a first for all of us. That seemed to suffice and we peddled ahead.

The secret island had less traveled trails, cut through by foot rather than bike, with many fallen limbs along the root entangled paths. After passing by the last resting bench, the trail narrowed even more and I finally gave the lead to my husband out of pure selfishness of not wanting me to be the first to encounter a snake, beaver or anything else we might come upon. Luckily there were no first hand wildlife encounters, not even a mom-feared brush of poison ivy. We made the full trek which circled the island and then headed back over the boardwalk in time to witness a baby duck swimming alone. Just as I was pointing it out to the girls, it disappeared under the water's cloak only to re-emerge a few yards from where it had been. We watched in suspense each time it would disappear to see where it would reappear again until it was finally out of sight and then we headed back to the truck and reloaded the bikes.

It was good time for all of us, out in nature, disconnected from the world around us, creating what I hope will be a family memory my girls will keep locked in a file of their mind for years to come. While we had missed church that morning, we had our own service with bicycle seats instead of pews, fresh air instead of electronic heating and cooling, in a sanctuary created by God more beautiful than any decorated church walls. He spoke to me in subtle whispers all along the way through the beauty of nature and the inquisitive children He blessed me with.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Christmas List Defined

A call from the school nurse on Thursday brought my McKenna home, after a trip to the doctors' office on the way, for a diagnosis of Strep Throat. So, Friday she spent the day on the couch with a milder fever than the day before with my husband home to care for her while I went to work and made the numerous mommy calls to check in on fever and activity status. I had one of those full days at work, with an errand filled lunch break and got home just in time to rush McKenzie to gymnastics, finally landing us home around seven at night where I ate a few bites of oven cooked frozen pizza. I sat down to realize I had not sat down all day without being at my work desk or behind the wheel of the car racing the clock to make it to the next appointment. 

It was then I got to spend a few moments loving on my sick daughter who had spent the day watching television, reading books and making her Christmas list. As the stress of my day had just begun lifting, the mention of her Christmas list brought a new stress of obligation and lists of everything that I would have to do for the upcoming holiday only a little over a month away. I tried to brush it away, file it into my memory for another time, knowing it was just more than I could handle at the moment. This was a time that I needed to let go of the day, the week and all the weights that burdened me. So, focusing back on my daughter, I ask to see her list. She runs to get it, throws it in front of me and skips off into the next room to join her sister for a movie.

^ Do you see the list? I stare at the notebook in front of me and have more questions than answers as I try to interpret her list:
1. Peewee: What is that? All I can think of is PeeWee Herman from my childhood and she has not been exposed to that at all. 
2. Wugie: Yeah, not familiar with this term either.
3. Slepers (that pop out): Ok, I am thinking she means "sleepers" would that be like pajamas? And what is "that pop out"? I am what you call dumbfounded. 
4. DVD: I finally figured one out...she wants DVDs, that's easy. I am now at a 1 out of 4 score!
5. Raido: This is an obvious spelling mistake and was supposed to read "Radio". Ha, I'm at 2 out of 5 now, I'm getting better.
6. CD: That's 3 out of 6....go mom!
7. Rainx: What? Why would my child want Rainx? She must have really thought the commercial was cool. 

Todd and I look at the list to compare interpretations of what the 3 out of 7 questions were and to find out exactly why she would want Rainx for Christmas. Here are the findings when you have an answer key to decipher the Christmas list, or rather the creator of said Christmas list, McKenna:
1. Peewee: "Mom, that's a pee wee pillow pet. It's like a pillow pet only they are smaller and cuter."
2. Wugie: "Wuggles are these little stuffed animals, but they are flat. You know the fluffy white stuff that stuffed animals have in them to make them fat? Well you take the flat wuggle and put it on this thing that puts the white fluffy stuff in it and it blows up all fat and stuff." explains my child.  So, yes, apparently a Wuggle is like having your own personal Build-A-Bear Workshop and machine in your home. I am not even gonna google this one for the price tag or the follow up materials that you will need to make if fun past the first use. I am sure it only comes with one flat Wuggle and the stuffing to fill it. We consumer parents are probably forced to have to upkeep the toy with additional stuffing and a plethora of Wuggles to choose from for your child to blow up, each "sold separately". Go buy some stock people....this could be a money maker! And I don't even want to think of all the white fluffy cottony stuffing that will be found in trace amounts all over the house. I think this is when I turned to McKenna and told her she was no longer allowed to watch commercials.
3. Slepers (that pop out): This is supposed to read Slippers. And the pop out part, is that these slippers have animals on them and when you walk, each step makes their faces move, mouths open and such. McKenna described it as "they come to life!"
4.5.6. I got those right, no explanations needed. Score for Mom!
7. Rainx: I ask her why she would want Rainx. She looks at me with this half puzzled, half irritated look and says in that tone that every parent can identify with "Mom, that's PAINT!" Oh, whoops, that lower case "r" is actually an upper case "P" and what I read as an "x" is a "t". Ok, that makes sense now. 

She wants to make sure I will remember everything on her list. I tell her I'm gonna take a picture of it so I will have it with me and that way I can't forget. I actually wanted the picture to share here. Not only because I feel this need to deliver a post now that I have started this blog thing and I actually put pressure on myself to find topics, stories and insights to share, but because I thought it was funny and cute too. Some days are stressful, some weeks and months are stressful. Sometimes we have to shrug it all off, file it away for another time and get in the minds of a seven year old to de-stress. I'm glad a 7 item list could give me a laugh and a break in the complexity of it all. Hope your Christmas lists are equally as entertaining.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Riding the Roller Coaster

I recently read, reread, and again read a confessional blog which had my brain on an incessant processing of the words and honesty contained within it. I was deeply impressed not only by the honesty, but proud that this blogger would put herself out there as vulnerable as she did. I read her words and was inspired by the evaluation of herself. 

Being a blogger now myself I realize how encouraging comments can be in response to the emotional purging we do on the world wide web for anyone and everyone to read, critique and use against us at any given time. Compelled by the blog's complexity, I posted a comment. I reread my comment only to find some encouragement for myself as I have my own emotional and behavioral baggage I am trying to sort through, organize and deal with as one would their wardrobe as seasons change. What fits, what doesn't, what do I gravitate to out of habit and comfort but looks nothing but terrible on me, what can I donate, and what do I need to bite the bullet, accept the loss and toss in the trash despite the cost, time invested and sentimental attachment. Am I still talking about emotions and behavior or clothes? The choice could apply to all three, but here I am focusing on the emotions and behaviors we have to deal with throughout our lifetimes. If you aren't dealing with something in yourself, you are either lazy, in denial or perfect. If you chose perfect, your true answer is denial because perfection is a complete fantasy as we all have shortcomings and room for improvement.

So, no matter where you are or what you are dealing with, I hope my comment can encourage you as it did me, though I did polish it up a bit before posting here:

I believe it is good to analyze yourself and evaluate yourself all through life. There are always things we can learn about ourselves, habits that need breaking and behaviors that need attention. That said, we can be our own worst critics, especially when we are also perfectionists and expect more of ourselves than anyone else could ever imagine. It's important to look at yourself clearly to encourage yourself to do better while being careful not to get out the magnifying glass which makes small things bigger than necessary and beat yourself into a state of emotional defeat. The balance between the two is very hard to attain and even harder to sustain. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We need to allow ourselves the honesty to encourage and catapult ourselves in a positive direction.
Often, the hardest thing to do is to conquer our insane default modes of continuing the same behavior over and over again and instead make the changes necessary to achieve success in moving ahead. Life is a continual roller coaster: there are highs, lows, curves, tailspins of nausea and the occasional vomit. It's okay to have all these emotions on the coaster, but when we find ourselves in the lows we have to stay in the car in order to embark on the next climb which may be the one that will have our hands raised in the air and voice screaming in excitement as we conquer another mountain or obstacle in our life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is the age I am going to miss the most...

You know those mother's who get all teary eyed with every birthday their little one has? You've seen them, the ones that often reminisce about holding their child in their arms as a baby and how they miss those moments. Well I am not one of those mothers. While I like babies with their wonderful baby powder smell, softest skin they will ever have and their precious little baby faces and sounds, they just aren't that interesting beyond cuddling, looking at, feeding and continually changing diapers. I have always been more the fan of watching my girls age and grow into themselves as they develop their individual personality. They are most interesting to me at this stage where they have their own thoughts, questions, creativity, humor and wonderment of the world. I like seeing through their eyes and hearing their childlike thoughts which break down the complexity of the world into it's simplest of forms.

That said, I believe this it the age I am going to miss the most in my girls. Now at ages seven and ten, they come out with the most exquisite questions, thoughts and phrases which make me laugh, ponder on and occasionally wonder "where in the world did that come from". Not only that, I selfishly love that my girls are so in love with me as their mom. At this age, they call me "Mommy" and still want to be around me, they hold my hand in public, they don't care that I'm not perfect, they listen to me when I try to teach them and they think I can fix and do anything. I am constantly getting notes and colored pictures which have "I love you mom" plastered on them in the brightest of colors, the messiest handwriting and a misspelled word or two, yet they are my masterpieces. In addition, my girls can't get enough snuggle time with me piled up under a quilt watching TV or reading a book. At this age, I believe they think I am hiding a cape under my clothes which allows me unfathomable abilities as their mom.

As I have three older step children that I have survived the teenage years with already (can I get an "Amen"), I know there will come a time sooner, rather than later, where none of this will be the case. I know the girls who hold my hand now will someday not want to be seen out in public with their mom. What was once a sweet sounding "Mommy" will become a "Mom" in a sarcastically short tone that screams discontent and disapproval. The listening ears will become filled with the voices of their friends and peer pressure that I as a parent will have to battle against to keep my voice heard above. The girls that always want the "mommy time" of snuggling and reading books will become those that will want to spend less and less time with me unless it benefits them as selfish teenagers can be. Those love notes and pictures to me will be replaced with love notes and graffiti on their school notebooks in devotion to first loves and heartbreaks. And the cape they think I wear now will be long forgotten as they see that I was never perfect and will use every opportunity they can to rub my faults in my face in the same way we rub a dog's nose in his mess during house training. They will find that the mom that could do anything and fix anything is just winging it and spends most of her time trying to do the best she can while second guessing each decision and often falling short and disappointing not only them, but herself.

Until then, I will enjoy the moment of being the caped Mommy I am today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Carlisle

Did you ever notice that the older you get the more people around you are dying? Pretty morbid topic, yes, but it's sadly true. The older we get the more people we know, the more people are in our network and it seems like death is all around us. I have five hundred and something friends on facebook and it seems like everyday or at least twice a week, one of them posts about someone in their family who has died. I used to never know anyone in the obituaries in the newspaper, now at least once a week I know someone who is or is related to the person. We expect people to die of old age at some point, but death has no age range, it effects young, old, and everyone in between. Sometimes its disheartening, discouraging and just depressing, but death is a part of life.

In January, it was my 44 year old sister in law, in February, my 11 year old dog, March, my dad's best friend at 72 years old, a little boy from my children's school over the summer, and so on. This week it is John Carlisle from our neighborhood. I believe John is the oldest resident from our street, not the oldest in age, but I believe his was the first house in our neighborhood. When we moved to Alabama in 1991, he is one of the first neighbors we ever met. He wasn't the guy looking out the window at the neighborhood, he was the one IN the neighborhood. If something was going on, he knew about it, if you were doing something, he knew about it, and if you needed anything he would be the one to be there to offer a hand. Not only would he offer a hand, but he was the hand that followed through with it. He was a talker, never met a stranger and I can recall several times being in his presence where I wasn't sure if the conversation would ever end.  I know for years my dad has stored his wood splitter in John's garage, not because John needed it, but because John had the room and insisted upon it rather than see my dad store it outside. His frame was short and stocky with a little curve in his back which I had always attributed to him being a hard worker.

I think our neighborhood says a lot about John, and reflects the man he was, as I believe it was John who set the standard and tone for our street, encompassing all the qualities of a true neighbor. I hold him personally responsible for making our street one where homeowners do not just live on the same street, but are neighbors. One would think our street was actually placed here from a day and time where neighbors were actually neighborly, a concept which has nearly became an endangered if not completely extinct thing in our present day society.  You see ours is a neighborhood where everyone knows every one's name, their kids, dogs, cars and so on. There's even somewhat of a phone tree system to find the cows' owners when they find a damaged place in the pasture fence to get out, and they will find it. When you go on vacation, someone will watch your house, bring in your mail and babysit your dog.  It is a neighborhood where you feel safe and always at home. It is one where in John's death, everyone is calling each other to set up meals for the family and arrange who will go to set up his house to receive family and friends after his funeral.

I read the snippet announcement in the paper today and learned that John was 70. I didn't know how old he was, it just never occurred to me to wonder. He was always active, on a tractor, walking or riding his bike, and you could never pass by him that his hand didn't fly up in the air into a wave.  I didn't know him closely, but you don't have to know someone closely to have utmost respect for them. You don't have to know someone well to grieve for their family. I imagine I will learn a lot more about John when his full obituary comes out in tomorrow's paper, from his friends and family at the funeral home and then again in his home afterward. I know I am honored to be a small part of the neighborhood that will band together at this time to show love to his family at this their most difficult time. I am thankful for John, for what he left us as his neighbors, and I know our neighborhood will never be the same.

The Candy Conquest

Hope you had a Happy Halloween with plenty of new memories for the kiddos. Ours started at my sister's house where we unexpectedly met up with my other sister, my 8 year old twin nieces and teenage nephew.

Plans were quickly made to team up for our Candy Conquest of Trick-or-Treating and we embarked in a two car caravan loaded with Frankenstein, Cleopatra, an Astronaut, a She-Werewolf and a Zombie.

The four younger cousins love to divide up between cars so that no sister has to ride with her sister. It gives the girls time to catch up and for us parents there are usually quieter, argument-free rides with no sister drama.

We hit a few church Trunk-or-Treats, which the girls love, and I appreciate the blessing of being from a small area where you continually run into people you know. We then went to the chosen neighborhoods for the door-to-door trick-or-treating we as adults reminisce doing as children. It was there that for a few houses we were followed by a lurking teenage sized boy costumed in a scary mask and carrying a chain saw that he would occasionally rev the engine sending our little girls into a fearsome run. I admit it was cute at first, but if he hadn't stopped when he did, my sister and I were about to morph into mama bears that protect our young and send him in another direction. Luckily, he stopped taunting our little ones and disappeared into a nearby house before any morphing occurred. 

As the night grew later and the air colder, my sister and I departed ways and we went on to trick-or-treat our last neighborhood by heated car instead of by foot. Cleopatra and the She-Werewolf decided that they'd had enough for one Halloween, and we returned back to the starting place of my sister's house for hot dogs and 'smores over her fire pit before heading home. Cleopatra had apparently been secretly bitten by an asp, and was sound asleep when we arrived home, so we postponed our yearly tradition of sorting and inventorying our candy plunder, and instead wiped off makeup and tucked the girls into bed. Another Halloween conquered with fun, memories, and enough candy to have the girls on a sugar high for the next few weeks.