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.