Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

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Closing Time (Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End)

She believed she could, so she did. –R.S. Grey

A young woman who I know AND love is about to do something BIG and brave…and I couldn’t let this occasion go by without penning a few thoughts…because what’s the point of growing older (and wiser) if you can’t drop some knowledge on a youngster, right?  Amen.

myrandaMost of these musings came to me at 2am.  I mention this as both a disclaimer and an explanation to the randomness of these points, but let me start at the beginning.  I remember the day you were born.  Driving down the highway to the nearby town, your aunt and I talked excitedly about our soon-to-arrive niece.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t know exactly what to expect, so when we were invited into the delivery room we stood dumbfounded.  Now that you know us (and my aversion to all things medical) you can probably guess that we declined and opted to do the next best thing–MAKE A SIGN!  We sat in the hallway with a poster board and some markers scribbling a “welcome baby” greeting just for YOU!  From the beginning, you were so loved.  For years, our whole family life revolved around you.  When I would come home from college, you were one of the people I most looked forward to seeing.  I liked to rock you to sleep and quietly sing the KU alma mater song…because I found the song both hopeful and soothing (and I wanted to make sure you grew up to be a Jayhawk fan.)  Funny how things come full circle…it was this memory that actually brought me to write this blog which I hope will be equally hopeful and soothing to you as you ironically prepare to move to Manhattan, Kansas!  So here goes:

  • Moving away from home/going to school takes guts.  Not everyone can do it.  Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props.  In doing this, you have already proven one thing:  you are WILLING to take chances.  Kudos.
  • In many ways you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways you’re not prepared at all.  This is okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s absolutely normal.
  • Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too.  How you deal with these things will make all the difference.  My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino.  It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.”   You can always choose.  Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  • Never date a man with hair longer than your own.  Random, I know…but really.  Who needs the competition?  I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State.  I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.  BTW…man buns are now included in this one.
  • Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too.  Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college.  I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today.  Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too.  This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful.  Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years.  Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  • Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday.  “When in doubt, pause.  When angry, pause.  When tired, pause.  When stressed, pause.  And when you pause, always pray.”
  • Keep an eye on your drink.  Again, another random one…but this is vital.  There are bad guys (and girls) out there.  People who do not have your best interest at heart.  People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires.  These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink.  I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.)  It was not always well received.  I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of.  I didn’t care.  In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with.  If someone wants to buy you a drink, great.  The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together.  At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink.  Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.)  Be on guard.  Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  • You’re not expected to peak now.  While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life.  Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on.  Life is a series of journeys.  Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  • Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work.  Look people in the eye, but more importantly watch what they say and do.  I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company.  Do not ignore this!  Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice.  We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point.  So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.  End of story.  You owe no one an explanation.
  • Finally, know this…you can always go home.  ALWAYS.  There is no shame.  You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again.  This IS life.  Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone.  You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.)  This is an incredible blessing.

There are a lot of people rooting for you, kid.  Team MO is firmly in your corner!  You’re going to do great…I just know it.  Do your very best, make good choices, and have lots of fun.  You are so loved.

The old is gone.  The new is here. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Shooting Stars and Passing Cars (A Panting Dog and the Occasional Meow)

I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.  Galileo

A “cool” Mom would have packed the kiddos in the van (snacks and blankets in tow) and strategically driven into the darkest part of the night to view this summer’s Perseid Meteor Showers.  But I never said I was a “cool” Mom.  So instead, I mandated the offspring turn off their devices, shuffle out into the backyard, and plant themselves on carefully arranged patio furniture (all under threat of a grounding if they took ONE look at their tablets or phones.)  “Your eyes,” I said, “need several minutes to adjust.”  It was shortly after midnight…and just two days before the first day of school.

Perseid Shower Star Guide from Sky & Telescope

Perseid Shower Star Guide from Sky & Telescope

We should have already been a week into school night “practice,” but we weren’t.  So putting respectable bedtimes on hold (yet again,)  we looked to the sky.  We were on a mission to see a shooting star…or at least I was.  Prior to that summer evening, we had spent several nights staring at the heavens.  I had studied a constellation app and was armed with lots of information–some I learned as a kid, some I had just recently found on the internet.  It was still super warm outside and oh so humid!  Aside from the crickets, the only sounds at that late (early?) hour included two passing cars, our dog’s crazy panting (not sure what her deal was) and the occasional meow of the neighborhood cats. So on this particular night, starwatching was an exercise in patience.   I’m not sure what you know about the Perseid Meteor Shower, but I heard upwards of 30 shooting stars per hour!  WOW!  That, however, did not happen.

Within the first five minutes the complaining began.  I decided to impress the kiddos with my knowledge of constellations.  We picked out the standards…Big Dipper, Little Dipper.  I taught them how to find the North Star.  We saw several planes fly through the night sky.  And finally we moved on to Cassiopeia and the story of Perseus himself.  I should be happy that the children politely listened to my little lesson, but it wasn’t very long before they shifted back to their “we’re bored” posture.  Convinced they were outside for no reason at all–we finally saw a shooting star!  And what a shooting star it was….

It’s not like my husband and I had not seen a shooting star before.  We had.  But despite all the time we had spent stargazing this summer, the kids hadn’t been so lucky.  But right then and there we had finally witnessed one…and it was a good one!  Very dramatic, very bright and especially long-lasting—given the fleeting nature of shooting stars.  It streaked across the night sky right above our heads!  It was a spectacle to behold and an experience we will never forget…for several reasons:  1) because all four of us saw it together, 2) because everyone made a wish, and 3) no one told what they wished for (not even a hint.)  The last part was sort of a surprise.  We had never talked about wishing on a star and yet, it was the first thing we all instinctively did.

As we looked to the sky I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone had wished, especially the kiddos.  As a child, I can remember wishing for lots of things…everything from new shoes to a “good” hair day to getting to go someplace special.  As I got older, my star wishes moved on to passing a tough test, getting a certain boy to notice me and making it through college.  Nowadays, my wishes are typically for others…and especially for my kids.  But I wouldn’t necessarily call them wishes…because they’re more like prayers.  That night as that star streaked across the sky…the wish on my heart was really a silent petition to God.

Later, after everyone else had gone back inside, my daughter asked if I thought wishes came true.  We had seen two more meteors that night.  She said she was pretty sure that she had wished hard for a flat screen TV one Christmas, but she didn’t get one.  It was the start to a long conversation about magical versus miracle, God versus “genie,” and the incredible power of prayer.  Thank you, Perseid Meteor Shower…for one last summer hurrah!  Under that night sky, when we should have been fast asleep, the heavens opened the door to something truly amazing…a blessed conversation.  An answered prayer.  I honestly could have stayed out all night.

I’m already looking forward to more sky watching.  I hope that someday the kids will share their wishes (and prayers!) with me–because if (when) mine comes true…you know I’ll be the first one to tell.

The only difference between a wish and a prayer is that you’re at the mercy of the universe for the first, and you’ve got some help with the second.  –Jodi Picoult, author

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Ponytails

“I am not a perfect mother and I will never be. You are not a perfect daughter and you will never be. But put us together and we will be the best mother and daughter we would ever be.” – Zoraida Pesante

Lately, I’ve been marveling at my daughter.  It’s not that she’s doing anything special really…it’s just that she’s growing up and I’m trying to take it all in.  I get like this sometimes with my kiddos…making an extra effort to be super present, wondering what they’re thinking and how their brains work…basically just staring at them (sometimes they catch me–that’s a teeny bit awkward!)  The funny thing is, that while she may not actually be getting any taller (she’s doomed to be short like her mother,) I can see all kinds of other changes…in her maturity, her personality, and the way she carries herself.  She’s really becoming her own person and as a consequence separating from me…at least as much as any 11-year-old should be allowed to do.  So when I came across this article titled What Your Ponytail Says About You on the Man Repeller website, it really caught my eye.

You see, Casey and I both LOVE long hair.  I would say about ninety percent of the time we both choose to wear our hair down, but we are not strangers to ponytails.  As soon as Casey’s hair was long enough, I would put it in pig tails or a nice high pony.  I loved fixing her toddler hair and adorning it with those cutesy little girl bows!  Then came Disney Channel and it wasn’t long before she boycotted wearing her hair up and started favoring long locks carefully styled with a head band (a la “Gabriella Montez.”)  No more funny “fountain” ponytails on the top of her head!  low and parted CaseyRecently, however, after years of only wearing ponytails to play sports, she has decided that the pony is in style again…only now it’s on her terms.  This is what made the ponytail article stand out.  No longer would she settle for my favorite style (the high pony,) but rather she preferred the low and parted ponytail–and she could style it all by herself, thank you very much.  The low and parted ponytail, the one the Man Repeller article labeled the “champagne” of ponytails for its elegant and timeless look.  The description basically screamed “Casey.”  It went on to say that this was the look of someone who is “making a knowing decision to look put together.”  Yes, that’s my girl.

The "High Ponytail."So, out of curiosity of course, I had to look up the hidden meaning to my go-to ponytail look–the HIGH pony (a look I’ve been sporting for practically my whole life!)  Turns out it’s the preferred style of those who exercise (what?) and it’s also great for “signaling that you don’t give a what!”  Apparently this is a very versatile look and its meaning depends upon the method in which it is executed (combed and smoothed, tousled and messy…that’s a lot to read in to a ponytail!)  It goes on to say that the “high ponies are the maxi dress of their kind,” suggesting that the look is only for some and definitely NOT for all!  This made me giggle.  Here I am a forty-year old wife and mother, and the high pony has always been my go to updo.  Yes, I like the “fountain” as my daughter so affectionately calls it (did I mention that she’s pretty well versed in sarcasm these days?) The high pony is my all-time favorite!

All fun aside, this was just a cute reminder that while we have so many mother-daughter similarities, my girl is certainly growing up and developing her own thoughts and ideas.  It’s causing both a swelling of pride and quite a bit of anxiety as well.  In a matter of months, we’ll be talking about locker décor and what table she landed at for lunch in the middle school cafeteria.  We’ve already had numerous conversations (or was it disagreements) about clothes and shoes…not to mention what’s in and what’s definitely OUT!  Occasionally, I get to be labeled “cool,” but mostly I “just don’t know anything.”  Still, I’m the first person she comes running to on a bad day, when she doesn’t understand something, or gets herself into a jam.    Which just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.  My own mother probably has loads of stories about my tween/teen years and the occasional ups and downs of our relationship back then.  And I know that when I talk with fellow mothers today, it seems we’re all in some kind of yo-yo territory with our own girls at one time or another…a reality of growing up.

So, I may not be fixing her ponytails anymore…and that’s okay because every girl has to learn to style her own hair.  It’s all just part of the process.  And while I learned through curling iron burns, crazy perms and tons of AquaNet…it’s fun to watch her develop her own sense of style.  (And in some ways I think she’s  got the advantage–we didn’t have YouTube tutorials back in the day!)

May your ponytail be high (or low) and your mother/daughter relationship blessed 🙂

Hair doesn’t make the woman, but it definitely helps!  –Unknown

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

Christmas Trilogy, Episode 1: THOSE Christmas Aprons

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.  -Unknown

Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives.  For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years.  Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost.  My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?”  One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!”  Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year.  It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be.  I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!)  From hello, people just love her.  Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever.  She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.”  It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel.  This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around.  And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.

My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish.  She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.”  While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?)  There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons.  Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I.  Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons.  I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.)  I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart.  We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.

I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons.  I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it.  The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items.  Karen wasn’t deterred in the least.  She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further.  I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited.  Finally, someone came up.  She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed.  It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store.  Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.)  Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed.  They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived.  SCORE!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call.  I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract.  Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store.  Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting.  They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited!  We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….

The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned.  FROWNED.  She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.”  I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law.  She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit.  I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day.  I wish I could have captured her smile!  She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all!  She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day.  Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.

Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them!  This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is.  Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it.  THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.

It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations.  -unknown

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2:  Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

 

 

I Can Still Taste the Caramel Apples (aka Why I LOVE Halloween!)

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman

10690117_715990488490123_92735026534026743_nWhen it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future.  Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about.  So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past.  I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos.  And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂

Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony.  That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.)  Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between.  We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history.  Together we’ve learned a lot!  And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂

10616209_716894205066418_4160538980628630829_nI would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad.  He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis.  Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups.  He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds.  At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless.  We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!)  Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green.  Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora.  This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)

The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving.  We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes.  The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season.  Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years.  And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed.  For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.

Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with.  When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom.  Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about.  This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.)  We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.

As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well.  We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance.  Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months.  Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty.  Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision?  Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps.  And what about trick or treating?  A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist

10700574_718765481545957_3257901382160519510_oIt’s November 1st and  costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me.  And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season.  We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month.  Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening.  We’ve cooked and baked together.  We’ve shopped together.  We’ve attended school parties together.  We’ve enjoyed nature together.  And it feels good.  I know these seasons are fleeting.  Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me.  The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween.  For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season.  I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 )  The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.

There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault