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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Losing Our Easter Booth (and Our “P.I.G.” Status)

When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go. –Alexandra Stoddard

Never, EVER, did I think I would be writing about a midwest BBQ chain and Easter Sunday.  Yet, here I am.  This goes to show two things…first, that the cliché holds true (again):  Never say never.  And second. that convenient, tasty, family style BBQ is perfectly acceptable as a go-to meal for ANY holiday or celebration (and in our family’s case, especially religious ones!)

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Easter Lunch 2013

For the past six years we have “dined” at Famous Dave’s on Easter Sunday.  Okay, I know it’s not fine dining.  Yes, I am aware that they are a paper napkin establishment (gasp!) And I understand that French fries are not typical Easter dinner fare.  (Glad we got all that out of the way 🙂 )  Still, I think Famous Dave’s is just as good a place as any to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  It’s a Spencer family tradition that’s often met with puzzling looks, stammering comments and even a little pity.  But that’s okay.  We like Famous Dave’s and we especially like the reason we ended up there in the first place (insert sappy background music here….)

In 2009, my husband was called to lead what I will politely label a “broken” church.  You see the pastor had decided to leave our denomination and he additionally took the congregation with him.  For whatever reasons, all that was left were about a dozen people, loads of tech equipment and a lot of questions.  This clearly would not be easy.  And, did I mention this was Steve’s first senior pastor appointment?  Despite the best efforts of many, the prayers of many more and the sheer broken-heartedness of the situation, a decision was made to close down the church.  All of this took place in a matter of weeks.  It was one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed.  So here’s the worst part…the last worship celebration for this now defunct church would be on Easter Sunday.  (I can hardly type these words!)  CLOSING A CHURCH ON EASTER.  (There really should be a law against such a thing!)  I could barely stomach the idea.  I thought of the church members who stayed behind.  Those who wanted to restructure and carry on.  And all those who put their heart and soul into trying to make this church a healthy, functioning place of worship.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

Much work went into that final worship celebration.  First, there was the cleaning.  Since worship would be held in the church’s youth building, couches had to be moved, chairs brought in and EVERYTHING had to be wiped down.  The sound system was reconfigured, light bulbs were replaced and a small room was readied to serve as a nursery.  A sweet woman who had hoped for a different outcome for her church set aside her sorrow and assembled Easter baskets for any children who would arrive on Sunday morning.  With just a few musicians, songs were selected to praise a newly risen King.  My husband crafted a sermon of hope and promise…in the midst of all of the responsibilities of closing a church.  It was a sad and rainy morning.  I felt like God was weeping right along with us.

But if you know how the Easter story ends…then you know that there are no limits to what our Great Creator can do!  As worship came to a close, the sun and the SON broke through!  The rain moved out and although we closed the doors on that final worship celebration, what we didn’t know was that God was already opening another.  It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon when we left the church parking lot that day.  Our children, ages 7 and 4 at the time, were tired and hungry.  In the midst of all that was going on we neglected to make lunch plans…and that’s how we ended up at Famous Dave’s.

The restaurant was practically empty.  The lunch crowd was gone, the wait staff looked spent and here walks in this family of four…dressed in now wrinkled Easter wear, tired and clearly saddened.  We crawled into what would be called our Easter booth…to be honest, while we always sat in a booth on these occasions it wasn’t the same booth every time–and that was okay.  Steve ordered ribs, I ordered the baked potato with chili and the kiddos put in their request for chicken strips and fries.  Then we waited.  Not just for food, but for everything.  We honestly didn’t know where we would land…although we knew it would be another church, most likely in another town.  And yet somehow, in that little booth our spirits lifted.  The children made us laugh and we counted our blessings.  We were together and life was in fact GOOD!  There was safety and warmth in those comfy, red seats.  The little kids’ menus reminded us that at Famous Dave’s we’re all P.I.G.s…Pretty Important Guests!  I liked the thought of that and when the meal arrived, we prayed.  The food tasted extra delicious that day, too–satisfying in a way that I cannot explain.  An afternoon at Famous Dave’s was just what we needed.

Obviously, we kept going back.  Steve was appointed to a new church in a nearby suburb and our Easter lunch plans practically wrote themselves.  After a busy Holy Week and all its activities, we found a sanctuary at the east side’s Famous Dave’s restaurant.  The pig-themed decorations, the fishing signs and decals, and those red colored booths–we loved it all!  I have several photos of our kids in their cute, little Easter outfits posing with their Daddy for our annual Easter pic.  Good times.  Blessed times.  Necessary times…but as you can guess, “the times they are a-changing” (thanks, Bob Dylan.)  Famous Dave’s closed this past fall…and the Spencer family DID NOT find out about it until January 😦

Holy Week has arrived again and the question on everyone’s mind is “where are we going to eat Easter lunch?”  I don’t have any answers.  I have tried to coordinate just how long it will take us to drive to the nearest Famous Dave’s (too long unfortunately.)  I’ve looked into dining at other BBQ establishments.  I’ve tried to sell myself on the idea of having Mexican food on Easter (it’s not working.)  I’ve even thought about preparing and cooking a meal myself (and if you know me, then you know this is a desperate thought!)  The reality is we’ve lost our Easter booth, but we certainly haven’t lost Easter and all its promises.  So tonight as I type this, I still have no clue what we will be doing for lunch.  Somehow, though, I’ve gone past worry and fret to a place of “wait and see.”  Not a flippant, inactive state, but rather an active, hopeful resolve.  My husband and kids are not with me in this place.  They want answers and our P.I.G. status back!  But please, don’t feel bad for us…because I so clearly remember a gray, downcast day not so long ago when the sun and the SON came out.  It’s Easter, everyone, and we KNOW how the story ends.  I’m not sure if the booths will be red, but I know that wherever we end up we’ll be fed (in more ways than one)…and it WILL certainly be good!

Praying that the Holy Spirit moves you to worship this Easter Sunday and that you experience the hope and renewal that Christ Jesus offers to us each and every day.  Amen. 

 

 

Ohhh, Christmas Tree!

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!—Charles Barnard

THE Christmas tree:  Symbol of that oh so special holiday, proudly displayed each and every year in a place of prominence, carefully adorned with treasured and sentimental ornaments.  A recognized hallmark of the Christmas season and the BANE of my Decembers. As our family always opts for the “real” variety (instead of the plastic trees of my childhood,) it seems that somewhere along the way a war has been waged between the Spencer family and THE tree.  A battle that never fails to entertain and frustrate at the same time.  This year proved no different.

So may I present to you our annual Christmas tree adventure–in song form!  Oh yes, this year’s tree had us fooled…we REALLY thought this was THE perfect tree 🙂  Each family member convinced that we could avoid the typical end of the year evergreen hijinks.  Fools we were, this tree had our number from Day 1.

tree poem

THE tree on January 4, 2015.  A little scraggly....

THE tree on January 4, 2015. A little scraggly, still standing!

Still standing!  We made it through December and into 2015.  Sure, it’s a sight to be seen and my son is already begging me to “please, take it DOWN.”  No, son, not yet.  I promised my daughter I would try to have it down by the time her birthday rolls around (mid-January.)  In the meantime, I will sip coffee and watch our once majestic tree transform into a scraggly shrub, daily picking up the ornaments (aided in their fall by the dog no less,) placing lights back onto the branches and taking bets on just how crooked it will get before it tips over (again)…and then, maybe then, I will take it down.  I’m in no hurry.  The whole ordeal has practically become its own Christmas tradition…a tradition I secretly wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!  Ohhh, Christmas tree 🙂

Don’t measure the height of your Christmas tree.  Measure the abundance of the love present in your heart!  Have a blessed Christmas!–author unknown

Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling 22

Fav Baby Photo

Everyone is the age of their heart.  ~Guatemalan Proverb

I didn’t do anything as gaudy as send myself a birthday bouquet but I am about to break a few social mores.  That’s right, I’m saying it, “Happy birthday, to ME!” and I’m going to post photos of ME, and I’m writing a blog about ME 🙂  But I hope you’ll give me a pass…mostly because I AM the birthday girl.

Okay, to be clear, I’m not trying to solicit birthday wishes and/or gifts…but I just had to share a few thoughts about turning “the year before THE year.”  What????  Doesn’t make any sense?  Well, check this out:  Most of us know that turning 40 it’s a pretty big deal…as in it’s a pivotal moment (and not necessarily in a good way.)  And while I won’t be 40 until next year (2015), I did have a friend tell me that (NEWSFLASH)  turning “the year before THE year” is actually a pretty big deal, too!  I had no clue.  39 is a BIG thing…really?  Since when?  I guess…since now.

39 has been called the “creepy-creeper” birthday.  This connotation suggests that 39 is both undesirable and sneaky? Maybe even a little scary?  Sort of like you’re walking along…minding your own business…when this dreadful number jumps out from behind the bushes and boldly states, “Warning.  You’re about to cross over into old age!”  Or something like that.  Supposedly, at 39 this is the last year that I can be considered somewhat “young.”  I’ve been told that I’ve now entered the final months where it’s even somewhat socially acceptable to wear my hair long, paint my fingernails any color other than matronly mauve, or wear jet black mascara (among a great big list of other taboo items.)  If there is a distinction in adulthood, apparently 40 is the line for women and so I’m left with this one little year in which to kick up my heels and behave accordingly.  365 measly days left to be young!  I can hardly believe it…it all went so fast!  Actually, I find all this to be pretty funny.  Funny for two reasons:  1) because I think when I was in my 20s that I actually believed these rules and 2) especially funny because in my heart of hearts the first number that pops into my mind whenever someone asks me how old I am has ALWAYS been 22!

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Birthday gathering with friends 🙂

Yes, I know.  It’s been a long, LONG time since I was 22, but you have to hear me out about this.  So when you’re a kid, you can’t wait to be in double digits.  10 is a BIG deal.  The next milestone age is 13, right?  Because now you’re a teenager.  Followed by 16…the year you can get your driver’s license.  The next biggie is 18…no curfew, you can vote, live on your own, etc.  And finally 21.  The BIG ONE.  That’s right…all the sudden you’re able to do all the things you’ve been told REAL grown-ups do. (?)  I know, we all know…most of them are very OVERRATED.  So when 22 rolls around you figure, okay…that’s it.  Nothing to see here people and I guess I just stopped counting after that.  Ridiculous, right?  I know…but that’s the house that I’ve been living in.  Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s still MY house.

At this point, I’m sure you’re laughing at me and I’m actually laughing at myself, too.  It’s been ages since I’ve been carded, had a night life, or gone on any adventures that don’t involve having my two kids in tow.  I’m not up on the newest trends, nor do I drive a hot car, or keep up with the latest movies or music.  I don’t really do any of the things that would lump myself in a category with anyone who is actually 22, yet that’s still the number that sticks in my head.  I always imagined that someday I’d graduate to a new birthday number, but it just never happened.  So now that I’m turning “the year before THE year,” I thought I’d better do a little research and see what the hubbub surrounding the number 40 is really all about…I mean, since I don’t want to be caught off guard (again) and I’m headed in that direction anyway.

It appears that there really are a lot of resources out there concerning the Big 4-0.  Countless books, websites, blogs and articles about embracing the “new and improved” you.  As I enter “the year before THE year,” it might behoove me to start reading up on some of these expectations and societal norms.  Here’s what I’ve gathered from the headlines so far:  40 is magical.  40 has attitude…it’s called “fortytude.”  There’s also a rumor that 40 can be fabulous (but I caution you, there are a lot of caveats to this one.)  40 is the first year a woman can qualify as a “cougar.”  40 is something that needs to be figured out and faced…it also makes you fierce and a force to be reckoned with (don’t you love all the alliteration that comes with 40!)  You can also be fit and forty at the same time (who knew?)  For those who truly believe in stressing themselves out about the number 40, there are a few websites that offer up 40 things you should accomplish by the time you reach 40.  And, by the way… in case you haven’t heard, forty is the new “F” word.

That’s a lot for one girl to take in.

All of this aside, here’s where I’m at.  It’s MY birthday and all I really want to do is thank God for another day, another year, and another reason to celebrate life (while eating Dairy Queen cake, of course.)  I don’t really get wrapped up in all this aging stuff.  I’m sure the day will come when the wrinkles and the gray hairs will win out, when my body doesn’t cooperate like it used to, when people stop asking me just how old I really am (and just start assuming I’m OLD!)  Until then, I’m just going to keep chugging along…making up nonsensical songs with my daughter, teasing my son by repeating hip phrases that sound anything but hip when I say them, wearing my hair as long as I want to, and sporting nice, bright nail polish as the mood strikes.  I’m not going to worry about figuring out or facing 40 or even reading up on the 40 things to do before you reach this supposed milestone.  While society might find my lack of alarm annoying or unheard of,  I think the psychological term is called “self differentiated.”  That’s right…who says you can’t teach an “old dog” new words.  And by the way, I’m going to stick with the age 22 for the time being (especially since Taylor Swift makes it sound so fun!)  Sure I’m a long way from it (and you really couldn’t pay me to go back,) but mostly just because it’s a nice number and like I said before… I still have a house there.  (Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s MY house.)

Here’s to 365 days of “the year before THE year!”

I’m not 40, I’m eighteen with 22 years experience.   Author unknown

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 14 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 14

Love is…having a Valentine by your side every day of the year. –me

Well…it’s finally here—Valentine’s Day! A holiday absolutely loathed by some and totally adored by others (all subject to one’s current relationship status, of course.) It’s also the final day of my love song countdown. While the list includes some romantic music staples, I’ve tried to include a few unlikely additions as well (no Barry White, Celine Dion or Mariah Carey here.) So in conclusion, I offer up this little goody by The Proclaimers 🙂   An absolute brain worm and feel good ditty, this tune is about one of the greatest love qualities that I can think of…song 14WILLINGNESS. It’s not a ballad that promises the world. It’s not a steamy song with lots of suggestive innuendo. And nothing about this song would break your heart or move you to tears. Rather, it’s one person saying to another…”if you’ll let me, I’ll be there in the morning, all throughout the day, I’ll be the one talking your head off, working hard to provide for you, growing old with you, dreaming about you, always coming home to you, and thinking about you whenever we have to be apart. I’m not perfect, but I am WILLING to be all that I can for you.” While this chart topper doesn’t necessarily fit the typical love song mold, I think it’s the perfect “dark horse” candidate to complete my list—unlikely, improbable and least expected…yeah, that sounds a lot like love to me. Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 13 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 13

Love is…the best (and the worst) kind of mystery. –me

You may have noticed that I haven’t included much contemporary music in my love songs list. Not a diss really, I guess I’m just more old school. However, this song is currently on Billboard’s Top 10 and I find it especially moving. The lyrics could be interpreted a number of ways…pertaining to an unfulfilled or one-sided romantic relationship, a broken friendship, troubled family systems, a loved one dealing with illness, aging and maybe even loss. It could also be read spiritually. Like any good love song this one speaks directly to the soul, but it takes things one step further as song 13it addresses the difficult and unpleasant part of putting your heart on the line. Will you let go, are you willing to grow up and make tough decisions, how much are you able to give before it all becomes too overwhelming?

In this crazy world we never expect (or plan for) the rejection, hurt and pain that can accompany love.  The reality is that sometimes love sucks. Love isn’t fair. And often, as hard as it is to hear, it’s just not enough.  I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words and when we finally get to the point of asking a loved one to “say something,” I presume that on a lot of levels we already know the answer.  And as difficult as that answer may be, it ultimately leads to this question…is it REALLY better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?  Yes..a hundred times, yes.

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 14

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 12 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 12

Love is…talking about everything and nothing while sharing piles of French fries. –me

In the country music world, George Strait is king. And when it comes to heartfelt love songs, he easily keeps the crown. The song “I Cross My Heart” reads like wedding vows with sweet promises and pledges of fidelity. It’s the song 12kind of song that gives hope to the unattached, optimism to relationship newbies and profound joy to those who know and experience this kind of committed love. Easily one of my top three love songs of all time, not only does it ooze all the gushy goodness of love but between the lines it connotes dedication, respect and accountability. While this song may have been a number one hit in the early ‘90s, its timeless message will make it a favorite for decades to come.

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 13

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?