Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation. –author unknown
I love the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” for many reasons…but especially for the line,”there’s no place like home.” It’s just so true. Of course, one never knows just how much they love home until they move away. At least that’s how it was for me. That’s why this next song made my summer music playlist. I can remember coming home to visit my parents and my dad blasting this song on repeat FOR HOURS AND HOURS in the garage. The funniest thing was that no one complained. In fact, there were many times that I caught family members singing along!
“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys came out in the summer of 2004. I was in my late 20s, married with one child…and I was pretty much anything but hip. But there’s something about this song that just makes you feel cool–regardless of age. “Heaven,” written by a trio of brothers from Texas, captures a laid back summer vibe with its infectious chorus. Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 100, the tune went on to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for 16 weeks. Interestingly enough, the song also registered on the country music charts, too. The song eventually led to two Grammy nominations and one win in 2005. Their biggest hit to date, this song set the tone for so many that summer.
It doesn’t take much for me to remember that afternoon at my parent’s house. It’s always a party when we visit! Lots of family, food and laughter. I can still see my son (a toddler at the time) working his dance moves outside in the garage with my dad. Whenever I hear “Heaven” it puts a smile on my face and I am grateful for both summer and a place to call home!
Up Next: SONG 7…”That’s when I had most of my fun….”
I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this. –Susan Branch
“Steal My Sunshine” by Len hit the airwaves during my first summer as a resident of sunny California. The song was all things Golden State–feel good, shiny, pop inspired, retro and contemporary fun–imagine how surprised I was to find out that it was the product of a Canadian group! This little goodie hit the pop charts in 1999, but takes some of its great music flavor from both the 70s and the 80s. Besides all that, who doesn’t love a song whose music video features an orange moped posse?
While crawling through my Bay Area commute, I recall scanning through my radio presets only to discover this song playing simultaneously on two stations! Whaaaat? Both the pop and the alternative station spinning the same tune, whoa–this song must be special! So I turned it up and quickly added another song to my list of favorites. “Steal My Sunshine” was inspired by a night at a rave, helped reunite an estranged brother and sister, and almost didn’t make it make it onto the group’s CD (fortunately it was retrieved from its hiding place…under the cowriter’s bed!) All of this makes for quite the story behind a song that landed in Billboard 100’s top ten and on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “Best Summer Songs of All Time.”
This catchy song was still receiving plenty of airplay when I finally had an opportunity to visit Los Angeles that fall. It was the perfect background music for a trip to Venice Beach, celebrity sight-seeing and soaking up all things California. Today you can still find it on a number of summer playlists…including mine. All the more reason to love a song that enjoys elite “one-hit wonder” status as it “perfectly captured that warm, lazy feeling you get when late summer still seems like it could last forever,” at least according to Stylus Magazine (2007.) And I think they’re right on.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. –Admiral William H. McRaven
I am the mother of two kiddos…a tween girl and a teen boy and I STILL make their beds. Not every day (as if that makes the whole thing better,) but practically every day. This revelation is something that I rarely talk about and a topic that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing. At first glance, it probably sounds like I’m some sort of Martha Stewart control freak or worse yet–a mother who coddles her kids too much. I can hear it now, “She STILL makes their beds? Really? Wow. How old are they?” On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of not letting them grow up, trying to make them permanent dependents, permitting/encouraging laziness and impeding their emotional development. Ouch! An unmade bed is a pet peeve for a lot of people. I get it. Honestly, I know it’s a little (or a lot) quirky, but I really don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…and I have my reasons.
I’m a creature of habit. When the children were little, I would use the time that I spent in their bedrooms as an opportunity to pray for them. Nothing fancy or formal…just a few quick words. Praises for the good days and prayers for strength on the tough ones. And while we have prayed with the kiddos at bedtime ever since they were teeny tiny, I quickly discovered how much I think about my children when they’re away from home. When my son went off to school I missed him terribly. It was just preschool and just a few hours a day, but I wondered how he was doing? What he was doing? If he was okay? And on and on. Instead of spinning in this cycle of worry, I decided to get pro-active and purposefully pray for his day while I made his bed. And I never stopped. When my daughter came along, I added her to the daily ritual. In the five minutes it takes to make a bed I would pray for his/her well-being, his/her character, his/her faith development, those in their classrooms, their teachers, their circle of friends, etc. I prayed offensively and defensively. Some days I give thanks and other times I find myself on my knees (things sure get complicated as they grow up!) But most importantly, I pray regularly.
After so many years, this daily practice hasn’t changed much. Some days I sing hymns as I go about straightening up their rooms. I mostly pray silently, but occasionally I pray out loud. The family dog even gets in on the action. She frequently comes into the room and guards the door…she knows the routine and has become something of a prayer partner. This past week I have been in earnest prayer for one of my kiddos and decided to write about my prayer pattern. What’s been reinforced to me lately is that praying includes a lot of listening, too. And I am grateful for that. What started out as a personal antidote to worry and stress has proven itself time and time again as a recipe for peace and assurance…and I thought it was worth sharing with my fellow parents in the trenches.
Someday my kids will make their own beds (and in case you’re wondering, YES, they know how.) But for the time being, I’m happy to straighten sheets, tidy up pillows and simply pray.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying.Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16
There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Used to be that if you found an interesting news article, you’d clip it out of the newspaper/magazine and store it in a safe place. Sometimes, if it was particularly moving or important, you’d haul yourself down to a Kinko’s or something and make copies. If one deemed it EXTRA pertinent, you might purchase a stamp and mail it to someone. In today’s “copy and paste” world, news nerds like myself are one click away from sharing various news links…or in my case, SAVING, interesting articles.
I have several dozens saved. I won’t give you an exact number…as it might be used against me as a measurement of my nerdiness. You can probably imagine that several of these saved articles fall into the faith and family categories. What can I say other than that I’m fairly predictable and in some regards, very old school. I tried sharing a SAVED article with my son recently…via a link in a text message…to which I received a sullen reply and an interesting emoticon followed by the words “you know, I’m not reading this.” Sure, I’ve been known to send him (and my daughter) preachy sorts of things, but in my defense this was actually a sports article and a good one at that. But my kids are too wise and know their mother too well…the warning lights start flashing, “SHE’S TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING.” And, yes, they’re right.
Lately, my SAVED files have been focused on one subject–SUBSTANCE ABUSE. I have countless, tragic articles on teens dying as a result of drinking games, drunk driving accidents, and every type of drug overdose. It’s morbid, I know. Some of these news links have photos…sweet, smiling photos of adolescents who have become victims and horrible, graphic photos of teenagers lost too soon. These are the kinds of things that break my heart. In the sweet smiling photos I see my own babies…innocent and full of promise. In the horrible, graphic photos I feel my eyes well up with tears and my throat tighten at what I can only imagine is a mother’s worst nightmare.
The researcher in me keeps hitting the “save” button and then I pour over the article looking for what went wrong and scanning the account for early warning signs and prevention strategies. The mother bear in me keeps hitting the “save” button, vowing that I will protect my children from drugs and alcohol at all costs. The realist in me keeps hitting the “save” button knowing that these sorts of things are happening NOW, in our schools and in our community. I do these things all the while praying…for an angel to watch over my kiddos, for good role models and friends for them, and that I might be the kind of parent that can love them through anything. I do this because I am not naïve, families (like mine and like yours) have been hit over the head and completely broken by these sorts of tragedies. If my research has proven anything, it’s that no one is immune.
But the news nerd in me says, “Tell them, show them” as I compile my montage of anecdotes and news links about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. I play out in my head conversations about how to handle alcohol and what responsible drinking looks like and then, oftentimes following beer commercials (while watching sports on TV,) we talk about it. I remind the kids that alcoholism has taken the lives of family members. We talk about some of the science behind addiction. I quote my mantra (courtesy of the Saved by the Bell television show,) THERE’S NO HOPE WITH DOPE. (I have actually told my children that I would foot the bill for that tattoo!) I scrunch up my nose every time some one tries to convince me that recreational marijuana is a good idea…and then I talk about it with my kids. I tell them that while I worked as a reporter that I met a woman who was my age (22 at the time) and addicted to meth. She looked gaunt with leathery skin. She slurred her words because she had lost so many teeth as a result of her addiction. Her hair was falling out and she was in jail. I remember this so clearly because in talking with her we discovered that we had similar backgrounds…middle class upbringing, two parent household, grew up in a small town, etc. And yet our lives were so different. When I share these things, I’m bold enough to tell them, “This is NOT for YOU.” And then I pray some more.
So here’s what I want them to know….
With one “hit,” they can drastically change their life.
Drinking games are not games.
Underage drinking and drug use is dumb (you’re destroying brain cells) and dangerous.
Being “under the influence” of anything will cause you to make horrible decisions.
Be on guard. Today strangers (and so-called friends) can put drugs/alcohol in your drinks and food.
Bad guys will prey upon girls (and boys) who are under the influence.
There will be photographs and I will find out.
And here’s what I also want to tell them….
I love you. I will help you and care for you first…but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences or a lecture for bad choices.
A bad day, date, break-up does not determine your worth. Don’t add to your heartache by throwing drugs and alcohol into the mix.
Peer pressure sucks. I taught you to the difference between right and wrong. Be strong. It won’t be easy, but I believe it is in you to say “No,” in fact I’ve heard you say it a thousand times already.
I’m going to ask you where you’re going and who you’re with. This is for both of us. It makes you accountable and helps me gauge just how much I should worry about you and whether or not I should just NOT let you go.
And finally, don’t die doing something stupid!
I’m sick of people glamorizing drugs and alcohol…in music, television and social media. It turns my stomach to see celebrities practically endorsing this kind of lifestyle. It’s gut wrenching to see so many young people, full of hope and promise, end up broken or dead…and for what? I wish I didn’t have a SAVE list full of these horror stories, but I do. So listen up, kiddos, I will continue to tell you (and your friends) all about them. I will even share the photos. Know that I’m adding to my arsenal of articles everyday…because you are loved and I truly do have so much more to tell you.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instructionand do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8
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….
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?
Turns 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.
As 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.
Our 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
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.
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!
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
Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them. P.J. O’Rourke
I often wonder who’s going to write the next BIG parenting book? It seems like every generation has its guru. And with today’s parenting styles running the gamut–authoritative to permissive, supportive to absent, indulgent to neglectful–it’s hard to know who really has it figured out. Throw in your favorite media platform and practically everyone’s an expert nowadays! So, allow me to throw my hat in to the ring. While you won’t find any fancy letters following my name, I do have a theory. And for simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to two words: REPETITION WINS! Genius, right…I know.
Basically I’ve been applying this strategy throughout my whole parenting career, I just didn’t know it until last election season. (Stay with me here.) I just happened to be listening to a political strategist ramble on about the power of the message…more specifically the repetitive factor to a particular campaign slogan. He pontificated that through a basic media blitz, they had managed to turn the tide in their favor…especially since today’s voters never bother to research the issues. I equate this concept to the “beloved” brain worm–you know, the little song or ditty that invades your every waking thought! Once it reaches your ears it then proceeds to swim around in your head for hours and if you’re (un)lucky even days. Oh yeah, there’s power in the message!
So here’s where it comes full circle…. I have been known to be somewhat of a “rules” Mom, harping on my kids with suggestions about practically everything. (I honestly prefer the word suggestions over rules, just saying.) My handy little tidbits like, “Wash first,” “Make good choices,” and “No food in the bedrooms–EVER!” are expressions that I have uttered for years. These phrases have become practically automatic after more than a decade of parenting, only now I hear my kids mumble them (and several other goodies) before I can even get the words out. I’ll admit that sometimes they’re mumbled sarcastically, still I don’t mind claiming it as a tiny victory!
I’m employing a similar approach with quirky sayings, inspirational quotes and Bible scripture spread across posters, white boards and post-it notes throughout the house. I’ve got my fingers crossed that these, too, will make their way inside their heads (and hearts,) and if nothing else that they might gain some wisdom from my efforts. I know I’m doing something right when I see their friends stop and check out the kitchen whiteboard and ask questions about the “Family Rules” poster on the fridge…and I’m just getting started! Window markers allow me to write messages to my children on mirrors in their bedrooms and thanks to iPhone technology, I have several great memes saved and ready to send to my kiddos’ devices at a moment’s notice. In my book, it all counts. Still the master plan is worth nothing without the one message I utilize several times a day, “I love you.” Out the door, when they come home, before they go to bed and at random times in between, “I love you.” It’s the message I hope they remember most.
I tease my husband that we’ll find out soon enough whether the strategies we’ve employed will be labeled a success or a failure. With a tween girl and a teenage boy, I feel like we’ve jumped out of one fox hole only to find ourselves in a whole new set of trenches. It’s all good, though…because Mama’s got her secret weapon and she ain’t afraid to use it. Pay heed, parents–REPETITION WINS (no book required.)