Somewhat Simple Soup Supper

Somewhat Simple Soup Supper

I don’t want to carry gratitude around in seasons.

I want to carry it in my bones,

I want to rest it in on my tongue

like it is a language

that I never stop speaking.

~Arielle Estoria

My favorite part of hospitality, hands down, is setting the table and warming up the home. Here’s our table ready for guests!

We hosted some of Tom’s coworkers for supper. In our home,”dinner” seems too formal, especially when soup is served. Soup is my absolute favorite to serve in cool weather. Along with bread, it’s truly a one dish meal. After the soup and cornbread, we passed a tray of chocolate chip pumpkin bread and almond joy cookies to finish off the simple meal. 

My favorite things about hosting in autumn?

  • The sun sets at 5:30! No one will notice the dust, spots and smudges, especially if you dim the lights and use your candles! Old candles are just fine; they don’t have to match. If you have a spicy scented candle, light it near the entrance to elicit that fall ambience.
  • There’s a chill in the air and soup is a perfect choice to warm everyone up!
  • You can add to the nostalgic autumnal feelings by hauling out your brown and earthy colored wooden bowls, plates and trays. Clip some magnolia branches with their beautiful velvety leaf backs, and add magnolia pods, pinecones and acorns that you find amongst the trees outside. Decorate the table with these items and set down in the middle a glass-enclosed candle among the natural elements. Glass enclosed for safety— I’ve been known to start a fire!
  • Shop your house for an old tablecloth and napkins and have fun setting your table.
  • Simmer water in the teakettle for spiced tea and hot chocolate.
  • Collect your throws and small blankets and toss them around in an inviting way to cozy up.

Nothing says cozy like a fire. I almost turned the thermostat down and lit a fire in the fireplace since the temperature hadn’t  dropped quite enough!

I’ve been thinking that the annual season of autumn feels a lot like the autumn season my husband and I are in. Time to slow down a bit, to look back, be grateful and to let go. A season of gratitude and anticipation.

Here’s to autumn; the food, the new and old friends, the family and especially the counting of gifts and blessings. Going forward with anticipation for what’s to come!

 

WHITE BEAN CHICKEN CHILI (my version)

4 cans navy beans (2 cans drained & rinsed; 2 not drained)

2 quarts chicken broth; add more if needed

1 t parsley

1 t cumin

1 t oregano

1 t paprika

1/4 t red pepper

1/4 t black pepper

olive oil

2 lbs (more or less) boneless chicken breasts, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 small jalapeño, chopped (carefully remove membrane & seeds & don’t rub your eyes!)

handful of fresh cilantro

  • Boil broth & beans & add seasonings
  • Saute chicken in olive oil & add to pot
  • Saute onion, garlic & jalapeno; add some of the cilantro
  • Add all to pot and simmer as long as possible
  • Before serving, mash some of beans to thicken soup & add rest of cilantro

 

JULIE’S PUMPKIN BREAD

3 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Oil

4 Eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 Cup water

2 Cups Pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)

3 1/3 Cups Flour

1 Cup Raisins (optional) OR my personal favorite: 1 Cup Chocolate Chips!

  • Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (8 inch or 9 inch). Bake 1 hour @ 350 degrees. Cool briefly before turning out.

ENJOY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Life

I enjoy and appreciate art in all its forms.

I truly believe that unique art appears all around us in our day to day lives. If only we have eyes to see.

I first awakened to this idea about three years ago.

I found myself noticing our daughter-in-law, Mary’s hands and the way they moved when she changed our granddaughter, Eliza’s diaper. The routine chore looked like art to me. Her lovely slim hands gently, carefully and naturally smoothed and fastened the diaper around the precious bundle. I’d never thought of this before. It got me to thinking about other times I’ve observed such art.

I thought of my sweet mom—how I miss her and how she would have revelled in our sweet grandchildren. I remembered all the mending she did for me when she came for a visit. It was a needed contribution of time and effort. She’d hem dresses, sew on buttons, and make repairs when I couldn’t seem to find the time. I can still see those lovely aging hands (the same ones I see on myself now), gracefully, patiently using the needle, thread and that ancient thimble that she’d preach “you can’t sew without!”

I also thought of our daughter, Katherine, and how her hand so gracefully and intuitively moves along a canvas, a board or envelope with her lovely fluid hand writing. It’s a splendid gift; an art.

These things have me reminding myself to look for “art” more inclusively and more gratefully.

I love what Oswald Chambers has to say.

“At the basis of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace.”

We’re wowed by the famous and beautiful! We find disparities between us and them and the wind goes out of our sails as we’re navigating in our little world. Let’s stop that. Let’s look close by and open our eyes to the art at hand.

The next time you see a young daddy snap his daughter into her pjs; his smile beaming with swelling love, just think of the gloriousness of the God-designed family.

Observe the routine flow and flair of the seasoned homemaker as she cleans her kitchen, after serving love up to her people.

What about the art of teaching? The teacher daily responds with patience and dogged determination to fight for her kids. The caring consistent voice on which her students come to depend remind them that they are valued and they are going to succeed. When relationship and trust form between student and teacher it’s awesome to behold.

A mama reading to her toddler; the gentleness with which they touch, the familiar smells, the unique sound of mama’s voice— the dialect, that’ll always be comfort and affirmation for the precious recipient.

I started to think of more ways art is evident.

The repairman who “restored” our fridge was both skillful and kind; graciously answering all of my questions with a smile.

My friend, Renee; the way she serves up tasty homemade chili in her one of a kind pottery bowls. Everything she cooks is delicious; more so because of the relaxed flair and love that go along with the experience.

I thought of Barbara and how she mentored me in the art of devotional reading and listening. I can still remember sitting in her yard, kids running all around us, while we read J.B. Phillips’ version of the New Testament. It wasn’t just a book. It was bread and life.

When I’m with my dermatologist I feel like I’m the only one that matters at that moment. She’s affirming, thorough, decisive; calm; a great listener. I don’t know how she does it with her swamped schedule. But I happen to know she treats all her patients the same way.

My long time friend Nancy’s art of listening is a treasure to me. She appears to plan conversations as appointments in her day and then employs them as life-giving ministry. I want to be a better listener for others as she’s been to me.

What if we vacuum, dust, and clean toilets with the notion that God has given us these magnificent bodies to express our worship and gratitude by offering up our everyday-ness as art?

I’m folding towels, painting furniture and writing a letter to a friend. This is my calling today–my place and my art. Join with me as we celebrate each other along the journey, spurring on the unique “artists” around us!

“Teach me to shepherd the small duties of this day with great love.”

Everymomentholy.com

 

 

Finding Me

I found a little bit of myself today.

I’d been planting a small garden in our yard. Not “officially summer” and already 97 degrees! Into the soil that I’d mounded high went large rocks and flowers from Lowe’s. And the big chunks of beautiful granite, quartz and other natural pieces of earth we found scattered around our yard when we moved in. So I incorporated them into the “design”. Actually, I kept adding stuff with little rhyme or reason. I stuck a “birdbath” in the center — a terra-cotta saucer atop a plant cage. The birds love it!

The only considerations were: flowers had to be shade loving and deer resistant. I’ve since learned that deer-resistant is a bit of a misnomer since our deer neighbors are not that predictable. We are living in their “home” after all. I keep hoping they’ll get lost before they traipse through our yard in the wee hours!

That familiar sense of “me” happened when I tossed two old colorful flowered pillows on the cute white wooden swing.

I found the swing at a popular resale store in Columbia. Tom built a frame for it and hung it in our yard. After the pillows landed, my eyes darted to a little yellowish pot that I’d picked up on trash day—I added it to the scene.

Most of my life I’ve had to pinch pennies so it’s kind of natural for me to use what I have instead of going out and buying something new. It’s fulfilling for me. I think my penny pinching ways are partly from our frugal parents and partly a necessity I learned when I was a single Mom and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

Anyway, something clicked today. For one of the first times since moving here I remembered how I love to stage and decorate by using what’s at hand. And, of course, I enjoy shopping for home stuff when I need something, too! I don’t dumpster dive only. LOL

I’ve had a lot of sad moments in the last year-and-a-half. If I’m honest, a lot of sad days. Never ever did I want to leave our home of 30 plus years; that my husband mostly built with his own hands. I expected to live out all our days there. Here’s a link to the back story! Moving

But God had other plans as He sometimes does. We Christians may seem a peculiar brood in a lot of ways. We live by faith.

 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5:7

We don’t make our life choices according to what we naturally desire at the moment. We inquire of God and act on the way we believe He’s leading.

A few years ago, my husband, Tom, was in the market for a new job. After months of praying together for God’s plan to unfold, it happened. He was invited to interview for a position in a hospital in Columbia, SC.  God knew we’d much prefer to stay in Wilmington, (I told Him often enough!). But after the interview, Tom received a job offer so swiftly that it made our heads spin! We came to know and firmly believe that moving to Columbia was what God had in mind for us.

So here we are in South Carolina. Tom has a job he absolutely loves! I’m still adjusting to the house, yard, neighborhood and people. Still missing our niche in Wilmington. I constantly remind myself that we’re here for purposes we may not fully know. Come to think of it, that’s also true of life in general!

What I mean when I say that I found myself is this: I’ve gotten out of the habits I was so deeply invested in. Having family over for Sunday dinners. Getting together with girlfriends and neighbors. Having friends to dinner or hosting parties for all the occasions. Serving folks in my Staging and Organizing business.

I realized when I tossed those pillows on the swing that the way I’m wired hasn’t curled up and died. My gifts for gathering people and warming up our home so people will feel loved and welcomed. This is who I am. I just haven’t known how to be that person in a different place.

Even when it’s difficult I’m determined to be intentional about fulfilling the roles God’s designed for me. Even here. Tonight our neighbors are joining us on the porch for watermelon and conversation.

I hope I can encourage a sister by my journey. We all have stories; each one unique. Mine may presently seem simple compared to those of deep suffering. But, for now, this is my story and my struggle, simple as it may be.

Have you experienced loss or change that’s caused you to misplace yourself? I’ve been surprised to find that it’s hard to replicate myself in a new community. People have been most kind; but it’s not easy to make friends with people who are rich in life-long relationships.

Let’s encourage each other to keep our eyes on the Prize! If we’re breathing, Jesus isn’t finished with us. Let’s be faithful to the life He’s designed for us wherever we find ourselves today!

 

 

Reaping Where I Didn’t Sow

I stepped outside into a beautiful April morning and did a little trimming in our mini-yard. Compared to the acre we lived on earlier, this yard is on the tiny side. I stumbled into a small spot in between our house and Debbie’s. There, hidden away, was the most beautiful profuse light-blush-colored rose bush.

I was reminded again:

I’m reaping things I didn’t sow. Several times in recent weeks that truth has popped into my mind.

In John chapter four, there is discussion about followers of Jesus reaping a harvest of new believers after other people sowed Biblical truth into their lives. Maybe we’ll reap people, too! But for now, I’m looking around and acknowledging the current gifts in my life that I didn’t work for:

  • The beautiful purple Clematis that previous owners planted. I’d never had success growing it!
  • A metal arch in our new yard with a vine growing over; something I had on my want list.
  • The fragrant lush rosemary and the light green shrub that’s good for cutting and arranging.
  • Daffodils that popped up out of nowhere; fun and spontaneous.
  • A  screened porch which we’ll really enjoy! Someone who never knew us built it long ago.
  • Miles and miles of walking paths in our new community which I love. I choose routes with views of the lake since I’m a bit obsessed with water.

It takes conscious work to focus on gains rather than losses.

I moved out of state to be with my husband. He has a job which is a fantastic fit for him. After he moved, I focused on our daughter and her upcoming wedding for about a year. I also procrastinated and delayed my move as long as possible. Tom knew how difficult it was for me to leave family, friends and home so he never rushed me or insisted I leave Wilmington. He’s like that.

So often I think, “How would I survive without a relationship with God?” How awesome to have an easy flow of communication with the Father and the entire Trinity. When I don’t know the answer to a conundrum I chat with Him about it and if I really listen and truly want to know, He’ll speak. Not usually in an audible voice, but a voice inside that’s nearly as clear and certain as a human voice. That’s been my experience for the last forty plus years. When I went to Him about moving from Wilmington, He encouraged me to support my husband and celebrate him. I already kind of knew the answer, but this was a big deal and I needed extra confidence—knowing it was all part of God’s plan.

God knew, when He spoke so unmistakably, that four months after my move I’d still find it difficult to drive by our old house. That I’d still almost take the familiar path home and then have a heaviness come over me when I realized my mistake. That our granddaughter, at twenty-two months would say, “There’s Mimi’s house”, when we drove near our old street. Each time sadness breaks into my thoughts, I remember that I made the right decision. I’m so grateful for a Father who cares about all the details.

When I cut some of those beautiful roses, I tried carefully to avoid the thorns but a big one got me! I was both mad and determined. That pain wouldn’t stop me. I thought again of the parallels.

You have to press through difficulty or inconvenience to get at the reward. Pain is often the tool to spur me on.

C. S. Lewis says:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m such a wimp about pain. I hate it. But in retrospect I’m always thankful for what I learn during those hard times, and there have been quite a few of them.

I can’t imagine living several hours away from my husband. We’re having so much fun together– our marriage gets better and better.  God knows what He’s doing! I am blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

Charlotte—More Than a Friend

Charlotte—More Than a Friend

I lost a dear friend this week. Actually, she’s not lost. It’s me who’s lost just knowing she’s not here. Her earthly ties were cut loose and she flew right into the arms of Jesus. I’m hurting for my loss but no doubt the loss is felt much more by her dear husband of over 60 years and all the extended family who loved her so much.

Charlotte Parker was a friend, a mother figure and a mentor to me. She lived large. Her presence wasn’t subtle. She knew who she was and knew how God had gifted her, and unlike many of us, she actually employed her gifts in gracious and abundant ways. She was like a walking Bible. She didn’t question whether the Bible was true or whether it was relevant today. That was a no-brainer.

In Charlotte’s mind there was never a doubt about the nearness of God and that He spoke directly to us through His Word. The last time I visited with her in her home, which was way too long ago, she had me on the edge of my seat as she expressed truth she was learning. When I returned to my sister’s home where I was staying, I quickly grabbed my journal and wrote everything I could recall that she’d shared. Her sermonettes were life-changing to me.

In my younger years, I was a single mom for what seemed a really long season. I’d occasionally have friends graciously help with all the children in my care—my two plus around five others. I’d go hang out with Charlotte and help in her home. She told me that she loved having me in her kitchen. I’ve enjoyed organizing things my entire life, and I’d empty the drawers and cabinets periodically and put them in better order. I remember snitching bites of the apple cake that had been sitting on the counter under the glass dome for just long enough to be extra moist. I’d clean out the fridge and help any way I could just to be around. I remember she insisted that I bring home lots of delicious leftovers (or they’d be thrown away).

Charlotte showed me how to cook summer yellow squash and onion in a skillet with oil–I can still smell it. We kneaded bread together and she taught me to spend that time praying for the loved ones who would enjoy the bread. I’d always wondered how to pass that boring time kneading. Many folks would agree she was a phenomenal cook!

I remember the time Charlotte asked me to prepare a layered salad for her house guests. A recipe from a bygone era—we used to make it often. The salad had layers of lettuce, bacon bits, peas, cheese etc. and was topped with mayonnaise for the dressing. It would keep in the fridge for a couple of days and was tossed before serving.

A week or so after I brought her the salad she asked me over for lunch. She served the yummiest soup. “Guess what kind of soup this is?”, she said. I made all kinds of guesses, then she grinned the biggest grin and said, “Remember the salad you brought me?” I was stunned! She’d used the leftover salad, added broth and served it proudly like the gourmet fare it was.

Here’s what is interesting and impactful about that story. Charlotte’s most profound and lasting lesson for me was her famous teaching entitled, What do you have in your hand? The salad-soup was a perfect example of utilizing to the best of her ability and creativity what she had available. The Old Testament reference for the story is from II Kings 4:4-7. It’s about a poor widow who encountered Elijah.  Even now that principle resonates in my spirit as fresh and powerful. I need to pass these truths on to younger women who haven’t heard.

I keep looking for an end to my story, but memories flood my mind.

Not long before I married Tom, my friends gave me the sweetest shower. To make it extra special, Charlotte shared from her heart an encouraging message, especially for me. I wish I had the words written down somewhere. What I remember is that she gave me a little candle table; the kind with a hinge to let the top swing down. She set a brass candlestick on the table and talked about what it meant to be a light to those around us. I now believe her comments were prophetic. She said Tom and I would be a light to the people around us. Ironically, we received an unusual number of candlesticks for wedding gifts. And we’ve hosted groups in our home for over thirty years. I guess it’s just an extension of who we are.

The last thirty-two years Charlotte and I have lived about 800 miles apart. She’s visited me a couple of times and I visited her when I was in her home town. But for so many years we hardly talked at all. An occasional note perhaps, but I’m realizing now I could have been much better about staying in touch. It was my loss for certain. I’m mad at myself for not following the nudges I had from time to time to call her or even write. I’m very sad today and somehow it seems that writing my memories and feelings will help.

My post is probably (selfishly) mostly  for me. But if there’s anything I can share with my friends, it’s this: Don’t wait to spend time with your loved ones and don’t ignore or put off those little nudges to take some sort of steps. Life is short and so unpredictable.

I think of so many things I haven’t mentioned; what a gifted artist Charlotte was, that she was a published author, how lavishly she showed hospitality, that she had a green thumb and grew the most magnificent roses…so many memories.

If you’ve been in our home, you might have noticed one or two of Charlotte’s paintings. I’m especially glad to have them now.

Finally, I’ll stop thinking of myself, and simply choose to rejoice for Charlotte. She’s happier and more fulfilled than ever before. In Heaven she knows no pain or sadness. I can imagine her reuniting with her friends and family who arrived earlier! I’ll gratefully carry the memories and allow what I’ve learned to change me. And I’ll continue to pray for the ones here who are bereft over her loss.

Why We Should Keep Throwing Showers

My daughter Katherine was about three years old when I walked upstairs and saw a long row of shoes–our family’s shoes–up and down the hallway, near the bathroom door. There she was, bright eyed with that perpetual smile. “Joy” was the nickname I’d given her. When I asked about the shoes she said, “You told me we’re having a shower so I got everyone’s shoes ready.”  One of those memories that will always tug at my heart. At the time, I realized that I was scurrying around like crazy preparing for a friend’s baby shower and had never fully explained what a shower is! Being the fourth child and very adaptable, she wasn’t always totally in the know about what was happening. (FYI- young mamas- write your kids’ adorable quotes and stories in a journal! You won’t remember as much as you think!)

I recall with such warm emotion the parties hosted in my honor. Over thirty years ago I was a pregnant single mom. My husband and I had separated the same week I’d had a positive pregnancy test. Not part of my plan. My dear friends threw me the most beautiful and fancy dinner shower at a nice restaurant in Mobile, Alabama. Looking back I realize the party was over the top because they wanted to heap encouragement on me. Believe me, I needed it. They even had matchbooks embossed with my name.

A wedding shower was given in my honor when I married Tom. As I walked in, straight ahead I noticed the expanse of small window panes were filled with blocks of colored paper and letters, resembling a quilt. The letters spelled, “Myra is a special friend.” And, would you believe, those precious women had created a friendship quilt, each one contributing a square? We were not casual friends. We were family. They had walked me through the most difficult times of my life to that point.

During the shower, a wise mentor shared her thoughts about our upcoming marriage. As she gifted me with a candle stand she said Tom and I would welcome people into our home and would be a light to them. That message has stayed with me all these years and emboldened me to keep going at times when I’ve been weary of flinging open the front door again. I’d continually think back on that moment and the words she’d spoken.

My detailed recall of these events is indicative of the powerful impact they had on me.

I’ve had folks come back to me years after a celebration and recall how much it meant to them. Maybe, like me, they recalled something said that would stick with them and serve as a road marker. Or perhaps it was just fun to be the center of attention and receive much needed gifts that lightened the load in their new chapter.

There are many reasons not to open our homes:

  • “My home is too little”. I’ve hosted small parties in a house trailer!
  • “My home isn’t pretty (stylish, organized, decorated…) enough. Clear it out and clean it up as much as possible; put a smile on your face and open your door!  I had a fancy tea party for a bride, and had decorated all the main areas. I’d assumed, naively, that no one would go to the disaster that was the upstairs. There were some young people living there to whom I’d relinquished care of the bathroom. I hadn’t even glanced at it! Wouldn’t you know the bride ended up there! I was mortified!
  • “I wouldn’t know where to begin!” Ask an experienced friend, and keep it simple. Focus on encouraging and “showering” the guest of honor and keep the focus off yourself. When I first started out I looked to library books for help..

Marriage and family are at the bedrock of all that’s important to me. Let’s celebrate what we value and honor! How can I not bless and encourage someone embarking on the most incredible of journeys?

Hosting a party works like magic motivation to clean up and beautify your home!

In your own personal space, you’ll have a captive audience and can speak freely to a new mom or bride. She may forget a gift, but she’ll never forget  the words of life spoken and the love shown.

Your guest of honor will go home full of heart and full of gifts that will help her on her new journey.

Many years ago, I painted one of my favorite quotes on our kitchen wall. It was a sad day when we changed colors and painted over it. I’ll leave you with it here! From Emerson:

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

 

 

 

 

The Best Christmas Gifts

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My favorite Christmas gifts were in the leanest most painful years. There’s something special about gifts that you’ve put your heart and hands into, isn’t there?

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. I never imagined I’d be divorced. But I had to make the best of it. I had my precious toddler son and baby girl in my belly to nourish.

To make ends meet I cared daily for five additional children in my tiny home. Because money was tight, I took stock of materials I’d saved and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and then finished off with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that now. With old embroidery thread and cloth I made my dad a cross-stitched picture of a deer and put it in a frame. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort. I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking chocolate chip cookies. Those were very difficult but memorable days. It’s funny the things that warm my heart.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. We were in job searching mode and again, I decided to make all of our presents. I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand. I think I had more fun than the recipients. I painted old furniture, made marshmallows (for the first and last time), created canvas art, crafted ornaments, baked treats and more.

These days I’m still learning to embrace imperfection in all of its glory. There’s still a temptation to keep doing more. But I’m choosing to savor moments and say yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before. Here are some past and present personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. She holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and then takes a lengthy bow. The quartet sings with huge smiles and lots of energy. Then, Santa appears!  All the folks jump up from their seats to give him gigantic hugs. I watch the interactions, and I know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations in a class (Occupational Preparation) our daughter teaches. I’m amazed at the knack  Katherine has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and I have such hope for their futures. I almost said no when she invited me. The weather was cold and dark and the downtown area high school is in a congested area. I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. But, I went! And I’m glad I did.
  • Spending time with our grandchildren. I ponder the miracle of bearing children; the miracle of life. The gift of knowing our children’s children. It’s as fun as everyone says.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the kind of work Jesus would do.
  • Serving Christmas dinner to enlisted military men and women at Victory Ranch.
  • Giving gifts to families who need help to have a happy Christmas.
  • Enjoying our new friends and acquaintances and knowing God has a purpose in changes and moves.
  • Christmas music!
  • Our family. How proud we are of our children.
  • My dear husband who has put up with me and loved me for 34 years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count.

Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things, not the great occasions, give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

A Meaningful Christmas

A Meaningful Christmas

For years I strove for The Perfect Christmas.

My gene pool generously blessed me with an extra dose of perfectionism.

In case you think perfectionism is a positive trait, it’s not. It’s a disposition that regards anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Basically it means you’re never quite satisfied with what you create or achieve.

My mind obsessed over every component for that perfect holiday experience.

The Perfect Christmas would include a classic family photo sent to 100 of our closest contacts. We’d host our annual Christmas party and create teacher gifts for our four children’s multiple teachers. I was determined to include Advent readings, Advent candles, neighbor gifts, friend gifts, the five big boxes of gifts mailed to loved ones far away. I’d buy multiple presents for our kids, including the many small ones for stockings.

I would speed through it all and finally sit down to enjoy our decorated fresh fir… after the holidays. I was overwhelmed with sadness when I realized I’d missed some priceless moments that were gone forever.

Honestly, the activities were meaningful, but they needed to be toned down. I needed to prioritize the truly important aspects of Christmas–to somehow move from gluttony to grace.

Life happened and settled me into my rightful place. One year we asked a neighbor to snap a picture of all six of us posed on our swing set. (Why didn’t my husband stop me?) In the pre-digital era, I imagined a perfect family photo as I waited days to actually see it. I opened the CVS envelope and my idealistic little brain was jolted. I almost tossed it in the trash. 

This photo brought me to my moment of epiphany. It showed exactly who we were at that point in time. A dutiful husband who’d complied with my wishes, me sitting on the see-saw, smiling with my eyes closed, a teenager who clearly wanted to be anywhere else, a silly little towheaded boy who wouldn’t smile, but could make the craziest faces, a compliant sweet little girl with reddish blond hair, and a daughter with autism, who was probably the best behaved. It was awful. Believe it or not, I actually sent that picture. I included my Christmas epiphany about receiving Jesus, the Perfect Gift, even in our imperfect state.

Another Christmas found us in The Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. We’d made a difficult but important trip from coastal North Carolina to western Tennessee for precious time with a loved one. Heading home on Christmas day, we found ourselves at dusk in a very bleak area. We seemed to be the only car on the entire highway. I panicked when I realized we had nothing to eat. No restaurants were in sight, but we were happy to find an open service station. We bought peanut butter and crackers and something to drink. I became meaningfully aware of the first Christmas. What did Mary and Joseph eat for dinner? Certainly not the abundant fare we Americans enjoy. I guess it more closely resembled our humble cracker meal.

I’d thought to bring stocking gifts along for the children. As we settled into our room for the night, our kids happily tore into small presents while sitting on motel beds. I can still feel their excitement over such a small thing. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas memories.

My heart longed more and more for meaningful rather than perfect.

As years went by, it became harder to get the family together for a picture. I learned that any card would do. Another year I decided not to send cards, and Christmas still happened. Then there was the Christmas when our downstairs furniture was in a POD because of a recent flood. Underfoot was sub-flooring. We sat on the floor with blankets. We didn’t even buy a tree. However, we robustly enjoyed our favorite tradition, The Stocking Hunt.

The Stocking Hunt began when our kids were young. My husband, Tom tied a long string to each stocking, hid the stocking, and handed the children the empty end of the string. The string would take them on a wild goose chase through the house and outside to finally come to the other end and claim their filled stocking. The younger the child the easier the hunt. Through the years, they found stockings in the fireplace, the laundry, the bathtub and even trees.

As years have passed, what has naturally evolved is the most fun of all. The stockings have been set aside and the games have progressed to serious physical and intellectual competitions. There’ve been football throws, BB gun target shoots, immersing your hand in a tub of ice, blowing a ping pong ball while crawling, quizzes with historical facts, athletic teams, musicians and so much more.

Why do I share our tradition? I want you to have a meaningful (albeit imperfect) Christmas, too. Isn’t that what you long for?

Why is perfectionism not the answer? Because it left me frustrated, exhausted, dissatisfied, and unaccomplished. And all the while I missed some truly momentous experiences.

I finally realized that Christmas is about more than the doing and buying and going. It’s now only eleven days before Christmas and my list is starkly different than my Christmas to-do list from the past. I’ve yet to bake or wrap or send cards. Years ago this situation would have freaked me out. I’ll get the necessary things done eventually. In the meantime, I’ll ponder the true Reason and look forward to being with loved ones in Wilmington. I’m so excited about starting Eliza and William on our Stocking Hunt. Also, I’ll enjoy serving opportunities that will bless the truly needy and deserving instead of just blessing the blessed. The years have taught me to have grace for myself. I may even send New Year’s cards this year!

Giving Thanks

fullsizerender“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

Is there anyone besides me who thinks that our traditional Thanksgiving holiday has gone missing?

No one on the planet loves Christmas more than me. The holy majestic miraculous celebration! The food, the gatherings, the music, the people!

What I don’t love is feeling smothered by a heavy blanket of marketing that demands, “more More MORE  and rush Rush RUSH!” In social media, print ads and big box stores (ugh) every imaginable trinket, doodad, tchotchke, article of clothing, kitchen item, decoration, game, plastic toy is heaped on burgeoning shelves. I’ve often reminded my organizing clients, “The goal of manufacturers is to create profit, not to improve your life.” I don’t mean to be a grouch, but honestly is that what Christmas is really all about?

Thanksgiving is almost here. I’m laying out the fall decorations I’ve had for so many years. Simple traditions tie us together and remind us that in ongoing change some things are the same. We are always family. I’ll make my easy chocolate clusters just so I can fill the glass pumpkin-shaped jar that came from a discount store thirty plus years ago.

Think of me as the self-designated Keeper of the Thanksgiving Light. The flame is waning—it’s brightness dimmed by blinding lights clamoring for compulsive shopping and excess. The lighthouse calls gently and rhythmically to those who’d listen. “Remember to pause, be thankful, breathe. Remember who you are, what’s most important and how to really love your people.”

Let’s call to mind all the real gifts we’ve undeservingly received. Sometimes we are moving too fast to notice. Thanksgiving beckons us to pause, open our eyes to the present moment and to wait a little longer before the foray into frenzy.

My Thanksgiving gift to you is a recipe for the simplest and best pumpkin bread ever, especially when you spiff it up with my favorite addition!

JULIE’S PUMPKIN BREAD

3 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Oil

4 Eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 Cup water

2 Cups Pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)

3 1/3 Cups Flour

1 Cup Raisins (optional) OR my personal favorite: 1 Cup Chocolate Chips!

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (8 inch or 9 inch). Bake 1 hour @ 350 degrees. Cool briefly before turning out.

YUM!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Grateful Heart

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We have such happy memories of our wedding on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-four years ago. Gathering together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving to celebrate our marriage. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and a guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much better now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. But there is value in remembering. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November— to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to really be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5