Monday, November 30, 2009
In writing circles there is much talk of "branding." What's your brand as a writer? OR What do people expect when they pick up a book you wrote? Think of a couple authors and what their brand is - Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Lewis Grizzard, Dr. Phil . . . All have a brand.
So, are we all branded? I have a nurse friend I call for medical information and computer friends who help with computer problems. I have some questions about recipes in my novel and there's a friend to call on that. My son Ryan's friends have said the country song, Find Out Who Your Friends Are, remind them of him because you can call him anytime you need help. I know some folks with that brand, too. So I guess the answer is "Yes" we all are branded. Try it, think of a few friends and the brand they wear.
So what's my brand? And do I live up to, or maybe down, to it? How wonderful to know a person's brand and not be disappointed in it. Like the Hallmark commercials - could you imagine if one all of sudden had half dressed women, hard music, and loads of cynicism? Nope, can't imagine it. Why? Because Hallmark has stayed true to it's brand for 100 years.
Identifying my branding and then staying true to it. Sounds like a plan.
Honestly - sounds like high-falutin' words for something my Grandma said. And Shakespeare. And the Bible.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The warring of living the lessons the past year has taught us about overspending versus living on the edge with new, more, shinier, way better stuff. Watching the commercials for heart-tugging messages and pretty scenes but closing off my "I want that" trigger when the new car, furniture, computer, jewelry, clothing shows up.
When I was eight months pregnant with Lizzy, it was mid-December and I sold Avon. With a two year old and a four year old (and did I mention being eight months pregnant?), our house wasn't ready for the holidays. I wasn't ready for the holidays. Making deliveries of Avon to my friends was depressing. The houses were decorated, smelled like pine and cinnamon. Lights twinkled, cookies baked, garlands swagged and I sulked. Exhaustion and guilt pulled at me.
Of course, I didn't cancel everything in a snit and the boys had a wonderful Christmas. When you're four and two, it's easy to be happy with little. But I still remember that jealously which threatened to engulf me and ruin the season.
Later, when I told my friends of my jealousy of them, they pointed out to me - they all had older kids who helped decorate, bake and clean. And I saw it. I saw how I viewed everyone and everything through my circumstances. Instead of enjoying two little boys and the imminent arrival of a sweet baby, I wanted what I couldn't possibly have. Not only did I want it - I felt guilty and angry for not having it. Now how silly does that sound?
To remember to look at what I have and where I am at this point in life. To not judge all through my eyes and circumstances. To realize others are probably wishing they had what I have. All these are things I've reminded myself of for the past 18 years - because there was a Christmas when I let silliness steal my joy.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Things are quiet at my parents home this morning. Everyone is asleep - but me. I slept later than normal, but I knew I wanted to get this blog written and I just wanted to get up and get the day started. The early quite of a holiday morning belongs to moms and grandmoms, in my experience. The ones who went over the next day's menu right before going to bed and the ones who woke up with thoughts of what needed to be done when, so the next thing can be done. The turkey has to be stuffed before it can go in the oven and before the stuffing can be stuffed - cornbread has to be cooked, onions and celery chopped and sauteed, giblets boiled and chopped, eggs boiled and chopped. You can see where the mind racing upon waking comes in.
But in my life, those setting these scenes when I was to young to understand, did so lovingly and joyfully. Grandma and my aunt Cora Mae bustling in the kitchen as I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag on their living room floor. Smells from Mama's kitchen waking me up and saying that this was a special day. Even the cooking of cornbread at midnight on Christmas eve so it would be ready the next morning. Hot cornbread at midnight? - some people just KNOW how to set a scene.
The day is set in the hands of the Scene Setters and it is ours to embrace and do prayerfully - or ours to treat as work and do grudgingly.
Once again - a choice. A choice on what I will do to make this day a gift for my family.
Got to go, I have onions and celery to chop!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I'm thinking we're ready because we're just tired of bad news, of the economy and living with fear everyday. I heard from a friend of new layoffs yesterday in his company, where there haven't been layoffs before. Not a good sign. We want to believe the good economic promises, but it's hard without any evidence in front of us.
And suddenly we're remembering to be thankful for things we've kind of taken for granted lately. A ho hum job becomes a "good" job. Our small, old house becomes a thing of pride - no foreclosure or upside-down mortgage here. Things that felt tight or common, have taken on a new gleam. Shiny, New, Bigger, Better don't give the same feelings they gave a few years ago.
And we're a people ready for Thanksgiving.
Is this what Advent is supposed to do for Christmas Day? Prepare us? Make us see things as they really are, instead of what the world says or our delusional selves say?
Being prepared and ready to be thankful is a good thing. As hard as times might have been, we need to realize what the hard times teach us - and be thankful for the lessons.
And we're a people ready for Thanksgiving.
Humbled, weary, and searching. We're ready.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
So after waving sadly, yeah right, to our friends we'd pile into the loaded car. Mama would be driving, because we'd pick Daddy up at work. Sometimes we'd get to go to Cherokee Market and get some penny candy for the trip. Remember those little brown paper grocery bags, just big enough to hold one can of Campbell's soup? Well, we'd each - me, Linney and David - have our own bag. Now that bag had to last the eleven hour trip, both ways. But how special it was! We each would have our bag of stuff to keep us busy, books, coloring books, games, etc. We each had our pillow and we took turns getting to sit by the windows in our piled high back seat.
Daddy worked at the government plants in Oak Ridge, TN and workers had security clearance. So I remember having to park outside the big fence and guard shack and wait for Daddy to come out. How happy he would look and how happy we were to finally be on our way. There were three of us sharing the back seat and we had our share of "don't touch me" and "get off my pillow." But we also had our share of game playing, singing songs and watching the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina pass by. And we got to eat out! Big happening in our family. Spartanburg, SC had a McDonalds and that was where we stopped.
Around midnight we'd pull into my grandma's driveway. She and my Aunt Cora Mae would be waiting up to corral us sleepy kids into the house.
When I think of Thanksgiving, my memories include the food and the people, of course. But it seems to always begin with that journey. And I realize now that all the things I'm so thankful for now, can't be separated from the journey that led to them.
So today - I'm thankful for the journey.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Postive, life-affirming energy was flowing here yesterday. We had a bridal shower for our son's fiance, Carrie. As the room filled with people, the energy swelled and embraced each person here. For those relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere, you could see shoulders relax, facial lines vanish and smiles deepen. Yep, we all got prettier!
We love to have people over and I believe it's a calling. To open our doors and invite people in where the energy is positive and filled with joy. A place God walks freely and mingles with the guests.
Thanksgiving is this week and that is what I pray for each of us. A place to give thanks where God walks freely and mingles with the guests.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Young men and women who sign up for military service. They train and plan to put themselves in harms way because they believe their country should continue to thrive.
A man who left his career to follow God into ministry in his fifties. His wife who works by his side, through moves and pay cuts.
Friends that put their heartaches away to cheer good news from a friend. And even ask for more details.
Parents who move heaven and earth to support their children, only to be turned away in anger. And yet the parents never, never give up.
Couples falling in love and striking out without a clue where they're going or where they'll end up.
A wife who carries her husbands heartache and struggle because it's too much for him alone.
Grandparents who hold Christmas a month early, because the grandkids are in town now.
Nurses who chat and visit and calm more nerves than medication.
Moms who cradle their children's concerns as if they were their own. Dads who go about their day, never letting on that their minds and hearts are miles away with their child.
Look around you today. Who are the miracles you live your life with. I'm knee-buckled, breath-taken away, tears running in awe at the miracles walking the days of my life.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
With the words, "Cue the deer" a spry fawn is released from a hidden pen and bounds across the winter landscape right in front of the enthralled buyers.
This morning I'm wondering who is lining up things for me. I sat down with coffee looking out the front window and almost immediately a large V of Canadian Geese flew directly overhead. Against a bright blue sky, they were so close I could see all their markings. Then two bluebirds popped up in my willow tree. They hopped between the lower tree branches and the ground while I finished my coffee.
Yesterday, overlooking Brasstown Valley in Northernmost Georgia from our room, I watched a rainbow fill the sky. It stayed bright and clear for at least fifteen minutes. Mike even took several pictures of it.
Once in a spiritual gifts survey at church I tested to have the gift of "Miracles". Don't get too excited - apparently it doesn't mean I can perform miracles. It means I have the deameanor and faith to see miracles. C.S. Lewis' book "Miracles" is a fabulous, but hard, read for anyone interested in miracles. He points out that miracles are all around us, it's just a matter of knowing what we're looking for.
Like the folks in Funny Farm, I believe God is "cueing" the deer, the birds, the rain, the sun to delight, amaze and comfort us. To say - "Aren't you glad you're here and you're you?"
But most of all to me, miracles are God saying, "Aren't you glad I'm me?"
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Daddy fell last week in North Carolina and hurt his knee. They got home and he had surgery on it yesterday. I'm only three hours away, but Mike and I had a trip to a conference at Brasstown Valley scheduled and Mama and Daddy said they had everything handled. Their neighbors were available to help and friends were going to the hospital.
So things are covered - as well they should be. Because, you know, that whole Golden Rule thing. Mama and Daddy didn't live it so when their turn to be helped came, they'd be offered help. They lived it because it's what you do if you're living right. But there is a payback feel of it, isn't there?
So taking a look at the Golden Rule from the backside: What am I doing today for someone that I want someone to do for me in the future? Could be as simple as returning an e-mail or phone call. I want people to do that for me. The comments on my facebook status about Daddy's impending surgery, honestly made me feel better. Do I comment on folks concerns? On the other end of the spectrum. Can I expect friends to drop everything when I have an emergency, if I'm reticent about coming to their aid immediately?
We all spend time on the stretcher, either physically, spiritually, or emotionally at some time. Do you know who you'd ask to lift your stretcher? No? Might be something to think about today.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I've been preoccupied lately with many things. So having my head buried in life stuff, is that why the sky full of stars surprised me? Have there been so many cloudy nights that I forgot about crystal clear nights? I crept off to bed, astonished that this night sky of black velvet and diamonds is what I sleep under every night.
Some friends are adopting two girls from Ethopia. We've talked about the many "firsts" for the girls and how overwhelming it will be. The last time we were talking was at the height of the fall colors. These girls will never have seen leaves, whole trees, turn colors. Can you imagine getting off a plane and seeing these bursts of colors? You'd think that's what they look like all the time. And then the leaves fall off?!? We lived in Tampa, and the trees are never bare there.
Each of us will hear or see something or someone new today. There will be "firsts". I don't want the firsts to pass me by. But I also don't want to forget the astonishing things which have become old and common.
Today I'll try to imagine what it would be like to see for the first time leaves falling, a lake full of sunlight, a mountain sunset, the ocean, my children's faces. To hear church bells, kids laughing, horns honking, or a saxophone for the very first time.
Astonished, Amazed, and Awed - my goal for the day.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Even now you can ask my kids what happens when you say, "I'm bored." They'll tell you it means "pick up sticks." When they complained about being bored, they were sent to pick up sticks. Three kids and a wagon in the yard, may not mean many sticks get picked up, but soon they were busy. Kids learn to entertain themselves, but usually only when forced to do so.
Another thing the kids may remember is "No Screens". I'd set a time limit, usually a few hours, in which they could do anything - but no screens could be involved. No computer screen, tv screen, gameboy screen, etc. . . Again, an attempt to force them to entertain themselves, and not be aided by the brightest minds at Nintendo or Nickelodeon.
Now me? I never have to be forced to leave behind the TV or the computer. I never have to be forced outside to "play". Wait, Mike might read this. Hmmm . . . Okay, okay. So I don't exactly practice what I preached. But what if I did?
What if I'd spent as much time in the yard this weekend as those kids on the corner? Even if I didn't have bags and bags of leaves to show for my efforts, could I have gained something else? Part of wanting the kids to be on their own when they were growing up was to give them a chance to look around, hear themselves think, and learn who they were.
Naw, nevermind. I have the whole 2005 season of Ghost Whisperer dvr'd.
Friday, November 13, 2009
My friends on facebook cover the whole range. One has three of her families five Christmas trees up. Some are itching to start the season, but being held back by others who are pleading for them to wait. The local Christian Radio station was giving away concert tickets in October, but to win you had to send in a picture of you standing beside your nativity scene already on your lawn. I thought that was clever. In the mall, Christmas music was playing a week ago. We're waiting until after Thanksgiving to put our tree up, but just barely.
Some "bah humbug" the whole commercialization of Christmas. I don't. I honestly think God could teach marketing at a university.
As a culture we race to celebrate the birth of God's son. The arrival of the Savior. We long for it. We can't wait. We push the starting date earlier and earlier. And this dishonors God how? Some say many people don't celebrate the "real" reason for the holiday. I don't believe God thinks like that. He knows we're flawed, selfish people. He knows what lurks in our deepest parts - you honestly think he's surprised when we turn Christmas into something all about us? Naw, I think he knows why we long for Christmas, expand it, and wallow in it.
God is an infamous rule breaker - when we are the ones making the rules. I think God and the angels probably scour the earth to see the first sign of Christmas each year and then they have a party.
For as long as we desire Christmas, we desire to touch God - whether we know it or not.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Strikes me that I would allow something so completely out of my control to dictate my mood. That doesn't sound very smart. But I do. As a mother another thing that has power over my days is whats going on in my kids lives. It's easier now that I don't live with them to pretend they live in constant sunshine and daisies. And then there is that rubbing off of Mike's feelings onto my feelings.
Yet these people all have different dispositions than mine. Some are sunny, some are not. Why would I take on their discord and wear it? I know they take on mine - sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. I once had a coffee cup that said, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
One of my life quotes is "I won't let you steal my joy." When I hand my happiness, my joy off to someone else to manage - a spouse, a child, a boss, coworkers, an agent, family, friends - I'm asking for trouble. These folks all have different agenda's and problems and my happiness is just not always as high on their priority list as I think it should be.
But then, seriously - am I really taking that great of care of the happiness of the people around me? Who did I let down that I never even realized?
Hmmm, I guess God is the only one I should let my happiness, my joy depend on.
Can I get a big, duh?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I admit I want to be busy, needed, and important. Yet, I also want to be what and where God wants me to be. I know, so very well know, every minute of every day could be filled with worthwhile activities. One call to any church or school office can make that happen in a flash! But I want to listen and follow, not blindly jump.
A library book gave me a new perspective this week. Writing in the Sand by Thomas Moore led me to these thoughts:
Jesus wouldn't have carried an agenda. He lived his life and did his ministry where he was and with whomever he was with. He spent quite a bit of time out enjoying nature and just spending time with God. Some of his most important teaching was done with only a few of his best friends. He often left the crowd. He spent a lot of time eating and visiting with people.
I guess if Jesus carried an agenda with all the little timed blocks filled - most of the things we still read about couldn't have happened. Hmmm.
God came to earth and appears to have enjoyed himself. He took time to really see people around him and love and enjoy them.
Maybe he's looking for some folks to follow his example.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We're in Panama City and we survived Hurricane Ida. No - Tropical Storm Ida. Honestly? – Rainstorm Ida. We lived in Florida for five years back in the 80's and the worse thing was the hurricanes. Not the actual hurricanes – but the over-the-top, panic reporting about hurricanes. Since Katrina and 24-hour news and weather, the rest of the nation has joined the panic.
Should hurricanes be taken seriously? Yes. Should we count on someone, anyone, having common sense? Apparently not.
We just passed Halloween on our calendars and I love the idea of being scared, jumping at shadows and spooky movies – but this panic mode we now live in is ridiculous. Common sense seems to have taken a vacation so we either ignore all risks, which is stupid. Or turn every risk into a certainty, which is stupid.
One parenting tip I practiced was this: Say "no" only when you need to. Don't water it down with constant use. Make your "no" stand out. I even started answering my kids with, "Yes?" when they called out to me. If they swim in a sea of "yes" then a "no" will stand out. In youth ministry I saw this often. Think about it – Parents make the length of their son's hair or the color of their daughter's fingernails a huge battle. Their kid, not being stupid, sees that these things really don't matter. So, the parent's position is weakened. And the next battle may be one on which the parent needs to be heard – like drinking and driving.
Folks have jobs to do – and sometimes those jobs give them narrow views, which is good. I want the Center of Disease Control to be focused like a laser beam on disease. I want the military to stand guard with a passion. I want news folks to give me every bit of news they have. I want government officials and opinion talkers to push their agenda, after all, their agenda IS what gets them votes and ratings. However, if I try to take on all their views??? Just call me "Chicken Little" because I'll be in a constant state of running around screaming about the sky falling.
We've got to take our common sense out of the hole we've buried it in. This either/or choice of living in fear or living with our heads in the sand isn't funny.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Headed south on Saturday we left the main highway in Columbus, Ga. First, we visited Providence Canyon State Park. Then the two lane road then ended at the water and Florence Marina State Park. There we started driving south on Hwy. 39, a crooked black line on our state map.
Hwy. 39 is bordered by miles and miles of cotton fields, all white and ready for picking. Mike pointed out the water was to our right, through the trees. "If we watch we might see a road so we can jog over and look." He saw a battered sign for a Corps of Engineering site – Rood Landing. He turned sharply and almost immediately we left pavement and hit a dirt road. Red clay, one lane road in the middle of nowhere. After a little while, when we thought about turning around, we realized we couldn't as there were no side roads or wide spots. So we kept going forward. After a couple miles we hit pavement and signs saying we were at Rood Landing.
About a dozen trucks with empty boat trailers filled the boat ramp parking lot. The line of camping spots right next to the river only held a couple tents. A slight turn to the right and we saw picnic tables along the lazy river waiting for us. Spanish moss hung heavy and fall colors reflected in the dark, still water. We were the only people in that area.
There's all that talk about "the road less traveled" and it sounds good, but I learned a couple things about it Saturday.
-You have to intentionally leave the road more traveled. It might happen by accident, but then you're too panicked to explore.
-You have to be willing to look. It will not jump up in your lap and beg to go home with you.
-You have to know your surroundings and be ready to react. Mike knew where the water was and went that direction when given a chance..
-You can't let the no turnaround thing freak you out.
In all reality, we took a couple hours detour off the main highway. South of the lake we got back on the main road with everyone else headed to Panama City. Even in the midst of all those cotton fields, we were on good paved road, the dirt road had been recently graded, and the park was taken care of (even had toilet paper in the pit toilets.) So our adventure was minor on the scale of adventures.
But sitting on the riverbank watching the fish jump and butterflies dance, all framed by curtains of moss, Mike and I felt like we'd found a treasure. And that's good enough for me.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Go on more picnics.
I'm serious. Eat food outside. That's it. You can make it difficult, but then you're missing the point. I believe in picnics and support this belief with regular practice. Mike and I picnicked when dating (there was the time I put my own fortunes in store-bought fortune cookies but that's another blog.) And when the kids were little we went on supper picnics where we'd give Mike time to change from work clothes into picnic clothes and we'd head out for an hour at the local park - with food. We have pictures of one of the supper picnics when Lizzy was an infant. The boys were 4 and 2 - and we sure do all look happy.
We did Snow Picnics in Illinois. A playground is a whole new world when it's covered with four inches of snow. We'd eat out of the back of the van and lots of laughter helped keep us warm.
My folks passed down the Picnic philosophy - I grew up eating food outside. It may be up to you to start this tradition in your family - but if not you, then who?
Mike and I are on our way to a railroad conference tomorrow and on the way we're stopping in South Georgia for a picnic - lunch meat, sodas, chips and oreos beside a lake. We're both more excited about our picnic than the time at a resort!
So, grab some food this weekend and eat it outside. That's my prescription for a fantastic weekend and a better life.
Seriously - Oreos beside a lake - Wouldn't you be excited, too?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Dumplings are my kids favorite. In the cook book I point out "Luckily, even when they don't turn out just right, they're extremely edible." Then I added, "Just keep making them and after a couple dozen times you'll realize you couldn't make a bad batch of dumplings if you tried."
That keep trying thing works for more than just dumplings. One thing you learn when you move around is feeling at home doesn't happen fast. There is no secret way to fit in or be comfortable. Just time and showing up. The good news? It eventually happens.
Last night at church I came out of a door and actually knew what was down the hall in both directions! This is a very large church, so it was a definite milestone.
I got back to writing on my next book yesterday. Due to a lot of doubt and fear and other icky stuff, I haven't written much lately. I know now to get back in the groove is going to take doing it cold. However, the flow will come back. It will feel natural again. Eventually.
Whether it's dumplings, a new place, or an activity, I've learned that the comfort and familiarity I want is available, if I'm willing to walk through the uncomfortable and unfamiliar long enough.
"God, make me willing to keep walking today. We'll worry about tomorrow - tomorrow."
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Mama said after we'd visit there would be little hand prints all over their sliding glass doors. Those doors look from the dining/living room out over the deck, backyard and pool. Lizzy said her first word standing at that door, banging on it with tiny hands. Her first word was, "Guys." That's what I called the two boys all the time - "Guys, get in the car." "Guys, get out of the car." Mama realized what Lizzy was saying as she pressed up against the doors and yelled at her brothers in the back yard. (If you know Lizzy, not hard to believe that was her first word, is it?)
Mama said she'd intentionally leave the hand prints from all three kids on the door for weeks after we left to remind her of our visit.
Wonder what kind of prints I'm leaving around me? Do people want to remember I was there, or wipe away the evidence as soon as possible? There are conversations I participate in that I wish, almost immediately upon their conclusion, I'd never left my mark on. But it's too late.
Today I want to try, really try, to only leave reminders of how good the time with me was. Whether it's with Mike, or just the clerk at Kroger.
And, no, I haven't washed Bea's nose prints off, but I will soon - probably.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
It's about quanity over quality. The idea is you won't be editing or rephrasing or outlining. You will write. And write. And write. Then between Nov. 25-30 you submit your 50,000 word novel to the website and you get a certificate back saying you are a Novelist! Of course, the piece of paper isn't the goal. The goal is getting words on paper.
Many writers get bogged down in the craft - not a bad thing at all. We can all name books we wish had a little more craft in them. Often, however, the bog wins and those words and ideas are lost in the muck. And lost in the muck is a frustrating, awful place to be.
Writers are not the only ones that get lost in muck. Messy houses are mucky. Jobs can be full of muck. Bogs of muck can be found in families and even at church. This whole NaNoWriMo thing has got me thinking of how it might work for some of these other mucky messes.
To set my sights above the details and problems and worries for a set amount of time. To push ahead and not be slowed or stopped by the minutiae of muck. Hmmm . . .
I don't have any cute answers or anything - just thinking.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Robert & Carrie and Ryan & Casey were here this weekend so there was lots of cooking and eating and football watching and talking and hot tubbing and flower playing and Great Pumpkin watching. Then Mike left for an out of town trip late yesterday afternoon. Cleaning up wasn't part of the weekend, because that's what you do on Monday morning when you don't have to go to work.
So - seems to be a lot to do around here today.
Not having an outside job means I'm my own boss. Some days, though, having someone to tell me what to do and when to do it would at least get me started. Working alone at home works for me. Usually. And then there are days like today when I just don't want to mess with any of it. I don't even want to make a decision about where to begin.
However, being alone means no one else will do it if I don't. However, also means there's no one to see if I don't do it. See my conundrum?
But . . . this is a day I don't want to waste. My desire to not have regrets when the sun goes down is powerful. "I want to sign your name to the end of this day," is a line from Lifesong by Casting Crowns. Thinking of giving each day to God and asking him to sign his name on that day of my life spurs me to be present - awake and aware.
This day, November 2, 2009, is ticking away, moment by moment, and will never come again.
How exciting - Seems to be a lot to do around here today!