I've just spent two full days shopping in Louisville. I managed to squeeze in a Gotta Have It size of sweet cream at Cold Stone Cremery, a pomegranate mojito the size of my head and a big slab of red velvet cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Oh, and tomorrow is Teen Angel's birthday, which means cake, cake, cake. As my friend Yvonne used to say, "Might as well smear it on my a** 'cause that's where it's goin'." I gotta find a salad or two when I get home.
One of the things I enjoy most about the new house is the window in the front spare bedroom. It has this great view of the eastern sky, regularly giving me a spectacular show of the day's first light. I catch myself whispering, "Hello Beautiful," to something like this almost every morning:
I am at peace this Christmas. I was not last year. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over last year. It was just a painful, difficult season wrought with family turmoil and the pain and anger that accompanied the addictions and depression in some folks close to us. There was nothing joyous about the holidays. This year is different. Even with Sissy’s death staring over our shoulders, it’s better. Much better. This year I have peace in my life and in my heart. It is the greatest gift I could have received, and I didn’t expect to get it. Sometimes the best gifts are surprises.
Back in October, I started dreading Christmas. This would be our first Christmas since Sissy’s suicide, and I just wasn’t looking forward to rehashing the memories of Christmases past. Before Sissy’s son, Chance, and husband, David, died, she loved Christmas. We had many wonder holiday mornings together, opening presents and sharing breakfast. Even in the last couple of years of her life when her depression was at its worst, she still liked to decorate for Christmas.
As we were packing up her stuff and cleaning up her house this summer we found box after box of Christmas decorations. I couldn’t stand to look at most of it and neither could anyone else, so I saved some ornaments and gave the rest to a niece. Near the end of our cleanup, we stumbled upon a box of ornaments we hadn’t seen before. After examining the ones on top, we realized they were ornaments from the years that Sissy, David and Chance were all alive. We had never seen them, so I guess she had boxed them up and saved them sometime after Chance died. I didn’t have the emotional strength to look through the entire box, so we put the lid on it and saved it. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I didn’t want to throw it away.
Thanksgiving evening I decided to drag out the Christmas tree and decorate it. Hubby set up the big tree and started hauling down boxes from the attic. By accident, he brought down Sissy’s box first, mistaking it for our stuff. I opened it up, and immediately realized the mistake. It caught me off guard, but I was drawn to a Christmas stocking on top. It was Chance’s first stocking. A lump crept up into my throat. It was like driving by a car accident. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t help myself. I pushed the lump back down and reached for another tissue wrapped ornament. Teen Angel sat down beside me and started pilfering through the items, too. Within minutes we were smiling. Each carefully wrapped package held one beautiful surprise after another. Chance’s first stocking. His first ornaments. Pictures from his toddler years. His little Santa’s Helper hat. Even his Santa Hat. There were ornaments he made in school and cub scouts. And several of his Mickey Mouse ornaments. He loved Mickey.
There was the ornament from the first year of Sissy and David’s marriage and another one that held a picture of all three of them. There was no pain in that box. Just beautiful memories. Memories that would have been too painful to wade through when we stumbled upon the box back in the summer but memories that were sweet after we’d had some time to heal. I asked Hubby to bring down a second tree, a smaller prelighted tree. We set it up in the corner of the living room, covered it with Sissy’s old ornaments and topped it with Chance’s Santa Hat. Every night it twinkles at us as we watch TV and read, while the big tree with all of our other stuff stands guard in the foyer. It’s a reminder of Sissy, David and Chance and all of those great Christmases we used to have together a long time ago.
While discussing it at an Al-Anon meeting recently I realized that the tree helped me to reclaim those memories and stop dwelling on old hurts. Our relationship with Sissy was so much more than the last two years. It was more good than bad. That gives me peace this holiday season and allows me to open up my heart to Christmas this year.
That box of old ornaments was a gift. A gift I didn’t expect to get. But sometimes the best gifts are surprises.
The Hula-gen's make a lot of goodies during the holidays. It seems there is something sitting on the counter marinating, gelling or cooling just about every day, but SOMEONE, and I'm not naming any names, has a little trouble keeping his fingers out of the bowls. Which leads OTHERS to resort to things like this:
Guess who turned the big 4-0 this past Sunday. Super Cop. Ha! Never mind how old that would make me. Let's just focus on HIS age. Since I didn't have a chance to erect a big flashing sign in his yard Sunday, I thought I'd do the next best thing, splatter it all over my corner of the Internet. Along with some old pictures of him because nothing spices up a blog like goofy old family photos. And because I'm the bossy big sister, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't make his life more embarrassing on special occasions such as this. Happy Birthday Super Cop! I left out the one where you're standing in front of the outhouse. You can thank me later.
I don't blog about my job because frankly, it can get you fired. Besides, work is work. I absolutely love my job, but I like to set it aside when I head home and piddle with things I enjoy, like blogging. But sometimes my personal life and professional life muddle together, and I have the opportunity to do something extracurricular that falls under the marketing umbrella of my job but fulfills me in a very personal way. THAT is where this post lands.
As a part of my job, I oversee the community lighting display our company holds during the Christmas season each year. It's a lot of work but a very cool thing to be a part of. We have hundreds of volunteers who work the display each night, collecting donations of food and money for area charities. It generates several tons of food and sustains some of those charities for the first quarter of the new year.
Last year, I wanted to try something new to boost food donations. We put out a challenge to area schools to collect canned goods, and the school that collected the most pounds of food per student won $1000 to spend any way they wanted at their school. I didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Ten schools accepted the challenge and generated more than 15,000 pounds of food.
It's no secret I had trouble finding the Christmas spirit last year, given the troubles we were having with Sissy, and the distance those troubles put between us and Mama J. and Papa T.. I really just wanted Christmas to pass me by, but the day we picked up the canned goods, I found my Christmas spirit. It was such a wonderful surprise at each school to pull up to the doors and find a pile of food waiting for us. By the time we reached the third school I was in tears. That school had food piled in the hallways and spilling out of their homerooms. I was so overcome with emotion I had to dash into the bathroom to get myself together. It truly made my Christmas, and it was a reminder of just how good things can be.
This year ten schools joined the competition again. For two weeks they collected food, and I suspected we would would have a good response because some of the schools called for extra food bins. I was eager to pick up their stuff yesterday, and I was not disappointed when we started rounding up the loads. We took two moving trucks with us and pallet jacks and set out all over the county making one stop after another. And at each stop we were rewarded with food. And more food. Lots and lots of food. Spilling out of the bins and into the floor. At one school we picked up almost 6000 pounds. Another had 5400 pounds. At each school it was like opening up a big Christmas present. I made it to the next to last stop before I welled up with tears, which was pretty good I thought, given my propensity for wearing my emotions on my face. I managed to get myself together pretty quick, and nobody had to offer my a hankie.
These pictures don't show the faces of the students and staff because I'm walking that fine line between work and personal stuff, but believe me when I tell you I have lots of photos of the little smiling faces of kindergartners pleased with themselves, second graders waving shyly to me and the burly linemen helping me to load the goods and teachers bubbling with joy over their students' big hearts. Most moving of all were the children at one school who donated just a few hundred pounds. About 99% of those students at that school receive free lunches. Many of them will receive food pantry proceeds this month, making their donations more generous than the others because they have the least to give. If I think about it very long, I'll cry again.
It was a wonderful day. I've spent the last 24 hours, awarding trophies and money and basking in the glow of 23,000 pounds of Christmas spirit sitting in our warehouse at work, just waiting to be sorted and delivered to needy families. It's going to be hard to top that come December 25th. Sometimes, I think I have the best job in the world. And a darn good personal life.
When Hula was seven years old and SuperCop was about to turn two, the family dog had puppies. Thirteen puppies!! One was so small it was tragically squashed when there was no more room in the cardboard box in the basement where they were birthed. And then there were twelve puppies. Twelve Irish Setter puppies that Hula and SuperCop wanted to keep. Alas, they were sold to good families but forever memorialized in this Christmas photo from 1971, or as Hula likes to call it, the year of the Pretzel Pants. It was also the year Hula covered everything in large paper snowflakes.
*No animals were harmed in the making of this photo beside a cardboard fireplace.
The lovely folks over at iheartfaces want to see pets in this week's photo challenge. Those of you who visit this site already know my little schnauzer, Jumpin' Jack Flash, but for those of you new to this site, allow me to introduce you.
By the way, he doesn't know he's a dog, so let's not tell him, okay?
-It just wouldn’t be Christmas if someone around here over the age of 60 wasn’t in the hospital in December. It’s become an annual thing around here, and 2009 did not disappoint us. We took Papa T. to the emergency room two nights ago and it turns out he has a bladder infection. If it has spread to his blood he will be in the hospital at least four more days. If not, he should be out by Sunday. He is NOT a happy camper. In fact, he’s downright surly. Hubby and Mama J. have spent the last two nights at the hospital with him, but Hubby says he’s coming home tonight and letting the nurses deal with Papa T. Ho, ho, ho. -As we were sitting in the hospital cafeteria last night dining on the “holiday dinner” of tough $7 prime rib and Sam’s Club Red Velvet cake, I wondered if that’s how Ralphie felt in A Christmas Story eating Chinese food on Christmas Day. Fa, Ra, Ra, Ra, Ra, Ra, Ra, Ra, Ra. -I made it through the holiday meal with Hubby’s dysfunctional family Saturday without losing my Attitude of Gratitude bracelet, only to have to start all over on the 21 day thing Sunday. A certain sixteen-year-old pushed my buttons until I lost my temper and my gratitude for having a teenager. On a positive note, I made it seven whole days before I had to start over, which is way better than I thought I would do. Joy to the world! -I have an even bigger holiday meal with Hubby’s dysfunctional family Saturday. Hubby won’t be able to go because someone will need to stay with Papa T., and Teen Angel has to work, so I will be on my own in that hot mess. It will be another opportunity to test my attitude. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. -I tried a new four layer coconut cake recipe this week for a party we’re having tomorrow night. It’s one of those cakes that has to sit in a sealed container for three days before you eat it. It is all I can do not to break the seal on that thing and run my finger down the middle of it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. -The temperatures have dipped into the teens here, and I’m trying not to bellyache about it. It sucks way more to be in Iowa or Wisconsin right now, but gosh, I hate winter. The only good thing about winter, in my opinion, is that it forces snakes into hibernation. I’m Mister Icicle, I’m Mister Ten Below. -I have bought one Christmas present so far. One stinkin’ gift and I have no idea when I’m going to be able to shop. To say I’m a little behind is like saying Tiger Woods is having a bad day. At least I see a way out of my mess. Tiger? Hmm, not so much. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire……
Throughout the years, Hula has always enjoyed spending time with family and friends during the holidays. Hula LOVES a good party. In fact, one time she considered changing her middle name to Festiva.
Occasionally, those get togethers include old classmates and childhood friends. Like this elementary school reunion in 1981, her senior year of high school. Or as Hula likes to call it, the Aqua Net Year. It was the best hair...I mean, year...ever.
Friday night we went to an area restaurant that's known for its dazzling Christmas light display. It's tradition for visitors to stuff themselves full of pork chop and pie and then wander around looking at the beautiful lights. Teen Angel and me walked through the lights and we were all ooh and aah and look at this. And while I took plenty of beauty shots of garland and twinkling lights, I decided it was much more fun to play with angles, aperature, focus and shutter speed to get all kinds of wacky pictures of color. When I was a kid I didn't use those paper patterns that came with the Light Bright either. I just poked those pegs into random designs. Is that what they mean by coloring outside the lines?
When we moved to the new house, one of the things Hubby thought he would miss would be the wildlife that frequented our backyard. Even though we lived in a subdivision, it was a rural area, and he had cultivated quite a following of hummingbirds, squirrels, birds and other animals. He fed them daily with all kinds of seeds and corn, and the Hula-gen buffet had quite a following among the local critters. In fact, they were so well fed that some of our squirrels were overweight. I once saw a squirrel that was so heavy both cheeks of his butt hanged over the sides of the feeder he was sitting on. We spent many an hour sitting on the deck and watching hummingbirds fight over sugar water and finches and doves flit around the feeders. Even though the new house was only two blocks away and butts up against some woods, Hubby was afraid he wouldn’t have any wildlife here. “Don’t worry,” I said. “If you feed them, they will come.”
One day during warm weather while we were remodeling, Hubby saw a couple of deer in the backyard. They were eating fruit off of the persimmon tree. The next night, when the flooring contractor pulled into the driveway, a big buck was standing by the front steps. (So much for me ever having tulips in the front yard.) Hubby got all excited, and with the permission of our soon to be neighbors who didn’t mind deer wandering so close to the houses, he bought a salt block and put it at the far edge of the backyard. And waited. And waited some more. Once in a while, we caught a flicker of a deer but they didn’t come around when we were at the house. Of course, they could have been scared off by the weeks long whirring of saws and hammers and Hula-gen cursing. Hubby was disappointed. Although he was excited about our move, change is very difficult for him, and leaving our home of fifteen years was tough for him. He needed something from our old home to make the new home feel…well, like home. He was pinning his hopes on the critters. So he added some corn to the salt block, and waited some more. But they didn’t come. Deer season started and our hopes of seeing them faded, even though the corn pile seemed to get a little smaller from time to time.
And then early Saturday morning just after dawn, the dog barked to go outside. Hubby got up to take him out, and when he walked by the French doors, he got a wonderful surprise. He woke me up from a sound sleep, and since anyone who wakes me up at 6:43 on a Saturday morning better have a darn good excuse for doing so, I knew it must be important. “Look, look,” he whispered. I stuck my sleepy eyes next to the bedroom window and spied three deer tiptoeing across the frosty grass. We watched them for a long time as they warily sampled the corn and lingered long enough to get breakfast. While the dog impatiently stamped around with a full bladder, we oohed and aahed over the deer until they slipped into the woods. They were back yesterday morning and this morning, as well. First a doe. Who leads the way for her youngin’s. And finally, a buck who likes to eat last.
Hubby is thrilled. They show up between 6:30 and 6:45 each morning, come through the same place in the nearby fence row and leave in almost the exact same opening in the woods. They are wary and alert, but beautiful in the rosy haze of a December sunrise. It’s in those still moments when they stand yards away from us and gaze at us with big brown eyes that I feel as if I can hear God whispering to me to, “Here’s a gift. Take it all in before the day sweeps you away.”
Also, on Saturday when I looked outside Teen Angel’s bedroom window, I saw several birds nibbling on the ground nearby. I think they like that spot for some reason. Hubby plans to toss out some bird feed this week to see what happens.
It took a little while, but the critters came. I hope they stay. I can live without the tulips.
We got these Attitude of Gratitude bracelets at church Sunday. We're supposed to wear them as a reminder to keep a gracious and grateful attitude at all times during the next twenty-one days. If we lapse and say, snarl at the driver who cut us off in traffic this morning (I mean you, Miss Buick) or use a snotty tone with our spouse because he keeps putting the toothpaste in the wrong drawer, then we have to put the bracelet on the other arm and start the 21 day period all over again. Supposedly, it takes twenty-one days to develop a habit. That's why twenty-one days is our goal, or as I like to call it, The Three Week Noose Around My Neck.
Now, the Hula-gen's are prime candidates for this experiment because it is easy for us to lose our grateful attitude. REALLY easy. And in our case our attitude bone is connected to our mouth filter so when that bone breaks, so does the filter. And crap comes tumbling out of our mouths like an avalanche. It's a horrible disease, and we really need to mend it, so I was eager to do this experiment. Only, I didn't realize how hard it really would be. It's a lot like that time I gave up cake for Lent and was ready to gnaw my knuckles off by the tenth day.
Within an hour of coming home from church Sunday, I was in danger of having to move my bracelet to the right wrist, and so was Hubby. You see, we tried hanging pictures together, including a 100 pound mirror. As we measured for the nth time, he mentioned through gritted teeth that he hoped I had gotten it right this time. I paused, took a deep breath and said, "Bracelet!" He smiled and said, "Thank you." Bracelet crisis averted. For the time being anyway.
We've had several ups and downs this week, but I am proud to say I have managed to keep my bracelet on the left wrist for six days, even after helping to put up that gigantic Christmas tree at church this morning that had a tangle of cords called Thine Name is Evil.
The real test is yet to come. Tonight, we have a holiday dinner with Hubby's dysfunctional family. I won't run the risk of ticking them all off at once by spilling family disputes here, so I will just say there are a couple of folks in attendance who will likely make me want to smack them up the side of the head with my two-inch tall pork chop. It will be a real test to see if I can keep my attitude in check and my mouth shut. I should probably take a Band-Aid for the sore I'm gonna get from biting my tongue. Yes indeed, this bracelet comes at a good time. Pray for me brothers and sisters. Pray that I keep my bracelet on my left wrist and don't snap someone in the back of the head with it. I love the restaurant we're going to tonight, and I would miss their coconut cake if I got barred from there for life.
While my parents weren't tyrants, they were fairly strict with me and my brothers. We were expected to mind our manners and mind in general. They were not afraid to tell us no. I am amazed at how relaxed they've become over the years. It started with Teen Angel and has picked up speed with Special Delivery. I can tell you that if we had wanted to play with Zeke's guitar when we were kids
we would have gotten a much different response than Special Delivery did this past weekend.
Dear New Neighbors, My name is Hula, and I’m writing to introduce you to my family. I meant to knock on your door by now, but I’ve been a little covered up with this unpacking business. I had hoped to have a little holiday open house, but if I plan one more special event during the Christmas season, my family will hogtie me with mistletoe and ship me to the North Pole. I will try to introduce myself personally soon, but hopefully, this note will suffice until then.
There are some things about the Hula-gen’s I should probably make you aware of so that we get off on the right foot. First of all, let me go ahead and apologize in advance for my early morning walk-the-dog attire. The Crocs are kind of a necessity since the dog likes to wander into any wet spot he finds in the yard. As Lt. Dan said in Forrest Gump, it’s important to keep your feet dry, and the Crocs are usually the handiest pair of shoes sitting at the back door. I realize the robe is a disaster, but you must admit a robe is like jeans. It just doesn’t feel good until it’s pretty much worn out, plus Teen Angel got it for me for Christmas. Also, even though I walk the dog at 5:45am, I do pledge to wear underwear because at least one of you runs at that hour, and this really doesn’t seem like an underwear optional neighborhood. I must say I will miss that about my old block. It kept things interesting, especially since most of my old neighbors were elderly.
Our dog is barker. He’s a miniature schnauzer, and it’s their nature. We will do our best to keep him from barking at you when you pass by, but don’t worry. His personality is bigger than he is, and he’s really a fraidy cat. He won’t bite you, but he likes to make you think he will. Our cat on the other hand, will bite when provoked. She had a rough life before she came to us, and she’s a bit ornery. We have the papers to prove it. When we picked her up at the vet after vacation, her report card had a big red check by the I Was A Little Devil box. We like to call her our little she devil. When you’re visiting us, she will probably leave you alone, but you should probably not leave your ankles unprotected.
If you ask to borrow something, we will loan it to you. If you fail to return it or tear it up, we will pretend not to have the next item you ask to borrow because we won’t want to hurt your feelings by saying no.
If you go out of town on vacation and ask us to keep an eye on your teenagers while you’re gone, we will. We won’t call the cops if they have a party unless there is underage drinking and drug use. We won’t tattle on them, but we will tell you the truth when you get back and ask if there were any parties.
Speaking of parties, we like to have them. We won’t be loud and keep you up half the night, but we do like to have company. In fact, we have three parties scheduled this month. You will sometimes see our driveway full of cars, but our friends will not streak naked through your yard or jump off our roof. They won’t toss beer cans in your driveway either. They usually go home fairly early because they’re getting old and tired.
Apparently, many of you are curious about the renovations to our house since you saw so many workers come and go for months. You do not need to borrow a cup of sugar in order to get in the door to see the tile and countertops. Just knock on the door and ask. I’ll even show you my newly organized closet.
We are suckers for every kid who shows up on our doorstep selling something for school or clubs. Send ‘em our way without feeling guilty. We like band fruit, cookie dough, pretzels, Girl Scout cookies, Boy Scout popcorn and World's Finest Chocolate bars. Overpriced wrapping paper? Not so much. But I’ll probably buy some anyway.
In summary, we are boisterous, and we like to laugh. We often laugh at ourselves. We are just common folk who enjoy a good story or a good fart joke. We enjoy the simple things in life, and we like sharing life with family and friends. We will help you any way we can. We may wear leopard print pajamas with pink crocs outside, but we won’t let our grass get too high and we won’t let our dog poop in your yard. We’re just happy to be here, and I’m afraid you’re stuck with us for a long time because we don’t EVER want to move again.