New Year…New Outlook…New Life

First of all, let me start by saying I don’t make New Years resolutions. I haven’t for years.

For one thing, no one keeps them, including me. Certainly we have good intentions when we make them, but within a week or so those good intentions are gone, and unless we wrote the resolutions down somewhere, and can actually remember where we put them, we’re never going to remember them all anyway.

Why bother? Because the only way you can change your life is by actually doing it. Not by resolving to do it in the future; not by talking about what you’re going to do; but by actually doing something to change your life now. And continuing to do it. Not just doing it for the first few days of the new year.

Why do we seem to think we have to make resolutions when a new year begins? Because it’s new. A new year means a new beginning. You look at the year ahead as a blank canvas ready to be filled with all sorts of wonderful things you’re going to accomplish.

You mean well; you really do. But somehow along the way, as the month of January progresses, all those plans and resolutions are forgotten, put away with all the good intentions from last year, and the year before, and the year before that. And your canvas remains blank, without even the beginning of a sketch on it.

And before you know it, you’re in the same old rut as last year. Doing the same things with the same results. Wanting to break out in a new direction, do something you’ve always wanted to try, but just never getting around to it, because something else always comes up.

I read a quote the other day that really sums this all up. “A person that really wants something will find a way to make it happen. A person who doesn’t will find an excuse that it didn’t.”

And if you really want to accomplish something in the new year, to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll stop talking about doing it and actually start! You won’t need a resolution. You’ll just need a plan. And the willingness to stick to it.

My biggest goal for 2016 was to get my first book published. And I did. It wasn’t always easy, and I almost gave up a few times. But I did it! And the feeling of accomplishment was incredible! And it still is.

My husband and I both have things we want to accomplish in 2017. We’re planning on how to accomplish them; setting measurable goals; and planning on keeping each other on track as far as what we want to get done, and by when. And we will evaluate our progress as necessary to keep each other on track.

But resolutions? No. Anyone can make those. It’s setting goals and adhering to them that makes our plans work.

Happy New Year 2017! May it be your best year ever!

Meet Me at the Sunrise

One morning, very early, as I was once again having trouble sleeping, the Lord spoke to me.

“Meet me at the sunrise. I will show you My glory. The beauty I have created for each of you. Individually. Because no one looks at a sunrise exactly the same. What do you see when you see the sunrise? Do you see the works of My hand? Do you see My face? Look closely. Because I’m there. And if I would create this beauty for you this morning, what more do you think I will do for you?

Where do you picture this sunrise? Over the ocean or a lake? Riding over a mountain? This signals a new day filled with hope and joy to come.”

Wow! What an invitation! How could I refuse?

Except…when you have to go to work in the morning, there’s unfortunately no time to go out and sit and enjoy the majesty of a sunrise, except on a Saturday morning.

This was a week night.

What was I to do? Not go to work or go in late? Try to sneak a peek though closed curtains as I got dressed? Leave for work early enough that I could watch the sunrise from my car as I drove in?

But then the Lord spoke again…

“The sunrise is not only outside in my creation. The sunrise is all around you, if you will only look for it. Yes, I display it magnificently for you in nature…at the beach…in the mountains…over a quiet morning lake. Cameras in the hands of believers and non-believers capture that beauty on a daily basis and share it with others like you who cannot be there in the moment to watch My creation come alive again.

Those photos are a permanent reminder of My great love. Have you noticed that each photo is different? Because each of you see a sunrise differently. How you see it depends not only where you are physically, but where you are emotionally, spiritually; what season of life you are in.

Because the sunrise is not just a physical display of cosmic perfection that happens every day because it’s supposed to. Each sunrise is created just a bit different than the one before it. Like My snowflakes, no two will ever be exactly alike.

It doesn’t matter where you see the sunrise, but how you see it.

Because My sunrise is presented each day to the entire world, in a continuing display of glory from nation to nation, as a reminder that it’s a new day, a new time. A time to refresh and renew.

Every minute of every day someone is viewing a sunrise, and seeing it just a bit different, even from the person who may be standing beside them. Every minute someone is starting a new day.

What will you do with your new day today? Because yesterday is gone and will never come again. Today is your new beginning.”

Well….I hadn’t thought of it that way.

So what did I do?

I’m not going to answer that one. Because I want you to think about what YOU would have done.

And make that the answer.

Enjoy the sunrise!

And Now What?

The gift giving is over, at least for the most part. Exchanges have been made, and/or returns have been completed. After Christmas sales have been shopped, and items purchased for next year’s festivities.

The tree is still up, still decorated, but in the past few days it seems to have lost its glow, its expectancy. It almost looks tired. It just isn’t shining the way it had been.

And neither are you.

Is that how you seem to feel when Christmas Day is over and done? All the preparations, the last minute gift purchases, the haste to get everything wrapped and under the tree…everything is over and done so quickly…

And instead of being excited about all the fun you had on Christmas Day; about how happy everyone was; and how it was so nice to be around people you loved and cared about…. Instead you’re depressed and sad, and wondering why the day just wasn’t what you thought it would be.

Or you’re wondering…now what!? “I’ve got nothing else to be excited about, because Christmas took all the joy out of me. All the hype about the season…it didn’t do a thing for me. That one day I’m supposed to be happy and in love with everyone…well it didn’t work very well. Life is still the way it was before. Christmas didn’t change a thing.”

And suddenly you just want to cry; you want to just throw that fancy decorated tree out the window so you won’t have to see the reminder of another unhappy holiday.

You’re not alone, you know. Others feel the same way. It’s not unusual. There are many reasons. You may feel Christmas was over too quickly, and you didn’t really get to enjoy it because you were trying too hard to make sure everyone else did. Or you feel like there was something more you could’ve done to add just a bit more sparkle to the day; one more gift you should’ve bought for someone. Or maybe it’s just because after all the excitement, the anticipation, and the frenzy of that one day, suddenly there’s nothing left to look forward to except the same old routine, the same life you feel is just passing you by. You’re lonely and tired of being lonely.

What happened to the magic and the hope of Christmas Day? Have you forgotten it that quickly? Where’s that excitement you felt as a child for the next several days after Christmas, when you were exploring all the toys you’d gotten from Santa?

That little child grew up. And life happened. And it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be. And even the excitement and fun of Christmas, the holiday you always loved the most, just wasn’t magical any more.

But it can be. If you let it. If you stop to remember the reason for Christmas. It’s not about how many or how expensive gifts are, or whether you do traditional wrapping or use gift bags. It’s not about how your Christmas tree looks, or how many lights there are on your front lawn. It’s not about making cookies, or if your child believes in Santa Claus or the Elf on the Shelf.

Christmas is still about the birth of a tiny baby over 2,000 years ago. A baby who was the Son of God. Who came to our world to bring love and salvation. It’s hard to remember sometimes when we’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, and all the material aspects. And yes, I’m just as guilty as the next person.

But as the angels said on that long ago night, “we bring you glad tidings of peace and joy and good will to all mankind.” And it wasn’t just for that one night, that one day. It was for forever.
Somehow we’ve let the material trappings of Christmas overshadow the reason for Christmas. That reason should live in our hearts every day.

It should. But it doesn’t always. Because perhaps we’ve forgotten the magic, and what it’s all about.

Instead of being downhearted that Christmas is over, or glad that it is because you were miserable, think about what you can do to make the true spirit of Christmas last all year. An unexpected phone call or visit, a small gift of coffee or cookies, a kind word to a stranger…all the things people talk about doing at Christmas…and then no more. Why not do it all year?

Christmas isn’t just a holiday. It’s a state of mind that’s decorated more at one time of the year than another.

If we can only see it like that. Try it. “So now what?” becomes “What can I do for someone else now?” You may be surprised at the results, in both your life and someone else’s.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas…

Although we realize many of you are having a very difficult time today. Christmas can be a very rough day if you’re hurting.

But let us take the time to share the gifts we’d like to present you with today…gifts from our hearts. Gifts that cannot always be purchased with money; because they’re priceless.

For the woman who’s spending yet another Christmas without someone to love, someone to love her, accept the gift of hope, that that someone you’ve been praying for, and hoping for, will enter your life in the new year, and you will finally find the love you’ve been dreaming of for so long.

For those of you who have been waiting for a reconciliation with your children, or other family members, accept the gift of renewal, that things and circumstances will be made whole again, the past forgotten. May you receive a knock on the door of your heart allowing that reconciliation to take place, and your joy be restored.

For the man struggling with addictions, receive the gift of self-control and strength, that once and for all those addictions will be put behind you and your new life will begin even today as that gift is opened.

For those of you struggling with the first Christmas following death of a loved one, receive the gift of cherished memories that will live forever in the scrapbook of your heart, and the knowledge that the love you had for each other will never die, and that they are waiting for you in heaven.

For the family who’s lost, or about to lose, their home, accept the gift of a new place to live that will be the perfect home, cozy and peaceful, with enough room for everyone.

For the couple who desperately want a child of their own, may you receive the gift of the child you’ve wanted so badly, a child that was meant just for you. Because Christmas is about the birth of a long-awaited child.

For the family struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis, may you receive a gift of financial blessing, a new job, or a salary increase, that will ease your worries and allow you to provide comfortably for your family.

For those who are facing a serious illness… may you receive the gift of healing and the knowledge that the word of the Lord is always true and faithful.

Christmas is a time of hope. A time of renewal of faith and a renewal of the promises we were given over two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.

On this Christmas Day, be blessed. And may the light of His love shine forth over you as never before.

Merry Christmas to all!!!

And on Christmas Eve…

Luke 2:6-7 “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Joseph and Mary had traveled quite a distance by that night. They had to have been extremely tired. And with Mary being nine months pregnant, and more than ready to deliver her child, we can only imagine how exhausted they were when they finally reached Bethlehem.

Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, a small town some 80 miles from Bethlehem, where Joseph’s family was from. But when the decree had come down that all had to register for the census in the town of their ancestors, Joseph had no choice but to travel with Mary to the City of David, also known as Bethlehem, to register.

I’m sure he didn’t really want to make such a journey, especially since Mary was ready to deliver the baby any time. A distance of 80 miles doesn’t sound that long, but in those days, such a trip probably took up to a week to complete. There were no highways as we know them, and the modes of transportation were either by camel, donkey, or walking. There were no streetlights, of course, so when it started getting dark, travelers would have to stop for the night, pitch their tents, and prepare for the evening.

Most likely they traveled with a small group of others heading to Bethlehem, or other nearby towns. As it’s said, there’s safety in numbers, and the journey would not have been without some danger from thieves seeking to rob, and possibly even kill, unsuspecting travelers on such a journey. Although the Bible doesn’t address this specifically, I cannot imagine Joseph setting out on such a trip with a very pregnant Mary, without others around for protection and companionship.maria_josef

During the trip they all would have set up camp as it starting getting dark, with the women cooking sparse meals over an over campfire while the men watched over them all. Mary, at least, being pregnant, would probably have slept in a small tent providing meager protection from the elements, but most likely most of the travelers would have simply slept on the ground with blankets over them for warmth, and the men taking turns standing guard.

It certainly wasn’t a glamourous journey, nor a comfortable one.

Imagine how they felt when they finally reached their destination, and there was no place for them to stay. During the entire trip they were probably thinking how wonderful it would be to have a room to sleep in with a roof overhead and a bed. But there was no way to make reservations in advance, and they weren’t the only travelers arriving in Bethlehem for the census. It had been a matter of whoever got there first getting the rooms, and when they finally arrived, there were no more rooms to be found. Even if there had been, I wonder if Joseph would have had enough money to pay the asking price, because most likely the innkeepers would have raised their rates with such an influx of people coming to town.

What was Joseph to do? By this time, no doubt, Mary was past exhausted. The ride on a donkey had not been comfortable, and being pregnant and so close to giving birth would have made it worse. Although I would say that the trip probably hastened the delivery, we also know that it was all God’s plan, and He knew exactly what He was doing. However, Joseph and Mary hadn’t been informed of all of that.mary-and-joseph

After being told by several innkeepers there were no rooms available, Mary was already in the first stages of labor, and Joseph knew he had to find someplace for them that would provide shelter as well as some comfort as she prepared to give birth to her first child. Away from home, away from her family, and away from anyone who could help her with the birth. It was now up to Joseph.

I’m sure he wasn’t happy to only have found what is described as a stable, which in reality was most likely a limestone cave where animals were fed and housed. Fortunately for them there were no animals in there at the time, or so we are led to believe. By the time Joseph found the stable, Mary was most likely well into labor, so they didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.

They were both scared, having never been in this position before. All they could do is trust the Lord, and make the best of a difficult situation. Which they did.

One of the verses of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” says, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given….” I very seriously doubt the birth was silent. There were no pain killers for Mary, no anesthesia. She had not had breathing exercises nor Lamaze classes. She was a humble peasant girl…a young teenager…giving birth for the first time, with no midwife or attendants to help. She was in pain, and most likely cried out quite a bit from that pain, while Joseph knelt beside her, praying, holding her hand, and wiping her forehead as best he could.

And as midnight came, and melted into morning, our Lord TheBirthOfJesusand Savior entered the world of man. I am quite sure his infant cries pierced the night straight into heaven’s glory, as God the Father and His heavenly angels rejoiced at the miraculous birth of Jesus.

As the birth of the Savior began on Christmas Eve long ago and ended on Christmas Day, let us enter this Christmas Eve with new feelings of love and expectancy for what God has done, and what He will continue to do.

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas.

Going Home for Christmas

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change one thing about my life today in order to return back home to the things that used to be. But at this time of year, especially with Christmas just a few days away, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about how things were back then, when going home meant going back to my hometown, back to my roots. Back to where my mother lived, and spending Christmas in the house where I grew up.

But when Ben and I got married and had Ashley, going back home for Christmas took on a new meaning. It meant going home to pick up my mother so she and her dog could spend Christmas with the three of us.

In my dreams, I still can.

It became a tradition for my daughter and me. No matter where we were living, I’d always take off on December 23, Christmas Eve Eve, as my mom always called it (because her dad had called it that), and Ashley and I would drive to my hometown, pack our car with my mom’s suitcase and the gifts she’d bought, and the three of us, plus her little dog, of course, would head back to our house to begin our Christmas celebration.

All the way back to our house we’d talk about what a great Christmas we were going to have as we listened to Christmas music on the radio. No singing along though, because none of us were talented in that department! When Ashley was still a child, she’d excitedly tell her grandmother all the things she’d asked Santa to bring her, as my mother listened intently, already knowing what was going to be under the tree, and thankful how Ashley’s belief in Santa Claus would last at least another year.

The next day, of course, was Christmas Eve, and by then Ashley would be so excited she didn’t know what to do. In her younger days Ashley and her grandmom would watch cartoons together in the morning, and then one of us would “suddenly” remember one or two gifts we’d “forgotten” to buy, so we made that one last trip to the crowded mall to make that one last purchase. Even in Ashley’s teenage years, the cartoons long forgotten, we still had to make that traditional last minute shopping trip.

Those last gifts would be wrapped and placed under the tree with the others, and then it was time to make one last batch of cookies. It didn’t matter that we already had more cookies made than any of us could eat. Ashley and her grandmom still had to make just one more batch together.

Because when it was time for bed, no matter how old Ashley was, we HAD to put out a plate of cookies for Santa. Tradition. Maybe that’s why we always had to make that one last batch….

grandmom-at-christmasAnd Christmas morning….the one day of the year I could always count on my mother smiling, and even allowing her picture to be taken! In the earlier years, the family room would end up hosting the remnants of a cyclone of discarded wrapping paper, bows and ribbon, and toys that we wondered where we’d find a place for without getting rid of some that were already there.

christmas-1995-with-dadAfter all that fun, my mom and Ashley, and sometimes with Ben being allowed to join in, would play with all those new toys, quickly determining new favorites. Ben was sometimes selected to assemble certain gifts, which is still not his forte, but for his daughter, well, he actually did it and didn’t even complain.

At least not very much….

And now, my mom’s been gone ten years. I haven’t lived in my hometown for over forty years. My childhood home belongs to someone else. But I have my memories. And every time I see Christmas pictures from there, my heart opens its album of memories, and once again, in my dreams, I’m transported back to the days of my youth.

To the days of visiting the local Western Auto store and picking out the bike I wanted Santa to bring me.

To the days of beautifully decorated store windows at the local family clothing store, now long gone and its space replaced with cozy cafes and gift shops.

To the Christmases spent at my mom’s house, with aunts and uncles and cousins, a beautifully decorated fresh cut tree in the living room, and flickering candles on the table.

And in my dreams, I also imagine some new faces, interspersed with the old.

I create memories with my mother being with us as our daughter Ashley and her then-boyfriend Chris celebrated Christmas with us for the first time. I imagine my mom sensing even then, as I did, that this young man would one day be a permanent member of our family. I picture her talking to him for hours, getting to know him, so she could give him her grandmother’s stamp of approval.

I create memories of my mother being with us the Christmas Ashley and Chris had recently gotten engaged, and talk around the dinner table centered on wedding plans. I imagine her excitedly discussing all the details of the upcoming ceremony while Ben and Chris just looked at each other.

And I create memories of my mom being with us last Christmas as Ashley and Chris broke the news to her personally that she was going to be a great-grandmother! I can imagine the huge smile on her face as she looked forward to holding another generation in her arms! I imagine her excitement knowing this baby was being named after her. And I imagine her doing everything she could to make her extremely sick pregnant granddaughter as comfortable as possible, reminding her it would all be worth it. And she would’ve been the only one who could’ve gotten away with saying that!

2016-12-03-18-04-30And this Christmas I will make another memory in my mind. I will imagine my mother sitting in our family room by our Christmas tree, holding and playing with her 7 month old great-granddaughter Rachel. I will imagine her delight as she holds her and helps little Rachel open her first Christmas presents. And I will imagine seeing the joy and delight once again on my mother’s face; the huge, bright smile I only saw when Ashley was around. Because now in my mind she had the special privilege of holding her own granddaughter’s daughter.

And even as I write this, I can see my mother in my mind’s eye. And it’s a beautiful, precious sight that only I can see…a special Christmas gift to me.

You most likely may no longer be able to go back to your childhood home for Christmas. The home may no longer be in the family, and your family may unfortunately no longer be around. And if you were to physically go back there, you know it would never be as you remember.

Because we can make our minds remember what we want to remember; how we wanted something to be, as opposed to what it really was. We can make those memories as picture-perfect as we like. It’s sometimes easier that way.

In my dreams, Christmas is perfect. Every year. Just like this one will be.

Because in my mind, I’m still going home for Christmas.

Old Memories…New Traditions

The song starts off with: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” For many of you it is…the joys of Christmas with family and friends. Buying presents for loved ones. Holiday dinners and toasting for a new year filled with excitement. We see ads with happy faces and smiling families around the Christmas table. Old and young alike. It’s picture perfect.

Not for everyone though.

For many it emphasizes loss. What used to be and what will never be again.

And it hurts. A lot. This first holiday with missing loved ones is extremely painful. Grief hurts. Especially now. It’s no longer that most wonderful time of the year.

But we are still expected to function even as we are bombarded with reminders of what should be a happy time. All we can remember is what was, and is no more. All we have left of them are memories, and they aren’t here to make any more with us.

But Christmas comes whether you want it to or not. Maybe you don’t want to face it, but others around you who can’t totally understand your feelings are still filled with anticipation of the season. As much as you don’t feel joyous, you don’t want to spoil their happiness. But your happiness is so long gone…

While I can’t make it better, and I can’t make the hurt stop, I can give you some ideas of things we did that helped, as well as ideas from other friends.

A few years after Ashley was born, my mother had a friend knit Christmas stockings for each of us, including one for her that said “Grandmom”. The first Christmas without her, I couldn’t not hang it up; it just didn’t feel right. So hers was, and still is, in the middle of our stocking display, with a spray of red silk roses in it, her favorite flower. The Willow tree angel holding the rose on our mantle was the last one I’d given her on Mother’s Day, and stands watch over our stockings. This is the ninth Christmas without her, and that stocking is filled every year with those roses. I’m sure she’d approve.

That first year we marked a gift for each of us “From Mom” or “From Grandmom.” The funny thing is, I did it for Ben and Ashley, and didn’t tell them in advance what I was doing. Ben also did it for me without letting on to Ashley. We even gave her dog a gift and told her it was from my mom! (No, I’m sure she didn’t understand, but it made us feel better, since she had always bought Angel a Christmas toy or two!)

When I was packing up her house I had found several Christmas cards she’d bought and probably forgot where she’d put them, so I signed her name and gave them to Ben and Ashley that first year; one read “For my wonderful Granddaughter…” I think Ashley still has it.

We had also brought the Christmas ornaments home she’d used on the little tree in front of her fireplace. Ashley and I divided them up and used them on our trees. This year she proudly hung the one we gave them for expecting their first baby beside the last ornament she had given my mother…that said “Best Grandmother”. Several of my friends use their mother’s ornaments on their trees as well, and one friend actually uses all her mom’s ornaments on a tree dedicated to her mother. Another friend has taken several small collectibles that belonged to her mother and used them for Christmas ornaments.

Some people put framed pictures of their loved ones on the holiday tMemory Photoable as a way of still having them join the family. I tried it for two minutes; it was too painful, but it may not be for others. In a similar fashion, others elect to display a picture of their loved one near their tree or other place of honor, with Christmas décor around it, and sometimes even a small wrapped box as a memorial gift.

Other families have also taken special items that belonged to their loved one, and given them as Christmas gifts to family members that first year, including a note about why the item was chosen for them. One friend gave a mixing bowl to her mother’s sister, with a note telling her how she remembered watching her mom make her sister’s favorite recipe in that bowl, and she wanted her to have it as a remembrance. What she hadn’t known, was that bowl had originally been given to her mother by that sister, as a birthday gift.

I have also talked to families who would write a brief letter to their loved one every year, tie it to a helium balloon, and release it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as their gift to them.

Another family I know, whose mother was dying of cancer, recorded her reading “The Night Before Christmas” before she passed away, so that she could still continue her tradition of reading it to her grandchildren every year.

I have also h51oDJOG76fLeard of families asking friends and relatives to write a handwritten note with a memory of their loved one at the holiday season, along with a picture if they have one, and bring it to the holiday dinner. The notes are collected and placed in a basket to be read privately during the evening, or they can be read aloud for all to hear; personally I would handle it privately, as my voice still sometimes chokes when I talk about my mother, and it’s been nine years. The notes can later be made into a scrapbook or other memory book, which can be displayed each year as another special remembrance.

Many people advise grieving families to start entirely new traditions that will help ease the sadness, rather than try to do what you would normally have done when your loved one was still here. But that decision is entirely yours; there is no right or wrong way to survive holiday grief. However you choose to handle it is the right way for you, and it should be your decision.

I know it’s hard. But one thing I kept telling myself that first year, is that my mother would not have wanted us to mourn her, or be sad in any way. She would not have wanted us to do anything different just because she wasn’t around. So we chose to remember her and honor her in ways that fit her unique personality and character. And I truly believe she would have been pleased…except for the times I cried for her privately.

This year, however, will be a bit different. Because this year we will have our first grandchild, our granddaughter Rachel, who is named after my mother, celebrating with us. I cannot help but wish my mother were still here with us to see her great granddaughter, her namesake. I know how excited, and how proud she would be of her. But I also know she is celebrating Christmas in a way I can never imagine, and I know she is also watching us from heaven during those special moments the Lord allows. I know she is smiling and excited, and so very happy to see that her beloved granddaughter Ashley now has a daughter of her own.

However, the joy of our granddaughter still does not take away all of the pain of missing my mother. Because the loss is still there.

I’m sorry, Mom, but I’ll always miss you….Missing Mom Christmas

Flamingos Love Christmas, Too!

Yes they certainly do!

I guess I really didn’t realize how much they loved Christmas until they came over the other night to start decorating for their Christmas party. Wait? Christmas party? When did I agree to allow them to do that??

zazzle-invitationWell, I guess I did, and I guess I didn’t put it on my calendar (probably because we weren’t invited!) but they showed me the invitation they’d already sent out, so I had no choice.

What could I do? I told them as long as everything was put back the way it was, go ahead and decorate away!

And they did!

Of course, I thought our house was already decorated for Christmas; after all, we have 7 Christmas trees! And we even have a flamingo Christmas tree in our Florida Room, which actually stays up all year, and a lighted palm tree in the family room with flamingo ornaments, but I guess all that wasn’t quite good enough for them!

Because they immediately started setting up their own trees! And even had another crew decorating outside, which we hadn’t done. But did they have to do it all in PINK?

Well, they are pink flamingos….

Our fireplace was already decorated with stockings for all of us, including our granddaughters, but the flamingos decided they needed their own stockings, and promptly exchanged ours for their own. At least they packed all of our things away neatly so they could put it back afterwards. Thank goodness flamingos are well-organized!

At least they left our favorite flamingo statues in their places in front of the fireplace. (However, I have heard stories about those statues actually coming to life during flamingo parties, sort of like Frosty the Snowman!) I wonder….

They’d even created a special menu for the evening, although knowing these flamingos, I’m sure they served a lot more than what’s on that list.

hello-my-sweet-etsy
But the “highlight” of the evening was going to be the ugly Flamingo sweater contest. When they told me about that, that’s when I knew we really weren’t going to be able to attend, even though they’d apologized for forgetting us and begging us to stay!. After all, I don’t have a flamingo Christmas sweater, and even if I did, I doubt I could’ve competed with the ones they’d brought over with them to change into for the party.

So we decided the best thing for us to do was to spend the night at a hotel at the oceanfront while the flamingos enjoyed their party at our house.

And imagine our surprise when we returned the next afternoon and the house was totally cleaned up, our trees and stockings back in place, and the pink outside lights gone. Like we’d not had anything going on at all!

I have no idea how they managed it, but then again, flamingos are a bit of a magical bird anyway. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Maybe next year we’ll have a joint celebration. What do you think??

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Your Very First Christmas

What do you think, little one, when you see all of the lights, all of the colors, all of the beauty around you? You certainly don’t know what’s going on, because you’re too young to understand.

I so wish I knew what you were thinking….

Because somewhere inside of you, even though you’re only 6-7 months old, you’re sensing that there’s something special happening. Something out of the ordinary going on.

2016-12-03-18-04-30Mom and Dad are dressing you up more often, and taking more pictures than usual, if that’s even possible. You’re wearing a red furry hat one minute, and a ruffled bright red dress another. Seems they just can’t make up their minds!

There’s something new in the house that’s full of bright colorful lights and shiny dangling ornaments in all kinds of shapes and colors and sizes. You don’t really know what they are yet, but they’re pretty to look at, and you can’t resist putting your little hand out to see what they feel like. In the coming years you’ll know it’s called a Christmas tree, and you’ll help decorate it, but right now you’re just marveling at seeing something else new that you’ve never seen before.

There are so many lights on there! You’re not sure what they are, but you know they’re bright and beautiful and you love looking at them. Mommy and Daddy even wrapped some of those lights around you, and took the most wonderful pictures! And you had a great time playing with them. Another baby’s first Christmas delight…..


And when you’re old enough to help decorate that tree, you’ll see the Christmas ornament your mommy and daddy made with your little baby footprints on it this first Christmas with you. And you’ll be amazed at how small they were, and you’ll probably want to do another one now that you’re “so much bigger!”


You’ll see a lot of special photos from your first Christmas, too, some that we made into ornaments, and some that are framed and sitting all around the house. You might even ask who they are, and we’ll happily tell you “it’s you!” And your reaction….I don’t know but I’m looking forward to it.

You’re hearing new sounds as well. You really don’t know what they are; how could you, but it’s the sound of bells. Jingling bells on a sleigh, and in a song on the radio appropriately called “Jingle Bells”. One day in a few years you’ll probably be singing along with it. And we’ll be there recording the moment to keep forever.

And there are new smells around the house, too. You were just getting used to the smells of Mommy’s cooking and Daddy’s grilling. Now there are a whole new array of scents to enjoy.

image064Fragrant candles scented with cinnamon and peppermint. The smell of pine and evergreens as Mommy and Daddy take you on a walk in the woods to look for decorations for the house. The tantalizing aroma of cookies baking in the oven that you aren’t quite old enough to sample yet. The smell of hot chocolate on a cold night as you’re snuggling with your mom and dad just before drifting off to sleep.

And then there was that day you met another new person. You were dressed up in your “Merry and Bright” outfit (and you sure were!) and were happily enjoying riding around the mall and sleeping in your stroller, when you were waked up just to be placed in the arms of a man wearing a bright red suit trimmed in white fur. However, unlike many babies who see Santa for the first time, you weren’t scared at all! Somehow you knew, this was a good person, and someone you were going to enjoy learning about, so you just sat there and smiled for the camera, enjoying every minute!

 

photo-2Grandmom and Grandpa also bought you a special dress and took picture after picture of you (again!) in it! I really wonder what you were thinking all the time we had you posing for us. Did you really understand how excited we are to have you in our lives; how proud we are of you; and how very, very much we love you?

2016-12-17-15-54-19-1We also couldn’t wait to show you the Christmas stocking we had made for you that matches the ones Mommy and Daddy and Grandmom and Grandpa have. You weren’t’ really sure what it is when I showed it to you, but you’ll find out soon enough.

So now it’s only a few days before Christmas. A few days before Santa comes down that chimney bringing wonderful gifts for you. We’ll open them for you, and explain what they are as we help you play with them. And there’ll be even more pictures of course.

 

 

We’re excited, so much more this year than you are, because you don’t truly understand Christmas yet. But you will. And each year will bring more and more special treasures, special memories, and an understanding of what Christmas really means.

2016-12-18-14-09-17
So on this, your very first Christmas, we wish you joy and happiness and an excitement like no other day.

If we could only know what you’re thinking…!

Merry First Christmas baby Rachel! We love you!!! And you are the best gift ever

The Sounds of Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I love the music of Christmas. (Just not played 24 hours a day on so many radio stations starting on Thanksgiving Day! That’s a bit much.)

It seems every musician has their own versions of popular Christmas songs, as ell as some that have been composed over recent years and quickly became well-loved classics. Each year it seems as if I collect a new favorite.

manger-sceneMy mother’s favorite carol was “Silent Night.” To this day I cannot hear that song, or sing it at church, without thinking about her. How she’d often explain how it made her picture the shepherds at the manger that night, seeing baby Jesus for the first time, and the wonder and amazement they felt knowing that tiny child was the savior of the world. She said she could almost feel the quiet of that night, no sound at all, until a tiny baby began to softly cry, then close His eyes to sleep in that heavenly peace.

“Away in a Manger” was also a favorite of hers, and even to this day I can’t help but think about my mom every time I hear those songs. In fact, I can almost still see that old record player we had with her favorite Bing Crosby record spinning around on it at 33 1/3 rpm. We played that record so much it got really scratchy, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying it. (I actually still have that album in storage, but of course nothing to play it on now.)

Mom also loved “The Little Drummer Boy” and taught it to every one of her kindergarten classes. That was when teachers could still talk about Christmas, have class Christmas parties the last day before school was out for the holiday, kids could give their teachers Christmas gifts, and even have Christmas pageants with the children dressed up to recreate that first Christmas.

In those early years I always enjoyed hearing “Silver Bells,” perhaps because I liked the images it created in my mind. People rushing around, dressed in heavy coats, walking past festively decorated store windows, carrying stuffed shopping bags, and walking past Salvation Army bell ringers with their silver bells tinkling away in the chilled frosty air.

snowy-christmasAnd then there’s “White Christmas.” That song was really special to a lot of us kids, because after all, who didn’t love snow back then?! Especially at Christmas time. We’d dream of waking up Christmas Eve or Christmas Day morning and finding the ground covered in snow, and it still coming down. I think we only had that happen a couple of times at Christmas while we were kids, but I have to admit, there’s still enough kid left in me that I’d really like to see it happen this year! But I’m probably still dreaming.

The old songs are wonderful classics that will never go out of style. But there have also been some other Christmas songs that have come out over the past years that have been quickly added to my list of favorites.

Although “Mary Did You Know?” came out years ago, it feels like it’s new every time I hear it. The poignant words, when you really listen to them, and digest them, so clearly detail all of the myriad of emotions Mary must have felt when she was holding her new baby. Joy, mixed with the sorrow of knowing what His future entailed. How she wanted to protect him from all of that! Yet she knew in her heart that God’s plan was so much better than hers….

“The Christmas Shoes” was recorded by the Christian vocal group Newsong in 2000. I still remember hearing it for the first time, the feelings of sadness and hope combined into one huge emotional mess, but at the same time evoking feelings of what true love really is. Christmas and faith…through the eyes of a child. And because so many of my friends have lost loved ones at this holiday season, that song will forever have a special place in my heart.

santa-reading-listThen there’s another song I keep hearing in my heart and in my mind every Christmas season. I’ve written about it before, and how I felt the first time I heard “Grown-up Christmas List” recorded by Amy Grant. That list is still in the forefront of my heart today. If only we could have just a few of the items on that list….

Yes, certain songs, certain Christmas carols, will always bring to mind memories that are beautiful, comforting, and nostalgic, making me wish I could relive certain special Christmases just one more time. But those memories will have to continue to live only in my mind, because I wouldn’t want to miss the joys of Christmas today with the ones I now have around me to love.

In our memories, past Christmases were always happy and joyful, whether they really were or not. Because the very meaning of Christmas is just that. A time of unconditional joy because of the gift of love we were given on that night so long ago.

The musical sounds of this season are special, and unlike any other. They can create emotions and memories inside of us that we didn’t even know were there.

What memories do your favorite Christmas songs bring to mind?

The Story of Santa Flamingo

Flamingos love Christmas, too! In fact, they love everything about it!

The trees, the gifts, the presents (of course), dressing up, parties, and of course, there’s always Santa Flamingo!

gardenhouseflags2-comNow you may not have heard of him as much as Santa Claus himself, but Santa Flamingo is a very important bird. And very important to the main man, Santa Claus himself!

You see, the Christmas route got so big, that Santa Claus was wondering how in the world he’d ever manage to keep up with it, and how he’d be able to get to every child on his list in just one night. He wasn’t getting any younger, and between eating all those cookies the kids left for him, and going down and back up all those chimneys, plus having to use his special Santa key to get in the homes where there wasn’t a fireplace, well, it was really getting hard to get it all done in one night! And that red velvet suit really got hot when he was delivering gifts in all the hot, tropical areas. It just wasn’t good for his health any more.

i4-mirror-co-ukHe knew he needed help, so he decided to branch out and hire some other Santas to help him out. This wasn’t an easy thing to do, because he had to hire just the right ones for the job. He had to trust them to make all the deliveries on time, and at the right houses; his helpers had to be sure to eat the cookies left out by he kids; and they had to be absolutely sure NO ONE saw them while they were carrying out their duties.

That’s a tough job to fill. How in the world was he going to do it? After all, there weren’t any places on line where he could post an ad for such positions, because he didn’t want the kids to know!

What to do……

He still had about six weeks before Christmas Eve so he decided to take a quick vacation to somewhere warm, away from the North Pole, and without that signature red velvet suit, so he chose Aruba! Great idea, Santa! That’s one of my very favorite places!

everyones-creative-travelspot-via-facebookSo he gave instructions to the elves on what to do while he was gone (after all it was only for 4-5 days), and he and Mrs. Claus packed their bags, jumped on an airplane, and a few hours later they were checked into a beautiful hotel in Aruba. Right on the beach. They quickly changed their clothes, put on their swimsuits, and soon they were relaxing by the pool, with a cold drink in their hands. Ahhhhh….now this is what he needed, thought Santa!

christmas-treasures-comBut he still couldn’t get his mind off the fact that he really, really needed to get some help. And quickly. And as nice as it was there, it didn’t make it any easier when everything on the island was already decorated for Christmas. He even saw flamingos wearing red Santa hats.

Wait a minute. Flamingos. Well, his sleigh was pulled by flying reindeer, which can only fly one night a year, by the way, and only then because of the special food he gave them a few nights before that trip. He knew flamingos couldn’t fly either, but if he gave them the same food….

Something to think about.

from-constant-contactHe thought about it all afternoon and mentioned his idea to Mrs. Claus that night over dinner. “So that would solve the problem, at least in one part of the world. They wouldn’t need the red suit, not with those bright pink feathers anyway. They could just wear some of my hats, and it would be perfect! I can even interview some flamingos while we’re here. I’m sure we’ll find just the right one. And then he can select the ones that he’ll use to pull the sleigh. We have a few extra ones anyway, and they all have GPS now, so there’s no way any children will be missed. What do you think?”

“Santa, have you had too much eggnog??”

Well I have to admit I was skeptical, too, when I first heard this story.

However..

gardenhouse-flags-comSanta asked around at the hotel next morning, and that afternoon, a flamingo stopped over by Santa’s lounge chair. He was even wearing a Santa hat, decorated with a sprig of holly. “I heard you’re looking for some help,” he squawked. “I’m here to apply. My friends and I would love to help you out! They’re ready to fly, and I’m ready to drive. They even have reindeer antlers! I already have my hat, and the wife and I agreed a change of scenery for a few weeks, you know, up to the North Pole and all to learn everything, would be a great vacation. We’ve always wanted to see snow, so this is perfect! What do you say?”

Santa just smiled, and laughed his famous, “Ho, ho, ho!”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Santa Flamingo and Mrs. Flamingo, along with his flying flamingo friends, went back to the North Pole with Santa, and quickly learned just what to do. Flamingos are very intelligent, you know, and they learn very quickly.

The elves were delighted at the idea, and the flamingo sled team had a great time with Santa’s reindeer, and the reindeer even gave them some flying tips that even Santa didn’t know about. (And he still doesn’t. They’re secrets!)

So on Christmas Eve, after promising Santa he’d bring all the cookies back to him, and Santa promising to have a huge feast of shrimp waiting for them when they returned, Santa Flamingo and his team of flying flamingos took off with their flamingo sleigh, and made all the toy deliveries in the tropical climates!


Relaxing with Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Day, enjoying shrimp and pina coladas, while Santa and his crew enjoyed cookies and hot cocoa, they all agreed this had been the perfect idea!

They toasted each other and decided this would be an annual thing! And a new tradition was born!

Merry Christmas from Santa Flamingo!!

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Disclaimer: All content posted here is assumed to be in the public domain. If you find one of your images here and wish it to be removed please contact me.

Photo Sources: 1st Row: gardenhouseflags.com; 2nd Row: i4-mirror-co-uk; 3rd Row: everyonescreativetravelspot viafacebook; 4th Row: Christmas-treasures.com; 5th Row: from constant contact archives; 6th Row: gardenhouseflags.com; 7th Row: via eBay; via Pinterest; maggiestewartdesigns.com; 8th Row: paradisenewsfl.com; amelielegault on Etsy; shorelychic.blogspot.com; 9th Row: via Etsy

What Do You Do With the Gifts?

The gifts were all beautifully and lovingly wrapped, and placed carefully under the tree, name tags reading “To Mom” with love. You’d had so much fun shopping this year. It seemed like you had no trouble finding gifts for anyone, especially for her. And you couldn’t wait until Christmas morning to see her face when she opened those special gifts you’d gotten for her. It was going to be the best Christmas ever!

But then, the phone call came; or the knock on the door. And all of your Christmas plans were suddenly and irreversibly changed.

Because your world was turned upside down. And instead of merry and joyful, you were sad beyond belief, and plunged into a sea of grief and sorrow that you didn’t know existed. Unfortunately, it did. And now you were living in it, drowning in it.

And all those gifts suddenly became awful reminders that your world would never be the same, and for the next several years, Christmas would no longer be your favorite holiday, but a reminder of the deepest hurt you’ve ever felt.

Instead of having a huge family dinner, with lighted candles and your best china, you’re planning a funeral. Instead of selecting your best holiday attire, you’re searching through your closet for your most somber outfit, and selecting the final outfit that she’ll ever wear.

Christmas? It’s the furthest thing from your mind.

Until you look under the tree and those gifts are staring you in the face. You’d interspersed hers with everyone else’s as you usually did, so it would be more fun handing them out. Now you see each and every one of them as if they were all placed together in one pile. A painful reminder staring you in the face that she’s not going to be opening them. Ever.

So what do you do with the gifts?

That may sound trivial in the overall scheme of events. Some may say it’s a selfish question. Or it may sound like a simple question, one easily answered, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth of that question.

The gifts were bought for her. Wrapped with your love in brightly colored paper; tied with holiday ribbon by your own hands. To be given with love. Now they’re a painful reminder; a stab to the heart when you see them. The act of opening them when they aren’t supposed to be yours, when they were bought as gifts for your loved one, is something you can’t bring yourself to do.

If you haven’t experienced it, you cannot imagine the pain. It’s one thing to not be able to buy gifts for her that first Christmas she’s gone; it’s entirely another to have to do something with gifts already wrapped and tagged.

A friend of mine unfortunately found herself in this situation many years ago. Fortunately her husband stepped in one morning and took the gifts and put them somewhere so she didn’t have to deal with that, as well as everything else. To this day she has no idea what he did with them. Which is probably just as well.

The best advice I can give? Do what feels right for you. Have someone else handle it if you just don’t think you can. There’s no shame in that, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed over.

After all, you have enough on your mind. It’s not about the money, the cost of the gifts. It’s about your emotional well-being, and how you can best begin to heal after a traumatic loss. But it’s unfortunately something that comes up when a loved one passes away this time of year. And I’ve seen nothing written about it; no suggestions of ways to best deal with the situation and the emotions it brings.

There are a few suggestions I can offer that I’ve heard from others who’ve gone through this, instead of returning the gifts, either before or after the holiday.

One family donated the gifts to a local shelter, still wrapped, with the name tag changed to simply read “from [their loved one’s name]”. That way they knew the gifts would be put to good use and brighten someone else’s Christmas, as well as allow their loved one to make a final contribution to a charitable cause.

Another family decided to give each family member one of their loved one’s gifts to open in her memory, and then decide whether to keep it as a memento of her, or give it to someone else who would enjoy or need it. As each person opened the gift, they told a story about what their loved one would have probably said about the gift; and of course that also came with a lot of tears.

One other family said they changed the tags to “from [loved one’s name] all the way from heaven” and hid the non-personal gifts around the house to be found throughout the year. Clothing gifts were donated to charity.

It’s not easy losing a loved one at any time, but during the holiday season that loss is magnified, and any reminders of what has been lost can bring on the sadness and depression at any point. It’s natural. And expected. Leaving their Christmas gifts around can make it worse, but so can the decisions of what to do with them.

Bear in mind what your loved one would want you to do as well, if you can. Sometimes it’s hard to see further than the next few hours, let alone the next few days.

The best advice I can give…do what’s right for you. And don’t let anyone’s criticisms change your actions. Unfortunately one day they may go through this as well, if they haven’t already.

Hang in there. It does get easier over time. Next Christmas will be better. The memories will linger, and although you don’t think so now, they will gradually get easier to remember.