Each Tree Has a Story, Part 1

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by Christmas trees. Whether they’re decorated in restaurants and store windows and displays, part of an outside holiday display, or in someone’s (or my) home, there’s just something almost magical about the beauty of a Christmas tree.

For me, it just seems to evoke all the feelings of the season…peace, joy, beauty, and love. The sparkling lights and the ornaments, whether glass or acrylic, homemade or purchased from stores, or made lovingly by little hands for special family gifts, are beautiful reminders of things and people we love, as well as the beauty of the Christmas season.

When I was growing up, we always had a real tree. Of course back then there were very few artificial trees, and the ones available didn’t really look that great. (And remember those silver aluminum ones with the colored swirling light in front of it that changed color? I think we all had one! What were we thinking?)

I do vaguely remember my father bringing home a tree each year about a week before Christmas so he and my mom could decorate it just in time for Santa. It would sit outside in a pail of water for a few days to keep it fresh until it was time to bring it inside. I didn’t help much, of course, because I was too young. I certainly couldn’t help with the strings of lights, and the ornaments were glass and fragile, and broke easily, and we always had a colorful glass sphere on the top of it. 

I did get to help throw those aluminum icicles on it after everything else was hung. I just loved that finishing touch. And for those of you in my age group, I’m sure you remember the same thing. And weren’t they messy as could be when it was time to take that tree down? I don’t think they’re even made anymore. And if they are I’d never get them again!

But every year, once that tree was decorated, I thought it was the most beautiful tree ever! Those old, now vintage, ornaments were so special.

And because the tree was real, we had to water it every day so it wouldn’t dry out. Plus the old lights weren’t nearly as safe as the ones now, and there were lots of Christmas tree fires back then from overheated or frayed tree lights.

And those needles made a mess when they started dropping, so we had to constantly vacuum around it, but it sure smelled good…just like Christmas!

Even then, I was always a bit sad when Christmas was over and we had to throw the tree out and pack up those shiny ornaments. It just didn’t seem fair for all that beauty to only be around such a short time. And back then, we could only leave it up for about two weeks before it started drying out too much to be safe.

After my father died, my mom and I always went together to get our tree from the Christmas tree lot set up in a vacant lot in town. It always smelled so good there, many times with a small fire burning in a barrel to keep the attendants, and the shoppers, warm. Sometimes they even served hot chocolate. We’d carefully pick out a tree, and they’d tie it on top of our car. 

Because my mom had no one to help her with it, especially after my aunt and uncle moved a couple hours away, a lot of years one of the men who’d been helping at the lot would follow us home and help get the tree set up for us. 

Yes, times were a lot different back then. And being in a small town, everyone tried to help out everyone else. Especially at Christmas.

Unfortunately I don’t have hardly any pictures of our Christmas trees growing up, and none in color, but in my mind’s eye I can still see them, and still see the colors in the ornaments and lights. Yes, they were old fashioned compared to today’s styles, but they were beautiful to us.

Unfortunately over the years most of those precious fragile ornaments have gotten broken. Between various moves and accidentally dropping some of them, which really upset me every time, there are only a few left, most of which are now used in decorative bowls of ornaments set around the house.

I couldn’t ever imagine Christmas without a tree and all those lights and ornaments; without the beauty they brought to our home, especially when I was a child with my father no longer with us.  And I’m sure if it hadn’t been for me, my mother wouldn’t have ever had another Christmas tree after he died.

I guess my love of Christmas trees sort of sprang from those childhood days, and has slowly evolved to the craziness my husband and I have now.

Craziness you ask? Well I’ve been told having a tree in almost every room is a little crazy, but then again, I’ve never claimed to be totally normal. But I like to collect things, so why not Christmas trees? 

Which I’ll tell you more about in a few more days. Watch for “Each Tree Has a Story, Part 2” to be published on December 6.

Making a Gingerbread House

All the pictures make it look so easy. Right?

Mom and the kids sitting around the table, maybe even with Grandmom, and happily frosting/gluing the pieces together, adding the candy, and then a perfect gingerbread house is completed.

May I ask you, have you ever really tried doing one? With or without kids? It’s really not as easy as those pictures show. And it definitely doesn’t always turn out like it looks like on the box. Even for those of us who are usually quite crafty.

How do I know? Well, last year my daughter and I decided to make one with the grandkids. At the time Rachel was 4 and a half; Ryleigh a year and a half. 

I guess I should’ve said my daughter and I decided to make one. While the kids watched. Or played something else. Or waited to eat the candy that went on it.

We’d actually done one the year before. That didn’t turn out well at all. Besides Rachel being a little too young to really be a lot of help, actually putting these together isn’t that easy. The sides and roof pieces that have to be assembled are “glued” with white frosting. The frosting doesn’t work like my hot glue gun! And getting them to stay upright and in place isn’t a piece of cake, or gingerbread, either! 

Trust me, our finished product from that year certainly isn’t worthy of being seen on here!

Last year though, was a bit easier. But only just a bit.  It may be because we used a different brand gingerbread house kit. Maybe because the grandkids were a year older. Or maybe we’d just learned from last year what NOT to do.

Our daughter learned what not to do. She learned that she had no patience in putting the sides and roof together. So guess who got the job? The same person who did it the year before. As you can see from the pictures.

And getting the roof on and actually getting it stay is almost an engineering project. But I did it. And when the frosting “glue” dried, it actually stayed together. That was an improvement over last year!

Next was the part our daughter and Rachel were looking forward to. Decorating the house. The kits contain all the candy needed for the houses, and there’s usually some left over. Which makes all the kids, big and little, quite happy.

And our daughter and older granddaughter really enjoyed putting the candy on, even though not all of it went on the house. What did little Ryleigh do? She watched for a few minute, grabbed a bit of the candy, and went back to playing and watching cartoons.

Fortunately the house turned out fairly well. We were all proud of our accomplishment. 

So proud, in fact I actually got another kit for them, and we all put together a gingerbread camper. Which wasn’t quite as difficult. Or else we’d learned a little more about how to do it.

So what do you think about our collection? Are you ready to try and do your own? You don’t even need to have kids or grandkids to try it. But that makes it more fun. 

Or you can do what our daughter did and order an acrylic one to put together. Much easier. And lasts a lot longer. Isn’t it cute? And you knew it had to have a flamingo with it!

Here are the finished products. What do you think?

To show how brave we’ve become after this, we now have four gingerbread kits to make this year. We may or may not write about those, depending on the finished products. But you never know!

And why not send your own gingerbread house pictures in a comment. We’d love to see them!

Happy holiday creating! The fun is just beginning!

How Thanksgiving Really Is

A lot of times after a big holiday we have a letdown, a time when we sit back and reflect on all the preparations and hurrying and worrying to make sure everything is perfect, and wonder, after all we did for a few hours of family time and food, was it worth it? All the work, that is.

The turkey’s been eaten, and leftovers put away. Casseroles are covered and refrigerated for tomorrow. Leftover pumpkin pie sits on the counter in case someone wants another piece.

All the work and preparation and it’s over in an hour or so. And everyone is exhausted.

Yes, we gave thanks for time together, and yes it was wonderful, although it certainly wasn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting. It never is. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, please look up Norman Rockwell and his work. Then you’ll understand.

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At our house, it was a small gathering. Our daughter and her family, and her dad and me. And that was fine.

Now the Thanksgiving crafts Ashley brought for the kids to do didn’t quite turn out too well. Grandpa complained his crayons weren’t coloring right. Little Ryleigh lost interest quickly. Probably because she didn’t feel good. So Rachel and her mom got to have all the fun, including making a Thanksgiving hat for Daddy. Even one of our dogs decided to join in the fun and try to eat a couple of the kids’ crayons. Didn’t know yorkies liked crayons….

The food was good, even though it wasn’t all necessarily homemade. There’s nothing wrong with stovetop stuffing, turkey gravy in a jar, ready made mashed potatoes, and a frozen pumpkin pie. But I did make two casseroles myself. And Ashley and the girls made cinnamon buns from my mother’s recipe, which is our tradition.

We didn’t carve the turkey at the table; that’s just not practical. Good thing, though, because the electric knife decided to die on us when my husband started to cut it, and our son-in-law had to use his deer knife to carve the bird. He did tell us he’d cleaned it after he last used it out in the woods!

We didn’t dress up in our best clothes, like we did as kids at our grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. But we did eat in the dining room. We didn’t use our best china, but we didn’t use paper plates either. Good thing we used unbreakable dinnerware, though! You can imagine why with two little girls….

The grandkids had fun, even though they didn’t eat much. One ate three helpings (kid-sized) of corn pudding and one ate mostly cinnamon buns! Our daughter put ketchup on her turkey while her husband used hot sauce. Who else does that? And why?

The grandkids were actually more interested in running into the living room to try to play my piano and in the next minute go look out the window for Santa Claus. Rachel even said she thought she saw him on the roof and made her Daddy go look! But I guess he’d already left because they didn’t find him.

I wonder if he was starting to make his list early!

The dogs were unhappy because they weren’t allowed to be in the dining room with us, half because they wanted to be with us, and half because they knew the kids were dropping food on the floor and they wanted to help with the cleanup!

But don’t worry about their holiday dinner! They discovered the cloth napkins and tablecloth I’d thrown on the steps to take upstairs to the laundry room, and they were more than happy to grab those and run around the house with them.

Guess they wanted their Thanksgiving treats as well!

Family Thanksgiving pictures? The closest we got to that were pictures of the grandkids helping their mommy make the cinnamon buns and taking pictures of the kids modeling the Thanksgiving paper hats they’d colored.

Now tell me the truth…was your Thanksgiving more like ours or more like the picture perfect scenes you see on tv commercials and magazine ads?

I think I know the answer already. And I really wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, it’s our family, and that’s just how it is!

And if you’re wondering how my husband was able to handle all this after his heart procedure two days ago, well, that’s another story, for another time. While we wait for it to be rescheduled now that the insurance company has FINALLY sent the doctors their approval! Things do work out for the best after all. Because Thanksgiving day would have totally worn him out.

And now it’s on to getting ready for Christmas. And there’ll surely be more stories and memories to cherish.

Being Thankful 2021

(Be sure to read through it all for a surprise at the end.)

It’s almost Thanksgiving again. We’re all trying to plan our meals, figure out who will join us at our feast, as well as what everyone can bring. 

We’re trying to figure out how to prevent arguments at these family and friends dinners because, well, some of you don’t get along with each other that well, and have such uncompromising ideas that you’re afraid dinner will turn into a battleground.

People are already complaining that the cost of our traditional Thanksgiving meal is too high. We can’t get this or that and we just can’t have our dinner without it.

People are complaining that many retailers who traditionally opened after dinnertime for an early start on Christmas shopping won’t be doing it this year. They’re actually letting their employees have off to spend time with THEIR families instead of trying to deal with pushy shoppers who complain that what they stood in line to buy is gone already! 

It just isn’t fair! 

Who said life is fair? Who said we have to have certain things for dinner because it’s tradition? Is Thanksgiving going to be ruined if we have to eat chicken instead of turkey? Not, it’s not quite the same, but you do have food on the table.

You don’t want to have certain family members there because you don’t agree with them on certain things? Maybe they don’t agree with you either. Maybe you can agree to disagree for one day and leave that conversation out of your day?! Or maybe you can just forget about them this year. But do you really want to do that?

Maybe things will be different next year and you can see them then. Or maybe they won’t be around any more and you’ll never get the chance to be with them again.

Tomorrow is not promised. Next week is not promised. And next year is not promised.

When we start making holidays, say Thanksgiving for a start, only about the food and who’s cooking it, and what we can or can’t have, there’s a problem.

When we make Thanksgiving about who we don’t want as our guests instead of welcoming family members to join us for a time of fellowship, gratitude, and thankfulness, there’s a problem. When we refuse to go to our family Thanksgiving dinner because some one or two people we don’t want to see will be there, and give up going and being with others we love, there’s a problem.

When your traditional after Thanksgiving dinner early Christmas shopping can’t happen because retailers decided to give their employees off to enjoy their own families, there’s a problem.

I think we’re forgetting what Thanksgiving means. It’s not about the food. It’s not about shopping. It’s not about refusing an invitation because you don’t like someone who’s also invited, so you’d rather complain that you have nowhere to go. Because you do; you just choose not to.

And yes, I find myself starting to do that as well. I forget, too. But then I was prompted to start writing this, and as I wrote, I saw too many things inside myself that I was doing wrong.

I found myself pushing to make sure I had all the good items we “always” have for our dinner. Yes, we did get the turkey early, but we didn’t pay a fortune for it because we found a sale rather than just complaining about prices. Complaining has become the new thing to do, hasn’t it?

And if we have to change up the menu slightly from what we traditionally have, well, maybe we’ll like the changes so much we’ll keep them for next Thanksgiving. And cranberry sauce? Yeah, it’s tradition but no one really eats much of it.

As long as we can have my mother’s recipe cinnamon buns we’re good. And I ordered the hot roll mix she always used so all we need is for our daughter to make them!

And the dinner guests? Since my family lives several hours away, and my husband’s family lives halfway across the country, our dinner guests are our daughter and son-in-law and their two daughters. Over the last several years we’ve usually had several friends in the same situation; family out of town and they couldn’t get there. Or they’re newly separated or divorced and well, we won’t go there. Or some of our daughter’s friends who couldn’t get to their family celebration that year.

There’s always room at our table for one more, and many times it’s someone who’s invited at the last minute because we didn’t know they had nowhere to go.

The shopping after dinner? I can truthfully say I’ve never done that. Not even wanted to. After a big dinner and cleaning up afterwards, the last thing I want to do is go fight the crowds fighting over bargains on things they don’t really need or gifts that the recipients might not even want.

What’s wrong with stores actually letting their employees have a holiday off? Is the almighty dollar so important that the retailers should be open no matter what? Personally I’m glad a lot of them made that decision. Let families have a full day together, and that means those of you who used to take off shopping as soon as dinner was over. Spend time with the ones who are important to you while you can. The stores will be open the next day. And there will be merchandise to buy.

Now, to make our Thanksgiving even more interesting, a few days ago, a new complication was added to our Thanksgiving plans. But it’s added at the top of our “Being Thankful” list. 

My husband who’s had a history of heart issues (read his story in the Matters of the Heart series on this blog) was unexpectedly notified that after a year and a half of waiting and delays (Covid and insurance, among other things) he finally had an opening for a very important but hopefully minor heart surgery, if any heart procedure can be called minor. Two days before Thanksgiving. We took the appointment.

After a rushed several days of preparation for surgery, final meal planning and some prep for the actual dinner, and yes, finishing up the majority of our Christmas decorations, notifying our family and friends, I think we’re ready. 

Tomorrow morning he will be having a device called the Watchman inserted laparoscopically into his heart. The device is designed to prevent blood clots from breaking off and possibly causing a stroke. Which means he will finally be able to go off blood thinners at the beginning of the new year. And he should be home the next morning.

So you see, our Thanksgiving won’t be the same as other years, either. But with the help of our daughter and other friends, as well as a great surgeon and his team, we’re going to have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day.

It may not be traditional, but it’s going to be blessed. And full of heartfelt gratitude.

So I ask you now…what are you going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? Are you going to be grateful for what you have or complain about what you think you’re missing?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remembering The Price of Freedom

This post was originally published five years ago today. But it’s still very relevant today. So I’ve updated it slightly to reflect Veterans Day, 2021.

The price of freedom cannot be measured monetarily. It is measured by the sacrifice of the lives of the men and women who defend it.

Today is Veterans Day. The day we thank all of those who have served and are currently serving in our military. Their bravery and dedication to duty is not appreciated nearly enough. They have a unique understanding of the ways of the world that we who have not served cannot begin to understand.

To all of those who have served or are still serving, we owe you a huge THANK YOU for the time and sacrifice you, and your families, have given, and are still giving, to this great nation. You leave home and family behind far too often to serve your country because that’s your duty and your chosen profession. You and your families are invaluable to this country.

My father served in the Army during World War II, however, because of a bad knee that he had originally injured playing football in college, he was sent home with an honorable discharge and a knee brace.

My uncle also served, however, he did not get home until the war ended. He was quite fortunate. Although I do not know his entire story, I will relate what I know of it, because in my eyes, he was one of the heroes.

Fowler Cottingham joined the Army as a young man barely 18 years old. He was trained as a crewman on the fighter planes, and consequently sent to Germany, where he flew in several successful missions with his crew.WW2 Plane

The morning of the day he flew his final mission was most likely just another day. Clear skies; light wind; a perfect day for flying. I can imagine the crew loading the plane, going through their pre-flight checklist, making sure their parachutes were ready, and most likely cracking jokes and talking about what they’d do when they came back from their mission.

Flying over enemy territory was never safe. Most of us have probably seen movies of the allied war planes heading out for missions over Germany. What the movies don’t adequately show is the danger our men faced during each of these missions.

They didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment in 1945 that our armed forces have now. There were no computers, no GPS; only a navigator with paper maps showing where they were supposed to be flying. There were gunners who fired their weapons without fancy electronics to assist them. They had to judge where to aim, and when to pull the trigger, based on what knowledge the officers and ground troops had been able to discern. It was much different than today. But they had courage, and a sense of duty. They had volunteered to serve, and knew the risks involved.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but my uncle’s plane took a hit from a German warplane. Fortunately they were all able to parachute out, and landed in a wooded area somewhere behind enemy lines. They had only a few supplies, and had no idea where they were. And no idea whether anyone else had any idea where they were, or even if they were alive.

Shortly afterwards they were captured by German soldiers and marched to one of the POW concentration camps. Capture was certainly better than being shot, which I’m sure they were all afraid, would happen. As brave as these men were, just remember, they were all in their early 20’s, the beginning of their lives. They all wondered if they’d ever see home and family again.Blanches Banques POW Camp

Over 93,000 men were held as prisoners in the German POW camps in World War II. They were held in drafty wooden buildings, with uncomfortable cots, and only a thin blanket for warmth. They were fed one or two meals a day, usually some type of thin soup and stale bread. Their only utensils were a tin spoon, and a tin cup for water. One day they were given a treat…candy bars which they quickly bit into. And then saw the worms inside.

My Uncle Fowler and his crew spent six months in that camp, guarded by armed soldiers and German shepherds. They never knew when or if the guards would come for some of them to question them, torture them, or kill them.

There are some experiences that are just too terrible to discuss because they bring back too many nightmares. My uncle would never discuss any of what happened, other than what I have written here; not with his parents, his wife, or his two sons. After his return, and until the day he died, he was scared of German shepherds because he had seen them tear hands and arms off of prisoners who were trying to escape.

How did these men survive this ordeal? And where was the Lord in this? I’m sure the men wondered many times where He was. Even at the young age of 20, when he was captured, my uncle was a man of faith, and I’m certain his faith helped sustain him.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord was watching over them the entire time.

Yes, their plane was shot down, but the crew survived. The Lord directed the German bullets away from the fuselage so that the plane didn’t explode, which would have killed them all. When they landed in the woods, they had no idea where they were, and no idea where to go. The German soldiers could have killed them, but instead they were captured and allowed to live. Many other soldiers spent years in these concentration camps before being freed; these men only had to endure for six months. Many died in these camps, but these men all survived, because the Lord had plans for them. My uncle had a young woman, my aunt, waiting to meet him, fall in love, and marry. The Lord had plans for all of them and made sure those plans were carried out. Prayers for safety were answered; just not the way that was expected.

I wish I knew the names of my uncle’s crew members, but I never had the opportunity to find out. I would love to thank them as well for serving with him, and being part of his support system while in the camp.

And again, to all of our veterans and those who are still serving, and their families, Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank you for your service. May God bless you all, and keep you safe.veterans_day_thank_you-1940983

Leftover Halloween Candy?

That’s sort of like how to use leftover wine, isn’t it? Like who really has leftover Halloween candy? (or wine?)

Well, actually, we usually do have some leftover Halloween candy each year. We usually buy too much (on purpose) because we do enjoy it, and even though I am still working remotely, I do like to have a candy dish in my home office. And what better to fill it with then those miniature pieces of candy that are so tempting.

And at Halloween it’s worse, because the bags are bigger, and they’re usually on sale.

After Halloween it’s even worse because the bags are marked down even more, and if you get to the store early on the day after, you can really stock up.

When our daughter was still a child, we would sit on the floor after trick or treating with her and our neighbor’s son and sort through all the candy, making sure it was ok to eat of course, and then exchanging pieces back and forth if one kid didn’t like something and the other did. We all made out fairly well from the candy exchange and of course, ended up with a lot more in each house than we really needed to eat!

Now that our daughter is married with children of her own, we don’t have as much leftover candy from trick or treating, because we go to their house and join the granddaughters on their Halloween trick or treating. Their neighborhood goes all out for Halloween, with most of the homes decorating their yards with all manner of blow ups, giant spiders, skeletons; you name it, and it’s there somewhere. Many of the residents (and a lot of them are dressed up as well) sit outside in their driveways with their portable firepits going and hand out candy to all the kids. Some even have adult beverage treats for the adults! Those of us with children (or grandchildren in our case) usually rent golf carts from the clubhouse and decorate them, and then drive around the community with the little ones to get their goodies. It’s really a lot of fun, and much easier to ride in the golf carts than walk, because their development is so big.

But back to the candy. I’ve been hearing ads on the radio and seeing Facebook posts about where to donate leftover candy. Well, that may be good for some people, but chocolate candy is a bit pricey, and call me selfish, but I sort of want to eat it…..?

Last year, I ran across a couple of recipes for brownies using Halloween candy. And I thought, why not try it? I had a big bowl of it sitting around in the kitchen, and since I do enjoy baking I tried it. And it was really good! And easy.

So here’s the recipe for those of you who want to try something new!

Leftover Halloween Candy Brownies

  • 1 cup + 2 tbl flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • t/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup M&M’s
  • 1/2 cup chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • 1/2 cup chopped milk chocolate candy bars

OR, you may want to use a boxed brownie mix, follow those directions and just add the candy!

To make the brownies from “scratch”, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ square baking pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, and vanilla together in a separate large bowl using an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined.

Fold in candy and press into prepared baking pan. You can add a little extra, which I did, but just don’t add too much or it won’t cook properly. Bake in pre-heated oven 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan on wire rack for ten minutes and then cut into squares.

Then enjoy! They’re delicious. In fact, I think I’ll go make some!

Dressing up the Dogs???

Yes, we do dress our dogs up on occasion, although not as much as we used to.  And yes, that does include Halloween. They’re actually not real fond of it, though, as you can imagine.

But being puppy parents to two adorable and extremely spoiled Yorkies means we really have to do things like that. It’s sort of an unwritten law for those of us who are owned by Yorkies.

I’m sure most of you have seen the cute pictures all over Facebook and Instagram of Yorkies wearing clothes, and not just for Halloween.  Those pictures look adorable. The dogs look so happy, and you think, “wow I have to have one of those dogs so I can dress him/her up, too.”

Well, that’s a good thought. However, actually doing it and taking good pictures are two entirely different matters. 

Dogs don’t like to get dressed up. At least ours don’t. Oh, they tolerate it. But they really act embarrassed. You will see a few pictures here, but you have no idea what we had to do and how long it took us to get what pictures I’m posting. How the photographers online get such photos I don’t know! Either the dogs are extremely well trained or the photographer took a thousand pictures to get that one!

A couple of years ago, however, we had a brilliant idea to enter the pups in a Halloween pet costume contest at a local restaurant. We had a couple of weeks to plan for it, and knew we had to get the perfect costumes for Benji and Chloe. 

And what could be more appropriate than bride and groom outfits! Complete with a veil for Chloe and a top hat for Benji! Online ordering is an awesome thing and Amazon had just the perfect outfits! 

But it wasn’t enough to just have them dressed for the part. We even got Chloe a “bouquet” of flowers (actually a fancy dog toy felt flower bouquet that we wouldn’t let her chew on). We also had a dog toy cake but it had birthday candles on it, so that wouldn’t work. 

Then my husband had a perfect idea! Something he knew would be just the thing to clinch the prize for the most adorable doggies in the Halloween parade! Instead of just walking them up on stage, they would make their grand entrance as “newlyweds” in their own little car.

And it just so happened that our daughter and son-in-law had a pink (of course) remote control car they’d bought for our granddaughter, and they were happy to bring it for us to use.

So we were all set! Except for the two stars of the show not being too happy about wearing their outfits! Maybe it was “pre-wedding jitters”? Or Chloe had changed her mind about her dress and wanted a different style?

Anyway, the show must go on, and so must the Halloween Pet Contest! We promised the pups we’d give them treats if they behaved, so that Sunday afternoon we all met at the restaurant, including our daughter and son-in-law and our little granddaughter (who wanted to ride in her car!) and my best friend.

Of course, the contest was held outside in a beautiful setting by the water. Picnic tables were set up and ready for participants and diners as well. There was even a special menu for the dogs to order from!

There were quite a few dogs there, all in costumes! And like Benji and Chloe, some of them didn’t seem overly happy to be dressed up either! Or maybe they were just nervous to have to go onstage. Benji was more interested in barking at the other dogs like a crazy person (or dog) and Chloe just wanted to take her dress off and run and play with them.

Maybe this wasn’t a great idea after all?

But we’d come this far, so we went for it!

All the dogs had their chance onstage.  There were some really creative costumes; dogs dressed as hot dogs, a beer can, clowns, a police officer, a scarecrow, and even a taco!

Then it was our turn. We put Chloe’s veil on her, put both dogs in the car, and held our breath as my husband controlled the car that slowly rolled along in front of the stage. And amazingly both pups stayed in the car! And everyone there loved it!

The winners were decided by audience vote. We held our breath to see who’d win. And yes, Benji and Chloe won! By one vote, but they still won! 

We were awarded a gift certificate from the restaurant (which happens to be one of our local favorites), and the pups got to order lunch from that special dog menu! 

Would we do it again? Well….that depends on the dogs. But I think they’re going with the “once is enough” answer!

Note: The restaurant is Blue Pete’s in Virginia Beach. It’s a locally owned establishment situated on a small body of water known as Muddy Creek. The atmosphere and food are great, and so are the owners!

A Season of Love?

Today is December 1. There are 24 days until Christmas. It’s the season of love; of hope; an almost magical time when we can actually begin to feel that spirit of anticipation. Of knowing that good things are going to happen.

It’s a time in which we should all begin to focus on what’s really important instead of complaining, griping, and spreading falsehoods and baseless theories about how things have been stolen away. Insulting others and name calling in order to make themselves look, well, I don’t really know what they think it makes them look like, but I think it makes them look small and petty. And even calling for people to rise up against others, many of those neighbors, friends, and even families, just because they don’t agree with you.

Christmas is a time to celebrate when love came into the world in the form of a tiny baby. A baby knows no hatred, bears no animosity to others. A baby looks at the new world around him and sees only wonder and awe. He sees not black and white, but a multitude of colors that fascinate him and cause him to want to explore each and every one.

So why are we so fixated on trying to make the world into something it is clearly not anymore? Why, especially in this season of love, are we so fixated on spreading so much hatred?

This has been a difficult year. Many people are still unemployed. Many are worried that they won’t have enough money to eat and keep a roof over their family’s head, let alone get gifts for their children. Many have lost loved ones, not only to the pandemic, but because their hatred is stronger than their love. And that’s sad.

My husband and I have lost friends this year to Alzheimer’s and cancer. We have also lost friends who do not agree with us, and rather than agreeing to disagree, have insulted us, called us horrible names, and even telling us we cannot be Christians because we disagree with them.

This is not the way to show love to anyone. And it’s certainly not in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season.

Many people who read this will dismiss my words and say I’m being ridiculous. Many will say they have every right to say what they want when they want and to who they want. Yes, they do, unless they are trying to incite violence.

However, is it the right thing to do? And what does it say about them? Are their hearts that hard?

This is the beginning of the Christmas season. The season of love.

Can we maybe, just for a few weeks even, try to live that way?

Memorial Day 2019

Looking back on what I’ve written for this day over the years, I think repeating this one is still very appropriate.

The last year has seen not only increases in terror attacks in our country, the majority of them from our own people, and terror attacks continuing throughout the world, but vicious verbal attacks on our citizenry, from those who certainly should know better.

We are still losing military personnel stationed overseas, and sadly, that will most likely continue, especially since we are now talking about sending troops over to another foreign country. And for what reason?

Many of our elected leaders have never served in the military, have no idea what it’s like. I grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Young men from my small home town went to serve and never returned. Throughout the country, boys were rushing to find deferments. Some were real, some were the result of wealthy families buying medical reports that weren’t always totally accurate . Some got those deferments, and still brag about it to this day. Many did not. Many chose to enlist rather than be drafted, and served their country. Some of them came home, but many did not.

And when our Viet Nam veterans returned, many times they were greeted not with welcome home signs, but protesters calling them names, such as baby killers, throwing bottles and trash at them, and refusing them jobs or a normal life.

That was an ugly time for our nation. And for many, the scars are still painfully there.

For the families of the fallen, Memorial Day is a painful and difficult reminder of those no longer around to attend family cookouts, go on a three day mini vacation, or shop the sales at their favorite stores.

It seems everyone’s talking about the fun they’re having. The food they’re eating. The places they’re seeing and the bargains they’re snagging at all the sales. Nothing but fun!

But it’s not for those who’ve lost loved ones fighting terrorism and in the various wars in places most of us have never been, and most likely never will be.

So here is the piece I wrote last year for Memorial Day. I believe it still applies, perhaps today more than ever.

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Memorial Day matters to a lot of people; some more than others. For some it’s a day set aside to remember their own loved ones who died fighting for our country, but yet their families are the only ones who remember that. The empty place at the picnic table still hurts, no matter how long it’s been. A year, ten years, twenty, or in the case of a family in my hometown, almost fifty years.

I’m sure the families still vividly remember that day, that exact time, when they got the notification. The knock on the door; the phone call; the telegram. The moment that changed their lives forever; that turned their personal world upside down, never to be totally upright again.

Wives became widows, or husbands became widowers. Children became fatherless or motherless. Parents lost their child; sometimes their only child. Some parents lost the hope of ever becoming grandparents. Many could still picture the day he/she was sworn in as a soldier, or an airman, or a sailor. How proud everyone was. Now all they they had left was a flag draped casket and memories.

And no one, except them, seems to remember their sacrifices any more.

Not only do people not remember, but today there are now those who desecrate the flag-decorated graves of our honored military dead; desecrate war memorials meant to honor the fallen; and turn Memorial Day parades into riots, bringing only violence and hatred, claiming they have the right to protest, and they’re just exercising their “rights”. Even worse are the ones who decide to shoot a service member in uniform, because they “don’t believe in military service.” And yes, those service members who die in such shootings should be honored as well on Memorial Day, because they also gave their lives to preserve ours.

Yes protestors do have some rights. They have those rights because of the sacrifices of the men and women who are being honored by the flag-decorated graves, the war memorials, and the parades. But those rights are limited by law, something they tend to forget.

But our service members didn’t give their lives so protestors could vandalize their graves and their memorials. They gave their lives to preserve freedom in our country and around the world. But that doesn’t include freedom to incite violence and vandalize property in the name of “protesting”. It’s not an excuse for rudeness, or stealing.

I am tired of the protestors and the violence; I am tired of people putting down those in the military. I personally knew a few of our military who lost their lives in various wars and deployments. I have many, many friends who are in, or have retired from, the military, and many friends whose children are serving in the military. I honor them, and respect them, and admire them for their service and their sacrifice. And I thank them for keeping us safe, even though many times they risk their own lives to do so.

So on this Memorial Day, let’s all thank those who gave their lives for us so we could enjoy our freedom. Let’s thank their families as well.

Because Memorial Day still matters. To them, and to all of us.

Mother’s Day – The Tears Still Come – 2019

Saturday, May 7, 2016, the day before Mother’s Day that year, I did something that I hadn’t done in ten years. I went into my favorite card shop, which in itself is not unusual, but going to the Mother’s Day card section was. I had no idea that going in to buy a Mother’s Day card for the first time in ten years could be so difficult. Even though it was for our daughter

Looking at the display of Mother’s Day cards that were still left I was suddenly overwhelmed. Especially since I had just written two other blogs about Mother’s Day. I thought after ten years I could handle it. And I did, but not without the tears forming in the corners of my eyes. And sensing that familiar feeling of sobs forming in the back of my throat. You’d have thought my loss was much fresher than ten years ago.

I had just talked to a good friend a few hours previously whose mother passed away two years ago (now five years ago), actually on Mother’s Day. That was still fresh sorrow, fresh grief. She was crying for her mommy, and I felt her pain, and I was crying with her as I tried to comfort her and encourage her. When I told her that her mom knew how much she loved her and was watching over her, that helped some. But such pain takes many years to be healed.

And there I was. Standing in the middle of that card store in front of a display of cards I couldn’t even begin to read. I’d already picked out the gift for our daughter, which also made me start to tear up, since it was a Willow Tree angel of a mother holding her new infant. I certainly had to get her a card, but how many would I have to go through before I found the perfect one for her? Before I could get out of that store before I started actually crying and the other shoppers thought I’d lost my mind?

It’s not that I was sad our daughter was getting ready to have her first baby. On the contrary, I was thrilled beyond measure. But suddenly in that store, I realized once again that my own mother was no longer around, and I missed her more than ever! I wanted to share my happiness with her that I was going to be a grandmother, and she was going to be a great-grandmother. I wanted to see the smile on her face, and the sparkle in her eye, hear the excitement in her voice as we talked about all the wonderful times ahead for all of us. Four generations of amazing women.

But only three generations are still alive. Which includes our (then) soon to be born granddaughter.

Yes, the tears still come on Mother’s Day when you no longer have your mother with you. It doesn’t matter how long ago she left. Ten or fifteen years, two years, two months. It still hurts. It doesn’t matter how old we were when we lost her. I was 56. Another friend was 68 when she lost her mother. Another was only 26, and another 18. We all had more memories we wanted to make with them, but now we can only make them in our dreams.

There will always be reminders of her, and I shouldn’t be surprised at my reaction that day. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had similar experiences.

But I am thankful for the years we had with her. I am thankful for her love. And I am thankful for the promise of spending eternity with her.

The following year was easier. And the year after that. And this year, when I was again getting a card and realized sour daughter now has two beautiful children. And I couldn’t help but wish my mom could see her two great granddaughters. She would be so happy! And so proud!

I like to think that she does somehow see them. No, I have no idea how, but I do know that the Lord loves us so much that He wants us to be happy, and I can’t imagine Him not letting her, as well as my dad, see their great grandchildren once in a while. Because I know that would make them happy as well.

Mom, now I realize how you felt when you became a grandmother. I just wish I could have given you another one, because having two is even more than double the excitement, and double the enjoyment. I can still tell your sister Pauline, and I can send her pictures of them, but it’s still just not the same. I know she loves getting them and hearing about them, but still…..

Mom, I hope your Mother’s Day in heaven is wonderful! I still love you, and I always will. And please watch over our beautiful Rachel and Ryleigh for us.

Celebrating Moms, Part Three

Note: I had already written this when I saw this quote which perfectly sums up this particular blog. **

“We become mothers the very moment we open our hearts to the idea of conceiving a child.”

We’ve talked about moms who had difficult pregnancies and deliveries. We’ve talked about birth mothers who unselfishly decided to give up their babies for adoption.

But there’s one other category of moms we need to talk about for this Mother’s Day.

The women who desperately want to have a baby, but for whatever reason, are either having a very tough time getting pregnant, and staying pregnant, or are just unable to conceive.

And for them, Mother’s Day is a very difficult day. Because in their hearts, they’re moms. But in reality, they’re still trying to get to that place of honor.

It’s a difficult situation to be in. Their friends are having babies, or already have babies. Their relatives are having babies. They’re invited to baby showers and have to put on a strong face and a fake smile to hide their disappointment and envy.

Well-meaning people casually ask when they’re going to start a family and they fight back tears and try to give an answer like “when we’re ready” or something like that, when all they want to do is scream, “We’re trying and it’s not working, and it’s none of your business!”

They see pregnant women and try to fight back their tears while quickly walking away from them.

They avoid the baby department at stores because it hurts too much.

They avoid the greeting card department in grocery stores during this time of year because that’s also a painful reminder of what they don’t yet have. And then the new baby cards are also there…

They hear other women making comments about how they wished they’d never had kids, and want to go up to them and say “I’d gladly take them off your hands if you don’t want them.”

They read stories about women demanding the right to abortions and saying how glad they are to have had that choice, and they just want to die inside from the pain of knowing a woman could choose to abort a child she conceived, when she’d trade places with them in a heartbeat to be able to carry a child.

This, my friends, is the pain of infertility. It’s a terrible thing. And unless you’ve experienced it, like I did, as well as several of my friends, you have no idea what it’s like. It’s an emotional pain that cannot be cured. An emptiness in your heart that won’t go away.

Yes, we were lucky to finally have a child. It took a long time, and a lot of painful and expensive procedures, but we were finally successful that one time. And for that we’re forever thankful to a wonderful doctor who helped us become parents. We were fortunate. Many are not. We also experienced secondary infertility when trying to have another child. And let me tell you this…it’s almost as painful, even though you have one child.

So on this Mother’s Day, let’s also remember the women who so desperately want to be called “mommy”. You may not know who they are, but they certainly do. And let us pray that one day soon they will have that gift of a child that they so desperately want, because that’s the best gift they could ever receive.

** https://nowilaymedowntosleep.org/2019/04/23/internationalbereavedmothersday/

Celebrating Moms, Part Two

Yesterday’s blog celebrated mothers, especially those who had a tough time with their pregnancy. And they are certainly deserving of a lot of appreciation, every day, not just Mother’s Day.

But what about some other very special mothers? The ones who find out they’re pregnant, and are many times in a situation in which they just cannot care for a baby right now, or they know they’re just not ready to take on the responsibility of motherhood. They also believe, as I do, that abortion is not an answer. Once a baby is conceived it is just that: a baby. It is a living human being that is living inside his or her mother until he or she can be born and begin life outside of the mother.

In that case, what does the mother decide to do? It’s not an easy situation, an easy decision. But it’s one that is a life and death matter for that child who was conceived.

Many women, and sadly, not nearly as many as there used to be, make a very difficult decision to have their baby and then let a family adopt their child to raise and it becomes their own.

After carrying a child for nine months I cannot even begin to comprehend how very difficult such a decision is. But I admire each and every one of the birth mothers out there who make that totally unselfish and loving decision, when it would have been so much easier to simply abort the child and move on with their life plans. But they knew that wasn’t the answer.

When my husband and I could not have another child, we began trying to find a child to adopt so that our daughter could have a sibling. Some thirty years ago we were considered too old to adopt, and because we already had a child, we were further deemed to be disqualified. No, it wasn’t right, but those were the rules.

So we tried to find a child through private adoption, searching for a birth mother who wasn’t ready for that baby, but didn’t want to abort it. And that was a very difficult process as well. We finally found one, and met with her. We were hopeful. She already had a five month old daughter and just couldn’t imagine having another child so soon. We were hopeful, but when she and her boyfriend found out it was a boy, they changed their minds. And yes, that was hard on us as well. And I still wonder off and on about that child, now grown into a man.

But to all the birth mothers out there who have had children and unselfishly given them to other families to raise as their adopted children, who know they most likely will never see those children again or know anything about them, please know how very much I admire you. How thankful I am for your gift of life and your gift to parents who otherwise would not be parents. I have some very good friends who benefited from someone like you, and I know they are thankful to you for your gift every day of their lives.

These birth mothers aren’t able to celebrate Mother’s Day in the traditional ways. Even if they’re now married and have other children, there’s still a missing place in their heart for that child they gave up to someone they didn’t know in order to give that child the life he or she deserved.

They may or may not be lucky enough to one day meet the child they placed to be raised with someone else. They may or may not be lucky enough to be welcomed into that now-grown child and his/her family’s lives.

But I can almost guarantee that every one of those birth mothers still remembers the day and time that she gave birth. She remembers seeing that child at the moment of birth, and she remembers how she felt when she made the decision that changed all of their lives forever.

And for the majority of them, it’s not something they tell anyone about, many times their husband doesn’t even know for many years, if ever. It’s just too personal a decision to discuss.

And for those reasons, we celebrate all of the birth mothers on this Mother’s Day, along with all the adoptive mothers who were blessed with that most special gift…the gift of becoming a mom!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Please don’t miss Celebrating Moms, Part Three, to be published May 10.