Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You know what?  I had a really nice Thanksgiving Day.  Yes, after all of the whining and complaining about not cooking my own feast, and how it's just not the same eating out.  I've discovered my mom is onto something here.  There's a lot to be said for eating Thanksgiving Dinner in a beautiful dining room at a lavish club, where the staff is well trained and has you convinced that there's nowhere else they'd rather be, and that their pleasure is attending to your every need.  In a word, it was lovely.
We were 10 in all: our hosts (brother Chris and wife Jill), their daughter Margot, their friend Lori, Jill's mother Shirley, my mom and dad, my aunt Margie, and L and me.  We were seated at a large round table with plenty of elbow and leg room.  Comfortable chairs.  Gorgeous crystal chandeliers overhead.  There were maybe 10-12 large tables in this dining room, and my brother said they had another one going downstairs.  We were the first dining time at 3pm with the next one at 6pm.  Seated at other tables around us were other large family groups, some of them taking up 2 or more tables.  At the 2 tables next to us was the family of UCLA's head coach.  I can't successfully name drop because I don't follow football, but everyone except L and me were excited about that.  They were a large, happy group as they welcomed home an Army soldier, who surprised most of them by arriving in time for Thanksgiving.  At the table behind us sat an older man in a gold jacket who looked very familiar to me.  I asked my brother who he was, but he didn't know.  I couldn't figure out why I just knew that I knew him, until L whispered in my ear "It's the Der Wienerschnitzel guy."  I'm not sure if the fast food chain Der Weinerschnitzel extends to areas beyond Southern California, but they do a lot of advertising on TV in our market, and he (being the founder) is who is featured in the commercials.  So THAT'S why I thought I knew him - I see him every day on TV.  I think he was wearing the same gold jacket as in the commercials, and there he was enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with his family.  His wife looked quite a bit younger.  And expensive.
Just beyond the dining room the feast was laid out.  And when I say feast, I need you to imagine a brunch at the nicest hotel you can think of.  Yep - that's what it was like.  Several types of salad, salmon filets, mounds of the biggest shrimp I've ever seen, oysters on the half shell.  Cheeses and fresh fruit.  And more.  Much more.  And those were just the appetizers.
Of course there was fresh sliced turkey, but also roast beef and prime rib.  Mashed potatoes and whipped yams.  Cornbread stuffing and brioche mushroom stuffing.  Green beans.  For the little ones there were sliders, fries, and pizza.
We fell to filling our plates, with Jill and Chris doing double duty filling plates for Shirley and Margie.  My dad, who has lost so much weight with his chemotherapy, finally had his dream dinner: he could eat as much as he wanted to without my mom monitoring his portions.  And he ate.  And ate.  The conversation was good, and I especially enjoyed being able to sit next to my brother and enjoy his special brand of humor.  Margot sat across from me, and her happy chatter made me smile.  She goes to BYU and is so happy to be there - she's a good student with lots of friends.
And then came dessert.  I managed to have a pumpkin macaron, and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake.  My mother got up and announced that dessert was her favorite part, and off she and my dad went towards the dessert extravaganza.  My mom came back with a few desserts but my dad - EGAD - my dad came back with 2 platefuls of different desserts.  I noticed while he was selecting them, there was no smiling.  No talking.  He was on a mission to please a serious sweet tooth.  But once back to the table loaded down with his 2 plates piled with sweet treasure, he was one happy boy.  It did my heart good, even if it probably didn't do his heart much good.  Meh... it's once a year.  And he's lived through months of chemo and come out of it largely unscathed.  He deserved a good binge, as did my mom.

On Saturday evening we celebrated L's birthday by having dinner out with his brother Dan and wife Nicole.  I don't know when I've had a better time.  I feel so lucky, because not only do I have brothers of my own that I love and enjoy, I've had the good luck to be included in L's family of wonderful brothers and sisters.  One sister lives in Alaska, and I don't know her that well, but I always look forward to any gatherings with the other sister and 2 brothers.  They're just so much fun, and it was good to share L's birthday with Dan and Nicole.  Now L is a true senior citizen - 55 - and I will have a partner in getting the senior discount to movies.  I hate being the only old geezer.

And now with those holiday milestone over and done with, NOW we get serious about Christmas.  Next week while I'm visiting in Texas, L will get the Christmas lights up and looking festive by the time I get back.  On Saturday I shipped four - FOUR! - boxes of gifts off to Colorado and Massachusetts.  That was a huge monkey off my back, and I can rest easy knowing that everything will arrive to my little ones in plenty of time.  I've been watching Food TV picking up good little recipes for desserts and appetizers.  And the Hallmark Channel!  Christmas movies all day, every day.  I've started playing my Pandora Christmas station.  I'm in the zone.
Christmas this year will be much like Thanksgiving - no kids in the area, we'll do some Skyping, the actual day will be quieter, and more sedate since there will be no little ones around who are wild with excitement about Santa Claus.  I've been a little bit sad about it, but after my Thanksgiving experience, I realize that it can still be a nice day.  We'll have more time on Christmas Eve to concentrate on extended family, where before we were focused on children and grandchildren.  I realized during Thanksgiving dinner that it had been awhile since I'd been able to do that.
So we'll adjust our sights and enjoy the company we're surrounded with.  I probably won't be nearly as tired, as most of the entertainment burden won't be on me this year.  Christmas morning will be quiet and relaxing.  Breakfast (my favorite meal!) can be fancy and on time.  There will be time in other years to take in the early morning Christmas tree raids and squeals of joy.  6 years ago we took this picture of Lexi and Mia:

And now they are both 6 years old, with 3 other added siblings: Matthew 4, Hayden 3, and Skylee 1.  And Thanksgiving night we received an early Christmas present: Rex and Ronna will be expecting baby #4 in July of next year!  So we are truly thankful for all of the blessings of a growing family.  We'll have our quiet Christmas, and cherish the peace, because it looks like next year is shaping up to be exciting already!  I'm also going to see if I can slip my brother a bribe to include us in Thanksgiving dinner next year.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gobble Gobble

I'm not cooking Thanksgiving this year, so this week kind of snuck up on me.  Normally I'm in high gear, having bought vast quantities of food, reserved my fresh turkey, and have written out the schedule of what will be cooked when.  I love to cook Thanksgiving.  It's exhausting, and my legs and knees ache afterwards, but the house smells delicious, and it's such a beautiful dinner to prepare for my family.  The table is set with a little bit of sparkle and some glowing candles, and there is so much food that there is hardly room for all of it.  And everyone is around the table enjoying and bantering and eating.

I have a very small house, so when we get 6 or more people gathered for dinner, trust me when I say that it's a houseful.  We're crowded, it's loud, and we have to drag the piano bench over to the table because I don't have quite enough chairs for 8.  If any of the grandchildren were here, they are now getting old enough to sit at the "children's table."  I remember sitting at one of two card tables my grandmother would set up for all of the cousins, while the grownups would sit at the large dining room table.  Once we were 12 or so, we could sit at the big table, but really, it was more fun to sit with my cousins.  There, we could put black olives on our fingers and eat them one by one.  If we wanted more of something our parents would come in and give us a refill of turkey or whatever we wanted.  If you were really a baby you ate your dinner at the small built in desk in the kitchen, always with a terrycloth apron tied around your neck like a giant bib.  The aprons always had some crazy print on them like dancing fruit or one with martini glasses and confetti that read "Happy New Year!"  No fancy designer aprons in my grandma's kitchen.  These were well worn and used until they had holes in them.  Serious holes.
I miss those big Thanksgiving dinners all together.  Now that our children are scattered all over the country, holiday time seems a little bit lonely.  My daughter is cooking her first turkey, and they are having dinner with some Puerto Rican neighbors.  In Colorado, Ronna will be making her homemade rolls for her little family.  I'm not sure of everyone else's plans.  We'll be joining my brother's family, my parents, and my aunt at my brother's country club.  My parents have been doing this with them for years now, and they love it.  In all fairness, my mother has cooked her share of Thanksgiving feasts, and she's happy, now that she's "older," to let someone else do the cooking.  She's thrilled that she doesn't even have to contribute to someone else's feast - this is one is completely non-work.  Just show up and eat.
I've heard it's really nice, but it's not Thanksgiving to me.  It's eating out.  I can feel myself getting stubborn and sulky, and I need to adjust my thinking.  It was nice of them to ask us, include us when they knew we'd be alone.  And I appreciate it, I really do.  But eating out on Thanksgiving brings me back to the first Thanksgiving we spent in New England after moving from California.  My dad was trying to show his kids New England in the days off from school and so we were traveling up through Massachusetts from New Jersey.  And we spend Thanksgiving at a Howard Johnson.  Depressing through and through.  We were far from our California home and everything familiar, and at 14 I just wasn't feeling the adventure of it all.   I wanted to be home - home where life was full of family and friends, not stuck in cold, dreary Massachusetts in a HoJo's for Thanksgiving.
Now that I'm beyond grown up, I can appreciate what my dad was trying to do.  He just didn't take into account a very homesick daughter.  I don't even know if my brothers remember it the way I do, (probably not) but it sure stuck with me - enough so that I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner just about every year of my adult life.  I haven't wanted to have a holiday away from home ever since.  Hawaii for Christmas?  No thanks.  Mountain cabin?  Meh...
Now that our kids and grandkids are scattered about, however, I'm rethinking.  "Home" doesn't quite have the same allure, or meaning when all of my dear ones are everywhere BUT home.  So next year, maybe we'll have to plan on spending at least part of the holidays somewhere where we have kids or (even better) grandkids.  If they can't come to us, we need to go to them, that's my feeling.  I have 4 days I'm not allowed to work during Thanksgiving, and another week between Christmas and New Year's.  I'm a contracted worker, and if it's a company holiday, I'm not permitted to bill any hours either, so there are almost 2 perfectly good weeks going to waste when I could be seeing my two little ladies in Massachusetts, or the other two princesses and the blue eyed pirate in Colorado.  Better planning next year is what's needed.
I am going to visit Scott and Ashley for a long weekend after Thanksgiving.  L is staying here and holding down the fort and meeting his publishing deadlines whilst I discover what Austin is all about and meet the new dog they've adopted. I'm very excited to do that.  I've never been to Texas and I'm looking forward to lots of fun and laughing with them.
And then the Christmas season will be in full swing.  My mother's birthday comes on the 10th of December, and after that, the days really starting flying by.  I'm glad that I've gotten almost all of the shopping done.  I have 4 more things to get, and all will be mail ordered, so I'm set.  I've even gotten a majority of the wrapping done, as much of it needs to be sent to the recipients.  It's been fun to imagine the little faces unwrapping the gifts I selected so carefully.
Wherever you are going, and whatever you're doing, be safe in your travels.  Enjoy your families.  Soak up the fun and the memories.  Come back with stories to tell and pictures to share, and I'll do the same.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Let The Season Begin...

Lately it seems I've been either working or madly shopping online for Christmas.  I don't know why I've been so driven - maybe I just want to get it done so I can enjoy the season.  But truthfully, I do enjoy buying gifts for people.  Figuring out just what they'd enjoy, narrowing the options, making that final decision, and then the anticipation of waiting for it to arrive.  I love it.

I've come across some pretty good places to shop, too.  I don't know about you, but I love handmade items.  They're so unusual, and like nothing you could get at the mall.  And even better - there's always the chance that you can really customize what you buy.  There are two artisans, if you will, that have gotten me particularly excited about their individual crafts.

The first is a friend of my daughter's.  Shannon has created the most wonderful handmade soaps, all from organic products like lavender, orange, cinnamon, geranium, and tea tree, locally grown organic herbs, and locally gathered honey. She and her little family craft these amazing soaps by hand and market them under the name of Lehi Country Soap.  Oh there's more - much more, but you'll have to visit her Facebook page and shop to really see what she does.   She not only makes the most lovely cakes of soap, but she also teaches soap making classes if you're lucky enough to be in the Lehi, Utah area.  She sells her soaps (which are true works of art) at various Farmer's Markets, and shops in the area (again, lucky you if you live in the area) but she will also let you mail order, which is what I do.

I'm still working my way through my first order of 3 soaps, which included a geranium mint, and a lavender tea tree bar.  She has salt scrub bars, such as some yummy coffee peppermint ones made with a coconut oil base and a sugar scrub crumble or these cinnamon and safflower ones.  I die.

Since I placed my first order she's also created these bars in orange calendula.  I think I could shower for hours with those.

My family members (other than L, who has fragrance allergies) are all a bunch of fragrance geeks.  We all love wonderful smelling soaps and lotions - we'd sit around sniffing things all day, although the boys would deny it to the death.  So Lehi Country Soap is right up my/our alley.  Oh, and the lather?  Most satisfying.

The other vendor I got really excited about is actually a blogging friend of mine.  Jenny makes the most wonderful imaginative play items under the name Knees and Paws.  You can find her on Facebook, and can also link to her Etsy shop from there.  If you have small children in your life who like to pretend they're dogs, or cats, or unicorns (or for that matter, elephants or any other animal you can think of) she can create the perfect play set to send them into imagination heaven.  When I was a little girl, one of my little brothers used to pretend he was Blackie the dog and would run around naked with a washcloth on his head - that was his fur.  Jenny's items blow Blackie's washcloth completely out of the water.  Take a look at what she can do:

Are there matching tails?  Oh yes, and hooves for hands and feet too.  Incredible.  And she'll make them in any color you want.

Black poodle, anyone?  Yes, please, especially with the cute pink bows (and matching tail!) and even a collar with a name tag that your child can customize.

Or perhaps your little one prefers kitties.  She can make them in any color, furry or short haired.  Matching tail and collar?  But of course!  But those EARS with the little pink insides just killed me.
These were my favorite Knees and Paws items, but she has many MANY more to choose from.  Jenny's creativity is limited only by your imagination.  I would suggest that you grandmas and mommies get over to Knees and Paws and have a little glimpse.  Such cuteness...

So that's what's been occupying my time for the past several days.  And these are only a couple of sites I've been peeking at.  L's wish list seems to run towards bike accessories, and solar powered things (he's into disaster preparedness these days).  Oh, and a pricey pair of leather flip flops that are without a doubt THE BEST shoes on the market.  I have a pair, and I've actually hiked in them - well, hike is a strong word for what I do, but they are as comfortable as walking shoes because they have such a wonderful arch support.  I've had mine for about 3 years now, and I wear them every day.  Love them. What are they?  Go to Zappos.com and look up Olukai.  The all leather ones with the leather toe piece.  You'll never wear anything else.  I promise.

What are your Christmas gift finds?  Ooooh, I have one more.  Restoration Hardware (which has the most wonderful and most expensive furniture I've ever drooled over) just came out with a line of gift items for children and *SURPRISE* they are quite reasonably priced for the most part.  Go to the Restoration Hardware site and at the top you can link to RH Baby and Child (or something like that).  Cute things like faux fur slipper boots, fluffy faux fur jackets, faux fur trapper style hats (soooo cute...), and all manner of things - even a pretty tea set.  I bought a great little baby gift there and the quality is lovely.
So have fun shopping and if you find something wonderful, let me know.  I'm always open to a great idea!  Because I'll just be right here... you know, shopping away.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Horses, Hot Dogs, and Third Birthdays

It was good that I waited to write this post until the end of the day.  My post election bitterness is not as sharp and painful as it was this morning.  I poured a lot of myself into this election.  I was personally vested in the outcome in a way I'd never been before.  A variety of reasons, I suppose, that are best left for discussion another day.  We missed out on a great man, America.  That's all I'm going to say.  And it made me grouchy today.

My 6 year old granddaughter Mia summed up her personal support of Mitt Romney when she learned in school (while learning little tidbits about each candidate) that "Mitt Romney likes to ride horses.  And I'm pretty sure he likes hot dogs."  I concur.  A love of horses and hot dogs is one of the simplest to spot signs of a great American.  I'm just bone weary this evening after tossing and turning all last night, and I need some relief in the form of  sweet dreams and down pillows.  I need to feel hopeful, and have faith that there are good days ahead.  It's up to me, but I will make it so.

Today, as luck would have it, I had to look no further than this little miss, because guess who had a birthday today?

Hayden Reese, that's who.  And it was an exciting day, complete with breakfast out, and a trip to the Disney Store for a new Princess doll.

Hayden is three years old.  She woke up with a smile on her face, and excitement that today - finally TODAY - she would be three years old.  Not two.  Not a baby.  Three.

As it turns out, the big day dawned very cold.  But her camera-happy mom dressed her in her birthday finery and made her stand in the freezing temps for a few quick snaps of the shutter to document the day she turned into a big girl.  A very frosty happy birthday morning, but a birthday princess is gracious to her demanding public.  Later in the day, the snow actually did start to fall, and at last count there was about an inch sticking to the ground.  Fun stuff for a little girl who started life out in hot, humid Puerto Rico.

Her party is this Saturday, but it was fun to be able to see pictures of her enjoying her special day.  She even received a special dress from Sofia at Chimi and Changa (see her creative genius on Facebook), and a Chimi doll dressed in a matching dress!

Proving once again that life goes on.  Rituals and rites of passage continue.  Love and families grow.  This old world can disappoint us again and again, but our families are forever.  One hard lesson I've learned is that we must make our little corner of the world a safe place for our loved ones.  The world can go crazy, but if our homes are a safe place, there is respite.  We teach them to be kind and love others, to work hard to achieve their goals, to stand up for what's right, to appreciate simple blessings like horses and hot dogs.  To love God with the simple faith that comes naturally for children.  Because only then will we find the peace we seek.

Monday, November 5, 2012

If I Could Bottle Pure Joy...

This is a post more for my own memory than anything else.  I'm actually fine - it's just been an unusual day.  I got a call from my mother today telling me that her sister Jana, who lived in Utah, had passed away.  She had been in poor health for years with Parkinson's Disease.  The last year or two she had really deteriorated, hadn't had much quality of life.  The one thought that stayed with me was of how wonderful she must have felt in the moment she was able to leave her poor sick body behind.  Incredible freedom and mobility after years of having none.  Having a joyous reunion with her mother, father, and a whole slew of family members.  It helps to think of that and know that it happened.  Somewhere there was joy and celebrating.

Both my mother and my aunt Margie (who lives close by me) seemed fine - just feeling a bit surreal about it all.  My mother made the comment that it felt odd to be a family of 6 and now "we are just 3."  I tried to imagine how I would feel if that were me, and I decided I didn't even like to think about it.  We grow up with our brothers and sisters, and it feels like we'll always be here together, gathering at the holidays and for birthdays.  My husband has already lost his youngest brother, and I'm sure it feels odd at times to those who grew up with Ryan to think that he is no longer here on earth.  Each person is their own little force of nature, and we miss the part of us that leaves with them.

This particular aunt was one that, when we were small children, we would spend weekends with, or stay with her when our parents went out of town.  We'd play with our cousins, and live a different life while we waited to go home again.  Although it's been many many years since I've had a lot of contact with her, those memories for me are still quite vivid.  And now it's her children - my cousins - who now  live in Utah and one in Oregon who are making the arrangements, and feeling the emptiness.  Her daughter said that she looked "beautiful."  In her day, Jana had always enjoyed her makeup and doing her hair.  In recent years, she hadn't been able to to that for herself, and so Mindy had taken particular joy in making sure her mother was done up right for her last big family gathering.  Bittersweet.

As I was thinking these thoughts, my friend Marion called me out of the blue.  Her brother had just been diagnosed today with a very aggressive brain tumor, and tomorrow, without taking the time first for a biopsy, they are going in and trying to remove what they can.  No one is sure yet what they are facing, and it is terrifying.  She said no one had really told her brother yet what was going on, and she was fearing having the conversation with him.  I didn't know her brothers well growing up.  They were several years older than us, and always seemed so unapproachable.  But I remember them, and again, it made me sad to think of my friend facing this news about her brother all alone up in Washington.  Life is a precious thing, and sometimes tenuous.  My philosophy has become to have no regrets.  No regrets that work got in the way of making a memory.  No regrets that I was too busy to visit or make that phone call.  To be bold, and seize the day.  I suggested that she do the same.  Take the time to spend with her brother and family.  Make some memories.  Say what needs to be said.  Sit in silence.  Hold a hand.  Work will always be there, and will wait.

Just when I thought the day was irreparably damaged, the phone rang, and it was this little person:

Lexi called to thank me for the "mummy candy bars" I'd sent (Hershey bars wrapped in layers of white crepe paper with googly eyes peeking out) and to tell me about her Halloween, where she got "so much candy, Mema!"  She gave me her Christmas wish list, and chattered about school.  She told me that her baby sister was walking all over the place.  And then she asked me if I was an artist.  ???  I told her that sometimes I was.  She had been looking at the Halloween plate I'd painted for her mom a few years ago, and she told me that "it's fantastic, Mema!"  She, too, is an artist, and loves to draw and create, so I told her she should send me some of her drawings, and that Papa would love some too.  She thought for a minute and said that she thought she would send us each 2 drawings.

It was a regular conversation, very every day.  But it was the sweet enthusiasm that only a 6 year old can possess that warmed my heart.  She is looking forward to being 6 3/4, however, and was a little disappointed that she would have to wait another 2 months for that because her friend Mary is already
6 and 3/4 years old.

Do you know what I'm talking about?  How does one little person lift your heart up like that?  How do they transfer joy from their world to yours?  It's a mystery, but it should be bottled and given out freely.  The whole world could benefit.

So that was my day.  Death, sickness, grave concern - and then the incredible lightness of having my spirit lifted up in the most amazing way by a little girl just being herself.  Everyone should have a Lexi in their life.  She made me remember the wonder and joy of being alive.  I'm a lucky girl today after all.

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