Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Aftermath

It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart. ~ Marjorie Holmes

There was so much we did in December and I planned blog all about it, but it did not happen. I have resigned to the fact that I cannot play catch up by posting on each event tucking back on a date corresponding to when it actually happened, because it would take me half of January, and then I would be playing catch up for another month, so this is a summary of what I had planned to do in December and some of what actually happened.

I planned to post each day of our advent calendar as it is provides a great deal of folklore—maybe next year.

I planned to tell all about the treats I made. The cookies: Gingerbread Men, Milk Chocolate Toffee Squares, Rich Brownie-like Cookies with Andes Thins Crème de Menthe Chips, M&M Sugar Cookies, and Pecan Sandies, also known as Snowballs here. The candy: Pumpkin Pie Fudge, Buttery Caramels, and Dark Chocolate Toffee—and even though it is not Monty's, yes, it is to die for, Ganeida. (More on that story here and be sure to read the comments too.) The white chocolate with peppermint was just something I added to the plate for something a bit different, but I did not make them. I gave some away to neighbors and to friends we visited.

I planned to take good ("good" being the operative word here) pictures of our Christmas tree, of the stockings I personally cross-stitched and had sewn years ago, of a few special ornaments most of which are handmade by my husband's mother, of the several nativity sets we have, of a particular nativity set I personally painted for my husband long ago that is always set up prominently under the tree in front of the presents to remind us of the greatest Gift of all, and of our Christmas Day with surprised eyes and happy faces. Unfortunately, I also tried a different setting on my camera, one that was supposed to be better for the lighting and it was not until after Christmas that I loaded them on my computer to see that nearly every one of them was blurry or out of focus! Fortunately, a few turned out well.

I planned to detail our traditions of watching the movie It's a Wonderful Life, drinking eggnog and eating cookies, while we decorate the Christmas Tree. Open another door on our advent calendar and read the folklore that is associated with each item found. How we place gold, frankincense, and myrrh—the first being a bracelet and the latter two being oil essences—before the baby Jesus in the nativity set on Christmas Eve to remind of us why we have this tradition of exchanging gifts and focus on the meaning of Christmas. This year, my husband read The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado, The Three Trees, and from a large shaped paperback book he has had since he was a child, 'Twas the night before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

I planned to share stories before Christmas like the fitting of a riding helmet, while trying not to give away that my daughter would be getting one for Christmas so she could take riding lessons. Then she saw another Breyer's horse she just had to add to her growing collection. We received many upon many catalogs with boundless delights and tempting toys for children. Each time she turn a page, I heard the words "I would like that for Christmas," which saddened me. The Princess was questioning the existence of Santa just a few weeks before, but it was clear to me that she believed still when she wrote him a letter asking for two things only: Riding lessons and a rag doll. My heart practically sang and sank at the same time. I was happy that she again had narrowed all that she wanted on her own down to just two things, but the latter one was a late entry, picked from one of those catalogs, and it was not available as I wrote in a previous post.

My husband is a softie. He found another one made even better than the one she wanted. He has great taste, I think some would say champagne taste because the doll he found was a Kathe Kruse's Waldorf It's Me Doll. Quite pricey, but I have to say the quality is outstanding. All 34 inches in height, of course, was brought by Santa, unwrapped and waiting for the Princess in a blue dress with jammies. She has been the Princess' constant companion, even has a place at our dining table. Every night she is dressed in her jammies to sleep with her and every morning she is dressed for the day. The Princess now wants to learn to sew to make more clothes for her.

The Princess also received two games: Bananagrams, which is like a solitaire Scrabble game without a board, and a Hot Potato. She is enjoying both very much. She received two Breyer's horses, one from us and another from her grandparents, who also gave her the riding helmet. The helmet in the darker light looked red and she was just a bit disappointed that it was not the color she really wanted, a metallic hot pink, but after she saw it in better light, she was very happy. I added the latest Mr. Putter and Tabby book to her collection. Although now too easy to read for her, they are delightful stories and I am hoping to keep the books so she has them for her own children. The third Ice Age DVD movie was also given to her and watched on Christmas Day. We went over the budget with Christmas, but this year we knew extra money was coming.

In the middle of the month, my husband had his review and he received a 4.5 average in most areas out of a possible 5 and he was going to get a bonus. The percent of all the bonuses would be smaller than they had offered in past years, but still my husband got the higher amount because of his review. Also, all the employees even up to the CEO had taken a pay cut for this past year, a percentage that increased according to their base pay. Because the company had done so well, all that money was to be paid to each employee also, but they would not reinstate the normal base pay for this year. Still, I am very happy that this company is fair and cautious with the economy as it is.

Then another big surprise, a check from the state of Georgia. They had held back a refund for a few years because of a modification to some returns for previous years we made and we had paid them all in full, but our returns had to be audited, apparently. We did not have to go in, just provide IRS records and wait for them to sync up. Well, finally they released our refunds for those years all at once.

With our extra bit of funds and having been so frugal for the last three years, we decided we could be just a bit extravagant for Christmas. At the last minute, practically, we decided to have pictures done. We have not had any professionally taken for all that time so it seemed to be a good idea. I doubted we would be able to get in, but they had an opening just two days before Christmas. Of course, they would need to be sent overnight to be received on Christmas Eve.

We gave a money and food to some people in need as we have not been doing much of that in the last few years. We still did not buy each other anything, well...our DVD player died in October, so earlier in December we bought the kind that not only plays but records onto DVD so our home video tapes can go digital.

Now we are looking forward to making a large payment to bring our debt down and that feels like a very, VERY good start of our new year!

~ Thank you, my Lord, for blessing us. I just cannot thank you enough. ~

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Mental Health Mask is Off!

The best cure for an off day is a day off.
~ Frank Tyger

To Whom It May Concern,

Please excuse me from my normal duties as I am having an abnormal inability to think, make decisions, or to...I cannot even remember what I was going to write now. And, I think my mask for appearing mentally healthy is too worn and broken to use right now. My body seems achy all over as if begging me to stay cozy under nice warm blankets. My motivation seems to have gone somewhere...without me. I have been falling asleep when I sit down in a chair for more than five minutes. I have not been blogging because it just seemed like one more thing to do that required thinking and sitting for more than five minutes! I have been feeling too tired to go to bed most nights. My daughter has the holiday fever cannot focus on her lessons and I want to cry just thinking about trying to get even a minute of math out of her. I have felt unusually burdened for so many people very burdened that I feel there is not enough hours in each day to do nothing else but pray for them all. I am sorry that I am not more of the woman I wish I was, but if I don't get some rest today, tomorrow I may complete lose my mind—actually, I am even not sure I still have it! How does one know she has not lost it if she has?


Yes, I AM taking a mental health day for me! Of course, my daughter is thrilled there will be no lessons. I am not sure what I am going to do today, I only know what I am not going to do. I have not blogged for weeks and I might do that, or not. This is why I need a mental health day, I cannot even make up my mind about what to do. Maybe I should just do nothing and rest, maybe I should do something that will make me feel better about my home, like clean up an area or two—particularly my desk! There is something therapeutic in mundane housecleaning if one has the energy to do it, but the question: do I have the energy? Maybe I should just help my daughter with her piano and cuddle up as she finishes reading a book that we absolutely must return to the library tomorrow. husband has a board meeting at the church and my daughter has a rehearsal at 2:00 pm for some little program they will be doing for Sunday service but then they are having a party afterward, as if she needs any more sweets than she has had. I need to return library books and pay my overdue fees, I think it was just one day I owe as I was late renewing them.

My husband is home next week because his company shuts down and he has to take a mandatory week's vacation and that is the week we finally have no plans so we all can just chill out. I think I may even get out a jigsaw puzzle to do and we will play games every day. We still have to wrap presents for the Princess and not all of them have arrived. I am thankful that we were able to be generous this year—even though I am sure that she gets too much as it is, still it is not everything she wants. When she was younger she would ask only for one thing, like her mama. Now she wants many things but when it boils down...well, on her own she wrote to Santa that she wanted these two things: riding lessons and a doll that is three feet tall. She didn't want that doll until she saw it in a catalog recently and she really wants one—what she really wants is a sibling and this is her way of a substitute I think—but of course they are out. Besides that clothes for the doll cost more than the ones I buy for my daughter (being that I buy consignment)! I would write more but I have a daughter that reads quite well and tends to look over my shoulder when I am blogging or proofreading so....cliffhanger.

Being that I have been so tired and mostly unable to do anything more than the necessities, I cannot believe that I reorganized my entire pantry last night, something I did not plan to do but it was necessary to find space to fit the groceries I bought. I actually looked at the dates on the labels to be sure the oldest were in front. I think I will make some kind of bean and veggie soup with noodles for our dinner so that we can get the older things out. The Princess will probably not like it and it is not my favorite either, but I have lots of cans of beans and tomatoes bought on very good sales that need to eaten. Even though I had plenty at home, yesterday I bought Muir Glen organic tomatoes for just 50 cents a can! They were on sale for $1.50 and there was a coupon for $1.00 each can. People always tell me how expensive organic food is but there are real deals now and then. I remember getting bags of Cascadian Farm organic frozen vegetables for as little as 20 cents each the same way and I think I got 50 bags of veggies during that sale.

Oddly, as tired as I was last night, it felt really good to reorganize the pantry and a part of the freezer. Now the kitchen food cabinets could use it too. I eyed them some last night and move a few things around, got to be late.

I am rambling and I know it; perhaps proof that I have not lost my mind completely and it actually "feels good" to blog again. Maybe I will finish a few others in draft mode that I started. It may be good therapy for my mental health.

~ My Lord, You are such an awesome God. I am ashamed of how I complain when I have so much when so many others lack. I don't deserve Your blessings and I am so thankful for them. Thank you for giving me this day to rest and recharge. ~

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

4-H at Christmas

Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side. ~Yiddish Proverb

While my aunt and uncle were still with us, the Princess had a 4-H meeting as they always do the first Tuesday of the month. Since my husband had taken the week for vacation, he took the Princess this time; it was his first meeting although he has been to other events. For this one she was to bring a present that we chose off the Angel Tree to give to a chosen family: We had picked a toy for a two year old boy this year. The meeting was to be short, but only because they were to sing carols at a nursing home and then it was to Chick-fil-A for a free sandwich for the members and socializing.

A side note: I am not fond of fast food chain restaurants, but I have a soft spot for Chick-fil-A. They started here in Georgia. Not only are their advertisements with black and white cattle misspelling signs to get you to "eat mor chikin" adorable (although in reality that breed of cattle is used for milk, not meat) and their food is tasty, but the founder was decidedly Christian and still closes on Sunday and important holidays even to this day. They also train their employees to be very polite and help you with your tray, even when you really don't need it! These restaurants are always busy in this area...always!

Of course, I try not to pass up the opportunity to face paint when the Princess is involved in any festivities!

The following Saturday was the Christmas Parade. The adult 4-H leader almost canceled because it was so cold. The year before, our first, was very cold also, but this year was even worse.

I have to say that this is not the best parade in which to be with horses. You see, it has been customary that every entry throws candy to the children along the way and, of course, children run out from behind the tape and off the curbs to get the candy that lands in the street. The path for the parade narrows more and more as this happens. Our group is the first after Santa's sleigh, which is at the very end of the parade and, yes, he also throws candy too. By the time we begin walking the corridor, the lines are nearly nonexistent. Most people see Santa as the end of the parade. In fact, we were about half way in the parade area when people just started joining in and three men walked within a foot behind the miniatures—such are the actions of the foolish!

Just before we joined the parade, two members had been kicked. The first was because the side street, the one all the horse groups come up to join the parade, was not blocked off as it was supposed to be and cars were going down one lane. The problem occurred when two cars going the opposite direction approached each other in the one lane we were not occupying. A full-sized horse did not like that at all and kicked a girl walking behind him. She was not hurt badly as it caught her thigh and she was a good distance away—just a few more inches out and she would have been missed.

The second incident involved a miniature horse, the one my husband had been holding in the picture, actually. A man with a large bunch of white balloons approached our group and the girl holding the horse at the time had given him too much of the lead. The mini turned on her just enough to get a kick and he started to get a second, but other people grabbed them in time. This girl's lower leg was terribly swollen within just a few minutes. The kick had hit her just at the top of her knee, but the following week she was out at the stables and seemed to be healing fine—the blessing of prayers and youth!

I guess it is just inevitable that when children with horses are waiting for nearly two hours for the parade in freezing cold that they are not as on guard as they should be and none of these horses are parade trained. My aunt was in the mounted women's police and those horses were well-trained for parades, even to the point they had firecrackers set off under them without rearing or kicking, but you just never know what is going to spook a horse and parades are full of those unknowns. I was thankful that my daughter was in a safer place up on the float.

Then there was the skate. The 4-H Club rents the skating rink for the night, the next Thursday night! Those of you who know my schedule know how my Thursdays go. Well, add that I had to drop off my husband at the demo center-corporate offices and then pick him up after work, put away groceries, and fly out the door to get the rink on top of that.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love to roller skate and I have been doing it since I could walk, but I took a bad fall on one knee about four years ago when skating that took its time healing and I have no problems with it at all now, so at this same skate last year, I skated and fell again. Although this time it was a rolling fall and I was not hurt at all—prayer does work. I decided I would do something else to occupy myself so I was not tempted to get out on the rink this time. I face painted all the members who wanted it for free. We forgot our camera this time so I have no pictures of this event at all but it was fun.

~ My Lord, thank you for hearing our prayers so that the girls healed quickly and that no one else was hurt during the parade. ~

Friday, December 4, 2009

Our No Hurry-Worry Thanksgiving

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. ~ Albert Einstein

I have been so focused on completing the Princess' room but not for the sake of my daughter alone, I was also preparing in anticipation of visitors. You see, my daughter had to be moved to the guest room while I worked on her room, which as always with decorating took me longer than I had hoped, but the Princess also had to be moved out of that room by a definite date so that I could get it ready for a visit from my aunt and uncle.

My aunt and uncle are very special people to me. I can never repay them for the kindnesses they have shown me, nor will I ever know all that they sacrificed for me, and I may never fully realize the person I was when they took me in and how it affected their relationship with their own children. When I was fourteen, they had me stay with them for what was meant to be just a couple of weeks, a break for both my mother and me to be away from each other, but the stay lengthen, and as start of school approached, my mother made it clear she did not want me back.

I was obedient for the most part, although my mother would probably argue against that—which was the real problem—we argued so much. I was very sassy and I did not respect her much at all. There are many reasons as to why our relationship had so completely eroded over the years, things my younger brother and sisters did not witness, thankfully, or do not remember well. I am glad they have enjoyed a closer relationship with my mother. Unfortunately, for my mother and for me, I had the memory of an elephant, as she wrote in my baby book. My mother not only had given up on me, but was ready to give me up and I was just as ready to go almost anywhere...but still it hurt so much to have my own mother reject me like that.

My mother's sister and her husband were my salvation. I lived with them for two years. I finally had a good understanding of what a loving and functional family is like, and how much I wanted and needed one. I wanted the loving relationships I saw my aunt, uncle, and cousins had for each other. No, they were not perfect people, but in my eyes there were no better people on the earth. I am sure it was more difficult than I realized back then on the entire family and my cousins may have suffered the most as they suddenly had to share their parents, who were on a pretty high pedestal with me.

The day of the visit finally came. They were stopping by on their way home from a wedding: their oldest daughter's daughter was married a week before. There had been much in preparations and knowing them as I do, I knew my aunt and uncle would be helping as much as they could. My uncle had also just weeks before had his gall bladder removed and still had not fully recovered from that. He was not quite as talkative as he usually is, but he did seem more rested and himself the last day. I suspected they both would need to rest quite a bit during their visit with us and so made no plans to do anything or go out anywhere. We found out that they had been doing so much riding around in a car for the past couple of weeks that they were happy not to do any at all while they stayed with us.

They came in by plane on Monday to Atlanta, our second largest airport in the U.S. We asked them to be sure not to try to walk it and they were escorted with my aunt in a wheelchair out to the pick up area—only their escort took them to the ticketing area instead of through baggage where we were, because they had no baggage except their carry-on. Well, the meet-up was awkward, but thanks to cell phones we found them.

We had delayed having our Thanksgiving dinner until the day after they arrived. All the time they were here, we had wonderful talks and they played with the Princess. They were quite tired and they napped when they needed to do so. My daughter, since she was just a toddler, has always been very considerate about letting people sleep during the day, playing on her own quietly without me having to tell her. Of course, as soon as one awakes she is back to her energetic and talkative self.

They left on Thursday morning, all too soon for me. They are are well into their seventies and still caring for and milking goats daily—even when I was younger they wore me out just trying to keep up with them! My aunt thanked us for our hospitality, which ironically I probably would not have learned if not for them.

~ Thank you, my Lord, for my aunt and uncle. For giving me time with them, for all that they have taught me and the little bit that I can give back to them in gratitude. More than that, my Lord, thank you for what you have given to us and that we share it with others. Still, I am ashamed that what I do in my gratitude is pitifully little. ~