Monthly Archives: November 2018

Yes; there IS a Santa Claus!

The pictures come out each December…the beloved Christmas cards and clever Santa snapshots with the real Santa we share with family and friends.  Yes, I said the real Santa Claus because, and you must trust me on this, he truly is.

img_3307Roll back 29 years ago (oh my stars!); our oldest daughter was only five months old the day Santa first came to NorthPark Center in Dallas.  My sister-in-law, Lynn, was the lady responsible for hiring him that first year and she insisted we make the trek north on his first day for a first picture with him:  “All those others are just guys in suits; he IS the real Santa.”  I must agree; he has the most extraordinary way of being completely in each child’s moment, giving each child a laser-focused, powerful interaction, and more, if needed.  He listens, questions, reassures; he gives respect to all.  Everyone around him feels it and marvels in it.

You may remember hearing the famed New York Sun newspaper column, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The writer, Francis P. Church, warns an 8-year-old who is doubting her belief in Santa against the skepticism of an unsure time in our country’s history.  Sound familiar?  ~“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” ~

The year our oldest was doubting Santa’s existence, I mentioned her concern to him during our visit by saying, “Merry Christmas, Santa.  This is Rachel, she’s 6 and she’s having a ‘Virginia’ moment.”  Not only did Santa remember our girl from the previous five years, he knew exactly what to do.  After the photo with both girls, our youngest joined me (still a little shy around Santa), while Santa spoke privately with Rachel.  Watching her facial expressions and her obvious rapid-fire questions, they had several moments of conversation.  In the following days, it was obvious she had made her peace; her soul calmed.  She never shared her personal conversation with Santa, but snuggling one night with me she shared, “You know, Santa told me I can choose to believe or not. Mom, I choose to believe in the truth of his work, his generous spirit, and the things I know in my heart.”  Yes, she was six…

img_3310-1Fast forward 29 years now as I pull out the pictures and reflect on these precious memories of making the trek each December to speak with the real Santa.  Our last family visit was in 2000 when Santa took extra time to read with our youngest who brought a book to give to him; notice our oldest (in middle school at the time) stayed for the story too…

So here’s your Christmas Question today:

How has the spirit of Santa affected you or someone you love in your experiences? 

Thank you, Santa, for sharing your time with our family and so many others blessed to personally cross your path through the years; thank you for the lessons in life you generously continue to give.  Especially in these uncertain times, may we all remember to gratefully find ways to express the love, generosity, hope, peace, and joy you remind us of during this season and each day of our lives…

Gathering together…

Who likes a fun holiday gathering?  St. M and I thoroughly enJOYed the first of the seasonal gatherings last evening with dear friends at a local institution known for their award-winning cuisine AND seasonal decorations.  It was everything and so much more!  From the food and festive atmosphere to the wonderful fellowship with friends, we savored the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes during this extraordinary gathering…what a great Christmas experience and new tradition in our adopted home state!

Holiday gatherings in general provide memories (good and not-so-good) forever…which leads to today’s Christmas Question:

What is one of your more memorable or favorite Christmas gathering stories?

Just like Charlie Brown who attempts to discover the true meaning of the season by gathering with his friends, he is not always excited about holiday gatherings.  He does his personal best to “make it work.”  Call it twisted humor, but I identify with him at times.  Most of us relive certain stories of family holiday gatherings–the good, the bad, and the ugly–with less than festive memories.  If we’re completely honest about it, perhaps we’ve secretly laughed our way through a holiday movie like Christmas Vacation and thought, “Oh mercy, that’s us!”  While some of these events provide positive, funny stories and personal memories, we can also recall those embarrassing or uncomfortable events as well.  As a wise writer once noted:  “The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much.”  So as you gather together during the holidays with those you hold dear, herre’s hoping you take a deep breath and a moment to reflect, revisit, and share holiday gathering memories; it’s a great conversation starter too!  And if you don’t have any, here’s hoping you make some new ones this year!

Do you hear what I hear?

Ahhh…’tis the season for marvelous music my friends!  This time of year is filled with the beloved sounds, notes, carols, voices, instruments, and glorious music ushering in the message and arrival of Christmas.

While talking and laughing early this morning with my sis during her morning commute, she was sharing her intense prep work for singing a special performance next week in Boston. I reminded her of her very first singing experience (see the picture) at age 3 as a member in The Cherub Choir at Kessler Park United Methodist Church.  Momma literally coaxed her (tears and all) to “boldly and courageously march in the line, stand still, open your mouth, and proudly sing for all to hear!”  Gratefully, she accepted mom’s challenge and has successfully continued to do so beautifully for many decades now!

We both share a deep and abiding love for all types of music, including Christmas music, and especially carols.  When pressed for specifics, two personal favorites come to mind…

The first choice is one our grandmother sang often, a French carol called The Holly and the Ivy (you can see her handiwork here):

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown;
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing of the choir…

The second carol is one we sing frequently in church.  Gustav Holst composed the music in 1906, set to Christina Rossetti’s beautiful 1872 poem, In The Bleak Midwinter:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow;
In the bleak midwinter, long ago… (there are two more verses and this final one)

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him; give Him my heart.

Both of these pieces hold deep and personal meaning, but are only two of a long list of favorites.  So, here’s your Christmas Question to ponder today:

What are your personal favorite Christmas carols/songs to hear, play, and sing during the season? 

Here’s hoping you experience many extraordinarily beautiful seasonal sounds, my friends!

PS:  Beck…sing on!  And Rachel…play on my favorite oboist!

Christmas Questions, anyone?

During my years serving as a building princiPAL, a long-standing tradition during daily morning message each December revolved around a Seasonal Question.  As a long-time educator, I was especially sensitive to the reality not all our students, families, staff members, and learning community celebrated Christmas.  I gingerly tiptoed into the season, sticking to “safe” topics and generalizations to remain neutral (and perhaps, in all honesty, out of the superintendent’s office).

I’m retired from public service now and this is my personal blog, so YES, I celebrate Christmas; Merry Christmas, y’all!  If you will humor me, let’s explore this concept together over the next 30 days (is it only 30 days until Christmas??) pondering some Christmas Questions together…

Most likely you have a favorite holiday tradition or two; something you treasure each year as the season comes ’round again.  Whether it’s placing a special ornament on the tree, watching a favorite holiday movie together, visiting a certain jolly fellow (in our family, the Northpark Santa IS the REAL Santa), or doing a familiar holiday activity together, you have a Christmas tradition you never want to miss.

My sister and I always wrote long, detailed letters to Santa each year; it was our tradition we shared together at my little table right after Thanksgiving.  My parents took us downtown to Titches (yes, I’m that old), to visit with St. Nick, have our little chat, and share our letters.  I refused to tell my parents what I wrote in my letter even though they would do any number of things to make me “spill it” (Momma always said I was stubborn that way; go figure?!).  It took me a while to pin down exactly why they wanted to know the personal information within my letter each year.  This particular picture is me in third grade (with Becky) talking with Santa (mom had just cut our bangs to0).  Notice I already have a “teachery” stocking pin dangling from my shirt (because it’s all about the accessories, y’all).

Today, we still keep the tradition alive by writing our shopping lists and menus together (using email or text) because great minds think alike…we’ve been known to buy the same exact present for a family member.  Talking, plotting, and writing with my sister are traditions during the Christmas season I look forward to each December.

This leads me to our first Christmas Question of the Day:

What is a favorite Christmas tradition you look forward to each December?

In whatever way you and your dear ones choose to define the season of hope, peace, JOY, and love, may you take a moment during the hustle and bustle to sincerely reflect on those priceless traditions you favor and treasure.  If you don’t have a favorite tradition, here’s hoping you start one this year!

I’m so grateful we had this time together…

One of my all-time favorite performers is the iconic legend, Carol Burnett.  My family would gather around our one TV every Saturday evening to marvel, laugh, cry, and share in the extraordinary work of a talented band of players creating the weekly comedy hour of The Carol Burnett Show.  She always did a thoughtful gesture at the end of each show in tribute to her beloved grandmother while she sang the closing song each week.  In several interviews, she remarked it was her unwritten, non-verbal way of sending love and a huge THANK YOU note each week to the one who never gave up on her.

I remember my Granny B sharing how the power of the written word, especially one penned in hand from the heart, is simply sublime…so in the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratefulness, please allow me a brief poetic license to bestow the important benefits of these two simple words:  Thank You.

A Thank You has the power to transform our health, happiness, performance, personal excellence, and ultimate success.  Researchers note how grateful people are happier and more likely to maintain strong friendships.  An attitude of gratitude in shown to improve the heart’s rhythmic functioning, which helps us to reduce stress, think more clearly under pressure, and heal faster physically.  My own cardiologist tells me it is actually physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time!  When you are grateful you flood your body and brain with positive reactions (and those important endorphins) to uplift and energize rather than drain you.

Gratefulness is like a muscle in the body though—the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  In the spirit of our 40 Days of Gratefulness, here are 3 suggestions I practice daily to strengthen gratefulness beyond Thanksgiving:

  1. Keep a Gratefulness Journal:  Take a walk/talk/squawk opportunity to write down, say out loud, pray, meditate, and more exactly what you are grateful for that day; it’s a mindset for choosing to focus on gratefulness in a purposeful way.
  2. Take a Gratefulness Tour:  Write and send a letter or card each week expressing your gratitude to others in your life – or – visit them to share your gratefulness in person.
  3. Purposefully say “Thank You” to someone every single day: When we take time to sincerely and authentically express our appreciation to someone, we definitely help ourselves in the process.

While these work well for me, do what works best for you!  So on Day #40:  What one thing will you commit to do in developing your own personal plan to daily gratefulness?

THANK YOU for walking this gratefulness journey with me these past 40 days.  THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts verbally and in writing, reflecting with me and each other, while finding ways in the midst of deepest sorrow and profound JOY to simply be grateful together!

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving gratefully filled with enough fellowship, food, fun, thanks, and giving beside those you hold dear.  Let’s find ways to continue encouraging and uplifting each other while keeping the importance of daily gratitude, gratefulness and grace alive and well each day…especially throughout the coming year, my friends! 🙂

Gratefully having enough…

As Henry James noted, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”  Such was the afternoon tea my youngest daughter provided for us in the midst of our travels this week.  We enJOYed a scrumptious menu, conversation, laughter, stories, and respite from the hustle-and-bustle surrounding us in the big city.  These precious moments humbly reminded me how purposefully living in a mindset of gratefulness allows us to see we have enough…

  • happiness to keep us sweet,
  • trials to keep us strong,
  • sorrows to keep us human,
  • hope to keep us JOYful,
  • failure to keep us humble,
  • success to make us eager,
  • family/friends to give us comfort,
  • wealth to meet our needs,
  • enthusiasm to look for tomorrow,
  • faith to banish worry, and
  • determination to make each day better than before! 

(I found these specific words written in my Granny B’s penmanship on the back of a Thanksgiving card from 1939; no indication if she wrote them or someone else should have this credit.)

So on Day #39 of our journey:  If you created your own “have enough” list to share with those gathered around the table tomorrow, what would you gratefully include on it?

Yes, it’s a struggle some days to feel we have enough; we are human.  Living in gratefulness and gratitude challenges us to ponder the fact we really do have enough.  Again I say, gratefulness is a mindful place–perhaps THE place–we find our truest and best selves.  As we prepare our feasts and gather together at the table of thankfulness, may we all celebrate the gifts we pass and receive to and from one another with profound gratefulness.

While on our early morning backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall today, I met two delightful ladies from Scotland who marveled with me at each nook and cranny of the iconic 1932 Art Deco structure.  The majestically rich history of legendary performers alone is breathtaking, with each back hallway and secret corridor filled to capacity, representing all genres of musical entertainments.  As Santa himself explained during the 90-minute Christmas Spectacular performance last night, the most famous “seasonal stockings” of all time represent the splendor and magic of this historic landmark:  The Rockettes! 

So, I know you’re wondering now… What do The Rockettes have to do with the two ladies from Scotland?  One of these dear ladies (originally from Inverness, up in the northern area) was a former Rockette in “another lifetime, my dear.”  While taking our restroom break (another unique experience with pedestal sinks and the original foot-pedal hand dryers from 1932!), we struck up a lively conversation, the type a dear friend of mine calls a “visitation.”  Elspeth talked about “seeing this building for the first time today.”  When I asked her to elaborate, she observed, “When you land the coveted opportunity to work for this company and create a sense of teamwork for several shows a day during an intense period of time, you focus on each performance so intensely you forget to really appreciate the special and spectacular moments surrounding you…I can look back fondly and marvel at the magnitude at this point in my life…it’s given me a level of gratefulness I never knew existed so deep within my soul…”  WOW!  In that one moment, her powerful wisdom sprinkled with her obvious attitude of gratitude helped her (and me) lift the cloak of indivisibility to gratefully appreciate her personal experience as a real Rockette and me to focus more on looking at daily experiences from the perspective of them being the first time.  This is definitely a restroom break that will resonate for a while!

Perhaps, being able to simply see things “for the first time” helps us to not work so hard at experiencing daily gratefulness.  Gratitude becomes a natural response every time, thus opening our eyes to the plentiful bounty within our lives.

So here’s your challenge today:  Think of a “visitation” in your life experience.  What did this person gratefully share with you to enlighten your situation in that time together?  

Elspeth, thank you for the conversation, the profound personal insight, and your beautiful “visitation” today.  I’m beyond grateful our paths crossed in a most touching way, on a blustery Highland-like day in the heart of NYC inside an extraordinary performance venue. Keep dancing in your heart, special lady…and may we all take the opportunity to see things “for the first time.”   

When I retired, a lovely group of colleagues had this metal piece commissioned as a gift of gratefulness for the “lessons you unknowingly revealed in the face of some insurmountable odds at times.”  It hangs in a prominent place as a gentle reminder of how hard some of these powerful lessons were in my journey…

You see, gratefulness is an all-out committed life practice and it’s cheating to be only be grateful for the good while shunning the bad.  NONE of us want the bad things to happen, but we must meticulously seek the gratitude for the soul lessons inherently placed in our path on this life journey.  We progress when we find ways to use the hardships of bad things and experiences to become more patient, more kind, more present, more fun, more loving…

As a personal testament, my physical self (my personal body) has a definite history of betrayal.  From multiple abdominal and reproductive issues to years of cancer treatments, my body has repeatedly betrayed me with some bad issues. Doing everything right is no guarantee of complete health, thus I’ve learned to let go (AND let God) of my wanting it to be permanently better. I’m grateful for the good medical reports appearing at times, but more importantly, learning how much I can still contribute even when going through another health crisis makes my soul sing.  The “blessing in disguise” of the bad thing may be invisible and not surface during the moment you expect, but it’s coming!

A former yoga teacher also taught me how to practice gratefulness for my body parts as I maneuver and meditate as a blessing for what each one can do in that moment; no wishing or hoping (or cussing out loud) for anything to be different.  You’re probably rolling your eyes, but it works for me!  She also pointedly commented to me one day, “Never question why the suffering comes for you; listen for what the suffering can teach you. Be willing to see the gift in each experience when it is revealed so you are stronger and better in this life.” 

Here is what I unexpectedly know to be true:  Gratitude and gratefulness, like interest, compounds.  The daily practice of consistent and purposeful gratitude creates clear vision to pay closer attention and seek particular reasons to be grateful in the face of uncertainty. Attitude is mandatory and daily effort is non-negotiable on this journey.

Day #37:  If you could design your own etched metal piece or mantra, what would you place upon it to gratefully speak your lessons?

May we all find our way to embracing the bad along with the good on the journey.  Be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!

Simple Gifts

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free. ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be; and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight. (Chorus:) When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d, to turn, turn will be our delight; till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

You’re humming it now, aren’t you?  Penned by Elder Joseph Brackett (1848) while he lived in the Shaker community of Alfred, Maine, these original lyrics were a one-verse song with chorus.  Multiple versions, from Sydney Carter’s hymn entitled “Lord of the Dance” in 1963 (also used in Michael Flatley’s dance musical of the same name) to Aaron Copeland’s adaption of the melody in the music for the ballet Appalachian Spring, have popularized the tune and lyrics through generations.  Many songwriters, recording artists, instrumentalists, and poets share versions and interpretations.  In fact, there are two additional non-Shaker verses in existence:

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return, ’tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn; and when we expect of others what we try to live each day, then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say… ‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be; ’tis the gift to think of others not to only think of me. And when we hear what others really think and feel, then we’ll all live together with a love that’s real.  ‘Tis the gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all.  Like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls; and with it we will truly come to believe, ’tis better to give than it is to receive.”

To me, this song powerfully speaks to the gift of gratefulness…helping to grow our soul, become less trivial and more loving, kind, fearless, peaceful, gracious, and hopeful.  Living with an open, grateful heart creates a spirit of JOYfilled expectation in everyday life because gratefulness is a stunningly simple gift!

Simple…not easy!  I didn’t say it was easy!  What I do know from brain research is how gratefulness creates positive feelings and emotions; our gratitude gives birth to the positive all around and within us.  Negativity cannot occur in the brain at the same time as gratitude.; it melts away without effort.  AND, our brains naturally work to track success, to notice what is right, when it focuses on gratefulness. Good news, my friends!

So here’s your challenge on Day #36:  How will you continue to commit, practice, and cultivate your own gratefulness during the remaining days of 2018?  

Simple…not easy!  My sincere hope in sharing my personal reflections and journey during this mini-series is for all of us to continue seeking real, meaningful inspiration in the practice of living from a simple, grateful heart.  One of the most wonderful discoveries for me in sharing is how full and blessed I feel from the gift of gratefulness.  Just know you’re not alone; I’m with you…and by the way, I’m still wearing the smile you gave me!

Smashing pumpkins

He did the smash…the pumpkin smash.  Yes, it was THAT day around here when the Jack’0’Lanterns and excess porch pumpkins are sacrificed in the woods for the neighborhood wildlife to enjoy and the seeds to hopefully germinate into pumpkins next year.  St. M was especially excited to use our trusty old ax we recently had sharpened at the local community hardware store.  These locals LOVE to see us coming, especially since we rarely know what to do or how to do it.  🙂  I do know how to sling an ax for firepit wood and survival; just ask the copperhead family I stumbled across last May…

St. M started the annual Pumpkin Smash over 20 years ago.  It’s the one day each autumn he feels especially outdoorsy and manly powerful enough to accomplish hard labor tasks our grandfathers did on farms on a daily basis (they are laughing at us).  After his massive shoulder surgery last year from the aftermath of the previous year’s deer attack (story for another day), this was the ONE activity he anxiously awaited to specifically test how well his recovered shoulder and range of motion were functioning.  We both got in the yard, raking leaves, slinging pine straw mulch, planting bulbs, smashing pumpkins, and sweating in the chilled air to “winterize the land.”  I know; you’re laughing out loud just visualizing us, huh?!

While we may not be naturals in the wilderness (other than appreciating it and hiking in it for fun), we  gratefully give ourselves credit for going beyond the comfort zone by trying and never giving up in attitude or effort.  We know and appreciate our strengths and weaknesses but never allow either of them to get in our way when a task must be completed.  Besides, there’s something gratefully cathartic about smashing pumpkins (and you should try it too).  So here’s your question on Day #35:

What’s something you are grateful to be able to do, but must carefully navigate outside your comfort zone to make it successful? 

Sometimes, it’s the simple thrill of hope and what may result quietly from doing tasks just beyond our standard reach…and here’s hoping we have more pumpkins to harvest and then smash next year, my friends.