Seasonal sentiments

On my way into town early this morning for an appointment, two drivers allowed several others to merge into traffic and change lanes on a busy route in our area without offensive hand gestures.  A little later, the usually-stone-faced attendant just inside the medical facility taking temperatures and tracking information actually smiled with a holiday greeting first.  In the lab, the phlebotomist told holiday jokes while drawing blood.  The pharmacist filled two extra prescriptions on-the-spot so another trip into town was not necessary this week.  Carols were playing, folks were smiling with their eyes, and everyone found ways to spread a little cheer in the midst of a COVID world.

Is it me or were others intentionally finding ways to greet and capture all the sights, sounds, scents, and sentiments of the holiday season?  However we celebrate, expressing and actively living the reason for the season is a powerful tool; the challenging part for most of us is finding ways to continue sharing the story in our daily lives.

One of the ways I choose to live and share the story is the annual preparation and sending of Christmas cards with family and friends (this is currently in progress as I type.) Call me old-school (and I’ve blogged on this topic before), but even in the age of social media, nothing compares to sending and receiving cards, notes, and informative letters each year.  In my classroom years, we handmade cards from mounds of scrap art materials, filling them with heartfelt, handwritten notes, decorations, and sentiments of the season.  One of my more creative learners (who successfully endured four years with me in four different grade levels) LOVED this tradition.  His choice of colors and textures along with his written words were personally filled with love for the recipient of each card.  During our final year together, he sadly made a comment I’ll never forget, “You know, I hope someday someone sends me a personal card; I’ll keep it forever.”  It stunned me to realize he was always the giver and never the receiver. (I’m pleased to share we continue to exchange personal cards each Christmas, over 30 years now, while I fondly ponder our conversations about why Christmas cards mean so much to us.)

So on this first day of December, here’s a seasonal sentiment to ponder:

“Picture a Christmas Card or seasonal sentiment you received from a friend or family member. What made it so special to you?” 

As we usher in December and prepare in anticipation to welcome a new year soon, here’s hoping you take a few moments to send some greetings of your own this holiday…the sentimental impact will likely be more powerful than the greetings bestowed.  Especially this year, may we help each other find tender ways to capture the reason for the season through our daily words and deeds; we could all use a little more reflective sentiment as we wrap up 2020.  Be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!  🙂

Have enough?

“Gratitude can turn common days into Thanksgivings…”  ~William Arthur Ward

Days like today, as I’m cooking and baking, fill me to the brim with bittersweet memories, sacred moments, and the humorous recollections of those going before me.  When I turn a page in the family recipe book, pull out a special pie pan, wear Granny’s apron, or squish my hands into the cornbread dressing, I’m humbly reminded how choosing to live in a mindset of gratefulness each day allows me to see there is always enough…

  • happiness to keep us sweet,
  • trials to keep us strong,
  • sorrows to keep us human,
  • hope to keep us JOY”full,”
  • failure to keep us humble,
  • success to make us eager,
  • family and 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 the previous one. 

(These specific words were written in 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 intellectual credit.)

It’s a struggle some days to feel we have enough; we are human after all.  Focusing on the blessings while placing the challenges aside is simple, just not always easy.  Saying thank you is simple, just not always easy.  Living in gratefulness and gratitude challenges us to ponder the reality we really do have enough.  Again I say, gratefulness is a mindful place–perhaps THE place–we find our truest and best selves.

So on Day #29 of our gratefulness journey:  If you created your own “have enough” list to share with those gathered around your table, what would you gratefully include on it?

Regardless of who, if any, are gathered to feast at your table tomorrow, may we all be keenly aware of the gifts we pass and receive to and from one another with profound gratefulness.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, my friends; you matter and I’m so grateful for you! 🙂

Snuggle Bunny

Our youngest is here with us for a while and bringing such JOY to our pandemic days as we continue our three-generational experience here at the High-Risk-VanAmVilla.  She and her delightful feline companion, Coop, keep things fun, young, and energetic, especially for my dad.  The two of them have a deep connection and she definitely has a special way with Pop.

Gratefully, while staying with us, she is helping me tackle the daunting task of our attic. She understands how sentimental I am, why it is often challenging for me to let go, and how best to navigate this task with me as I recall the story about certain treasures.

A little backstory:  When we moved here three years ago, there was little time to deeply clean out everything from our home of 20+ years (even though MUCH was donated too), so instead of impulse decisions, several sentimental items were stuffed into bins, sealed, and loaded onto the moving truck for the 1,300-mile journey east.  In my defense, my parent’s house of 35 years had been completely cleaned out and sold while at the same time I retired and brought home an office filled with treasures, all within the same year.  Yes; daunting is an understatement.

Fortunately, we have a HUGE, and I mean HUGE, walk-in attic in our current home.  Unfortunately, it allows me the space to store bins of items we no longer require in our lives.

So in true 2020 reflective fashion, it is time to simplify this situation, be grateful for the service and JOY each item has given, and now pass along for someone else to treasure.  There are, however, a few items others will not find so “treasurable,” and sadly, Snuggle Bunny is one of them…

My favorite term of endearment, “Snuggle Bunny,” came into being before I married St. M (not very manly, but it makes him grin even today).  When our oldest was born, we both used the term “Snuggle Bunny” as we hugged her up.  Her first Easter, I stumbled across a t-shirt with this phrase (who knew?) and she “‘gave it” to her daddy as a surprise.  He wore it proudly until she asked to wear it to sleep one night at about age 3.  She wore the t-shirt as a night shirt until her baby sister took it over about five years later.

While I won’t reveal exactly when the shirt was officially retired, let’s just say it has endured multiple years of wearings and washings from three members of our family.  And as you might have guessed, this little jewel was folded on top of the first bin I opened.  Memories, stories, and anecdotes flooded me.  I’m so grateful for the comforting service of this soft cotton shirt stitching together two generations of our family in smiles and sweet dreams, bound in love.

So on Day ???? of our gratefulness journey (in true 2020 fashion, I have no idea what day it really is, but it feels like Nov. 239):  Ponder over a sentimental item in your life and the significance it continues to hold for you. Why are you grateful for it?  And the next time you’re cleaning out and find a special sentimental treasure, take a moment to reflect on your own “Snuggle Bunny” and gratefully remember it will always be a part of you, my friends. 🙂

PLENTY of gratefulness…

There is a quaint old cornucopia sitting in our kitchen these days.  It is filled with yummy seasonal fruits and veggies in anticipation of our impending Thanksgiving celebration.  This particular ornamental basket has been in our family for four generations, and even though it shows some wear and tear, it continues to showcase abundance in my life. As a young child in particular, I was always fascinated by the unique shape, the decorative motif, and the visual reminder it provided as a symbol of nature’s bountiful harvest.  But explaining this to Kindergarteners during Thanksgiving…well, that’s another matter.

It was the fall of 1983 and I was teaching my morning class of 32 Kinder friends when I pulled out my cute cornucopia.  Innocently asking the question, “Now friends, who can tell me what this item is? What does it do?  Where might you see it?”  Everything from “turkey tooter” to “basket whistle” fell out of little mouths.  Not one child knew “horn of plenty” or “cornucopia.”  Being a very young, naive student teacher, I was determined to right this obvious injustice (as my mentor master teacher softly snickered in the back of the room 🙂 ).  Quietly and methodically, I reached into my secret sack to fill my cornucopia with little fruits, nuts, vegetables, a tiny pumpkin, and other harvest foods, asking my learners to name each item as it was placed inside the cornucopia (vocabulary building during morning meeting was critical).  When it was filled to overflowing, a child brilliantly exclaimed, “Well, it’s plenty full of food now!”  This is when we talked about the cornucopia being a “horn-of-plenty.”  Our language experience quickly turned into a lengthy and excited discussion about much more that just a cornucopia.  Each child created a personal cornucopia, filling it with objects or items best representing individual interests as a reminder of all they had to be grateful and thankful for during the season; the results, and their simple writings about them, were truly remarkable!

Even today, this family cornucopia remains a Thanksgiving centerpiece in our home.  So on Day #24, think about filling your own cornucopia.  What items best represent what you are grateful and thankful for in particular this year?

Whether it’s a cornucopia or another symbol of the season, here’s hoping we all find plenty to fill our hearts, minds, and souls with gratefulness, especially this year.  Please stay safe and well as you take care of yourself and each other, my friends!  🙂

AHHtumn at last…

The temperature today, light rustic shades just beginning to emerge among the foilage, the lack of 95% humidity (whew!), and an overall lighter feel in the air… Autumn is making her first appearance a little earlier during this most unusual year.  Waiting patiently through the LONG hot summer of this pandemic with the consistent uncertainty, anxiety, and worry, it is ever-so-refreshing to simply breathe softer, cooler air literally on the day of the Autumnal Equinox. Pop hasn’t left the screened porch since awakening; meals, naps, snacks, and conversations ensue in his outside “office” today.  He takes a moment to look at me and to thank me “for living in a place with four distinct seasons and trees.”  We are grateful in our own ways for the blessings and gratitude of this first day of Autumn, the time when change is in the air, when everything bursts into the last boldest color, and nature saves up a grand finale of fabulousness.

Winter pencils into the etching… Spring shimmers in pastels… Summer glows in soft watercolors… Autumn, well Autumn explodes into the final mosaic of all the seasons together, simply reminding us again how lovely it can be to simply let things go.

Happy Fall, y’all! 🙂

The Egg Tree

On a meandering walk for some fresh spring air this past week, I came across a most surprising sight to behold…an egg tree.  These beauties were hanging in various shapes, colors, sizes, and levels as a welcome sign in these most unusual of times.  I instantly recalled the sweet story my Granny B often told about The Egg Tree.  Written and illustrated in 1950 by Katherine Milhous, this Caldecott Medal winning book revealed a story based on the author’s family with a beloved Pennsylvania Dutch Easter tradition.  I vividly remember the ONE Easter time Granny and I carefully blew out a dozen eggs (what a chore!) and then dyed them in various colors to then paint scenes, just like the two children in the book.  It was a two-day process and one where her patience with my tedious perfectionism at various levels of artistic struggle was most likely stretched beyond standard limitation.  Did I mention it was the only time we did it?  🙂

This tradition in my classroom and in our home with similar versions of an egg tree in the springtime usually involved wooden or plastic decorated eggs.  Cascarones took it up another notch as brightly-colored, confetti-filled egg treats, although patience of Job comes-to-mind when creating these beauties.   Each version visually symbolized the simple, charming reminders of rebirth, renewal, hope, and growth.

What’s a Springtime tradition you fondly recall?  

In these uncertain times of living in, as my daddy says, “that hotel where you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” (thank you, Don Henley and Glenn Fry), may we all find subtle ways to engage in creating, cultivating, and inviting beauty into our day…just like this blossoming little egg tree.  Stay safe, stay well, and stay strong, y’all!  🙂

20/20 in 2020

In just a couple of hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for a new year and new decade…the 20s!  WOW; truly remarkable!  While the “auld lang syne” literally offers “old long since” for “old time’s sake,” this new year and decade offer sacred opportunities.  The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of prior experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.  As we observe, our traditions are the stories we narrate and write together as family and friends; gratefully, we all begin another year of building on those traditions while continuing our stories.  After all, it is said no gift is too small or simple to receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.  So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2020 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, forgive with grace, share softer answers, encourage one another, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, learn a new skill, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore nature, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward, and hope, my friends, constantly prevails in all our daily humanness.

May this new year and new decade bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love.  Happy New Year 2020!

The blessing of music…

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out these musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions while decorating and packing up holiday treats for him to share at his art class party.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on momma and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966.  I remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty and her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…whew!  What I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around:  What does the blessing of MUSIC mean to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music bring hope, peace, comfort, healing, and JOY to your world, my friends.  🙂

Christmas blessings, anyone?

It’s a cold, rainy, dreary day outside, but warmth, music, and twinkling lights bring a feeling of comfort and JOY inside.  Once dad officially begins the day and joins us in the kitchen, he’s amazed at the holiday transition taking place inside our home.  Stockings hanging from the hearth, the Wise Men traveling way-from-afar (that’s another story), the smell of cinnamon and orange burning on the stove, and the first candle of Hope burning from the Advent wreath for the season of anticipation greet him.  He smiles, pats my back, and notes, “Ahhh, Christmas…more than just a day on the calendar; it’s a warm place in my heart everyday.”  We stop and embrace in this flurry of Yuletide preparations; a seasonal blessing of warmth in our hearts and soul in that particular moment…then, he immediately wants to know what I’m getting him for Christmas! 🙂

WARMTH… As one who frequently suffers from “personal summers,” moderate heat is not necessarily a blessing all the time, however, let us concentrate on the “affectionate” part of the definition for this blessing today.  Fervor, enthusiasm, and zeal come to mind when reflecting on the blessings of warmth.  Having a conversation with someone who gives eye contact when speaking and listening is warmth.  Showing empathy by grasping the perspective of another is warmth.  What does the blessing of WARMTH mean to you? 

As we transition from one season to the next (even though the calendar shows another 19 days until the Winter Solstice), may we challenge ourselves to take precious moments to breathe and reflect gratefully upon the WARMTH of simple blessings during these final days of 2019.