46 Days until Christmas!!

46 Days until Christmas!!

Halloween is over and Christmas decorations are in full display at the mall, letting us know it’s time to start shopping, baking, and decorating our homes. Every year around this time, I start reminding my children that Christmas is not really about the gifts, and not to get their hopes up for getting every single thing on their list. I always say, “this year is going to be small, we need to save money.” But each year the children come downstairs on Christmas morning to see an enormous pile of presents and their stockings filled to the brim.

2015 will be different. My favorite blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton of @Momastery recently shared what she and her husband ask their children to do when making their Christmas lists. They tell them to make a list of Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, and Something to read. I love that. We are doing that this year, and we also told our three to have their lists ready by Thanksgiving so that we can have our shopping finished by the first week in December. Then we can just sit back and enjoy the season. I think this year we are setting ourselves up for success.

As you prepare to do your shopping, please remember to support the small, family businesses in your area. Buy your books from a local shop, buy hostess gifts from a craft show or local winery… you get my drift. In Raleigh, I have a few favorite local spots and small businesses I would like for you to remember as you get ready to do some shopping.

Squirrel Cut Designs, is a new line of locally-themed products by Kim Ridge, a good friend of mine, this year. She is selling her pillows, hand towels, t-shirts, etc at small pop-up markets and at local spots like NOFO and Zest this year. If you click the link, you will see her Etsy.com shop. These are beautifully and thoughtfully made and will be a great addition to your holiday decorations, or a gift for the woman on your list who has everything!12186770_10206786973506359_5605350024046891840_o

Moon and Lola is a local shop that now has four store fronts! Kelly Shatat used to make jewelry and sell to friends (including me!) and local boutiques, and has turned her dream into reality with her beautiful shops in Raleigh, Apex, and Charleston, SC! You can find personalized and locally themed jewelry for every Southern Girl on your list. This year, Moon and Lola is on Oprah’s Favorite Things for the second time, with her adorable mirrored pet silhouette ornaments.

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Holly Aiken, a local businesswoman, has a downtown storefront called Stitch. Her shop is filled with beautiful, modern, handmade purses, clutches, totes, wallets, wristlets, keychains, etc. They are vinyl, durable, and unique. Inside the shop you will see rolls of brightly colored vinyl and the workshop in the back. You can request your colors and designs if you don’t see the combination you want.

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I just realized that all of the business above are owned by local Raleigh WOMEN!! I am so amazed and proud of them (and a little bit jealous!). It would make me so happy for you to support all of them! I’m sure I will have more ideas for holiday shopping as we get further into the season.

Happy shopping!!

Sisters

Sisters

I have five older sisters. Yes, there are SIX of us, all girls, no boys. I adore my sisters. They taught me how to do every single thing from walking and talking (sassy) to roller skating, riding my bike, and studying. There is almost a sixteen year gap between my oldest sister, Kelly, and me, meaning most of my sisters were grown and out of the house when I was very young. I don’t remember well the days when we were all under one roof, eating dinner together at our enormous round kitchen table, or spending weekends together at our lake house at the Ozarks. In fact, it’s difficult to decipher which of my memories is actually mine or stories I’ve heard through the years. Even though we didn’t all live together for a very long time, we have remained close over the years. They are the people who know me best. I don’t speak to any of them very often over the phone, and most of us don’t live close to each other, so we only see each other once or twice a year at most. But we can always pick up right where we left off.

This weekend two of my sisters from Colorado and Arizona are flying to Raleigh to spend the weekend with the two of us who are local to celebrate my 40th birthday. Two of my sisters are unable to make the trip and I will miss them, but I am so excited to spend some quality time with these three amazing women. I know we will laugh until our cheeks and our sides hurt, and we will talk and talk until it’s time for them to return home.

Right now, my house is quiet and clean, everything in its place awaiting their arrival. There is so much anticipation in this silence. By 7pm this evening, we will have candles lit, music playing, wine flowing, and talking and laughter filling every corner. That spirit will fill this house and my heart until they leave Tuesday morning. I will be sad when they go home, but I always know they’re just a phone call away and no matter what happens in life, they will always be in my corner.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Waking up this morning to ANOTHER rainy day (I think it’s #8), thanks to Hurricane Joaquin, I am thankful for some very simple things.

#1 Rain boots. A person cannot get any closer to having super powers than wearing rain boots. Splash away in the puddles, all day long, feet stay dry.

#2 Windshield wipers. The ones in my car automatically adjust their speed to keep my view as clear as possible. I’m living the life.

#3 School. Thank goodness I’m not trying to entertain any children indoors today! On the flip side, I feel sorry for the teachers because those kids have got to be going crazy.

The promise of several more days of rain reminds me of one of my first cars. It was my favorite. A gray 1985 Honda Accord. My sister Tracy owned it before me. It had a new tape deck and FM radio, power windows, leather seats, manual transmission, and a sunroof. I thought I was so cool driving that car.

One rainy morning, I came out of my apartment complex and got into my Honda to drive to UNC for school, about a 35 minute drive. I tucked myself into my dry car, keeping the umbrella up until my head was inside and dry. Then I closed the umbrella, quickly pulled it inside the car and shut the door. I turned up my radio and started the drive. As I applied pressure on my brakes at the first red light, a waterfall came down onto my head, over my shoulders, and into my lap, soaking me to the bone! Apparently, as the rain fell all night, it leaked into the car’s roof through the sunroof and waited there for me!

I vaguely remember what happened after that. I think I went to school anyway because I had a test or a paper due. I did go out almost immediately to buy the longest, most waterproof raincoat I could find. After that day, every time it rained, I would get into the car, zip up my coat, and pull on the hood.

I actually still miss that car and all of those good memories.

When the sun does finally return (maybe on Tuesday?) it will be so amazing. It will feel so warm and bright and refreshing. More than if we’d already had two weeks of sunny days before that. So let us be thankful for the rain, for it helps us truly appreciate the sunshine.

Robert

Robert

Robert

After my recent post about my dad, I started thinking about looking for ways that I can work with/for the poor and underprivileged, since this was what my dad used to love about me. It is so easy to feel God’s presence when doing His work. I am unemployed now and find myself filling my days with exercise, housework, errands, and social time. Even thought I feel busy, I don’t feel like I’m getting much accomplished.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take my bicycle to an area on the greenway that I haven’t ridden in years in order to avoid the hills on the trail near my home. I parked near the trail and headed north, under an overpass of a very busy street. As I increased my speed and started to feel the first chilly fall air of the year on my face, I nearly ran over the feet of a homeless man who was sleeping under the overpass. I narrowly missed him and took a deep thankful breath that I avoided an accident, and continued riding. For the next couple of miles I didn’t think about him again, but as I started the return to that bridge I though about how he must’ve been cold, sleeping in the 50 degree weather that night. I decided that if he was still there I would stop and talk to him, offer breakfast at the nearby McDonalds.

The sun was shining brightly, warming the day quickly. As I passed under the bridge again, there were now two city employees wearing orange vests doing some type of utility work, but no sign of the homeless man. There was a gentleman ascending the stairs leading to the street level, but I couldn’t tell if he was the same person. So I rode ahead. I passed my car and rode another few miles in the other direction. But when I finally headed back to my car, I felt pulled to check the bridge one more time. I approached the area more slowly that time, looking for the man who’d been sleeping outside. I only saw the same man who was climbing the stairs earlier, wearing a loose-fitting jacket and tie. I stopped and excused myself, then asked if he was the person who was sleeping under the bridge earlier that morning. After confirming that he was the same person, he introduced himself as Robert and asked my name. I told him if he would like to walk to McDonalds that I would go put my bike on my car and meet him there to buy him some breakfast. He smiled and started walking.

The employees at McDonalds looked at Robert like he was familiar and didn’t seem thrilled to have him in their establishment. He simply ordered a small coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I asked Robert to sit and eat with me that morning. He went to wash his hands and then got our napkins, my straw, and some salt and pepper for both of us while I selected a table. I could smell alcohol on him, but otherwise he was clean and appeared well-dressed even though his clothes were too loose on his slight frame. I had no idea what we would talk about over breakfast but sat across from him and started to divide the food on the tray. He looked me in the eye and gently took my hand started to pray. He thanked God for the opportunity to eat a hot meal. He asked God for strength to stop drinking. He asked God’s blessing for me and thanked God for giving me the guidance to stop and speak to him under that bridge. It was a powerful moment.

We started to eat and I thanked Robert for agreeing to have breakfast with me, a perfect stranger. That Tuesday morning, Robert was a blessing for me, not the other way around. He never asked for anything, but swallowed what little pride he had left, and allowed me to meet a need for him. That was so easy for me, a few dollars. I felt as though my dad knew my desire to go back to those days in high school when I loved to work with the poor, and placed Robert literally right in the middle of my path for me that fall morning.

Robert is sixty-three years old, his wife died in a car accident several years ago, and they never had children. He was injured in a work related accident and now gets a disability check for about $700/month. Robert struggles with alcohol addiction, like so many people, but has no one to help him to get back on his feet. He told me he found a place to live, starting Saturday, for $400/month and he thinks he will be able to make it work if he can find employment for a few hours a week and stay away from the liquor store. I really hope things work out for Robert. He was such a gentleman.

Every person is worthy of respect. Everyone has a story.

I was noticing my hands today. Suddenly, they’re looking older to me. The skin doesn’t have the elasticity that it once did,  and is looking a little bit like crepe paper. I have a scar on my left hand where my mom’s dog Oliver bit me while I was dog-sitting. My mom was sick in the hospital on and off for months. I think about that difficult time every time I see it.

As a child, my hands helped me swim, climb trees, complete school work, and eat. They are the same hands that were later folded in prayer beside my mom’s hospital bed, begging God to let her live.

As a wife, my hands have carried the ring that links me to my husband. They fit into his hands when we watch a movie, and have the power to make him feel loved simply by touching his shoulders after his long days at work.

As a mother, my hands have held my newborn babies, changed diapers, wiped tears, and bandaged wounds. They have helped me provide meals for my family, tuck my children into their beds at night, and braid my daughter’s hair before school. I loved the feel of their soft, pudgy hands when they were little, and then the feel of their bony fingers as their little hands have grown. It saddens me to see their hands grow larger than mine, but regardless of their size, they still fit perfectly into my hands when we cross the street or sit together in church. I know that one day my hands will hold their hands on their graduation days, their wedding days, and then hold their babies.

As a nurse, my hands have been more vital to me than a stethoscope or any medications. I have carefully dressed painful wounds, bathed patients who couldn’t do it for themselves, brushed teeth, and dried tears. My hands have skillfully placed intravenous lines and nasogastric tubes, and held infants for lumbar punctures. I have used my hands to help new mothers learn how to nurse their newborn babies and change their diapers. I have given hundreds of babies their first bath and dressed them in clothes for the first time. My hands have also given people their last bath, after their last breath, when they have no family near.

My hands almost have a heart of their own. They tell the story of my life when I look at them. My hands are a constant reminder that I am on a mission to make the world a better place. What stories do your hands tell?

I took the photo above when my mom was sick. I wanted to remember what her hands looked like just in case that was the last time I’d see them. I’m so grateful that she’s still here, still using her hands to create her story.

Miss Independent

Miss Independent

My middle child, Anna, in preparation for her 7th grade year, wanted a haircut. A pixie cut to be exact. She goes to a school where every girl has shoulder-length or longer hair that they can curl or pull up in a monogrammed grosgrain ribbon. But Anna likes to march to the beat of her own bass guitar.

A little bit of history about my sweet Annabel… When she was turning 8 she announced that she wanted to learn to play electric guitar. My in-laws got one for her for her birthday from Best Buy and we signed her up for lessons almost immediately. She rocked it! She learned to play “Smoke on the Water” right away, followed by “Amazing Grace.” She now can play acoustic guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, drums, and baritone trumpet. I know. Talented girl. She also happens to be super cool.

On the day of the pixie cut, Miss Independent wanted me to drop her off at the salon. She had made her own appointment and wanted to do this all by herself. While the hair stylist was finishing Anna’s hair, she started talking to a woman sitting nearby. Smiling, Anna said, “Hi! How are you?” Like me, Anna can talk to anyone. Anyone. Even if that person happens to be a tree stump. The woman initially responded, “not so good.” Now, I’ve talked to my children about how this goes. People always say, “fine,” even if they’re not. No one really wants an honest answer to that question. Anna liked that this southern woman was honest and said, “It’s okay, you can talk to me. I’m listening.” The woman started to tell Anna (who is twelve, and looks every bit of twelve) that she was recently divorced and her heart was broken. She subsequently moved to Raleigh for a fresh start but doesn’t know anyone and was worried she might be let go at her job. When the woman was younger she wanted to go to a college for acting but her dad passed away and she ended up staying home to help care for her family in Georgia. Her story continued and tears were welling up in her eyes as my sweet Annabel just listened. The woman then told Anna she liked her hair and went on with her day. I imagine the hair salon woman felt so much lighter, having someone to listen for a moment.

Anna told me this story over burgers and sushi after the haircut. I was amazed and so very proud. My sweet Annabel has always been so spirited and obstinate, and pushes all my buttons. But she has the best heart in the world.

In third grade, a girl in Anna’s class lost her battle with cancer. She had been in Anna’s grade since Kindergarten, and although they knew each other, they were never best friends. In her memory, most of the boys in the 3rd grade, along with some boys in other grades, shaved their heads for a fundraising event called St. Baldrick’s. Our school raised over $10,000 for the event to help fund research to find a cure for childhood cancers. It was a bright moment for our little Catholic school community, even though the sadness of Ella’s passing was still fresh. Every year since, a group of boys from our school carry on the St. Baldrick’s tradition and grow their hair for months to have it shaved off on a stage in front of a crowd.

When Anna was a 5th grader, she decided she wanted to shave her head too. We said no. We thought she would regret it. We were concerned other kids would tease her or that she would feel ugly. We worried that maybe she wanted to shave her head for the wrong reasons. There was one other girl from her class who planned to shave that year, in solidarity with her mother who was fighting breast cancer. Anna didn’t have a good reason we could think of for shaving. On the day of the event, we all went together in support of our 2nd grade son who was going to shave his head for the second year.  As the children from our school lined up beside the stage, Anna announced that she HAD to do it. She was called to shave her head by a higher power, and that voice trumped my judgement that this would be a bad idea. She signed up and got in line. When she got to her “shaving station” on stage, the announcer told everyone that Anna just decided today to shave and wanted donations for her since she didn’t raise any money before the event. People started cheering and pulling money out of their pockets. She raised $150 in about 5 minutes! The only thing I could do was watch and take pictures from the crowd.

Driving away from that event with TWO bald children, we realized that Anna did it for all of the right reasons. Anna taught us that beauty is not skin deep, but comes from within. She refused to be defined by her hair, her clothes, or her looks. And she was beautiful!

Everyone loves Anna. Her friend’s parents and teachers all say how lovely and polite she is. That is wonderful to hear. I am so glad I’ve taught her well how to behave around other adults. But at home, Anna is just like me. She is spirited and strong-willed. She pushes the limits right to the line, and sometimes goes right past all boundaries. When she is happy, everyone around her is smiling and happy too. When she is angry, we are all grumpy right alongside her. She wants what she wants and she wants it NOW. There is hardly enough room for the both of us in one house. I try to remember that she gets all of these qualities honestly. All of the parts of her that are difficult for a parent will make her extremely successful when she’s an adult. When I get frustrated with her, I first have to change my attitude to one of positivity and happiness, then I can remember that she is exactly the lovely little person that God made her to be. I hope she never changes.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 13-14