Friday, December 25, 2009

Mary Christmas

You know who I'm thinking about this Christmas day? Mary. Mother of Jesus Mary. I'm thinking about her teen-aged, engaged-to-Joseph self getting a visit from the angel Gabriel. She's scared but the angel tells her not to fear. And then the angel tells Mary that she will give birth to a baby named Jesus.

I like how Mary handles the news. She questions it. How can this be, she wants to know. God made it happen she's told. (My paraphrases on this passage.) I can relate to questioning. I can relate to Mary's need to know the who, what, when, where and why of life.

So the virgin Mary is told she will be the mother of a child who is the Savior of the world. She questions it and gets her answer and then she says this, "Yes I see it all now: I am the Lord's maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say." Luke 1:38 The Message

This response is what sticks with me about Mary. This is the part I really want to relate to, beyond relating to her questioning. I want to relate to Mary's servant spirit, her whatever-You-say attitude. I wish I knew how such a young girl had older woman wisdom.

I'm thinking about Mary today. I'm thinking about how that baby was her child, her boy, her 33 year-old son before He was all of ours. How she cared for Him and loved Him not only as a believer but as His mother. I can't imagine an angel visiting me informing me of such a task. I can't imagine what she saw, what she felt. I can't relate to an ordinary girl being chosen for an extraordinary role and embracing that role knowing her heart would swell and break more than any other human heart. But I will continue to ponder Mary because she inspires me, she makes me think.

Mary was surprised, afraid even, and confused. She questioned. She tried in her human mind to understand God's plans. And then she trusted anyway. She didn't have all the answers but Mary said to God that whatever You've got planned is what I want.

Mary Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is Special

I bought this tiny Nativity scene from a tiny door-to-door salesman. A kid in the neighborhood, fund raiser for school. We've had it for a few years. Zach was about 4 years old the first time I set out this miniature scene. I had taken time to arrange the baby Jesus in the center, flanked by Mary and Joseph and then circled the others around them. I made sure each person was facing baby Jesus even though you wouldn't be able to see their faces. Drives me crazy to see a Nativity scene set up with the people facing out, like they are on stage or something.

But back to Zach and special. After setting it up just perfectly, I went on my way. The next time I passed by the Nativity, I gasped. Someone had flicked the family about, scattered the sheep and roughed up the others. And the angel was missing. I re-set the scene, everyone facing the baby Jesus, and recovered the angel from underneath a chair.

Next time through, same story. Frustrated I re-set the scene and found Zach. "No touching." Whatever.

Repeat this about 70 times and then feel relieved when I say January 1st rolled around and I packed up the mini nativity. Both Zach and I could relax. He could remove "wreck Nativity" from his to-do list and I could remove "fix Nativity" from mine.

Oh but the next Christmas I just had to try again. I'm sure Zach saw it all set up and thought, "Hmmm, I remember this. It's going to be a busy month for me and Mommy." We went round and round, neither of us giving in. Sometimes, if Zach were in a hurry, instead of going piece by piece on the knockdown, he'd just pull the fake snow out from under the whole scene. Done.

A third Christmas and it's deja vu for both of us. Just put it away, you say? But it's cute and I like it. Just punish Zach, you say? But he's cute and I like him.

The photo above is current. I set up the mini Nativity this year, same as the last few years. But something's different this year and I don't mean the R2-D2 beside the angel. Zach hasn't touched one single piece. Not one. The Nativity scene just sits there undisturbed with all the people facing in the right direction.

I'm sad. The routine of me setting up the scene and Zach knocking it down is no more. He's grown out of it. I should be proud of his self-control, his understanding, his development and I am but our routine was special. He is special. This memory is special.

Maybe just once for old times' sake, Zach will wheel by the Nativity and give the snow a quick yank. Just for kicks, for laughs. Just to say, "Hey Mommy, remember all those times I messed this up and you fixed it?"

Yes I remember.

Our resident Star Wars fan slipped R2-D2 into the scene (and faced him in the right direction.) Although I can't explain how I know, I know it wasn't done in sarcasm. My disclaimer. Didn't want to give the impression that we mock the Nativity around here. We don't.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Update

There you have it. Our fully grown Chia Christmas tree. Not exactly what I was expecting. But the star is really pretty, don't you think?

I'm not sure what happened. I read and re-read the instructions. I did all that I was required to do and yet the outcome was not as anticipated. There are bare spots up top and a furry trunk below. The growth is uneven and unruly.

I'm not disappointed though. It was a new experience. And if I really wanted to try this again, there are more seeds in the packet. Simply pull off the old growth and start the process again, Chia claims.

I think I'll pass. The future of our Chia tree is unknown but if it starts smelling stronger than it does now, its days are numbered. That's right, the Chia smells and I don't mean like a breath of Mother Nature.

So if you're still wondering if the Chia Christmas tree would be a great gift for someone you love, consider what I've written and take a second look at the photo above.

I said in my earlier post that the Chia is many things but it is not inspiring. Maybe that's not exactly true. Expecting one thing and getting another but being OK with the outcome is a good lesson to learn any way you can learn it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Photo evidence to support Tuesday's tale of childhood Christmases.

Evidence of my first Christmas and my parent's first bleary-eyed Christmas.

Evidence of my chunky monkeyness. 11 months old in this photo. Does that horsey have a strained look on his face?

Evidence of the sardine sisters. Middle sister Chantel on the left. Always sweet-looking. Baby sister Amy (A.K.A. Renee') in the middle. Always looks like she's up to something. And me on the right proudly displaying the Christmas tree I made for my room from a bare branch.

Evidence that our mother really did let us sit on the counter and make a big mess of cookies. Also, evidence that I have always had a big mouth.

Evidence of the Sears store Santa to whom I am related. I believe this was the year I asked Santa for a make-over.

Evidence of a cherished memory. See those girls clutching the rails? The only people in the photo not skating? The ones all decked out in the latest fashions? My sisters and I at the Dallas Galleria mall after Christmas. Dad would put cash in our stockings and we all five would drive to the big city, stay in a deluxe hotel and shop the malls. We'd eat the fancy Sunday brunch at the Hyatt hotel near Reunion arena. Dad paid too much and we ate too little but he wanted us to know how to act at nice places. I hope we behaved.

Cannot resist pointing out Amy's two tone jeans. Dark denim coming and light denim going. When are those coming back?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Santa Didn't Stick

Warning: spoiler alert! If you "believe", DO NOT READ!

Still with me? Ok then. I can't remember believing in Santa Claus, ever. I am certain that when I was very, very little I did believe in Santa, flying reindeer and entrances via chimneys. But at the ripe old age of 6, I had it all figured out.

I'm a first-born, smarty pants, practical, no-nonsense kind of girl. Was then and am now. I'd seen the globe and heard the stories of Santa visiting all the houses around the world in one night and it didn't make sense to me. Impossible. Magic you say? I don't believe in magic. Logically, Santa couldn't do what everyone was claiming. And the North Pole? Come on! A toy shop manned by elves? Reindeer training camp? I'm sorry, I couldn't buy it.

So I had my suspicions and then they were confirmed one Christmas Eve decades ago. My sisters and I were snuggled (cute word for packed like pajamed sardines) in one bed. This was a Christmas tradition. Sweet isn't it? I'm sure my parents had an ulterior motive when suggesting this sweetness. Easier to watch one bedroom door than three. Secrets must be kept from the children. Surprises must wait until dawn.

I couldn't sleep. My sisters could. So I stared at the ceiling and wondered what the morning would bring and that's when I heard sounds. Noises. Voices. Familiar voices. I figured out quick as a flash that my mommy and daddy were Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

It wasn't a sad revelation. It only confirmed what I had already thought. Santa isn't real. The sleigh, the sack, the wishes coming true. None of it was real. I fell asleep quickly. I could relax. No fear that Santa would pass by our house because I had been naughty, I knew my parents had pulled through.

I played along the next morning and the next year and the next. I didn't dare admit my disbelief. Although Santa wasn't real, presents were and I wanted them. No Santa, no presents. Know Santa, know presents. I remember those Christmas Eves of pretending to sleep for my sisters' sake but listening to the ruckus just outside the bedroom door. I heard the metal clanging of a new swing set being forced into the frozen ground. I knew that when the phone rang, it was an aunt or uncle coordinating pick ups of gifts hidden at our house and vice versa. For hours there would be sounds of doors closing, cars starting and cardboard ripping. Finally, silence. They were done. I waited as long as I could and then eased myself from the sardine tin, silently opened the door and crept down the hall. I always had the first peek of Christmas.

My parents knocked themselves out at Christmas. They assembled and arranged, they wrapped and displayed. My mother wrapped our Santa gifts in paper not seen on any other presents. She'd saved a roll just for Santa's presents. She wrote our names in Claus-like cursive on special tags. Mom went to great lengths to grant every wish, to wrap those wishes up beautifully and to make Christmas morning magical.

In time, my two sisters figured out that Mom and Dad were Santa. We confessed to Mom that we knew Santa wasn't real. I suppose most mothers are a bit sad when they realize their children are growing up and they are too big and too bright to believe. But my mother is not most mothers and I offer that as a compliment. I recall her saying something like, "Good, I was tired of Santa getting all the credit."

We asked if she would hold back a few special presents and put them out for us, like Santa would, and she agreed. I'm realizing now that maybe it's not that we loved Santa, it's that we loved surprises. One year, our family was up late on Christmas Eve, talking and telling stories, unaware of the midnight hour. My mom finally said, "If y'all want me to do Santa Claus then y'all need to go to bed. I'm tired." We scattered like mice to our respectable bedrooms, physically too big to squeeze into a single bed any longer.

I'm a big girl now with two boys of my own. Two boys who expect Santa Claus to visit our house in the late hours of the 24th (or the wee hours of the 25th, depends on what time those two boys go to bed.) I say two boys who expect but I really can't speak for Zach. We've not sold him on Santa. We're still trying to sell Zach on our world, why would we confuse him with make-believe. Jake, on the other hand, is either gullible enough to believe or savvy enough to pretend (like his mother did.)

I play Santa Claus like my mom did. I buy a special roll of wrapping paper and keep it back just for Santa's presents. I write names in Claus cursive and use fancy ribbon to attach the tags. Action Andy assembles and I arrange and we make it magical. But while I do this, I think back to what made my childhood Christmases so special and it was never Santa.

It was sitting on the kitchen counter with my sisters making a big batch of roll out sugar cookies and an even bigger mess. It was sitting on my older cousin's knee, er, I mean Santa's knee, at the Sears Catalog shop and trying not to laugh. It was clutching a candle at the Christmas Eve service, singing all 4 verses of Silent Night and holding back the tears. It was a huge Christmas Eve dinner at Ma and Pa's house with all the aunts, uncles and cousins. It was wondering how a bunch of grown-ups could take so long to eat a meal when my cousins and I were circling the pile of presents like sharks.

It was going home, getting pajamas on and begging to open one, just one, present before bedtime. It was Mom giving in but insisting on choosing the one gift. We opened toothbrush holders. It was Christmas morning with bleary-eyed parents feigning surprise as their children opened gifts from so called-Santa. It was smiling at the Wal-mart price tags Santa sometimes left on those presents.

It was a Christmas day nap at 9 a.m and then a big breakfast. It was loading up in the suburban and driving around town. Stopping by the homes of friends and family unannounced, barging through unlocked back doors, anxious to see what they'd found under their tree.

It was the Nativity scene we set out every year. The one with the gray moss on the top of the stable. The one with a ceramic baby Jesus. The one that reminded me of a truly magical night thousands of years ago. It was the good will toward men I saw in my parents' actions on Christmas and all the days before and after.

As I plan Christmas for my own family I wonder what my boys will remember. Will it be the Lego sets and the snow globes? Maybe the Nerf arsenal Action Andy has acquired? Could it be the cool Crocs I scored at the mall today? Will they recall the candlelight services we attended, the beautiful Nativity scene we inherited from Andy's grandmother? How we danced to O Come Let Us Adore Him on a stage that is our kitchen floor? I don't know. As parents we shop for memory-making items and we plan for magical moments but it's a gamble knowing what sticks.

I don't believe in Santa but I do believe in a baby. I believe the baby grew up and did something almost unbelievable. And I believe my dad celebrates Christmas every year with the birthday boy Himself while we celebrate here.

Thanks Mom and Dad for all those Christmases. Thanks for the memories that I recall and for all the presents I can't. And thanks for beliefs that stick.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Feast your eyes on nature in the making. That, dear readers, is a Chia Christmas tree in its infant stages.

Zach received this Chia tree as a birthday gift. At first glance I'd thought wow, a Chia Pet, wait it's a Christmas tree, huh? A closer look revealed that the Chia kit included a light up star for the top of the tree and the star continually changes color. Again wow, but this time it was because a little classmate had given Zach the perfect gift. Not only does he love Christmas trees, but he love loves stars and he love love loves stars that change color. I kid you not.

Zach was not interested in the "planting" of the Chia Christmas tree so Jake and I tackled it without him. Possibly easier that way. Because I am a rule-follower, I read through twice the enclosed instructions on growing the Chia. The Chia and the seeds, separately but simultaneously, were soaked in water for one hour. Then the gooey seed paste was carefully applied by hand to the tree. Jake did his best and then I had to come after him and re-smooth the seed paste. Because I am that way. And the directions clearly stated to "take care not to clump seeds."

We placed the Chia tree in the provided drip tray and filled the tree with water. Done. But then I noticed that some seeds had slipped onto the trunk area. Hmmm. What to do? I checked the directions again. No mention of wiping seeds from the trunk. Should I attempt to clean off these runaway seeds? The runaway seeds that were beginning to CLUMP. I decided to leave well enough alone. The drip tray had started living up to its name and I feared making a mess of the trunk and disturbing the other seeds.

Ok, so on to the star topper for the Chia tree! Another hmmm. If I place the star wand in the tree opening, then it will be in water. Drat. The tree is not the same without the cool star but I can't risk the wand in the water. Maybe we'll do the star when the tree is grown. That is, if we don't lose the star wand before the tree is grown.

I'm thinking that the Chia tree was the perfect gift for Zach but not for a slightly obsessive-compulsive, rule-following, recovering perfectionist like me. I'm not sure I can handle the pressure of the tree.

So now we watch and wait. Daily I am observing the Chia, looking for signs of life. Already, those signs are there. Tiny sprouts shooting from tiny seeds. Clinging to the terra cotta tree, trying to grow green and lush in 2-3 weeks' time.

I hope you haven't read this far waiting for insight or at least a clever analogy. The Chia is many things but it is not inspirational. I'm just wondering how much interest our Chia tree will generate and if you all will be checking back for growth updates. And if you will be anxiously awaiting a posted photo of the full-grown Chia tree topped with the color-changing star.

So, will you be following the Chia tree's progress? Will you be adding a Chia tree to your wish list?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Dialing for Dollars

Chances of winning money while you are eating dinner at home are pretty slim. Still there was a chance and that's why my dad tuned to the local evening news during dinner. My teen-aged sisters and I circled round the big kitchen table. Mom had made fried chicken or spaghetti or chicken and rice casserole. Dad took his reserved seat and we said a quick prayer. If we'd timed everything just right, the local news was nearly over and Wheel of Fortune was on its heels.

Let me point out that having a TV in the dining area was against much of what our family believed in. But the lure of easy money was hard to resist. Each evening, at the end of the local news broadcast, a gifted anchorman named Darrell Rebouche reeled us in with his Dialing for Dollars segment. My dad loved watching Darrell Rebouche and he especially enjoyed the Dialing for Dollars part of the broadcast.

Here's how Dialing for Dollars worked. Earlier in the broadcast, that night's jackpot amount would be revealed. At the end of the broadcast, Darrell would flip through an actual phone book and randomly place his finger on a name. Without divulging the name or number, Darrell made a call to that home in hopes of reaching someone who knew the jackpot amount. If the correct amount was given, we'd have a winner!

We watched Darrell dial for dollars every night we ate at home. We watched as he flipped open that phone book knowing if he opened it to the back someone whose last name began with M or greater would be called. Not us. If he opened it near the front, well let's just say there was a hint of possibility in the air. Some nights we'd tuned in too late and didn't know the jackpot amount. Oh please Darrell, do not call tonight. Try tomorrow. We'll be sure to watch earlier.

Darrell would place the call and we'd listen as the phone rang, amplified for all to hear by the studio's speakers. Most of the time he got someone on the line. Some people were stunned to "be" on television and couldn't pull off an answer. Others were skeptical and didn't play along. Sometimes the phone rang and rang and then Darrell had to hang up. This was always so disappointing to see, knowing that a fellow citizen had missed an opportunity to win money. Occasionally Darrell managed to call someone who could coherently answer the question and win the jackpot. And oh was it exciting when someone won. Even though the jackpots were small (I"m recalling in the hundreds), winning anything can feel so big.

I kid you not when I say that one night during the Dialing segment, our phone rang. We 5 sat straight up in our seats, forks mid-air, big-eyed. Could it be? Is this it? Is this our big payoff for being relatively loyal viewers of this newscast?

It wasn't Darrell. How disappointing. I really think there should have been a town-wide ban against phone calls during the Dialing for Dollars segment. The nerve of someone to place a call and get hopes up. The absolute nerve.

We never received a call from Darrell Rebouche but it was good, clean fun wishing he would pick our phone number and give us a ring. We wanted to be winners. Still our family didn't wallow in self-pity for long. There was always Wheel of Fortune to lift our spirits and challenge our minds and imaginations. Calling out letters between bites, chanting "big money, big money" as the wheel spun, solving the puzzle first and showing off, admiring Vanna's dress and hair and wondering what it's like to be on TV and of course dreaming about spending that prize money or going on those exotic trips.

We never won the big money but I've got a big memory of my family around the dinner table, all five of us healthy and content, laughing, sharing and hoping. A scene I couldn't recreate today because we are no longer a party of five. But I've got the memory and that's worth more than Darrell's jackpots, more than anything.

A Google search led me to Darrell and here's how he remembered it. Darrell calls it Dialing for Thousands. I don't remember the "Thousands" part. I also don't remember needing to know the clue AND the jackpot amount. I guess Darrell would know, it was his show after all.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Targets and Bull's Eyes

Saturday night the boys were occupied for a two-hour Christmas party sponsored by the YMCA so Andy and I had ourselves a date! Dinner and a movie? Not enough time. Just dinner? Nah. Get some Christmas shopping done at Target? Yes.

Over a week ago I sat down to make my gift list. I had notes to organize, ideas to jot down, shopping trips to plan. Because I am over-organized, I had 3 years of gift list history to look over. This would allow me to make my 2009 list based on who we'd bought for in past years and what we'd given.

But a few other things came up and I didn't get that fancy list made. The list and many other tasks had fallen by the wayside. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day for all of my projects and lists.

On the way to Target, I glance over last year's list and throw together this year's. Done in 3 minutes. Andy and I enter the store and he drives the cart so I can manage the list. Thirty seconds into our limited-time shopping trip, I'm thrown off course by the dollar section (See Spot Save) and and wave at Andy to stop. But he doesn't stop. Shakes me off. We don't need dollar stuff.

Based on past history, I cannot get past the dollar section without perusing the offerings, marveling at what a dollar buys, placing items in my cart and then re-shelving them all because I really needed nothing. An excellent use of time.

He heads to the boy's clothing section to select pants and shirts for our angels, the boys we're giving gifts to through the Angel Tree program at church. I call out the sizes and Andy chooses pants and then hoodies. I suggest we get button-down shirts as well and he tosses two into the cart. Next.

Left alone, I would have systematically weaved my cart throughout this entire department checking out everything from outerwear to underwear. Do my boys need new PJ's? I could pick those up here and save a trip to the mall which will save time and I am all about saving time. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be shopping for angel clothes.

The angels requested outdoor toys and cars. Andy wheels around to the Nascar section and carefully yet quickly chooses a few race cars. He questions the outdoor toy request, wanting to know what that means. I don't know but I think maybe balls or rockets or Nerf guns. Andy disappears for 5 minutes and then adds a football and a basketball to the cart for the angel and a set of Nerf guns for our nephews. The board game I had selected for said nephews is placed back onto the shelf.

I scan the list. I call out more items. Action Andy delivers. We are tackling the toy department in record time. He sees that our work here is almost done and leaves me to search for a snack. Within seconds I slip into my lone shopper mode. Without Andy holding me accountable I find myself in the shoe department looking for rain boots then over to housewares to scope out the newest dish towels. Then I mosey through the DVD section and finally arrive at the wrapping paper area via a detour through the trim-a-tree area.

I am stumped selecting appropriate wrapping paper. I wanted a solid red roll and a solid green roll. Found one red roll but a no-can-do on that green roll. A red and white print will have to do. I search for a third roll that says classic yet childish and find it amidst the garish and plentiful rolls of bright green, hot pink and electric blue. Since when is wrapping paper so tacky?

On to the gift tag section and do I go stickers or hang tags? My cell phone rings. Action Andy is ready to go. Wants to know what is taking me so long. I grab the hang tags and then toss a hastily-chosen spool of ribbon in the cart. Picking up speed I race to the front of the store passing by a handful of departments I cannot visit this trip but will come back for soon. Oh, I did make a very brief stop for amaryllis bulbs in galvanized buckets.

Andy meets me at the check-out and begins placing items on the belt. I scan the list. We've done pretty well in 70 minutes' time and in one store. This would have taken me days to accomplish. Me, Miss Organized, Miss I-Am-So-Efficient.

Almost done and Action Andy asks the cashier to bag his beef jerky and Coke Zero separately from the other items. He wants to have his snack in the car. Worked up an appetite shopping. I walk beside him as he pushes the cart brimming with red and white bags to the car. "We got a lot done, don't you think?"

Yes we, I me you, did. I watch him as he drives away from Target, snacking on beef jerky, undoubtedly feeling a sense of accomplishment. I thought about the differences in our shopping styles and I was a bit jealous that I'm not more like him. Andy saw the target(Target) and hit a bull's eye.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two about time management from Action Andy. Maybe obsessing over my various lists is counter-productive. Maybe I am too scattered in my thinking. Maybe I try to do too much. Maybe I have some room for improvement. Is it possible that I don't know it all and my way isn't the only way? Bull's eye.