Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Birthday Traditions

Yesterday was my 54th birthday.  In the last week we have celebrated both of my daughters' birthdays and Christmas.  It goes without saying that this is a busy time in our family!  Interestingly, all of the men in our family--husband, ex-husband, daughter's boyfriend--all have summer birthdays, an they are months apart rather than days.

Despite being packed in around Christmas, I have always made a point to keep my girls' birthdays separate from Christmas and separate from each other.  Everyone gets her own birthday dinner of choice.  Sometimes it a home cooked meal and sometimes it is a meal out.  This year everyone chose to eat out.  We had an evening of Ethiopian, Upscale Americana, and Thai cuisine.  Good food and good company made for happy celebrations!

When the girls were eight and eleven, we gave them a one dollar lottery ticket for each year of their ages just for something fun and a little different.  At that point it was an under twenty dollar investment, my limit on spending when it comes to gambling.  Little did I know that the lottery tickets would become a tradition that has lasted fifteen years!  At ages 23 and 26 this year, the cost now exceeds my $20 rule, but we continue to play on.  And if that's not bad enough, the tradition has expanded to include the adults as well!

As silly as it is, we all look forward to scratching off all of our tickets and seeing who gets the most bang for their buck...literally.  It used to be that Offspring No. 1 always did quite well.  Her winnings would exceed those of us who had MANY more tickets.  This year, however, that was not the case.  With her 26 tickets, she won $10.  Offspring No. 2 won $16 with her 23 tickets.  For once, I was the big winner with $69 from my 54 tickets.  That is a 24% gain.  Pretty good for the most unlucky member of the family!  Maybe I should reconsider my investment strategies for 2016. :-)

Another December tradition that started three years ago when I began taking a photo a day is that Offspring No. 2 has collected my photos and organized them into a printed book.  The past two years I received the book as a Christmas gift.  This year I didn't.  I started thinking about putting the book together myself, but thankfully that was not necessary.  I received the book for my birthday!

There is something satisfying about seeing the year's photos in print.  And an added bonus for me is that I now know which photos are Erin's favorites.  They get more room on the page.  Yeah, the book doesn't include quite the whole year, but that is perfectly OK.  Having 2015''s book done and printed before January 1st is exactly the motivation that I need to commit to a photo a day again in 2016.  That right there is a huge gift!

So here I ago...another year of fun and photos!  I am grateful to my entire family for all of their support as models, assistants,  lens cap finders, and most importantly, for their unconditional love!

Ironically, these are all unedited phone photos. :-)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas has come and gone.  In Texas, at least for us, it was the calm before the storm.  The Dallas area had devastating tornadoes last night, one of which contained 200 mph winds, that left eleven people dead and massive property damage that has not yet been fully assessed.  Though the tornado sirens sounded for us and we had a plan for taking shelter, we never moved from our positions  in front of the TV where we were watching the storm's movement, to our secure place in the hall.   Many people in DFW were not as fortunate as we were.  This kind of  loss is heartbreaking anytime, but perhaps even more so at this time of year when happiness and joy should prevail.

Christmas Day in Dallas was marked by temperatures in the high 70's.  There was no cozy family gathering around the fire for us.  In fact, we spent almost the entire day outside on the patio.  It was beautiful...and stress free!  We did not have a formal sit-down-at-the-table meal this year.  Brooke made her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls and the coffee was free flowing.  We all grabbed a mug of coffee and paper plate with a cinnamon roll (or two) and made our way outside.  This was followed by self serve line that included an egg casserole and bacon.  We ate what we wanted when we wanted it.  I loved the relaxed, unstructured nature of our day.  Everyone could read their instruction manuals, program their electronics, play their games, and finish their chapters without being interrupted by a formal "dinner bell."

I need to remember this low stress approach to Christmas Day for next year...and pray again for the unseasonably warm temperatures.  Don't get me wrong, I love a white Christmas, but the out of the ordinary weather helped make our out of the ordinary celebration feel right this year.

Once my semester ended on December 17th, I was able to truly relax.  I knew that I was stressed at the end of the semester, but I don't think that I realized just how much.  A huge weight was lifted.  With some truly "free" time I was able to enjoy wrapping gifts, some last minute decorating, a little cooking, and fun with my two and four-legged family members...and our "bestest" friends.

I love this ornament given to us by one of the members of our "tribe."

A few images leading up to Christmas.

Oh, and did I mention between school ending on the 17th and Christmas we also celebrated the birthdays of Offsprings No. 1 and No.2?  Good times!

Offspring No. 1 - age 26

Offspring No. 2 - age 23

After singing the late night Christmas Eve service, we have this crazy tradition of going to Waffle House just down the road from our house.  I'm not sure how or why this tradition got started, but we've done it for at least five years and I look forward to it no matter how tired I may be at 1am on Christmas morning.  It is interesting to people watch at a sit down restaurant that is open in the middle of the night on Christmas.  There are travelers trying to get to family before morning, families for whom this may be their Christmas meal, and people who are a party of one who may be lonely and want to be among others.  In addition to scrambled eggs with cheese and hash browns, part of our Waffle House tradition is to share the love and hospitality of Christmas with our fellow patrons and the staff at our local Waffle House.  This is one of my favorite family traditions.

Christmas morning began with the littlest among us, all decked out in her Christmas PJ's, opening her gifts first.  Piper's four-legged brother and sister followed right along.  They all played while we waited for all of the humans to gather.

I put my camera down during the gift exchange.  You'll just have to believe me when I say that everyone did great both in the giving and receiving!

Here are a few shots of our relaxed Christmas afternoon.

Holiday cheers to each of you from each of us!


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Road Toward Christmas

It was Thanksgiving when I last wrote and now we are only seven days away from Christmas.  Over these last three weeks there were days that seemed to go on forever - mainly those where I was so tired that all I could think of was a nap; but for the most part, time has whizzed by.  Until the last week, I wasn't sure that I was going to get my act together for Christmas.  There were moments over these past few weeks where I had to talk sternly to myself, saying that it would all be okay, really!

Throughout the month of December, all of the Capture Your 365 photo prompts focused on holiday preparations.  Until last weekend, I had done none.  Continuing to take a photo a day during this time despite having little holiday cheer at my house kept me from completely panicking over the fact that I was so far behind.

Today, thanks to Amazon.com and my school semester being over, I now think that I will make it.  

Focusing on Advent, the time of waiting, has also helped me to maintain some sanity and a sense of calm throughout the first weeks of December.

I missed photographing the lighting of the third candle last Sunday.

Thanks to the new landscaping that we had done earlier in the fall, our backyard, which was normally nothing but brown at this time of year, is full of color.  The yuletide camellias began budding a few weeks ago and now are full of brightly colored red and yellow flowers.

Piper, the newest addition to our family, is full of love for us and for her big dog brother and sister.  Even the cat has decided that things are going to be OK.  It is hard for me to even imagine that this poor little thing was abused.  

Even amidst the craziness of the season, we have made time each week to spend time with friends. Regular "diner dinners", the wedding of two of our dearest friends, and a few theater productions have been some of the best times this month.

And now, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Piper is not so sure about that Santa Claus fellow.  I think she has been talking to her youngest human sister who, from a young age, has thought Santa Claus creepy.

Though she does like napping under the Christmas tree.

I am thankful to have the next month off with time to spend with family and friends.  I also have lots of things on my 'want to do" rather than" have to do" list and the time now to actually do them.  What a wonderful feeling!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving and Shopping

Over the past few weeks there have been different lists of retailers going around on social media, A list of those retailers  that will be open for shopping on Thanksgiving Day and another of those that will be closed.  This information has been shared and shared and shared in an effort to get us to boycott those stores that believe that consumerism is more important than time spent with friends and loved ones.  Until this morning, I was on board with not giving in to the rampant consumerism, exhibited by shopping on Thanksgiving Day,  in our country - not that I had any plans to shop today, but I was willing to commit to spending my money only with those stores that remained closed today when I was ready to shop.  So what changed?

As we headed to church this morning, I was especially thankful that in a few hours I would be sharing a home cooked meal with my whole family.  I was keenly aware of the fact that many people would not be spending their Thanksgiving that way.  Too many people are lonely and have no one to call family or even friend.  Too many people have no means with which to prepare a Thanksgiving meal.  For many people the holiday season is marked by sadness and despair rather than joy and hope.  These are the people who volunteer to work on holidays such as today.

For those who have no family or friends, working on holidays is a way to conquer, or at least dull a bit, the loneliness that today could bring.  It is a way to be out among people,  sharing in the excitement as the Christmas season officially gets underway.   The good wishes that are exchanged between customers and employees may be the only thoughtful words that these people hear today.

Some people may choose to work today to earn money to pay their rent in a few days, or put any meal on their family's table, or buy that one special Christmas gift for their child.   It is quite the conundrum that society has created for itself.  In an ideal and compassionate world,  today would be a paid holiday for all retail workers and public Thanksgiving tables would be available and open to anyone who wished to eat in communion with others.  Maybe someday...

Until then, remember that you do not know the story of the person who checks you out at Target, or finds the correct sized shirt for you at Macy's, or prepares your order at McDonald's.  You could make that person's day with a smile and a genuine "thank-you."  Isn't that what today is about, giving thanks?

I still am not going anywhere near a store today, but I have softened my rather judgemental attitude toward stores that are open and the people who have chosen to shop.  It is always advantageous to be able to look at multiple sides of an issue and at least try to understand the perspective of both parties. I think that today I matured to that point at least on this issue.


I am thankful to have shared a meal and the afternoon with my family.

This year, Weber smoked the turkey and Brooke prepared everything else.  My only responsibility was the mashed potatoes.  Well, and cleaning.  There is a real possibility that the amount of dog hair that I vacuumed up outweighed the turkey!

It is a long sad story, but we are without a dishwasher right now while we wait for an ordered part to come in so that it can be repaired.  This is probably the worst week of the year to be in this situation!  Brooke has been good all week about washing dishes as she goes.  After dinner this afternoon, Weber washed, Jason dried, and I put away.  With a little team work, it all went quickly and smoothly, with the exception of the one broken bowl.  :-)

With all of the terrible, scary, ugly, painful things that are going on in the world right now,  we all need to remember to count our blessings.  We need to give thanks for what we have and we need to makes sure that we tell those close to us that we love them whenever we have the opportunity.  Nothing is certain in the world.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those in the U.S. and to those of you who don't celebrate this holiday, I pray that your day was blessed  and for that, you are grateful.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Whirlwind Week

The past week seems to have flown by!  Last weekend we were in Baltimore because I had a NOAH board meeting.  Though it was a quick trip and I had little free time, I enjoyed the getaway and change of scenery.  Weber and I did have a bit of time to wander around Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Friday afternoon before my meeting began at 6.

It was interesting to see another lightship.  My dad was instrumental in restoring a similar one, The Overfalls, in Lewes, DE.

We didn't have time to do the on board tours of the Chesapeake or any of the other boats in the harbor. That will have to wait until our next trip to Baltimore.

U.S.S Constellation, constructed in 1854

Below is a seriously blown-out image of the Constellation.  I forget to check my camera settings before I shot the image.  It is so "not right", but there is something kind of magical about it that I like. Don't ask me why.

We had a nice lunch at an Irish pub overlooking the harbor.

After lunch and a little bit of shopping, where Weber got a new hat, we headed back to the hotel to rest a little before my meeting began.

The Friday night meeting only lasted about two hours.  It was during that time that the horrific events in Paris took place.  We emerged from the board room to see the chaos unfolding on every TV in the hotel.

While we were touring the city in the afternoon, we passed by the World Trade Center in Baltimore.  In front was a piece of mangled steel, a remnant of the devastation from the terrorist attack on the The World Trade Center in New York.

I had no idea when I took this photo that in only hours terrorists would again strike in one of the world's major cities.  We flew home early Sunday morning.  The security lines were long and slow at the airport and there seemed to be more TSA agents than usual.  I suppose this could have been my imagination or perhaps a coincidence.

Despite the uneasiness in the world, Monday morning came and we routinely started our school week like every other one this semester.  When I got to school, however, my students were not interested in analyzing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata or writing four-part chorales; they wanted to talk about what was going on in the world.  My job is to educate; sometimes that means setting aside my own lesson plans and "teaching" something different, something that would never be included on any course syllabus. I can answer the students' questions about what chords Beethoven is using, or how to avoid parallel fifths in part writing, but I cannot answer, "Why did this happen in Paris?" or, "Do you think we are on the verge of a Third World War?"  I don't know.  For the duration of that discussion, my students and I were on equal ground, no teacher and students, only people waiting, wondering, and praying about what the future holds.

All week long, the flags on campus that flew at half mast were a constant reminder that we are a grieving world.

On a different note, here is a twirl and haiku from this week...

"The Kiss"

Carefully chosen
To express the hidden me
Words and images.

The cat has decided that the puppy is no threat to her.  Honestly, Piper has absolutely no interest in Frankie.  Though Frankie will never admit it, I think that hurts her feelings a little bit.  With all of the unrest in the world, it is comforting to have peace at home!

Little, dog, big dog, medium dog, and cat happily co-existing!

And the week ended with me making pumpkin butter, a sign that the holidays are fast approaching as pumpkin butter is one of those things that I seem to only make around this time of year.  For the recipe, visit www.pixelsplatesandlols.blogspot.com

Despite all of the ugliness in the world right now, there still exist many reasons to be thankful.  This week I am thankful for safe travels, caring students, loving family and friends, my four-legged furry family members, a forgiving heart, time to make pumpkin butter, and hope.