Moments of Joy: November 2016

Last month, I described my favorite parts of fall party fun. Today’s story tells of another gathering of friends, this time away from home.

All-Region choir concert filing on stage

My best friend in the world is pregnant.  What a surprise for her and her family, as she and her husband assumed for years that they could not have children.  With her last few nauseous months, and my busy family’s schedule, I have hardly seen my friend this fall.  That changes today, however, because my daughter is participating in an All-Region choir concert near my friend’s house!

I leave the house with a smile on my face, eager to enjoy the afternoon with my buddy and the evening concert.  Forty-five minutes later, I pull into the Target parking lot, search briefly for my friend’s distinctive vehicle, and park near it.  We often meet here as it is on the edge of town, and she frequents the Starbucks coffee shop in the store.

Searching the coffee shop area, she is no where to be found.  A quick phone call later, and I meet her with a big hug in the Christmas decoration area.  We shop, we chat, we share thoughtful conversation that only best friends can, and before long it’s time for the concert.

We luckily find the venue without much trouble and find a parking space near the long line of school buses.  An image of my daughter’s face from this morning flashes into my mind, and I chuckle to myself. The least-favorite part of this day for my daughter was getting up at the crack of dawn to ride the very crowded bus to choir practice.  Overall, the experiences of the day definitely outweigh the inconveniences to her, and she loves the trip every year.  I’m proud that she is so successful each year in this chosen interest of hers (singing).  I’m also thrilled that from this year forward, the public school choir class is at 8 a.m., forcing us to get an early start on our homeschooling each day without any teen fussing about needing “five more minutes” to sleep!

My focus is brought back to the present, as we get out of the vehicle and follow the crowd inside.  This is the first time the All-Region concert has been held at this location, but we easily find our way around and luck into great seats on the third row.  At the last minute, family and friends file in and settle beside us.  I turn to check how my pregnant friend is faring, as evenings are usually her worst time of the day.  Luckily, it’s a good day for her today!

The lights dim and teens begin filing onto the stage.  My daughter is easy to spot in the crowd for a change, due to her burgundy and gold choir robe.  The girls’ typical black dresses weren’t ready in time for today, and this is the first time in all the years of singing that I’ve seen my daughter in a choir robe.  She wasn’t thrilled about it when she tried it on at home the day before, but we had some good laughs joking about how many of us could probably have climbed into the giant costume with her.

After a brief technical difficulty with the microphone (“What?” one person in the back yells, “We can’t hear you!”), the show is under way.  The singing is beautiful!  My daughter seems to do well on all the songs, even the new song they were required to learn earlier today in a different language.  A second choir files onto the stage after my daughter is finished.  One of their songs is an improvised piece, accompanied by bongos. It is interesting and lively, just like the comedic conductor. The final song of the night is a powerful spiritual that elicits booming cheers from the crowd and a couple of tears from my eyes.  What a great show!

It takes a while to reconnect with my daughter and gather our friends before we decide on the spur of the moment to have a late dinner together.  I’m thrilled that my pregnant friend even feels up to eating at this time of day — yay!  So, off we go, trying to follow each other across the busy town in the dark to the restaurant.  On the way, we get briefly separated in traffic and get a close-up view of a departing school bus swiping the side mirror off a small SUV.

Finally making it safely to the restaurant, we prepare to nosh on southern home cooking at Cracker Barrel.  We have a great time asking the waitresses to snap photos of all of us in front of the large, stone fireplace while we wait for the tasty “grub.”  Then we settle back in our chairs, and conversations fly back and forth across the table with lots of smiles and laughter.  My daughter tells the details of her day, with only one sad bit of news to report.  It’s sad to her, anyway…her teacher found it so easy to spot her students among the sea of black dresses and suits that she’s decided they will wear the giant burgundy robes again next year!

We eventually admit we all need to end the fun and head home for bed.  In the restaurant gift shop, we mill around and enjoy a few more minutes together while the tabs are being paid.  I notice a couple of people sneaking up to the register to purchase Christmas gifts after someone “Oooos” or “Aaaaahs” over an item in the store.  A few final hugs are exchanged and another blessed day draws to an end.

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Moments of Joy: October 2016

Last month, I shared with you the one thing that brings me happiness every day of every month — the true source of joy in this world. Today, I am remembering an evening of fall fun and friendship.

collage of fall party with scarecrow, fire pit, and pumpkin pudding desserts

What makes for a wonderful evening? Some of the things I would include are all gathered together in my backyard:

  • friends, neighbors, and family — So many people I love are mingling and getting to know one another better.  What a joy this is for me to see!
  • fun games — We’re all laughing and cheering as we take turns catapulting decorative squash with a three-person water-balloon launcher.  The goal is to hit a target hanging on hay bales across the yard, but most of the squash end up in the grass or lodged into the chain-link fence.  My first shot lands in the chicken pen, and one brave hen comes to check out the strange object.  Party games don’t have to be complicated or expensive.  Kids and adults alike are happy tonight with the “Pumpkin Launch” game, hitting a beach ball over a volleyball net, a tetherball pole, and even just using sidewalk chalk to draw on a 20-foot-long roll of black bulletin board paper that is taped to the back of the house.
  • beautiful weather — A few wispy clouds highlight the sunset before the stars begin to twinkle and shine.  A gentle breeze blows on this cool evening, encouraging us to circle around the campfire.  You can see in the photo above where I threw on an armload of sticks that was too large for our little fire pit.  The flames shot above our heads and made roasting marshmallows a bit dangerous for a while!
  • food — Food is always a great thing in my book!  I’m particularly happy with the tasty pumpkin patch pudding cups (my first-ever Pinterest project).
  • singing praises to God — Gathering friends around a beautiful campfire to sing is always a great way to spend a cool evening.
  • costumes and decorations — Several of us agree, as we sit on a row of hay bales eating smores and hot dogs, that there should be a holiday at least once per month where we could dress up in costumes.  It’s funny to see your friends looking like a Harry Potter character, Superman, a lion, a football star, a pirate, a queen, or even just a grumpy girl in a bathrobe.  Then there’s the friends who enjoy a play on words: like the geeky girl with candy glued to her jeans (“Miss Smarty Pants”) and the lady in the shower cap with sacks from different stores hanging all over her (“A Bag Lady”).  It can be fun to step away from the everyday, get out of your comfort zone, and be a little silly!

The few weeks of preparation were worth it, I decide as I look around at all the smiling faces.  I appreciate the motivation this gathering provided to clean up and repair the property, and I momentarily forget the seemingly endless times I climbed ladders to trim giant hedges and fix the gutters and siding.  Seeing friendships, new and old, deepen and grow makes it all worthwhile.  Though, I’m not positive if I would do it all again next year…whew!

Friendships and Tea Sets

True friends are such a blessing! I wanted to share this sweet post to remind us to count the blessing of friendship every day.

Proverbs 18:24 “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

The Chicken Grandma

Well-Loved Tea Set.JPG

For some reason tonight I am struggling to organize my thoughts.  I keep rearranging them and sorting them out in my mind while I try to get them typed into this post. Perhaps it is because the day was full.  It was full of laughter, joy, sharing and love. The day has left so may thoughts swirling through my brain that it is difficult to know where to start and where to end.

It was a great day spent with two close friends. I have known who these two women are; for probably 16 years.  It is only the last few years that I have really come to know these two women. We met at a Christian retreat and have met at that same retreat for many years.

When you have shared life stories, shared tears and shared laughter you realize what a gift friendship and relationship can be. These…

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Moments of Joy: July 2016

In last month’s post, I mentioned the pleasure gained from having a simple family vacation and then coming back home to sleep blissfully in my own bed.  In today’s story — oh, baby! — how I’m reminded that pure love comes in small, sweet packages!

collage of adorable baby girl from birth to four months old

A vehicle pulls up to our house, and I look out the window in surprise.  I step outside with my daughter and call toward the driveway, “Hi!  I didn’t know you were going to come in your police car!”

My friend steps out of the car in full uniform and returns my greeting as he reaches into the back seat.

“Oh, no,” I add, “my neighbor is home.  He’s really going to give me a hard time for seeing your car at my house!  He teases me all the time.”

Pulling a baby carrier out of the seat, my friend stands up and faces me.  “What does he tease you about?”

“Everything!  He has quite a sense of humor!”

The words barely escape my lips before I hear a loud voice behind me slowly calling,  “Haaa!  Haaa!!  Haaa!!  HAAAAH!!!”

I shake my head and look over my shoulder as Mr. Ferguson‘s screen door clicks closed across the street.  My friend and I look at each other with raised eyebrows and burst out laughing before heading into the house.

The cool air conditioning feels refreshing compared to the midday sun outside.  “You can set her carrier on the couch for now, if you want,” I suggest as we cross through the kitchen and into the living room.

As he places the car seat carrier onto the sofa lounger, my daughter and I eagerly crane our necks to peek inside.  The beautiful blue eyes of his four-month-old baby girl look back at us, blinking sleepily.

I, of course, comment on how adorable she is and then begin to chat about her with my daughter.  Suddenly, I realize that my officer friend has grown silent and still.  I look up to see him staring at his tiny girl with a serious expression on his face.

“This is so hard,” he states aloud while continuing to stare at the precious bundle cradled in the car seat.

After a fleeting moment of contemplation, I ask in a surprised voice, “Is this the first time you’ve left her with a babysitter?”

“Yes.”

“Not even family?!”

“No,” he answers, briefly glancing my way before continuing to gaze at his daughter.  (He later explains that they had left her in relatives’ care before, but “not for long” and “we were never more than a block away.”)

I gape at him incredulously.  “Wow, I’m honored! I’m really honored that you trust us to watch her!”

After several cuddles and kisses with his baby daughter, my friend reluctantly leaves to attend a special police training drill for the afternoon.

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoy an hour of entertainment with the now-alert infant.  We watch her explore her wiggly toes, work her gums over on her teething toy, and react to the silly faces we make at her.  She practices her new-found skill of rolling onto her stomach, but becomes more fussy each time she is unable to roll back.  It’s easy to see that nap time is overdue.

Rocking in the recliner fails to lull her to sleep, so my daughter hands her to me to try a different method.  I hold the tired babe against my shoulder as I walk around the room, patting her rhythmically on the back as I had seen her mother do during past visits to our house.

She is such pleasant and quiet girl.  Even her loudest cries seem to be half the volume of most babies I’ve encountered.  Her protests dwindle as I stand near the living room window gently swaying back and forth.  Her sweet smell and warm snuggles send memories flooding back to my mind — memories of dancing my daughter around her room each night while singing “Jesus Loves Me” into her tiny ear.

That bedtime ritual was especially loved by my daughter.  As she got older, she would sometimes ask me to sing to her “like you did when I was little.”  The last few times, she was so tall that her feet nearly dragged the floor when I held her.

I am stirred out of my reverie when I notice a small forehead tapping on my shoulder.  Our young guest is finally losing the fight to stay awake and can successfully be transferred back to my daughter’s arms in the recliner.

My tall teen smiles in pure contentment while studying the sleeping baby on her shoulder, and I get a glimpse of what the future may hold for her in a few short years.  How amazing…where has the time gone?  My heart swells with feelings of love and peace, and perhaps a twinge of nostalgia, too.

Moments of Joy: June 2016

Last month, I retold the story of how my family began an experimental health journey that has had great results for all of us.  This month emphasizes something much more mundane.collage of dark draperies with sunny window in the middle

My husband is going to a conference to accept awards he has won for his performance at work.  Since we have old friends in the area, we contact them to see if we can visit them that day.  Sadly, we find that they are going to be out of town that week.

But, the friends kindly offer their house to us as a place to stay so we don’t have to make the long trip there and back in one day.  My husband decides to take a few days off work and turn it into a mini-vacation.

We spend several days exploring new back roads and towns, visiting art museums and botanical gardens, and generally just taking it easy.  What a relaxing week!

The things that bring me the most joy during the trip are: 1. time with my family, 2. seeing other friends in the area, and 3. coming home to get a long night’s sleep in my DARK bedroom. (Our friends have no curtains at all in their house, and the room we slept in faces the morning sun!  Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to nap or sleep when there is bright light.  I thought I had really slept in late the first morning when I woke up at 5:40 a.m. Lol!).

Family, friends, and sweet sleep — these three blessings are what bring a smile to my tired face today!

Moments of Joy: February 2016

Blessings abounded last month, as they always do, but it was nice to share my awareness of them with you.  Any time you get the chance, it’s beneficial to meditate on the good things around you.

This month has gone so fast for me, even with an extra “leap” day added, that as I begin this post, I’m not sure where it will end up…Hmm…I’m thinking back over February.  I have several possibilities in mind to share with you…

How about we enjoy an “aaawww” moment this month?  Oh, and maybe a little laughter, too.

pink collage of Valentine photos, with the words "Family, Friends, Love, Kindness, Laughter"

My hubby started a tradition many years ago of cooking a special meal for me on Valentine’s Day.  When our daughter was quite small, she began donning her favorite apron and “helping” him prepare the meal.  Now she is a teen, and her cooking skills are improving all the time — she’s especially good at making bread and rolls!

The last couple of years, she and her best friend have completely taken over preparation of the traditional Valentine meal, and it has grown to include all the grandparents, too.

It’s quite an undertaking these days: everyone is banned from the kitchen the morning of the meal as the girls bustle around the room prepping the food (making messes?).  The table is complete with special decorations, including long-stemmed glasses with hearts all over them.  This year, caramel-filled chocolates are scattered across the table for a splash of color.  I’m a big fan of that one!

The sound of clanging pots and pans echoes through the doorway to the living room.  Occasional shouts of “Oh, no!” catch my attention, followed by “Don’t come in here!”  The girls giggle and laugh as they set the table and place decorations.  Good smells begin to waft through the house. The dog paces back and forth, smacking her lips, and staring meaningfully at each one of us.

When the meal is set and everyone is assembled, the most entertaining part of the event begins: attempting to take the family’s annual Valentine photo.

Why is my daughter’s plan of taking a photo so funny?  You see, dabbling in photography has become a bit of a hobby for me.  So, I often play around with my camera’s settings for different types of lighting and shots; yet, every year we forget this fact when my daughter sets the camera up on the tripod for our family photo.

(You will be able to view samples of my efforts in a week when I participate in the WordPress Photography 101 class…again.  You can click on the Blogging University symbol in the sidebar on the right side of your screen to learn more about the different WordPress classes; they are fun and free for anyone to participate.)

Sometimes we notice this fact while attempting to take the photos, other times we get a surprise.  For example, we also take a photo of us at the table for Thanksgiving.  When we pulled last year’s photos up onto the computer screen, we saw that I had apparently been playing with the shutter speed.  Each family member who moved in any way was blurry, while those who smiled politely and sat still were in perfect focus.  In one photo, my mother-in-law looked like her face had been smudged out for the witness protection program or something.  (Hey…I’d better keep a closer eye on her!  ha ha)

On this Valentines Day, it is the timer delay which has been altered.  My daughter carefully aims the camera on the tripod and indicates who needs to scoot in or out to get every face in the shot.  She pulls out the chair closest to the camera so she can easily sit and smile before the shutter goes off.

“Everyone ready?”  She pushes the button, steps toward her seat, and the camera says “Everyone say cheese!” followed a split second later by “Click!” as the camera flash nearly blinds her.

(When I first got the camera years ago, I discovered a setting where you can record a sound and replace the camera’s typical notifications.  I’ve had a laugh several times when people around me would suddenly look my way and say “Did your camera just say ‘Click’?!”)

“What?!” my daughter laughs.  Obviously this is not the 10 or 15 seconds we were expecting to elapse before the photo was taken.

She messes with the camera to adjust the timing, but the family is hungry and neither one of us can remember how to get to the correct menu on the camera screen to add more time.  “I’ll make it work!” my daughter exclaims while everyone is giving her advice at the same time.

A second attempt is made by clicking the button and leaping into her chair.  Her rear is almost in the seat this time before the photo is taken.

She checks the results.  Everyone is smiling and seated perfectly, except for my husband who is half-hidden behind me.  And except for the fact that my daughter’s hair was still in mid-spin and is standing straight out from her head.  It looks like she was having a severe static electricity problem, or maybe that a freak windstorm had brewed up just around her chair.

“No, no, I can do this!” she laughs while prepping for the third try.  She pokes the button while simultaneously twirling toward her seat with a slightly-manic smile already plastered on her face.  Yes!  Success?

This one is better, but we have a little problem getting my husband in the right spot.  It seems that no matter where my daughter places me to get out of his way, he leans that same direction during the photo.  What a mess that man is!  Lol  Finally, my father grabs him and bear-hugs him to hold him still. That particular photo is one of the best ones!

After a few more attempts, everyone is turning bright red and falling all over each other with laughter, so we give up and start the delicious meal:  baked pasta, homemade bread, special fruit punch in our new punch bowl…Yum!

Best of all is the celebration of the love of our friends and family.  That is something to cherish every day of the year.  Oh, and my husband even did the dishes afterwards — score!

~~~~~~~

Sharing that story has made me hungry, so I think I’ll go have lunch!  Thanks for reading!

Moments of Joy: January 2016

Last month’s post demonstrated a sweet side of teenagers and mother-in-laws.  Today I’ll show how the season of gift-giving does not have to stop when the holidays are over.

collage of blessings: working heater, wedding, health, clean home, snow, friends, compliments

The blinding glare of the late afternoon sun forces me to walk down the narrow paved street with my eyes almost closed.  The warmth which penetrates my face, shoulders, and arms feels so soothing.

Sixty-eight degrees, wow!‘ I think to myself.  “It seems so crazy to be walking in a sleeveless shirt when last week I was stomping around in four inches of snow and ice!

To my left I can hear the clicking sound of 16 little black toe nails tapping out a rhythm on the pavement.  The main reason I decided to take this walk was to reward my sweet dog after she tremblingly endured me trimming her thick, fast-growing nails.

The rough asphalt and concrete will file them nice and smooth by the time we get home. She needs the exercise, too.” The thought makes me smile; I always love accomplishing two things at once.

I turn my face away from the bright sun and look behind me to check for traffic before turning onto another street.  No one is in sight in this sleepy neighborhood.  No trucks, no cars, no trains, no planes, nothing disturbs the air except the pleasant sound of birds chirping and the continued pitter-pat of my faithful companion’s feet.

The sun emerges from behind a small wisp of cirrus cloud.  “This is so relaxing,” I muse as the sun’s warmth intensifies slightly, now concentrated on my left shoulder.  “This moment is like a special gift, appearing out of nowhere between last week’s snow and next week’s forecasted cold front.”

A happy realization flashes in my mind: “I’ve had a lot of wonderful moments like this lately, many special gifts and blessings!

My thoughts wander over things that have happened since the holidays, and the “gifts” begin to stack up in my mind…

  • On one of the coldest Saturdays right after Christmas, our central heater quit working.  We tried several things to fix it, but had to give up and call a repairman.  Fortunately for us, we were able to borrow a small electric heater while we waited.  And, more fortunately, the heater was not broken after all!  A small safety switch had flipped during the night due to unusually strong winds that happened to blow down the exhaust pipe at just the right angle.  The repairman figured it out in less than five minutes, showed me where the switch was, and gave us a few extra tips about the heater.  Then he left with a friendly goodbye and said it would be no charge for his time.
  • The next weekend, my family was invited to a lunch in honor of special friends of ours who were back in town for a wedding.  We were able to attend the wedding with them later that afternoon.  The very creative bride had been making plans for the event for nearly a year, and it truly was one of the most beautiful weddings I’d ever been to.  Every tiny detail was amazingly coordinated to be as fun and beautiful as possible, right down to their departure in the evening under the light of a tree-filled courtyard draped in miles of pale blue holiday lights.
  • My daughter had her wisdom teeth surgically removed.  I had misgivings after an initial consult with an oral surgeon.  Thankfully, we followed the recommendation of several friends and got a second opinion.  The second surgeon did a wonderful job (and saved us $1,300 in the process — HOORAY!).  During the procedure, I was chatting animatedly with a friendly lady in the waiting room.  Suddenly, in walks my husband with a large bouquet of flowers in hand. He had worked it out to take a break away from his job to give sympathy to his girl.  On the drive home, our drugged-up daughter couldn’t remember how she got into the car or why she suddenly had her coat on; but she did remember getting the flowers from her daddy.
  • The threat of surgery was looming over my mother.  Thanks, again, to the recommendation of friends, she found a doctor with an alternative treatment idea.  Within hours of meeting the doctor, my mother was feeling better, and surgery was no longer even on the horizon.  We all breathed a sigh of relief for that one!
  • Another weekend, we were able to spend the day with family, touring their new house.  It was a lovely home on a great piece of land, that put put them quite a few miles closer to us, too.  I’m so happy for them!

I notice the sound of panting has joined the rhythm of my dog’s tapping toes.  Her tongue is hanging out and she’s fallen behind me a bit, so I slow our pace for the last couple of blocks.  I search my memory during the remainder of our sunny walk and easily add more “gifts” to my growing pile.

  • Teaching Home Ec as part of my daughter’s homeschool schedule means I’ve had motivation and help for deep cleaning the house!
  • We woke to a beautiful, and unexpected snowy day, which afforded me an easy excuse to practice my photography hobby.
  • My husband and I were invited to a get-together with a group of college students from church.  It is so fun to spend time with them!
  • I’ve been missing my busy best friend.  Out of the blue, she set up an evening to go out to dinner with my daughter and I.  We had a great time catching up, and she even demanded to pick up the tab.  Finances are going well this month!  Lol
  • I surprised my mother-in-law by cooking some very low-salt venison chili to share with her. She is on a low sodium diet and was so excited about the mention of chili that she gave me a big hug.  After sharing a couple of bowls with my neighbor, he told me, “I honestly think that’s the best chili I’ve ever eaten.  I’m not kidding!  It was that good.” (And he’s in his 80s — that’s a lot of opportunity for tasting chili!  Lol)

The reverie ends as we arrive back home.  “What a month it’s been!  The best gifts don’t come don’t come in a package…”

My pup collapses in the middle of the living room and prepares for a nap.  My husband looks up from the football game he’s watching and gives me a smile.  My cup runs over!

bible open to Psalm 23, King James Version