Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Hang-Ups on the Road...

I don't know what it was that originally gave me this picture of "The Perfect Christmas" in my mind. Seriously. I wish I could nail it down so I could hammer it into oblivion.

The house immaculately decorated with perfectly coordinating Christmas accessories. The gifts beautifully wrapped and themed, waiting under the tree weeks before Christmas day. The baking complete way before schedule, with every bite invoking a roll of the eyes and contented sigh from any and all who tasted.

Oh, and the weekend of Christmas itself: all social gatherings attended, arriving exactly on time with arms full of sweets and gifts, delighting all in attendance.

Some days I really wonder about myself. (Especially, like, today, when I just typed out all my silly little expectations and actually read them.) What was I thinking?

I'll give myself one small iota of satisfaction: the house WAS decorated. Perhaps not immaculately, and not exactly perfectly coordinating, but decorated it was...um...is. (I'm not taking it down until January 1; now's the time I can really enjoy it!)

The gifts were wrapped and under the tree, but I was still tagging them the night before each gathering, so I'm pretty much below standard there.

LOTS of baking was indeed completed...but most of it was done in a "night before" fashion. There was at least one item that everyone really seemed to love, so I guess it wasn't a total loss.

We were unable to attend three Christmas parties (parties that I would have really loved to go to) due to the fact that I was so incredibly busy editing Holiday Photos so I could get them back to families who wanted them for Christmas gifts. (One was also due to the fact that my husband had to work, as well.) There just are never enough hours in the day. (This prompted me to decide that next year I would need to be much better at scheduling Holiday Photo Shoots for my clients, so as to have enough time to visit with friends and family during Christmas.)

The major potholes on the Road to Domestication were encountered over the Christmas weekend (of course, at the last minute when I could do nothing but smile pretty and wing it!)

1. My dumb and stupid Orange Cranberry Pound Cake (which I made in a bunt pan) not only refused to cook properly, but it also caved in, causing my Christmas 2011 Meltdown. My husband is SO patient with me.

2. My pie crusts for my Two-Tiered Strawberry Pie bubbled up in the center and shrunk on the sides, something I have never seen my pie crust do. I will be buying pre-made from here on out.

3. I forgot to get a lime to garnish the Key Lime Pie with key lime slices...which sounds really silly, but on top of the caving-in bunt and the blowing-up crusts...really made for an issue. Again - my husband is SO patient with me.

When it was all said and done, it was a wonderful Christmas. And it wasn't because of immaculate decorations, beautiful gifts, amazing baked goods or a perfect schedule.

It was because, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, I looked up from a very messy kitchen and realized, it was Christmas! My eyes filled with tears as I thought of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and I stopped everything I was doing and wished HIM a happy birthday, and thanked Him for everything He has done for me. At that point, nothing else mattered...and I won't lie, I was a mess. But I felt absolutely wonderful. And I didn't care about any of the trivialities. It was all about HIM.

I'm trying to keep that moment fresh in my mind, because, after all, isn't that what every day should be like? In the midst of the business that seems to be our lives these days, shouldn't we stop and thank Him for all He's done? It doesn't matter if things aren't working out right...it doesn't matter if we're a flat out hot mess. HE is still worthy. And that's what DOES matter.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas, and may this new year be one filled with blessings...and much thanksgiving!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'll Rest...If I Have to SCHEDULE One, I'll Rest!!!

For the past few years, December has proved to be a pretty crazy month for me. (I guess it's a pretty crazy month for everyone. right?) But as I watched it approach this year, I was almost dreading it. And that's pretty sad.

Why would I dread December? Because I can't seem to remember back to a December when I was NOT sick. And tired. And run down. And exhausted. And had just plain had ENOUGH of everything and everyone. I'm just bein' real here, folks. You know it's happened to you before, too!

In previous years, December meant:

1. Participate in the Worship Arts Ministry Christmas Program (normally more than one performance)

2. Assist with the K.I.D.S. Church Christmas Program

3. Plan and execute a Board of Directors Christmas Party

4. Plan a Church-Wide Christmas Dinner

5. Participate in the Worship Arts Ministry special performances (normally something along the lines of caroling)

6. Perform photo shoot after photo shoot and then work miracles with fast editing so all my clients had their photos and photo cards back in time for Christmas
7. Oh, did I mention I work a full-time job, too?

8. Oh yes, there's also baking, shopping, wrapping and planning to do for my friends and family!

9. And the Christmas card mailing, and the Christmas parties, and cooking...

10. Plus the fact that I was always house-sitting for friends, pet-sitting for neighbors, babysitting for babies...

All of the above contributed to me either paying homage to the Porcelain King or worshipping the Puffs Plus with Lotion...instead of being able to focus on the King of Kings. (Yeah, it IS His birthday, right?) By the time I got to December 31, I didn't have much hope for the new year.

2011 really has been an amazing year, but it's been quite the year of change for me. I've gotten married, moved to a different city, changed full-time jobs...LOTS of CHANGE. And, coming up on December, I was okay with that, I just knew that things could not be the same this time around.

So I made a decision.

Each big activity I plan to be involved in, I must also plan to rest after. If there is no time to rest after, then it's not the activity to be involved in.

Plain and simple.

The problem is that, as much as I think I've conquered the need to say "Of course!" to anyone who asks me for anything, I have not. It is still a giant in my life, but I think I might have beaten it down just a little bit more this time! I wish I could understand what it is that rises up inside me and makes me think I have to accomplish everything for everyone perfectly and in record time! However, here we are, half-way through December. I'm not sick. I'm not stressed. I'm not totally exhausted. And it hasn't killed me to say "no".

I won't say I haven't been stressed at all this month, or that there hasn't been a project or two that's very dear to my heart that I haven't been able to participate in, or that my husband hasn't had to drop everything he's doing just to calm me down, or that everything has gone completely according to plan, but I'm halfway there. And you know what? I'm ENJOYING this December! For the first time in years, I really am!

Now, the question is, can I live like this for the rest of the months in any given year? Oh boy. Only time will tell!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Did You Hear of the City on a Hill?

I was at my local Publix on Saturday, foolishly thinking that would be the last time I had to go to the grocery store before Thanksgiving. (HA! I've since been twice more...) But on that particular day, I was feeling very accomplished. My house was clean and organized. I was way ahead on all my business projects. And I had just filled my cart with all the things I needed for my Thanksgiving food "assignments".  It was crowded and crazy, but I managed to slip into one of the checkout lanes and survey my purchases once more to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. I was good. Ah, it was a good day.

Suddenly there was a bit of a ruckus two lanes over, and I glanced over to see what the issue was. I saw a woman with two small children in her cart, a woman I had passed earlier in one of the aisles. When I had passed her before, I had then noticed that she looked rather frazzled. She had a small boy in the seat of her cart (he looked about 2 or 3) and was clutching the hand of a beautiful curly-blonde-haired girl, who was about 6 or 7. What had struck me then was that the little girl was terrified. I didn't understand the panic on her face until I looked at her once more, and I realized that she was autistic. Upon another glance at the sweet little boy, I realized that he was, too. I had smiled at the woman, who wearily smiled back at me, and thought to myself, "Wow, she's a superwoman. Grocery shopping on a Saturday in Publix in this busy area of town? With two small autistic kids? Wow."

So it was this same woman I observed in the checkout lane two slots over from me. But the noise I heard was coming from the little girl.

Remember I said that she looked terrified when I passed her in the aisle? Well, that would be an understatement at this point. She was so terrified she was frozen in one of those open-mouthed-cries, tears streaming down, unable to breathe, and when she was able to catch a breath it was deep and rasping. She finally began to wail, darting glances from side to side as if something was after her, and begging to go home.

My heart broke. This was not a child who didn't get her choice of cereal and was pitching a fit. This was not a child who was promised a balloon and was told she wasn't good, so no balloon. This was a clearly disturbed child who was very overwhelmed by all of the noise and chaos around her. And it hurt my heart to see her.

As she continued to wail, loudly and pitifully, her mother wrapped her arms around her and tried to comfort her, to no avail. She only grew louder and more afraid. And people began to stare.

My first instinct was to get over there and at least put the poor woman's groceries on the belt for her so she could comfort her daughter. The poor woman who was now apologizing to everyone around her for the commotion, who had lines furrowing deeper through her forehead every second, and was biting her lip frantically as she tried to calm her daughter. But I was stuck. I couldn't move forward, because there was a very large woman in front of me, and there was no sliding around her. I couldn't move backwards, because there was an elderly couple behind me with two carts who had already loaded half of the first one onto the belt after my purchases. I was stuck.

And then the woman behind me began to talk. She said things like, "Can't anyone control their children anymore?" and "A little discipline goes a long way." I bit my tongue for as long as I could stand to, but she took it too far when she sniffed out "Spare the rod, spoil the child!" I let out a breath and turned around.

"Ma'am, that little girl over there is autistic. She's having a hard time because it's too loud and crowded in here today, and she's terrified. She's expressing herself in the only way she knows how to. And her poor momma is doing her best to get out of the store, but you know what? Autistic kids have to eat, too!" Her eyes grew wider with each word I said, and I wondered if I'd gone too far.

I turned back around again, trembling. I half-expected the woman to tap me on my shoulder and give me a piece of her mind, but she didn't. In fact, she didn't say anything else.

Goodness, it felt like forever I had been standing in this line. I needed it to move! I felt helpless, wanting to do something for the poor mom, but completely powerless and just plain stuck!

But then something amazing happened. The manager of the store walked over to the mother, whispered something in her ear, and the mother's face completely changed. She smiled, sighed and nodded, and the manager scooped up the little girl. The child had no idea who had her, but she covered her head with her arms and buried her face in the managers chest. And then...she was quiet. As I watched the manager held the little girl tightly, and then walked alongside the mother, carrying her daughter out to the car...arms still tightly covering her head.

Walking to my car, I was fighting back the tears. I felt so sad for that mom, and wondered what it was like to have two special needs children. I wondered what SHE felt like there in the store that afternoon. I wonder if that was how she felt often. I wondered when was the last time that she was able to go shopping alone, or even have her nails done, or get a cup of coffee from Starbucks. It made me and my "small" agenda feel pretty silly.

And it made me think of the song that Casting Crowns sings, City on a Hill. Have you heard it?

Did you hear of the city on a hill?
Said one old man to the other
It once shined bright and it would be shining still
But they all started turning on each other
You see, the poets thought the dancers were shallow
And the soldiers thought the poets were weak
And the elders saw the young ones as foolish
And the rich man never heard the poor man speak

How often do we, maybe without even realizing it, see someone else who seems to us to be shallow, weak or foolish? And how do we treat those people? Do we talk about them behind their backs? Do we discount others because they don't have what we do? Or because they don't act as we think they should act?

And one by one, they ran away
With their made up minds, to leave it all behind
And the light began to fade, in the city on a hill...
Each one thought that they knew better
That they were different by design
Instead of standing strong together
They let their differences divide

This is what amazes me about the human race: we have the potential to do SO much good - but we get caught up in ourselves and what WE thing is best. Instead of celebrating our differences, and the way we each have been gifted or designed, we group everyone into their own little categories. And by all means, don't mess with the categories.

But it was the rhythm of the dancers
That gave the poets life
It was the spirit of the poets
That gave the soldiers strength to fight
It was the fire of the young ones
It was the wisdom of the old
It was the story of the poor man
That needed to be told

That small autistic child touched me in a way no teacher, no preacher, no scholar or instructor ever could. And I submit this: that it doesn't matter your age, your size, your talent, your handicap, your race, your IQ, your gifting, your shortcomings or your strengths! It doesn't matter whether your house is always clean or it's always dirty! It doesn't matter whether you're done with all your shopping a week before the event, or you have to travel back to the store multiple times!

Celebrate the differences. Celebrate the dancers, the poets, the soldiers, the young and old, the poor and the rich. Look for opportunities to be changed for good by those around you. Don't you think life would be better for it?

Come home
And the Father's calling still
Come home
To the city on the hill
Come home

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Ahhh, fall. (Well, in Florida we're lucky to get a 3-day "cold" front and then head right back for the 80-degree temperature range, but it's fall nonetheless.) My favorite season, and it always has been. I love the way the sky looks extra crisp-blue instead of muted, the clouds wisp gently through the sky instead of marching by in a rolling boil, and the few maple trees that we have are actually changing their colors NOW, rather than in January like everything else does around here.

Plus, it's almost time for Thanksgiving. My most favorite holiday!

I'm not sure exactly why I ended up with this particular holiday as my favorite, I just know I love it. The wonderful smells of fall food, a good parade, a good football game, a loud family and SO much to be thankful for. Well, I guess those are my reasons.

Like most everyone out there, I've noticed some Christmas decorations in stores around town, and I've even looked at some of it, however, I have been standing by my "I will not decorate for Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving" tradition. I just don't want to skip over my favorite holiday in anticipation Christmas.

Except this year...well...I'm just a tad bit disturbed.

I heard on the news last week that several of the nation's largest retailers had decided to, instead of the usual Black Friday madness, open their doors on Thanksgiving evening. Hmmm. Well, whatever, I thought to myself. I certainly WILL NOT participate in the craziness on the day after Thanksgiving. I'll be home cleaning up the previous day's aftermath and putting up all my Christmas decor!

But then yesterday I got into my car after work, and three radio stations in a row were playing Christmas music. Um, what? We still have over a month until Christmas, people! Heck, we still have over a week until Thanksgiving!

Yeah, Thanksgiving! Remember Thanksgiving???

That's the problem. I don't think we remember. In fact, I think this nation as a collective whole has one of the shortest memories anywhere on earth.

Thanksgiving was originally celebrated on account of a good harvest. A good harvest for a people who had literally been through hell. They had been persecuted in their native land. They had made a long and arduous journey to a new place where they felt they could begin again. Many of these Pilgrims had died during this process; even more had become so ill that their lives would never be the same. And before they experienced friendship with the Indians, they lived in immense fear of them. But just as they thought they could not go on, the harvest came. It probably wasn't a bountiful one, one that we Americans would look at today and be in awe of. In fact, it probably wouldn't have looked like much at all to the overindulgent race we have now become. BUT THEY WERE THANKFUL. They were so thankful they stopped everything they were doing and celebrated. And we carry on that tradition today.

Or do we?

I imagine that, even though the economy is a negative on the "good-o-meter" right now, they had it worse. In fact I know they did. When was the last time someone has threatened YOUR life because of what you believe in? When was the last time YOU uprooted your family and moved to a completely different country because you had nothing left at your home? When was the last time your entire family was so plagued with illness that the majority of them died, and the rest of them were so weak they weren't even the people you had known since you were born?

But we whine because all our investments are gone.
We have a job, but we hate it and curse it whenever we get the chance.
We're upset because our house is worth nothing.
We moan at the price of gas, the price of food, the price of going to the movies.
We protest in the streets over the unfairness of life in general.
We cheer when bad people are murdered...unless we're busy rioting when they're set free.
We pitch a fit over not having any money, but we run people down in the stores in our greedy rush to spend everything we have...on a day that we should be THANKFUL.

We forget from whence we've come. We forget how blessed we really are. We've forgotten far too much, I fear.

It's time to remember.
It's time to be humble.
It's time to put away the negativity.
It's time to cease the slander.
It's time to flee from greed.
It's time to be at peace.
It's time to give grace to others.

It's time to be THANKFUL.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Like a Child

Another day filled with time frames, to-do lists and appointments. I wondered how I suddenly had so much to do? Funny how one day you just wake up and realize, oh my gosh, I'm an adult. Adult responsibilities, adult expectations, adult everything...I always thought it was so far away, so out of reach. Yet, there I was. There were things to be accomplished, and most importantly, on that day, errands to run.

As I maneuvered smoothly into the parking spot closest to the door, I checked the clock and smiled in utter satisfaction. Seven a.m. sharp. Perfect. I would be one of the first customers in the store. I assumed the product I was after would be to the far left and almost on the back wall. No problem. I would breeze in and out in absolutely no more than five minutes.

These thoughts marched orderly through my mind as I placed the vehicle in park, grabbed my keys and purse and exited the car. Closing the door behind me with appropriate force, I trotted (which, to my embarrassment, I've come to realize I do when my brain gets ahead of my short legs) towards the store entrance, raising my arm up and behind me as I pressed the key to activate the locks. A small beep followed me as I neared the door. As I glanced up at the sky, my plans began to shift in my mind. It will be raining any minute now, and I have no umbrella. Was it at all possible to be in and out in two minutes flat? My pace quickened.

The automatic doors slid open and I slid through, re-adjusting my purse on my shoulder with a firm grip and looking warily around for anyone with the intention to slow my progress. "Hi, welcome!" an elderly gentleman smiled and nodded at me. "Anything I can help you find?" "No, thanks, I know exactly what I need!" I called over my shoulder with a smile. Straight down the center aisle I moved, then side-stepped left before merging with the sales staff at the back counter; that in itself would be a definite guarantee for a time delay. "Ma'am, do you need help with anything?" a young girl who looked as if she should be in school at this time of the morning called. "No, thanks!" I responded, giving her a smile, still moving down the aisle at a pace level slightly higher than brisk.

My prize in view, I procured two cans from the shelf, turning a full ninety degrees and heading back towards the front of the store, all in the same movement. My eyes trained to the glass doors, and my invincible attitude swelled as I realized that the rain had not yet begun...and that I was in clear view of the checkout counter. I resisted the urge to laugh with pure glee as I realized that there were no groups of slow-moving elderly women to hinder my progression down the aisle.

Up at the counter then, and not a soul in front of me. "Is this all for you today?" the clerk questioned, picking up my purchases and sliding them over the sensor. "That's it, thanks!" I replied hurriedly. She bagged the items, stated my total, and my beloved debit card was out of my pocket, slid through the sometimes annoying/sometimes convenient machine, and placed back into my pocket with no hang-ups on wrinkles, shirt or belt loop on the way. "Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?" "Just in the bag, yes, thanks so much." "Have a nice day!" she called after me, and I gave a slight absent-minded wave as I continued on.

I rounded the corner and was two feet from the door, but, oh no. Rain is starting. But just a few drops. I'll make it if I run, I've got good running shoes on, and my hair is up. I stepped just outside the door, grabbed my keys from my purse and clutched all my belongings as close to my body as humanly possible. Ready or not...

But what was that sound? A sound of pleasure...where...who...?

My curiosity overwhelmed my need for the perfect schedule. I looked to the right...nothing. Then to the left. At first, again nothing, and, disappointed, I began to gather myself together once more. Then, sudden movement. I turned again to the left.

A large wooden porch swing stood in front of the store. It was made up of two wooden benches which faced each other, with a foot rest in between and a latticed roof above. And it was moving, slowly yet surely, back and forth.

I could see the figure of a man on one side of the swing. He seemed to be in his late 30's. He wore a navy baseball cap over his cropped hair, glasses, a long-sleeved plaid shirt covered by a navy jacket, brown belt, jeans and a worn yet unsoiled pair of tennis shoes. He seemed quite clean, and very well-put-together; almost like when you were younger and your mother dressed you for school, making sure that everything was matching and well-tucked-in.

I studied him for a moment, watching as he slowly leaned forward and backward in rhythm with the swing. As he turned slightly towards me, I caught my breath in the sudden realization that he had some form of mental handicap. So where were his parents? I half-glanced back at the store...they must be inside, attempting to achieve a quicker shopping trip without having him tagging along. Smart. I'd do the same thing.

His laugh drew my gaze back to the swing. He had gotten quite a rhythm going, and in celebration he leaned his head back, face turned upward to the sky. Eyes and mouth wide open, he accepted the now furiously-falling raindrops as they cascaded through the lattice and rested on his hat, his glasses and his face. Lifting his hands with palms raised towards the sky, as if to check and make sure that it was, indeed, still raining, he leaned his head back even farther and laughed a laugh that sounded as if it came from the very depths of his soul.

By that point, I was wet. Hopelessly wet. My hair that had been so perfectly pulled up was stringy, and falling down in various places. My makeup was slightly streaked from the raindrops, I knew. My bag and purse had each accumulated a heavy layer of moisture, as had pretty much the rest of my body, yet somehow, it didn't seem to matter much to me anymore. I humbly began my short walk to the car, not even noticing the curtains of rain which continued to fall, having completely forsaken my original time-table for the day. I had hardly reached the car before the tears came.

After fumbling with the wet keys and dropping my belongings on the floorboard as I closed the door behind me, I covered my already-wet face and let the tears overcome me.

Maybe it was the sight of the man on the swing, and his pure joy at the rain, the rain that I had labeled inconvenient. Maybe it was the pressure of work, home, expectations of others, and just life in general. But I was suddenly faced with a jarring realization. In my hurry to accomplish my goals, I had forgotten His goals. Always busy, always rushing to be somewhere and pushing to make a deadline. Is that what He wanted?

A sudden remembrance of a long-ago-learned Bible verse came to my mind: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heave. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.'" (Matthew 18:1-5, NIV)

Sighing and wiping the moisture from my face, I made the choice to remind myself of that man, the man who took time to take pleasure in the rain as any little child would do, who jolted me out of myself and caused me to renew a resolve to live my life as a His child.

Backing out of my parking space with a slight smile, I turned to give one last glance to the man on the swing.

He was gone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let's Pretend

Remember the days when your life turned out the way you wanted it to? Okay, if you're like me, you don't. I can't remember much in my life turning out exactly the way I planned it, that's for sure. But I do remember the days when I tried a lot harder to make things happen perfectly than I do now.

One of my favorite lines when I was younger was..."Let's pretend like..." and fill in the blank. As little girls it normally ended up something like, "I have twin boys and twin girls and my husband makes $500 every single minute" or "I have a house that's even bigger than the White House and everyone wants to come and stay there" or the infamous "We're trapped in a cave and incredibly fearless superheroes come and rescue us and we all live happily ever after..." you get the idea. I'm sure the boys have their own versions.

Somewhere along the line we got the idea that all the pretending stops when we become adults. But does it really? Seriously. How REAL are you?

I'd like to think I'm real. I'd like to think that what you see is what you get and that I'm straight up with everyone who knows me and that people who think they know me really do. But I'm afraid that isn't always the case. I'm afraid there are things inside of me people would be shocked to know about. Things I'm not proud of...and hopes and dreams I am.

I mean, how well can you ever know anyone? I know wives who thought they knew their husbands but after 25 years of marriage the guy drops them and runs off with a woman he met online. We hear of teachers all the time who fall into sexual relationships with their students that no one saw coming. Or how about the neighbor who commits a violent crime and those who live next door to him say they never would have thought he could have done such a thing!

Honestly, we all still pretend, and I think we pretend more often than we can bring ourselves to be real. But isn't that...well...lying?

I'll pretend what you said didn't just shake me to the core, and I'll roll my eyes and take it as a joke. After all, I wouldn't want to offend you with my reaction.

I'll pretend what happened last night didn't really mean anything to me just because I'm not sure it meant anything to you or not and I'm scared to ask about it and make things uncomfortable.

I'll pretend that I'm absolutely fine and that life is fabulous just so I don't have to answer anyone's questions. The house is spotless, the laundry is done, dinner is half-way cooked by noon and my husband thinks I'm the perfect wife. Is my smile pasted on straight?

I'll pretend that I didn't even see the sign that said 45 miles per hour just so when the cop pulls me over I can say, "Officer, I'm so sorry, I didn't even see a speed limit sign!"

I'll pretend I'm better than everyone else, because I know that's the pedestal people have placed me on, and they expect me to always have the solutions to their problems and be the perfect example for them to follow.

We all pretend.

But what if we quite pretending?  What if we were through putting up a facade for those who are "closest" to us...or for anone in general? What if the standard answers just all went away? What if we really began to dig deep and be who we know we are? What if we actually opened up to people so they could see the REAL us? Would they be shocked? Would they be angry? Would they run away? Would they come closer?

These are big questions. I don't know if I can. Can you?

After all, we all want what's real. Who wants the imitation Coach, when you can have the real one? Would you rather have orange juice from concentrate, or fresh-squeezed? Do you want the MP3 player from the drugstore, or an iPod?

Let's pretend like...or not.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Uncertain Extent

Do you get this advice often?  "Honey, you just have to find some balance...it'll happen, you'll get it. Once you find that balance it'll all be good." 

I agree...to a certain extent. I agree to the extent that I think it's a great idea and seems really nice, but it never works for me. That's the uncertain extent.

Since we've gotten married, I have been sick, oh, I can't even count the number of times. I'm currently trying to get over another plaugue, which means at the end of each day I am flat out worn out. I have used everything I have. I have dipped so deep in the well I started bringing up...well, you get my drift. There ain't nothin' left, honey!

This constant assault on my immune system has greatly offended my sense of domestication. Hamburger Helper has become my closest companion. A quick "blow" test has begun to suffice before I decide whether or not to expend energy dusting any piece of furniture. And I found my husband watering my patio plants yesterday...for which said plants were very grateful...because they were on the brink of death.

This does not seem like an appropriate balance to me. The balance between me laying on the couch with cough drops, Puff Plus Tissues infused with Vicks and lotion, V8 juice and a generally whiny attitude while my husband warms up a Hot Pocket for dinner is WAY overshadowing the do-it-yourself, motivated, tireless and sometimes creative self I'm used to.

But I got to thinking about it. Of course, we all need balance. Too much of even a good thing can turn ugly real quick. But then it dawned on me: everything in life is constantly changing. How in the world are you supposed to reach that perfect balance that your life "should" be at unless all the factors of this equation we live out every day remain the same at all times? That's never gonna happen! For goodness sake, the Earth itself rotates on a TILT of 23.4 degrees!!! No wonder I'm not "balanced"!

My first reaction to this realization was an ever-so-slight anal-retentive freak-out. Ever-so-slight, I said. I considered creating one of those handy charts where every hour of the day is mapped out, and if followed properly, you'll have time for everything and everyone. BULL-on-ey. I thought perhaps I was doing too much and there's something I need to let go. No, I did most of that a while back. Get up earlier? I'm already getting fewer hours of sleep, no wonder I'm sick!

I've come to the realization that, like it or not, life happens. There will be engagements, and weddings, and honeymoons, and moves, and hospital stays, and family reunions, and holidays, birthdays, illnesses...the list goes one. It's not really about balance...it's about focus.

So...I'll choose to focus on the fact that, no matter if my husband is eating a five-course dinner or a warmed-up leftover, I'm still sitting there eating with him. Perhaps the house is not clean to MY standards, but I've been able to spend time with my family instead. Maybe special projects aren't as far along as they should be, but my health is stronger.

Focus, not balance. And then maybe balance will come. It DOES, after all take focus to keep your balance. To a certain extent.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Stages of a Woman

I know it's been a while since I've blogged, and there's a reason for that: this one's been a long time coming! It may not be the most popular subject, but I think it's one that each of us, as women, need to take note of. (Yes, I'm aiming this mainly towards women...so my apologies to any men who may be reading this...honestly, guys, I don't think you need to worry about this one much. But feel free to read on!)

It starts when we're babies. When a female child is born, everyone goes all a flutter with pinks and purples, ribbons and boas, fluffy bows and patent leather shoes...it's a girl, and we're gonna make sure EVERYONE knows it!!!

That's all well and good - I have no doubt that when I have a child I'll be maxed out on the accessory side, one way or another. I get it. It's fun, it's cute, and we want the best for our little ones. Nothing wrong with that, right?

As the girl grows, she fluctuates through many stages: the Princess, the Tomboy, the Artist, the Brat...I could go on. Eventually, she gets through High School and we all hope she has some idea of what she wants to do with her life. That's when it really begins...and I'm convinced she has no idea what's coming.

Somewhere in her early 20's the girl is still trying to find herself. Perhaps she's out on her own now. She's trying to find a balance between being responsible enough to pay her bills, and having enough "her" time so she doesn't go over the edge of this crazy thing we call life. If she has a job, she's either on the bottom of the totem pole, trying to work her way up, or she's wondering why she got that college degree when she wasn't going to be able to find work in that field, anyway. Maybe she's in a relationship. Maybe she's not.

And it starts.

"So, are you ever gonna get married, or are you planning on staying single for the rest of your life?" (Yes, this is a real question a married woman asked me when I was about 24 and single.)

So she gets married.

"Congratulations on your wedding, I'm so happy for you! Now, when do you plan on having kids? You don't want to wait too long, you know...that biological clock is gonna run out eventually!" (Another real statement, coming to me from a mother of 5...THREE WEEKS AFTER MY WEDDING. One of my other favorites was, "Oh, you're not busy. There's no way you're busy until you have kids. Then you'll understand what busy really is.")

So, she has a baby. (No, I'm NOT pregnant.)

"What a beautiful baby! So when do you plan on having the next one?" (This is a line more than one of my friends have shared with me that they have received...the most appalling one being while this new mom was still in the hospital. Yes, it was a real question - the person was not at all joking.)

So, she has four babies in 5 years.

"My goodness, are you trying to compete with the Duggars?" (This is a reference to TLC's cable show about Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, parents of 19 children...and yet another real statement a dear friend of mine has endured more than once.)

So, she stops having babies and tries her best to focus on raising them right.

"You know, honey, when I was raising MY kids, I did things quite a bit differently than you are. Here, I'll make you a little list of do's and don'ts. Things will start running much more smoothly for you when you do things the way I did." (Another true statement from a woman whose totally healthy kids were grown to a stressed mother trying to raise two mentally disabled children.)

Do you follow my drift? No matter what a woman does, there is always a chorus of other women behind her, telling her she should do it differently! And in this crazy world we live in, we need to support each other, not criticize the life choices our sisters make!

In my life I have been blessed to know so many amazing, inspiring women; I am incredibly thankful for these examples that have been placed in my life, and I am thrilled at the prospect of those I have yet to meet who will impact me in the future! However, I have also encountered women who have struck me down with their harsh words, cruel actions and quick judgements. Those ladies have also made an indelible impact on me.

But let me tell YOU something...

You may be reading this as a single woman, desperately desiring to be married, and wondering when it's ever going to happen for you! YOU MATTER!

Perhaps you're a single mom, trying so hard to do what's best for your children, and feeling so discouraged at the end of the day! YOU ARE NEEDED!

For you married women who long for a baby, and it hasn't happened yet, for whatever reason, YOU ARE SPECIAL!

If you're reading this as a single woman who has chosen to be single, YOU ARE AMAZING!

You may be reading this as a woman who has one, or two or three or four or more children, and it's all you can do to get dinner on the table and make sure the kids and the husband are happy at the end of the day! YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

Perhaps you're a woman who has chosen schooling or career or adventure over creating and caring for a family, YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!

For you who are in the midst of raising older children, and you feel like every day is nothing but a fight, YOU CAN DO IT!

If you're reading this as a woman who is trying to balance life, work, family, and so many other things, YOU ARE WONDERFUL!

And finally, if you are a woman who has done it all, and now is enjoying some well-deserved rest...CHEER THE REST OF US ON!

My heart is this: women, let's stop the criticizing. Enough of the judgement. Just because someone isn't doing it the way you did leaves no room for tearing them down. We need support from one another. We crave it. And there's no time like the present to give it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Tribute

Many of you have expressed condolences on the loss of my grandmother; for your kind words, I am grateful.  Honestly, she was probably the most domesticated woman I've ever known. She taught me SO much, and I know she would get a kick out of this blog. If I could ever get her on the internet and show her how to get to it and read it!

The following is what I shared at her memorial service this past weekend. Thought some of you would enjoy reading it!

When I think of Grandma, I immediately think of her smile. Especially as I've been going through all of her old photos, I realize even more that her smile was really a constant. She had a lot to smile about! Likewise, there was a lot no one would blame her for not smiling over. But still, she smiled.

I remember her smile as she taught me how to swim. I was a chubby, awkward kid, and somehow she coaxed a great swimmer out of me, there in the community pool at Country Villa Estates, always with a crowd of exuberant retirees to cheer me on...or point out the "No Running, No Diving, No Splashing" sign...one or the other.

Bike riding, acorn hunting, fruit picking, plant watering, dinner cooking, video renting, ice cream dipping, My-Little-Pony playing, cartoon watching...Grandma smiled.

I remember that the first and only time I ever stole anything was actually from Grandma: a pack of Post-It notes and a blue ink pen. I had been using them while I was spending the night there with her and Grandpa, so when mom came to take me home, I added them to my bag of treasures...my 6-year-old mind not really thinking much of it. But mom was mortified. She called Grandma and told her we were coming back, and I was forced to apologize for stealing. Then it was ME who was mortified! But I did it. And Grandma smiled.

The ONE time I remember Grandma NOT smiling was on a particular weekend that Brittany and I stayed the night with her...right after they had brand new carpet installed. Grandma had "overfed" us dinner, and then proceeded on to insist on vanilla ice cream covered in fresh strawberries. I did as well as a 9-year-old could to explain that if Brittany ate too much, she WOULD throw up, and if Grandma kept making her eat, it wouldn't be pretty at all. Grandma smiled, and handed over heaping bowls of the dessert. Brittany threw up. On the brand new carpet. Grandma DIDN'T smile.

There was a lot no one would blame her for not smiling over. All through Grandpa's illness, and when he died, and the hard time of adjustment afterwards, she simply pulled her family close and smiled.

When we moved her to Savannah Court...well...she didn't like losing her independence. And she made that very clear. Multiple times! But still...she smiled.

Early on, when I would come to see her here, she would pepper me with questions about college, work, what the future held. And she smiled.

As time passed, there were not nearly as many questions. But there were long, comfy cuddles on the couch, while we looked through album after album. And she smiled. Especially when she saw Grandpa's photo. Oh, how she smiled!

Even later on, as life began to take its toll on her body, and she needed help to do almost anything, still, as you walked into the room and she turned her attention on you, well, she might not know exactly who you were...but that smile. That smile lit up the room.

The first and only time Grandma ever met Jerrod was when we took her a Christmas present. It was one of our engagement pictures, framed and ready for her "picture shelf". She held it in her hands, studying it, and she looked at me with a question in her eyes. She never spoke, but all I had to do was show her my ring...and the smile that came over her face...I'll NEVER forget that smile.

I didn't see her at the very end. Mom asked me not to go, and her words were, "She can't even smile anymore. You don't want to remember her like this."

Mom was right. I didn't go. And I have no regrets about that. Because it was only for a little while that she didn't smile.

In that moment where Grandma was reunited with Grandpa, and they took the first stroll hand-in-hand that they had taken in 14 years, and she didn't have to simply gaze, lovingly touch and kiss a photo of him anymore...can you imagine the smile?

I can. She'll be the first person in heaven I look for. Maybe her body will be different, maybe she won't look quite the same to me. But I'll know her. I'll know her by her smile.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ahhh, the Finer Thing in Life - The Automatic Soap Dispenser

Someone purchased an automatic soap dispenser for us as a wedding gift.  Now, I had indeed seen the automatic soap dispensers while we were registering at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but it seemed to me one of those items that, if it was placed on a registry, would cause a great deal of amusement among gift-givers.  (Especially those who know what a germ-o-phob I am.)  So I left that off...but thought it was an intriguing idea, nonetheless.

When we opened said automatic soap dispenser, I was quite enthusiastic!  Someone had read my mind!  Designed for touch-free operation, which helps prevent the spread of germs, this dispenser autotmatically senses your hand and releases soap!  (Or lotion...but who needs an automatic lotion dispenser?  Ours is used for soap.)

You may say, "Who needs an automatic soap dispenser?"  I sumbit that EVERYONE does!

Ours is in the kitchen, which happens to be the room in my house that I probably spend the most time in.  I previously had a lovely pump bottle of Bath & Body Works soap in the kitchen for quick and easy hand-cleaning, next to the bottle of Sun used for quick dish scrubbing.  However, away went the Bath & Body Works soap to make room for this lovely new dispenser.

When the thing really comes in handy is when I've been patting out hamburgers (which at our house is normally raw meat infused with strawberry jalepeno sauce), or rolling and flattening balls of peanut butter cookie dough, or even slicing onions or raw chicken.  The last thing I want to do when my bare hands are covered in mess is try to pump some soap out with my elbow.  In fact, I have previously shot the pump soap across the sink and into a pot of boiling water when trying to pump with my elbow.  But that's another story for another day, my friends.

Now, all I do is wave my hand over the sensor, and the perfect amount of soap is smoothly dispensed into my filthy palm.  I can easily flick on the water via elbow, and presto zamo!  Clean hands in seconds, with no harsh side effects...or pots of boiled soap.

As much as I do enjoy this automatic soap dispenser, I also must admit that I have to keep an eye on the thing.  I had shut it off the other day in order to wipe it down with a Clorox wipe in the midst of my cleaning, and suddenly, it shot a thick stream of soap out.  My eyes followed it to the floor...the floor that I had JUST cleaned, and I said to myself, "I thought I turned this off?"  I glanced at it, just in time to see that it was indeed off...and to watch another stream of soap coat the front of my microwave.

By the time I had actually opened the cover and yanked out one of the batteries to make the dang thing quit, I was covered in soap, there was soap on the floor, the microwave, the stove, the cabinet, and, oh yes, all in the pan I was about to place a yummy applewood smoked roast in.

Right now I'm back on good terms with the automatic soap dispenser.  I think the benefits outweigh the negatives at this point.  We'll see how long that lasts.  Either way, it's still better than boiled soap for dinner.

Click Here to View/Purchase the Automatic Soap Dispenser!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Shelves

Well, it seems I have already gone awry in keeping this blog updated; my apologies!  I had no idea it was something people were actually seriously reading until I received multiple messages from followers, wondering why I hadn't been posting!

Since my previous post, my grandmother has passed away, and I have also moved on to a new full-time job, so things have not been...well...normal...whatever that is!  Here's to getting back to my own kind of normal.  Hmmm..."My Own Kind of Normal."  That sounds like a good post for another day!

However, in this particular post, I'd like to blog about shelves.  You know...shelves.  You can build them or buy them ready-made.  You hang them on the wall or set them in the corner to show off your displayables.  Maybe you even install them in your closet for more organization.  Good ol' shelves.

Ever since we moved to our new place, my husband and I have been agonizing over what to do with the large, blank wall above the TV in our living room.  Well...maybe not agonzing.  But it has been the topic of quite a few conversations.

Here's the deal:  we have a lovely espresso-finish TV stand with burnished silver hardware, and a TV that sits atop said stand.  (Notice the detail on the TV is a bit more lacking than the detail on the stand.  I don't know what brand the TV is...it's black.  I don't know what size the TV is...it's big...and it's flat.  I certainly don't know if it's high def, LCD, 3D or whatever else is out there now.  It's a TV.  And this is a blog called "The Road to Domestication."  No one reading this really cares about the TV.)

What we care about is the wall above the TV.  The enormous white space that looms above the appliance, so that at every commercial of whatever show I'm viewing, my mind repeatedly asks, "What it in the world am I gonna do on that wall?"

Perhaps a mirror.  No, that would be far too reflective.  I don't want to catch a glimpse of myself getting up from the couch every single day.

A very nice painting.  No, it would be far too difficult to find a painting that wasn't too busy and looked appropriate for the space.  I've searched for the perfect painting before, and I don't care to repeat the experience.

A collage of metal hardware.  (You know, you've seen them, you may even have some.  The black swirly metal ring with the tealight candle holders...)  Visions of setting something on fire enter my mind at this point...no, that won't do, either.

As we explored through Bed, Bath & Beyond last weekend (a fabulous store, by the way) my husband discovered a shelf that seemed to be several shadow boxes connected together - a symmetrical art piece of sorts.  Same espresso finish as the TV stand.

"Here!" he exclaimed.  "This is for above the TV!"

I studied it.

"I think it's too small for that wall, baby..." I eased, trying not to deny the idea...but it really WAS too small for the wall.

"Then let's get two!" he enthused.

Well, that right there just might work.  I eyed, and studied, and stacked the shelves in various formats so I could get a general idea.

"Okay, I like it!  Let's do it!"

The RedBox rental that was planned for the evening was quickly discarded, as my husband's main thought became, "Let's get these shelves put up!"

Back at home, he puts the shelves together in no time, grabs a measuring tape, a pencil, the hardware that came with the shelves, and prepares to hang the long-awaited wall decor.

Only...well...neither my husband nor myself are the handiest folks in the world.  We love the idea of home projects, we really enjoy the television shows about said projects, and we pray for the day when our ideas and plans will actually make sense.

Well, it hasn't happened yet!

The shelves were not hung that evening.  Several pencil marks were left on the wall.  A very long discussion over how a plastic wall anchor should be installed languished well into the evening.  A very frustrated hubby stormed out the door to "take a walk" and "cool off" and "get away from these stupid shelves!!!"  Project = on hold.

The next afternoon, since my admonishing and instructing had gotten me absolutely NOWHERE the night before, I ended up with my Kindle in the bedroom, while listening to various drilling, hammering and muttering/huffing noises coming from the living room.  Again, the shelves were not hung.  Again, an angry storm out the door to "get away from these stupid shelves!!!"  Project = pending.

To be fair, this was not at all an easy project.  If not hung exactly right, the shelves would clearly appear crooked, not to mention having to line them up symmetrically with each other, and the fact that the brackets on the back of the shelves weren't even visible from the front side.  Quite difficult it was indeed.

Before I knew it, my in-laws were on their way to save the day!  I myself went to WalMart for some desperately-needed Garden Center therapy.  By the time I arrived home, the shelves were up!  Fantastic!!!

Today, the shelves look quite nice.  They give quite the flair to the wall, and to the room as a whole.  I'm quite glad we purchased them and hung...er...asked someone else to come hang them.

And do you know what my husband is now asking?  "Hey, what are we going to do with the far corner of the living room?  It needs something..."

Oh dear Lord...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ah, the Finer Things in Life - The Keurig

Every once in a while, I read a book, see a photo or even watch a movie that makes me think for a second, "Wow, I was born into the wrong time period."  Does that happen to anyone else?  Oh, to be one of the lovely sisters in "Sense and Sensibility", to dress in the fashions of medieval times, or even be present while history was unfolding during huge world events!

Who the heck am I kidding.  I am SO born into the right time period, let me tell you.  To illustrate this point, I thought I'd do a few posts on the modern conveniences that I've discovered, and enjoy on a daily basis.  If you're looking for things to add to your Christmas list, here they are, and they are highly recommended!

I'm going to start with our Keurig, which was indeed a wonderful Christmas gift from my in-laws! 

For hundreds of years, making a cup of coffee was a simple process. Roasted and ground coffee beans were placed in a pot or pan, to which hot water was added, followed by attachment of a lid to commence the infusion process. Throughout the 19th and even the early 20th centuries, it was considered adequate to add ground coffee to hot water in a pot or pan, boil it until it smelled right, and pour the brew into a cup.

The first modern method for making coffee—drip brewing—is more than 125 years old, and its design had changed little. The biggin, originating in France ca. 1800, was a two-level pot holding coffee in an upper compartment into which water was poured, to drain through holes in the bottom of the compartment into the coffee pot below. Around the same time, a French inventor developed the "pumping percolator", in which boiling water in a bottom chamber forces itself up a tube and then trickles (percolates) through the ground coffee back into the bottom chamber.

That's all well and good, and, don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for every advancement ever made in the world of coffee and beans and anything caffeine-related.  Fantastic, I say.  However, I also have to say that this Keurig is the most wonderful advancement of all.

There is no worrying over trying to keep the glass coffee pot clean of stains.  No troubles when you have too much coffee and have to pour some out.  No issues relating to forgetting to turn off the coffee pot and said pot burning or exploding.  And no more fighting over what kind of coffee will be made on any particular morning!

Anytime you're in the mood for one of the more than 200 varieties of coffee, tea, hot cocoa or iced beverage, you simply select your "K-Cup", open the lid, place the cup inside, close the lid, select the size cup you would like to brew, and push the "Brew" button.  In under a minute, folks, you've got the perfect beverage!

I think it's true, we DO live in a very fast-paced world full of people who want everything right this second, and they want it their way alone.  Yeah, it's true.  But I also believe you can turn some of the fast-paced modern conveniences around into a nice cup of coffee on the patio.

Click Here to Visit the Keurig Website!

My favorite indulgence!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More of the Little Things

Ever notice that it's really the little things in life?  The little things that make you smile...or laugh...or sigh...or just wanna punch someone in the face?

"I've figured out what you do that annoys me..." my husband begins the conversation with.  Immediately my radar went up, and I must've given "the look" because he proceeded very slowly with, "Well...we're supposed to be communicating, right?  You've asked me if there's anything you do that annoys me...I've figured it out!"

I had to admit, I HAD asked that question.  "Okay, what do I do that's SO annoying?  Go ahead, bring it."

"You move the shower head...EVERY TIME YOU TAKE A SHOWER!"

Oh.  Is that all?  Goodness, I was slightly worried there for a minute.  I breathed a sigh of relief and proceeded with, "Okaaay...and why does that annoy you?"

After he explained that he liked to have some room in the shower where there was no water steadily pelting, I in turn explained that a woman needed to shave her legs, and without me moving the shower head, there would be no easy way to do so. 

Ah.  We both understood.  And that was that.

But I got to thinking about that.  Such a small thing.  Yet, when I came home from work late one night last week and my husband had unloaded the dishwasher for me already...that was a small thing...but it meant a LOT.  Or when I was in the middle of blowing my hair dry earlier today and he stopped what he was doing and pulled the clothes out of the dryer...so they wouldn't wrinkle.  That was little...but not really.  Or the time I mentioned that I needed to weed our flower beds, and the next thing I knew, he had done it for me.

I got a LOT of advice right before I got married.  Some was actually very good advice...some I wouldn't repeat, even to a person whom I wanted to see miserably fail for whatever reason.  But the one thing I had a lot of people tell me was this: always pay attention to the little things.

This is true for marriage, but you know what?  I'm pretty sure it's true for life in general.

Yeah, the big things are the big things.  But the little things can make or break us.  It's the straw that broke the camel's back, right?  Not the load he had been hired to carry.

So.  I'm thinking little.  In the best way possible.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Defininition of Domestication

Yeah.  What the heck IS the definition of domestication?

Webster's Dictionary defines domestication this way:  well, it doesn't actually have a definition for "domestication" (have I created a new word?  That's gotta be worth some money!!!) but here's the definition for the word domesticate:  to bring into domestic use, to adapt to life in intimate association with and to the advantage of humans, to make domestic, fit for domestic life, to bring to the level of ordinary people.

When you think about it, I guess each of us has a different interpretation of domestication.  I'll be honest, when I was originally thinking about it, I was trying to figure out how I could somehow morph over from a very education-turned-career-oriented headstrong single woman to the wife who still worked to support her family, yet was not a workaholic, was always home on time and always greeted her husband at the door with a smiling face and a fully-prepared 5-course meal waiting on the table, and still had plenty of energy left over to leave a spotless kitchen in her wake and make sure her husband's additional, ahem, needs, were properly satisfied, as well.


Did I mention that was my definition when I was newly-engaged?

My husband and I just recently celebrated our one-month anniversary.  (Yes, we are the couple who celebrates those things.  Dadgum it, we made it a whole month, let's celebrate!!!)  We're also the couple who celebrated our dating anniversaries and our engagement anniversaries...it's the little stuff for us.  In fact, I believe that we all should be paying attention to more of the little things...but that's another post.

The point is, after only one month, my definition of domestication has been altered...quite a bit, actually.  At this point, I'm closer to the "to adapt to life in intimate association with and to the advantage of humans," and "to bring to the level of ordinary people" definitions.  Basically, I'm trying my best to leave a clean house when I head out for work in the morning, cook some kind of a wholesome meal at least several times each week, make sure there's a bit of food in the fridge and pantry for my husband to snack on, keep the house relatively organized...oh, and throw some laundry in from time to time.

Did I mention how incredibly blessed I am to be married to a man who actually enjoys leftovers, who rinses his dishes and loads them into the dishwasher himself, who is perfectly capable of doing his own laundry, and who makes the bed every single morning?  This should be easy, right?

We'll find out, won't we?

Kristen Campbell is a freelance writer, photographer, and a full-time office administrator. In her free time she enjoys reading, cooking, organizing and spending as much time as possible with her new husband!