Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

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Celebrate Good Times!

Well . . . I did it. I turned thirty. And, you know, I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel older or wiser, more capable or mature, less prone to worry or doubt. I don’t know exactly what I want to be when I grow up nor whether the things that fulfill me today will still fulfill me tomorrow. I discovered that it was not some magic number that would change my life and my outlook and the way that people saw me. It was just another day and I am just me. All the things that led to this point in my existence are as valuable (or invaluable) as they were the day before and they still make me who I am whether I am defined by the numbers 2-9 or 3-0. These may seem like silly realizations to those of you who have never been bothered by aging or plagued by the fear of leaving a decade behind, but for me they are profound. And I am relieved to have accepted them and moved on to embracing what the next decade has to offer.

I was extremely lucky to be able to celebrate the event by taking a day trip to Memphis with my family. And despite the freezing rain all day, we had a wonderful time. I felt completely blessed to be surrounded by the people who love me honestly and simply for who am and who value me more than anyone else. Here are a few glimpses of what that love looks like and why I am not afraid to begin the next decade with these boys by my side!

Experiencing the Peabody Ducks up close and personal!

Me and my sweetheart!

Magic!

I'm not sure what the tongue was about, but he LOVED riding the trolley (aka train) around downtown Memphis.

And so did we!

"Nostalgia on Beale St." - need I say more?

I DO know what the tongue was about in this one. Rock on DUDE!

My sweet little man rocking out on his "guitar."

As soon as we left the Gibson factory, this is what happened. He is clearly not ready to skip naps yet. Even with all the cold rain and noise of Beale Street, sleep overcame him.

A beautiful picture on a not so beautiful day.

20 Minutes later, he got to wake up to THIS - an authentic blues band at BB Kings! Needless to say, he was impressed.

As was Mama!

Sitting behind U2's drums at Sun Studios! He was pretty stoked, although somewhat disappointed that he couldn't play them.

All in all, a lovely day full of great memories to ring in the next 30 years! Cheers!

Today I Am Grateful For…

A husband who loves me immeasurably and would do anything for his family and our happiness.

A son who is constantly growing and developing and encouraging me to do the same.

Another healthy baby on the way who is bound to change our lives as much as Aiden did in new, exciting, and challenging ways.

The ability to splurge on loved ones at Christmas time.

A lovely and warm home that defines comfort in chaotic times.

Two stable and good jobs in this tough economy.

Consistent health for me and my family.

Two cars that are nearly paid off and run well.

Tons of good food cooked by someone other than me ;)

The diligence, accountability and encouragement I receive to write regularly, both for my own benefit and for others’.

The habit of reading a new book every month.

A kitty that keeps my feet warm and always loves to play.

Family that visits me when we don’t have enough in the budget for travel.

Compliments from my son every night as I sing him to sleep and he strokes my face.

Old friendships that have stood the test of time, distance, and struggles.

The development of new friendships that are proving to be indispensable parts of my life as a young, working mother.

Private childcare from ladies who love my son and train him as one of their own.

The extraordinary luxury of technology (iPhones, the internet, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) that allows us to stay connected to distant and nearby loved ones.

The freedom, thanks to the sacrifices of so many others, to experience all of these things in such abundance!

The truth is, we should all be grateful every day of our lives for our extraordinary blessings, liberties, and abundances. Some of us are better at living a life of gratitude than others, but today is a wonderful reminder to all of us to stop, remember, and appreciate all that we have. Hopefully the effects of such a reminder will linger long through the holidays and into next year. And as we are tempted to grumble or complain or let cynicism get the better of us, we will direct our thoughts in a more positive and grateful direction, recalling these lists that we all tend to create on Thanksgiving or New Years and pledging to live more consistently by them.

I wanted to leave you today with a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe. With a house full of family and friends, many of us are so focused on the BIG meal that we often forget that all these beloved bellies need breakfast too. And no one wants to present their family, who came from near and far, with boxes of cereal and a carton of milk. So here’s my easy and delectable breakfast recipe that’s sure to impress:

French Toast Sticks:

In a bowl mix:
3 eggs (or substitute)
Milk to thin
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and a touch of Vanilla
Whisk till well blended.

In a second bowl mix:
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp of White Sugar
3 Tbsp of Flour (or more as needed)

Cut the crusts off of approximately 1/2 a loaf of wheat bread and cut each slice in half. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil. Dip each strip of bread in the first mixture and coat well with the second mixture. Fry evenly on both sides and pat dry with paper towels. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, and whipped cream. Voila!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May your day be blessed and full of happiness!

The World’s Rosy Complexion

I’m not sure if it is the gradual change of the weather this year, as opposed to the dramatic drop we usually get from 90° one week to 45° the next, or if it is simply the universe smiling at us poor southerners at a time when the stress of life is getting overwhelming, but I was just commenting to my husband that the fall colors seem more vivid this year and remarkably out of character for our little corner of the world. Of course it helps matters that, due to a temporary change of sitters for my son, I have been driving the Natchez Trace to work every day. It is the most beautiful stretch of road in Mississippi and such a refreshing change of scenery to clear my mind as I drive.

A section of the Natchez Trace near Rocky Springs

I must confess that seeing all of this Autumn grandeur does more to make me miss my Yankee upbringing that it does to help me appreciate my current home. It reminds me so much of the Autumns I remember growing up, surrounded by sugar maples, oaks, elms, and other hardwoods that transform themselves annually with a fiery magic that seizes even the most diehard advocates of summer and captures their hearts and imaginations for Fall. The whole world has a golden, rosy complexion and it is hard to not to look at the rest of life through the same colored lenses.

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace, slightly north of here.

And the colors that seem to be spreading like wildfire over the local foliage are accompanied by the most glorious earthy, musky smell of the fallen leaves and the damp earth that lingers in the cool air instead of being baked away by afternoon heat. It is a smell that inspires us to fill our homes with the other smells of Fall: pumpkin spice muffins, squash casserole, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon apple cider, and zucchini bread. It reminds us to kick on the heat, pull out the afghans and find a good book to wile away the rainy afternoons.

Mmmmm, Yummy!

I am so grateful that Autumn has finally arrived and has decided to grace us with its rather picturesque presence this year. I, and I’m sure many others, definitely needed the change of scenery and the renewal of inspiration.

Life in the Light of Death

Having not attended a funeral in many, many years and then randomly attending two in the last two months, I’ve been pondering the concepts that surround death. And life. And everything that lies in between. I know this seems like a somewhat morbid concept for a blog that focuses largely on seizing the moment and appreciating life, but what makes this theme more crucial or potent than death? Is there anything that motivates us more strongly to grab life by the horns and savor the wild ride? So if you were hoping for a more lighthearted post about shopping or design or recipes, come back next time, there will be plenty more of those. But for now, here are some thoughts inspired by the ending of two lives worth memorializing whose influence spread wide and whose love left a lasting mark on this world:

– I do not appreciate my own life or the lives of my loved ones enough. We are all only here for a moment. But what a moment! There are SO many beauties that surround us every day but often we allow ourselves to be robbed of them because we are too busy worrying, stressing, begrudging, envying, etc. How many times a day do we tell those we love how much they mean to us? How vastly would that number change if we knew our time with them was limited? It is. So SAY IT! Every time you appreciate something about those you hold dear, tell them. Every time you have a lovely thought about them, tell them. Every time they inspire you to be better, tell them. There is no one who would tire of hearing such things and you never know when your expression of love and gratitude may be your last.

– Explaining death to a two-year old is hard. Who am I kidding? Explaining death to ourselves is hard, much less trying to explain it to someone who barely has his head wrapped around what it means to be alive. And lets face it, none of us knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. We can have faith that certain things will happen. We can hope for some things. We can hope against others. But we don’t know. So answering questions such as, “Where did they go?” “Will we see them again?” “What does die mean?” “Will YOU die?” are very difficult when looking into the eyes of your innocent, naïve, beautiful blue-eyed son. Especially when the answer is simply “I don’t know.”

– I have a deep desire to leave a legacy. I wrote about this a couple posts back. It doesn’t have to be vast, but it has to be powerful. I want to be remembered by more than just my children and I want my children to remember me as more than just their mother. When people consider the life I leave behind, I want them to be inspired to be better people, as I have been inspired by those recently passed. I want to leave a legacy of unmatched love, selflessness, faithfulness that inspires growth and change, written and spoken word that is not easily forgotten, loyalty, hospitality, open-mindedness, and light. Perhaps the sphere of people that I influence will be relatively small, but I hope that sphere will do great things.

– I do not wish to have a visitation before my funeral. If the point of such gatherings is to say goodbye, it is too late. I will already be gone. I don’t want people to gaze at my lifeless body and wish my soul were still with it. I want them to remember me alive, not dead in a box. And if the point of a visitation is to pay respects to the family, most often, they need time and space. And having to face everyone they know with a smile and say, “We’re doing fine, thank you.” at a time when they are really not, actually, doing fine, seems a bit . . . well . . . cruel. I want to give my bereaved family room to mourn privately and I want the eulogy at my funeral to focus on my life and what it meant rather than on its ending. There is a scene in the movie, Love Actually, in which a widower expresses the wishes of his wife for what she wanted at her own funeral. She asked that the music of the Bay City Rollers, “Bye Bye Baby,” be played while a projector displayed images of the beautiful moments of her life over her casket. It was sadly funny, beautiful and touching and I have always been moved by such an idea.

– Nothing ever prepares us for death. It will always be shocking and painful. But we as human beings have a remarkable ability to recover, adapt, move on. Never forgetting, but forging ahead and learning how to live in the absence of the person who is gone. I cannot even fathom the chasm that would be left if my darling husband were to leave me early, or how desperately painful it would be to outlive my son. But strangely, I can imagine leaving them, and I KNOW I would not want them to lose themselves in their grief. To forget how to see and experience beauty. I would not want my death to rob them of the their lives as well. Knowing this, from my perspective, I must be prepared to continue to live my life in the face of extraordinary loss, as that is what they too would want.

– Above all else, in life as well as in death, LOVE is primary. It is what motivates us and holds us together. It spurs us into action when action is necessary. It demands a quiet embrace when no action is possible. It is its own legacy and without it we are lost. Remember, nothing is more important than love. Not truth, not being right, not winning, not succeeding or failing. It is the golden rule and the greatest commandment of all religions. LOVE.

There is so much more to say, but sometimes there are too many words. This, I believe, summarizes my thoughts and feelings of late. Perhaps they will inspire you to consider your life in the light of death and appreciate it fully now, even if you don’t get a chance to remember it later. Others will.