The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

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School’s Out For the Holidays

Finally. School is out for the holidays. As a mother, I might look forward to it as much as I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, I went to school to pick up my daughter, who is a freshman in high school. We had been told all students would be released at noon at her K-12 school. The break didn’t exactly get started on the right foot. I arrived early, so I was near the front of the carpool line, waiting for dismissal. I had texted my daughter, telling her to hurry when school got out, because I was near the front of the line. I was looking forward to getting out of there quickly, so I could meet some friends for lunch. I was listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album in my car. I was happily waiting. And then…

At noon, the security officer came over to my car near the front of the line and told me the high school students wouldn’t get out till 12:20, because their testing was taking longer than planned, and he asked me to “park over in the lot or go back around.” You know that record scratch sound? That’s what belongs here.

Well, I got out of line (without grumbling) and drove toward the lot. I didn’t get too aggravated till I realized there were no spots in the parking lot, and I couldn’t possibly go back around to get in line, because the officer who was supposed to be directing traffic outside the school wasn’t there yet. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, and there was no way I was getting in the middle of that. No, really…there was no way I would have been able to navigate my way back into the line. Cars were bumper to bumper. I took a deep breath. I had made the effort to get there on time…there was no way I was sitting there waiting for someone in that cluster to have mercy on me and let me in.

I took matters into my own hands, and drove around to the other side of the building, where I’m not supposed to go for carpool, and after fighting a little traffic, I parked in one of the student lots…totally against the rules. Just call me a rule breaker…a maverick… a rogue parent.

While I was “going rogue,” my daughter, who had clearly been released at noon, texted me…at 12:05… “Where are you? I thought you were at the front of the line?” Fortunately, I parked in the student lot soon after her text, and I called her, telling her to walk back across campus in the pouring rain to the other side, where I was parked in the student lot. I think she knew not to give me any grief, because she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy.

My daughter and her friend eventually made it to the car…soaking wet…but they seemed happy. I guess the fact that they were getting out for the holiday break totally made up for the fact that they had to double-back in the rain to get to my car.

I still don’t know why the security officer thought the high school students were being released late. There was some sort of miscommunication…not his fault. I feel sure someone somewhere gave him incorrect information, and for about ten minutes, I was really ticked off, because it was going to mess up my lunch plans. And then I realized something…

Getting upset about a little misinformation and a traffic cluster…well, those are first world problems. I also realized I had a cell phone, so I could call my friends and tell them I would likely be late. My daughter and her friend were happy to have school behind them for a couple of weeks, and even though it was raining cats and dogs, today was a good day.

It was a good day, because we all woke up. We have plenty to eat. We have a house that’s warm and dry, and we have cars that are in good working order, so we can get around pretty easily. We have a nice break ahead of us, and we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with our wonderful friends and family.

Sure, life is full of aggravations. Life is full of real problems. But getting re-routed for no reason is not one of those real problems. It was a little hiccup, and I found a way around it…and I still made it to lunch on time!

Now…let’s get this holiday break started!

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Social Experiment

The American South and Midwest have reputations as friendly places, while the West and Northeast have reputations of being less so. On another note, people in the West are perceived as creative, and people in the Northeast are perceived as less inhibited. A 2013 study by the University of Cambridge supports that. You can see the results of the study here. After reading that today, I started thinking about our own little social experiment we conducted in Beverly Hills a few years ago.

Southern California: beautiful weather, beautiful people, good food, creativity, and good people-watching. My daugher and I love to go. We’ve been, as my mother used to say, “umpteen times.” That means we’ve been a lot. Today, we are embarking on another adventure to the Los Angeles area. We love visiting. Is it different than other parts of the country? Yes, and that’s part of what we love. Different parts of the country have different cultures and different attitudes, and that’s a good thing. How boring would our country be if there weren’t differences? Why bother visiting another place if that’s the case?

We love visiting the LA area, but would we want to live there? The bloom might fall right off the rose if we lived there. I’ve had to explain to my daughter on more than one occasion that living there isn’t the same as visiting. If you live there, real life gets in the way. Plus, you don’t live in a hotel with fantastic room service, and really, that’s part of the charm.

The first time I took her to LA, we were standing in line at a coffee shop, and my then 7-yr-old daughter looked up and said, “I want to live here, Mom.” The lady behind us heard her and leaned up to say, “Oh, honey. You don’t want to live here. People aren’t nice here like they are where you’re from.” Maybe she heard the southern accent? I had to take a few minutes after we sat down to explain that there are lots of nice people in LA, but I thought the lady meant they don’t wave to everybody and speak to everyone on sidewalks like we often do.

My friend, Mary Ann, who lives in Mobile, Alabama, and her son went with us on our next trip to the area. One day, as we were walking to breakfast at a restaurant about a mile from our hotel, we decided to conduct a social experiment by saying “good morning” to everyone we met on the sidewalk. We got all sorts of responses. Some people gave us sideways glances and moved farther away on the sidewalk, clutching their bags more tightly as if they thought we were trying to mug them. Others ignored us altogether. But there were three who were thrilled. One said how refreshing it was. Another hugged us and thanked us. And yet another had an entire conversation with us, starting with, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

We felt pretty sure we would get different results in the South.

We came home to Charlotte and tried the same Good Morning Experiment at our local Neiman Marcus, thinking the socioeconomics would be closest to Beverly Hills. About two weeks after the initial “experiment,” my daughter and I strolled through Neiman’s, and I greeted everyone we encountered with “Good morning!” My daughter didn’t even notice, because I do it all the time. Here’s what happened: no one looked at me like I was going to mug them. Every single person smiled, and most responded with a pleasant “good morning” in return. One had two gifts in her hand for her young daughter and stopped my daughter to ask which one was better for a young girl. Two or three complimented my shoes. And not one person looked at me like I was strange for greeting them.

I considered trying it in my favorite Target store in Charlotte but realized it wasn’t necessary. I speak to everyone in there every time I go anyway. I’ve even made friends in Target!

On our next visit to LA, we were with friends from the Northeast. We hadn’t discussed the social experiment. We were having breakfast in a restaurant one morning when a gentleman walked past our table on his way to the deli case and smiled. I smiled back and kept talking. When he passed again, he smiled again. I smiled and gave a little wave…it’s what I do. Apparently, he walked past two more times, and I smiled back without even realizing it. As we were leaving, he stopped me at the door. He told me he and his wife were dining in the back of the restaurant and decided to see how many people smiled back when he walked to the deli case. He said, “I smiled at every person at every table I passed, and you were the only one who smiled back. Not only did you smile every time, you waved!” I told him about our previous social experiment, and we all had a good laugh.

I’m not saying I’m always friendly and in a happy mood, and everybody in Charlotte isn’t always friendly either. The “results” of our “experiments” were interesting, though.

That’s not to say there aren’t friendly people in LA. I know some fabulous, friendly people who live there, and I hope to see them when we are there this time. Every time we go, we meet delightful people…every time…LOTS of great people. We’ve met people who treated us like old friends or family. We’ve met people who have welcomed us to their city with open arms…lots of fantastic people.

I can hardly wait to introduce our “newbies” to the places and people we love, and I’m looking forward to spending time with this fun group. We won’t be the most beautiful, skinniest, or most wealthy people in the city, but we can try to be the happiest and most friendly!

Maybe we will conduct another social experiment of some kind on this trip. Ideas?

Forgiveness

Today, I was looking through Facebook while I was sitting in an airport, and a friend had posted a video about forgiveness. The video is really good, and I will tell you where to find it in a minute. When I boarded my flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about that video and what it meant. It was in my brain! “Forgiveness” is a word we hear all the time. There are lots of quotes and Bible verses about it:

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.–Mahatma Gandhi

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.–Maya Angelou

I can have peace of mind only when I forgive rather than judge. –Gerald Jampolsky

Forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes and move on. –Les Brown

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. –Lewis B. Smedes

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.–Matthew 6:14, New International Version of The Holy Bible

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Forgiveness.

The video I saw is on a Facebook page called Have a Little Faith. And the speaker in the video is a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is described on the site as “a feminist, no-nonsense Evangelical Lutheran pastor who will blow you away with her honesty, hilarity, and plenty of ‘holy sh*t’ enlightenment.” Wow. I’m not sure I would have found her at all except for the video my friend posted. You can see the video here. She says forgiveness is not about “niceness.” She says holding onto anger “feeds the evil.” She encourages us to think of forgiveness as “snapping the chain that connects us” to the evil. It gives us freedom. Free people are not chained to resentment. While she has an unconventional approach, I like what she has to say about forgiveness.

It’s a simple concept, really. Choose forgiveness. Find a way to choose forgiveness. It’s not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of great strength. It can be difficult, but it’s just like most things in life…the more we practice, the better we become at it. It is a choice, and for me, it is a choice that I make not so much for the other person as for myself. I simply cannot be tethered to anger. It will suck the life out of me.

In my 51 years of life, I have offended many…usually unintentionally, but sometimes, it was intentional. Most of the intentional offenses occurred in my younger days…usually in response to a perceived transgression against me. There’s that “chain” concept. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a lot more about forgiveness. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun to forgive. Holding on to anger or hatred is exhausting. And seeking revenge is exhausting too. All that anger only hurts the person who harbors it. I’m not that person.

Of course, there are some people who just can’t forgive. I don’t think there’s anyone I haven’t forgiven. There are people I don’t want to spend time with, because of personality or value differences, but as far as forgiveness, I have forgiven. I don’t harbor anger toward anyone. Well, I can’t think of anyone toward whom I harbor anger. If I can’t think of anyone, I guess that means there’s no anger.

Yet, there are people who, I’m sure, haven’t forgiven me for perceived transgressions over the years, and I have a way of handling that: I forgive myself. As long as I have offered a sincere apology, I forgive myself and move on. That’s because I truly feel that if someone is incapable of forgiving me, then I don’t want to be friends with them anyway. I don’t need to be chained to them. So I move on without regret. My 14-yr-old daughter once summed it up this way to me, “Mom, when you’ve offered a sincere apology, you’ve done everything you could do…especially for something unintentional. Let it go. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you have to forgive yourself and move on.” She is right…the wisdom of a 14-yr-old. I wasn’t always able to do that, but fortunately, I learned a way. Remember the Serenity Prayer? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My mother had the Serenity Prayer framed in several rooms of our various homes as I was growing up. A favorite was one that matched our kitchen wallpaper in Spanish Fort where we lived from 1975 to 1977. It looked like this, except hers was in a nicer frame:

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The wall decor is a good everyday reminder. It reminds me to forgive (the things I can change) and move on (the things I cannot change). To see/purchase Prayer of Serenity wall decor from Amazon, click here.

Years ago, my dad was talking with a friend whose sister had gone through a bitter divorce. For years, she had harbored hatred and resentment toward her ex-husband. But one day, she let it go. Her brother told it this way: It was like she was swimming down a river holding a big pack of gear. The pack was heavy and cumbersome. She was working so hard to hold on to the pack that she couldn’t see the beautiful foliage, birds, and other wildlife on the banks of the river. She was missing it all. Eventually, she was too tired to hold onto the pack. She let go of the pack and started swimming with ease. Suddenly, she noticed the beauty of life around her.

There are some people who want to carry anger. That’s their choice. I choose not to carry that load. I choose to see the beauty life offers. I choose joy over anger, but we all live differently. We also all sin against God and against each other every single day. If you think you don’t, you are lying to yourself. Because I know how to forgive, I live a life of peace. I try to remember this: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”–John 8:7.

If someone can’t forgive you, as my daughter says, “That’s on her/him.” And she’s right.  Thank God for the wisdom of a 14-yr-old.

I must have done something right.

Bluebird of Happiness

When I was cleaning out my mother’s house in January (she died December 30), I came across three little glass bluebirds…one was a little bigger than the other two…like a mother and two babies.

I realized those bluebirds had been on a side table in her living room for a long time, but I’d never asked her about them. You know how you see something a million times but never bother to find out about it?

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For the first time ever, I picked them up. I turned them over and there was a sticker on the larger one that said “Bluebird of Happiness” and the telephone number of an art studio. I knew they didn’t have any monetary value, but now that I couldn’t ask Mother, I was wondering what kind of sentimental value they had for her. Where did she get them? I felt sure someone had given them to her, so I put them in a little Ziploc bag and brought them home to Charlotte with me.

I placed them on top of a mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I’ve seen them every day for about a month, but earlier this week, I decided to investigate and find out who gave Mother the bluebirds.

The first text I sent was to an old family friend who lives in Florida. She and Mother became friends in 1961, when they were both working at Sunland Center in Marianna, Florida. Mother was a nurse, and this friend, Cynthia, worked in Activities, I believe. For whatever reason, they became great friends. In fact, Cynthia says Mother inspired her and encouraged her to become a nurse too. She did, and she continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…and she gives Mother much of the credit.

Promptly, I received a text back from Cynthia telling me she had given mother the little bluebirds. She said she didn’t need them back but that she would like to have a memento to keep near Mother’s picture in her room. I texted back, “Let me mail them to you.” So they should be delivered to her right away. Now, every time she looks at the Bluebirds of Happiness, she will think of Mother.

When I was growing up, Cynthia was like a “cool aunt.” She was a little younger than my parents, and she always liked to have fun. My parents liked to have fun too, but Cynthia liked to have fun while driving a cute, little Triumph convertible. Parents didn’t drive Triumph convertibles. But Cynthia had one, and when she visited, I got to ride in it…with the top down!

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In fact, Cynthia was so trusted by my parents that she was our designated guardian if something had happened to them while we were minors. They knew she would love us as her own, and we would love her too. We have great family, but they all have children of their own. Cynthia didn’t have children.

Of course, now I want my own Bluebirds of Happiness, so I looked at the bottom of them again and got the telephone number for that art studio. As it turns out, it’s a studio called Terra Studios in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and according to their website, they are the “home of the Bluebirds of Happiness.” They also have the Pink Birds of Hope, Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…Mother would have loved those too.

Apparently, these sweet creations are quite popular, and the proceeds from the sale of the birds goes toward “using art to create a better world.” After looking at the website, I’d love to visit Terra Studios, where they have a coffee shop, glass demonstrations, American arts and crafts, and they are a popular Northwest Arkansas tourist attraction. Now, I’ll need to plan a trip.

So, Ive ordered some Bluebirds of Happiness…a mama and two babies for myself…and then I ordered more. According to the Terra Studios website, “the lovely, plump, sweet singing Bluebird has inspired more songs and poems than any other bird.” Terra Studios offers different sizes and variations of the Bluebirds of Happiness, the Pink Birds of Hope (offering hope to cancer survivors), Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…and the prices are right. I think they make lovely gifts. In fact, I think the bluebirds would make lovely hostess gifts. With Easter just around the corner, you might consider adding the bluebirds, pink bird, or angels to an Easter basket. The Wise Owls would make great little additions to graduation gifts or favors for a graduation tea. You can purchase them all here.

Interestingly, on the same day I picked up the Bluebirds of Happiness at Mother’s, I was going through some papers and found a certificate naming my maternal grandfather a member of the North American Bluebird Society. Who knew? I had no idea there was such a society, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought my grandfather would be a member. I know he and my mother loved birds, but it never occurred to me he loved them enough to send in money. Having come through the Depression with some liquidity, he wasn’t free with his money. I love knowing he found bluebirds to be a worthy cause. I was so intrigued by his membership that I checked out their website and found it fascinating. If you’re interested in the North American Bluebird Society, you can see their websitehere.

So I guess bluebirds are a thing in my family. If you see me wearing a lot of blue in the next few months, you’ll know why. And if I see you and think you’re feeling “blue,” I may just give YOU a little Bluebird of Happiness to cheer you up.

As soon as my new Bluebirds of Happiness arrive, I will place them on the mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I can see them every single day and think of Mother and Cynthia. I’ll save the extras for  friends who need “a ray of light,” as mentioned in the song, Bluebird of Happiness.

 

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