"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for January, 2015

Ahh, the Perfect Birthday Gift!

Happy Birthday to You!

I suck at birthdays. Not mine—turning another year older doesn’t bother me (too much). It’s the birthdays of my family and friends that tend to stress me out. How much of a fuss is too much? How much is too little? Yes, these are the kind of first world problems that plague my life.

This past week was my husband’s birthday. Not a milestone one or anything, but a birthday just the same. He’s a low-maintenance guy, so just coming up with gift ideas to tell people for Christmas is hard enough. It’s to the point where no one asks him anymore—they ask me instead. As his wife, I should know what he’d like, right? Yet this is one of the areas in which I fail. I live day in and day out with this man, and somehow manage to not make note as to what he could unwrap that would make him smile. Oh sure, there’s the practical ideas—like new fingernail clippers just for him because any pair we own seem to magically disappear—but who wants to unwrap THAT? Besides, as a grown man, he can pick up those practical types of things he needs whenever he wants to.

Up a notch from the ultra-practical, there are the somewhat-practical types of gifts—like clothes or shoes. Although not the favored gift for most of the ten and under crowd, clothes are something adults can appreciate it. As his spouse, I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what sizes and styles work and which ones don’t. But he did get some clothes just last month for Christmas, and he’s wanting to lose weight, so I didn’t want to go the clothes route.

The parts/tools route—that train left a long time ago. He’s a tool-guy, but already has multiple drills, cordless screwdrivers, various saws and work benches, socket sets and the like. I couldn’t tell you what he was looking to replace or upgrade—even if I asked him, he’d say he didn’t need any more tools. They are kind of his go-to impulse buy. Some strange things that were not on his list follow him home from Lowes and Home Depot.

This year I went with the tried and true—fishing gear, but what was specifically mentioned in conversation—a soft-sided tackle box. I painstakingly sought out the perfect one. It has pockets for everything—cell phone, sunglasses and small tools. It’s a cool color scheme-red and black. It has a worm binder thing that amounts to some zippered pages. I even got it in time for his birthday. I think he liked it. He’s a hard read sometimes.

“Look at all those pockets!” I gushed.

tackle box

“Yeah, those are great,” he acknowledged. Have I mentioned he’s not very demonstrative about gifts?

In the end, my gift was graciously accepted and was a notable keeper. The kids’ presents—a BBQ lighter shaped like a double-barrel shotgun, running pants and a Nike shirt—were all appreciated appropriately.

But we were all outdone.

My sister-in-law, Katie, originally due in mid-February, gave birth to our nephew just hours before the end of Darrell’s birthday. We now have a beautiful new member of our family. He’s healthy and we’re all to the moon and back happy and excited.

How do you compete with that?

Because in the end, anything you unwrap will be cool for a while. Even the most anticipated gifts lose their luster and anything you unwrap is just that—a thing. A sweet little baby trumps a tackle box (even one with really great pockets) any day!

Welcome to the family, Callen Michael!

 

 

The Jokes on Me: Advice to My Younger Self

Do you remember when you were a kid—or even later when you thought you were no longer a kid—when you told yourself you were never going to do something the same way your parents did? Or have you ever declared the laughable, “I’ll never do such and such!”?

There’s a commercial for State Farm insurance out right now where the guy says “I’m never getting married,” and the next scene shows him getting hitched. The commercial continues along those same lines of “I’ll never” followed by a scene of him doing the very thing he was never going to do. It ends very sweetly with him snuggling with his wife and kids and admitting how he’ll “never let it go”. I laugh every time I see that commercial, because I think of some of the ideas and opinions I had when I was younger and how they’ve changed over the years.

While I can’t pinpoint all the reasons the when and why those opinions and “nevers” changed, I do think both life experience and maturity play a large role. If I were my 43-year-old self back when I was in my teens and early twenties, well, I just wouldn’t be the me I was meant to be today. So I’m glad I took the path I did, and I don’t have any huge regrets. But there are a few times when I wish I would have had more common sense back then, or at least been able to know a few things I know now. Although I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older self anyway, if there were a magical way to tell Young Amy a few things, I would have to at least give myself this list:

  • Wear sunscreen on your face, even if you don’t get sunburn. Yes, I know there was even a song out a few years back encouraging this, but I really wish I would have listened. I have spent a TON of money on dermatologists and skin care products to fade several huge patches on my face that have hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
  • Quit worrying about when your kids will ever sleep through the night or in their own room. It may seem like they’ll never do either one, but they will. Who ever heard of twenty-year olds that still sneak in bed with their parents when they have a bad dream? You can save your worrying for when they start driving. (Yikes!)
  • Don’t be afraid to take classes in school that are outside your major or what you think you like. Use that time in college to discover your interests and talents. Grown up life will be waiting for you soon enough—no need to rush those years.
  • Buy term life insurance when you’re young and healthy. Darrell and I did not do this when we were first married and instead bought mortgage insurance when we purchased our first house. What we paid for that insurance would have bought us at least a year or two of term life insurance. As it happened, we didn’t buy life insurance until after Darrell had a health condition, which makes the rates higher. Argh!
  • Take a tape measure with you to the furniture store. It never looks as big in the store as it does in your home. I also might add never furniture shop on a whim after having a margarita with dinner at the little Mexican place down the road from the furniture store.
  • Pay attention when your parents and grandparents tell you stories. You may think you’ve heard them a thousand times, but when they are no longer around for you to ask, it’ll make you sad when you don’t remember all the details or how the story went.
  • Practice for your piano lessons! Even if you don’t feel like it or you’re sick of playing scales.
  • Never utter the words, “My kids will never…” It is the quickest way to ensure their DNA will contain the exact genetic code to be a picky eater, nose picker, thumb sucker, etc.
  • Pay your credit card off each month. If you can’t afford to do so, you’re living beyond your means. Don’t get into credit card debt.
  • Choose to be around people that build you up, not make you be untrue to who you are. Being negative and having a bad attitude do not make you cool. Don’t be afraid to move on.
  • Leave the perms for the professional stylists to do. The same came be said for messing around with hair dye colors when you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Take every opportunity to travel and explore new places.
  • Blame your hormones, not your loved ones. When something irrationally upsets you, realize it’s probably just PMS, shut your mouth and go to bed early. Emphasis on shut your mouth. You’ll feel better in the morning. Trust me.

It’s definitely not an all-inclusive list; after all some things have to be experienced first-hand for us to learn and grow—a pair of oh-so-stylish Sally Jesse Raphael-style eyeglasses comes to mind. The funny thing is, this list is far from being unique to just me. (Well, maybe the hair dye incident of 1985.) Regrets serve no good purpose, but what would YOU tell your young self? How would it affect the YOU of today?

PS Today is my blog’s one year anniversary!

My Tribute to Misbehaving Dogs

Grendel

Grendel

Chester

Chester

Last week, Erin and I took our crazy dogs to the vet to get their Bordatella vaccine for the kennel. I love these dogs, I really do, but when they are together and excited/nervous about something they morph into two lunkheads who completely tune out my voice. I’m glad the Dog Whisperer lives in California so I don’t have to worry about accidentally running into him at the park. Chester and Grendel have a lot to learn about being in the calm-submissive state Cesar Millan teaches people to work towards in their dogs.

Personally, I don’t think Chester (the Beagle) has ever forgotten that after one particular visit to the vet, he came home with a cone on his head, missing a dew claw and a certain other part of his anatomy I won’t mention by name. He has not forgiven the people at Harvester Animal Clinic, and has made it his quest in life to make every subsequent trip there miserable for all involved. See Chester in Action. Sure, he looks like a cute, roly poly Beagle, but inside Beelzebub awaits, complete with throaty growls and clawing.

Dogs chilling on a stop during their walk

Dogs chilling on a stop during their walk

My dear husband is ever faithful in taking them for nice, long walks that manage to work out some of that pent up energy. We have a large, fenced backyard for them to run around in, but it just doesn’t compare to exploring the great big world at the park. I, as a runner, have often thought it’d be great to have a four-legged running partner, but when I’ve tried it before it was a lot of tangled leashes and near-miss face plants. As a result, Darrell ends up taking those two on walks while my friend and running partner, Amy, and I run in the park. Over this past weekend, we had beautiful, sixty degree weather—uncommon for January in Missouri—and took them out to the trail in Woodlands Sports Park. They had not been out to take a park walk for about two months, so just getting the leashes out got them wound up.

We're on a walk!  As you can see by their faces, they get a little excited in the beginning of a walk and try to one-up each other.

We’re on a walk! As you can see by their faces, they get a little excited in the beginning of a walk and try to one-up each other.

Have you ever heard a Beagle’s bark? Bark is a term I use loosely to describe the sound Chester makes. It sounds more like a pig stuck in a barbed-wire fence trying to yodel. On the other hand, Grendel, the larger lab mix, has a squeaky little bark that really does sound like the honk a goose makes. The combination of the two is slightly more pleasant than nails on a chalkboard, and the volume is ear-splitting. This sound is repeated when we A.) Harness them up. B.) Get them to the car. C.) Arrive at the park and get them out of the car and D.) Encounter any other living creature on the path (but mostly when it’s other dogs). Once we get about two miles in, they are a little better, but they always seem to get their second wind. I am more exhausted when we take the dogs for three mile walks than when I do a ten-mile training run.

After a walk on a hot day, we get a little peace and quiet from two tired pups.

After a walk on a hot day, we get a little peace and quiet from two tired pups.

All of that being said, one would wonder why on Earth these two smelly, shedding, mess-making and obnoxious creatures bring so much joy into my life.

This is what happens when the guinea pig's Timothy Hay is not secured and we dare to leave the house.

This is what happens when the guinea pig’s Timothy Hay is not secured and we dare to leave the house.

My dogs, ill-behaved as they can be, are also a tremendous example of unconditional love. Even when I am sick, sad, stinky or grumpy, they want to be in the same room where I am—usually the closer the better. When I pull into the driveway, their little faces are there in the front window, greeting me with happy tails wagging. They wag their tales when I sing the goofy little songs I make up about them—even when the lyrics are not very flattering to them. They know exactly when I’m cold, and snuggle up to me. And they absolutely NEVER, EVER complain about my cooking.

      Grendel

So yes, those two yapping, anxious pups, who have the ability to make my blood pressure jump and my patience reach its end, also bring me the gift of peace. When I rub a round, plump dog-belly or scratch behind floppy ears I am reminded to slow down and enjoy the comforts of home. I watch them playing in the backyard with an old stick and remember joy can be found in simplicity. I see the two of them curled up snoozing and I’m reminded that a little nap is good for the spirit. And I know that I don’t ever return to an empty house—I always come home.

Snoozing Buddies

Snoozing Buddies

The Story of the Family Fiddle

It’s a fiddle. I can’t call it a violin because it has rattlesnake tails inside of it. Any self-respecting violin would not be found near a rattlesnake, but a fiddle would. (Betcha fiddles have more fun though.)

Growing up, I heard glowing tales of how Pappy, as my mom’s grandfather was called, had a priceless Stradivarius violin. I had fleetingly wondered how an expensive violin found its way to a farming family in rural northern Arkansas, but did not question it. After all, it was well-known that my great grandfather had been a talented musician who “could play anything that had strings.” Sadly, this is not a genetic trait passed onto me—I have to be satisfied just to be a great appreciator of music.

The story, which I’ve heard in various bits and pieces, was that he got the instrument from a Sears and Roebuck catalog back in the day. (Can you see why I questioned it being a Stradivarius?) I’m thinking it had to be in the 1920s sometime, because it had to be before the Depression, but after my grandfather was born in 1915. In today’s world we’d find it in the marked down section because it had some sort of cosmetic flaw or something was broken on it, and Pappy was able to fix it. I’m not exactly sure how that worked with catalog orders back then, so I wonder if there’s some mixing up of stories there. Or maybe he actually got it from a store in town and not a catalog.

In any event, he used his excellent carpentry skills to make it just like new. In addition to being able to play any instrument, Pappy could build anything, too. When I was a kid I remember there was a porch swing he made from a boxcar that had been broken up in a train derailment. In talking to my mom’s cousin, Ruth, it sounds like the swing I thought it was wasn’t the same one, so I’m not sure whatever happened to it.

Somewhere along the line, rattlesnake tails were added to the violin. My grandpa always said it had been done because doing so supposedly gave the instrument a better tone. Out of curiosity I looked it up to see if that was a prevalent thought, and it turns out that some people do believe it makes the sound sweeter. Other reasons for putting in the tails were for good luck, and my favorite, it kept rodents like mice from making a home inside of the violin. I like to think it made for a lucky, great- sounding instrument.

Ruth said that back in the day in a rural area such as Rector, Arkansas, people would go to each other’s houses and play music on Saturday night.   Another of Mom’s cousins, Steve, who is related through my grandmother’s side of the family, said that Grandpa and Grandma’s fathers would play the violins while others in their group played guitar. When I look closely at the neck of the violin, I can easily see the worn places where Pappy’s fingers held down the strings. I can picture in mind these get-togethers of neighbors, singing and having fun together on a Saturday night and it makes me smile.

Pappy is on the right, his brother Harry is on the left.  I can definitely see the family resemblance with my Grandpa Long and his dad.

Pappy is on the right, his brother Harry is on the left. I can definitely see the family resemblance with my Grandpa Long and his dad.

At my parent’s house somewhere, there’s another of Pappy’s instruments—a banjo he got in a bar fight. This story goes that the “country boys” were in the bar playing music, when some “city boys” decided they were going to show the country boys how things were done and a fight broke out. It ended when one of Pappy’s friends, the banjo player, broke his banjo over one of the city boy’s heads, nearly killing him. His friend took off after that, and apparently Pappy helped him get out of town on a train before he was lynched, promising him that he’d fix his banjo and give it back to him when he returned. He never came back for the banjo.

Ruth told me that by the time she knew him, Pappy’s playing days were behind him. He hurt his elbow hopping off a freight train and could no longer play. In her memories, as well as photos of him he had a bent arm that he held close to his body. I find it a strange coincidence that my mom also holds her arm in next to her body—her doing so as the result of a stroke, not from jumping off a train.

About a month ago, my parents came over to give me Pappy’s violin. My mom was so excited to share it with me. I wanted to learn all that I could about it. As I suspected, although labeled a “Stradivarius”, it was not a violin worth much in monetary value. The Stradivarius name was used by everybody, and from what I can tell it was more of a student version of the instrument. Not that it matters to me—I wouldn’t sell it. The sentimental value of a family heirloom that was once treasured so much means more to me than what it would sell for.

I’m planning to take it to a gentleman who builds and restores string instruments. But only if he promises not to smooth out those spots where the finish is worn from where Pappy’s fingers once pressed the strings. Oh, and I’m keeping the rattlesnake tails too. After all, no self-respecting fiddle would be without them.

My Story Isn’t Finished Yet

This past Sunday, when I walked into church, I thought to myself, this is my church. To most people, that probably sounds weird, but it’s a bit of a significant step for me. Even more significant was, that after the service, I felt that way even more. I wrote a post a while back about how our family started going to a new church after a lifetime of attending at what I believe I’ll always feel is my “home” church. It’s hard to go from attending church where you know practically everyone in your church family, even if not necessarily by name, to going to where you only know just a handful of people. But I’m trying to learn names and reach out to other people there. And I want to get involved in some of the groups they have. I’m finding it’s not as easy as when we had small children to get us involved.

In any event, Sunrise, the new church we’ve been going to, is more contemporary than the church I grew up in. While that’s been an adjustment, it’s also been good to experience new ways of doing things. (Don’t laugh, but since the words are projected on a screen in front, and I’m so used to holding a hymnal book, I don’t know what to do with my hands when we sing!   I end up tapping the chair ahead of me. I know, I know—it’s the little things.) At Sunrise, messages are organized into themed-series. We just started a series at the beginning of the year called, I Am Second. Each week during the message there are testimonials from people—some more famous than others—that tell how they came to the decision to make God first in their lives. You can see several of them online at www.IAmSecond.com.

I love hearing people tell their faith stories. Mostly because I never thought I had one. Last week, there was a video of a Christian radio personality named Brant Hansen. I had not heard of him before, but he talked about how the challenges in his life have always been a way for God to work through his weaknesses. The pastor tied this into how we view ourselves and how this self-perception is a reflection of how we think the world sees us. He then related it to Psalm 139. This is the Psalm where David acknowledges God’s intimate knowledge of him and how he was a creation—a perfect creation—of God. We were encouraged to take a look at our lives and see what it is that we haven’t done based on our own self-perceived (human) limitations. Very thought provoking.

My faith journey has never been a straight path. It has a lot of backtracking and zig zags. I try to live a life that God would approve of, but I don’t necessarily wear my faith on my sleeve. I am far from perfect. In short, I still have a long way to go!

I grew up going to church almost every Sunday. I can’t remember not having God in my life. I do remember when I was about eight years old I went to something at a church with my friend where they had an altar call. I went down because I thought it was cool. I already know Jesus, I remember thinking. I didn’t go to church there, and I figured since they didn’t know me, if I didn’t go down there they’d think I was a heathen. I said a prayer they told me to say and felt that I was golden with a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Looking back, I can definitely relate to something Brant Hansen said in his video. He said that he decided (as a kid) to believe in Jesus because he didn’t want to go to Hell, but didn’t really have a relationship with Him. Uh, yeah.

I’m used to hearing people tell tremendous faith stories of transformation, usually after adversity. They tend to have one defining moment where they reached out to Jesus and at that point never looked back. I think I never had “a” faith story because I compared my life to others. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that instead I have chapters, because my story isn’t finished yet. Along the way, I’ve lived out several faith stories. I have to recommit to Christ daily—to remind myself to whom I belong. And while I’ve not had a single, “lightbulb moment” in my faith, this daily watering of a single seed has grown some seriously deep roots.

I want to share with you one tiny faith story from my personal faith version of “Canterbury Tales”: I procrastinated writing this post because I kept tossing around the idea of a person’s faith story. I wanted to tie in self-doubt and identity struggles, because they are a featured player in so many of my life’s chapters. I’d start and not finish. I’d delete and go in a different direction.   The post almost ended up in the “yeah, it was a great idea, but now what do I do with it?” pile. I know God is up there laughing because the longer I cast it aside, the more He got in my face about writing it. Songs on the radio. Conversations with co-workers. Even Facebook posts from friends. Every whispered, “Write it!” gathered together into a loud, collective shout. Today, it was song lyrics from Casting Crowns’ song, “The Voice of Truth” that became the catalyst for putting thoughts on paper:

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”

Chorus:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

If I didn’t at least try to write this post, I was letting those waves win. And ignoring the voice of truth—which definitely doesn’t make for a good faith story. So I looked up those lyrics, and I even saw a You Tube video where I learned the story behind this song. I closed my eyes and opened up my heart, and the words came.

Profound? Maybe a little. Life-changing? Not exactly, but one more brick in the wall of my faith. And another chapter to My Story, unfinished as it is.

The Hidden Mansion

Comfort zone. The path of least resistance. The easy way.

One of the things I like about new beginnings, like starting a new year, is that I start things with a lot of enthusiasm. I think most of us do. There’s the idea stage, the effervescent joy that comes with a plan. Then reality comes in the forms of little things like speed bumps in our plans. It curbs that original enthusiasm, most of the time replacing it with something new…determination.

It takes a bit to get to the determination stage for me, but I think I’m there.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may remember a post I did a while back questioning whether or not contentedness was a form of apathy. I still don’t think it is—I think it’s healthy to be content. But here lately it’s been cold outside (which equals not running very much and a crabby Dragonfly), the daylight hours are short, and my energy level is just low. I go through my days pretty much the same—get up, go to work, eat meals, crave bedtime, throw in a little housework and laundry (maybe a game or two of Candy Crush) and finally hit the sack. The cycle repeats the next day. I have a growing list of things I want to do, but instead of looking at them with the eagerness I usually feel, I dread them. This is not being content.

While I do blame a lot of it on the winter blahs, I can’t continue in this status quo pattern of doing the minimum to get through the day. I compare it to home ownership. You can do the least amount of work to live in your home—pick up just the most damaging messes, fix what’s broken, basically just put out any theoretical fires, —but after about ten years the value of your home hasn’t really gone anywhere. If anything, it’s gone down from not being updated. On the other hand, if you invest a little time and effort into your home beyond the minimum by sprucing up what time and life dish out to its walls, in the end your home grows in value. This is true for the soul as well.

Finding that place of determination usually means hitting some tough spots. What starts out as simply a fresh coat of paint can lead to patching some holes. It helps to not overthink those so as not to get overwhelmed, which I think it what I’ve been doing.

So I’m updating my personal mantra. Even if just for today.

Do hard things. Challenge yourself. One more mile…

These are what I tell myself when I don’t feel like doing something or I’m faced with an unpleasant task. It doesn’t necessarily make what I’m doing more fun, but it reminds me that I’m working on being stronger and facing whatever it is I need to tackle. A bit silly? Yes, but it helps a little. After all, beneath these layers of peeling paint within lies a mansion, right?

My Epiphany on Old Christmas

twelve drummers drumming

If we were living out The Twelve Days of Christmas song, today I would receive the twelve drummers drumming. Since I’m not very far into the new year of organizing my house, I’m not sure where all the people and critters from the song would be stowed away, but it would be a houseful!

Today is Epiphany—traditionally celebrated as the day the Three Wise Men came to see Baby Jesus after the following the star—hence the twelve days of Christmas. Modern Biblical scholars can’t agree on when exactly it was the three made their visit—some say he wasn’t a newborn at all when they saw him, and the twelve days came from something somebody made up. Today’s secular society doesn’t really believe in dragging out the holiday season beyond the post-Christmas sales. Once evening rolls around on December 25th, the radio stations who have been playing only Christmas songs since November 1 abruptly go back to regular programming without much fanfare. I think that’s why I like Christmas Eve better than actual Christmas Day. Because on Christmas Day all the anticipation is behind us and it’s all over. It always makes me a little sad when things are over.

When I was growing up, my Grandpa Long’s birthday, on January 6th (Old Christmas), marked the end of the holidays for us. Maybe it was a little too much family togetherness, but I liked how we “eased” out of the holidays. We kept the Christmas tree up until then, and there wasn’t such a rush to return to the “normalcy” as soon as the clock struck midnight marking the start of a new year. While I love eating and drinking too much and staying up too late over the two weeks of Christmas, as an adult I appreciate the return to schedules and routines. I like buckling down in the New Year and thinking fresh. But still, the idea of a whole twelve days of celebrating Christmas sounds like fun—even if there’s not enough room for those lords a leaping or ladies dancing!

%d bloggers like this: