Day 355: Winter Solstice & Look on the Bright Side Day

Look on the Bright Side Day Winter Solstice

It’s no coincidence that these two celebrations share the same date. This day marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is not only the beginning of winter, but it is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Look on the Bright Side Day encourages us to look for the light today, and find optimism on what could be a dark and gloomy day.

That is certainly true in Missouri today. It was very overcast, chilly and breezy. We’ve had a lot of overcast days lately, which is typical for December in the Ozarks. It sure makes me appreciate the occasional sunbeam that punches through the mass of grey. I tilt my face upwards, like a flower seeking the light, and let the warmth and brightness wash over me. Today, not even a feeble ray of sunshine made it through the heavy clouds. I decided to be aware of both events by seeking the light and holding on to optimism and this evening by lighting candles inside and outside the house.

The seasons are marked by equinoxes and solstices, which relate to the tilt of the Earth. The equinoxes herald the beginning of spring and fall and the days and nights are about equal in duration. The solstices for winter and summer mark the points at which the Earth’s poles are most tilted away from or toward the sun. During summer solstice the day is long and the night short, just the opposite of winter solstice. This year, the precise moment of the winter solstice occurred at 6:03 pm. At that moment, the north pole was tipped the farthest from the sun.

I couldn’t think of a better way to combat a gloomy afternoon than to meet my cousins, Mindy, Jeff and Harry, at the Neosho Cinema 6 to watch, what else, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This was another first, as I have never been to this theater before. And it was Mindy’s first viewing of the movie. I was looking forward to watching the film together.

Look on the Bright Side Day

I had a funny incident at the theater, involving the word of the day: Light. Mindy thought the movie started at 12:30 and we had planned to meet at 12:15 at the theater. I arrived in the parking lot, having driven south from Joplin, at 12:14. As I got out of the car and snapped a pic of the theater, I saw that the marquee had the time for the movie listed as 12:15. I spotted my cousin’s small blue car in the parking lot and rushed inside to purchase my ticket. The kind person behind the counter assured me that the previews had started but I had time to get to the correct auditorium before the movie started. The only problem was, the lights were already dimmed and it was very dark in the auditorium, even with the preview playing. I paused to allow my eyes to adjust but I still couldn’t see well enough to make out who was who. I quietly crept up and down the aisles, trying to scan faces in the gloom. I thought about calling out my cousin’s name but didn’t want to bother people any more than I already was! Finally I stood still, toward the front row of seats, and thought, “I need more light.” At that exact moment, a very bright scene appeared on the big screen, during a new preview, and for a moment, I could see the entire auditorium clearly. My cousins weren’t there! I had beat them to the theater. Apparently, that was NOT my cousin’s car in the parking lot. I was grateful that I had refrained from yelling out Mindy’s name. I sat on the back row and was able to see my cousins as they arrived.

This evening, darkness gathered by late afternoon. I lit eight candles on my front porch, to send beams of light into the darkness. Inside, I lit candles in every room, their tiny flames creating pockets of warmth and light. It is homey….and beautiful. Tonight, before I head to bed, I will spend some quiet time reflecting on all the Brightness in my life. It is not hard for me to find the bright side in situations, although expressing gratitude is vital. More amazing for me, is that the darkness of this long night will not bring a chill of fear into my heart. Beyond the light of overhead fixtures and lamps and lit candles, is the Light around me and within me that leaves no room for darkness or for fear. That glow shines brightly, even when the candles are snuffed out and I’ve flipped off the lights, as long as I keep my heart open and cleared of the clutter that can, unchecked, block or distort the light and invite darkness. May my light shine, a pure and brilliant radiance, on this, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. And tomorrow I celebrate, for the days are growing longer again.

Look on the Bright Side Day candles

Day 354: Happy Birthday Oliver

Olivers birthday slide

Today my family celebrated Oliver and his 7th birthday! We gathered at the House of Bounce, located on North Main Street in Joplin. Ollie’s mom and my son married recently, making Oliver an official grandson, but I’ve thought of him as one for quite some time. It was a pleasure to watch him have fun this evening and join with him in eating birthday cookie.

The House of Bounce is a cool place for birthday parties. Megan and Nate rented it out tonight so that the kids could bounce and run and play freely. The large inflatable slides, houses and the new wrecking ball arena are continually filled with flowing air and provide a safe environment for jumping, flipping, sliding and somersaulting. There are ample picnic style tables in the middle of the huge room so the adults can comfortably sit and watch.

Olivers birthday house of bounce

Except the younger adults in the family, the parents of the kids, seem to enjoy House of Bounce almost as much as the children. It was hilarious to watch them battle it out in the Wrecking Ball Arena, struggling to keep their balance on the inflated perches while dodging the weighted, air filled wrecking ball. They good naturedly allowed the kids to join in and all had a great time. Adriel discovered that it was fun and a little scary to go down the slide while sitting up facing backward and we laughed as other adults tried it. The kids got pink faces from running from activity to activity, laughing and calling out to each other. In the center of it all, having a marvelous time, was the birthday boy.

Olivers birthday big kids

Oliver is Megan’s younger son. And in their newly blended family, he became the middle child. He is not daunted by having an older brother and a younger sister. Ever one to walk his own path, he will surely find his way through life, in his own charming way. Because Oliver is a charmer! With big brown eyes and a beautiful mop of straight brown hair, he only has to flash me a smile to melt my heart. He’s determined and focused and not afraid to go after what he wants. When he decided recently to grow his hair out, from short to shaggy, he didn’t let anyone or anything deter him. He likes his hair longish and I think he looks adorable. More importantly, I love that he knows what he wants and goes after it.

Olivers birthday lighting candles

Ollie is at the age where he wants others to notice what he does and appreciate it. At many gatherings  I’ve attended, he’s asked me to time him while he runs, rides his scooter or bike, or does some other physical feat. Tonight, when I walked into House of Bounce and spied him, he immediately called out “Yaya” and asked me to come with him to one of the big bouncy slides. “Watch me,” he shouted as he scooted up the steps and appeared at the top of the slide and flipped onto his back, preparing to come down the slide upside down. I documented his descent with my iPhone camera and cheered his efforts. Several times. And then off he scrambled to the other slide, where I watched him whoosh down in several interesting ways. It is so important for kids, and all of us really, to know we are seen and appreciated. It does Oliver’s heart good that his parents and grandparents pay attention to all that he accomplishes. This handsome boy is blessed in having family who does just that….applauds his endeavors.

Olivers birthday gifts

I’m thrilled to be Oliver’s Yaya and I love the smiles, hugs and artwork I receive from him. He is affectionate, musical, smart and possesses high energy. There are big things ahead for this boy and he has the energy and determination to reach for them. I will enjoy journeying with him as he finds his path through life. Happy Birthday, Oliver! I love you!

Olivers birthday opening gifts

Day 353: A Christmas Tradition Shared

A Christmas Carol

In 1984, two significant events occurred …the birth of my youngest child, a daughter named Adriel…and the premier of a made for TV movie, A Christmas Carol, based on the story by the same name by Charles Dickens, and starring George C Scott. Interestingly, those two events, which became intertwined that year, have remained connected since. Holding baby Adriel, I watched this classic for the first time in 1984 with my two preschool children.

Every year, for years afterward, network television would broadcast A Christmas Carol again. And we would watch it. It normally aired around Christmas Eve, and it rapidly became a tradition in our house to watch the movie while munching on snacks and drinking hot chocolate. As Adriel grew, she quit falling asleep during the movie and began to watch it with us. As a young child, the ghostly visits of Jacob Marley and the three Christmas Spirits frightened her a little. Not enough to make her cry or protest, but just enough to cause her to excuse herself to go to the bathroom or the kitchen during the scariest parts.

As she grew older, the fear dissipated, and we all enjoyed the movie together. Then Elissa moved away from home, followed by Nathanael a few years later, and it was just Adriel and me continuing our tradition. By now I had purchased the movie on DVD so we could pick exactly when to watch “our” movie. We still selected Christmas Eve most of the time. When Adriel moved out, I gave her A Christmas Carol as a present, her first Christmas away from home. And we continued to meet, sometimes at her home, sometimes at mine, to watch the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, so brilliantly portrayed by George C Scott. Sometimes other family members would join us. Most often, it was just the two of us.

Adriel contacted me this week to ask the important question: “When are you free to watch A Christmas Carol?” For the first time, Adriel is going to be gone over Christmas. She wanted to make sure we got our movie in! We met for dinner before the movie, and then gathered at her home. This year, we were joined by Greg, and two of Adriel’s friends, Sara and Nate, neither of whom has seen the movie before. It is also the first time we’ve had viewers with us from outside our immediately family. I like that our definition of family is expanding to include others and that we can share fun times and meals, birthday parties and holiday traditions.

Sara and Nate were patient with the little rituals Adriel and I have around this movie. We laugh every year, at the same spots. We tear up over Tiny Tim’s death in the future that will occur if the shadow of things present do not change. We feel for Scrooge as he lives his solitary life, wealthy, but alone, feared, but not respected, tolerated for the business cunning that he has, but not loved, except by one who never gives up on him. That man, Scrooge’s nephew Fred, always makes Adriel giggle. To most, the old businessman is an odious cheapskate. We love watching his transition, from Scrooge, whose very name became synonymous with stinginess and joylessness, to Ebenezer, a generous, joyful man who “was as good a man as the good old city ever knew.” Our favorite scene, which sends us into peals of laughter, involves a dear little old woman, whose name (I just looked it up) is Mrs. Dilber.  She feels very much like a family member by now. Mrs. Dilber is pawning Scrooge’s bedclothes and some personal items to Old Joe, for the money she can make off of the now dead, tight-fisted man. Her expressions, voice and words crack up us every time. We love her.

Mostly, Adriel and I experience a warming of the heart from the annual watching of this movie. We both have an ornament that has one of our favorite lines from the movie written on it:  “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” My ornament stays out, hanging on a bookshelf, all year long, so I can see it and be reminded to hold the love and joy of Christmas in my heart always. Adriel and I watch this movie, year after year, as a way of renewing and perpetuating that spirit.

Tonight we completed our 30th viewing of the movie. Adriel counts it as 30 as well, even though she was too young to remember the movie the first few times we watched it.  I can attest, she was present. I am happy that we shared one of our favorite Christmas traditions with two others who have never seen A Christmas Carol, and with her dad, who hasn’t seen the movie nearly as often as we have. It was a warm, joyful time. And the Spirit of Christmas dwells within us all. God bless us, everyone.

A Christmas Carol Fred and Janet

Day 352.5 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies movie

It is my pleasure to post a second time to my blog today, a first itself, so that I can do a full review of this amazing conclusion to the Hobbit Trilogy….and the Middle-Earth Saga. I watched the movie for the second time this evening, in the company of my daughter Elissa, grandson Dayan, sister Linda and my mom. We were a merry little troop that settled in to watch this epic film together. I handed out tissues before the previews rolled and the lights dimmed.

No spoilers in the review below.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (TBOTFA) has a huge cast which includes Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Hugo Weaving, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Christopher Lee, Ryan Gage, Benedict Cumberbatch and a host of others. The fantasy adventure is directed by Peter Jackson. It is rated PG-13, for intense battle scenes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes.

Beginning exactly where The Desolation of Smaug ends, The Battle of the Five Armies opens with the angry dragon, Smaug (voiced by Cumberbatch), closing in on Laketown, intent on bringing fire and death to the inhabitants there. As the townspeople flee, Smaug breathes out his wrath and flames, laying waste to the town. Bard the Bowman (Evans) has an opportunity to redeem his ancestor, who 60 years before loosened a scale on the thick-skinned dragon but failed to kill him. The survivors of Laketown, led by Bard, seek shelter in the ruined city of Dale, which lies before the gates of Erebor, where Thorin (Armitage) and Company have holed up.

Bard seeks a share of the gold horded within the dwarven fortress, as promised by Thorin Oakenshield, now King Under the Mountain. But dragon fever has taken Thorin and he refuses to honor his promises. King Thranduil (Pace), high elf of the Woodland Realm, also seeks to regain a portion of the treasure that he considers rightfully his. He is not as patient as Bard and he is quite willing to use force to take what is his.

Gandalf (McKellen), last seen hanging from a cage in Dol Guldur, is near death. He hears in his mind, “You are not alone.” The White Council…Elrond (Weaving), Saruman (Lee) and the Lady Galadriel (Blanchett)…arrives to drive back the darkness and free Gandalf. He appears in Dale to warn all that there is an evil and ferocious army of orcs on the march, intent on destroying men, elves and dwarves. Bilbo (Freeman) makes a desperate attempt to stave off war over the treasure of Erebor, but Thorin is not in a cooperative mood. Deep in gold lust, he would rather have war, than peace. Just as it appears that the elves and men will battle the dwarves, including Thorin’s kin from the Iron Mountains, the dark army, led by the pale orc, Azog, launches its attack.

The titular battle unfolds. The woodland elves, Legolas (Bloom) and Tauriel (Lilly) are present as well, performing courageous and spectacular feats of battle as they defend their allies. Thorin’s company of dwarves remains walled in their fortress, in spite of protests by his kin and followers. Thorin’s nephews, Kili (Turner) and Fili (O’Gorman) long to join the raging war outside their halls, feeling dishonorable in allowing others to fight their battles. All rests on the new king, whose greatest battle is within himself.

Tonight’s viewing was my second in four days. First viewings for me are about getting an overview of the movie. Sequential viewings allow me to see the details and note the things I missed the first time around. This is a BIG movie, with a great deal of action and several storylines that converge before the great walls of Erebor. And there were quite a few details that I missed! I find that each time I watch a movie, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before, I learned something new or see something I missed before.

Peter Jackson concluded his long and wonderful journey through Middle-Earth with a film that delivers powerful scenes and an emotional punch. I sat with a full audience tonight. As a group, we laughed….and we cried. The teary eyes started even earlier for me this time around, if that was possible. There is something very vulnerable and noble about Bard the Bowman. I love the way he is a quiet protector, of his children, and of his neighbors. Bard’s determined stance against the dragon , atop the highest tower in Laketown, brings redemption for him and cleanses away the blot against his family. Alfrid (Gage), the sniveling sidekick of the dishonest Master of the Town, provides sharp contrast to Bard, while also providing most the film’s comedic moments.

There is just so much to love about TBOTFA. The brief, but extremely powerful scene involving the freeing of Gandalf by the White Council is cheer worthy. I loved seeing the strength these keepers of the peace have when it comes to defending the light against the darkness. Thranduil also reveals more of his strength in this movie. We finally get a glimpse into his heart, and who he really is. I liked him so much better in this final film. Tauriel proves herself and caused the tears to flow as she goes to the defense of the dwarf that she loves. One of the most memorable lines in the movie is between her and Thranduil when she asks why love hurts so much, and he replies, with deep sadness and understanding….”because it’s real”.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. He has transformed during the three movies until by the final scenes, he is truly courageous. His friendship with Thorin is critical to all that unfolds. The mannerisms and signature sniffle that Freeman incorporated into the character have made Bilbo the lovable Hobbit that he is. I was very moved by a scene in which he shows Thorin an acorn that he picked up in Beorn’s garden. Bilbo intends to plant it when he gets home, so that every time he sees the tree, he will remember all that happened on his journey…the good and the bad.

This film’s major story centers around Thorin, son of Thrain, King Under the Mountain, and his descent into madness….and ascent again into who he truly is. Richard Armitage does a magnificent job of portraying the mercurial Thorin. I can feel his performance in my chest, it so impacts me. Gandalf admonishes Thorin by telling him he is not making a very good showing at being king. And he’s right! His kinsman, Dwalin, with tears in his eyes, tells Thorin “You sit here with a crown on your head and you are less than you have ever been.” When Thorin rages, “I AM YOUR KING” Dwalin tells him quietly, “You have always been my king. You used to know that.” What a contrast to the man who, a short time later, leads the charge against the enemy, free from his madness and his heavy crown. His kinsfolk cry out, “To the King. To the King.” And he is, finally, king, perhaps for the first time fully embracing all that he is, and his men rally to him.

I also loved the references to the Lord of the Rings that are contained in this film. There is much foreshadowing about what is to come, and in a sense, the story comes full circle, this final movie ending precisely where the Fellowship of the Ring begins. It is so fitting. Fitting too is the final song, The Last Goodbye, sung by Billy Boyd, Pippen from LOTR. The credits are worth sitting through, as the song plays, for there are beautifully done drawings of the characters and locations to appreciate. Tonight, even the song brought a fresh round of tears.

Thorin’s words to Bilbo, during a very touching scene, are tucked away in my heart. He says, “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.” Home is where we create it. We are sheltered, nurtured, loved, and cared for there. We are in an environment that allows us to learn and grow. The love of gold can separate us from each other, and from the truest part of ourselves. Home, and hospitality such as Bilbo offers to the dwarves as he departs, invites and refreshes, comforts and restores. No matter where that home is. For me, I’d love my home to be in Middle-Earth. Or perhaps, a very Middle-Earth type setting that I create.

I am very grateful for the cast and crew, writers and producers, and most of all, for Peter Jackson for this amazing journey these past 13 years. I am changed because of these stories. I have grown as surely as the characters did. Thank you, PJ, for inviting me to journey with you.

Peter Jackson

Day 352: Egg Nog Ice Cream

egg nog ice cream

I needed a quick first today, and because I had not eaten much since yesterday’s chili incident, ice cream sounded good. In honor of new experiences and the holiday season, I opted to scout out Baskin Robbins and their 31 flavors and find a seasonal treat I had not tried before.

I was hoping for egg nog flavored ice cream, and that’s exactly what I found! There were several other seasonal ice creams that looked tempting, yet I stayed with my first choice. I don’t think I’ve ever drank real egg nog, the kind with alcohol in it. That could be another first! I do remember a non-alcoholic egg nog that my mom used to serve when I was a kid. At least, I think it was non-alcoholic. Maybe I should ask Mom!

The ice cream today, a single scoop in a small waffle cone, tasted exactly like the egg nog I remembered from my childhood. And the rich, creamy cold confection didn’t upset my stomach. It was quite satisfying, actually. I’m glad I tried it.

My second “first” for today is to do a second blog, a Day 352.5, something I have not done this entire year. It is my opportunity to do a full review for the movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which I enjoyed again this evening. Check my blog to catch this additional post.

Day 351: Chamomile and Fennel Tea

chamomile and fennel tea

Today’s first combines several firsts, actually. And like so many of my experiences this year, it came to me. This time, it was not exactly in a way I would have chosen. I had lunch today at a favorite restaurant, and ate chili that I have eaten several times before. Today, however, the chili DID NOT agree with me. As the afternoon progressed, I felt worse and worse….nauseated and light headed. My granddaughter Aubrey and I were at Chick Fil A when I decided I needed to be at home. She was agreeable, precious little nurturer that she is.

When I feel nauseated, which is rare, the discomfort is made worse by the fact that I don’t throw up. In my whole life I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually vomited, and 3 of those times were connected to morning sickness during pregnancy. Even when I KNOW I’d feel better emptying my stomach, I can’t seem to. So the nausea turns to pain and acid backs up my esophagus, closing off my throat. As I tried to play with Aubrey I became miserable. I attempted to soothe the upset with antacids, which didn’t help. And then Pepto Bismal, which helped a little. Poor Aubrey, I wasn’t a very good companion this afternoon. She played and entertained me and we watched Peter Pan together….and I fought down the waves of discomfort that would rise into my throat.

After Aubrey left, I had an idea. I have dried herbs, some recently prepared from my own garden, and I decided to create, for the first time, a hot tea from a combination of herbs that could soothe my digestive system. From my book Home Herbal, I found a recipe I could adapt slightly. I had most of the herbs. It was time to bring healing to myself.

chamomile and fennel tea 2

The tea is a combination of chamomile and fennel, plus marshmallow root, yarrow and lemongrass. The lemongrass was from my apothecary garden, and the first time I’ve made a tea using my own home grown herbs. I scooped a teaspoon of each dried herb, using my recently acquired wooden teaspoon (another first) and placed the herbal mixture in a metal ball. Dropping the metal ball into my white porcelain teapot, I covered it with boiling water and let the herbs steep for about 10 minutes. The tea was light in color and tasted great.

The chamomile soothes stomach irritation and upset, and relaxes the body. Fennel aids in digestion and adds a subtle licorice taste to the tea. Marshmallow root improves digestion. Yarrow, which is an ancient herb used for medicine, is good for indigestion and improves liver, pancreas and gall bladder function. Lemongrass is a great general health herb, easing aches and pains and soothing infection.

I passed on dinner tonight and had a couple of cups of hot, flavorful tea. I felt better almost immediately. Whether it was the power of the herbs or the power of my mind, or both, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the relief was very welcomed. And I now  have a tested recipe to use should I battle nausea again. I’d much rather sip a cup of tea than down antacids or sip on the bright pink stuff! I am grateful to feel good again.

chamomile and fennel tea 3

Day 350: National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

national chocolate on everything day

What a fun day to celebrate, especially during the holiday season! While I’m not a chocoholic, preferring other flavors over chocolate, I don’t turn my nose up at it either. My grandson Dayan and I had already planned an event for the afternoon. This “holiday” provided the perfect excuse to stock up on chocolate covered snacks.

I picked Dayan up after school and we bought an assortment of goodies including chocolate covered donuts, chocolate covered peanut butter rice krispy treats and white chocolate covered Christmas tree shaped pretzels! Dayan went all out and got chocolate covered milk….otherwise known as chocolate milk…as well. With our stash, we settled into my daughter’s living room, to watch….The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, extended edition.

I can hear the groans. The Hobbit again? Didn’t I just do a Hobbit movie marathon yesterday? Haven’t I watched this movie enough? Yes….yes….and no. I never tire of the Middle-Earth films. As often as I watch, I learn something new, see something I haven’t seen before, hear a truth that escaped me before. In ways that are difficult for me to explain to anyone else, movies speak to me. They impart truth and knowledge and guidance. They reveal patterns and fuel my passion and creativity. Much like those who read the same book over and over again, I watch the same movie over and over to keep learning from it, and simply because I enjoy it.

I love watching movies with my grandchildren. Dayan, at 15, has been a long time movie companion. Our whole family took him to see his first movie when he was 8 months old. He sat in rapt attention during Toy Story, occasionally looking at me with his wise brown eyes before continuing to watch the story unfolding on the big screen. We’ve been to countless movies since.

We had a plan, Dayan and I, that we couldn’t execute until this week when the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies released. We wanted to watch all six Middle Earth films, in chronological order. We began today with the first Hobbit movie, and after we watch the newest Hobbit movie, we will progress through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended editions. In this way, we will get to see the whole story, told through film.

Not only did we enjoy our movie, and our chocolate covered treats, we had great discussions about the films, Tolkien and Peter Jackson. I got to share with Dayan about how foreshadowing in this movie hints at what’s to come in the later films. And we tuned in to Howard Shore’s amazing soundtrack which subtly supports and enhances the movie. Dayan has a great ear for music and quickly learned to distinguish the different themes throughout the film. There is the Hobbit theme, Rivendell theme, Dwarves theme and many, many more. Each race and place has a musical theme that accompanies them and signals the arrival of key moments. When Gandalf speaks to Galadriel about the courage of Hobbits, the Hobbit theme plays softly in the background for a few bars. Even the eagles in the movie have a theme. We enjoyed connecting the information together that is woven throughout the films, creating an intricate, beautiful tapestry that tells such an amazing story. I joyfully anticipate watching each Middle-Earth movie again with Dayan and hearing his input.

This afternoon we laughed and talked and watched and wondered and snacked. It was a great celebration of all things Hobbit and of Chocolate Covered Anything Day and of life.

national chocolate covered anything day

Day 349: The Hobbit Movie Marathon

Hobbit Marathon

All year, I’ve been anticipating the release of the final movie in the Hobbit Trilogy, and the conclusion of the Middle-Earth Saga that began more than 13 years ago. The release date is Wednesday, December 17. I had plans to attend! A month or so ago, I started seeing teasers for a Hobbit Movie Marathon, playing in selected theaters. The first two Hobbit movies would be presented back to back and lead to a sneak peek of the final movie, two days ahead of the release date.

I thought it would be so cool to spend a day at the movie theater….one of my favorite places to hang out for a few hours. I didn’t expect that my Joplin theater, Regal, would be one of the selected venues for the marathon…so I hadn’t really checked on it. Last Thursday, while with my granddaughter at one of her favorite places, Chick Fil A, I was casually browsing the Regal Theater’s upcoming releases. I looked at Wednesday and smiled over the many scheduled showings of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (henceforth in this blog post TBOTFA). I backed up a day, and there were Tuesday evening showings. Wow, I thought, I might go a day early. I mistakenly thought the marathon was scheduled for Tuesday and since I didn’t see it listed that day, I didn’t think Joplin was hosting the event. Something made me back up one more day….and there it was, the Hobbit Movie Marathon. I bought my ticket an hour later.

Today, for my first, I attended the marathon, a nine hour event starting at 1:00. I was there by noon, and picked out a great seat. Knowing I’d be sitting for a long time today, I got a seat on the back wall where there is more leg room. My one concern today was that my legs would get restless. Sitting where I did, I could stretch my legs out without bumping the seat in front of me.

This was a very special time for me. No other series of movies has impacted me as much as the Middle-Earth stories have. Many life lessons appeared for me from Lord of the Rings and then the Hobbit, which I expected less from, taught me more. JRR Tolkien was an amazing story teller. And Peter Jackson so brilliantly adapted these rich stories into unforgettable films. I was thrilled to be sharing space today with 40-50 other fans who take the movies as seriously as I do. My cousin’s son, Harry, and his friend drove to Joplin to attend as well and sat next to me.

As many times as I’ve seen the first two Hobbit films, I still enjoyed seeing them both again on the big screen. The first movie is so light-hearted. I had the opportunity to fall in love with the characters when An Unexpected Journey released, and figure out which dwarf was which. Desolation of Smaug is much darker, and the characters flesh out and deepen. Thorin’s fanatical side begins to appear, and Bilbo finds the One Ring….and his courage….in this film.

I have looked forward to and dreaded the third film. I have read The Hobbit book several times, so I am very familiar with the story and how it ends. That ending created my sense of dread. A part of me didn’t want to see this story play out, and I didn’t want to see the saga come to an end. Peter Jackson has already said there can be no other Tolkien films. The family owns the rights to Tolkien’s other works and they aren’t willing at this time to release them.

I will do a full review of TBOTFA later this week, as a bonus blog post. It deserves a full posting. The movie was beautifully done, full of action right from the opening scene, and full of angst. This is Thorin’s story, really, more than Bilbo’s. I watched all of the characters complete their journeys. It was Thorin Oakenshield whose journey was the most difficult as it was primarily an inward one. Just when it appears that this new king under the mountain is destined to share the same fate as his grandfather, he reaches deep within to find his true heart. I love stories about transformation and overcoming, and this last Hobbit movie is a powerful portrayal of lives that are changed.

I watched the conclusion, being unable to stop it! As much as I would have liked a different ending to the story, Peter Jackson was faithful to Tolkien’s depiction and it was very well done. Yes….I cried. I actually teared up early in the film, several times, and felt that didn’t bode well for how I would handle the ending. But, tears are cleansing and as Gandalf himself says, in LOTR: ROTK “I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” In this case, they were honoring as well. One of the characters, weeping, asks King Thranduil, “If this is love, why does it hurt so much?”. “Because it was real,” he answers, from a place within his heart that has known loss. And I know…these characters aren’t real. But the emotions, the joy and the sorrow, are.

As the third movie ended and the credits rolled, Billy Boyd who played Pippen in LOTR, sings a moving song called appropriately “The Last Goodbye”. The audience, who after nine hours together felt like my friends and family, sat silently together, joined by our shared experience. There were soft sighs and a few sniffles and a reluctance to break the bond. At last we slowly stood and quietly left the theater.

I am so glad I got to see these three movies presented as the single story that they are. Before the third movie started, there was a short clip from Peter Jackson. He acknowledged that some of his greatest fans were present for this event, willingly devoting nine hours out of their day to see this marathon. Then he suggested putting all six Middle-Earth movies together for a mega marathon at selected theaters. “That’s for another day,” he promised. I hope that becomes a reality. If so, I’m there!

Hobbit Marathon TBOTFA

Day 348: Fix the Christmas Tree Lights

fix the lights lightkeeper

I love the twinkling white lights on my fresh Christmas tree. Once I decorate the tree, early in December, I plug the lights in and they stay on until I undecorate the tree in early January. One of my quiet pleasures during this time of year is sitting reflectively at night in the soft glow of the tree lights and the tiny flames of 6o plus candles lit throughout my house.

One thing I don’t like, is how quickly a string of twinkling white lights can become untwinkling. As a rule, I simply buy new lights every year so I don’t have the frustration and hassle of a string, or worse yet, half a string of lights going out. I am a recovering perfectionist, but I still can’t abide having lights on the tree that don’t shine.

This year, I tested the strings of lights that I had left over from last year, and going against my inclination to buy new ones, I used the lights anyway. Ironically, last Thursday, I was in the midst of a Facebook conversation with daughter Elissa, who was experiencing a light failure on her tree, when I cast a glance at my own tree. I couldn’t believe it! Mid conversation with her, about the frailty of Christmas tree lights, and I lose half a string.

fix the lights out

It’s been a busy weekend, with Adriel’s graduation and family in. I left the situation alone. Every time I looked at my tree, I hoped that the lights would all be lit. But no. I normally remove a faulty string of lights and just buy a new set. Today, for the first time, I used a handy gadget to test the string of lights, find the burned out bulb, and replace it.

My year of first experiences has boosted my confidence in tackling projects I never would have bothered with before. If I couldn’t do it, I’d ask Greg or someone else to take care of the situation. And if there wasn’t a readily available solution, I’d replace the item. Not only have I fixed more things this year, and learned to use power tools, I have enjoyed recycling and repurposing what I have, rather than purchasing something new. Doing so has brought a great sense of accomplishment and it feels like I’m being kind to the earth and to myself.

fix the lights pkg

Today, with Greg’s supervision, I used the Lightkeeper Pro, a gun that detects current in the line and beeps when an interruption is found. It was a little difficult to test the strand while it was wound around the tree. I carefully unwound the defective string without disturbing the rest of the tree’s decorations and with the line stretched out, ran the beeping gun along its length. Greg said I didn’t need to mention him in my post, however, he was a great encouragement and offered suggestions as I needed them. After a bit of searching, the burned out bulb was located, by the lack of beeping, and I replaced it. Success! The whole string lit up again. I restrung the lights and felt that wonderful sense of doing something good. I didn’t have to toss the light string and buy another one. And the whole process only took a few minutes.

I am sitting this evening, as I type my blog, near the Christmas tree, which is lit up entirely, the glass beads and glass and silver ornaments sparkling in the glow. Throughout the house, candle flames flicker, adding to the magic. Outside, a rare December thunderstorm adds flickering lights of its own, accompanied by the rolling rumble of thunder. I am cozy and snug in the house, and extremely grateful and content. I love the Light. I am basking in the Light. I am being Light.

fix the lights

fix the lights candlelight

Day 347: Adriel’s Graduation and Pinning

Adriel graduates from nursing school auditorium

I have been to many graduations, from junior high school level to college, and had the pleasure of attending my son’s police academy graduation. I have never attended a nursing graduates pinning ceremony, until today. For my first, I attended my younger daughter’s graduation and pinning ceremony.

This has been a long and arduous journey for my youngest child. Adriel entered college as a 17 year old. She chose a path in nursing several years before that when she began volunteering at the hospital as a young teen. It was a wise move for a girl who wanted to see if nursing was compatible with who she was becoming. This was a decision that surprised me initially. As I’ve shared previously, Adriel gagged as a very young girl if I said the word “snot” in her proximity. And if someone actually sneezed in her presence and produced snot….well, I’d have a mess to clean up, her stomach was so sensitive.

There were hints, though, as she grew older, that that sensitivity was lessening. I have this precious picture of her, at the age of four, reclined on my desk, studying a cow’s eyeball as it was cupped in her hand. She was fascinated. In our homeschool studies, she was the child who eagerly dissected frogs, worms and fish, without a hint of gagging. The other kids gladly passed on their dissecting specimens to her.

Adriel graduates from nursing school early years

The volunteering at Freeman Hospital suited her well. She showed up once a week for years, delivering flowers, taking patients to their rooms, soothing people with her calm yet practical form of compassion. Those years of experience were a green light for her, and after she graduated from high school, she earnestly began pursing her dream of becoming a nurse.

Life has presented challenges as she journeyed toward her goal. My now grown girl worked full time and put herself through college, one semester at a time. Her dad and I offered some financial support, but Adriel handled this expense herself for the most part. She completed the prerequisites, one by one, with an eye toward applying to the nursing program. This is not an easy feat, being accepted into nursing school. Overall grades have to be at a certain level. Required classes have to be taken with a high grade obtained. And there are many other requirements. Adriel never wavered from what she wanted. She always researched what she needed to do and then set about bringing her plan into reality, one step at a time. Adriel received her Certified Nursing Assistant certification and began working as a nurse tech at Freeman Hospital as she continued her education.

The day she was accepted into Crowder College’s nursing program was a huge accomplishment. And then the difficult part really began. Nursing school is hard! The classes, the amount of studying, the clinicals, the days spent meeting the stringent requirements while working nights at the hospital every weekend took physical and mental endurance. I learned so much from my daughter, watching her persist, watching her work hard, watching her as she refused to allow challenges to get in the way of her plans. So many would have given up. So many would have said it was too hard.

Today was the culmination of years of studying, working, learning and growing. Adriel graduated this morning from Crowder College with an Associate of Science, Nursing degree. That in itself was a thrilling moment, watching her in her black cap and gown, with the white banner for nursing, as she walked across the stage to receive her degree. The teary moment came after lunch. With 17 family members and friends present, Adriel received her nurse’s pin in the pinning ceremony. Her dad, Greg, and I had the honor of meeting her on stage to actually pin the button to her white scrub top. What an emotional moment! I was filled with pride and joy and a sense of gratitude to see this part completed.

Adriel graduates from nursing school

As I was carefully fastening the pin to Adriel’s shirt, her words of thanks were being read by a staff member. I was so focused on the pinning, and on hugging and kissing Adriel, that I missed most of what Adriel had written. I am so thankful for her friend, Sara, who captured the moment on video. I got to listen after the ceremony, and be teary eyed all over again.

Adriel graduates from nursing school white scrubs

Next month, Adriel will take her Board Exams. I have no doubt at all that she will fly through this part. And then my sweet girl will be a Registered Nurse, with many career opportunities ahead of her. Congratulations, Adriel! No one deserves this more than you. I love you so much!

Adriel graduates from nursing school pinning