Christmas 2017

A brief, and pictorial, blog post tonight, at the conclusion of a joy filled Christmas day spent with family. Greg and I joined daughters Adriel and Elissa, sons-in-law Nate and Josh, and grandsons Dayan and Jonathan, for a fun afternoon of cooking together and chatting, laughing and snapping photos in front of the tree. My mom stopped by to visit and see Dayan, who is home from the University of Missouri on holiday break. Son Nate and daughter-in-law Megan and their three children spent the day in Arkansas with Megan’s family. We missed them, however I know they had a fun day!

I love this time of year. Christmas Day is the culmination of weeks of buying and making gifts, planning and prepping food, and anticipating gathering with family. We had a casual, smorgasbord type meal today, with everyone contributing to the meal.

Nate prepared his family’s traditional sloppy Joe recipe, one that his grandmother Dorothy created. I was told that the sloppy Joes were wonderful! What a special tribute to Grandma Dorothy.

Elissa recently discovered an app called Yummly. She tried two recipes from it for the first time…scalloped potatoes and maple glazed carrots. I was so impressed with her recipes that I downloaded the app, which can be customized for my plant based diet.

Here are our fun pics in front of Adriel and Nate’s festive Christmas Tree…

Our outfits were festive too!

Nate and pup Frances in holiday finery as well!

Greg with Elissa, Adriel and Nate.

The family group shot!

With grandsons Dayan and Jonathan.

Mimi with two of her granddaughters.

Jonathan playing Super Mario Odyssey on his new Nintendo Switch. This boy intuitively plays these games! It would take me months to learn a new game.

Coney and Willow insisted on snuggling with Dayan.

We had such a sweet and precious day. The food was plentiful, delicious and healthy. And the company I kept? Well, that was the true gift of the day, spending time with my family. There is no greater blessing in my life than my family members. How incredible it is, that I get to journey through life with these beautiful, amazing people. How miraculous, to hug them and kiss them, and receive their love in return.

Christmas 2017 is almost a memory now. Dayan just left my house. We watched the Doctor Who Christmas special together, a yearly tradition for us. Candles are lit throughout my home, one of the last times this season that I will enjoy their soft glow.

I will spend the last two hours of Christmas 2017 in a contemplative space as I allow my heart to fill and then overflow with love, joy, peace and gratitude.

Merry Christmas, blessed Christmas, joy and peace within me, joy and peace to the world.

33rd Christmas Carol

Although many of my holiday traditions have shifted over the years, one of my most cherished is also the oldest. Since childhood, I have watched a variety of films during the holiday season, depicting Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. The George C Scott version, released as a TV movie in 1984, is my all time favorite adaptation and has been my preferred Christmas Carol for 33 years.

Daughter Adriel and son-in-law Nate hosted this year’s viewing. We were joined by Greg, Elissa and Dayan. We settled in the living room, lit by the glow of Christmas tree lights and a crackling fire in the fireplace, with cups of hot apple cider and freshly made peanut butter no bake cookies.

I never tire of watching the story of Ebenezer Scrooge unfold. A Christmas Carol is my favorite type of movie, one that has the power to impact lives through the transformative journey of the main character. As I watched the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit Scrooge, with the intention of changing the course of his life, I noticed a couple of things that I had not before, in spite of a lifetime of familiarity with this story.

Ebenezer connects with the boy Tiny Tim, experiencing feelings of compassion and tenderness. These are traits not evident in any other area of Scrooge’s life. It is, in fact, Tiny Tim’s uncertain future that breaks open Scrooge’s heart, which has long been barricaded from feeling anything.

I realized tonight why Scrooge first connects with this child. He identifies with him, understands him. As a boy, Ebenezer was sent away to a boarding school. His friends were imaginary characters from his beloved books. He didn’t join the adventures that his classmates had, spending time alone instead. Tiny Tim is not able to join in with the other children his age, due to his frail body and poor health. Although he has a large family, and people who love him, he is an observer of life, more than a participant, much as the boy Ebenezer was. They both live on the fringes, learning to make do. Seeing Tiny Tim allows Ebenezer to see himself again as a lonely child, more clearly and with more empathy than the memories that the ghost of Christmas past summoned.

My heart always feels very tender toward young Ebenezer Scrooge. Seeing his awakening compassion towards Bob Cratchit’s son, with fresh eyes and new insight, deepened my understanding of the hardships that shaped Ebenezer’s personality and his future.

My second new aha tonight came near the end of the movie, as the ghost of Christmas present leaves Scrooge alone in a dark part of town. Ebenezer has just had his eyes opened to the plight of the poor. His words about people going to the poor houses, or worse, dying to deplete the surplus population, suddenly seem harsh and unsettling to his own ears. In this new state of awareness, he finds himself on his own, far from home. “What have I done, to be abandoned like this?” Ebenezer asks aloud.

This scene has always bothered me, because surely the older man knows he has done many things that have caused people to dislike him. But it is not the older Scrooge who is wondering why he has been abandoned. Tonight I connected the question back to the young boy, who was alone in the boarding school. Left there by his father, who blamed Ebenezer for the death of his wife, the boy must have repeatedly asked that very same question, “What have I done, to be abandoned like this?” The question has haunted Scrooge his whole life. As a result, he closed his heart down, to protect it, and learned to take care of himself by becoming an excellent, albeit harsh, businessman.

Ebenezer teaches me that childhood experiences are powerful and vows made during those formative years shape who we become. Scrooge shows me that it is never too late to let go of those experiences and undo those vows and allow the heart to open again. His transformation at the end of the movie is my favorite part of the story. I feel Ebenezer’s joy when he realizes he has a second chance, to live with the spirit of Christmas striving in his heart and active in his life. I celebrate who he becomes.

I am grateful for another viewing of A Christmas Carol, and the impact this film has had on my life throughout the years. And I am thankful for my family. They see the value in this movie as well. I know that my mom watched A Christmas Carol tonight also, as did my son and his wife. What an incredible tradition, one that spans the years, and the generations. I look forward to many more viewings of Dickens’ beloved tale, and many more ahas.

Oliver Conquers the Mall

Yesterday’s Christmas shopping with Oliver was postponed, due to my grandson not feeling well. With Christmas fast approaching the time was limited for a future excursion. I was prepared to become Oliver’s personal shopper this afternoon, communicating via cell phones, and picking up his selections for him. However, Oliver rallied enough to venture out. The Yaya & Grandchild shopping trip was on!

It was obvious, after I picked up this normally energetic boy, that he was still recovering from sinus congestion and drainage. Minutes after we left his house, he was asleep in the car. Is there anything more precious than a sleeping child? It doesn’t matter how old they are, slumber surrounds the child with an aura of beautiful innocence.

I let Oliver sleep. When we arrived at the mall, I sat quietly with him and left the car running. I considered whether I should take him back home, pick up another adult to stay in the car with him as I did a quick shop, or wake him and see what he wanted to do.

I chose to wake him and ask his opinion. He is ten years old now, after all.

Although he was a bit groggy, and asked if he could sit if he needed to, he wanted to shop. I had to admire his spirit and his determination. The ibuprofen he took before leaving the house seemed to be kicking in.

Oliver accomplished his goal…shopping for Christmas gifts for his family…in record time. He made great decisions, in two stores, so that 30 minutes later, we were headed to my house to wrap. His talkative nature and wonderful curiosity had returned, and we chatted during the brief drive and while he wrapped the presents.

This young man always has a question or two for me about real estate. After we talked business, Oliver wondered which animal is my favorite and what song I liked best today.

My heart was full of compassion this afternoon for my grandson, knowing he wasn’t feeling his best. I enjoyed our time together, brief as it was. And when he feels 100% himself again, and has regained his appetite, we will have a Yaya & Grandchild meal together, to make up for the one he passed on today.

I learn so much from my grandchildren. Each one is unique, each has talents and gifts and delightful quirks, each one has much to offer to the world. I won’t see the four younger grandchildren until after Christmas. However, I am grateful that I got to spend one on one time with each of them, shopping, listening, sharing, and laughing.

It has been the merriest of Christmas seasons.

Christmas Dominoes

What do I do, in the midst of a busy week, when my washer stops working and there’s laundry to do? I call my mom and ask to come over and use her washer and dryer. And then I text my sister Linda and invite her to hang out with Mom and me and play games. I bring my clothes and laundry supplies and healthy snacks. What is normally a chore morphs into a family fun night.

One thing, of many, that I appreciate about my family is their adaptability and willingness to have fun. Mom and Linda were good sports about an impromptu game night as my clothes went through the magical process of becoming clean in the utility room. We cleared the dining room table and Mom brought out her set of Mexican Train Dominoes.

This game is easy to play, and yet requires some strategy. Each player builds upon her own “train” of dominoes, originating from a central hub, or station. The game begins with the double twelves domino being played, and progresses through to the double blanks. An additional train is created as well, that one can play on if you can’t play on your own train. Each round is over when the first player lays down all of her dominoes. The other players add up their points by counting the dots on their remaining dominoes. At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score wins.

This is a fun game to play. And best of all, the ease of play and pace of the game allows for time to chat and catch up on each other’s journeys. We laugh when my mom mutters, as she eyes her dominoes at the beginning of every round, “What a mess!” We tease Linda when she needs her glasses to distinguish between a domino with four dots or six.

We get caught up in our conversations and forget to play, or wonder whose turn it is. That’s expected and one of the things I love about game nights.

The photo above captures what happens when no one initially selects the double five to lead off the game. We took turns drawing dominoes from the boneyard, until at last Mom picked it up with only three tiles remaining. And note the laundry basket in the lower right corner, with clean, neatly folded clothes accumulating in it.

What a fun way to spend the evening. Had I been doing laundry at home, I would have been multi-tasking, working on other projects or doing housework while my clothes spun through the washer and dryer. It was a nice change of pace to spend family time talking and laughing and playing. Linda won the game. I left with clean clothes. Mom said she enjoyed having two of her girls present for the evening.

My washer will get repaired or I’ll purchase a new one. Whether I’m toting in a basket full of laundry or simply showing up, I want more family fun nights in my future.

Gifts of the Season

This afternoon I had the privilege of accompanying grandson Joey on his Christmas shopping trip. The day was overcast, chilly and dreary, however within our car there was joy and light and anticipation as we drove to Joplin.

We quickly established what our stops would be, and tossed around gift ideas for his family, calling in a little additional help from my daughter-in-law, Megan. By the time we had arrived in the first store’s parking lot, Joey had a clear game plan. From there this young man never wavered, finding each item on his mental gift list, and checking it off.

I give the kids an approximate budget, and two things amaze me as they shop. The kids are extremely fair in their purchases. They do their best to spend the same amount on each family member. This practice is the grandkids’ way of showing that they value the people in their lives and see their worth.

And, we find the items that the children have in mind, at the price they want to pay. This form of synchronicity happens over and over…getting an item on sale, finding the last such item at the exact right price. I love the delight that sparkles in their eyes as they exchange knowing looks with me. These shopping trips not only allow my grandchildren to give gifts to their loved ones, they teach them wonderful lessons about the incredible way life can flow.

Joey and I had such fun shopping and talking non-stop, that this Yaya totally failed to capture any of that part of the experience by way of photos! As we arrived at On the Border, the Mexican food restaurant that Joey selected for our meal, I lamented my lapse. Joey teased me about falling down on my one job today, and then laughed it off. He was gracious in allowing me to take extra photos in the restaurant and during our gift wrapping session.

Preparing to leave, after a delicious lunch, and I find my grandson settled in, watching football on a big screen tv.

Joey decided to actually wrap his gifts, rather than drop them into bags and stuff the tops with tissue paper. There is a knack to gift wrapping, and I let Joey experience cutting the paper to size and helped him learn to fold and tape up the ends. He did a great job. We talked about each family member as he wrapped their gifts and how surprised they would be by his selections.

These are special times, shopping with the grandkids. They enjoy selecting and giving the gifts. And they receive beyond getting a gift in return, perhaps without realizing it fully yet. They are learning the value of money, and more importantly, the value of their family members. They learn to make decisions, carry them out and adapt if necessary. There is a sense of accomplishment that each child feels over their little stack of gifts, and the delicious thrill of anticipation as they imagine the recipients opening their surprises.

There are sweet gifts to me also, watching the bright, earnest faces of my grandchildren as they make decisions and purchases. I receive the gifts of their conversations and laughter, their love and gratitude, and the joy of seeing their awareness and mindfulness grow.

It truly is the season of giving…and receiving…and I love sharing it all with these beautiful souls.

Joy Multiplied

I truly do love this time of year. From the big family Halloween party at the end of October, to the beginning of a shiny New Year, this is a season of incredible joy and special connections and marvelous fun. At the center of it all is family.

I spent the afternoon and evening with granddaughter Aubrey, on outing two of five of the annual Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping tradition.

I can tell my grandchildren are growing up, beyond my observations of how tall they are getting or how mature our conversations have become. Their shopping habits are changing.

As she did for her birthday shopping trip, Aubrey avoided the toy store for our Christmas outing, preferring the mall and a big box type store. She shopped wisely and with great care for her family members, not wanting to waste any time in shops that did not have what she was looking for.

She did pause to point out a cute outfit, in case I needed any gift ideas for her. However, her focus, for the most part, was on others and surprising them with thoughtful purchases.

I love these one on one excursions with each grandchild, following them as they browse, listening to their chatter and observing their gift selection process. Each child is unique and has his or her own way of making decisions.

Aubrey chose Popeye’s for dinner, hungry for their cajun chicken, mildly seasoned for her, mac & cheese and biscuits. We continued conversations we had started in the car, including one on the serious topic of bullying. I questioned her about bullying in her school, and was relieved by her answer. However, we discussed the importance of standing up for ourselves and for others who are being picked on, and that it is always okay to talk to an adult if she notices a child being treated unkindly.

After that conversation, Aubrey found a yellow wrist band on the sidewalk outside of a store, with “No bullying” written on it. She asked about the big word that describes when things connect unexpectedly, leading to a chat about synchronicities! I love the interesting flow of life, and I love Aubrey’s heart.

At my house Aubrey made quick work of wrapping her gifts, writing her own gift tags and selecting bags and tissue paper. And then it was time to take her home, after a successful and fun evening.

I thought again tonight about how magical this season is. For me there is deep gratitude, a recognition of blessings and Divine guidance, and appreciation for gifts that cannot be wrapped, only experienced and held in the heart.

I love the sights and sounds of Christmas, the crisp cold air, the warmth of home, the joy that surrounds me and overflows my heart. And, that joy is magnified and multiplied by these grandchildren who share shopping trips and stories and meals and dreams with me. This is my favorite part of the most wonderful time of the year.

The Heart of My Day

My day has been spent being Yaya to two of my grandchildren. As a grandmother, that is one of the best ways I can spend my time, investing in my grandkids and being loved by them.

Grandson Jonathan and I kicked off the yearly Christmas Shopping with Yaya tradition. I take each of the grandkids out to purchase gifts for their family members and treat them to the meal of their choice.

Jonathan is an excellent shopper who knows what he wants to buy for his family, and he wastes no time in accomplishing this task. We chatted as we made several stops, and Jonathan introduced me to Snapchat, creating a profile for me as I drove. This young man is my techie grandchild, and I laughed as he crafted a bitmoji to represent me.

Jonathan has such a tender heart as well. As we pulled into the Walmart parking lot, he noticed a family holding up a hand lettered sign, asking for gas money. We purchased Christmas gift bags and tissue paper in the store…and picked up a gift card to give to the family as we left. This was Jonathan’s idea, and I was happy to encourage and support his generosity.

We grabbed carry out lunches from Applebee’s and returned to the house to wrap gifts and watch an episode of Stranger Things together.

I appreciate Jonathan. He is smart, funny and easy to talk to. He has big ideas and he is working on being able to carry them out. Someday he will be creating apps that make life easier or more fun for people. In the meantime, he is expanding his compassionate heart by being mindful of others and making a difference where he can.

This evening my granddaughter Aubrey joined me for a sleep over. It’s been a while since she has spent the night and both of us were excited about this special treat. Her thoughts about it…”We are having a granddaughter and grandmother slumber party. Some might find that weird. I think it’s fun!” I agree, Aubrey.

This beautiful girl is growing up. As we dined together at Texas Roadhouse she kept up a very mature chatter about school, football, friends and movies. Her current favorite film is 47 Meters Down, a shark flick. Aubrey has interesting and refreshing views about life, people and situations and I always enjoy a conversation with her.

I left my phone unattended for a few minutes, and found this surprise as my new background!

Aubrey knows her way around a cell phone as well, and offered to further my education in Snapchat. After donning our pjs and getting ready for bed, Aubrey gave me some quick lessons in using this photo based app. We laughed over the special effects and she patiently led me through creating my first Snapchat pic.

These kids are precious to me. I enjoyed spending my day divided between two of the grandkids. This week I will set up times to take the rest of my group shopping for Christmas gifts. That’s a fun activity, watching how thoughtfully and carefully each child shops. The greater joy though is just spending time with them, hearing their thoughts, learning what’s important to them, and encouraging them to follow their hearts.

Yaya is a sacred title to me. I am blessed to bear that name in honor of these five adventurous souls.

First Thanksgiving

I have a pictorial post to share, of the first Thanksgiving. Not the one back in 1621, but the first one within my family this year. Because my son will work on Thanksgiving Day, and children will be with their other parents, Nate and Megan hosted an early celebration at their home today, when everyone could be present.

Members from Megan’s family and ours came together in a big, happy group to kick off this week that focuses on gratitude.

Lots of cooks in the kitchen…and one hopeful pug. Nate and Megan provided turkey and the fixings, and everyone else contributed side dishes, desserts, plastic ware and whatever else was needed. I brought plant food based options.

I love that Megan’s sign decor identifies what’s going on in several pics. There is a large KITCHEN sign in the photo above.

Adriel, Nate and Dayan. Our family has two Nates!

The very appropriate sign behind Nate says, Thank you for the food before us, the family and friends beside us, and the love between us.

Football crowd! Kansas City was playing.

The sign in this pic says it well. Eat. There was more food atop the adjacent counter.

Greg gave me a “What are you doing?” look just as I took the photo! He’s standing with child one and child two, also known as Elissa and Nate.

After our shared meal, it was outside into the sunshine, and slightly chilly air, for an annual tradition…the family kickball match.

Team One takes the field.

I caught a pic of the ball after it was kicked.

Team Two preparing to kick. Aubrey gets a bit of coaching from Megan.

Not all of us play…because someone needs to yell and cheer from the sidelines!

Although my family sometimes cringes or scatters, these photo opportunities are precious to me. All five of my grandkids were present. From the left, Joey, Aubrey, Jonathan, Oliver, and Dayan. I love these kids so much!

And the adult kids. I am grateful for each one, and I love and appreciate them. Back row…Josh, Elissa, Adriel. Front row…Megan, Nate, and Nate.

Family photo. What a beautiful group of people.

Big group family photo. What a wonderful blended family.

It was a fun day and it set the tone for the week. The love of family truly is one of life’s greatest blessings. When I list the things I am thankful for, family is always at the top.

Thursday will be Thanksgiving Two. It will be a more quiet day, with food and conversation and games. And it will be full of gratitude as well. May I be especially mindful this week, of all of my blessings, and pause each day to express my thanks.

I Love a Parade

Family fun continued today, kicking off early this morning with an event that has been held annually for 51 years. The Maple Leaf Festival in Carthage Missouri hosts a variety of activities each year, the highlight being the Maple Leaf Parade.

My son Nate was in the parade this morning, commanding the Color Guard as they led the parade. And three of my grandchildren, Joey, Oliver and Aubrey, rode on floats, along with their Tiger football teams and cheerleading squads.

I enjoy parades…the festive atmosphere, the camaraderie of the people gathered along the streets, the smiling participants waving from the colorful floats. And although Christmas parades have a beauty all their own, I am particularly fond of this parade that celebrates autumn. I marched in this parade during my years in high school band. I’ve watched my children and grandchild as they in turn have walked, ridden or marched by. I have a long history with this event.

Here are highlights of the Maple Leaf Parade:

This has become a yearly tradition, capturing a pic of my son with his wife Megan. Nate serves his community as a police sergeant. As a member of the Color Guard, it is their task to lead off the parade with a presentation of the American and state flags.

I watched my son, standing confidently, tall and straight backed, and remembered when he was a boy, standing with rapt attention as we watched various parades begin. He was there to watch the police officers and the police cars with their flashing red and blue lights. He dreamed of being an officer someday. Did he know that when that someday came, that he would be the one leading the parades?

This adorable dog, sitting calmly in the back seat as he sports a hat, seemed to love being in the parade.

Grandson Joey, with the sixth grade Tiger football team, stood up and waved so we could see him!

Grandson Oliver, with the fourth grade team, gave us a smile and a wave.

Granddaughter Aubrey and her sweet friend Karleigh, who is like another grandchild to me, with the Tiger cheerleading squads.

A crowd favorite the last few years, this float features characters from the Star Wars movies. The band marching in front of them played Darth Vader’s theme song.

My grandson Dayan marched with the Carl Junction band the last four years. I missed seeing him today, and felt compelled to snap a pic of the tuba section any way. There were many marching bands performing during the parade. I heard this band enter the square and I knew it was the CJ band without seeing the banner carried. I know this band. I recorded them as they played, so I can share with Dayan, who happened to be in a parade after all today. He rode on a float, representing resident hall government, in Mizzou’s homecoming parade.

A sweet moment between Nate and Megan, after my son completed the parade and returned to the square to find us before starting other duties.

Horses always signal the end of the parade, and today, there was a unicorn in their midst!

What a fun morning. The weather was the warmest we have had, that I recall. Usually I am dressed in layers and bundled up in winter gloves, scarf and hat in an attempt to stay warm. Not so today. Temps were in the 70s and many people took advantage of mild weather and lined the streets.

I combined the parade with today’s walking. Greg parked the car a distance from the square and we walked to our viewing destination. After the parade we walked around the square, looking at booths, and running into Nate again, who was chatting with friends of ours. The trek back to the car then completed a good walk for Day 23.

It was a gorgeous fall day, that began with an event that is fun to watch, and never fails to tap into warm memories. Yes, I certainly do love a parade.

Exeter Corn Maze

I’m getting in very late tonight, after an extremely fun evening with my son, Nate, daughter-in-law Megan, and grandkids Joey, Oliver and Aubrey. Greg and I joined this merry group in visiting Exeter Corn Maze, in Exeter, Missouri.

I have never been to this entertaining farm turned fall playground. I’ve been excited all week to experience it and to watch my grandkids enjoy the various activities Exeter Corn Maze offers.

Established 13 years ago, on an actual farm, this country place offers many activities for the entire family. There is a corn maze, a huge one full of creepy clowns and chainsaw wielding maniacs. The saws have the chains removed, so it is all good fun. We got lost in the dark cornfield, which seems to be my fate in corn mazes. And that’s part of the intended experience.

The kids bounced on giant inflated pillows, petted farm animals in the petting zoo and flew overhead on zip lines. These kids are fearless! They “swam” in the corn pit, filled with dried kernels. Joey and Oliver faced off with mock opponents in the archery maze, while Aubrey tried out the indoor swings and mini zip lines located inside a made over barn.

The adults joined in on the Spook House, which was scary fun, and the Zombie Shoot. We did the Zombie shoot late in the evening, and as a result, we were the only participants. A tractor pulled us on a trailer through more cornfields and another barn, where scenes were set up. Zombies inhabited those scenes. We shot them with paint ball guns. This was a first for me, both dealing with zombies and firing a paint ball gun. It was a blast, literally!

It was an incredible evening, with the highlight being watching Joey, Oliver and Aubrey exploring and playing and having new adventures. Exeter Corn Maze offers marvelous opportunities for all of those things and creates a fun environment for families to experience together.

I’m glad I got to experience it with part of my family tonight!