“Mini Holidays” Help Us Celebrate Life and Keep Us Moving Forward

We tend to prioritize Christmas, Easter and Independence Day over holidays that we don’t get off work or school, such as the upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Rightly so. When we’re celebrating our country or our God, such holidays should take precedence.See the source imageAlthough many grumble about the so-called “Hallmark Holidays” – those that we spend on but keep working through – I fully embrace them. I’ll even put up a few decorations, albeit nothing like the winter wonderlands we all erect for Christmas. I like the little joys the mini-holidays bring.

I forgot this truth about myself as I grumpily walked through a store the week after Christmas.

Wandering the aisles on December 28th, I saw the line up of Valentine’s, a few Shamrocks and a couple of cotton tails. Although I admittedly grunted out loud because I couldn’t locate clearance Christmas wrap, I quickly shrugged off my silly disappointment and embraced the idea of moving forward.See the source image

Momentarily mesmerized by the glittery Valentine cards, I thought of my friend who we lost three years ago. The month before she met Jesus, she was talking about the trip we were about to go on together. It was her entire family of about 15 and us closest friends and our families, totaling around 27 for a week in the Outer Banks. As we finalized a few details, she looked at me solemnly and said, “I’m afraid that when we get back from this trip, I will decline rapidly…I’m looking forward to this but realistically, I probably won’t make it to Christmas.” She was thinking about the next big celebration. The anticipated vacation to North Carolina had kept her moving forward.

That was in June. She passed away in July, shortly after we all returned from that final trip together.

I don’t know why my mind goes to such deep places so quickly while merely rummaging through pretty things at a store🤔, but it gave me perspective. Retailers prematurely stocking shelves for holidays that don’t happen for months is a silly thing to grunt about. These little holidays keep us moving forward. Nothing wrong with spending a few short minutes staring at a sea of sparkling red in one aisle, green in the next and happy, fuzzy bunnies in the third aisle. We can enjoy a little pretty inside stores and our homes when the world outside is sometimes ugly.

I agree that the constant “too-early” merchandise displays are annoying and if we let them, they can rob us of living and enjoying the moment or truly, completely enjoying whatever holiday season it may be. I resist the retailers’ psychological ploy intended to create urgency that we “better get the stuff now” – 2 months ahead of time – when what we have stored in the basement is no doubt already more than we need.

However, I choose to buy candy hearts and expensive chocolates for my February 14th kitchen table, rejoicing that I have people to love and spoil. I put up shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and decorate for Easter with the holy reminders along with big, stuffed bunnies. Who doesn’t feel better after squishing a soft, cuddly bunny? 🙂

The Superbowl tomorrow, MLB kickoff in March, NHL playoffs after that…these too give our families reasons to gather and eat and celebrate life. Some may scoff, but if such celebrations bring a little joy amidst the mundane and routine, why not?See the source image

(Click on images for source(s).)

The Unusual December

See the source imageFor the last several years, my post-Thanksgiving activities centered around two things: finishing up the semester of final exams and grading papers, followed by the always-fun list-making for Christmas gifts and planning gatherings. In 2019, my twins moved home after graduating college in May and the Christmas nest would be full with the baby duck arriving home for her university break on December 11th. Dear blogging friends, I had December plans.

Those Christmas plans were exchanged the first few weeks of the holiday season with work. Then, more work. Speeches, a major corporate dinner and a bad run-in between a poor deer and poor me replaced my annual yuletide joys. The blank paper ready for my Christmas lists would have to wait.See the source image

As we always do, we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner and my husband did it all except the baking. For those who have been reading this blog awhile, you’ll recall that I took on another job last Spring. It was to be three days with a maximum of 24 hours/week. I also continued my teaching schedule and accepted another position at the college to run a writing lab.

God had me in a season of corporate “work” in 2019 that I hadn’t experienced in decades. I briefly explained why I took on this new life-change HERE (Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life). What I didn’t expect was that I was thrown into running an entire department at my company within days of hire and in recent months, have needed to escalate my hours, requiring far too much time and mental energy for a position that was supposed to be a side hustle.

The week before Thanksgiving – three days before an ad agency was to arrive to interview executives, I was surprisingly requested to be a key speaker in their corporate video. A series of questions would be asked, lights would be on me in a dark room…ugh…just when I started dreaming of Christmas menus and my Thanksgiving table only days away…

I worked all weekend without pay to prepare for this unexpected and nerve-wracking event ahead on Monday.

A slew of gentlemen hovered around in the dimly lit room while I was recorded and even though I’ve been teaching college for years, that was crazy stress on the inside while I was as poised and professional as possible on the outside. When the photographer and video crew completed my segment, I tore off my suitcoat and took a deep breath, thanking God it was over.

Eagerly walking toward the door, the executives halted my departure, telling the ad crew to follow me through the orientation I was about to deliver in the conference room for live footage of company activity.

My jaw clenched and back on went my suitcoat.

Hours later, I plopped into my office chair, hoping my deodorant had done its job as I once again swapped a cardigan for the stiff suitcoat.

Before the end of that very same day, the President strolled into my office and announced that it would be appreciated if I would emcee the upcoming investors dinner. Prior to that moment, I was planning to excuse myself altogether from the event…after all, I’m only part-time and really had more important things to do on a Saturday night in December. It was further explained that they still desired for me to go full-time, etc. etc.

My nerves amped up again as the two weeks slugged by until the corporate event. I thought about how a 20-something would really love these opportunities. At 50-something, a mom first, a college professor second, it’s all been really curious to me what God is up to.

Decked out in my best conservative dress, in full-makeup, coiffed hair, with well-rehearsed script in hand, I climbed into my Chevy Traverse on a snowy December evening, so happy the night finally arrived and within hours I could get back to my “real life”. I had prayed over the evening, as the highest executives would be seated directly in front of my podium. Yep, no pressure there.

En route to the swanky venue, I safely swerved to avoid deer #1, but his buddy behind him ran directly in my car’s path… the sound horrific, steel crunching, the poor animal (I was distraught over that thing), my fear and emotional upset setting my heart racing and my hands shaking uncontrollably.

Within minutes, I had pulled over into a gas station and my shaking fingers located the President’s cell number in my phone. I planned to notify her that someone else would have to emcee the event. Something prevented me from making the call. After 30-minutes in that gas station lot, although I was still shaking, the car could drive and off I went. Sitting in the parking lot of the venue, I took some deep breaths, trying to settle my spirit. I decided the first order of business when I walked in was to tell a few organizers that I’d rather not speak due to the accident and would be leaving early.

To this day, no one at my office knows that I hit that deer. The second I walked into the dinner party, demands were immediately made of me. The President was furious with the administrative staff and had to tell me all about it, and I needed to be at the podium within minutes of her concluding statements. See the source image

The following week, even the most busy-body ladies who peer out the windows trying to catch employees leaving early, didn’t notice I was without a vehicle. Without me listing the bizarre upper-management conduct at this organization, it would be difficult to understand the corporate culture. There are many questionable activities and early on, I drew boundaries which others have not. While I’ve gained respect because of those boundaries (and have encouraged others to do the same), compliments from those impressed with my December activities are meaningless to me. I serve an audience of One.

That brief description of only two -of several- chaotic work events in the last few weeks leads into my desire to be a light in an otherwise difficult place for my co-workers. If God placed me there, He has a job for me to do. While the December days passed and I didn’t host friends this season, I reminded myself that service comes in all forms-even those I don’t like :).

I apologize for the rambling nature of the post today…I miss my blogging community and wanted to share here even though as I’ve said before, “if I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter” (attributed to Mark Twain).

God bless your week ahead…See the source image

One of the Best Christmas Gifts I Ever Received

I’ve never been great at answering the question, “what was the best gift you’ve ever received?”

Salvation? My children? Health? …. the list is long. But when pressed this year to come up with something tangible that was actually wrapped in paper, I had to say it was a Hallmark Store book titled, The Night Before Christmas.What’s so special about a story we’ve all heard since birth?

This one records voices.

My friend recorded my kids’ voices reading the famous tale in another room while I was prepping a meal, wrapped the book and gave it to me the same day. My twins were around 10 yrs. old and my youngest around 8 yrs. old at the time.

I was so touched and gushed about what a thoughtful gift it was. I meant it but could not have known how PRECIOUS that book would become in the subsequent years.

My daughters voices matured and of course my son’s voice has changed dramatically. Every year that I pull the book out and open each page, tears stream down my face. I close my eyes to picture those little voices running through the house at Christmas…over a decade has gone by since that gift was given to me.

If you regularly follow my blog, you’ll recall my posts about the wedding I attended in Scotland this past summer. The bride’s mama was my precious friend of 20 years who lost her cancer battle three years ago. Her departure at the too-young age of 49 makes me clutch that voice-recorded Christmas book even tighter to my chest, knowing that she gave me that gift that was so much more of a gift that I realized at the time.

The first few years, I think the book was nicely placed on top of some other decorations in a regular Christmas box, packed away until the next year. A couple years ago, I began wrapping that book so carefully…storing it as if it were gold. It is gold to me.

As I contemplate gifts for others in years to come, I’ll search out books that also record voices. It is a treasure for parents and if the book remains in tact as time passes, grown-up kids will certainly get a kick out of letting their children hear them when they were young.

Baking Brings Calm. Order. Completion.

See the source imageI made cookies over the weekend. Although there were plenty of tasks I “should have” done instead, I needed to do something that made me feel normal, creative… and – in the end – something was accomplished that was visible and complete. I went so far as to arrange the cookies in straight lines, lining them up one against the other as if the tray would be photographed for Gourmet magazine. I did this to visually experience “order” because last week at work was so very out of order.

Someone recently said they prefer cooking to baking because it isn’t exact whereas baking requires precise measurements. I never gave thought to baking being precise. That made me think of the other activities I consider hobbies or relaxing activities: Target shooting. Organizing. Labeling boxes in the basement. Straightening photos on the wall…

There seems to be a theme😄.

While the stunning galaxy we dwell in has astonishing order, earthly day-to-day existence is often disorderly. Utterly chaotic. Stressful. Unpredictable.See the source imageSometimes I need to sit and look at an established, tall tree. Immovable. Rooted under the ground for a half mile in either direction. Gentle flow of leaves slightly shimmering while the trunk leads to deep roots that spread a half mile in either direction. Beautiful. Strong. Sometimes I stare up at the constellations. My spirit needs reminder that He’s got this. In the midst of disorder, there is astounding order in the galaxies.

These feelings make me think of the song Symphony by Switch…

“‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drowning out the voices all around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony…

You’ll never let me drown
I know that my hope is found
In the name of Jesus…”

Sometimes I just need to bake. Exact. Visually appealing. Delicious. It has a start that provides a satisfying conclusion in a relatively short amount of time – unlike endless work projects. The finished product gives satisfaction. I feel like something was accomplished. It brings joy.

While the cookies below are the ones I made…I did in fact, alter the recipe. Yes, baking is more exact than cooking but I still tend to make baking recipes my own! To this recipe, I always add a handful of mini chocolate chips, eliminate the walnuts and add 1 cup of butterscotch morsels.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/24445/chewy-chocolate-chip-oatmeal-cookies/

 

The Power of God’s Country

God’s Country: “A place conceived of as especially favored by God; a place away from a city.” Merriam-Webster

Last weekend, my husband and I flew to Virginia to see our youngest at school. She was thrilled to have us there and kept us really busy with her friends and touring around the university. It was all precious, precious time together, but there was something extra special about driving (and stopping) along the Blueridge Parkway.

We have traveled through Virginia for years, heading south every spring break with the kids. Back then, we drove which was exhausting, but we saw some beautiful scenery along the way. I fell in love with Virginia. I can appreciate northern Virginia for its proximity to D.C. and many historical sites. We have visited people and toured Leesburg, Arlington, etc., and enjoyed the shopping and eating. All of my travels there offered wonderful sights, but mid to lower Virginia is just stunningly beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I live in a part of NYS where we don’t have mountains so I’m always captivated by them on vacation. Maybe it’s because I live on five acres with a long driveway and I am a girl who likes open space.

I work in the city and take a deep breath when I hit that part of the thruway that finally parts wide. My town is lovely yet there was something much grander, peaceful and right about standing at the center of miles of valleys and mountains.

My job is stressful. I received a promotion a few months ago which was awesome but my hours went up, along with my stress. I do yoga and try my best to compartmentalize work from home but it’s challenging. Above and beyond is usually a way of life. Sustaining that level of giving and producing at work and then home is depleting. An hour of exercise a couple times a week does not restore me as it may have back in my 20’s.

The breathtaking mountainside along the Blueridge Parkway brought my shoulders back down where they belong. I walked in sneakers instead of heels. I breathed deeper than I do on a yoga mat. My eyes were off data and employee issues, soaking in what I name God’s Country.

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” Jane Austen

Those mountains reminded me that I’m missing time with God. We talk every day but my world shifted when I took on another job. I don’t spend enough time in the wide-open space of His Word. Peace like I experienced at the mountainside is elusive during many work days.

Make no mistake that He speaks in offices, at the watercooler, and has made His presence known during colleague conversations. But I thirst for more. I count this as a good thing. I never want to be comfortable too far away from Him, living lukewarm.

Late Sunday I had to come down from the Virginia mountains, just like Moses when he descended from Mt. Sinai. I reentered work on Monday, having to immediately address poor management behavior, just as Moses was confronted with poor behavior by the Israelites. The corporate culture at my company is unlike anything anyone has ever experienced, leading to high turnover. But God uses me for good in my particular role. I believe that He put me where I am to be a light in a crazy place as well as teach me a few lessons of my own.

He is at work and accomplishes His purposes even when we’re not in bible study. He is always with us but there is something powerful about standing in the literal “mist” and “midst” of His spectacular creation. Being engulfed in endless autumn color, feeling cool wind against my face that also refreshed my mind – and the complete silence in nature – equaled renewal.

There is a reason for all seasons in nature and in our lives. This specific season in my work life is challenging, but the chaos likely helps me appreciate God’s Country profoundly more.