Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! It's 4:00 am here in California and I'm awake, probably a habit from many years of beating my kids to their stockings on Christmas morning so there would be a few trinkets inside when they peeked. Now they are grown, though still slumbering in their childhood rooms, visiting me for the holiday.

In the last week I've heard a couple of people mention a lack of usual Christmas spirit this year. Perhaps it is partly due to the times we live in. So much horrible news, harshness and selfishness in this world, a decline of kindness and even every day courtesy and respect. It's enough to make one feel helpless, overwhelmed, and broken-hearted for mankind.

"And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

However, I have a friend who told me that she and her husband made a pact that whenever they heard of someone experiencing pain or of some calamity on the news, they would counteract it by doing a random act of kindness -- big or small. What a wonderful way to live. I may add that to my list of  new year's resolutions! We may not be able to change the world, but we can soften it for those within our reach.

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
~ from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day 
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Yesterday I had the house to myself for a couple of hours. The rain was softly falling against the window panes, the kitchen was filled with the aroma of baking apple cake, and I was putting the last few bows on presents, when I recognized a sense of peace. The world may feel like it's spinning out of control, but God has blessed me with health and loving daughters, a home to care for, a decent job. And in that moment I knew that was what the Christmas spirit was all about -- a simple sense of peace, pushing the pause button on life and enjoying in slow motion the moments we have today.

May you feel a sense of peace for all your blessings this Christmas!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

Jesus is the reason for the season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Time on Cannery Row

Sunday was my birthday and it was delightful! For one thing, both of my daughters came down for the day. We went to Cannery Row in Monterey and had lunch at Bubba Gump's, then walked around enjoying the scenery.

John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and he wrote a novel based on life in Cannery Row's early days. His bust is immortalized in "Steinbeck Plaza" there.
Now there is another statue there. Dedicated in Feburary 2014, this large work (too large, according to critics) has Steinbeck sitting on the top of the rock and his friend marine biologist Ed Ricketts on the bottom (a prominent figure in his book). Other figures are reminiscent of the area's busy sardine canning days. Someone decided to dress them for the holidays with red Santa hats.
Clouds were rolling in by the time we left, and we've had rain for the last two days -- much needed here in California. We saw "Star Wars" at Del Monte Center's theater, then went home for chocolate fudge cake. My girls know how to make my birthday special!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Celebrating the Season in San Francisco

 "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
Dressed in holiday style,
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas!"

That was the song playing in my head as I spent the weekend with my daughters in San Francisco this weekend. We began with dinner out, then Christmas movies in our pj's Saturday night, for some cozy catch-up time. Who needs a real fireplace when you can set the Christmasy mood on TV via Netflix, complete with crackling and popping sounds?
Sunday morning arrived in a rainy, blustering fashion, but we made our way downtown to the Hyatt to enjoy their beautiful display... or so we thought.
 The Ferry Building across the street matched the gray skies.
 We were glad to get out of the rain and into the lobby.

To our disappointment, however, the lobby was undergoing renovations and there were just a few decorations and the large Christmas tree at the top. So after grabbing hot drinks and bagels at Starbucks across the street, we got back in the car and drove to Golden Gate Park's Museum of Natural Science. Now we were in for holiday treats!

We knew we were in the right place when we walked through the front doors 
to face a dinosaur skeleton surrounded by giant snowflakes!
 We entered the first exhibit hall and were greeted by carols playing, 
snow flurries falling around us, and a big snowman theater!
 Hands-on educational exhibits about reindeer lined the glass walls...
 ...and outside were two beautiful live reindeer -- Frosty and Holiday. 
My, what big antlers you have, Frosty!
 We learned a lot about reindeer. 
As hard as those antlers are, they feel velvety soft to the touch!

 We also enjoyed the penguin display with several adorable penguins.
This one kept everyone entertained by getting right up to the edge, but never quite taking the plunge.
 We decided he knew exactly what he was doing!
 The rain forest is a favorite exhibit, with many tropical animals and butterflies!
 With temperatures in the 80's, we were shedding our coats 
as we advanced the walkway up three floors, through the forest.
From there we descended to the aquarium with the tunnel 
that allows huge fish to swim over your head.
 By the time we left, the rain had lifted.
"Soon it will be Christmas Day!"

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Christmas Tea

Time for a little Christmas ambiance!

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is softened when we take time out to pamper ourselves a little or reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Last night I was treated to both as I attended a Christmas Tea! 

It was an evening arranged by the women's ministry at my church, and the tables were decorated with all the things we girls like: crystal, china, Christmas trees, lights, and cute treat bags with gingerbread cookies and chocolates. Each round table was set up by a "china hostess," who signed up to bring eight place settings of china and tea cups, glasses, a tablecloth, and whatever else she wanted to provide to make the table extra pretty and her table mates feel special. Anyone could reserve a table to hostess as the china hostess. Such a lovely idea! Wasn't our china pattern beautiful?
Look at the gorgeous lights and decor! 
I loved the white chest of drawers with the Christmas trees and decorations!

 So clever -- crates arranged in the shape of a tree...
 ...each filled with lovely winter themed objects, crystal or baubles!
Trays of food were brought to our tables for a light supper. Canapes, tart-sized quiches, sweet muffins, chicken wraps, and tiny chocolate eclairs, were all so savory. We sang carols, were entertained by a funny skit, and were serenaded by a guitarist who told the Christmas story in song.

   We all left filled with the Christmas Spirit!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Every Day Should Be Special

Thanksgiving was full of moments to savor this year. We started Wednesday evening when my daughters and Ash's boyfriend Rob arrived, all in a festive mood to enjoy one another's company. I prepared a few ready to eat foods, from a crock pot full of sweet and sour meatballs, to cheeses and crackers, and fruit and nut salad.... Since everyone was arriving at different times, this allowed nibbling on hot and cold dishes of whatever appealed to them as they walked through the door. Later we had a wonderful time visiting over the delicious pecan pie Rob brought. Then we got up Thanksgiving morning, put the turkey in the oven, and my daughters and I divided up the cooking jobs. Everyone made a dish or two of our family favorites. As we sat around the table, I couldn't help but remember all the people who had sat at that table in the past, eaten off those plates, and drank sparkling cider from those goblets. I'm so grateful for these people who have been a part of my life, past and present!

Later that night as we ate our pumpkin and pecan pies, I decided it was silly to keep these dishes for such infrequent use. From now on these pretty plates will come out for birthdays, job promotions, and any other special life moments. Do you have "good china" that you're ready to enjoy more often than on the holidays?

We  took a drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea after dinner, stopping at the cemetery with a bouquet of flowers. We enjoyed movies that evening,  and games last night, before everyone headed home.

The girls asked if I wanted help decorating for Christmas while they were home, but I just wasn't ready to move into the Christmas decor yet. I wanted to savor one more weekend of the autumn decor, the rustic fall colors, that feeling of gratitude in the air. So it will wait another week, or at least another day. Hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is just a few sleeps away, and I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for my family and friends. We are so blessed to have one another, to live normal (well, at least I think we're normal), hopefully healthy lives, to have hope for the future, and fond memories to keep us company through long winters. Best of all we have each other to enjoy today, in the moment.

When I was growing up, we always had big Thanksgiving dinners with aunts and uncles and cousins. My mom and her siblings took turns having it at their houses. We usually needed two or three tables "with all the leaves," Mom would say, to accommodate everyone. After dinner we would take a walk, then play board games. Through the years my siblings and I married and moved away, as did our cousins. Aunts and uncles passed away, then my own parents passed away. Now our Thanksgivings are much quieter, smaller affairs. It's a different era. I treasure those memories of the big dinners with relatives, but find myself in the position of creating new traditions with my daughters. We still eat in the dining room with the "good china," and all of us pitch in on the cooking. We still play games, after dinner. There are family recipes we always make. It honors those who went before, it honors those who may someday arrive into our lives, that we keep these traditions.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with "in the moment" moments! If you are with loved ones, really listen. Share your stories. If you are alone, talk to God, talk to your pets, talk to the pictures of those who have passed on. Let everyone know how much you love them. Let's give thanks.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Miracle Mornings

It's a bloggin' kinda morning. Equipped with Starbucks, I'm camped out in the Toyota delaership, waiting for my car to be repaired (Story #1). I brought my Miracle Morning bag (Story #2) with me to keep me occupied. Fortunately, they have great overhead music piped in and right now it's Led Zepplin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You."

So Story #1 began earlier in the month when my key fob button wouldn't unlock my driver's side car door. Resigning myself to going old school and actually unlocking the door with the key (how quickly we become spoiled), I didn't think much about it until one day I couldn't lock the door from the inside. Better take it into the dealership, I thought. It's only a matter of time until it won't lock at all, inside or outside. That appointment resulted in a diagnosis of a faulty door lock actuator which was very expensive to replace. I politely but firmly explained to the service manager that I was very disappointed that a basic safety feature like a door lock couldn't last more than 50K miles, the mileage on my car. He said he would see what he could do and the next day called me to say they would replace it at no charge! Apparently, the higher-ups agreed with me. So here I am, nestled in for the morning. Unlike many people, I don't mind hanging out at the dealership as long as I've come prepared with an arsenal of projects and reading material. I staked out a corner table in the back of the display room and made myself at home! (Background music change -- Bob Dylan is singing "Like a Rolling Stone.")

And that brings me to Story #2. A home improvement blog I frequent led me to another blog and eventually to a post talking about a group of women banning together for goal setting support and a book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Here is a man who faced what could be considered insurmountable challenges. At the age of 20, he was the victim of drunk driver in a head-on collision and told he may never walk again. If he can turn every aspect of his life around, I was interested in learning what he's identified as his secrets to success.

What set this book apart to me is the premise that setting goals is not enough to get the job done. We have to become the people we need to be who are capable of consistency in creating and sustaining the successes we want in life. Hmm. That adds another layer.

To do this, Elrod promotes starting your day an hour earlier with time devoted to a little reading, journaling, exercising, affirmations, visualizing, and quiet time. So I created my Miracle Morning bag. Want to see what's inside?
In my bag is a writing tablet, red journal, Franklin Planner, Kindle Fire, a stack of blank index cards, and an index card holder with affirmation cards inside.

By the way, isn't the bag cute? It's from Compact, waterproof, durable, and holds so MUCH!

I'm not sure I'm ambitious enough to do all of these in the same morning, but here are some of the things I do in the morning.

1.  Read. The free "You Version" Bible app has a variety of plans you can subscribe to, including verses and devotions around various topics of your choice. For example, there's a 3-day plan on Hope, 5 days on Your Personal Calling, 7 days on Building a Legacy of Faith, and so forth. These are perfect for a short 5-10 minute reading time, but currently, I'm re-reading "The Purpose Driven Life." As an empty nester, my life focus has shifted. Furthermore, I gave up overseeing a child sponsorship program in Africa a couple of years ago and while it was overwhelming to try to keep it up while working full time, I am feeling a void in my bigger life picture that needs filled.

2. Exercise. Moving in the morning is the least appealing thought for me. I admire those people who can jump right into their running shoes in the morning and take off, but my body just doesn't want to move that fast so soon after waking. So I'm turning to yoga, and saving my longer energy walks for after work. I've taken several yoga classes through my life and have especially appreciated those that end with a few minutes of meditation.

3. Journaling. I keep two journals: one is a notebook divided into two sections: a gratitude journal and a prayer journal. Writing down 3-5 things per day that I'm thankful for is a sure fire method of banishing the blues or putting into place an out of whack attitude. My other journal is a regular diary type journal where I jot down things that happened and things I want to happen. I love the tidy-sized red notebook I'm currently using for this. It was a $5 find at Staples and has smooth lined pages and a spiral binding that allows me to fold it back.

4.  Affirmations. I have many different cards, so decided my best approach is to select a few to focus on for that particular month. In general it seems we all have goals to maintain fitness, home organization, relationships, life purpose, finances, work responsibilities, etc. My cards resemble more of goal cards than affirmation cards, so this is an area I need to read up on.

5.  Visualization. While I've made vision boards just for fun before, I've never glommed on to one as a true focus tool. Instead, I prefer to mentally envision things I need to do and the end result. Visualization is definitely an area I need some practice with.

Elrod also has a great chapter on the phases of creating a habit over 30 days that makes sense. We really do need to give things a full 30 days before chucking a habit as not working for us. Do you have a morning routine that inspires you?

I have a card tucked into my index card holder which is not really an affirmation, but a quote I read when I was going through some difficult times after my husband died. It reminds me of the importance of inner strength and being there for ourselves.
 My car is done and I'm off to lunch with a couple of friends. Have a happy weekend!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Fairy Tale Girl

What a cozy night! The wind has kicked up, sorely needed rain is predicted to begin any time, and it just feels like fall! October has arrived! To sweeten this homey evening, in my mailbox today was the book I'd been waiting for: Susan Branch's "The Fairy Tale Girl."  A perfect book to curl up on the couch with on an autumn's eve.

I don't know if you have ever read any of Susan Branch's books, but they are full of adorable illustrations, wise thoughts, and memories from by-gone days of the 60's and 70's. Year after year, her wall calendars adorn my breakfast nook wall. She is a talented artist and her writing style makes you feel like you're sitting in her living room, feet up, sharing best friend stories. She has written several cookbooks, and more recently I read and then re-read her book, "A Fine Romance." If you have ever traveled to the English countryside, or wanted to, you will thoroughly enjoy this handwritten travel journal, photos, and artist's renderings of her trip there just a few short years ago.

So far I've read about 10 pages of  "The Fairy Tale Girl,", and without thinking my hands reached for my own journal and pen to jot down some reflections on my life. Had to stop and think about where I've been in this crazy life, where I'm going, and how to keep my passions alive.

"Everyone's life is a fairy tale written by God's finger."
        ~ Hans Christian Andersen

Susan included that quote in her book, doesn't it give you pause?

Happy October!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Happy Blogoversary to Me!

 Happy Blogoversary!

Today, for the first time ever, I'm actually posting on my actual blogoversary! I usually miss the date. For seven years this blogspot has been my blank slate to share pictures and thoughts with whoever is remotely interested in catching a glimpse of slices of my life. It's been satisfying to have a wee bit of a voice, if only for my own satisfaction of knowing, "There! I said it!"

Who would have thought that those of us who grew up in the modern age of Smith Corona electric typewriters, SWAK envelopes, and 10 cent stamps, would now sit with computers on our laps, clicking away until we hit the magic "Publish" button. Here's to another year of thoughts to virtual paper!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Glorious Weekend!

Good morning! 
It's the weekend -- the glorious weekend -- and I have no plans so can do whatever I want! Isn't that grand? The sun is shining, I have classical music playing (at the moment it's Pachelbel's Canon), already spilled my guts in my journal, and am dreaming of ways to bring fall into my home. But first, I think I should love up this humble abode and do some fall cleaning.

Before I slip away from the comfort of the couch to do that, I wanted to share some thoughts swirling in my mind on my way home from work yesterday. I don't get on a soap box very often, but here is the experience that led up to my thoughts....

As you know, I'm a speech therapist in the public schools, and yesterday I was working with three third grade students. I try to make therapy a happy place. I smile and welcome my students, and try to present fun activities, but that doesn't mean I'm a push-over. Lately I've had to post classroom rules and review them at the beginning of my sessions with some of my more unwieldy groups, something that wasn't particularly necessary in the past, because students knew to come into a classroom ready to learn. Anyway, this group of students came in -- two girls, one boy. The boy literally laid across the surface of the table -- just sprawled out there. One of the girls began combing through my box of materials I had on the end of the table, which I planned to present one by one. I calmly asked the boy to please sit in a chair. He didn't move. I gently took the box away from the girl, and said, "We'll get to those."  I asked the boy to sit again. He smirked, motionless, while one girl picked up the other girl's diary she had brought with her and they began fighting over that. My welcoming attitude disappeared. I had to do the stern-teacher face and command-center voice, but I finally got the boy to sit in a chair and the girls to settle down. All of this resulted in a review and discussion of the rules -- the first of which is Respect One Another.

On the way home I realized that this is what is sorely lacking in our society today:  RESPECT. Some teachers feel under appreciated and disrespected by those parents who have no problem running down a teacher in front of their children who they think "wasn't fair" on an assignment. We see disrepsect when a police officer pulls someone over and the person runs, talks back, or even pulls a weapon on them. People mock the President and other government leaders. I may not agree with everything our leaders say and do, but I respect the election process and therefore will show respect and honor to my country by not running down our President and other leaders. It's not just disrespect for "authority," though I think that's becoming a big problem in our country. As I was mulling this over on my commute, another perfect example presented itself:  two lanes of traffic were merging. For the most part, the straight lane was allowing those of us on the right to enter into the line, alternating every other car -- the polite driver way. But of course someone had to kick up gravel, passing us all on the right so he could merge further up from the shoulder instead of the road. He couldn't be respectful and wait his turn. We are on the verge of becoming a nation of selfish, rude, brash individuals. So I'm on a mission -- how to gently help my students understand the value of respect in our society, with the things we say and do, implementing The Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have them do unto you. Fortunately, for the most part, I believe the majority of people are kind to one another. We wouldn't be as productive as we are as a society if we didn't cooperate with one another. But through the years, I have picked up on these subtle differences in attitudes. We need to continue setting the example and teaching children the value of kindness and respect for others.

Now I sense a sink full of suds is calling me and a fireplace mantle is waiting to be adorned with fall colors. Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

For the Love of Walking

Last fall, about this time, a strained Achilles tendon brought me tumbling down. It bordered on incapacitating on the severely painful "bad days." Physical therapy, twice daily icing, special shoe insoles, and anti-inflammatory medicine allowed me to limp through my days. The doctor wanted me to stay off my feet as much as possible, which was nearly impossible since I work, but I tried. It took months for it to improve to the point where I could resume a regular walking program. For the rest of my life I plan to do the stretching exercises and be cautious about over-doing it. I hope to never go through that again!

Now that I'm back in a daily walking routine, I am so grateful for this simple pleasure! Walking out the front door, admiring neighborhood gardens, sometimes with earbuds plugged into my iTunes, sometimes just enjoying the silence of nature, my mind is free to wander. Some days I count my blessings. Some days I mull over things that are bothering me, turning over possible solutions. Some days my mind is pretty blank and I don't even know what I'm thinking about! The birds and squirrels provide entertainment, flitting from tree to tree, and I watch the interplay of sun and lacy tree branch shadows.

Some weekend mornings I leave early and head for Carmel. There I can walk the path above the beach, listening to the rhythm of the waves, greeting other walkers and joggers, inhaling that familiar smell of salty ocean water. This is where I was a couple weeks ago when I took these pictures and where I'll be going tomorrow morning.

There was even an artist out, paintbrush in hand, capturing the beauty of the scene in the morning light.
I feel so fortunate to live in such a magical place!

"Smell the sea, and feel the sky,
Let your soul and spirit fly."
~ Van Morrison

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Encyclopedia of Moi: I

Islands - Hawaii, Caribbean, British Isles, Catalina, Key West -- I've visited and fallen in love with them all!

Ice Cream - I love ice cream, but unless I'm having company or am on vacation, limit myself to Skinny Cow desserts.

Once in a great while I'll splurge on a Baskin-Robbins dark fudge chocolate cone or, if I'm out with my daughters, a Ghirradelli Hot Fudge Sundae!

iPhone - Love my iphone! Isn't it wonderful to have a computer at the tip of your fingertips at all times? Looking up directions, googling price checks at other stores when making a major purchase, checking out what's playing at the theater, messaging with friends and family, never missing an important call, always having a camera with me -- I appreciate this modern convenience! Some of my favorite apps: Google,  Around Me, Weather, Google Maps, MyFitnessPal, FitBit, Flashlight, CNN, Words with Friends, and iTunes.

Italy - There's so much history and beauty in Italy! Where does one begin? Here are a few of my favorite places we visited when we were there....

We passed fields of sunflowers and rolling hills.

The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This was on my bucket list to see ever since I took Art History in college. It lived up to its expectations!

We took a gondola through the canals of Venice, then disembarked and walked through twisting walkways, stopping for a tour of St. Mark's Basilica.

 The Colosseum was enormous and fascinating.

This beautiful building in Rome is nicknamed
The Wedding Cake!  Very fitting.

Michaelangelo's Statue of David in the city of Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia.

What's on your list of "I" letter items?