Friday, December 31, 2010

“Hope smiles on the threshold of the year to come.”

~Lord Alfred Tennyson

New year resolutions are a tricky sort of thing. The last few days of December I like to consider the past 12 months and make decisions, not necessarily resolutions, because the word resolution sounds a bit daunting and semi-impossible to me.

Last year I made a decision and issued myself the challenge of writing every day for the coming year. Today marks 365. I’d be lying if I said it was a joy and pleasure every day to sit and stare at the computer praying ideas worth writing about would skitter across my mind. Many times I woke up at night to scribble down something so I wouldn’t lose the thought. I often caught myself daydreaming how I would write things out. I felt like Cameron Diaz’ character in The Holiday when her mind played her life’s events out like copy for ads and she couldn’t get the voices to be quiet. That’s when I understood why many playwrights and classical authors drank too much or went a little crazy.

As I think about it, a year long writing project has not only been a discipline I never thought I could handle, it’s been like free therapy. I lost my brother-in-law and a life long friend to cancer. I’m still in disbelief from a car accident that took a young friend much too early. And I finished out the promise I made to Mom just before she died, “Don’t worry about Dad, I’ll take care of him.” The first half of the year I walked with him on his journey to join her.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of traveling with friends and family this year, writing from new and wonderful places. I’ve been reminded time and time again nothing is more important than relationships. That’s really all we own.

When I look back at the year I think of decisions I’d like to make for the next one, things I’d really like to do. I’d like to be kinder and more appreciative. I’d like to be in less of a hurry and I want to pursue a deeper awareness of God’s grace and love. I hope to remember everyone I meet is fighting a battle of sorts and that a smile and a hug is all most people want or need.

So here’s to an exciting new year full of anticipation and promise. Thanks for your encouragement to press on. You’ve helped me live out a decision I was just stubborn enough to not give up on.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

~Jeremiah 29-11

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Everything is a discovery to one-year-olds because everything they encounter is new. It’s refreshing to watch Kaylin and Vivian’s surprise with simple things we take for granted like falling leaves or the dog eating food that’s thrown on the floor. Sadly in the growing up process we lose our amazement and wonder. But if you think about it, the amazement factor might not be lost, maybe we just get so busy we simply become unaware.

When I checked the dictionary, discover is defined as uncovering or finding something unexpectedly. I’ve often thought what it might be like to make a Christopher Columbus type discovery, something so big it changes the course of history. I think that falls in the uncovering category because he set out to find the new world. Things like discovering you have mice would be the finding unexpectedly part of the definition.

Researchers are on the hunt for discoveries every day. Knowing great things are out there just waiting, like the ultimate cure for cancer or yet another application for Driod, is what gives them purpose and drive.

Because we fail to notice, we pass up amazing discoveries every day. They may not be things that would make it to the cover of People magazine, but common stuff that makes us smile if we pause long enough.

Jill’s husband, David, is one of the most analytical thinkers I know, yet he takes the time to enjoy simple amazing discoveries. In fact, he is the one who reminded me to take note. Not long ago he opened the dishwasher and I heard him say, mostly to himself, “Wow, don’t you love it when you open the dishwasher and the dishes are still dirty?”

“What did you say,” I asked, thinking he had spent way to much time on the computer that day?

“You know, if the dishes are still dirty you don’t have to unload everything yet,” he said, as if I had missed the whole point. I had.

I suppose it’s the same as waking up at 3AM realizing you don’t have to get up for three more hours or getting a check in the mail because you overpaid a bill. It’s amazing and surprising. If you think about it, a great parking spot, a short drive through line, and a “No waiting on register number 10” announcement are all amazing discoveries.

In our lifetime most of us will never find a new vaccine or the real location of Sasquatch, but we have the opportunity to recognize and smile at amazing discoveries every day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“Oh, no!” Mortified is the only word I can think of to describe the look on my sister-in-law’s face. We were standing at a hotel lobby check-in counter with five sandy, sweaty kids in wet swim suits when Rayanna noticed I had forgotten to make the necessary cover-ups after nursing baby Jill had fallen asleep. No wonder the desk clerk kept looking at the ceiling. A faux pas at it’s finest.

Faux pas is a fancy sounding French word meaning violation of acceptable social norms. The definition evens sounds uppity. It just feels better to say than mess up. I know social norms change, but how could my major faux pas twenty years later be Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction? Surely she was embarrassed.

I’ve laughed until I can’t breathe listening to others recount embarrassing moments. Maybe it makes me feel better to know I’m not alone with my faux pas. I’ve stopped more than one woman leaving a public restroom with a six foot strip of toilet paper trailing on a shoe or from underneath her skirt. I’ve signaled to people I really don’t know at dinner parties that broccoli is stuck between front teeth or dressing has dripped on a tie or a chin. I hope others would do the same for me.

Falls, spills, and miscalculations aside, I think what can be the most embarrassing is the things we say. Sometimes people don’t know they should be embarrassed for saying what they do and it makes the situation even funnier.

When I was eight months pregnant, three year old Travis asked a friend of ours if he was going to have a baby too. I guess it was better than, “Your belly is so big you look like you’re eight months pregnant.” Kids are forgiven so easily because they don’t have much of an editing filter yet. They can get away with saying what the rest of us are thinking.

A verbal faux pas may be funny, but so many times it’s hurtful. I never want my slip-ups to step on others’ feelings. My constant challenge is to not let my mouth run faster than my brain. I should be the only one embarrassed by my faux pas.

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep a watch over the door of my lips.”

~Psalm 141:3

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It starts when we’re kids, the need to hang on to a doll or blanket or stuffed animal for security at bedtime or when we were scared, hurt, or need a little soothing. I remember taking 15 minutes to get my bed organized and settled before climbing in. I’m not sure if it was because I was that orderly as a child or if it was a bedtime stall technique. Probably stall technique.

My kids had security blankets but gave them up fairly early. Jason was forced to because his all but disintegrated. Some of the grandkids have blankets, some stuffed animals. Mollie Jane sleeps with her dolls and books and leaves only a small space for herself in bed. Vivian has become so attached to the pink and white puppy our friends Debbie and MItch gave her, back up reinforcement puppies had to be hunted down on Ebay.

The need for comfortable and secure evolves and transfers from blankets and teddy bears as we grow up. Ask anyone and they can name an old sweatshirt, pair of shoes or nightgown they refuse to part with. Normally these things aren’t worn in public. However, I dashed to the store once when I ran out of milk and looked down when I dropped some change in the checkout line to discover I had on my furry house shoes. This was years before people wore pajama bottoms to Walmart.

There is something to familiar, and broken-in that calms even the most frazzled. Instead of reaching for a blankie at the end of the day, as adults we put on our old, soft, ugly sweatpants and socks and curl up on a favorite chair. Just like Vivian’s pink puppy, that makes everything better.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More goes on behind the scenes than we ever think about. On a cold morning in February do we consider the process it takes for us to enjoy a steaming hot shower; the water purification system, the miles of pipes, the route through the hot water heater, and of course, the water pressure? I hadn’t until right now.

I suppose the majority of us are surface thinkers. It’s like arriving at a wedding reception, enjoying the food, the entertainment, and the decor, but never once thinking about the planning, work, and support system it took for it all to happen. That’s until you plan, organize and pay for a wedding yourself.

I was standing in line at Lowe’s the other day. I’m not very good at waiting, so I’ve learned to either check email on Droid or think though things. It keeps the frustration level minimal because I feel like I’m accomplishing something instead of wasting time.

A beautiful little girl with shoulder length brown hair and chocolate eyes was circling the shopping cart behind me. She stopped next to me and stared. Holding up two fingers, she grinned when I asked her how old she was then circled the cart again.

The woman I assumed was her mother I learned was her aunt, but the woman I was sure had to be her grandmother was. In a three minute conversation I found out the little girl’s dad was in Iraq and would be home sometime between February and June. He’d been gone for a year. Her mother had just been deployed to Afghanistan and wouldn’t be home until next Christmas. Her grandmother is taking care of her while they are over seas.

Then it hit me. I looked at the sweet grandmother and said, “I always try to thank service men and women when I see them in uniform but something has just occurred to me. I’ve never really thought about the support system it must take in order for them to leave home to serve. Thank you for what you are doing.”

The grandmother and aunt both thanked me and wished me a Happy New Year. From now on I hope I can remember to look a little further behind the scenes. Oh, the lessons that can be learned standing next to a Black and Decker display.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

“Wrinkles should indicate where the smiles have been.”

~Mark Twain

Mollie Jane crawled up in my lap for a little snuggle after dinner. Six inches from my nose she smiled and gently stroked my face. Heaven couldn’t be much sweeter. I could almost hear music. “Sue Sue,” she said softly as she drew circles around my mouth with her index finger.

“Yes, baby,” I said, thinking she was going to tell me she loved me to the moon and back.

“Sue Sue, you’re old,” she said smiling. The music screeched to a halt. “What were you before you were old?”

“Well, sweet girl, I was young,” I said, thinking that was the most logical answer.

“Probably so,” she answered. “But Sue Sue, .... now you’re old.” With that she hugged me tightly and went off to play.

“Maybe I need some lipstick,” I though. “Maybe I purse my lips too much.” But then, to comfort myself, I remembered twenty is old to a four year old.

I’m trying to embrace wrinkles. Surely they indicate one should be a little wiser than those with dewy, smooth skin. Jane Fonda once said, “Women are not forgiven for aging. Robert Redford’s lines of distinction are my old age wrinkles.” I saw her recently on a talk show. At 72 she looks to be about 50. A little Botox and nip and tuck have offered her years of forgiveness.

It’s so frustrating when things come to mind later you wished you’d have said in a moment you’re caught off guard. Generally it’s best it doesn’t surface until later, because typically it’s something you’d be sorry for having said.

This time was different. I wished I would have thought to tell Mollie Jane I was glad to be the age I am because if I wasn’t, she wouldn’t be in my life. She is so worth having wrinkles. Come to think of it, most of them are caused by smiles anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas is such a time of anticipation of tradition. My Dad used to smoke a turkey on Christmas Eve and Mom served it with wild rice instead of stuffing. We went to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Day for turkey again. That’s most likely why Jim Brawner and I had corned beef and cabbage for our traditional Christmas dinner.

But as our kids left one by one, work schedules interfered, and in-law families had to be considered, things began to shift again. One year we went to Oklahoma because Travis was on call over Christmas. A man got drunk, climbed a tree and fell out. Travis missed Christmas dinner because he was at the hospital trying to put the guy back together. One year we didn’t exchange gifts, but chose a family to help. And when babies began to arrive, adjustments had to be made one more time.

The Brawner party of 15 had our Christmas on the 23rd again this year at Kari and Travis’ house. It seems to work. We had baked spaghetti and more fun than we deserved. I’ve learned to hold on to tradition lightly because things change, but the one thing I really push for is a picture with the grandkids. I think I realized a tad too late in the evening we hadn’t taken one yet.

The older four kids have learned to pose, sometimes with plastic grins. Jameson, Owen and Jackson endured. Mollie Jane stood up just as the picture was taken so the top of her head was cropped. Smith just wanted down to play with the new monster trucks. Vivian looks like she was thinking, “Are you kidding me” and Kaylin had just had enough of it. But, I got my picture.

I woke up this Christmas morning extremely blessed and grateful. However, it’s my first Christmas without my dad and I miss him intensely. I’ll spend the day living one of the most important things he ever taught me ... enjoy it. That’s one tradition I’ll never let go of.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Things are not always as they seem. Obviously we know that, but why do we appoint ourselves to sit on an invisible committee assigned to judge things that, most of the time, aren’t any of our business?

Several years ago on Christmas Eve I ran out of brown sugar when I was baking the last batch of treats. I had two hours to finish everything, so I dashed to the grocery store breaking my mom’s strictest rule; don’t go out without lipstick. “Surely I won’t see anyone this early in the morning,” I thought, checking for flour splatters on my old sweatshirt as I walked through the parking lot.

There must be some law, like gravity, that we can’t see but is always in force ... one can’t leave the store with just what they went in for. As I was rounding the last corner in the freezer department with a cart full of what I might need in the next 24 hours, I ran into a young friend I hadn’t see in a while. I knew it, I should have a least brushed my hair.

“Oh, hi, Mrs. Brawner, so good to see you,” she said blushing. “I want you to know this is not all for me. I’m staging a home for an open house and I need to fill up a large wine rack.” There were 15 or so bottles of various wines in her cart.

I just laughed and we visited over the frozen pizza display for a few minutes.

But, as I left the store it struck me: do I come across with an air of judgement? Why did she so quickly explain her cart contents right after “Hello”? As I thought about it, I hoped she didn’t think I had become a crazy lady who, in secret, keeps 12 cats and hordes food by the way I looked and what was in my cart. It was an abrupt reminder for me that things are not always as they seem.

"Always “err”, as God does, on the side of freedom, mercy and compassion."

~Philip Yancy

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It’s interesting how something will suddenly dawn on us that’s been no where on our need-to-do radar. A second notice on a bill or being pulled over for an expired license plate will usually do it. Recently, when he was filling out some medical records, Jim Brawner asked me when he had his last tetanus shot. I stared at him blankly, batting my eyes real fast like it would stir something in my brain.

“Was it when you stepped on the honey locust thorn and you had to cut the laces to get your shoe off,” I asked? “Let’s see, that was maybe 15 years ago.”

“No, I remember I didn’t because the doctor gave me one when I fell in the fountain at camp and had to have my shin stitched up. So it must have been 20 years ago,” he said.

At this point I started thinking about my last tetanus shot and couldn’t remember one more recent that 25 years ago. Good grief, how did that happen.

I made an appointment at the health department for both of us to get tetanus boosters. Jim called after his shot saying since we were grandparents, the shots were free because we were around small children. I wondered if that meant they were tetanus carriers. He also bragged he got a free flu shot that I had just paid $29.99 for at Walgreens.

Two hours later the health department called. “Mrs. Brawner, Mr. Brawner needs to come back to our office.”

“Is there a problem,” I asked?

“Well, it seems we gave Mr. Brawner the wrong shot,” she said.

“Really? And, how did that happen? I guess, more importantly, what did you give him,” I asked?

“Evidently the nurse gave him a hepatitis A and B instead of tetanus, which is not a bad thing, but he needs to come back and get the tetanus and set up the appointments for the hepatitis series,” she answered, like this kind of thing happened all the time. “In conversation she asked him if he was leaving the country and when he said, ‘Yes,’ I suppose she figured that’s what he was in for. Anyway he will be covered.”

“We don’t have any trips to Ethiopia or India on the itinerary in the next year, but if something comes up, I guess Jim is set,” I answered, wondering if anyone ever looks at all that paperwork we are required to fill out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some things are just so much better when they aren’t chain or big box. The economic foundation of our country was built by businesses like Ruby’s Diner, Sam’s Electric and Charlie’s Tire and Radiator. There were no megas or marts on the signs out front. But, things change and growth happens.

One of the landmark hometown businesses in our community is Jim’s Barber Shop. Jim Tate started his career with Bill in Bill’s Barber Shop and opened his own business a few years later. Then Cathy joined Jim. The two of them have been cutting hair in the tiny, traditional, closed on Sunday and Monday barber shop for as long as I can remember.

Friendships are born, referrals made, information gathered and political and economic discussions heat up every day at Jim’s. Cathy and Jim have been cutting Jim Brawner’s hair even before we lived in the Branson area. So it was only fitting when Jason needed his first haircut that we took him to Jim’s.

Jim gave Jackson, Jason’s oldest son his first haircut too. So after a couple of folks thought baby Smith was a girl with his head full of white blond curls, Alison make the 100 mile round trip so Jim could be the first to cut his hair. A three generation tradition trumps convenience any day.

It was as if Smith knew something important was going on because more pictures were taken than man’s first step on the moon and he got three days worth of snacks to stay still. A boy’s first hair cut is a big day, more so for his mom than for him. It’s as if he crosses the threshold from baby into little boyhood. Who want to leave such a special event in the hands a chain or big box store?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The other day I was shopping in one of those athletics stores where the employees wear the latest gear and look like they are going straight from work to the gym or out for a run. It’s a bit intimidating. I caught myself standing up a little straighter and holding my stomach in.

Like everything else, the choices are so vast I ended up walking around confused. Maybe I burned up a few calories circling the store. Then I remembered the athletic looking guys were there to answer questions and offer help and suggestions. After the explanation of hot gear and cold gear and what was most popular among the employees, I checked out. It’s expensive to stay fit.

According to statistics, our country has become dangerously sedentary. We need to get up and move more. Jack Lalanne has been telling us that for 70 years. At 96 he might be on to something.

I wish I could say I was dedicated to a work out plan. I’m not. I’ve gone through fits and starts and stalls then restarts depending on what else is going on in my life. I suppose that’s better than never doing anything. There’s not enough glucosamine chondroitin to keep me running and swimming turns my hair green. I tried P90X and my arms started to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s instead of Michelle Obama’s so I dropped that plan.

I read once since 60% of the human body is made up of water it can get stagnant like a pond covered in algae if we don’t keep it stirred up. Just thinking about a green farm pond with a couple of cows standing in it is enough to get me to park at the far end of the Super Center parking lot to get some extra steps in.

The slogan for one athletic company is “We Must Protect This House”. That’s something to think about since we are only assigned one body for this lifetime. Maybe I should consider some remodeling.

Monday, December 20, 2010

There’s something so special about a little girl. Last year for Christmas I gave Jason, Travis and David pictures of their little girls with the script, “My Prince has come, his name is Daddy.”

All three of the manly men teared up.

The minute Jim Brawner saw Jill and realized he had a little girl, he was instantly smitten. It was the beginning of a once-upon-a-time.

When Jill was in preschool they started gong on dates, just the two of them, usually to McDonald’s or the Dairy Queen. Jim’s goal was to ask questions and listen. That was easy because she’s never been short on words. When she was in third grade on a four hour road trip, Jim counted only a dozen or so words he got in.

As Jill got older they would go to dinner or ball games. He opened doors for her, stood up when she left and returned to the table and took care of her as if she were the most important person in the world. He wanted to set a high watermark for the hormone ranging knot heads who would ask her out someday. I thought no one would ever measure up.

Jill and David have been married eight years now and David probably assumes Jim is still watching him. He is. Jim and Jill still go on dates. He took her to dinner last night then to Starbucks for coffee. I’m sure they talked about what they have always talked about; hopes, dreams and the future.

Every man has the choice to be the Prince in his little girl’s eyes. Jason has started taking Mollie Jane on dates and I know Travis and David will do the same with Kaylin and Vivian. They’ll all ask questions and just listen, just like Jim.

There’s nothing quite like what a dad can be for his daughter. Though my Dad’s in heaven, he’s still my Prince.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"

~Winnie the Pooh

I think we all underestimate the power of our thinking. Our brains are busier than the air traffic control center of the Atlanta airport. There is constant activity, even when we’re sleeping. The flight patterns in my brain get backed up every now and again and many times there are long delays before traffic clears.

Something I’ve learned in the last couple of years about my thinking is this: how I start the day generally determines how it unfolds. If I get out of bed complaining and dreading more often than not, it turns out to be a challenging day. I heard a friend say recently, “Nothing is going right today. I guess that’s just the way it’s going to be.” And sure enough, it was a mess all day long.

Chuck Swindoll once said, “I truly believe that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it. I watched two women diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer fight the disease with different attitudes and different thinking. One was grateful it was caught when it was, said it was fun to put a wig on every day because she didn’t have to mess with her unruly, curly hair, and made a decision to be an encouragement to other women in the battle. The second woman was horrified she had cancer and focused on herself and her pain. It took her twice as long to get to the point of being cancer free.

Our brains are never empty even though men usually say, “Nothing” when asked what they are thinking about. Our thinking can paralyze us and side track us or it can push us on to do great things with a positive attitude even in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. We get to choose.

Don’t get stuck in negative thinking. If you stop and wallow in it, it’s tougher to shake it off and get moving again.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our kids grew up in the city with more theater seats than any place in the U.S. Over time the country music acts and entertainers have morphed and changed to keep up with public demand. Now Andy Williams, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Yakov Smirnoff have joined the Chinese Acrobats and magician Kirby Van Birch to give tourists choices. It’s not unusual to see Chubby Checker, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, or one of the Lennon Sisters or Osmonds at Walmart or Panera Bread.

However, to see a play or musical anywhere but the community theater or the high school auditorium we had to go elsewhere. My job sent me to New York several times a year so when I could, I took one of the kids with me. I felt it would be good to expose them to some art and culture.

When the house lights came up for intermission at the first Broadway show I took Jason to he wanted to know if snacks were sold at half-time. After spending $6.00 for a box of Milk Duds he decided next time he would stock up at Walmart beforehand. I hadn’t realized how badly a little culture needed to be introduced.

The first time Travis went to the Big Apple, we were standing in line to buy tickets to see Annie Get Your Gun when a man in a business suit asked us if we wanted to see the show. Logical Travis said, “Yes sir, that’s why we're in line to buy tickets for tonight.”

“Here are two tickets for the matinĂ©e,” he said handing them to me like the $130.00 tickets were coupons for half price meals at a local diner. “You’ll need to hurry, it starts in 10 minutes.” Stunned I thanked him and dashed off to find our seats on row 10, front and center. Travis thought all New Yorkers were great. Most likely, the ticket guy was from Dallas or Seattle.

When Jill was nine, I sprung her from school for a day trip to Springfield to see the touring show, Cats. It had been one of the longest running shows on Broadway and I thought it would be a good introduction to theater for her. A friend was able to get tickets for us on the third row. I watched her sit motionless, mesmerized with the music and costumes. I smiled thinking how wonderful it was she was enjoying her first Broadway show when she leaned over and whispered loudly, “I think the boy cats should wear shorts over their tights.”

After trying to explain it was artistic on stage, but tacky at the mall, I decided I might stick to high school plays for a few more years.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sometimes looking at things with the eyes of a child sets the world straight again. Everything is so fresh and new and special. Wouldn’t it be fun to approach Christmas with that childlike attitude instead of panic, worry and dread? Someone recently said to me, “I love this time of year, but I’ll be so glad when it’s over.” I understood what he was feeling, but it made me sad.

Last night I stepped away from the real adult world at Jackson’s school Christmas program. He’s a second grader at Redeemer Lutheran School so it can still be called a Christmas program. A couple of years ago he was Joseph, as in Mary and Joseph, in the kindergarten program. His dad, Jason, was Joseph in his kindergarten Christmas program too. That was when Jesus was allowed in public school. They both were possibly the blondest Christmas pageant characters ever on a stage. I suppose Joseph needed to be tall.

Last night’s program was the musical, The Christmas Chronicles. All the first through fourth graders were on stage in costume for the whole performance. Jackson was one of the angels who stood by the flock of sheep. He explained to me only third and fourth graders had speaking parts and everyone else was a singer. He’s already looking forward to next year.

In the middle of Scene 2, Senseless Census, a little girl angel in front of Jackson on the risers threw up. One of the teachers retrieved her from the stage, another teacher took care of the mess and the show never missed a beat.

Jackson sang on cue and during the speaking parts he worked on his loose tooth. He’s on his way to being a master of multitasking. Everyone remembered their lines and words to the songs. Even the violin ensemble’s rendition of Jingle Bells wan’t too squeaky.

In that hour the teachers were master instructors, the kids were Tony award winners, and the audience had a time of escape to be reminded of what’s really important. And, one little girl will always remember the night in second grade she threw up on stage.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ask anyone and they can proudly tell you about the first job they ever landed. It’s almost like a rite of passage into personhood. I stuffed rolls of film in plastic bags and stapled on cardboard toppers for store displays. For my hard work I was paid $1.00 an hour. Mine was considered a white collar office job, I suppose, because Jim Brawner’s blue collar job running TV antenna wire under houses only paid twenty-five cents an hour. But, we both had jobs and we learned how to work.

I remember Dad saying, “Honest, hard work never killed anyone.” I guess that was to differentiate from dishonest work which might get you killed. “If you know how to work, you can learn a job,” he’d say.

Knowing how to work was on our list of things we wanted our kids to understand before they left home. They had all kinds of jobs from waiting tables to mowing lawns. Travis, who’s now a surgeon, got his first job experience cleaning toilets for a resort. Jason, now a camp director, was a life guard at a water park and Jill handed out tokens at a go-cart track. Those were all valuable learning experiences.

Jim’s been a bus driver, a construction worker and a maintenance guy. I was an Avon lady who took orders from my hospital bed after giving birth and I wrapped gifts for a department store where I learned how to make even a cheap gift look expensive. We both collected life skills along the way.

Not all jobs are fun because they all have one thing in common ... work. The sooner that’s realized the better. In our entitlement society it seems more and more of the twenty-somethings are “holding out for management positions.” I even know some forty-somthings doing the same thing. Maybe they should learn to work on their way to that dream job.

”Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

~Colossians 3:23

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Everyone needs an Aunt Jo in their life when they’re a kid. An Aunt Jo person may be a coach, a teacher, a neighbor or a real relative like my Aunt Jo. These are like bonus people who are different from our parents because at the end of the day they go home and get a break from us.

Aunt Jo was the third of five girls, Mom was the oldest. She didn’t marry until she was 40 and never had kids of her own. That left plenty of time for me and my brother. She would do the most wonderful things like let us have candy bars no matter what time it was and read Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to us in July. And we laughed a lot.

Every year in December on a Thursday, when the stores stayed open past 5 o’clock, Aunt Jo would take me Christmas shopping after work. That was before malls and the 24 hour Walmart took over the world. We would shop for a while, stop for dinner, then shop a little more. She patiently helped me pick out bottles of Evening In Paris cologne for teachers and yet another tie for my granddaddy. She made me feel like I could be a personal shopper because I chose such wonderful gifts.

We always finished the night walking up the long row of steps of the state capitol to see the nativity. That, of course, was when it was OK for baby Jesus to hang out with the state’s leaders.

I hope you have an Aunt Jo person in your life who did special things for you, especially this time of year. The other day I was Christmas shopping and wondered if Evening in Paris was even still sold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

“I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.” ~ from the poem Sermons We See by Edgar Guest

Through tears the frustrated mom said, “I don’t know where we’ve gone wrong. My husband and I have done everything we can to instill our values and faith in our children. Last week I got a call from my 2nd grader’s teacher because he yelled ‘Oh, S---!’ and kicked another kid when he was tagged out during a kickball game. We are in church every Sunday and we have required all three of the kids to memorize scripture, and obviously it has gotten us no where. This is so disappointing!”

I smiled and hugged her knowing not only was she disappointed, but most likely more embarrassed, since her kids went to a Christian school. I wanted to explain to her that kids are kids, and just because you have them in church every week doesn’t make you bullet proof to embarrassment and disappointment. But I knew she didn’t want to hear that and reminding her kids usually mimic their parents probably wouldn’t have set well either. I just kept my mouth shut hoping she would ask what to do. She didn’t.

Spike White, my extra daddy and mentor, always told me kids watch more than they hear. “If you want honesty, be honest. If you want grateful kids, don’t grumble,” he’d say. “If you want your kids to be kind and helpful, set an example.”

Travis signed up to ring the Salvation Army bell with Jameson and Owen last week. The boys learned about sacrificing a warm house for an hour to help those who may not even have a house. Watching their dad serve rather than listening to him preach will sink in much deeper.

It’s confusing to kids to quote scripture to them on the way to church while calling everyone driving too slow an idiot and everyone driving too fast a maniac. As convicting as it may be, we teach our kids with everything we do. They only copy what they see.

Sermons We See

Edgar Guest

I'd rather see a sermon

than hear one any day;

I'd rather one should walk with me

than merely tell the way.

The eye's a better pupil

and more willing than the ear,

Fine counsel is confusing,

but example's always clear;

And the best of all the preachers

are the men who live their creeds,

For to see good put in action

is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it

if you'll let me see it done;

I can watch your hands in action,

but your tongue too fast may run.

And the lecture you deliver

may be very wise and true,

But I'd rather get my lessons

by observing what you do;

For I might misunderstand you

and the high advice you give,

But there's no misunderstanding

how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness,

I am eager to be kind.

When a weaker brother stumbles

and a strong man stays behind

Just to see if he can help him,

then the wish grows strong in me

To become as big and thoughtful

as I know that friend to be.

And all travelers can witness

that the best of guides today

Is not the one who tells them,

but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many,

men believe what they behold;

One deed of kindness noticed

is worth forty that are told.

Who stands with men of honor

learns to hold his honor dear,

For right living speaks a language

which to every one is clear.

Though an able speaker charms me

with his eloquence, I say,

I'd rather see a sermon

than to hear one, any day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I wish there was an inherited gene, like for eye color, that would determine a person’s ability to be a fabulous cook. I would be spectacular. My mom and both of my grandmothers were cooks who really couldn’t tell you how something was put together, they made it up as they went most of the time. I asked my grandmother once how much sage to put in turkey dressing. She said, “You know, just shake it in until you smell it.” When I tried that, all it did was make me sneeze.

I know we aren’t supposed to think negatively about ourselves, but I should have had a hint of what my cooking journey in life might look like when I made a D in junior high Home Ec. Honestly how hard is junior high cooking?

In all the years Jim Brawner has never once complained. He even tried to eat my first attempt at making stew right after we were married. It tasted like a combination of Goodyear tires and Elmer’s school glue. I reread the recipe and it said simmer 6 to 8 hours not 6 to 8 minutes. That’s when I learned cooking has nothing to do with knack, but with reading.

I’ve made progress over the years, but still prefer the drive through and take out. One thing I can always make work is my grandmother’s cookies. Years ago I finally persuaded her to let me watch her bake a batch. I wrote down everything she did step by step.

For obvious reasons I’m not one of those snooty cooks who won’t share recipes. Here’s one of the best chocolate chip recipes on the planet. It looks like any old recipe, but there are little details that need to be paid attention to. If you are having a rough day, make a batch and share.

Grandmother Bollen’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven 345 degrees

1 cup Crisco Oil

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

Mix well with mixer

Add to sugar mixture:

2 cups plus 4 Tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix well with fork

Add 12 ounce package of semi sweet chocolate chips and stir

Drop by spoonfulls onto cookie sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully.

Take off cookie sheet immediately and let cool on counter top.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Remember in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Ian Miller’s parents came to visit the Portocalas family for the first time? Everyone was nervous and concerned about the possible clashing of the two cultures and how it would all fit together. Ian’s mom did what any woman would do who didn’t really know what to do, she brought a cake. After muddling through understanding what a bundt was, when everyone realized it was cake, life was good. Cake has that effect.

Cake must be the designated food of celebration. No one has birthday or wedding pie. When the cake is cut everyone pauses and smiles. Restaurants send singing servers to the table of the birthday boy or the anniversary couple with cake. The honoree always stares and smiles at the cake as if it were a cute child.

I don’t ever remember going to my grandmothers house and there not being cake under the metal cake cover. I think women used to keep something to break out in case company dropped by. Do people just drop by unannounced anymore? I think we’ve gotten too busy and so scheduled it’s rare someone just shows up. It’s a shame.

Cake has been around since ancient times, but looked a lot different than it does now. It was more bread like with fruits and nuts and was sweetened with honey. That must be what fruitcake is, a variant of ancient cake. Can you name one person who would choose fruitcake over every other kind of cake? With all the ads at Christmastime though, there must be a huge group of closet fruitcakes eaters.

The British have it right pausing sometime mid afternoon for crumpets and tea. I suppose crumpets fall somewhere in the cake family. To slow down and have a cup of hot tea or coffee and a little cake might just add a dozen or so years to our lives.

In the last 20 cakes have gotten fancier and more complex. There’s even a TV show about nothing but cakes, Cake Boss. Honestly it’s not as much about the cakes as it is the drama of people under stress. But when the cakes are presented and cut, everyone is happy. Cake can do that. Maybe we should all eat a little more cake.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The holidays bring such nostalgia. Life just smells good and looks good everywhere. Each year as the temperatures and the leaves start their dropping, twinkle lights appear, and everything smells like cinnamon and evergreen, the memories, for me, surface not only of holidays past, but of pregnancy, labor and delivery.

All three of my kids’ birthdays are in a four week time frame at Christmastime; Jill, December 2, Jason, December 22 and Travis, January 6. So for several years I didn’t fit into a cute little black dress for holiday parties. Really I was proud to fit into anything at that point. I did look pretty good in a burlap robe when the church pageant needed a Mary.

Two of my young friends have just had babies and they’ll join me in the way they store memories of this time of year. Ashley just had a baby girl a couple of weeks before her little girl’s first birthday. Two in one year! And, Abi had a baby boy the other day to join two sisters. She's had three in three years. Actually, I’m not real sure either of these girls will remember anything.

Jill sent Abi a text the day she was scheduled for delivery to let her know she was thinking about her. Abi text back saying, “Real sooooon now!” Oh my! I was stunned. She had the presence of mind to text. Maybe she will have fond memories or maybe she was a bit delirious.

Obviously, labor and delivery looks nothing like it did when I was giving birth. Now there can be a party in the delivery room if the mom wants one. I had to talk on the phone to Jim Brawner when I was in labor with Jason because he couldn’t come past the double doors. I think that was just mean. I remember being so scared, but thinking if Mary could handle this in a manger, I can it in a hospital.

One person told me I didn’t plan very well having babies. I disagree. Who was planning, anyway? We just party from Thanksgiving through the new year and make wonderful memories. My biggest challenge is to not wrap birthday gifts in Christmas paper.