Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Cards

Yesterday at my Scrap Happy Ones Together (SHOT) meetup (the scrapbooking group I organize), a controversial discussion topic arose: Send Christmas cards vs. don’t send Christmas cards? Email vs. USPS mail? The opinions expressed ranged anywhere from “I don’t think it really counts as a Christmas card unless a reindeer delivers it to my doorstep,” to “Ba-humbug! It’s a waste of money and time because no one really cares how many soccer games my kids won this year, or how our poor dog FiFi had to be hospitalized for her severe dog asthma.” Me, personally, I love both sending and receiving Christmas cards in the mail. Email doesn’t do much for me; but an actual physical greeting card in the mailbox, complete with a note, annual letter, and/or a family picture is always fun to receive! In fact, I so love this tradition, that I actually designed and fabricated my own version of a Christmas greeting cards holder. I’m selling them, too, as they have been quite popular! Typically, the cards received just get taped to the back of the front door or thrown in the “inbox” with the other bills and junk mail. But, I decided since I really love getting these cards and accompanying pictures and notes, it was worth making a display. That way I could enjoy and remember my friends and family all season long. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about anyway?

It’s a shame that late November and the entire month of December usually get so busy with scheduled events, parties, shopping, etc., that too often we find ourselves overextended. We barely have enough time to accomplish the tasks of our “ordinary” daily routines, let alone extra events and shopping. Too often the notion of sending out Christmas cards gets pushed to the low rung of the priority pole. It’s understandable. In addition to being pressed for time (and energy for that matter), we may find ourselves thinking, “I don’t have anything interesting to write in a Christmas letter,” or “What’s the big deal? My friends and family know I love them? Why do I need to send a silly little card at Christmas?” While I can’t answer those questions and concerns for everyone, I can speak for myself.

The main reason I make it a top priority to do the whole Christmas card “thing” is because I really want people to know that they matter to me. If one tangible way I can express my gratitude to them is by sending out a little greeting card once a year, then I’m on board. I may not have talked to the person all year, or even for 3 years. Some of the people I send cards to I haven’t really “talked” to in over 10 years (college roommates, etc.). But, I send those people a card every year as a simple way of saying, “I know we don’t really keep in touch much anymore. I know our lives have gone in different directions. But, I just want you to know you are, or were at one point, a really special person in my life and I appreciate you for that. I will always remember the good times we shared and hope you and your family are happy and blessed.”

Now, I know that everyone has his or her own different Love Language (see Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages) and “Words of Affirmation” don’t work for everyone. For some, getting a card doesn’t mean much at all. They do better with one of the other 4 Love Languages: “Quality Time”, “Receiving Gifts”, “Acts of Service”, or “Physical Touch”. But, since I usually can’t spend quality time, afford to send gifts, hug or touch or do much to serve those far away, I do the best I can by sending words of affirmation and love.

I openly admit that I struggle with depression. It’s taken many years to get to a point where I am willing to admit it and talk about it. There’s a “stigma” that seems to accompany this malady. Although, nowadays, people are becoming more aware of mental disease or defect, there are still some who are uneducated who don’t know how to deal with it. Nonetheless, it is a real affliction for me. Although I take a daily medication to help “even out” my highs and lows, there are still some days that are not as “level” as the others. There have been many, many times when I have had to run errands, go to work, church or whatever, even though it seemed to take all the effort I had in me just to get out of bed that morning. On days like that, the simplest kind word or deed can help me so much! Although not everyone struggles with depression, as I do, everyone needs love. Have you ever had someone unexpectedly let you know he or she really admires you? Or perhaps someone gave you a sincere compliment and it made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? How about the random act of kindness you received, or the welcome smile and greeting the grocery cashier offered? It’s amazing, to me, how much these little things can do.

Christmas cards are really a “little” thing. They’re pretty inexpensive (except the 42 cent postage stamp for each—don’t get me started on the United States Postal System again), and sending them really doesn't take that much time, once you set down to do them. But, they can have such a BIG impact in someone’s life. You just never know how much someone might really need an extra boost—to know that he or she is in another’s thoughts. Maybe not. Who knows? But, personally, I’d rather err on the side of sending a kind word than not. I mean, you never hear stories of people sitting around lonely and sad because he or she received just too darn many Christmas cards in the mail and died of annoyance.

Today I was opening the mail that had accumulated on my desk this week. Imagine my surprise to receive not just one, but five Christmas greeting cards! Okay, granted, one was from the CPA who does our taxes, and another was from the Vet where we take our dog, but still! Five! WOW! That felt really great! They are promptly being hung on my “Seasons Greetings” card display.

My older brother, Connon, shares our home with us. He also gets his mail here. I noticed he and I both received a Christmas card from our Dad. That’s pretty cool. I won’t go into a long history about my relationship with my Dad, but I can tell you that it hasn’t ever really been very good. My Dad is a recovering alcoholic and we had a pretty troubled childhood growing up under his "reign." Even though as an adult, I’ve tried to make peace with my past, it’s not the easiest task and definitely isn't “finished.” Occasionally, I find myself still harboring ill feelings or resentment toward him. It’s not right nor Christian, and I try to practice true forgiveness and repentance for being so hard on him. Nonetheless, forgiving doesn’t necessarily equal having a great relationship now.

Before opening my card from my Dad, I noticed that the two cards (mine and my brother's) looked different on the envelope. While I easily recognized my Dad’s beautiful penmanship (he’s always had this gorgeous, artistic looking penmanship)on Connon's card, I was confused at the writing on my envelope. I started to look more closely at the differences between the two envelopes. While the return address labels were identical on both cards, the writing on my card didn’t look much at all like what I knew to be my Dad’s. It was kind of crooked and jagged looking and looked like it may’ve taken great pains to scribe.

That’s when I found myself crying. It started slowly, but then built into a full-on weep session. My husband, Lloyd, came over to see what the matter was. It took me several minutes to calm down before I could explain. My heart just felt so much sadness and sorrow. Here I sat with a wonderful husband and family and friends nearby, counting my five Christmas cards received in one day. Conversely, my Dad could probably be found sitting alone in his little one-bedroom house wishing for a call or letter—from anyone. My dad has some pretty serious health-issues. Some of them, like his heart problems and knee problems, the doctors don’t even know how to fix. He lives with some fairly intense pain at times, and at best, limited mobility. My parents are divorced, though they still both love each other deeply. All my siblings have difficult relationships with my Dad, as well, and he doesn’t get much family interaction.

With all this, my Dad is sending Christmas cards. He has been beaten down by life in so many ways (some a result of his own poor choices and actions—but aren’t we all that way?) Yet, still, he makes the effort to send a little note to those he loves. He isn’t expecting us to return the favor. In fact, he probably pretty much expects us not to, given the troubles we’ve shared. In reality, there’s probably not much Christmas or any other kind of “cheer” in his life. Nonetheless, he sits and painfully addresses a card to each one of us, as a way of saying, “I love you. You’re in my thoughts. I care about you.” There’s probably even a cup or two of “I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve ever caused you,” written in there, too.

And so, I sit weeping. How can a man with so little give so much? How can someone who I have hated at times make me feel so loved? How can someone hurting so much make such a sacrifice to make others feel better?

That’s why Christmas cards are important to me. They’re a little thing that can mean SO much. Everything won’t magically be “fixed” between me and my Dad. But, my resolve to continue working on our relationship has returned. My desire to learn from him has increased. As much as I have fought it over the years, I am my Dad’s daughter. I am like him in so many ways! I have to wrestle with similar weaknesses, but have similar strengths to improve upon. I am a passionate person. I FEEL things. I get that from my Dad. While I can accurately say that I learned most life skills from my Mom, Teachers at school, and Church Leaders, I’ve learned a great deal about how to LOVE from my Dad. Throughout my life, I’ve watched him get knocked down (or trip and fall, whichever the case may be) again and again and again. But, the most amazing thing is that he ALWAYS gets back up. I don’t know how. I really don’t. But, he does it. I believe a large part of it is because of those he loves. I don’t believe he’s done it necessarily for his own sake. I believe it’s been because of his love for my Mom or us, his children.

While I’ll probably never fully understand my Dad, I am learning to admire different things about him. From him, I’ve learned the value of family and friends—that they are what matter most. That’s why I put aside time each Christmas season to express my love and care for those who matter in my life. I don’t want it to take 35 years (as it has for me) for those around me to recognize how much I love them.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

TV Rocks!

I am thankful for digital video recording (DVR). I LOVE watching my tv shows. With DVR, now I can record them and watch them when it's convenient to me (minus the commercials). Some people say the TV is a big waste of time. I agree, it can be. But the way I look at it, it's a cheap form of entertainment. Some people go to the movies or rent movies; others may buy books; some may play sports or poker; others may workout or shop. All of these can be forms of relaxing or entertainment, which serve the purpose of self-renewal. Watching TV is what I like to do.

My husband isn't as big into TV as I am, but I kind of try to trick him into watching shows with me anyway. For example, there's a "reality" (and I use the term VERY loosely in this case, as it appears to be somewhat scripted) show on MTV called "The Hills". It's about a 20-something girl, Lauren Conrad "LC", and her friends who live in Hollywood CA. It's pretty silly overall, but I can't help but like it. There's a couple on there, Spencer and Heidi (Lauren's ex-BFF). Spencer is a totally egotistical, rude, controlling, jerk who seemingly purposely alienates all of Heidi's friends and family. I always feel like I've gotta get Lloyd to watch the show so he can agree with me on what a loser Spencer is, and Heidi for sticking with him! I ask Lloyd questions like, "Why do so many beautiful girls fall for jerks like Spencer? I just don't get it!" Lloyd never fails to tell me it's just "Hollywood" and not to believe everything I see. Even though Lloyd doesn't like these shows and only partially "watches" them (as he surfs his computer), he makes an effort to please me by conversing about it with me. Usually our discussions just result in the confirmation of what we already know: we're lucky because we both chose a good mate!

Other shows that I like (and there are many) are all the "Law & Order" dramas; Criminal Minds; Without a Trace; Cold Case; The Mentalist (who's star, Simon Baker, I've dubbed "the English Matthew McConaughey"); CSI; The Unit; The Closer; Damages, etc. Most of these are some variation of the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys drama. Both Lloyd and I most enjoy the more complex episodes that make you think about what's going on and aren't totally "predictable".

On the other hand, I personally don't always mind "predictable" shows. Lloyd doesn't like these TV shows that I like: Grey's Anatomy; The Practice; Gossip Girl; 90210; Privileged; Brothers & Sisters; Lipstick Jungle; The Real Housewives of Orange County; The Real Housewives of Atlanta, etc. Others that aren't his favorite, but he'll tolerate just to appease me are: Top Chef (but mostly because he thinks the hostess, Padma Lakshmi , is beautiful); Project Runway; So You Think You Can Dance; and Big Brother.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list of all the shows that I follow. But, it gives you a broad idea of what direction my tv viewing preferences run. If it were up to Lloyd, we'd be watching a combination of The Military Channel, ESPN, The History Channel, and Discovery pretty much 24/7! I'm thankful that he lets me be the controller of the remote! Most men aren't that accommodating! But, in our house, one of my titles is "Entertainment Committee".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reading is Cheaper Than Going to the Movies

Today I am thankful for so many things! I'm thankful for the magic of reading.

I've always loved to read. One of the best and smartest thing my mom ever did for us, as kids, was take us to the Public Library on a near-weekly basis. I imagine it had a lot to do with the fact that we were poor growing up, and the library is a free way to entertain children for a couple of hours. I know my mom, herself, loves to read, too, but she couldn't have had much time to do so with 7 children to rear. Nonetheless, she always managed to take us to the library and let us check out several books each (at least 5--which multiplied by 7 children is 35 books/week!). That meant that come next Saturday morning, she'd have to go through the inevitable 2-hour process of us "finding" our books so we could return them and get new ones. Now, that's some serious dedication to develop a love for reading in your children!

I remember even as a teenager, loving to go to the library. During the summer time, we'd bring home high stacks of novels to read. One summer my goal was to read 100 novels. I surpassed my goal by at least 10 books! I often stayed up all night reading. Part of it was probably a mechanism of escape--things weren't always "rosy" in our home. But mostly, I've always loved to find out about different types of personalities and ideas. Reading offers that. Fiction, or non-- there are still so many things to learn about!

Of course, in my youth, I didn't recognize reading as a desire to "learn". Only now, much later, do I understand the principle. Reading has been such a developmental tool for me. I have seen studies that indicate reading enhances students' vocabulary, analytical skills, and even relationship skills. They say reading teaches one how to deduce. Deductive reasoning is a great skill to have in all different types of life situations: professionally, socially, or other.

I wouldn't say I necessarily have a "passion" for learning, as I might describe others as having. But, I would say that I have a love for learning. Some people have talked about how they can spend about 1/2 an hour on the internet and then they're done. They get bored. That always flabberghasts me. How could you be bored when you have a virtual world at your fingertips? With just a few key strokes, you can learn about ANYTHING! Often when I'm searching for a specific thing, I get sidetracked by other links that I come across. I have about 10 different "tabs" on my browser going at once because I've bookmarked so many things I want to come back to! I could sit at a computer all day every day, and still be fascinated!

But, don't get me wrong, I still love reading BOOKS. Nowadays they are selling "e-readers". These are handheld devices that are similar to cell phones. Their function is to store and "play back" up to 500 books in the palm of your hand. You can take them with you wherever you go. I think e-readers are a fabulous idea! I've long been a proponent and practicer of taking a book along with me in my purse wherever I go. Whether waiting for an appointment in the doctor's office or stuck in traffic, I find I am much happier if I have a good book to distract me. As for the e-reader, I'm not sure yet if this is a gadget I'd like to invest in. While, conceptually, I think it's brilliant, I'm unconvinced it would fulfill my needs. I love the FEEL of paper and book binding; the smell of freshly printed ink; the sound of pages turning. It's not just the story in the book I enjoy, it's the book itself. I don't think it would be as satisfying cuddling up in my bed with an e-reader as it would an actual book.

I'm thankful for my book club because it keeps me reading. It's easy to get so busy with our lives that reading falls out of our top priorities list. Book club not only keeps me reading, but challenges me to read things that I wouldn't normally pick out. I love that! I've learned so much about different cultures and people this year. I've also just had a lot of fun reading again! I even registered for a free online social networking site called It lets you connect with other readers you know and share what you're reading, what you have read, and what you'd like to read (3 different "shelves".) If you know someone who seems to share similar taste in books, you can check out her bookshelves. That way, you might find books that she's read, that you'd like to read in the future (provided you ever finish the 6 or more books you're currently reading!)

I'm thankful for my mom teaching me at an early age about the magic of reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nothing Better Than My Husband's Arms

I am thankful for Lloyd for SO many, many reasons! But today, I'm thankful for Lloyd because I've been depressed all day. I struggled to do ANYTHING at all. When he got home, he knew something was wrong and made me come snuggle with him. He always knows that will get me talking and talking will make me cry and crying will make me feel better. He holds me and tells me it will be okay and reminds me that I'll feel better in just a little bit. He's always right. I don't know how I ever made it through my life without him!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Post-Its are the Bomb!

I am thankful for Post-It notes. Silly, I know, but it's true. I love Post-It notes. I use them for everything. They're just so handy and pretty. (I always get the neon bright colors.) I have a horrible memory, and so Post-Its are like my "to do" list alarm clock. They should invent that: an alarm that goes off and gives you verbal reminders to do things. Like, you'd be sitting there watching tv, reading a book, knitting, or whatever and then all of a sudden you'd hear some kind of alarm and then a computer-generated voice (or even your own recorded voice) say, "Don't forget you promised to take the trash out today," or "only 3 more days until your anniversary--don't forget to get a gift or your wife might kill you." You could choose the frequency of how often you wanted certain messages repeated. Or, you could select "random" mode and you would get messages throughout the day. The surprise element could enhance your memory's ability to record the data. Wives would no longer have to "nag", and husbands could no longer claim they "forgot" or "no one told me" (or whatever other lame excuse they invent in an effort to cover up the fact that they've just been too "busy" playing "Ma Jong" for 2 hours and stuffing their face with microwave popcorn, to get up off their fat butt.)

I know, some people are thinking I'm dumb. They are thinking, "But, Cheryl, they already have that, it's called a calendar. You write things on it you want to remember, then you look at it to keep track of things." I know. I know. I'm not a COMPLETE moron. I use my electronic calendar (Outlook) AND my cell phone calendar, but inevitably there are still MANY things that are forgotten! I mean, it's one thing to put "Doctor's Appointment 9:45am" in your schedule, and yet completely another to enter "buy dish soap." Buying dishsoap rarely requires a specified date and time (at least not for me, although I'm sure there may be for others who are far more organized.)

I know there are "task" lists also available on my mobile and pc. The downfall to those programs is that I never remember to access them. Maybe if I schedule a date and time on my calendar to remind me to check my task list, I'd have a shot? It just doesn't work for me. Unless I have a hot pink post-it note attached to my wallet, my pc, my purse, etc., certain things don't seem to get done!

So, until someone comes up with a portable device that spits out reminders, I'll stick with my post-its. (Get it? That was a pun!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Cake

Today I'm thankful for Pumpkin Spice cake. I know it's silly. But, I LOVE pretty much anything pumpkin spice flavored! I was cleaning out the pantry yesterday and I came across a cake mix that was about to expire. I also found a package of Jell-O instant pudding Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice flavor I had bought last year. So, knowing I'm going visiting teaching later this afternoon, I decided to whip up some Pumpkin Spice mini-loaf cakes to take as a treat! I've been adhering to a strict diet, which I'm fairly certain does not include Pumpkin Spice Cake. But, who could resist the warm, moist crumbliness of Pumpkin Spice cake? I sure couldn't! Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. It's sad to say, but little things like this make me happy.

FYI: For those of you who may be unaware, you can make pretty much any cake flavor your heart so desires. In my family, I grew up enjoying Pistachio cake. (Picture shown) But, I've taken the recipe and altered it to accommodate any flavor that Jell-O makes in an instant pudding flavor. Ergo Pumpkin Spice Cake the easy way!

To make flavored cake, all you have to do is take a white or yellow cake mix and prepare as normal. Fold in 1 small box of the desired Jell-O instant pudding mix. Bake as usual.

For frosting, you can choose whatever frosting you prefer. For pistachio cake, we usually take a regular sized tub of Cool Whip, another small box of same-flavored instant pudding, 2 T milk, and whip. And by whip, I mean, I just usually stir it all up together until it's spreadable. Use more milk if necessary. Sprinkle with crumbled walnut or pistachio pieces if so desired. Viola!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mediocre Friends

Today I am thankful for friends: friends of all shapes, sizes, classes, colors, and status. Status? I have a couple of really fun friends that I joke with, Alisa and Donna. I don't know how it came up, but one night we were joking around (as it is pretty much every time we get together), and someone mentioned not being invited to something or another. Alisa said, "Oh, so I'm just your mediocre friend, then?" It's an ongoing joke now if someone forgets to tell the other something, the response is always, "Yeah, I know. You don't have to remind me. I'm just a 'mediocre' friend. I'm not on the A-list, the 'inner circle'." It makes me laugh every time.

I don't know if it's just because I'm a "grown up" and I have learned to develop a lot more "layers of defense" or what, but it seems harder to find close friends than when I was younger. I find that it takes much longer to develop deep frienships now than it ever seemed to before. Maybe I've gotten more jaded, a little less trusting, I don't know. Or maybe it's in part because of the hectic societal pace we all maintain. There's not a lot of time to develop deep and meaningful friendships because we're always in such a hurry; all we seem to have time for is a quick "hello" or "nice to see you."

Part of making stronger friendships, or relationships in general, is about investing. Most people are struggling just to hang on, and don't have much energy left to invest in anything other than their families and jobs. I understand that. It's just a shame that we get so overloaded with life that we deny ourselves the beauty of what a great friend mean to us! It's having someone to be there when you can't keep up with everything. It means there will be another person who "gets" what you're going through and wants you to feel okay about sharing so your burdens aren't quite so heavy. It's also someone who shares the happy memories of your life with you, especially when you can't quite remember.

In order to have a friend like that, you have to be one. I know it's been said a million times, but it's true. You have to be willing to let down your guard a little bit and share yourself, trusting that the other person will handle with care. You have to reach out and show the other person you care about them, too--that you are interested in the important things in their life. It's not easy. It can be daunting, uncomfortable, and sometimes even downright overwhelming. But, I know it's worth it. I know, because I have had some great friends in my life! I don't always keep in touch with them as well as I should, but I would hope my great friends know they're always in my heart and prayers.

One of my very best friends ever is Dee Dee. Dee Dee moved to Missouri, where I grew up, when I was 12 years old. I don't think I ever needed a friend as much as I did then. My dad was raging in alcoholism. Abuse and sadness were not uncommon in our home. Although my mom was a strong and faithful church-goer, and took all 7 of us children to church every week, that didn't necessarily make things easier at our house. When I was 12, maybe with the changing in hormones and whatnot, my depression began to set in. I wasn't diagnosed until many years later, but looking back, it was evident. Life was so difficult! Dee Dee became such a good friend to me! Her mom seemed to understand how things were for me, and was always generous about letting me come over to hang out or sleep over at Dee Dee's house. She taught me a lot of things about life and growing up that I wouldn't have learned at my house . Some things were simple (like how to use a knife and fork to cut food.) Other things were more complicated (like how to believe in myself even though I felt like a "loser" for coming from the family I did). Some of the biggest life lessons came from my friendship with Dee Dee, as did some of my happiest memories!

Now, as adults, we live in different parts of the country. We're both married and have busy lives of our own. But, I have to admit that even though I don't call or write as much as I should or would like to, I think of Dee Dee at least once a week, if not more often. Sometimes I'll see something humorous that will make me giggle and I think to myself, "Dee Dee would crack up at that!" Sometimes when I'm having a specific challenge or feeling a little bit low, I think about how she would say something like, "Don't believe it, Cheryl. You ARE great!" The most important thing, though, is that I know, that no matter what, I could always call her and she would be there for me, as if no time had passed. We'd pick up right where we left off. Sure, there might be some details we'd have to catch up on, but the feeling of support, encouragement, and love would still be just as strong as it ever was.

I'm trying to develop more friendships like that. Right now I may only have a bunch of "mediocre" friends, but I'm working on making them lifelong friends. I need to let my grattitude for friends inspire me to action! Instead of waiting until New Year's Day, instead, this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday I resolve to spend a few moments calling or writing "old" and "new" friends to let them know how thankful I am for their influence in my life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Relief Society

Today I am thankful for Relief Society. For those of you who aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka "the Mormons"), allow me to explain:

The way the church is set up (and all are welcome to join!), is every Sunday there is a 3-hour block of meetings. Typically, members attend all 3 hours of church, but it's not a requirement, per se. The first hour is known as "Sacrament Meeting". In this meeting ALL members of the congregation (including children) sing hymns, join in prayer, listen to a couple of speakers (also members of the congregation who have been asked a few weeks in advance to offer a few words about a given topic), and most importantly, partake of the Sacrament (bread & water to remember Christ's atonement of flesh and blood for our sins).

The second hour consists of Sunday School. Lots of things happen during this hour. The kiddos each go off to their own class. Each class is comprised of an age group (ie: 8 year olds, 9 year olds, etc). In their classes, they are taught lessons from the scriptures by a Sunday School Teacher (again, an ongoing voluntary assignment by a member of the congregation.) The littlest children (below age 3) go to what is known as "Nursery". In nursery, they also have lessons about the scriptures, but get to play with lots of toys and eat snacks, too! Because they have so many important things to do, they stay in Nursery for the last two hours of the meeting block of time, so their parents can be involved in other aspects of the Sunday services. Those adult members of the congregation who don't have a Sunday School teaching assignment, attend adult Sunday School class. All the men and women and children age 18 and older attend this class.

During the 3rd hour, the children who have now finished their Sunday School classes go to what is called Primary. In Primary, they sing children's church songs, play "reverent" games, have "sharing time" (where a few kids are chosen each week to share about themselves or a certain topic), etc. A few of the children are also asked in advance to give a "talk" (a 1-3 minute speaking assignment about a topic like prayer, family, etc.) This helps children develop and strengthen their own understanding of the gospel principles they are learning. The "youth" (ages 12-17) split up by gender. The girls go to what is called "Young Women", where they are taught principles about growing up and making good decisions, etc. The guys go to classes about similar subjects, also including how to treat the yound women with respect. Also during the 3rd hour, the men and women (ages 18+) split up and go to different classes. All the men go to a meeting called Priesthood, where they talk about how to be better men, husbands, fathers, etc. (I love to hear from my husband and brothers about the "lessons"/"sermons" they receive in this class--they usually tend to involve something about learning to treat women better and to be more sensitive, helpful, and understanding!) While the men are in Priesthood, the women go to what is called Relief Society. The reason it's called that is that when the organization first began, back in the 1800s, the women of the church got together to find out how they could be of service to one another. Having strength in numbers, they were able to work together to help each other and others in their community through difficult and challenging situations. One of their main objectives was to give aid or "relief" to others. Ergo the name, Relief Society.

Today, the Relief Society (RS) is still a strong organization full of women of all races, ages, backgrounds and talents. As a group, there is so much that the RS does to help both within the church, as well as the surrounding communities. During our 3rd-hour RS lessons, I always feel such a strong love for all the other women sitting beside me. Even though I am still learning the names of many of the other women, and I don't even really know many of them, I just love the feeling of connectedness when I'm there. It's like we're all united in a good, worthy purpose. Everyone always tries to be so welcoming and kind to each other, and that feels good.

Sometimes, because life can be so overwhelming, it can be difficult to get up on Sundays and go to church. It can, at times, even feel like a chore rather than a blessing. But, then I get to RS and there's always a morsel or two of just what I need to keep me going another week! The instructor (another voluntarily assigned woman from the congregation), always works really hard to bring a good "lesson" to us. Just yesterday, we talked about how women need to make sure they keep their own "inner well" filled. We can't properly take care of our own families, let alone reach out to others, unless we have something to give. If we're "running on empty" all the time, our lives will be out of balance and we'll end up feeling like it's all just a futile effort. Different women in the class shared thoughts of ways they try to keep their lives balanced by first filling their own inner wells. For some it means taking just a few minutes a day to spend in prayer--real prayer, not just the repititous versions we rush through at dinner; for others, it means leaving a pile of laundry undone another day, while taking an hour to go sit in her favorite recliner and read a new book. Everyone had her own idea of what she needed to be filled. All agreed that our spiritual wells must be filled before anything else. We all felt similar frustrations with the hectic pace of life, individual and family stresses, and feelings of not being able to measure up to the expectations we feel others have for us, or we set for ourselves. It was really good to be able to share that feeling with others, but also be reminded that not only is it okay to do things for yourself, but it's necessary. You can't give to someone else if your well is empty.

Upon continuing to think about this principle, I came home and went to the church's online archives to find more articles on this topic. I came across a few that were really encouraging: The first one is called, "Was I Meant to Be a Mother Today?"

Even though I'm not a mother yet, I can certainly identify with the things Mary Ellen (the author) discusses. Another great article I found was recently given at our bi-annual General Conference. (Every April and October there is a conference for all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and anyone else who is interested, held in Salt Lake City. The conference is broadcast via satellite and cable everywhere, as there are members of the church throughout the world--actually more are outside the United States than inside!) One of the worldwide leaders, Joseph Wirthlin, talks about how we can get through challenges and difficulties we all face. It's inpsiring.

My point is this. I love Relief Society because I feel like I always get something good from it! I leave feeling inspired, uplifted, or at the very least, comforted. I'm so thankful for the RS program. I wish every woman I know would come to church with me so she could experience the blessing of it that I do!


Today I am thankful for my comfy bed. There're few things more pleasing than at the end of a LONG day, opening the window a crack to let the cool air in, turning on my Conair sound machine to "rainfall", climbing into bed, pulling up my down comforter, snuggling in and falling asleep. Kids always fight bedtime. I remember fighting it, too. But as an adult... I can't think of the last time I fought bedtime. Sleep is such a wonderful thing! Having a great bed to do it in is the icing on the cake!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Green Hamburgers

Today I am thankful for cool nieces and nephews! My oldest brother, Connon, lives with us. He is divorced from Rainee's mother. He has 4 children, of which Rainee is the oldest. Recently, Rainee (14), came to live in our house.

Although Rainee is pretty much your average teenager (some days she wants to talk, other days she is quiet as a mouse), I really enjoy having her here! Tonight I was up late packing my scrapbooking supplies for an event I'm going to tomorrow. While I was packing/organizing, Rainee came into my craft room and just "hung out" with me. She talked to me a little about her hobbies (music and Japanese anime). She explained what anime is all about and even told me a few of the stories of some of her favorites. I was impressed at how articulate and insightful she is. She described the characters' complex relationships with such understanding and wisdom, it made me really feel like she "gets" it.

It's easy to think of teenagers as difficult sometimes. It's easy to try to give them a bunch of rules and expect them to just blindly follow them because "I said so" or "that's just the way it is." It's more difficult to try to venture into their world, which is a strange mix of childhood naivete and newfound independence and knowledge. But, to me, it is just so exciting! I love hearing what Rainee has to say and the things she thinks of. It reminds me of 3 and 4 year olds. When children are about that age, they have learned to talk. It's then that they begin to put not only words but concepts together, as well. That's when some of those "funny" things kids say come out. If you listen to what a child says at that age, you learn to see things in a new perspective.

I just heard a friend, Peggy, tell a story yesterday about how when her son was young she used to take him to a Sonic drive-in from time to time. (If you aren't from the mid-west, you may not be very familiar with Sonic. It's like a McDonald's more or less, but instead of a drive-thru window, you park your car at a "station" and order over an intercom. A car-hop brings your order out to you.) Her son used to always say he didn't want to eat at Sonic, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out why. They have corn dogs, tater tots, hamburgers, ice cream--all the things a normal kid would love! As it turns out, her son, who is now in his early 20s, recently told her what his aversion to Sonic had been as a child. He said he didn't like to go there because when he'd look at the pictures of food to choose from on the menu board, he never saw anything that looked good. He didn't want to eat a green hamburger or green ice cream. Peggy asked her son what he was talking about? He said, "Well what I know now is that the menu was faded/stained from being outside in the sun for so long. Because of this, all the pictures on the menu had a sort-of greenish hue to them." He said when he was a kid, he thought all the food they served there was green, just like in the picture, and that's why he had never wanted to eat there! We all laughed at that and thought it was such a funny thing. But, really, that's how it is with kids. Things that are obvious to us, are not always so obvious to them. We take things for granted that they are just discovering and learning about. When you stop to think of things from their perspective--how they must see the world--it's just so neat to see how they think and what things impress upon them.

Talking to Rainee reminds me of what it's like to be a teenager. I remember how I had so many developing ideas and interests! I love seeing that development in Rainee and I'm thankful for the passion she has for different things. It brings so much life and light into our world!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sock Love

Tonight I was sitting at the dinning room table folding laundry. (We don't really have a dinning room table. We have folding tables that we set up wherever we want. Our dinning room is empty because I host scrapbooking at our house frequently and we set up tables throughout the whole house. Real furniture just gets in the way) I got to the bottom of the pile and started mating socks from the singles sock basket. (That reminds me of a conversation I had once. I don't remember who I was talking to, but I made some joke about telling this lame-0 guy who'd asked me out that I was too busy washing my hair or mating socks to go out with him. The person I was talking to was like, "What the heck is 'mating' socks?" I said, "You know, when you do your laundry and you take the basket with all the single socks that have piled up at the bottom and you find their match to make a pair?" She started laughing at me. She said that's not called "mating socks", but rather "matching" or "pairing" socks. She said saying "mating" socks made it sound like the socks were secretly getting together and having sexual relations to bring new baby socks into the world! I remember standing there feeling stupid. But then I thought to myself, A) Why can't you call it "mating" socks? That's what it is when you find two things that belong together and you put them together, right? and B) Even if it did have the connotation of creating "baby" socks, I like baby socks. They're cute. So why is that such a bad thing?)

So anyway, I was sitting there at our elegant dinning room table(s) mating socks. I was getting kind of annoyed at my husband, Lloyd. Why? Because Lloyd, not unlike many other men I've heard, keeps buying new socks. He's always telling me how he needs more socks. I tell him, no, he doesn't need more socks--we just bought him new socks. He always insists he does. So, when he goes to Sam's club to buy some of our weekly groceries (I would rather shop Costco, but they don't have one near us...YET), he always picks up a new 3-pack of socks. The man must have upwards of 200 socks (which, if you're a math wiz like me, you know that means at least 100 PAIRS of socks!) He just never bothers to sit down and "mate" his socks, the way I do. Ergo, his incessant "need" to buy more socks because he doesn't "have enough."

After mating about 50 pairs of socks (and not yet getting to the bottom of the singles basket), I was about ready to go tell him how mad I was that he keeps wasting so much of our hard-earned cash on new socks when already he has a gazillion socks "mating" and producing offspring on a daily basis! (Some people say the dryer "eats" their socks. If it does, that's okay because our singles basket must be the most happenin' socks single club around! They just keep multiplying!)

And then it hit me. I love my husband. I really do. He's the nicest, sweetest, most kindest, gentlest man I've ever been close to. He's so patient with me and all my shortcomings. The least I could do is afford him his sock obsession. And then, when thinking even more about how thankful for him I am, I remembered what it was like when I was single. I didn't get married until I was 30 years old (which is "old maid" status in Mormon culture). On my 30th birthday, I pretty much closed the door to the hope that I would meet my "Mr. Right", fall in love, and get married. I came to accept that it just wasn't going to happen for me, and I needed to learn to move on and start living life for ME, without always thinking, "But what if he comes along and..." I wasn't making any real plans for myself because I was in a perpetual state of waiting. I remember how, even though I had a lot of really neat friends and a great family, I was lonely and hated not having someone to share the happy times in my life with.

I'm SO thankful for Heavenly Father's blessing of finding my "mate". I didn't think it would happen, but we've been married almost 4 years now, and I continually marvel at how different my life is with Lloyd to share it with. Before being married, I would have loved to have a husband's laundry to do, or socks to "mate", "match", or "pair". Now, I'm so thankful I do.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bird Bath

Okay, here goes. My first-ever blog post. Why anyone would want to read my blog is beyond me, but everyone else is doing it and I just want to be like all the "cool kids".So, I read the blog of a friend, Valerie Chandler, the other day. It's kind of weird if you think about it. I haven't really seen or talked with Valerie in a year or two, since she and her family moved to Bentonville, AR (Greg works for Walmart). Nonetheless, I'm reading all about her life with her family. Doesn't anyone else find that the least bit voyeuristic? It kind of feels like spying on other people's lives, unbeknownst to them. But, then again, I guess if they cared who read about them, they wouldn't be blogging, right? Whew. Moral quandry averted.

What I'm saying, I guess, though, is that I can really get behind a method of communication that doesn't require me to mail a letter or talk on the phone. While I don't necessarily mind mailing letters, it usually just doesn't get done. (And have you seen the cost of stamps these days? Poor USPS--they keep raising their prices to compete with all those cheapskates out there who use email and blogging as a viable means of communication. For shame! And, while I'm on the subject of theUSPS, why not just take a moment to mention how I think their business model is inherently flawed? With a communications market as competitive as it is today--so many economically technological possibilities--one would think that to compete with the growing emarket that instead of just raising the cost to send mail, they might switch-up their tactics a little bit. Why not try something NEW to stimulate business, like I don't know...quality customer service? Nah, that clearly doesn't make any sense. How about increased speed and accuracy. No, surely not. People already expect their mail to be lost or arrive late...why change expectations now? Nope, the USPS has just decided to stick with their tried-but-true method of competition: increase the price of stamps and hope no one notices.)

But, I digress, as usual. My point wasn't necessarily about how the USPS sucks (albeit, it is a top-notch discussion topic). My point was to say that I can really get behind blogging because I don't have to send a letter and I don't have to talk on the phone. Which, if you know me at all, you know that I hate talking on the phone. My hope is that now that I'm blogging, anyone who might've expected to hear from me, won't. Instead he or she will learn to just go to the blog. If there's a post, it means I'm alive. If not, call 911.

The thing that most inspired me about Valerie's blog is that she's doing a daily post for the month of November of things she's thankful for. When I started reading her posts, I thought, "That's a GREAT idea! I could do that!" So, that's what I'm going to do for the rest of the month (Isn't it great how I managed to skip the first 1/2 of the month and now only have to come up with 15 posts instead of 30? I'm pretty slick like that!)

Today I am thankful for the little birds dancing in a puddle. I went to meet with a recruiter this afternoon in Dallas. When I was finished with the interview, I went out to my car and sat there for a few minutes checking phone messages (Why are people STILL calling me? They KNOW I don't like to talk on the phone! Those darn bill collectors never seem to remember that, no matter how many times I tell them!) As I was about to start up the vehicle, I noticed 2 cute little fluffy birds playing and splashing in a rain puddle. I don't know why it caught my attention, really. Usually I just run over birds without another thought. But, the sun was shining down and these two little birds just seemed as happy as could be splashing and laughing in their cute little bird-laughing way! Why don't we, as adults, ever splash in rain puddles anymore? When I was a kid, I used to love when it would rain! Mom would let us put on our "swimmin' suits" and play out in the rain (aka the ditches and gutters on the side of the street). When it'd rain at Grandma Lloyd's house, she had large potholes in her long drive that were seemingly deep swimmin' holes! Lookin' back, I can see that it probably wasn't that cool (or sanitary), but when I was 5 or 6, it was FANTASTIC!

Nowadays, I'm so stressed about finding a new job and all the stuff that goes on in everyday life, I never take time out to play in the rain puddles. I rarely see any other adults playing in the puddles either (except that guy down the street--but then again, he also tries to get us to come out and play "freeze tag" with him, and that's just weird). In a random, roundabout way (which is what you will grow accustomed to from me), I'm saying I'm thankful for the little fluffy rain-playin' birdies I saw today because they reminded me of the wonder and awe of childhood. The scriptures teach us that we should become as little children (Matthew 18:3). I forget that precept all-too-often and find myself caught up in a dizzying pace that leaves me feeling drained and discouraged. Maybe tomorrow, instead of preparing myself for gloom and misery, I'll do better at looking at this world with more wonder and awe and expecting Heavenly Father to pour out blessings upon me. Blessings poured out from Heaven leave puddles to play in!