Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Elves

I will honor Christmas in my heart 
and try to keep it all the year. 
--Charles Dickens

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Daze

We had a snow day!

Grateful the snow didn't pack into snowballs

Then we had another one
followed by a weekend,
and another snow day,
and two more after that.


Max remembered how much fun snow can be because he LOVES to dig.
Snow is soooo much better than the sandbox

Alexandra only experienced a light dusting last year, so when I told her we needed to get dressed to go play in the snow, she selected this outfit:

Looking more like a spring fairy than a snow bunny

We finally convinced her it was cold outside. She became a believer. Moments after this photo was taken she stripped off her gigantic gloves and became so cold she wanted to go back inside.
"Hi, Snow!"
This year was the first time sledding for both munchkins. I hadn't gone in years (decades?). Alexandra cried and laughed both times I went down with her.  (Once she learns to keep her gloves on in twenty degree temps, she'll have much more fun.) Max managed to divert us into a snow pile when I went down with him. After all, what's sledding without getting snow down your pants?

Max loving life and Alexandra hating the snow on her bare hands when she fell
On the third day of snow, we were grateful to attend a Superhero birthday party. It was the same day as the OU/OSU bedlam game. It was a good day.
Super Sooner and Superman

Cabin fever prompted me to dig through the Christmas activities I had reserved Christmas Break.  (Okay, I only had one activity planned and now it's gone, gone, gone.) We made a gingerbread house out of stickers and foam. Mostly I made the house.  Max kept asking me why it wasn't real and why he couldn't eat the real one that he and his grands had made last year. "Because your grandmothers put the pieces together with pins instead of icing." He still doesn't understand. And, after encouraging his sister to eat a foam gumdrop, they happily went off to play.
Alexandra is very proud of the house they built
Great-grandma Celeste came over. 
My helpers
She spent a lot of time (justifiably) shaking her head, covering her mouth with her hand, and laughing at my culinary skills. I was so excited to use my little pie maker and let the kids help.  Eh.

Martha Stewart, watch out.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience.  I watched our children cope with having only each other to play with and thought, "They are learning to love and appreciate each other even more--as long as they don't kill each other first."

eating fudge by the Christmas tree

Well, that's the true Christmas message when we get right down to it, isn't it?

What are you favorite things to do by yourself or with kids on snow days?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Favorite: Catching Fire from Hunger Games


Part of me dreaded watching Catching Fire. How could Peeta's character ever be redeemed?  Then I saw the movie. Even if you are a stickler for details, believe me when I tell you it is worth watching.

Just turn off the sound and watch.

butterfly dress by Alexander McQueen

Since a pin helped spark a revolution and a dress helped the fire grow, it seems fitting that the clothes in this movie are incredible. Cinna is one of my favorite characters, but I applaud the real designers who costumed these actors.  Somehow, the Capitol clothes don't seem quite as over-the-top as in the first movie. In fact, they simply seem couture. The audience's acceptance of their look as normal is a triumph--the creators have truly made us voyeuristic members of the Capitol. I love-love-love that Effie wore Alexander McQueen's butterfly dress. The victors, too, have stepped up their look and make quite the statement. As soon as Katniss appeared onscreen, I wanted to learn to knit or crochet or...okay, I wanted to buy this cowl/vest thing.
photo from capitol 
Each time the victors dressed up, I wondered how many versions will be at high school proms this year? Plus, I may pick up running if I can acquire a workout version of the shirt worn in the Quell.  I can't find it, but I did find the training gear here. Hmmm. Did the franchise possibly have marketing in mind? Buy the jewelry here, including the mocking jay pin, Finnick's necklace, and Peeta's art deco pendant (cast from the actual prop).

Even though I will forever be a Gale girl, the book convincingly argued why Katniss would be attracted to Peeta.  He was yin to her yang.  They balanced each other. She needed him as much as he needed her. Plus, it was in first person so we live the love story through the eyes of Katniss and see how she is sometimes flat-out in awe of the boy with the bread. Not so in Hunger Games movie.  Peeta was a big ol' pansy.  All of the parts where he helped them survive were tossed out to show what a badass Katniss was. And that's just annoying.

Relief filled me as Catching Fire attempted to restore Peeta's dignity a little at a time. He was intelligent.  His talent for dealing with people was reinforced. I was feeling pretty good about Catching Fire making him seem like someone she'd actually prefer to the rebellious Gale. Then, they had him pansy up again. He was stumbling, she was rescuing...Blahblahblah.

However, at least this time around, he wasn't all pathetic puppy love and weakling. Josh Hutcherson has the opportunity to win over even Gale faithfuls in the third and fourth installments. Onscreen, he has the possibility to grow and change more than any other character.

All in all, I think Catching Fire was a much better movie than the first one.  I screamed, gasped, curled up in my chair, etc.  And I've read the book three times. I've only been that crazy obsessive with one other series. Initially, Finnick wasn't quite what I'd imagined. Then I went home and read how Katniss described Finnick as "too pretty" for her tastes. Yep. The casting was right on. Now, I adore him. And I believed he'd been passed around the Capital women for almost ten years.  I absolutely loved the casting of Mags and Johanna. Perfection.

I did, however, miss characters--especially Madge. Remember the girl who gave Katniss the mockingjay pin?  The girl whose aunt died in the Quarter Quell Haymitch won?  The only girlfriend Katniss had?(What? Katniss had a friend besides Gale? Who might have even had a crush on him and been a better fit for Gale than Katniss?) No?  You must have only seen the movie.  She was cut.   By giving the pin to Katniss, Madge revealed the heart of a rebel. As the daughter of the mayor, she knew what it represented. However,  since they couldn't neuter her like Peeta they just amputated her. Peeta, Madge, Darius (what? who's he?!) were silenced as much as an Avox, preventing anyone from portraying Katniss as more of a person doing great things rather than some kind of superhero. Perhaps to cover these misdeeds, the character of President Snow's granddaughter was introduced in the movie.  Really? Really?

If you're throwing a watch party, it wouldn't be complete without this Happy Hunger Games banner.
Consider wearing this mocking jay full skirt. 

If you just can't get enough Hunger Games, check out this online magazine called Capitol Couture. See stylish pictures and insider information.  If you don't already, you'll feel just like a citizen of Panem when you peruse the pages.

Here are some other posts I've written about the Hunger Games trilogy. 

Happy Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor.

So, did the movie measure up to your expectations? What did you love or loathe? How many movie watchers plan to read the book?  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Talking Turkey

My mind flew all over the place. I might have talked up this craft thing a bit much. I possess no gift for glitter and glue. In fact, it makes me a tad nervous.

But my friend Lisa had just taught a Thanksgiving song to our four enthusiastic preschoolers and toddler, and I couldn't resist the great segue.

And a mother is obliged to help her little turkeys spread their wings.

And I had a lot of toilet paper rolls ready for recycling.

The kids were all giggles and excitement. The baby loaded wiggly eyes in her mouth. The preschoolers grappled for the too-few scissors.

I panicked.

Clasping my hands, I tried to look more delighted than desperate. "Next, we're going to trace each others hands!" My knuckles were white. Might they jab each other with the giant pencils?


The big brothers traced their sisters' dimpled little hands. The little sisters traced their brothers'. They cut some paper and smeared some glue before skedaddling off to dump boxes and rummage through book shelves and wrestle.

I wanted to quit more than once, but Lisa powered through. So I did, too.

Let me introduce you to our turkey:

Yes, that's a turkey.

I got the idea on Pinterest. It was supposed to look different.

Of course.

Pinterest: the place where moms everywhere "pin" their delusions of grandeur.

According to the many photos on Pinterest, our art should look more like a bird and less like some modern statement of the cock-eyed insanity that is the holiday season.

But that's why I love it.

The messy parts make life memorable and unique. Striving for perfect Pinterest holidays or prime-time tv ideal ultimately leads to disappointment. Reality can not live up to the fantasy.

During holiday season 2013, I plan to embrace the cock-eyed individuality of the moment. This year, I hope to find beauty and happiness and thankfulness in the authentic.

How about you?  Have you ever had a fantasy holiday/event/moment turned upside down...and been happier for it? Tell me about it.

If you'd like to focus on stress-busting this holiday season, check out Dr. Lisa Marotta's series on her blog here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Giving Thanks With Thoughtful Giving: Trigeminal Neuralgia

Meet the Mitchells. 

Jesse and I met in kindergarten. (I'll spare you the elementary school stories because Jesse is tired of hearing them.) Alecia and I met in middle school where she proved her ability to play the flute, while I learned my lips were the wrong shape for the instrument. So, in high school, they were both drum majors while I used my big mouth to cheer for our teams.
Photo snapped in between Jesse's happy smiles, but Alecia provided hers!

I still remember their wedding day in our home church: Alecia's red hair vibrant beneath her white veil.  Jesse's trademark grin larger than normal. Me realizing we were all grown up.

Even now, when I think of them, I see Alecia's red hair and Jesse's smile; I feel their joy and kindness; and I hear music.

They're the friends I may not have hung out with all the time, but when I did, I wanted to be my best self.  Still do. They're the kind of friends that before doing something questionable, I wonder what they'd think about it.  Not because they're judgmental, but because they're nice, good people and I'd hate to disappoint them.

Because Jesse and Alecia believe in the good of mankind, they often find it.

Jesse said recently, "I've been married to Alecia for 16 years (17 in December) and have had 19 surgeries in that span. I apologized once to her for all of this being my fault, that I'm sure she never thought of her life turning out like this. She just told me, 'I said I married you for BETTER or WORSE. This is just the worse part. It WILL get better.'"

Jesse has Trigeminal Neuralgia. It's often called "the suicide disease" because it is so agonizing that many prefer suicide to living in fear of pain's power. A small breeze, a baby's touch, or even a smile can provoke an unfathomable jolt of pain.

Jesse explains it best:

"I try so hard to not be discouraged, to keep trusting that He will provide. He has thus far. Man, have we ever been a part of some wonderful blessings and miracles.... It's getting easier to let go and for me to quit trying to be "the one in charge," because this life isn't mine. It's HIS. I try to remain positive and try to help others who become sick and feel the way I have.

This disease, Trigeminal Neuralgia (where a blood vessel or artery wraps around a portion of the Trigeminal Nerve, rubbing away the protective sheath surrounding the nerve, causing intense pain each time the vessel pulses or moves),  takes away so much of who the person once was.
removing stitches
I've had two brain surgeries to treat this disease. I had the first, a MicroVascular Decompression, in September 2009. Eight months after that surgery took place, it failed. I had a second brain surgery in June 2010 to sever the sensory portion of the nerve. 
You almost live in a cocoon, a sort of hermit, scared to death that another 'attack' will hit at any time. These attacks have been described as feeling like being struck in the head by a lightning bolt, stabbed by an ice pick, struck in the head by a cattle prod, or biting onto a live, active electric wire. Through research, actual case studies and surgeries that have taken place recently among those like me who have had the sensory portion of the Trigeminal Nerve severed, we now know that those sensory fibers can in fact regenerate and reconnect to each other, causing that pain to resurface.

Unfortunately, exactly that has happened, and I'll have a third brain surgery to cut the entire Motor Cortex and Sensory portion of the nerve, resulting in what looks like a stroke-type of condition on my face; whereby, I will have no ability to smile, no ability to chew or to open my mouth, but I'll take that over pain like this any day."
badge of courage

Not only does Jesse have Trigeminal Neuralgia, but he's also been plagued with horrific sinus surgeries and complications--which resulted in MRSA, numerous PICC lines, and carrying an oxygen machine with him.
Jesse posing with one of his many PICC lines
Although he is an intelligent, hard worker, his illnesses resulted in the destruction of his career. Alecia's teacher's salary couldn't pay all the bills of a growing family, so Jesse was forced to apply for disability. That, too, was a struggle, but he was eventually granted it. As a result, his children have no health insurance because the stipend pushed them over the limit for Sooner Care. His COBRA runs out this month and the medicare won't kick in until this summer.

The Mitchells are good, hard-working citizens.  When do they get a break? I've spent so much time being angry for them.

Yet, they express gratitude, focus on blessings, and inspire many.

Through his pain--in spite of his health--Jesse encourages fellow TN sufferers and families, inspires friends and strangers, uses Facebook for the power of good, supports his children in school activities, cheers fanatically for sports teams, etc.

And one must ask why. Why has this happened? Are these illnesses connected? Does Jesse have bad genetic luck or is there something more?

When will things get better?

Here's where we come in.

The Mitchell family has an opportunity to go to the Mayo Cinic in Minnesota to meet with Jesse's dream doctor.  Someone gave them plane tickets.  They feel this is their chance to get it right. To learn why he's had so many complications.  To have an answer so he--and his family--can heal.

"Though my family and I have struggled mightily all along, I've never given up HOPE. If you give up hope--h-o-p-e--then you have nothing. It's my daily goal to give at least one person a semblance of HOPE, to let them know that there is an end to what they're going through."

When I asked permission to tell their story, Alecia said that she was honored that I would share their stories and loves that their story shows the goodness of others.

See? Good people.

Another drastic surgery must be intimidating. If the world has to continue without Jesse's smile, so be it. Because their goodness will still be here. We need more of that.

I often want to help people, but don't want to give money to an organization that will spend it on postage stamps or CEO salaries.  If you prefer a direct approach as well, please donate to Jesse and Alecia's family here. During this month of giving thanks, please consider thoughtful giving.

Most of all, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers the week of November 18.

Like End Trigeminal Neuralgia on Facebook. Find more information here.

And just for funsies...

 High school sweeties:

Twenty year reunion:

*all photos courtesy of Alecia Mitchell 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Fall, Y'all

My husband navigated the winding road in the twilight.  In October, the bone-like trees might look creepy stretching into the crisp air and silhouetted against the sky, but the car was warm with contentment.  

This, I thought, this is one of those days I longed for when doctors told us a family wasn't in our future.

Sometimes I time my kids to see how long they can go before whining or doing something obnoxious to the other like Alexandra kicking Max or Max telling her everything she does is wrong. (FYI: This morning the record was 8 minutes.)

But this weekend was filled with those moments of wonder a to-be parent longs for.

At Peek-a-Boo Petting Zoo we discovered baby chicks...

baby bottles....


a hay maze...

fishing for rubber duckies...
 and a princess with her pumpkin.

We topped off the day with dinner at Soda Steve's, a fun soda shop that would fit right into a show like Gilmore Girls or Hart of Dixie.

The next day we decided to take our little knight and princess to the Castle in Muskogee for Pumpkin Kingdom.

Lots of scary things lurked within the castle walls and in the village after dark,

but we opted for a hayride,
balloon sword and doggie, 

and a bouncy house (apparently, this was scary).  
We had a great weekend with our little pumpkins.

And I'm so glad. Making memories is important.  One never knows what's lurking around the bend.

(For me, I'm pretty sure it's a mountain of laundry populated with giant dust bunnies.)

Happy fall, ya'll.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fear Landscapes

***Caution: Minor Spoiler for Divergent series***
Front Cover
Allegiant, the third book in the series, arrived Tuesday. They're incredible.  Movie arrives in March.
One of the things I like about the Divergent series by Veronica Roth is the way the Dauntless faction deals with fear.

"Becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it." --Veronica Roth, Divergent

Their main methodology of coping with what gives them the heebie jeebies?  Fear landscapes. Just inject a special serum  in your neck and it triggers your terrors so that you can learn how to control or be free from them.  Before going into the final stage of initiation, the Dauntless are told that the average number of fears is 10-15.

Wondering how many you have?

Recently, I went to bed, fell asleep, and traveled through my fear landscape. As in the book, I knew it wasn't real.  I knew I just had to get to the other side somehow.  My fears hit me one after the other.

First, total darkness. Then my vision pans out until I see movement beneath the black. Spiders. Thousands. The shot moves higher until the shape of the container is clear. It's a coffin. The spiders move and reveal my face.  They crawl all over me, but I can't move my arms or legs to knock them off. If I scream, the spiders will crawl in my mouth. That's what has happened in this dream the many times I've had it since childhood.  I don't scream.  I focus on it not being real. I focus on it being about claustrophobia and being trapped with the spiders. I remember I no longer fear spiders because Garrett refused to remove a gigantic spider from the front porch last October.  (I certainly wasn't going to do it!) He said I needed to get over my fear of spiders, so I watched that arachnid grow and grow and scare visitors until I wasn't frightened anymore.  I was even a little sad to see her go.  As I recall this, my fear in the dream disappears, and the spiders on me are her babies...a la Charlotte's Web. They're visiting me. Awww.

So I go to the next nightmare.

Long before Harry Potter's dementors or Twilight's Volturi, their lovechild tormented my nights.  I haven't seen one in a long time, but a brood of them are resurrected.  Almost 18 years ago, I realized I could control my nightmares. It is this one that taught me that. I recall the feeling of power when I stopped running and turned to face the demon. It smiled at me and ran away. Freedom made me fly. I take a deep breath, turn to face the demons, and remember how to fly.

So I go to the next nightmare. 

And the next. 

And the next.

I've not conquered this one before. I tense up as I go deeper into the fear landscape.
My skin pulses with urgency. Lost in the woods, I must rescue someone. I see a wood-paneled house.   If the person I seek is here, I have no clue how to find safety. But I know we must flee. I creep closer and peek through a dirty window. A conveyor belt carries life-sized dolls of identical size in identical boxes. Varying shades of rosy cheeks dot their faces.  Pretty dresses adorn their bodies. But after watching a while, I notice a clear pattern to the dolls.  They are reproductions. A madman stands by a sink full of what looks like giant Barbie appendages bathed in bloody water. Spare parts? Is he creating them according to his whims? When one blinks her thick eyelashes at me, I realize they aren't dolls. They are women, and I am staring at myself. I am there to rescue me.

In Divergent, the Dauntless face the fear or control their fear until the fear landscape goes away. Either way, the effort requires courage. I struggle with this fear landscape.  I ponder what it means.  I work on calming myself.

Oddly, this fear landscape fades and goes to my next...dream.

My most secret--and not-so-secret--aspirations appear before me, almost realized. And then I get in my own way.  Then my next dream materializes and I sabotage myself again. If the monster causing all these problems weren't me, then I'd really hate myself for keeping me from being happy. Um...what?

It is the most terrifying landscape so far.

I think it's time that changes, don't you? Dreaming is scary. Allowing oneself to take the risks to turn those dreams into reality is even scarier.  But I think it's time I try being dauntless.  How 'bout you?

Are you like the Divergent and can you control the nightmares in your fear landscape? What's in your landscape?  Do you have nightmare re-runs?  How do you stand in the way of your own dreams? How do you plan to dare to dream?


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Homecoming Reunion

My children wear orange and black stripes. I want to support the town I live in, my parents' and children's hometown. I even bought a shirt with the word Tigers across the chest.

But it doesn't change the fact that my blood still runs like a Bulldog's.

Homecoming Court 1993
  I remember the dance to the fight song and am not afraid to do it.
Headed to Nationals, baby!
When I feel the bass drum of a marching band in my belly, I see red and black. When sneakers squeak on a gym floor, I remember slam dunks and three pointers and open mouthed opposing teams. When I walk in a theater, I feel at home.
Polariod taken during opening night. That look on my face? Acting. The dress? Sewn on.
When a football team rushes a field beneath a star-studded sky, I breathe deeply and wonder when the news helicopter will arrive to catch footage of our record-breaking running back and a team with heart.

That's what I remember most about my high school: heart.

When I hear someone (from another school, obviously) speak with anathema of their classmates, it saddens me. They missed out on so much. I'm not saying heartbreak and humiliation didn't happen to me or others--we were teenagers, after all--but there is so much more to treasure from those years. And the hard stuff taught me things. It was a good place to grow up because I was lucky to grow up with nice people.

And that can make all the difference.

I graduated with about 103 others.  In middle school, our class was twice that size, but closed factories, an oil bust and the economy caused a mass exodus. Maybe watching so many leave made us hold on to each other a little more.

We called ourselves The Class that Makes Traditions.  Yeah, we had a motto. We knew we were special.

10 year reunion.  Can you find me?
I missed my reunion this weekend.  Many things prevented me from attending, but on the morning of the reunion I thought the stars had aligned so that I could at least make the parade, tailgate, and game. For a couple of hours, I was ridiculously excited.

But, we had two people out at the office. Then, my daughter got sick.  Then...

I went on Facebook to wish a classmate a belated birthday. After posting a cheery message on his board, I scrolled down.

My heart stopped. My throat burned. I didn't like the messages before mine. As I sent a text to two of the reunion organizers who were probably herding classmates toward a parade float, I prayed that Jimmie was there with them. That I'd misunderstood the messages.

He wasn't.

Then I received messages from other classmates asking if I'd seen his wall and wondered the same as I.  We watched Facebook. Eventually, someone posted that he'd been in an accident that morning and had not made it.  I deleted my birthday wish and added a comment of condolences instead.

And cried.

I went to school with nice people, and we lost another one. Jimmie's smile, and orneriness, and energy will forever be a part of my memories and my life. Thank you for that, Jimmie.

And thank you to my classmates for being such a fun and loving group through the years.  Thank you for your heart.

This photo was all over Facebook. I'll give photo credit when someone fesses up.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Summer Salad Virtual Potluck Round Up

Summer is officially over which means that so is our Tasty Tuesday Summer Salad Virtual Potluck.

Don't be sad. We'll party again soon. Thanks for joining us!

Since party favors make every party more fun, I have a parting gift for you: A round up of all of the salads from the summer. Just click on the picture for the link.

 Oh boy, there were some goodies.

Jennifer McMurrain's Mac Daddy Macaroni Salad

Dee Dee Chumley's Black Bean and Hominy Salad

Brandi Barnett's Tortellini Salad

Lisa Marotta's Mama Mia Pasta Salad

Kelly Bristow's Mississippi Cornbread Salad

Heather Davis' Oh Crap! I Forgot! Salad

Tom Barczak's Summer Chicken Salad

Shel Harrington's Peach Fluff

Malena Lott's Avocado Feta Tomato Salad

Lisa Czlonka's Kalua Pig

Mari Farthing's Orzo Veggie Salad

Heather Ezell's Caprese Salad
I love introducing people and watching friendships form. If you haven't already, please visit my fellow bloggers on their home pages.  Who knows? You may find a new place to visit.  After all, they're fascinating people... just like you.

Thanks for coming to the party and come back soon!