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7 days until Christmas…

I was sad yesterday afternoon as I watched the large group of people leaving for Mexico.  I so very much wanted to go with them.  They are bringing Christmas gifts to the children at Casa Hogar Elim, an annual thing started last year by Jeff Harrell.  We collect shoe boxes, fill them up with small age-appropriate toys and sugar-free candy, then wrap them up.  Now these gifts aren’t just for a boy, age 6, or a girl, age 10, there’s a package for each individual child with their name on it.  We can’t put bows on these boxes, as they would be crushed under the weight of all the supplies in the cars and vans.

There are so many people from our church that want to go to Casa Hogar, they don’t even need to advertise the trips.  If you’ve been there, you’re a walking billboard for CHE.  The Thanksgiving trip even had a waiting list this year.  The ‘regulars’ have gone so many times, they can’t even tell you how many trips they’ve made.  We love these kids, and for those of us whom visit often, these kids are our extended family.

You know the old saying, ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family?’    I beg to differ.  I was thinking last night about family and friends, and all of the funny ways God placed them in my life.  God clearly has a sense of humor!

I moved into my house three years ago, although my kids didn’t start attending the local school until two years ago.  We live at the end of the street, walking distance from the elementary school.  I noticed a house that had some fun yard decor, more specifically, ‘little skeleton girl’.  She was out for Halloween, dressed in her hippie costume, but she stayed out for other holidays.  What!?  Could this be?  Could I really have a soul sister on my street?

I was intrigued.  Why did I think this was my soul sister?  I have a full size mannequin named Darla.  You can learn more about her on Facebook at facebook.com/luvplasticpeople.  Anyway, I wanted to meet little skeleton girl’s mom.  I did, and her name is Patty.

Patty loves to volunteer her time for great causes, so we cross paths quite a bit, not only walking down the street, but many other places.  Patty was at Victoria Gardens with me when I met Flo, the ghost of Christmas future.  I can’t wait to go to Casa Hogar with Patty!  I live in a great neighborhood, as it’s filled with fun, caring people like Patty.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I was an only child until my teen years.  I really don’t remember ever bugging my parents about wanting a baby brother or sister.  I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t want one or because I knew it was a horrible idea for my parents to have anymore children.  I guess God knew I needed some siblings, but decided to bring them in under different circumstances.  At the age of 14, I got a step brother, two step sisters, and soon after, a half brother.

The funny thing about this is my sister Jo.  We are not blood related at all, yet we are just alike.  Our beliefs, our personalities, our creativity… and the list goes on.  The more perplexing thing here is our kids.  My son Joe and her son Isaac, again, no genetic relation, not only look alike, but act alike.  Jo lives in Wisconsin, so we don’t get to see each other too often.  We were on vacation in Florida several years ago, Joe and Isaac both ‘sitting’ on their heads on the sofa watching TV.  Jo says, “Look, Isaac taught Joe to do that.”  I replied, “What?  Joe’s been doing that for months.”  Both kids had been doing this separately for months.  And just for the record, they look alike right-side up too.

This next one isn’t as much humor funny as it is implausible funny.  Let me just start by saying it’s an extremely rare occasion when I can find anything good to say about my ex-husband.  The aftermath of an interaction with him frequently results in misery and relational mass destruction.

Dawn and Genna live near Kansas City, so we don’t get to see them very often.  Genna is my step-daughter and Dawn is her mother.  The boys and I took our family vacation up there this past summer and we had a blast!  Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  You probably think it’s odd that we’re friends, so this next statement will really throw you.  We consider ourselves family.  Yes, family.  You may not be able to choose your genetic family, but through love and friendship, you do choose your ‘preferred’ family.  One of the definitions of family is “a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals…”   Yes, that’s us.  I’ve realized one thing this Christmas, one very big positive thing to say about the boys dad.  Without him, I would not have my boys, nor would I have Dawn and Genna.  As you can tell by the photo, they are obviously ‘related’, as they are a bunch of little camera junkies!  Genna is a very talented photographer and is doing an internship right now.  The boys like to make funny YouTube videos, a couple that have gone small-time viral.

God has brought many other people into my life in unexpected ways, from church and Facebook to a lady at church who accidentally door dinged my beat-up car.  I’ll take 100 of those kind of door dings!  Oh, wait, I have 100 door dings, but only one has a great story behind it.

So what does all of this have to do with Christmas?  This is the time of year when many people experience strong feelings of loneliness, seemingly endless despair and high levels of stress.  I’m no different, but as these feelings arise, I have this faint awareness of hope.  I appreciate my friends and family, realizing I don’t tell them that nearly enough.  I also appreciate you for taking the time to read my 25 days of Christmas blog.  🙂


15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


17 days until Christmas…

It was clear to me this morning at 5:30am what I needed to write about, a new and unexpected Christmas cheer.  Yesterday’s schedule was filled with ‘tinselectomy‘ opportunities and I had an expectation of how each of them would play out.  I was so off base, but it made me understand how I and other people are experiencing a transformation to humble altruism.

Amy had a wonderful idea, to feed the guys in downtown Frisco, the men that are desperately looking for any available work to feed their families.  They stand outside the Exxon, rain or shine, and I know that because it was raining yesterday.  Amy posted this lunch idea on Facebook last week.  Nancy saw it, and loved the idea so much, she planned to do this.  It ended up that all three of us got together and prepared 30 lunches to take to these guys.

Our everyday beaten paths lead us down Main street regularly, enough to know that we would have enough lunches, but not enough to know if these guys would be outside in the very cold rain.   As we approached, they were there, all of them, scanning the passing cars with a hopeful look that someone would have a paid task for them.  As I drove into the parking lot, I didn’t even come to a stop before there were at least 12 men swarming around the car.  We had to wait for them to step away from the doors so we could get out to give them the lunch bags we had prepared.

As we passed out the lunch sacks, all of them were very polite and said “gracias”, Amy and I responded with “de nada”, one of the ten Spanish words we know.  Then Nancy starts having a conversation with them in Spanish.  Who knew?  Oh, she is SO going to Casa Hogar Elim soon!  Nancy was asking if they had any friends that were out on jobs or if anyone was inside, because we would leave lunches for them.  They were so happy to get the lunches and so polite, we had to persuade them to take extras or take some for their friends.  Most of them were well into their sandwiches before we drove out of the parking lot.

As it turns out, we had 5 lunch bags left over.  We drove over to the laundromat to see if there were any people over there that needed lunch.  We gave away a couple more, and as we walking out the door, we ran into another lady.  Nancy asked her if she would like a lunch.  She asked “¿Cuánto dinero?”  Of course, Nancy said it was free and explained what we were doing.  The conversation slowly transitioned from Spanish to English.  We only spoke with her briefly, but we got a chance to talk about church.  She is another one of those people I would have loved to have sat down and talked with.  I think at some point I’m going to go to the laundromat and do my laundry so I will have that opportunity.

Another Facebook thing, Jody (not me), who posted on the PTCC wall that she wanted to donate her hair to Pantene, a place making free wigs for women going through cancer treatments, got her hair cut yesterday.  Since I had done Locks of Love a while back, I wanted to go with her for support.  She was looking for other people to do this with her, and I would do this again, but my hair will have to grow for a long time before I have enough.  I was there while she got her hair cut.  She had the same look on her face that I did.  the ‘oh, crap, I’m really doing this’ look, with the undertone of ‘this is a great cause and so worth it’ look.  This is such an awesome thing to do.  If you’re interested in donating your hair, I will come support you too!  Steve Hodges is our resident expert on hair donation if you need someone to do it.

Finally, I had a photo shoot in downtown Dallas last night.  My expectation?  It’s downtown Dallas and surely I will run into some impoverished or homeless people.  I went down there with some envelopes with money in them, inside the envelopes, a message that God loves them.  I typically don’t like to give cash, because if they do have a drug problem or something like that, I don’t want to enable them.  I realized I have changed my view on that a little bit.  Even though I still believe the statement I just made, I also don’t want to be judgmental.  The cash might help someone get a much needed meal or get them closer to a shelter.  It’s been on my heart to start a program in Dallas, much like the Chicago Shares program, a voucher-based way to give, redeemable only for food and toiletries.

As it turns out, we ran into no impoverished or homeless people, but it did turn out to be a fun evening of photography and hanging out with some of my crazy friends.  If you think this picture is weird, then you probably don’t want to join our photography group.  If you like it, we do go out and play with our cameras on a regular basis.

My reality?  I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t run into anyone I could help.  The disappointment was based on the knowledge that there are so many people that need help and I had a way to help, but no opportunity to do so.

The unexpected Christmas cheer, or we’ll call it another piece of the Christmas spirit, is encouragement.  I feel like God is leading me to get outside myself.  That’s not the easiest thing for me to do, or for anyone to do.  Well, maybe Mama Lupita, and we can all learn a lot from her.  I could blog all day long about this, but I have to go to work.  I do have one closing thought.  As I was walking home from taking my kids to school this morning, in the 24 degrees of bitter cold, I couldn’t help but think of all the homeless people that are out in this awful cold, all the people I didn’t run into last night.  I can’t even comprehend not having a warm house to go to or not having any other options than to be out in the piercing arctic cold.  I take my house for granted, but I walked into it this morning with a whole new appreciation.  How do I find these people in need and how can I help them?  I hope to answer that within my 25 days of Christmas blogging.


18 days until Christmas…

You know, when you look at the way we do Christmas these days, the commercialism, the chaos and the excess, it’s no wonder why at some point, we have to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it.  Here are some great pics of Christmas weirdness, fun and creativity.

This guy wins the award of creativity.  I wish I had thought of this!  Nope, it’s not a real guy hanging there.  He staged this, but after a couple of days, had to take it down.  People were frantically trying to run over and help him.  A few cars actually drove into his yard in a panic, worked quickly to get the ladder back up, only to find out there was no guy up there.  I call this performance art.  I wonder if he had a video camera set up?

I Googled ‘dead Santa’ yesterday before writing about the Christmas spirit.  I came across a few images that were intriguing.  This dead Santa illustration was created by Brandon Reese.  This was one of many funny Christmas icon illustrations.  It’s odd, but I love the retro look and colors.  I can’t help but wonder why he created this image and how it was used.

This one came up on the dead Santa search too.  Did you notice the peppermint candy border on the rug?  Great artistic details.  Good thing they don’t outline all the dead ones laying around in people’s yards.  Wow, wouldn’t the 3M tape company love that?

One of my favorite sitcoms of all times is The Drew Carey show.  Beer kegs in Christmas lights?  These have to be full of Buzz beer.  Maybe he’s going to have a block party.  If this was my neighbor, I would have to go check to see if any of these actually had beer in them.

Where does one get this many kegs?  Notice the extra keg behind the keg tree?  I’m guessing his patio table base is also a keg, and judging by the looks of this place, he probably has a basement, full of kegs.

Okay, so we started the tree segment with a beer tree.  I found lots of unique Christmas trees out there, ‘out there’ meaning on the internet.  Don’t worry, I plan to have many more of my own crazy photos in future posts.

Our Christmas message series at church this year is called Upside-down Christmas.  I was so excited when that was decided because we were going to finally use the idea Rod and I talked about, upside-down trees.  Sadly to me, nobody liked the idea this year.  I thought about hanging my tree upside-down.  Problem?  It’s a 10′ tree that works like an umbrella.  Four extremely heavy pieces, that if placed upside-down, would fall together and look like a tree that should be strapped to the top of a car to take home.

Let’s start with the upside-down tree.  This is one of the newest fads in Christmas decor, although there is much controversy about the symbolic meaning of it.  For some, this is just to be different, for others, it creates more space for this Christmas icon and makes more room for gifts.  Clearly we need more room for all of the stuff we are expected to, and probably will purchase.

Others have said an upright tree points to heaven, an upside-down tree, well, not so much.  Anytime you mess with tradition, there will always be a group of protestors.

Why do I like the upside-down tree?  I like it for the same reason we are doing a message series about an upside-down Christmas.  When you turn something upside-down, it usually makes a mess at first, but then you think about it, reorganize all of the pieces and maybe put everything back together in a different and better way.  Turning Christmas upside-down is an intentional action, with results you may never have thought of otherwise.  Giving, celebrating and living differently as been an amazing experience for me, so amazing that I cannot go back to my former, selfish ways.

Here are some other cool and creative trees.

Okay, so just one more.  I had an idea of something crazy I wanted to do with my hair when it was long.  My stylist, Steve Hodges, agreed to bleach and color a peace sign into my hair.  Although we have all of the technical details worked out, there’s still the reality of my curly hair.  When I wear my hair straight, the peace sign will look like a peace sign.  When it’s curly, it will look like an abstract color blob, which really isn’t a problem for me, nor would anyone question it.  In the mean time, maybe I can have Steve do this with my hair.

I think Christmas fun might be part of the Christmas spirit.  I don’t think a ‘tinselectomy‘ means that you have to spend less time decorating, however I do believe you should encounter joy in it and create some great life moments with it.  If it feels like work or feels like something you have to do, then don’t do it.  No matter how you choose to express Christmas, make it your own self-expression, depicting what is in your heart, not what society is promoting today.


22 days until Christmas…

God is awesome!  He arranged some ‘bonus’ family time.  I usually don’t have my boys on Thursdays, but he knew we needed some crazy, fun, out of the ordinary time together.  We ditched homework, house work and everything else we didn’t really want to do.

We went to the hospital to see a friend’s new baby, then to the store to buy candy for our Christmas boo bags.  (Christmas boo bags will be explained in a future post)  We also bought some hot chocolate and lots of marshmallows, now prepared to start our new family tradition… Santa shooting.  Again (from yesterday’s post), this is not with a gun, it’s with a camera.  We picked up a couple of the boys friends and took off in the car to look for quirky Christmas yard art and photograph it.  Oh, and we had our hot chocolate, each cup with enough marshmallows for six cups.

People in west Frisco don’t seem to enjoy the hazy plastic people yard art, unless it’s in the form of a nativity scene.  The west ‘Friskies’, as Hank Stuever calls them, are on the conservative side with yard decor, that is, everything with the exception of lights.  There were basically three types of lights.  First, the ‘hired’ lights.  These people spared no expense in purchasing lights and they were clearly hung by professional elves.

Second, the ‘I have lights on my house because it’s a Christmas expectation’.  These lights are sometimes required by the HOA, but probably more often a husband putting up the three strands of lights in an awkward manner to check it off his honey-do list.

Third, the ‘bountiful jumble’.  These houses have as many strands of lights as they can possibly place on the outside electrical system without blowing a fuse.  These random sets of non-matching lights have strands added every year.  Half of the yard is traditional lights, the new strands are the bright LED’s.  Basically, they have replicated the WalMart sample light display into their yard.  After these people put their lights up, they most likely look up and down the street to be sure they have clearly won the “I have the most lights” contest.

Although I was disappointed not to see yards filled with Christmas weirdness, I can always find a photo opportunity.  This one was light painting.  Instead of trying to explain this, I’ll just post the photos.

The kids got to play, we learned some new photography skills, but most importantly, we all had some great family and friend fun time.  Living differently, a tinselectomy of sorts.  More tomorrow…


a friend-ly reminder

This is what happens when you have creative friends, a broken key on your PowerBook and a spare 5 minutes.

mac buddies

So just messing around with Jerod’s broken laptop… we thought, “Hey?! Wonder what the old keys would look like with the new lit PowerBook??” So it started. We changed out the ‘:’ key that keeps popping off. It looked cool, so then we had to switch out one of the Apple keys. Then Jerod said, “We have to switch some of the letters too”. So he choose 8 letters that spell three words. (Thus the ‘3’ key that I switched out) Can you guess the three words? Letters may be used multiple times.

a e d r y n j o

I’ll post the answer in a few days. Unless of course someone gets it.


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