Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Happiest Christmas of All

I watch Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It's a Wonderful Life every December, like so many of you. I just love these movies and put in one of these DVDs when wrapping presents, or baking, or even scrapping. I think of those four movies, my favorite is Holiday Inn. I enjoy watching Bing Crosby find himself, and his girl, every year while he sings his way through the year in that beautiful farmhouse. 

Of course, one of the cutest scenes in that movie is early in, when the two sisters sing their song in those bright columbian blue gowns with the big feather boa fans. I guess, with having two sisters myself, that scene just resonates with me. "Lord help the mister that comes between me and my sister, and lord help the sister that comes between me and my man" is a little ditty that my sisters and I can break into anytime. 

There are three years between each of us and I am the youngest of the three of us. I was telling the boys the other day that my sisters were both grandmothers already when they were my age. It's funny how you can have such a connection, but also be in such different life phases. I don't have a definition of life without my sisters. They have been there my whole life. As I was scrapping the family photos from our 2008 Christmas gathering, I saw that photo of the three of us. It's one of my favorites.

I think that is part of the magic of Christmas. You just have those deep inner connections with your loved ones and the bond crosses across time and renews itself when you are back together. Life has become only busier for each of us, and we now live in three cities. We see each other less often, but I always treasure the time that we are together.

Being with my sisters, and being with all of my family, is just a part of the Christmas happiness that makes December the most wonderful time of the year. It is crazy loud when we are all together, and it requires a serious amount of work, and it takes a ton of food. But our family gathering, just like Christmas day, only happens once a year, and it does not last very long.

We take as many photos as we can fit in, and then we can look back and remember the fun, long after the day is over. Family Christmas always passes quickly, and before I know it, the time is over and we are headed back home. And if I am lucky, I will hear this song by Michael W. Smith while driving, and it will remind me that the joy of Christmas is in having the ones you love be near you, and that the happiest Christmas is the homecoming Christmas.

Oh the happiest Christmas
Is a homecoming Christmas
With the snow fluttering down 'til the world seems new
Bright candles burning
Old friends returning
The wishes of children coming true
And the happiest wishes are just old fashioned wishes
May your days be merry, your sorrows be small
May the ones you love be near you
That's the happiest Christmas of all

I know there are no guarantees, and I have no way of knowing when and where and what next family Christmas will look like, but I remember and treasure each one of them, just as I remember and treasure each one of my family members in the photos. Yes, the happiest Christmas is the homecoming Christmas.

The Greatest Gift is Family ~ Family Christmas ~ December 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation >> They are masterful at creating Simple Stories (SS) basic "page recipes". When you have lots of family photos, these SS basic SG sketches work so well with the SS grid-like elements. This is another configuration of photo layouts when using the SS blocks and I love how quickly these pages can come together and handle many photos at the same time.
Paper: Simple Stories
Title: Silhouette Cut File

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Decembers Documented

I arrived home this morning around 1 AM, seriously telling myself I am now too old for this. When we moved away from the Houston nucleus of my family in 1997, we settled into a trajectory of Christmases in our own home, and family Christmas trips that I would now make across the state as the solo adult, carrying all of the responsibility of travel, and shepherding two small children, as we traversed "over the river and through the woods" to whomever's house held family Christmas that year. 

So, for 17 years now, I have worked to initiate the family Christmas gathering, managed it around my own working schedule, and shouldered all of the burden of taking the boys to be with my family at Christmas time. It has never been easy. Not ever. But it is something I have always been willing to do because my boys, like their mom, love family gatherings, and because it is important to me to be with family at Christmas. I made sacrifices as needed over the years to be ready for Christmas a week early, and get us to wherever Christmas was held, with all our Christmas regalia packed up and loaded into my vehicle.

Every year a different collection of family members are present, and each year is a very unique and precious memory. Over the years, we have grown from my childhood family of six to a family that now contains five family branches: my parents, and the family branches of me and my three siblings. My oldest sister married and had four children. Her children are all married now, and she has seven grandchildren. Her family totals 17. My older sister married, had three children and adopted four children. One of her children is married and my sister has three grandchildren. Her family totals 13. My family of four is the smallest. My brother is married and has three children. 

So, together, we total 41. 41. There has never been a time when we have all been together at the same time. One of my nephews serves in the Air Force and has been stationed overseas. He is now stationed in the U.S., but I now have a niece teaching English in Thailand. Other then the overseas stints, and my boys presently going to college out of state, we have all always lived in Texas. But getting together is hard. Schedules are crazy busy. The idea of everyone being present is both mind boggling and frightening to this introvert. I do best when there are less than 20 of us together. Not to say I wouldn't love it if we were all together, but I am okay with it being smaller crowds.

Even though I have had to make the trip by myself every year, leaving Steve behind to work his retail magic, even though I don't always do well around lots of children, even though noise is not my thing, even though I crave quiet and my own hearth, I have committed to being present for all of these years for family Christmas. It has sure been something to watch it evolve over all of these years. Admittedly, my sisters and I are photo hounds, so these annual December gatherings are duly documented and in the memory books to be sure.  

The first wave of change, of course, occurred when we (my siblings and I) all married and had our own children. It has been a joy to watch my nephews and nieces grow up, and to see my children and my siblings' children create their cousin bond. Seeing my nieces and nephews married now and parenting their own children is another layer in the generational circle. As I sit and watch them with what I call my greats (my great-nephews and great-nieces, of which I have ten) I am taken back to my own childhood and  memories of my aunts and uncles, and I recall the interactions I had with them and how special they were to me. It does not seem so very long ago that we were gathering at my Aunt Ernestine's house for family Bingo, or having a summer reunion at my Aunt Jeanine's lake house or my Uncle Jimmy Ed's home. I treasure those times, and pray that my nieces and nephews and sons do as well.

2014 brought another fundamental shift. My own sons are in college now and the traditional weekend before Christmas was no longer an option when considering their schedules. All these years, we have worked around my older sister traveling to Kansas on the day after Christmas. She began that annual trek early in their marriage and has never varied in her travel plans. All these years, I have worked to travel home to family Christmas on the weekend that worked for her family, the weekend before Christmas. And this year was the end of that road, for now. In my head I understand that perhaps things can't continue. In my heart I am sad that this year it was just me and my sons, my parents, and my oldest sister and her children gathering on the weekend that worked for me and the boys, the weekend after Christmas. Family Christmas was missing a big branch. But, it was family Christmas nonetheless. I imagine family dynamics will continue only to shift as we all continue to age and schedules continue to change.

But, in my mind I will remember the early days, when all of the kids were school age and younger, when we were all together, when the schedules were simple and the days were jumbled together in a chaotic mix of presents, pajamas, and peanut butter fudge. Every family Christmas has been special, but I think of those early, simpler years with fondness, mainly because we were all together. They seem now, as I look back, to be especially Merry and Bright.

Merry & Bright ~ Family Christmas ~ December 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation >> They are masterful at creating Simple Stories (SS) basic "page recipes". When you have lots of family photos, these SS basic SG sketches work so well with the SS grid-like elements. This page came together very fast and is not complex. But, there is so much going on in the photos it works well that way for me.
Paper: Simple Stories
Title: Heidi Swapp chipboard ABC's

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wise Men Still Seek Him

For whatever reason, I am into music. And I am into Christmas. And yes, I am into Christmas music. I remember playing the few Christmas LP's we had growing up, placing the special vinyl discs onto the turntable after carefully moving the decorative crystal pieces off the TV console, placing them carefully on the ground, to open the turntable lid. Perry Como "Home for the Holidays" is the Christmas album I recall the most. I guess my mama was trying to program us early to come back home for Christmas. She succeeded for the most part. 

Over time, of course, we have seen the vinyl give way to the unmanageable 8-track tape, which thankfully moved on to the cassette tape, and then has rested for over thirty years on the CD-rom. While my oldest son believes the truest sound quality comes from the CD-rom {it's all about that bass}, you can even buy the MP3 now. I don't know what will be next, since we are already buying invisible music on that MP3. I will tell you, though, there's something about slipping that vinyl from the sleeve with solemn revere, and trying to get that needle to set down just right and proper upon it to begin that sweet flow of melody.

While I have seen the music morph, I have collected it all the while. My college years saw me making cassette tape mixes of holiday music, needing some to call my own since I was 10 hours away from Perry Como. And while I was going to be going home from college for the holidays, I wanted that Christmas music in early December, too. I would imagine that my first year of working after college - you know that first year with a paycheck! - that I purchased some cassette tapes. I recall vividly ordering a 3-pack of Christmas cassettes that Time Life offered on TV. They are nestled down in my music drawer still. Thankfully, though, most of my Christmas music is in CD form. By the time I started working in 1986, and we married in 1987, the CD was well established after its 1982 debut.

I have a Christmas Eve tradition. I get the house all picked up on Christmas Eve Eve, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, while the boys are sleeping, and Steve has crept off to work in the early early pre-dawn hours, I brew my coffee, and sit on my couch with my favored Christmas mug of snickernut coffee, and play my Christmas music, and just sit and enjoy my tree, as it lights up the room long before the sun appears. It is one of my favorite times - to be still and calm and peaceful. To reflect on the gifts in my heart, to ponder, to treasure, to remember the year past, to contemplate the coming year, to just soak in the season as it reaches its culminating peak.

I have wondered for awhile if I could narrow it down to having just one favorite Christmas song. It would be hard. I have memories of singing these songs over my life span with friends, with siblings, with my children, with choirs at various churches, with Steve. My sister Pattie stands out in particular when I hear "Mele Kelikimaka", as she really enjoyed singing that growing up. Karen Carpenter anything reminds me of so many Black Friday escapades with my mom and my two sisters. "Sleigh Ride" finds me playing french horn in the annual high school Christmas concert. I think of Christmas Eve service, and all the luminaries in the sanctuary, when "Silent Night" rolls into the mix. I recall the boys' Christmas programs and cupcake fingers when "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" prances into the speakers. 

51 Albums, 533 Songs, 30 hours, 56 minutes. My Holiday genre in iTunes as it stands today. Love it. I don't think there is a year, though, where I am not buying another album, so it is an organic compendium with a life its own. I start playing it usually the day after Thanksgiving and go until the New Year. I love the variety of the songs and how they span memories of fifty years of my life. One tender moment last August when my oldest child left the nest, "Mom, I need some of your Christmas music, " as he, too, anticipated the wanting of the Christmas carols in his dorm, preceding his own trek home for the holidays.

But, I do have a favorite song. It's "O Holy Night". Luciano Pavarotti, The Carpenters, Sara Groves, Donny Osmond, Nat King Cole, Faith Hill, Selah, Tony Bennett, Josh Groban, Celene Dion, Jackie Evancho all shuffle through my play list and no matter what I am doing, or which one of these artists is singing it, this song always stops me in my tracks and resonates deeply within me. It's a hard song to perform, and so often doesn't make the Christmas Eve service cut which is geared toward congregational participation, but it is the one that encapsulates most clearly to me the Reason for the season.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
I love the related and consequential Christmas sentiment, "Wise men still seek Him." It was one such thought that had us driving south on a dark cold December night to Waxahachie. It's about 65 miles from us. I had heard about a live nativity that a church put on, but it was more than a live nativity - it was a recreation on a small scale of the town of Bethlehem. We are limited on when we can do things in December, and as luck would have it, the night that we could actually go to Waxahachie was one of those rare, windy, bitter cold nights in North Texas. We bundled up as best we could and set out to find the Star over the manger, the little town of Bethlehem.

The photos themselves are not spectacular. I struggle in low light situations still. {Maybe when I grow up I can be a good low light photographer. ;-) } But the night was so special, and we have never repeated this event, so they are all I have. One night, 4 seekers, 3 wise men, 1 manger, 1 star, 1 baby. It was a delight to walk through the stations of the birth, from the religious leaders denunciating the event, to the wise men on real camels with gifts, to the shepherds watching their flocks of real sheep, to the dark hovel with the one bright star, announcing the virgin birth, the Christ child.

It didn't last long. The event was an at-your-leisure tour, so as we ambled our way along the paths, we took it all in and finished up, and headed to search out the nearest Starbucks and a warm drink. I couldn't tell you if the boys really recall this night. I am not sure Steve would ever be willing to drive again to it. But, I remember it still. I wonder what it was really like 2,000+ years ago. I wonder if the Star were to appear today if anyone would really notice it. I think about Mary raising a son she knew was not really hers. I ponder all this in my heart.

And when I sit and stare at my tree and listen to my music, I know in my heart that wise men still seek Him, and the bright Star of shining hope is our beacon in the dark night of our heart, the Light that gives us hope, that makes this truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem ~ Waxahachie Nativity ~ December 2009

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Authentique
Title: Silhouette cut file

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The True Gift of Christmas

I guess you could say Christmas runs deep in me, embedded down into the very ends of my roots. Not the gifts per se, so much. As a child, Christmas was never all about the gifts. It was, in my heart, about family time, about being together, about specialness - from the foods to the clothes to the decorations. And mostly about treasuring all of that.

We had a family tradition as I was growing up. We would open presents on Christmas Day, promptly clean up and dress, pack up the suitcases, pick ONE thing from the Santa pile, and head north on 45, traveling from Houston to Denton on days that began before the sun appeared. Squishy rides, in our "Christmas dress clothes", sleeping so as not to alter our appearance, and clutching our one thing we had been allowed to bring. 

We made our appearance at my grandmother's always before noon. We would usually be the first ones there, and we would have a grand waiting game to see who arrived next, hoping the car that pulled up contained the cousin that was our age, with a story prepared about all that Santa did bring us, even though we were manifesting only the one gift. Ahhh, memories! By the time dinner was served, and the tree was "opened up and gifted out", there would be probably 40 of us, if I were to guess off the top of my head. My mother was the youngest of nine, and most years, 7 of the 9 children were there with their children, as as time elapsed, grandchildren. Four generations of Christmas love.

As precious and tender to me as those memories are, once I married, Christmas took a different bend to me. The Denton trek passed in its original form in 1979 when my dear granny lost her cancer battle. We would continue to go, but the regularity and constancy of the holiday fundamentally shifted, as if an earthquake had come through, and my mom then began to craft a new Christmas definition for my immediate family. As we all married, the holiday continued to metamorphose, until we are today at a place far, far from where we began as children.

I would say the biggest difference is that Steve is in retail. He loves it, he truly does. And I am always so happy to have a spouse that enjoys his job, and does well with it. But, without a doubt, him having the one day off created another tectonic shift in the plate of family gatherings. For the years we were still living in the Houston area, we managed to limp along and keep up with my sisters' families and how they celebrated with my parents. In 1997, when we moved to San Antonio, we left behind all pretense of keeping traditions the same, and celebrated for the first time Christmas Day all by ourselves - Steve, me, the boys. 

In two days, we will celebrate our 18th Christmas here {alone} in our home. Every few years, my parents will join us, and I believe my husband's parents have joined us for two of those 18 years, and we are grateful for the years our parents can join us. But, for the most part, these Christmases in our house have been just the four of us. Steve will come home early on Christmas Eve, more tired than he will admit, and have 36 hours to revel in the true joy of the season before heading out to after season sales and merry markdowns. But, we take it. It is the Christmas we know, it is the only kind of Christmas my sons know.

We make the most of our time. I will confess that while I sometimes am lonely and blue during the month of December, I do not regret at all that we are given the gift of having Christmas Day in our home. I think, too, that my husband and sons would agree with me. We love our little traditions. We love being together. We love soaking in the season - the ADVENT - the longing for the true Gift.

And because we have always been home for Christmas, I have always strived to make it memorable and fun and have, with the wonderful help of my husband, decorated the house every year, in much the same spirit as my dear granny. A tree in every room. Goodies in tins. Thoughtful gifts, full of love. Stockings on the mantle. This year's morning ritual has me turning on the lights for 9 trees downstairs, and the garland on the stairwell. And one of my trees has ornaments on it that were actually my granny's ornaments, treasured glass balls.

And we begin the season each year for our family with our little tree trimming party. My husband's family was large enough to be their own party, and so he brought with him his little family party gene, and I have loved embracing that tradition. Each of us pick a fun party food, and we have poinsettias to drink {half cranberry juice/half ginger ale or champagne} and we turn on my holiday music mix. Unpacking new ornaments from their Hallmark boxes, pulling previous years' ornaments out of the ornament bins, fluffing up the Christmas tree, turning on the lights, and hanging the beloved ornaments. We work together, trimming the tree until it is finished and lights up the corner of our family room.

We each have our favorite ornaments. We will ooh and aah over different ones, and be excited or dismal over what our assigned ornament bin contains. The Barbies? The boys don't like them so much. I understand. I feel the same way about the trains, trucks, planes, and cars. ;-) My favorites to hang? Hands down, the Nostalgic Houses series. The first one was introduced in 1984 and this year we purchased and hung on our tree the 31st house in the series. I just love them. Over time, we transitioned from buying our Hallmark ornaments at half off after-Christmas sales to buying them premiere weekend in the fall.

At any rate, we have many, many Hallmark ornaments and they each have a story to tell, their own unique identity, much like the tale a Christmas season develops of its own accord each year. They are each treasured in their own way, rotating positions on the tree each year, handled by each of us over time, creating a compendium of memories as we work together to craft a Christmas tree that will be like no other one we ever have. 

And while a tree is just a tree, to me it is a shining symbol of hope, of eternal love, of the truest Gift of the season. I often can hear Linus reciting it, when at the end of Charlie Brown's search for a tree, Linus reminds him that it is never really about the tree. Yes, we kick off the advent season with the tree, and it is the last thing to come down and be put away, but the meaning for the season, the Gift of the season, stays with us all year long.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
As I type this on Merry Christmas Eve Eve, as we look at marking another year together as a family of four, I wish for you each the joy of the season, a Christmas full of wonder and peace - and may you know the true Gift of Christmas. Merry Christmas!

Santa's Elves ~ Tree Trimming ~ Christmas 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Authentique
Title: Silhouette cut file

Monday, December 1, 2014

Color Me Sketchy

Welcome to my blog - a new stop on this quarter's Scrapbook Generation Blog Hop. If this is your first stop, you might like to start at the Scrapbook Generation blog and then hop through each link.

I am excited to be part of the December Scrapbook Generation blog hop! If ever there was a scrappy blessing in my life, it would be SG! Since finding their sketches, and kit clubs, and eBooks, and now one-stop-online-shopping, I have been an SG Sketch Lover and avid fan! I have the original 8 books before their digital days began, and I grab their downloads now and the eBooks! Color me sketchy - I'm hooked on SG!

Below is a layout I made about last Thanksgiving. It was my oldest son's first year at college in Nashville, and he went to Colorado with his roommate for Thanksgiving instead of coming home to Texas. It was an adjustment for this mom, but as I set a table for only 3, I was committed to honoring the holiday, embracing our traditions, and counting my blessings. 

This recent SG sketch I purchased and downloaded was the perfect sketch for the story I wanted to tell and the photos I wanted to use. 

Autumn Blessings ~ Table for Three ~ Thanksgiving 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Carta Bella
Title: Silhouette cut file

You can find the SG sketches in their books and as downloads in the SG store, and there is a free one every month in case you wanted to try it out. Next on the hop is 
Laureen - Leave a comment on each blog and one lucky commenter will receive a free sketch bundle of their choice from the store. The winner will be drawn on Monday, December 8th, which allows you one week to leave your comments. 

In case you get lost at any point, here is the list of all the blogs:
Scrapbook Generation blog -
Ruth -
Steffanie -
Devra -
TinaGale -
Lori - Http://
Lori S -
Cicily -
Pamela -
Katy -
Laura -
Lyne -
Penny - (You are here!)
Laureen -
Casandra -
Sharlene -
Corrina -

Thanks for stopping by! Remember to leave comments on all the blog hop posts for your chance to win a free sketch bundle! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Decade of Pumpkin Devotion

When my beloved PSL made its fall debut in 2003, I actually lived in one of the last cities in America that did not have a Starbucks. Unreal, I know. We lived in McAllen, down south, at the "bottom of Texas" as Andrew would say, and the "RioPlex" of border towns were not yet on the radar of Starbucks. Mind you, the Foley's was the number two store at that time in volume, so there was plenty of money in the Mexico national tourist mecca. 

And admittedly, I guess we were on their radar at that time, because one year later on October 1, 2004, the first Starbucks in the valley would open, about 4 minutes from my house. I know the date because I was there and I have a photo of myself with a giant inflatable cup of coffee to prove it. ;-)

But, back to the PSL. I guess I would have to credit my oldest sister, Ronda, for the introduction to one of my besties. Ronda was working at the time and hitting up Starbucks daily for her cup of joe, and I know her enough to know she would have been one of the first people in Houston to try a pumpkin flavored drink when the barista offered it to her. So, as I recreate it in my mind, I am imagining that I had my first PSL at Thanksgiving 2003, and it was probably on Black Friday when we went out on our annual shopping pilgrimage.

I have a November birthday. I love having a November birthday. I love fall, even here in Texas where we don't really do fall. I guess we have a little fall in November, and I guess that is why I love fall and November. I know in many parts of the country, it is already snowing in November and moving into winter...but Texas takes its time and slowly ushers in the changing of the seasonal guards, or gourds if you will, for fall. ;-)

Thanksgiving has also long been my favorite holiday. All of the joy and richness of Christmas, without any of the procurement stress for all the people on your list. It's a time of being together, being thankful, getting ready for the big burst to Christmas, but reveling in the slow pace of the waning autumn days. I love that Starbucks launched a drink just for fall. Just for me.

In 2004, I was able to get my regular fill of my beloved PSL at my new valley Starbucks. Yeehaw. Yes, I know it doesn't have pumpkin. Yes, I know it is high in calories. But, I will hand it to Starbucks for being innovative and inventive and creating a drink that is deliciousness served warm. We moved to Dallas in July 2005 and so by the third year of the launch, I was in an area where I had a pick of any number of Starbucks. In fact, my own little town has one on the corner of the bustling main intersection. Hello Dallas metroplex. Enter Starbucks heaven.

I can't count how many times I would pick up a PSL for me, and for one of the boys' teachers. I loved to bring them a cup of good cheer. It's the perfect drink to surprise someone with - not too strong, not too sweet - and I was happy to share my love of all things pumpkin with anyone who was brave enough to sign on for teaching a room full of rowdy kids. It is the official drink of Thanksgiving, right? And to whom could I be more grateful than teachers?

And now look at my baby - all grown up and ten years old. It's hard to believe I've had a decade of them. It's hard to remember life before a savory warm PSL. I'm grateful she survived the recession. I'm grateful that some things stay around for awhile. I'm grateful that new traditions can happen. I'm grateful for sisters and shared shopping excursions. I'm grateful for all things pumpkin. Served warm in a cup with whipped cream? Yes, please!

PSL ~ A Decade of Pumpkin Spice Lattes ~ September 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Simple Stories
Letter Stickers: American Crafts

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Invitation to CREATE

I guess I began writing as a fifth grader. I entered a play in the Bicentennial Fair about Betsy Ross and the American flag. I can still remember the two Davids playing the roles of American Revolutionaries as they acted out my play on the stage of the Astroarena in Houston. The following year I took creative writing with, of all names, Ms. English, and that segued into newspaper staff in the 7th grade with Mrs. Blanscet. I cannot recall easily if I wrote my 8th grade year, as I know I was an officer on the Student Council. But, as high school beckoned, I decided to follow my journalistic flair.

I tried out for and made the staff of The Gauntlet. It was heaven. I was made for yearbook staff. I loved the grid paper, the large rub-ons, the smell of the chemicals coming out of the darkroom, the dusty layer of all things paper on every conceivable surface. I was assigned the Underclassmen section of the yearbook, and set out to paste tons of little headshots down on paper, and type the names out via one of the Smith Coronas lined up underneath the shoulder high windows. The yearbook room was at the end of the last hall, as if forgotten, or relegated to the fringe, but it was the perfect spot in my book. We had easy access out to our cars to go sell ads, and swing by Jack in the Box on our way back.

I stayed on yearbook staff for all four years of high school. I was offered and accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief for my sophomore year, and kept that position until I graduated. The Gauntlet became my baby and even though I worked with three different yearbook advisors, I was able to be the voice of continuity and help vision cast the themes each year. I recruited friends to the staff. By my senior year, the staff had morphed from students that needed an elective to a staff of honor students and close friends, friends that I am still in the loop with to this day. And my first yearbook editor, Ms. Bryce, is a jewel to me and I am thankful that I am still in touch with both her and Mrs. Blanscet. Teachers are amazing inspiration touch points.

High school ended and even though I was offered a journalism scholarship at a state school, the powers that be determined that I attend a private school in Arkansas. I left behind my vision for being a journalist and took on the accountant cap at my alma mater that would now be at the foothills of the Ozarks. I did dabble with yearbook there. My freshman year I was on Petit Jean staff, once again on the Underclassmen section, but it didn't feel the same at all. I didn't connect with any of the others, and the goal set for me of graduating in three years didn't really allow the time for it. I set it all to the side.

As a young stay-at-home mom, I was introduced to scrapbooking. That was perfect timing, because I had actually created a TO DO list after leaving corporate America, and organizing and dealing with photos was at the top of the list. Sadly, 20 years later, the rest of the list remains untouched. Maybe I will get those recipes organized after I retire. Again. :-) Scrapbooking filled my creative void, and awakened in me all of my journalistic love that I had set to the side, much like the letter jacket, the Jack in the Box runs, and the schoolbooks themselves. I had a good but wild scrapbooking ride with Creative Memories, and then moved to the Dallas metroplex. In the big city, much like the physical transition itself from the Rio Grande Valley to Big D, I left CM behind, back in the dust of the valley, as I grew ready to embrace all of the ideals that glittered in the posh Dallas skyline. 

Much like leaving AOL and finding the "real internet", I parted ways with CM and found a whole "real scrappy world". One thing led to another, and I eventually morphed my style of scrapbooking completely, led by the ideas and inspiration I was finding in that scrappy world.  I found Creating Keepsakes in 2005 and had - as what I consider a pipe dream, super lofty, basically unattainable - the goal of being published. I didn't want the publicity per se, I just wanted my work to be "that good". Having won first place at state UIL in writing, I was accustomed to pushing myself and pursuing excellence. {Now, I am not saying by any measure of degree that I believe I have attained that now, or will ever attain it. I am saying I like to learn and love to improve.}

My scrappy world led me down the road, or should I say up the road, to Scrapbook Generation in Springfield, Missouri. Missouri really did become the SHOW ME state. I found their sketches in 2010 via some friends on Two Peas in a Bucket, and it was the marriage of my high school journalism love to my young mom's love of all things paper and photos and pen. Their sketches helped me refine my layouts, define my style, and experiment with new angles of inspiration. My husband has always supported my crafting. He doesn't always understand my "need" for so much paper, but he never questions it, and has been known to go out of the way to help me pull off a hair-brained idea. 

I found out that Scrapbook Generation held a mega crop twice a year. And in the summer of 2011, I decided I wanted to go. And I convinced my husband to take me. And I convinced a bunch of gals from Two Peas to go, too. We had a wonderful time. I made it back for a second one. And then I segued to their retreats, all the while loving on their sketches and using 'em like there's no tomorrow. Since discovering their sketches in 2010, I could probably count on one hand the number of layouts I've done without one of their sketches. I just find them to be such a foundational grid that lock me in for a beautiful layout, and set me up to be able to create outside the box of that grid something that will work, that will be fun, that I will enjoy. 

And having met the female family of four that IS Scrapbook Generation, I can tell you they are women of honor, women with family values, women with amazing and unending creativity, women that care, women that serve, women that have succeeded in the business world, women that will laugh with you, women that will cry with you, women that you are blessed to know. When they launched CREATE last year, I was blown away by the free electronic monthly magazine, and I was, honestly, a tad jealous of the inaugural design team. Even though I have drooled over every issue of the 2014 magazine, when the design call came out for 2015, I wasn't sure I would apply, unsure of whether I could make the cut, unwilling to open up my heart to hope, unwilling to be left out, much like the photos that don't make the page. I waffled back and forth, and on the last day, I did send in my application, knowing if I didn't try to be again a part of creating for these SG women that embody so many traits that are also embedded in my core, that I would be full of regret.

I did apply, and then I doubted myself, and I fretted, and I had resigned myself to not making the team, and I talked to Steve about it almost nightly while walking, trying all the while to breathe and not obsess...and on the very night that I had given up all hope, Steve walked in to Scrap Central at the exact moment that my iMac flashed an email bubble at the top right of my screen, and in that second that I could see him in my peripheral vision, I could also see Debbie's email address and the words "Welcome to the CREATE team" on that email bubble. I was so excited that I wanted to shout and jump around and cry and breathe big sighs of relief. And I blurted out some jumbled words to him, and opened the email and read some of the sweetest words a gal can see when she has striven for so long to be a creative wordsmith.

I won't be the best, and I won't be the most creative, and I won't have the work that is over the top, but I can tell you I will give it my all. I can tell you I will love it. I can tell you I am honored beyond measure. I can tell you I love to create. Thanks, Scrapbook Generation, for the inspiration, the ideas, the friendship, the amazing online store, the over the top sketches, and the invitation to CREATE. I am looking forward to 2015 with eyes wide open, photos at the ready, and paper scattered everywhere. Come create with me, come CREATE with us.


Scrap-a-Palooza ~ Scrapbook Generation Mega Crop ~ June 2011
Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Pebbles
Letter Stickers: American Crafts

Monday, October 27, 2014

To The Kingdom Come

We moved away from the community in which I was raised in January 1991, after living there as a married couple for 3 1/2 years. It was a change that my family questioned, but one that I knew in my heart was best for me and Steve, one that would give us the opportunity to craft together our life, a life outside the enmeshed boundaries of a large multi-generational family that had calendars full of events. 

We sold our little North Shore house that General Homes had built for us in 1988, and moved north 45 minutes to The Woodlands, into a two-story house that Ryland built for us. It was all just so perfect, looking back, and when my nephews coined the area "the magical forest", I think they were on to something. We picked a lot at the end of a cul-de-sac and I was immediately in love with all the mature trees and the wild blackberry bushes at the back of the property.

We found a new church home and began living the life that would grow and mature us, in much the same way as the hundred-year-old pines and yaupons that surrounded every house, each neighborhood, all roadsides. We were blessed to live in The Woodlands for just short of 7 years, and I would be lying if I were to say that I don't miss it to this day. I don't play the "What if" game, but if I am ever tempted to, it would be regarding my magical forest.

Outside the scope of frequent family events, we found ourselves with some open calendar space and began cultivating friendships with peers. It was an almost novel concept to us, having lived near my parents and my sisters and their families, and all the fun, but unending, series of events that 7 nieces and nephews offered. We teased that - at that time - we had 3 weeks off in June, as there were no birthdays or events between Father's Day and July 4. At any rate, living 45 minutes away from all of that gave us a new leash on life.

We found so many other twenty-something couples at our church home and it wasn't long before the forest began to feel a little bit more like a home for our hearts. One of our friends was actually a single guy, and as such, he would drop by more often than others. I can remember crystal clear in my mind Ralph, in red sweatpants, lounging on our wedgewood blue couch one December while we did some Christmas baking, and him talking about KLTY, the Houston area Christian radio station. 

Steve and I had both listened to some Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith back in college, but as a married couple, I had introduced Steve to country & western, and I think most of the time our radio was tuned to that. Ralph planted another forest seed that night. We then began listening to KLTY sporadically, but I struggled with all the different genre sounds the different artists embodied. I eventually got over that annoyance and embraced the divergent sounds. And the seed that Ralph planted took root, and over time we both fell in love with Contemporary Christian music and kept all radios tuned to 94.9. I can still remember Philip as a two-year-old singing the jingle along with the radio whenever KLTY played their call sign.

Fast forward nearly 25 years, years full of a musical diet that was about 95% comprised of Contemporary Christian music, and I discovered the annual Night of Joy event at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Well, imagine my complete and utter delight at the concept of two nights of concerts at one of my favorite places on earth! World were colliding - and it was a beautiful thing!

Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Third Day, David Crowder Band - the 2010 headliner MainStage bands. Literally all bands I loved, bands whose CDs I had, whose songs I knew. Having the amazing husband that I do, when I pitched the idea, he didn't call me crazy, but began considering the feasibility of it and whether or not we could go. We had not left the boys behind on many, if any, trips in over a decade, but they weren't up for the adventure and it seemed like it was time for a trip for two. We lined up my mom to come stay with the boys, and booked our seats on the Magical Express.

It was a wonderful trip. It was bittersweet to be there without the boys, but we did have so much fun. We had three full days, and two travel days, and managed to have plenty of time to take in the magic of all four parks over the long 5 day weekend. The two nights of concerts at Magic Kingdom was a true joy, and it was the perfect experience for our first hard ticket Disney event. Not only did we love the concerts in front of Cinderella's castle, we loved that as we walked through the park, we could hear them piping Christian music throughout the entire park. It was so much fun to be walking through Adventureland in the dark and hearing Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine" over the sound system. 

Yes, worlds were colliding and it was a beautiful thing. The Happiest Place on Earth took on new meaning. It seemed even more magical that weekend. We haven't been back to a Night of Joy event yet. I am pleased that the annual event continues. I hope to someday make it back to one. Every time I get the invitation that offers "To The Kingdom Come", I sigh, I smile, I remember, and I wish. Dreams do really come true. I know. I've been blessed enough to know. To the Kingdom come? Yes, please! I can only imagine!

Magical Trip for Two ~ Night of Joy ~ September 2010
Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: We R Memory Keepers
Letter Stickers: October Afternoon
Title Font: Waltograph

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Game Boy

I read recently, "The days are long, but time flies" or something of that sort. As I contemplate turning 50 one month from today, I can definitely say that is the understatement of the year...or, more appropriately, the half century mark, if you will. I am not morbid about aging, and I don't have any unnatural feelings about it. I just really kind of sit here and shake my head at how fast it has all gone. 

One does not have to look far or hard to see how fast time has gone. Think back to your cell phone 5 years ago. Or consider the price of gas the first time you filled your car tank. Recall the dress code issues when you were in school. Find any little tidbit from your teenage years, and compare it to anything you see a teenager out there doing today. Time flies, and life evolves.

I will always be a bit of a technology buff, I believe, if I can continue to keep up with it. I will forever remember where I was the night Princess Diana died, because I was in my home "office" at my computer, a Compaq Presario All-in-One, with one disc drive in the front - a new ground-breaking 3.5" inch hard disk, which ushered in the farewell for the floppy disk. We paid $2,500 for that computer at Comp USA in Houston, and we were on the cutting edge to have a desktop computer at home. Now, mind you, this was all of 1994. Twenty years ago.

And the internet? As we knew it then, the internet existed as viewed from the portal through the parameters of AOL. We didn't even know the real internet. And accessing it? Dial-up baby. As in modem. As in nothing else could be going on communication wise. As in you had to have your phone line connected to the back of your computer and no phone talking could occur. It's funny to remember, and also kind of crazy to contemplate at the same time.

I bought that computer for my new working woman turned stay-at-home mom business. I was so proud of it. Business cards printed with my email address, and the phone number that would ring if I wasn't out surfing AOL's news bites of the real world wide web. I do remember Kraft and Proctor and Gamble as being two of the companies that began ghosting their web address on the bottom left corners of their television commercials. And I also remember scoffing at why in the world anyone would ever need to know their dot com addresses. 

One of my tender memories, and I have the photo tucked away safely on a scrapbook page, is my oldest son, around 18 months old, standing on his tip toes, sippy cup in his left hand, and his right hand is extended up to the computer keyboard, and he is trying so hard to connect with that machine. I guess even back then he was wired a little like mom - interested in all things technology. 

Fast forward three years, and that little blonde boy that was so full of energy and light would be scampering around under my desk in a new house in a new city, hooking up the computer components, following the color codes on the peripherals to plug them in correctly. I can still see his little feet sticking out from the desk, his whole little body almost hidden underneath the desk and behind the tower. I had graduated at this point to a black Dell. Woot, woot.

It wasn't soon after this moment that I began battling this little tow-headed bundle of ideas for computer time. Yes, one computer in the house. He would want to play either Roller Coaster Tycoon, or his Tonka Construction game. I folded many loads of laundry to the sounds of either a dump truck backing up, or kids screaming as their coaster descended. If I were to hear either of those game sounds today, I would instantly be transported back to a house in San Antonio, where I fought the blacktopped barefoot imprints on beige berber like nobody's business.

Computer games gave way to Game Boy and Nintendo DS and then PlayStation 3...but somewhere along the way, the boy returned to a computer game. When we lived in McAllen, he and his classmates stumbled upon a game called RuneScape and he would play this game on the family computer that we had set up - that same Dell that had been with us in San Antonio was hanging in there, on its last leg.

For Christmas in 2001, my amazing husband gifted me with the first iPod, it having been released in October 2001. {So, think about that for a minute - the iPod isn't even 15 yet.} Well, I was taken completely by surprise! I had no idea he was getting this for me, and I set out immediately on Christmas Day afternoon to begin importing my CD's into this new software called iTunes. Well, like an 85-year-old on Jeopardy, that poor computer didn't stand a chance memory wise. And my poor husband didn't realize that the Christmas iPod would require a New Year's laptop. I love that man for so many reasons, but one near the top of the list is that he will indulge my technological cravings. Time after time.

I left Best Buy on New Year's Eve with a newfangled laptop, of all things, and began once again the transporting of all of my LIFE, including music and photos, onto the latest version of personal computing. The old Dell, with some life in it still, was relegated to my sons - and the oldest launched full fledge into his RuneScape games, often with his younger brother sitting at his side, content to watch the medieval questing and simulated life.

Over ten years, in three homes, on four computers, my oldest son has played RuneScape. I can understand it a little. I fought my own demon of addiction with Zoo Tycoon when the boys were in grade school. I finally had to quit the game altogether so there would be clean clothes in the drawers and food on the table. {And that reminds me of an aunt that was an avid video gamer in her seventies...maybe it's just in our gene pool...}

During Philip's last year of high school, he became more intentional about hanging out downstairs. I appreciated that so very much. It gave me so much joy to see him hunkered over his computer screen on the couch, or at the desk in the family room, or in one of my slipper chairs here in Scrap Central. He lived for the release of new quests and has now accumulated quite the collection of holiday regalia from ten years of completing activities on his RuneScape account. I like seeing what he's done with his character. I like seeing him figuring out how to do something. I like seeing him passionate about ideas. I like seeing him game. 

The quest goes on. He's in college now. I miss seeing him here, hanging out.  But in the young man now, with his sophisticated MacBook on his lap, I can in the blink of an eye go back in my mind to that little tow-headed boy, camped out on the bleached pine desk in my San Antonio study, backing up dump trucks and building houses on the old black Dell. It is a joy to watch your children grow and change. And it is a joy to see some character traits deepen and morph, much as the very pixels on our screen have. Yes, the days are long, but time flies. 

Ten Years on the Quest ~ Philip & RuneScape ~ March 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Carta Bella
Letter Stickers: Pink Paislee and Cosmo Cricket