Saturday, February 28, 2015

Every Day Together is Wonderful

There is a saying in Texas. There are those that live here that were born here. And there are those that live here that got here as fast as they could. I fall into the first category. And my darling husband falls into the second. I am a proud 5th generation Texan, and when we talk about retiring, I consider other states, but it is really hard for me to contemplate ever leaving my beloved Lone Star State.

Steve has lived here with me now for 27 years, and has come to love my state as much as anyone can. If you were to meet him, you'd never guess him to be a native New Yorker. One of the reasons that he loves Texas so much, I believe, is because of all that the state has to offer in the many regions it has, the warmer climate it offers, and the many types of food you can savor. From the gulf shores to the piney woods to the northern plains to the hill country, there is more to see and do than you can take in.

We first discovered the Texas Hill Country together when we were in our first or second year of marriage. I have pictures of us traveling to Brenham to see the bluebonnets, bearing our little Cocker Spaniel puppy, and I know that was 1988 or 1989. What I don't know is if we had traveled to the hills before that trip. As a child, I am certain I traveled to the area with Girl Scouts, with a grade school friend Trisha to her grandparents' house, and almost certainly with my own family. 

When Steve and I lived in Houston, the Hill Country was a fun 2-3 hour getaway. When the four of us moved to San Antonio, we were blessed to be living in the Hill Country. {These remain some of my favorite years.} When we moved to McAllen, we were 3-4 hours south of the Hill Country, and now, from our home, we are about 4-5 hours. It seems we move farther and farther away from an area we grow to love more and more. I guess that makes visiting it all the richer, and we have always tried to visit it every chance we get.

In 2014, with just one son still at home, who was working most evenings and weekends, it seemed like Steve and I could plan a little getaway for two. We set a date and secured my mom to come babysit Truman, and be on hand in case of any emergency, and set about to find a place to escape. The Hill Country seemed like a natural place to consider, and I was focusing on the Wimberley area. A Google search and some reviews on Trip Advisor led us to the Sage Hill Inn. 

Even though it had rave online reviews, until we stepped onto the property, we couldn't imagine how much we would fall in love with this simple property tucked into the live oaks among the hills south of Austin. It seemed like the misty, fog-wrapped weekend was conspiring with us, inviting us to unwind and relax. The chilly weather kept us indoors, camping out near the fireplace in our room, or the fireplace in the common library. We read, we watched movies, we each had a massage, we sat on the porch and watched rain fall, we had superb meals, we went to bed early, we slept in.

We unwound. We reconnected. We escaped from the tough, in the middle moments between our two back to back graduating seniors. Just looking at these pictures I can remember so many little moments about the trip. While we have been adapting to sending our boys off to college, and adjusting to them not being in our every day lives, it is moments like this that remind me how much Steve and I enjoy each other. How every day together is wonderful. 

I am hopeful that we have at least another twenty years together. I'd really love to beg for thirty. Or even forty. Whatever time we have together is enough. Whatever time we have together is never enough. But, no matter how busy or stressful work can be, or what lies around the corner of life, we are committed to taking each day as it comes, making the most of our story, looking for beauty around us, working to make each one a happy day, knowing that we are adored by the other, reveling in the richness of our love.

Yes, a hill country weekend is wonderful. But, every day is wonderful when you are married to your best friend. We've had 27 wonderful years. Here's hoping for another 27 years, full of wonderful weeks and weekends, be they at home or away. 

Hill Country Weekend ~ Sage Hill Inn, Wimberley, TX ~ March 2014

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Echo Park
Title Font: Ballerina Script

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'll Like You For Always

My older sister is a librarian and as a young mother, I leaned on her guidance for children's book recommendations as needed. Of course, my boys are now well out of the genres of elementary school librarians, but I have fond memories of connections with her and with my sons over books we pored over, shared, and compared. Pattie was into children's books long before I was, because of her profession, and I remember in particular her bringing some books to read as part of a presentation at a ladies church retreat. 

She is a skilled crafter in her reading style, and I learned from her that day to emulate her captivating style when later in life I read to my children, just as I learned what books to stockpile in our own little family library, and which ones to read over and over. I have a small cache of those remaining books, books that I think I will have until I am no longer on this earth, or until I pass them on to my sons and their future families. 

One such book is a dog-eared copy of "I'll Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch. I can clearly see this columbian blue book cover in my mind, and I am never one to downplay the artistic creation on a cover that can convey a lovely introduction to a new found literary friend. Pattie read this particular book at that ladies retreat, which had to be back in the late '80's, as I know it was before we moved to The Woodlands in January 1991. Yes, a memory of a good book, superbly read, can stay with you for decades. I believe, too, that my family copy of this book was a gift from her at a baby shower. At the retreat, she had us in tears by the time she finished reading that book to the room full of adult women. And I can tear up at the mere memory of it, and I know clearly that I can easily cry if I were to read it today.

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang: 
I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.
- Robert Munsch 

When I first heard of the book, I obviously did not have any children yet, and I did not know at that time that I would have sons that would someday tower over me. My affection for the book when first heard was out of a deep love for my own mother, and her deep love of her mother that I had observed firsthand. I was in my late twenties at the time of that book reading, and old enough to appreciate my mother to a large degree - although at that moment I did not near appreciate her as much as at this very moment that I am typing - but I was old enough to see ahead around the corner to the inevitability of time and of both of us aging. 

While I knew I would not have any stairs to someday climb to fetch her, or rocker to hold her in, I knew that I would love her forever, and that as long as I'm living, her baby I'll be. Mom and I have this game we play. She tells me she loves me more than I love her. And I tell her that isn't possible, because I have loved her all of my life, and she has loved me only part of hers.  We both win this game.

As my children entered my life, and took over my house, and my schedule, and my heart, the book, of course, took on a new layer of meaning, spanning across four generations of mother-child love, instead of only three. My own personal role of mothering intensified my knowledge of  just how rich the penned words in that little blue softcover book were, and many a time I held a wriggling tender little boy, singing to them in my mind the same chant that Pattie had crooned over that room full of crying church women. 

As I worked on this Valentine layout, looking at these photos of my very big boys, on the fence between boyhood and manhood, boys that have grown now into men that could carry me if needed, and boys whose laps certainly could now bear me, the images of that book, and the words of those pages came lighting back to my heart, and to my mind, as I tried mightily to stem the tide of time, and keep those boys with me just a little while longer.

We know by now how this chapter ends. We know that any mom and/or dad that succeed in raising their child trade off that success for a nest that empties, rooms that stay dark, cell phones that don't ring near enough, and calendars with far too many gaps in between true face time.

On this Valentines Day, as we began the wrap-up time with our sons at home every day with us, with one son in his first year of high school, everything became more cherished. And as I looked back on this Valentine's Day memory, the words "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as you're living, my baby you'll be" seemed as appropriate and applicable as they ever might be. 

I am blessed to see my sons turning into handsome, intelligent, fun, witty, caring, sensitive, compassionate, loving young men. I am blessed that they are both embracing college and all the opportunities that it offers. I am blessed that right now, at this moment, we are all healthy and whole and happy and employed in endeavors that speak to our commitments and our hearts. I am blessed with the excitement of seeing what they become, and pondering what lies ahead, and remembering joyfully what these last years have held. And I am blessed that these words ring true for me, and for my husband, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as you're living, my baby you'll be."

I'll Love You Forever ~ Valentine's Day ~ February 2010

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Crate Paper
Title Font: Silhouette Cut File

Monday, February 23, 2015

804 Miles from Awesome


I have had the rare, but somewhat annual, "snow day" here in North Texas, and am thankful for the free day to catch up on things. I have spent most of the day printing photos from 2012, digging out from the going under of my beloved I bought a personal printer when they folded, but unknowingly abandoned my systemic printing process, and figuring out what is what has been a two month long, slightly nightmarish process. Between the Oscars last night and today, I have printed out over 250 photos, and have had some good times strolling down memory lane. Spending time with my jpeg's is always a delight.

Not only did I have the delight of seeing my boys in the jpegs yesterday, my youngest was actually in town, and I able to see him briefly this weekend. He flew in Thursday night from Denver to be a student leader at the annual in-town retreat this past weekend for the student ministry he was part of while in school here. He is so funny. I got a call Thursday at work from him, which is rare. I could take the call, and so I did, and quickly fielded questions about baggage fees, baggage weight, and carry-ons. Now, he has flown many times before, but I guess he wanted to double-check, and honestly, it is nice to be needed for something once in awhile.

It made me realize that while he thinks he is grown-up, there is still a little bit of my boy there inside. He blew in like a whirlwind, and was out of here by Sunday evening. We basically saw him Thursday night, some on Friday, and then for about 3 hours on Sunday. Last night, Steve and I were talking about Andrew and his possibilities for summer jobs, and studying abroad next fall, and Steve said, "He amazes me with his follow through on research." Yes, we are finding that Andrew is like a dog with a bone when he latches onto an idea and gets excited. It is incredible to see how college is developing him.

He really is a passionate kid. His thoughts and emotions run deep, and while he is introverted, if you hit the right topic, he's right there with you, toe to toe, offering up intellectual insight, facts that he has memorized from who only knows where, and opinions that have been gelling in his introspective and multi-faceted mind. He is my Comic Book boy, but he is also my boy who has movie lines, music lyrics, anecdotes, and scripture memorized like nobody's business. 

As an preschooler, he was the one I couldn't find because he would have decided he was tired and put himself down for a nap. In elementary school, he was the compassionate, quiet child, always seeing an unmet need of another student and meeting it.  He was the student who always wore a belt with his jeans and loved his shirt tucked in, and wasn't afraid to wear cowboy boots with shorts. He's had his own style defined for quite some time, and he's confident enough to go with his gut at any given moment.

He takes a long time to reach a decision, but once it is made, you'd sooner climb Niagara Falls than change his mind. Oh, the things I have learned from this child! He makes me laugh, he makes me think, he makes me question life, he makes me cry, he makes me marvel, and yes, he has been known to make me yell. 

My boys are 16 months apart, and so when they were little, Steve and I tag-teamed them. For obvious reasons, I had the younger one, and I have so many fond memories of this little boy resting his head on my shoulder, needing to be loved. That same little boy would climb on my lap, hold my hand, seek me out in a crowd, checking on me to make sure I was okay.

I know, though at 6'2" he towers over me now, he is still that same little person inside - that same confident, quirky, sensitive, compassionate, intelligent, and opinionated child. And I'm so glad to be blessed as his mother. I think he's awesome. Each and every day. Most of those days are spent 804 miles away from me now. And when I am lucky enough that he is here with me, I get to be reminded of how incredible he is, and always has been. And that is awesome, too.

Awesome ~ Andrew Turns 18 ~ August 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Simple Stories
Title Font: Collegiate

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Meal Made With Love

This time last week, it was Valentine's Day and I was on a jet plane to sunny Orlando, Florida. Sounds crazy, huh? As Valentine's Day approached, Steve and I just couldn't wrap our heads around what that looked like now, here in the house, just the two of us, when our traditions had run so deeply wrapped around celebrating with the boys, and creating a large, multi-course home cooked meal...for four. We limped through 2014 with Andrew here, and Philip's first year away, eager to provide him with one last year of our tradition, all the while the three of us noticing the empty chair at the table. 

I think in our hearts, Steve and I knew that we needed to do something different this year, more than any other, just to break the expectational mold of, and definition for, what Valentine's looked like for us. When we found out that Valentine's weekend coincided with President's Day on Monday, a three day weekend suddenly held lots of possibilities. And of course, our hearts leaned to one of our favorite places on earth, determined to make the most of our annual passes. 

We planned the trip just two weeks before taking it, and and in Disney trip planning time, that is sort of stunning. We pulled it off, and had a magical weekend. But even while I was in the throes of the Magic Kingdom, and surrounded by balloons, parades, and smiles, it was a bittersweet weekend. Little toddling boys reminded us of our own. We stumbled on things that we knew would make the boys smile. We rode their favorite rides, and walked the seven magical lands with joy in our hearts, but with memories of other trips, and the boys' presence etched on our minds.

While this year we had Valentine's Day dinner at the Grand Floridian cafe, and had the most amazing Shrimp and Grits meal, I did miss my big Italian meal. And it goes without saying that I missed sitting at my dining room table with my boys. Dinner amore'. Dinner made with love. I don't know if I could pinpoint the exact year we started this tradition, but I know it began back in San Antonio, so that could be as many as 18 years ago. I know that preschool years there acclimated them to Valentine's Day, and that set off the shift, the tectonic shift, of our celebration on February 14 every year.

I remember so many years where I would spend the day in the kitchen, preparing the various components of the meals. The Italian entrees changed over time, as the boys matured and their tastes changed. I used to make stuffed shells every year, a batch of meat stuffed shells, and a batch of cheese stuffed shells, using the recipe from Steve's family. 

I would also make, in the early years, the cheesecake recipe I garnered from a college spring break trip to Philadelphia, home of the famous cream cheese. I believe fettucine alfredo was an early addition to the menu, and it has survived across the years, and is one thing the four of us really love, while the cheesecake gave way to Creme Brûlée.

Chocolate dipped strawberries made their debut early in the menu, too, and are one of the family faves, as well. They are set out on the counter early, and greet everyone as they come in from their day, and are just gobbled up in no time. I remember little boy dimpled hands helping me dip them in chocolate across the years. I remember the really large strawberries we could get in the valley, where all the produce was so fresh. 

When we moved to Dallas, and found and fell in love with Maggiano's, Steve decided to try to replicate their fried zucchini into our annual Valentine's menu. It quickly became another family fave, and it's the only time a year that he makes it. The stuffed shells gave way to lasagna, when the boys finally decided they no longer loved the little shells full of goodness. {I secretly love the shells and really miss them.} Another Dallas change was the infusion of Carrabba's into our menu. Chicken Bryan, of all things. Steve's and Philip's favorite.

Across time, over the miles, in three different homes, we have celebrated Valentine's with a meal. Red checkered tablecloth. Candlelight. A table full of tasty meals, prepared by either me, or by Steve, or by both of us, or with the boys helping us. Dinner made with love. Dinner made for love. Dinner amore'. I am not sure when, if ever, the four of us will be together again on Valentine's Day. The boys will go their own ways after college, more than likely. But, I will always have my memories, and wherever any of us are, it is my wish that on Valentine's we can sit around a table, with people we cherish  and soak in the moment, and have our own version of our dinner amore', a meal made with love. 

Dinner Amore' ~ Valentine's Day ~ February 2010

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Crate Paper
Title Font: 2 P's Mister Giggles