Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Christmas celebration in pictures

Here are some pictures of our wonderful Christmas celebrations here at home in Birmingham with my parents and in North Carolina with Rhett's family.

Swinging with Pa Pa a few days before Christmas

Our family on the way to church on Christmas Eve. Claire did pretty well being in "big church" but Mr. Ford had depleted all the snacks and diversions I had planned before the service started. I took him out not long into the service. Luckily our church is so family friendly and they have a huge over flow area just outside the seating area but still in the worship room with lots of chairs, TVs with the service and most importantly in this case - a lot of roaming room for the little guy. I laughed when I got back there because there were 5 little boys between the ages of 11 months and 2 years already there. I walked up and asked "Is this the toddler boy section?" before I joined them. We all laughed and enjoyed chasing them around while enjoying the service too. I made the most wonderful Christmas feast (if I do say so myself!). We had a standing rib roast compliments of a Paula Deen recipe that is so delicious my mom said it was the best thing she had ever put in her mouth, sweet potato casserole - with pecan praline topping (of course), my favorite cornbread casserole, green beans almondine and banana pudding for dessert. The best thing about doing a holiday dinner is you get to plan the menu and only make things you like. It was fun to make it and I enjoyed one of my two visits a year with my fine china. Here are a sweet brother and sister on Christmas eve (in case you are wondering, yes, they are always this cute and loving ;)

Ford trying out Mac's new big wheel - he's still got some growing room - Claire is upset and wanting a turn. See above comment on how cute and loving they always are with each other.

It really wasn't that cold outside but Claire's new hat was so cute that she wanted to wear it.

Claire and her Daddy - this is a new favorite photo for me - it makes my heart swell with love for both of them.

Our little Mountain Man
Gamma, Chrissie, Jo Jo, Claire, Ford and Doc

One last picture of Christmas this year and we look forward to next year's celebration - there will be a new person in next year's picture and quite a different background in the photo. We anxiously await both the new baby and our new home. I hope you had very Merry Christmas celebration too!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Confusion

Ahhh, Christmas. What a wonderful time of the year. I was trying to think of all the things that might come to mind when someone is asked about Christmas: Christmas trees, family time, food, outdoor lights, wreaths, shopping, Santa Claus, mistletoe, holiday parties, Christmas cards, Christmas carols, giving gifts . . . getting gifts, giving to charity, busyness, vacation, memories, ornaments and oh yeah - Jesus - of course. So as I look at this list I just came up with it is just kind of confusing. I mean, is Christmas a religious holiday or a cultural celebration? Is it a little of both or just somewhere in between? I don't think that I'm the only one confused. I hear a lot of people shouting about keeping Christ in Christmas and making a big deal about sales people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" but beyond the lipspeak they are giving the Christ part of Christmas their holiday celebration really doesn't look very different from anyone elses. It seems as though everyone is just kind of morphing all different kinds of cultural celebrations and putting them under the umbrella of "Christmas". So my question would be is this a bad thing or does it really matter?

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot for the last several years and just kind of noting what I see. As we enter the "holiday season" everyone starts talking about the hustle bustle and the count down to Christmas. Lots of excitement! Soon all the holiday cheer and enthusiasm starts to dwindle and people start cutting people off and stealing parking spots again as usual. Everyone seems really worn out and put out by all of the busyness associated with this season. So much to do, so many celebrations, so much shopping . . . After a while it doesn't seem like anyone is having too much fun. Except the kids who are super-hyped up for weeks leading up to Christmas . . . which eventually leads to an over stimulated exhaustion that climaxes on Christmas morning as they walk away from a pile of new toys somehow expecting something more or something a little better.

What does this all mean to Christians? Isn't this a religious holiday? I have a few questions about that. What do any of our cultural Christmas traditions really have to do with the birth of Jesus? I've heard people be really creative in answering this question. But honestly it all sounds a bit silly and a bit stretched. In reality most of our current secular Christmas traditions were born in the previous two centuries with the introduction of two things 1. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and 2. A certain poem called 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Take these two cultural influences and a couple of brilliant 20th century marketing executives and modern Christmas as we know it was born. It gets complicated very quickly because of one thing - family traditions. As soon as the first generation was taken in by all of these new ideas of how to celebrate Christmas they became a family tradition and family traditions are tough to look at critically not to mention break.

So now a days just about everyone celebrates "Christmas". Even the Jewish family down the street and the agnostic at work. Everyone celebrates Christmas. But not everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus. So this is my thing - I don't have a problem with Joe Schmoe celebrating his brand of Christmas in this post-Modern America. Bring on the egg nog and Santa Claus. I do think it is a bit strange for someone who believes in the God of the Bible to celebrate the same brand of Christmas as Joe Schmoe. I think it is, well, confusing. I think everyone is confused - most of all our children. Even the Christians fighting the fight to keep the Christmas trees up at the mall are confused. What? Who cares if there is a Christmas tree up at the mall or if the check out girls says Merry Christmas? It does not effect the way I celebrate Christmas at all. My Christmas isn't about trees or a certain greeting. Are they trying to get a message out about Jesus? I think it would be a lot more effective to spend all the time and effort spent on the "keep Christ in Christmas" bumper stickers and do something that Jesus actually commanded us to do - like take care of people in need in a radical way - wouldn't that bring a lot more attention to Christmas?

So then there are the people who have the point of view that we should be able to celebrate both. What harm is there really? It's all in good fun and as long as we go to church and talk about baby Jesus all of our bases are covered. This is really what I have thought about a lot the past few years. This is my conclusion (need I say for this my personal conclusion and that of our family?): As a professing Christian and follower of Christ this day of "Christmas" has a very real significance to me. It is a day to truly celebrate what God did by sending his son to be born and begin the process of redemption and reconciliaton with him. Big deal. Huge. Not a bigger deal out there really. So if I take this holy day of celebration and start to add things to it I am taking the glory away from Him and putting it on things of this world. God has really laid a few things on my heart as I tried to sift through this and find the truth in it. The first are examples found in Luke 9 and Luke 15 that point to the clear supreme love that Christ demands of his followers. Nothing less is acceptable. Supremacy. Christ is clear about this and I don't see how this is different when it comes to Christmas. He wants all of our affection to be focused on him and not split with things of this world. 2. In Luke 19 when Jesus gets seriously fired up when he goes to the temple and sees the people selling things there. He wasn't too happy about people commercializing a holy place. Ouch. The commercialization part sound familiar?

So what do we do? I love all of the American Christmas traditions just as much as the next girl - I just wish we didn't celebrate them on a day that is supposed to celebrate Jesus. How can Christians reclaim Christmas and "keep Christ in Christmas" - well dare I say don't celebrate the commercial Christmas we are sold. I wonder what would happen if, instead of sitting around on Christmas morning giving gifts to people who have just as much as we do (in the spirit of giving of course), we actually gave away to people who don't have anything. I don't just mean an Angel Tree kid or throwing coins in a red bucket but giving to the least of these - people who have no hope, no food and no idea that there is a loving God who created them and wants to have a relationship with them. That is Christmas.

I will tell you that since I wrapped my heart and mind around all of these things this year it has absolutely been the best Christmas season ever. Everything was focused on Jesus. Anticipation and excitement have built over the past few weeks. It has honestly been fun! Everything has been worshipful and a joy. I haven't felt over stretched or over obligated. If it didn't feel right or fit in with a Christ centered Christmas celebration it wasn't on my radar. I've had lots of time to talk to out kids and get them excited and focused on Jesus' birthday. Believe it or not - they too were really excited about Christmas in a very pure and innocent way. It has been fantastic to see Claire light up and be thrilled about our family celebrations.

Everyone has to kind of wade through these tough issues in today's culture and I'm happy to say I really feel a tremendous amount of peace in this area. I have a peace that I have really sought God in this and wanted to do the thing that most glorified Him and I am thankful He has been faithful and shown me the way. So Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or what ever is appropriate in your particular home. I am comfortable with the fact that we are celebrating Christmas at our house this year.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A few of my favorite things

I've had a running list of some of my most favorite things lately and I thought I'd share them with you. The first one is this book (it is actually a series of 4 books) by Ella K. Lindvall called Read-Aloud Bible Stories. They are FANTASTIC! They have received many awards and I must say I can see why. Any mom who has spent a lot of time reading Bible stories to their kids knows the drill. I think the same person illustrates every book and the words are usually dumbed down short sentences that in an attempt to simplify a biblical truth end up making it kind of boring and uninteresting (at least after you have read them fifty times!). These books have really cool art work that is interesting and engaging (even for adults). The stories are told in a way that conveys the truth and is really understandable to a child without being insulting to their intelligence! At the end of each story there are a few questions about what you learned in the story. It really pulls it all together and helps with understanding the sometimes difficult concepts presented. Claire reads these at school and was thrilled when she saw that I had it at home. These are hard back books that will last through many children. They will be making the trip to Peru and beyond with us despite their hardback weight -they are worth it!

This handy dandy little gadget is affectionatley known as "The Lady" around here. My Dad received two as retirement (his most recent retirement, that is) gifts so he kindly passed one on to us. It has revolutionized my world. I have to tell you I am always lost. I always get confused and can't even tell what direction is where at sunset. My Dad was a pilot so he is always giving directions like "turn east" or "go north" and I look at him like he is speaking Japanese. Seriously, east and north? Now that I have the lady I always know where I am and can just punch in where I want to go and the Lady takes me right there. She is a good woman to me. She even tells me what restaurants are nearby. This is extremely hand on road trips. I just think I would like a strawberry limeade from Sonic punch an few buttons and the Lady takes me to the nearest Sonic. No more stopping at Wendy's when there is a Chic-fil-a at the next exit. She has helped me find post offices, museums and countless other locations. Thank you Lady. You are wonderful to me. My friends should be thankful for the Lady too (especially Stephanie) because without her I would still be trying to find your house.

This is a fun stationery company who does all kinds of fantastic announcements and cards. I got my Christmas cards here this year and I think they turned out wonderful! Of course they have lots of cool modern designs that still have a traditional edge to them but they made my favorites list for 2 other reasons. The first is when you are working on the page layout of your Christmas card there is a kind little reminder that an " 's " denotes possession so just adding an "s" to your last name is grammatically appropriate. Can I get an Amen? This is my biggest grammatical pet peeve (my other one is "alot" instead of "a lot") and I am so thankful for the people at Tiny Prints for taking a stand against the apostrophe! Thank you, thank you!
The second reason they made my list is well lets just pretend you are pregnant and are trying to decide on a baby name. You just need to see it and kind of try it on before you commit. Go to Tiny Prints. Pick out a lovely birth announcement and proceed to personalize it. In a few short seconds you are looking at a perfectly hypothetical birth announcement for your baby and you can see the name and feel it out. First of all how much fun! Second of all - very handy when you are trying to decide on a baby name. Very fun.


OK, I stole this from my sister-in-law. If you have a little boy this will be the cutest, most functional, best investment piece of clothing you can buy. These green corduroy longalls are just about the most perfect thing for a little boy and I'll tell you why. First you find pair like these pictured above on my little cutie (who loves to brush his hair). They are by Little English in a wonderful mossy green color that works great with lots of colors. The key is the tone on tone monogram that adds that cute personalized touch but doesn't hem you in on what shirts coordinate. You start as soon as it is "corduroy weather" maybe late September in these parts. You pair them with a short sleeve shirt in either white or navy blue you can go with this until October when you switch to an orange shirt which is perfect for a trip to the pumpkin patch. You can wear this through November (you can throw a white shirt or navy shirt in the mix too in the mean time) then in December you switch to a red shirt for instant holiday cheer. From January through then end of cord season you can go back to white and navy. I love look of the navy shirt with the green corduroy and blue saddle oxfords - precious! I hate that the only picture I have of them is with the white because it is the plainest of all the combinations but it is still cute. Use your imagination for the other colors . . .

I've mentioned Community Bible Study on my blog before but it deserves a spot on my favorites list. The only thing I don't like about CBS is the fact that I've only done it for 2 years! If you have never done a Bible study (or never studied the Bible at all for that matter) this is a wonderful place to start. I have made some precious friends and have just so enjoyed the time I have spent investing in the study and the ministry.

The time is divided each week (2 hours) between an opening that includes singing and a short talk or testimony by someone then you go to your small group where you have wonderful fellowship and discussion of the questions/lesson from that week. Then you go back to the big gathering of everyone for a lecture on that week's lesson. During the week you have a daily lesson that consists of questions on that week's scripture. They have devised a wonderful system of study so that you go through the material 4 different times and ways which is really effective. Last year we did Genesis (which was amazing) and this year we have done Job, Galatians and just started Hebrews. You can check on their website to see if a CBS meets in your area. They are a non-denomenational ministry that meets at local churches but is not affiliated with them.

The shining star of CBS is the incredible children's ministry. It is just fantastic and one of the things I will miss the most for my kids when we are overseas. They have a wonderful curriculum that is the most effective at teaching young kids the Bible that I have ever seen. One reason for this is that they start with "Baby CBS" at one year old and go from there. It is fantastic and the kids really, really learn. It is amazing. I have a song list that they use that is so wonderful! I'm going to try to get it up here one day to share because it will bless you like it has me and my family.

Well, I'm sure I have lots of other favorite things but these are just a few I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Last week Rhett and I took our very first "Mommy & Daddy" trip and went to New Orleans for a few days. It was fantastically wonderful. We didn't even turn the radio on for the 5 hour drive from Birmingham. We just talked and talked about politics, theology, the kids . . . you name it. We basically just caught up. It was really nice. We did learn that if you stop to eat in Mississippi and you want to eat in a non-smoking section you have to ask for really non-smoking in order to actually not be seating in an area where you choke on smoke (that is what the hostess at Cracker Barrel told us as she lead us to a really non-smoking table). The other interesting thing on the way down there was the FEMA trailer graveyard somewhere outside of New Orleans. There were THOUSANDS of those white trailers parked on the side of the interstate. It looked like Talladega race weekend times a thousand. I would hate to be the person who had to clean those things out. Anyway, we finally got there and saw this . . .

A beautiful drive across the bridge to the city. We settled into our hotel, The Monteleone, and got ready for a quick glance around the French Quarter and our first of many awesome meals. It was so easy just getting myself ready for a change. I took a really, really long bath and took a really deep breath that has been three years in the making. Ahhh. Relaxation. We went to dinner at a place that was recommended to us by several people who are from or live in New Orleans . . .
From the outside you would think this was a meat and three type establishment but as soon as you walk in you can just tell by the understated elegance that this place is going to be good. We knew when we saw James Carville sitting by the front door when we walked in that we were in a good spot and it did not disappoint. I had lobster and mushroom risotto that was off the charts. Rhett had trout that he said ranked in his top three meals of all time. Can you tell we liked it? We topped everything off with a slice of frozen lemon ice box pie.
Rhett and I love history and interesting tourist destinations. We have learned that when you are in a new place for a very limited amount of time it is usually better to do a tour than just walk around and try to manage on your own. We did not sign up for a bus tour and follow around some lady holding an umbrella but we did find some cool walking tours that we took advantage of. One was of the Garden District and one of the cemeteries. It was lead by a cultural anthropologist who knew so much about the rich history of the area. We really enjoyed it. The houses were beautiful but I really enjoyed the cemetery part of the tour. I've wanted to go on one since I saw Double Jeopardy a long time ago. It turns out that scene in the movie was filmed in this very cemetery! There was a huge infectious disease component to the history of the city. Rhett and I both thought it was interesting to hear about that. Lesson learned: yellow fever . . . very bad. Not a way I'd choose to go.

Anyway, after a street car ride down St. Charles Ave. our day was complete and we got ready for our next big meal at a French restaurant called Restaurant August. It was very fancy and very French. We enjoyed being somewhere that was so outside of our normal life. I thought it was funny when as we sit in this fancy-smancy French resturant munching on freshly baked bread Rhett looked at me and said, "What does it say about me that the best bread I've had this week was at the Olive Garden?". (You have to admit those freshly defrosted breadsticks are yummy!). The thing with French restaurants is when reading the menu they will have me except for one ingredient that I'm just not sure about. Like it all sounds good except for the goose liver or braised pork belly or roasted marrow. Not exactly the type of establishment where you can ask to leave things off (wouldn't want to offend the chef) so you just have to go with it and not think about it. I had speckled trout prepared three different ways that was fantastic and Rhett had lamb. It was a fun night for us.
The next morning we went to Cafe du Monde and had bingets, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee for Rhett and hot chocolate for me. YUM! A great substitute for Krispy Kreme! I loved sitting outside and sipping my hot chocolate watching the sights of the city around us. We then went on a walking tour of the French Quarter. A lovely older French woman lead the tour (just us and a lady from Ireland) her accent really added to the ambiance of walking through the quarter and stopping in the beautiful courtyards. We grabbed a po boy for a late lunch and then hit the road back to Birmingham.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first day in 3 years that I haven't changed a diaper and all of the uninterrupted adult conversations that Rhett and I were able to have. It was a great belated celebration of our first 5 years of marriage. We are looking forward to another trip to New Orleans sooner rather than later. I really fell in love with the city - the culture, food and history. It is a real gem. I was reminded of Haiti several times with the architecture in the French quarter. It felt familiar. This may be the last time we have Mommy/Daddy time for a while so it was really special.
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Thanksgiving in Pictures

Claire and Ford with Ama and Pa Pa in Athens before our yummy meal at the Georgia Club!
Ford checking out new cousin Graham. He was quite interested in him until he saw his Momma holding him - after that he didn't think he was that cool.
Claire and Mac playing in the woods in Dalton.
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Friday, December 05, 2008

excuses, excuses

There has been a lot going on lately and I've composed no less than three blog posts (in my mind anyway) since Thanksgiving week and have not managed to get a single one published. Various reasons - techical difficulties (a missing cord) and a busy travel schedule between visits to Athens and Dalton for Thanksgiving and then an immediate turn around for our trip to New Orleans. But more than anything else here is why I haven't gotten caught up yet . . .
This is what I found when I returned from the basement this morning (where I was starting #1 out of 8 loads of laundry I plan to wash today). My precious little boy has discovered how to open drawers and remove all clothing after which he carefully closes each drawer. You can see the damage done in 10 minutes. So little clean up jobs like these have taken away any "extra" time I might have to get all of those fun posts done. As I speak he is walking (yes walking!) into the kitchen emptying my purse one item at a time into the trash can. He just walked in with a $5 bill - gotta go!
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