Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Happened to Christmas

I started the month planning to blog every day. Instead, I worked like Santa's elf, trying desperately to finish Aurora's stocking by Christmas Eve.

Somehow I managed to finish both my Christmas shopping and Aurora's stocking just in the nick of time.

It did mean giving up certain things that were on my list of to-dos this season, such as taking pictures of a Christmas Tree Farm, driving around looking at lights, heading out one more time to the Grove for some Christmas ambience. I'll survive. And there is always the possibility of doing a few of those things this week.

On the last week before Christmas I realized I had hadn't crossed off as many loved ones from my "nice" list as I thought. Knowing my limitations, I decided to hit the stores each night and get one person taken care of at a time. On the plus side, I got to enjoy some of the Christmas lights that I might have otherwise missed.

We did manage to make it to my brother's annual Christmas party. And to Old Orange on the Sunday before Christmas.

It wouldn't be Christmas without Christmas Eve Service where candles are lit and Silent Night is sung right before midnight.

And as we walk outside to greet Christmas morning, "snow" falls in Southern California.

It is always my most favorite part of Christmas.

After a short winter's nap, the morning begins with another favorite part of Christmas...digging into our stockings.

Then into the living room to open presents.

It's enough to make anyone feel like a child.

If that doesn't do it, playing a game of Hungry Hippos will do the trick.

The only thing that would have made the day better would have been having Matthew, Ashley, Maximus and Aurora there to share the memories.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Tenth

December 10 marks for me that point in the month where I desperately want things to slow down. There are only 15 more days of celebration, of Christmas music, of tidings of joy, of red and green trim in the stores.

Today was no different. As the day wound down, I felt that I should go somewhere, do something in celebration. But there is a house to straighten up and a stocking to be finished. I told myself that tomorrow I'll do something. Maybe I'll stop to see some lights, have a cup of Starbucks as Christmas music fills the coffee shop, maybe I'll make some Christmas cookies, maybe I'll head to the North Pole.

Maybe I'll head to someplace Christmasy, like the Grove and wander around, breathing in the cool air, taking pictures of the light.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Stockings Were Hung

One of my favorite memories of Christmas as a child was waking up on Christmas morning and seeing our stockings filled with goodies. Coloring books, crayons and Christmas candy was enough to make a little girl's heart jump for joy.

After we moved to Puerto Rico, the tradition of stockings ended for our family. I was never sure why. Probably that first year was too overwhelming for my mom and dad and there were no chimney's to be had in Puerto Rico so there was no place to hang stockings.

Still my heart longed for the magic. One reason why the stockings were so special to me was that our presents from Santa always arrived early. Several times we would ask why our gifts didn't come on Christmas Eve and we were told that Santa had too many presents to deliver all in one night.

On one hand, it was fun to see the gifts suddenly appear and to have days dreaming and wondering about what was inside, but on the other hand unless there was a big special gift, such as a bike, there was a little bit of magic missing. The filled stockings made it apparent that Santa came to our house on Christmas Eve, just like all the others.

When Matthew was born, I was determined that he would experience that magic so I made him a stock, cross-stitching it carefully. I did the same for Brie after she was born too. They seemed to love the filled stockings just as much as I did. They still do.

The number of stockings by our fireplace grew after Vic came home one Christmas and put a ratty sock of his up after we got back from Christmas Eve service. The next year, mom bought him a real stocking of his own. Not to be outdone, the following year, I got mom a stocking, putting it out on Christmas Eve filled with little items such as post-it notes, pens and DVDs. She excitedly exclaimed that it was the first stocking she ever had. The next year, there was a stocking for me. When Ashley joined our family, we added another one for her.

Much to my delight, after Maximus was born, I mentioned something about making him a stocking and Matthew happily said that he was wondering if I was going to make him one. I must confess, I forgot how much work they were and didn't finish Max's until two days AFTER Christmas. With Aurora's arrival, I've been busy working on hers. The kids keep asking me if I'm going to be finished in time. Oh, yes, I will.

It looks like we're going to need a bigger mantle...or smaller stockings.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On the Fifth Day

One of the reasons I love December so much is that this is my birthday month. When I was little I used to wish that I had been born on Christmas Day. Why not? Celebrate my birthday along with Jesus AND get twice as many birthday presents. As I grew older, I was surprised to learn that most people who have a birthday on Christmas feel short-changed, as a matter of fact, most people who have their birthday in December feel short-changed.

I was never made to feel that way. Even though my brother, Greg's, birthday was just days away from mine, we were never given combination celebrations or given the birthday/Christmas present present. My day was always special...well except for college when my birthday always fell on finals week so I had to wait to celebrate with friends until the last final was in the books.

But, otherwise, I loved that my birthday was mixed with the festivities of Christmas. Added to that is the fact that December in California is generally a very beautiful month. The morning air is cool and crisp, the skies are usually blue. If the rain comes, it's usually for a day or two, making for beautiful blue skies afterwards.

For me, this is a special birthday. After all the struggles of the past few months, I'm especially happy to celebrate this birthday. Sure I had to work, but I was able to work from home. Most importantly, I'm able to enjoy life again.

At lunchtime, I found myself at the DMV, having received a renewal notice in the mail in early October advising me that I needed to renew my license in person because they wanted an updated photo and my thumbprint. At the time I received the notice and for days after, I was in no condition to even think about the process so I postponed making my appointment. Suddenly it was now or never. The thought did cross my mind to just go another day, but I was afraid that going late would require me to take a written test, which I did not want to study for.

So there I stood in the long line of idiots who didn't make an appointment, hoping for the best. Thankfully, the wait time wasn't long and I was back home, at work in less than an hour and a half.  While I was there, I snapped this photo. Would have taken more, but I forgot my phone wasn't on silent and when camera snapped, the man sitting on the chair closest to me, quickly looked up and kept looking in my direction. My number was called while I was waiting for him to calm down so that was that.

After work, Brie and I went to get our nails done. I opted for a snowflake look which I was so happy with.

In between it all I felt so blessed with text messages, Facebook posts, phone calls and Instagram messages from family and friends who sent their love and well wishes. I was especially touched to have so many of Brie's friends sending me love.

After a lovely dinner with mom, Brie and I headed off to the store to shop for a special friend who has a birthday tomorrow. When we got back home, Brie and I went to the mirror to confirm what I had suspected...over the last few months, I've shrunk about three inches.

I am now officially, a little old lady :)

Happy birthday to me!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Third

It's December third. The interior of the house is decorated, the tree is up and the first batch of Christmas cookies have been baked. This is the time when I feel like I'm teetering on the edge. I've been slowly chipping away at my nice list, but haven't wrapped a single gift.

It's now when I want time to both pass so we can get to Christmas eve service and slow down so I can make the magic last. The reality is, it doesn't matter what I want, time keeps passing. The day is over and I take stock at what I've done and in many ways it wasn't enough. I know once again, I came up short.

Today the Christmas devotional that I was reading referenced Luke 1:13-18 where Gabriel appears before Zechariah and tells him that God heard the prayers of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth and that they would be blessed with a son. For years, Zechariah and his wife prayed, asking for a child and now the answer was yes.

Zechariah responds by questioning whether this could be true. Isn't that like us? We pray asking God for favor. And yet when he answers, we don't believe. It's a little crazy when you think about it. We can pray for years for a miracle. Why? Because we know that God has the power to make it so. We have faith and hope, but even after we experience other miracles and other evidence of God's power, we still doubt.

I believe. I believe that a Savior was born. I believe he was the Lamb of God, our mighty counselor. I believe he died and rose again. I believe he died for me and for you, whoever may be reading this. I believe he cares for each one of us.

I believe that God has the power to heal my mouth sores and make it so that they don't come back again. I believe God can heal me completely. I believe that tomorrow, I can get up out of bed, my back straight and strong. I ask this of him every day. Why? Because I know that one day, my angel may appear to me and tell me that God has heard my prayers. And when that happens, I pray that I simply fall upon my knees, praising God.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

O Come All Ye Faithful

As a Christian, it is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could celebrate Christmas without being a believer in Christ. It may be wrong, but I've not had an issue with the whole Santa thing. I have had an issue with the whole "holiday" thing. 

I understand that there are those who sadly don't believe in God or in Jesus as the son of God so it would be much to expect them to understand. Church this time of year because even more special. Singing Christmas songs with the rest of the congregation, lighting advent candles, anticipating the arrival of a baby boy who would become our salvation is what makes Christmas all that it is. 

It is important to me to find a gift that is worthy of God. Every year, I fall short of this goal. Here it is the night of the 2nd of December and I'm totally clueless as to what I can give as a gift. Yes, there are the feel good deeds, giving to the Salvation Army, selecting a name or two from the Christmas Tree, serving a meal at the homeless shelter, but it just doesn't seem enough. 

This year, I want to be like the magi, relentless in my search for God. Giving everything I have to find Jesus and bringing the best of what I have as a gift. I have 22 more days to figure out what that is. I have a star to follow and a gift to give. And while I celebrate Christmas, I don't want lose sight of that.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fa la la la la

One of the local radio stations plays non-stop Christmas music a week before Thanksgiving all the way up to Christmas day. You'll never hear any complaint from me. I love Christmas music, especially of the Christian nature.

O Holy Night

Silent Night

Away in the Manger

Mary Did You Know

What Child is This

I am a bit picky about my Christmas music. I love the old classics sung by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat Cole, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby. I also love the renditions by the current Christian bands, such as Third Day, Mercy Me and Casting Crowns. Both Trisha Yearwood and Kathy Mattea have Christmas albums that I listen to over and over again. I also love carols, such as Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I love driving around with Christmas music playing on the radio. Last year Christmas Eve, the day was perfect for the top to be down. I had Christmas music blaring on the radio as the air whipped around me. It was as close to a one-horse open sleigh as I had ever come. I could have driven all day just soaking up the feeling.

As the season begins, I feel like I can't get enough of Christmas music and as the days grow closer to Christmas, it's hard to imagine that it will all come to an end. It makes me sad when the music stops on Christmas night so I continue to play Christmas music on my iPod until the New Year. And somehow by then I'm ready to let go until next year.

On this first day of December, it made me happy to drive to Palm Desert to visit the kids, Christmas music playing on the radio. Over three hours there and back, singing along to Christmas music. It was a perfect start to the month. I'm hoping and praying that the next 24 days are equally as festive.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Trimming the Tree

Growing up, a real tree was a must. The year we moved to Puerto Rico, my parents bought one of those silver tinsel trees which was better than nothing, but was no substitute for the real thing. It was straight out a Charlie Brown Christmas. Not the tree that Charlie Brown picked out, but one of those gaudy ones that the rest of the gang wanted him to get. 

In our house, my mom or dad would turn on the Christmas tree lights in the morning. It was so wonderful walking into the living room, half asleep, the lights twinkling in the early morning. It made getting up for school those last few weeks before Christmas vacation very easy to do. I would hurriedly get dressed and eat breakfast so I could spend some time, draping tinsel carefully over the green branches. Such wonderful memories. They always come back to me at the start of the Christmas season. 

I hope we always can get a real tree because the fragrance of the pine makes it so special.  I love how it fills the hallway as I make way downstairs. Even now I still turn on the lights in the morning. The lights in the morning are almost more magical to me than the lights at night. 

For many years, we would buy a tree that was still bound with twine because it was easier to get home and into the tree stand. There was that moment when we would unwind the twine, not sure if the tree would be lopsided or barren on one side. Somehow we always got lucky.

This year, we got the tree a little earlier than normal. We usually get it the first weekend of December, but one of Brie's friend's dad offered to help us get the tree. I could have cried. Brie and Sierra spent quickly got the lights up and Brie spent some time today adding bulbs and ornaments. 

I wasn't really sure how I was going to get the house decorated and somehow it's coming together. 

It's going to be a good Christmas.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finding Joy

I love the Christmas season. I love almost everything about it...

The colors whether they be red and white, blue and silver, gold and green,

The lights, inside the house and outside,


The fragrance of the tree, fireplaces, apple cider and baked goods fresh out of the oven,

Baking cookies, a different kind every week,

Giving of gifts,

The excitement in the air

Christmas carols,

Christmas eve service,

The birth of a Savior.

I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it this year. But thanks to Brie and her friends, the house is almost all decorated and the tree is up. I'm finding joy that I didn't expect.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's a Long Story

It's amazing how quickly life can turn around and how long it can take to get it right again. Not too long ago, I was asked to share what was the best thing that happened in 2012. My answer easily was June. Brie graduated, Aurora was born and we went to Italy where I felt the need to pinch myself on a daily basis. 

By the end of July, it was as if June had never happened. August slipped into September, September into October, October into November. I felt helpless. At times, even hopeless. Those were my low points. 

After months of just feeling like I was hanging on, for the past few days, I have finally been feeling like my old self. Today, I felt hungry. I mean really hungry. Hungry for food. Hungry for life. 

And I've finally been taking pictures again. I mean, really taking pictures. Excited about the light. Excited about the things I see. I even managed to get down on the ground today and take a picture. I even managed to get back up. Just a few of the photos I took over the past two days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Second Best Thing about Siena

I won't go into the story of how I was called tonto by an exceedingly rude cashier at the Cathedral of all places. What we had was a failure to communicate. What she had was the typical Italian temper. What I had was the right to defend myself as I angrily told her that I was not stupid, but she just wasn't listening to me.

We did ultimately make our way into the Cathedral which was exceedingly beautiful. The heat of the day, however, was taking its toll and it was time to do something about it...which meant it was time for our daily dose of gelato!!

We ended up at a gelato shop overlooking the Piazza and what a treat it was. They had a little balcony which we took full advantage of the picture opportunity it lent us. Just like sitting out on the Piazza, there was something magical about overlooking it from above.

We could have stayed on the balcony forever, except that there was another family waiting for their opportunity to take some pictures out there so we had to be consideration and share. It's so cool how the view changes from another vantage point.

Then as we were leaving, I had the inspiration to get some pictures of the girls on the balcony from down on the Piazza.

So much fun! Too bad we had to walk back to the car.

The gelato helped, but we were still hot and tired as evidenced by this photo in which the girls and I were taking pictures of ourselves in the traffic mirror and you can see Liz finding a place to rest.

I believe I mentioned hiring a taxi and no one protested. Instead we found the bus station and someone who was willing to tell us what to do. We were supposed to buy our bus tickets from a local shop before we got on the bus. And just like that we made our way back to the car. Even better was the easy drive back to the villa. Much, much better than Pisa...except for the part where I was called tonto.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I had never heard of Siena until a few years ago. A couple in my bible study group mentioned they had been to Italy several times and Siena was their favorite place there. Afraid of a big let down, such as Pisa, I decided not to have any expectations.

Getting there was easy enough. It was a a little further than Florence, but not as far as Pisa which was a big positive. Like all the other cities we had been to, I parked at the very first lot I found and once again, we found ourselves walking in the direction of the "Centro". Just in case, I took some landmark photos of our surroundings. I wasn't going to take any chances of a repeat of Pisa.

Not a block away, we saw a bus stop and for some reason, I found myself suggesting that we catch a bus.

It was the weirdest ride ever. No one would look at us or talk to us. Including the bus driver and the three riders we asked about how to pay. It was as if we had the plague. So we rode on the bus like a bunch of bozos looking for a sign that would indicate it was time to get off. After about 10 minutes, the road we were on, began to look like the onset of a city and finally up ahead was what appeared to be a very old entrance to the city.

This had to be it. Not sure how close the bus would stop, we got off several blocks before the actual structure. No worries, we needed to find a pharmacy and post office, not necessarily in that order.

First up, a pharmacy where mosquito repellent was needed. Liz and the girls were beginning to get eaten alive and were desperate for some relief from those pesky things. After buying some repellent and cortisone lotion, we continued up the street and ran into the ufficio postale.

Things were looking up! Things as first were not as expected once we passed through the arches of the structure. I don't know what I was expecting, but this wasn't quite it. The buildings were beautiful, but there wasn't much around. We continued to walk forward.

Although the streets were a bit desolate, it didn't have the same feeling of oppression as I felt in Pisa.

By this time it was mid-day and the heat was rising. But the beauty of our surroundings made it easy to overlook the discomfort.

Slowly the scenery began to change and we began to see more signs of activity.

And suddenly we came upon the Piazza del Campo, the most beautiful piazza I had ever seen.

After a mediocre lunch in the Piazza, we explored the surroundings. While the girls and Liz checked out a few stores, I plopped myself down on the cobblestone and just enjoyed the moment.

It's a moment I will not forget. It's one of my most favorite moments of the whole trip. Just sitting there, like I belonged, taking in the surroundings, watching a few others who were sitting too. Some were sitting there talking, some writing, some sketching. It's a moment I wished I could make last forever.

This was my moment.

If I would have spent the rest of my afternoon there, I would have been happy, but I knew we had come to see more than the Piazza so after some more photos, we ventured out to find the Duomo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to Florence

In part because we loved Florence so much and in part because after what we experienced in Pisa we felt tentative about heading to the unknown, we decided another day trip to Florence was in order.

Our drive was uneventful and it was good to head out as though we lived there forever. It was just what the doctor ordered. Since the girls missed out on climbing to the very top of the Duomo and Liz wanted to go inside the Cathedral, we started off there first. While they did this, I wandered about the area by myself, taking pictures to my heart's content.

The fashion in Italy, especially Florence was lovely. A girl could go broke!

The bell on this bike caught my fancy so I came in close for a shot. 

As I was walking away, this gentleman walked up to the bike and asked me laughingly in an Italian English accent, if I liked his bike. I laughed, why, yes, I did and as I walked away, I turned back and got a shot of him. Wished I had taken it from the front. He was quite dapper.

The green and red here caught my eye.

And even more bikes.

A self portrait as I window shopped.

We decided to check out the Ufizzi because we wanted to see Michelangelo's David. There was a line to get into the museum, but we felt the David would be worth the wait. While there, I ended up talking to two American women, sharing our experience. I must admit, it was a little fun hearing the admiration in their voice when I told them that we had rented a Tuscany...and I was driving us around the country.

I might know how to get to Florence, but I didn't know that the David is not housed at the Ufizzi so we were a bit disappointed after we finally got into the museum. The art work was beautiful, but we weren't allowed to take pictures like we were in the Louvre. Boo!!

However, we did make our way to the cafe area of the museum and found a lovely rooftop area where we could get some more pictures in.

By the time we finished exploring the museum, we were happy, but tired. We stopped to rest our feet and fill our stomachs with gelato on the Ponte Vecchio before we made the hike back to our car.

What a huge difference it was walking back to our car when we knew exactly where it was. Even though we were tired and it was about a 20 minute walk to the car, it was a lighthearted, happy walk back.

Made a little longer as we stopped for even more pictures along the way :)