Gentle November

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allows us to glory in the colors of Autumn, the Earth’s brightest smile. I love November! 

November is when we take a breath; we relax and focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy. As a child, I loved this time of year. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and we enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November isn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday. It is such an unassuming and gentle holiday; Thanksgiving is when I focus on the things I cherish…on gratitude for good food, wonderful friends, precious family, and yummy food. 

I bask in my “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving memories. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  

During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  

November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down; there is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I bake loaves of bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Many of my friends already have their homes decorated for Christmas. I respect everyone’s right to do what feels right for them, but I refuse to sacrifice this time that allows me to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my November. 

Seeking Gratitude

I live in south Georgia in a county with coastal waters; the Governor has declared our county in a State of Emergency ahead of Hurricane Dorian.  Hurricanes are not unfamiliar, we have faced Matthew and Irma in the last few years, but no matter how often, I always feel anxious.  

Today we are praying and preparing as Dorian heads our way.  The “cone of uncertainty” is so frustrating and seems designed to add to my stress…Should we evacuate? Should we stockpile water and ice? Should we believe it is going to miss us?  We have no answers, and I hate feeling out of control.

So, within this stress, I try to tap into my gratitude.  Today, I realized I was grateful for so many things I take for granted:

  • Having a husband who is my partner.
  • My son and his wife, who live just a few minutes away.
  • My freezer is full of food and I worry about losing the food in the freezer if the power goes out. How can I not feel blessed to have “extra” food to keep in a freezer? 
  • Being forced to clean out the refrigerator and the pantry; if we lose power, there will be fewer things to spoil.  As I do so, I think about families who go to bed hungry at night worrying about finding the next meal.
  • Water!  I am busy stockpiling water. Staying hydrated is one of my daily health challenges.  Today, my gratitude is great; so many people in the world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and here I am stacking up a tower of bottled water.
  • Transportation…We always have “Clean the garage” on the To Do list; now we have to do it to make room for our cars. This reminds me that I am so grateful to have two cars that need to be moved into the garage! 
  • I am dreading the possible loss of power; it gets HOT here in the deep South.  Yet, today I realize I must be grateful that I have air conditioning to lose! 
  • Seeing the good in people; when faced with adversity, people step up to help neighbors. So many friends and family have already reached out to offer us shelter if needed. I am richly blessed.
  • Our first responders and linemen are already cueing up to help anyone in need. They leave their families to help others under the worst conditions.  

Yes indeed, I am richly blessed. There are so many things that aren’t on this list, but it is a good start. One thing I know for sure is that keeping a grateful mindset attracts joy!  So for today I choose gratitude. What are you feeling grateful for today? 

A New Chapter

Back-to-School is always so bittersweet. I can barely sleep the night before because I am so excited to meet my new flock of students, but when the alarm goes off at “zero dark thirty”, I groan and wonder why I put myself through this.

Why do I put myself through this? Easy…27 or so fresh young faces looking at me expectantly…eager to learn, excited to explore, wondering what this year will bring.

This time of year can be sooooo hectic … there is so much to organize and somehow administrators always take time away from us for meetings. There is so much to do in the classrooms; that’s why the school parking lot is full of cars even before school opens…they are all busy trying to get classroom bulletin boards displayed, name tags on desks, welcoming hallway decorations in place.

Over my long career, I managed to put together some items that I am sharing with teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers at my Chalk Dust and Dreams Back to School Store. Check them out!

Black Friday…good name!

I blogged about the fact that for many the Christmas season now begins the day after Halloween.  Today, I am reflecting on the fact that Black Friday is certainly a dark day… “black” indeed. 

My children work in retail. Today is Thanksgiving, but I will not be sitting down to a lovely meal with my family.  No, my children have to leave at noon to get to their retail establishments because the shopping frenzy begins at 2:00 p.m.

Why? Because Black Friday is no longer a day; it has spread like a vicious virus into a week, perhaps even a month. Black FRIDAY begins at 2:00 p.m. on THURSDAY.  This gentle holiday of thanksgiving has morphed into a day of unmitigated greed.  

Are people sitting around the table lingering over coffee and pie, chatting and reminiscing?  Why no!  We are frantically focused on our Smartphones checking shopping apps for alerts that let us know where the best deals will be.  What next?  A race to the mall to fight the crowds, run up credit card bills, and load up on more “stuff”.  

Today was meant to be a day that families revel in each other, celebrate life, create wonderful memories, and reflect on life’s blessings.  So, when making the decision to race away from your family to run to the stores, think about the fact that life is so short.  When we find ourselves at the end of life, I promise we don’t think about how lucky we are to have accumulated a lot of stuff.  In that moment, it is about family and friends.  

I will NOT be in the stores today or even tomorrow.  I will be home snuggled up in front of the fire sipping a cup of apple cider. For my family, friends, and the gifts of the Earth, I give thanks. 

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

To everything there is a season…

aut12_pileofleavesAs a child, I would get so excited for Halloween; costumes, candy, how can it get any better?  I would look forward to this one night for a month!  The month of October was a blur of excitement! This same pattern would repeat itself for the entire month of December. What child doesn’t love all the excitement of Christmas? The month of December raced by! Leading up to the big day there were Advent calendars, cookie exchanges, gift shopping, gift wrapping, tree trimming, enchanting store windows, and finally Midnight Mass.  Basically, December was another blur!

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allowed us to glory in the Earth’s brightest smile. November is when we all took a breath; we relaxed and focused on gratitude and the blessings we enjoyed. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and went enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November wasn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday; it is all about food and friends and family.  It is calm. There is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

Somehow, we seem to have lost Thanksgiving.  Christmas decorations show up in the stores before Halloween.  Christmas music is played all day everyday beginning November 1 and Christmas movies are on every channel.  By the 2nd of November, my Facebook and Instagram accounts are filled with pictures of Christmas trees that are twinkling in my friends’ living rooms. And then there are the teacher accounts…teachers bemoaning the fact that though it is only November 3rd, the Christmas frenzy behavior has already begun.  And why wouldn’t it?  Everywhere children go, all they see and hear is Christmas.  Not the religious meaning of the holiday, but the glitz, glamor, and greed.

So, yes, I miss the “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down, so why do we race into December and all the “crazy” that seems to go with it?

Let me say again, I refuse to ignore Thanksgiving.  I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I make bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Will I enjoy Christmas?  Absolutely, but I refuse to sacrifice this time to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my November. 

Holiday Lights: More than just Twinkle!

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 4.37.56 PMWhat is it about the lights? At this time of year, I love driving around the streets to see the holiday light displays.  The minute I wake up in the morning, I turn on the Christmas tree lights and the lights across the mantle above the fireplace.  My house is filled with candles that flicker during these long winter nights. I can sit in a trance for hours in front of the fireplace watching until the last ember dies. Yes, I admit it; I am a light junkie.

Lights can brighten even the darkest times in our lives; they have always figured into human history. Our ancestors lit candles and fires to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Today, candles and lights play an important role in Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Lights, twinkling like stars, remind us that we are part of the Universal Spirit; they remind us to find ways to light the world around us, bringing joy to others.

As I enjoy the Christmas lights scattered across my community and throughout my home, I realize that each light flickers to remind me of treasured past memories, but also with the promise of precious memories still to come. And so today, as I sit sipping hot chocolate by the fire, I can’t help glancing at the twinking Christmas tree lights. They remind me to think about those who are gone, of their love for me and mine for them. But I am also mindful of how blessed I am to be surrounded by loving family and friends and of the wonderful memories we will continue to make together.  So thank you all for being the light in my life; my days are brighter because of you. Merry Christmas! I love you.

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part III

dec10_button1Holidays can be expensive, and most of us have to be cautious about what we spend. I know I’m not the only person out there who is bothered by the commercialism of Christmas. My goodness, the Christmas “season” is in stores before Halloween and “Black Friday” has become “Black Week” followed by “Cyber Monday”, which is now followed by “Green Monday”.  Yes indeed, corporate America is encouraging us to spend, spend, spend. Our children are watching endless toy commercials on TV, the radio, and social media.  Greed is running rampant; how many times have you been in a store and witnessed a child crying and having a melt down because, “I want…”. You can fill in the blank.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to cut corners financially while keeping the true meaning of the Holidays front and center for my family. In my mind, the truth behind Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa is all the same: Faith ~ Family ~ Friends ~ Fun. When my children become adults, I want them to look back on their childhood Christmases and remember these core values

I spend time each year thinking about how to balance giving and getting. My belief is that when children “get”, they learn entitlement; when children “give”, they learn generosity. One of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that the greatest, most precious gifts come to us when we GIVE. The story of Christ begins with an act of  giving; we are taught that God gave us the gift of his Son. Soon after His birth, the Wise Men came bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Indeed, the joy of giving is a life lesson that we can begin teaching even our youngest children.

So many of us are busy working moms and dads. As a result, one of the most precious things we can give is our TIME.  Time spent together is what creates the memories we carry with us for a lifetime.  I promise that twenty years from now, your children will not look back on the 2017 holiday season and remember that the tree skirt matched the color theme of the room perfectly. And even though they have begged for it endlessly since October, they probably won’t remember that they got that Star Wars toy either.

They will remember that they had fun spending time in the kitchen baking cookies, snuggled on the couch reading with you, making homemade cards, secretly delivering batches of cookies to the neighbors or caroling at a nursing home.  Take a moment and think back on your own memories.  What stands out? See, I’m right…you remember TIME too, don’t you?  Anyway, I have decided to focus on giving and I’m doing that by spending TIME on the traditions that don’t cost a lot.  Here are some suggestions:

~ spend a quiet afternoon baking and decorating Christmas cookies with your child/ren.  Even your youngest toddlers can help in small ways.

~ make some homemade gift wrap; again, let kids use markers, crayons, colored pencils, or even paint and potato stamps to decorate plain paper.  Will you have the most elegant tree on the block?  Probably not, but your child/ren will have a wonderful memory to store away.  Remember, Beautiful House magazine is not coming to take pictures at your house.

~ ask your child/ren to spend an afternoon going through the toys and outgrown clothes.  You may find things to donate to a woman’s shelter, a foster program, or a church that supports needy families.  Focus on the joy that comes from giving.

~ get together with friends and neighbors.  Plan an evening of Christmas caroling.  Take the carolers to a nursing home, the local hospital, or just around the neighborhood.

~ remember, it is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive.  Even Santa is feeling the recession and learning about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING!  Managing finances responsibly is an important life lesson we must teach our children.

~ if you live where it snows, build a snowman; if you live at the beach, build a snowman out of sand!

~ visit the local library to check out some Christmas books; bedtime stories are such a positive bonding activity for you and your child/ren.

~ let your child/ren decorate some pretty stationary and then write a thank you letter to a soldier or first responder.

~ make homemade ornaments to decorate the tree, string popcorn, cranberries, make paper chains.  All of these are fun and keep little hands busy.

~ make homemade Christmas cards for grandparents; they will treasure them!

~ snuggle up with the book or movie, The Polar Express.  When you finish the story,  go to the kitchen for some hot chocolate and have a jingle bell waiting there with a pretty red bow.

~ cut paper snowflakes to decorate the home, porch, windows.

~ watch a favorite holiday film as a family.  We love Elf. Which is your favorite?

~ plan snacks for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer.  What will they eat? Where should the snacks be placed?

~ make photo props for the family to use in pictures this holiday season. Use words like JOY, FAMILY, HO HO HO, MERRY…

~ pile the whole family into the car and drive around the neighborhood enjoying all the festive Christmas lights.

You get the idea…Each of these ideas means TIME spent with your child.  TIME is one of the most precious gifts of all.  Trust me, childhood goes by so quickly.  You and your child will treasure these memories of simple fun.

These are just a few ideas.  I know you will have some of your own. I’d love for you to send along a comment letting me know some traditions you and your family share.  MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!