Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Tree Outing

For the second year in a row, our family journeyed to the Neiman Tree Farm to pick out our Christmas tree. The four of us meandered through the rows and rows of beautiful Fraser Firs looking for just the right tree to catch all our eyes. That four of us, (Mom, Dad, son, and daughter) could agree on a single tree seems impossible but we were able to come to a consensus in short order and without much debate or compromise. We were all in agreement--the tree we stood around was the one.

I took several pictures of the tree before it was to be cut down for us. I tried to get the kids to stand around it and let me take a picture, but that was not something we could agree upon. I lost that argument. I was simply trying to preserve a memory I knew I would look back upon in years to come. But the memory will be etched in my mind, picture or not.

In short order, the tree was cut down and placed upon the top of our vehicle. We proudly drove off congratulating ourselves on what a fine tree it was and how beautiful it would look in our home when adorned with lights and ornaments!

We concluded this journey with a trip to Five Guys Burgers—a favorite of the kids, and mom and dad. Again, agreement was reached quickly and easily. It had actually been decided we would go there before we even left the house.

The tree does it indeed look beautiful in our home and provides a fragrant aroma that enhances our holiday mood. Christmas is made of events like this. Moments that transform into a tradition that we each will remember for years to come. We will tell stories about it and, I suspect, embellish the stories over the years with phrases like “I saw the tree first!,” or “Dad got lost again!”

But it was a moment to enjoy being family. Families aren’t perfect—ours certainly is not. We have our own sense of frustrations with each other at times. And at times we enjoy the tremendous sense of harmony and belonging. Christmas brings a heightened awareness to the value of family. And I’m glad our Christmas tree outing has enriched our family again this year.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thinking, Saying, Doing!

Gandhi once said, "Happiness occurs when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in perfect harmony."

We all want happiness. How we express that desire may be different for each of us. And what that happiness looks like in the end, most likely is different for each of us. Happiness could be winning the big game; being accepted into the college of our choice; having children who are healthy; having a career that fulfills our lives. No doubt we could come up with any number of other qualities, opportunities, or fulfilled dreams that could make us happy.

But when you look closely at the quote from Gandhi, you may become disheartened. We want happiness. But getting what I think, what I say, and what I do in perfect harmony as the key to happiness may well be beyond our skill. If I don’t say what I think, and do what I say, happiness may well escape me. It would likely be right here that Charlie Brown would most likely give up and let out his famous phrase, “Good Grief!”

But maybe there’s a way. Our minds are constantly filled with thoughts that demand our attention and consume our time. What if we were to somehow filter through those thoughts and get to the core of what really matters to us. I suspect that sifting our thoughts may just be what the doctor ordered. Some of my thoughts I can’t do anything with right now anyway, so let them go. Other thoughts will require the input and advice of others, so I can move them to another place until that input and advice is received. There are some thoughts that can simply be tossed aside. Like when I begin to think what it would be like to hit the jackpot in the lottery drawing. It’s not likely to happen since I don’t buy lottery tickets. It’s fun to dream, but no need to let the thought consume me.

I don’t know what Gandhi would say, but filtering my thoughts seems like a plausible place to start.

How about the saying part? Seems like I remember a part of a song I learned as a child. “O, be careful little mouth what you say.” It’s easy to let the wrong words slip across our lips. And once they are spoken we can’t simply take them back. But it’s also just as easy to let the right words stay tucked inside and never let them be spoken. How many times have I heard someone say, “I wish I had told her that I love her.” Words are a gift. Use them as a gift.

Then there’s this doing part. There are a number of things I do that contribute to a sense of happiness and they are connected to what I think and what I say. So often I find that the day is filled with other things to do that may or may not be in harmony with what I think and say. The challenge is to focus on doing those activities that enhance my sense of fulfillment. Sure the other things may still have to be done, but learning to prioritize those activities can sure help.

I like the quote by Gandhi. I think he’s right. "Happiness occurs when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in perfect harmony."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Plans

Recently my wife shared with us at a meal her list of activities she wanted to fulfill during her summer break as an elementary school teacher. Among those activities she listed fishing. That’s an activity she will complete with her brother at a fishing hole yet to be decided. If we are lucky we may even get to have a fish fry as a result.

Since she created a summer list, I decided I would give a try at creating my own summer list of activities. So in no particular order here is my list.

Vacation. Well, that goes without saying but it is a good activity to have on my list. And not just any vacation. But specifically, Pawleys Island, SC, with my family. We’ve been going there around 15 years now and our summer just isn’t complete without a trip there. Now that the kids are getting older I realize that this family trips will be more difficult to schedule.

Visit the family cemetery. Let me explain. Our family cemetery is a small one located on the highest point of a farm that has been in my family for over 100 years. About a dozen of our family members are buried there, including my brother and parents. We aren’t able to get there very often through the year so going and placing flowers at the graves, checking up on things, and telling stories that are recalled from precious memories is always a special event.

Golf with my son. I’ve not played all year, neither has he. But getting out on the course proves to be a great experience. Where we will play and when needs to be scheduled soon!!!

Movies with my daughter. I’m not sure what movies will come out this summer but I’m sure we can find something to see together. Harry Potter comes out July 15th!!

Nice dinner out with my wife. Eating at a nice restaurant, just the two of us, sounds like a special treat. And it is!! I already have some leads on great restaurants and there are some free evenings opening up soon!

Scheduling all these activities around the schedules of our son who is playing football and our daughter who is playing trumpet in the band, and trying to accommodate the things the most certainly have on their own summer list might present a bit of a challenge. I suspect we will get it all done somehow though.

If you were expecting something a bit more grand like an extended family vacation to Europe, well that’s probably found on my “bucket list” rather than on my summer 2011 list. Even so, completing these activities in the weeks before school starts will produce enough good memories, laughs, and pictures to last me until I create another list—perhaps a fall list would be good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Out of Christmas, Into Routine

Things can change a whole lot in the span of a month. It wasn’t quite a month ago that I wrote of picking out a Christmas tree at a Christmas tree farm and starting a new family tradition with our family. With great anticipation we brought the tree home. There was a lot to look forward to.

Today we took the tree down. There was no fanfare, no Christmas music playing in the background, no remembering which ornament came from which year. No, just the task of getting everything taken down, boxed up and put away for next year. There was with all of this a certain let down—that the events of the past month had come to an end; that the daily routine which had been interrupted with shopping trips, Christmas parties, Christmas movies, Christmas concerts, Christmas meals, family gatherings, and the like, was now settling back into just that—the daily routine. Nothing wrong with routine. I kind of like routines. I just wasn’t ready for the daily routine to come quite yet.

As my son and I carried the tree outside and readied it to be taken to a recycling center, I wanted some sort of fanfare, some sort of festival. We speak with excitement about “putting up the tree.” Should we not also have a similar excitement as we “take down the tree?” Perhaps we build up the season a bit too much. Could it be that in all our excitement to get to Christmas we really do make it out to be something it was never meant to be, and for which, with all our decorations and gift-giving and receiving, will never be? Are we looking for a perfection we simply can never expect to find?

If I read the Christmas story from Luke there was a lot of routine stuff happening. Some miraculous things too, but routine stuff as well. Take for instance the taxes. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem to be registered for a tax. I paid property taxes and car taxes this month. And come January, I’ll be getting ready to file income tax returns. It happens every year. Pretty routine.

Luke continues. Bethlehem is busy and there’s no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph. I don’t know what inns were like in those days, but I know when sports events are happening in certain cities, you couldn’t find a room if you had to. That’s pretty routine.

Mary gives birth to her firstborn, a son named Jesus. It hardly fails when I am in our local hospital that I hear the lullaby melody signaling the birth of a new baby. Again, routine.

But Luke reminds us in the midst of such routine, people encountered God. Remember the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night? In the midst of routine, God.

So we are back into a routine, or soon will be. Maybe we try so hard to encounter God through the upstaging of Christmas, that we never can hear or see God. Maybe it’s in the routine after all, if we pay attention, open our lives and our hearts, that we will hear God.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cookies

The sweet aroma of Christmas cookies filled the house as our guest opened the door to let my daughter and me in. Though she had not been baking all day, she had baked long enough for the smell to permeate the halls and the rooms of her home adding more Christmas cheer to our visit. We were delivering a gift from my daughter and son for her. Mostly it was my daughter’s making but my son managed to get his name on the gift as well.

She invited us to sit as she opened her gift and offered us a gift of her own—freshly baked cookies. These were not your ordinary pick-off-the-grocery-store-refrigerator-shelf-and-pop-into-the-oven type of cookies. No, these cookies were clearly hand made from scratch with years of experience behind them to yield the perfect Christmas cookies.

Each of the cookies were a different shape, size, texture, taste, and smell. But all were great. She explained which ones were the favorite choices of some of her family members and would encourage us to try them as she told us about them. One in particular I remember was what she called a “thumbprint. Roll out the dough, place it on the cookie sheet, press your thumb in the middle, and then place some strawberry jam in the middle. (My mouth is watering just thinking of it.) But while the process sounds simple enough, it was evident these cookies were made by one whose expertise could be matched by few. Not just any one could create such a treat.

Some cookies had sprinkles on them, others had powdered sugar, some were plane but made in unique Christmas shapes like stars, candy canes, and ornaments. We tried each kind—I’m sure of it!

Kate and I both agreed we were glad we had stopped by when we did. What a treat! Ah, but there’s more to the story that makes it even more special for me. Our guest, Maria by name, and some of you will know her, told us that the recipes she used had been handed down from her grandmother. She told us how she remembered as a child growing up in Germany and how her mother and grandmother would make them each Christmas. There was a glint in her eye and a glow on her face. That was a special memory for her. I’m glad she shared it with us.

I could tell that continuing this Christmas tradition for her own children and grandchildren, and friends, was just as important to her as the memory she held in her heart. My mind began to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in Germany and celebrate Christmas. Just the thought added to my Christmas celebration. When it came time to leave she sent us on our way with a hug and a bag of cookies to share with our family.

Creating special memories can easily happen at Christmas. Sometimes they come at unexpected times. But if we let them, those memories will bring peace, hope, joy, and love to our Christmas celebration each year.

Friday, November 26, 2010


The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been a day when my family eats leftovers from Thanksgiving Dinner and decorates for Christmas. We may visit a local store for their holiday sales, but never really take much time indulging in Black Friday. This year we added a new element to our holiday preparations.

We visited a Christmas Tree Farm. Our artificial tree had seen its better days and we disposed of it last year. This year we knew we wanted a real tree. We just weren’t sure where to get it. The big box stores or nurseries had been our preference in the past when we have had a live tree, but we were never completely satisfied. I located several Christmas Tree farms in Lexington. We chose one and made a visit there this afternoon.

To say that the farm with rows of beautiful Fraser Firs of varying was breathtaking may be an understatement. We were given instructions about how to pick out a tree and where to look. The man told us to let them know which one we wanted, they would cut it and put it on the truck. They gave us a 10 foot pole so we could judge the size of the tree we selected.

David, Kate, Jennifer and I looked for several minutes. Then we found just the right one. We took some pictures of it, including some of the kids around it for a Christmas card. It was a beautiful sunny day and the air was frigid adding to the sense of the approaching Christmas season. There was even some snow on the branches of the tree from the night before.

I’m not sure who among the four of us had the most fun. One thing for sure, I was as “giddy as a school boy” to use a line from “A Christmas Carol.” We finished the afternoon by enjoying a meal at our favorite burger joint, “Five Guys and a Burger.” Then we did some quick Christmas shopping and returned home.

The tree sits in our family room filling the house with its fragrance and its beauty. We’ll enjoy it the next several weeks as we celebrate the Christmas season. It goes without saying, but this is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year!!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lunchtime Blessings

Each month I have lunch at an assisted living home in our community. The folks there are gracious enough to allow our church staff to eat with our members who live there in a quiet room together. It’s a wonderful chance to get to see these folks on a regular basis and to catch up on what’s been happening at church and in their lives.

Our conversations are light and almost always include a lot of laughter. They sometimes regal our staff and me with stories from their past—their first love, the secrets to a long life, what happiness looks and feels like, the friends who have died, visits from grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, among others. It is always a refreshing time spent with some very special people.

I chuckle at times at how opinionated they can be and how easily they share those opinions. Then I remind myself that one day I may be just as opinionated. At other times I simply grateful that they are still with us and I wonder how much longer we will have them as the blessing they are.

I marvel at how much they have been through in this life and how resilient they are to the changes they have witnessed over the years. I wonder if I will have the same resiliency.

There is much they teach me every time we gather. But perhaps the greatest lesson is one of thanks for dear friends who have blessed my life.