Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Job of Blog Mascot Has Gone to His Head

I know sometimes you all think I exaggerate these stories about this crazy pup named Riley. Let me assure you, I don't. And right here I have both photographic evidence as well as three witnesses to back up my claims. For this demonstration, I've used my friend Susie to show you how well Riley trains humans.

Step 1: "The Please"IMG_0663

Now, I have explained to you all before that this dog has trained me and not the other way around. He puts his paws together and starts moving his arms up and down, and the response is Pavlovian. It's his way of saying "Please," and our Pavlov response is to reach out and scratch his chest.

Step 2: "The Scratch"IMG_0664

You notice how Riley goes into a laid back position well before Susie even responds? It's because he knows how easily and thoroughly we humans are all influenced. Yes. He leans back with the assumption of a chest rub, and he is quickly proven right as Suz gives into his demands.

Step 3: "The Pose"IMG_0665

Upon hearing the camera clicking on the second shot, he realizes that the pesky paparazzi is following him again. Never one to disappoint a fan, he pushes away Susie's hands, turns and looks at me and holds that exact position until I turn the camera back on and get the shot he is going for. He is nothing if not dedicated to his work.

Step 4: "Reward for Services Rendered"IMG_0654 

Of course, once the last photo was taken he hopped off of Susie's lap and came over to me, waiting patiently for the Cheerio he knew he had earned for holding so still and posing so gracefully. And, being the well-trained owner I am, I obliged and he was paid in full.

I'm afraid I am going to have to nip in the bud this whole underage drinking thing he's attempting before it gets started, though. I don't want him to be one more statistic in this crazy world of young dog celebrities. I mean, a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere, right?

Friendly reminder to all you humans and dogs alike: Have fun! Enjoy yourselves! Ring in the New Year! NO drinking and driving ever, but especially not tonight on New Year's Eve. Thus ends this public service announcement on behalf of Blog Mascots everywhere.

Tomorrow's post... all about resolutions (or lack thereof)! 

Have a great New Year!!!  Party

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Camera, Old Model

Oh, you all are going to get sick to death of seeing pictures like this...


But it's not my fault I have this obsession. My friends Kris and Jenny gave me a CRAZY present for Christmas. And when I say crazy, I mean totally out of the blue, shocking, I forgot to breathe for a few minutes crazy. I got a new Canon Rebel xsi camera.


And because most everyone in their family was sick with colds, I wasn't able to get it from them in person and instead opened my door to the hallway to have the gift waiting there to surprise me.


But as soon as they are done with their colds and feeling fit as fiddles, you can bet I'll be taking a few lovely photographs of them and their sweet children (one of whom is my gorgeous goddaughter).


But until then, I have a model ready and waiting to be photographed on demand, one who only requires Cheerios for payment. In fact, as I've played around with the camera and taken photos of random things around my house, he's expressed his displeasure at not being the focus of my camera's attention quite vocally.


"Excuse me... I'm ready for my close up..."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Blessings in the Stable

One of the things I love about the holidays is the old movies that play over and over again. I'm sitting here with The Sound of Music playing in the background... last week it was The Wizard of Oz, and sandwiched in between were many repeats of Bing Crosby's White Christmas.

Another of my favorite Bing movies is Bells of St. Mary's. He plays the coolest priest I've ever seen with that buttery voice and hat cocked to the side just-so. It was on TCM last week and I was grinning during the scene where a little first grade boy wrote his own Christmas play and was practicing it for the teachers. Part of me was grinning because the first grader looked and sounded exactly like my favorite little sassy britches:


And part of me was grinning at the simplicity of how they acted out the story. He'd repeatedly go to the inn keepers and be turned away... responding with a shrug of the shoulders and a report to Mary. And Mary, ever optimistic, kept telling Joseph that it was ok... they'd just try again. And oh! how excited they were when they found the lovely stable so they could rest.

I have to imagine the real scene was a lot more stressful and a little more dramatic, but I also have to believe that the people chosen to be parents to Christ probably were living with some pretty good perspective and were grateful for the place they were given.

I've done a lot of thinking about perspective and being grateful this week. Because try as we might, life is never going to be perfect and go just how we'd like it to. There is nowhere on Earth I'd rather be right now than at home with my family for my Aunt's funeral. And I'm sure there was nowhere on Earth Mary would have rather been than in a safe home with a roaring fire and a nursemaid to give birth to her son.

But she got three wisemen and a drummer boy and a supportive husband while they treasured their moments on a bed of hay. I got to have moments on the phone with mom when she could tell me about her experiences, and spend some time with them here on Christmas day and help with some details for the funeral Mass. I took my moment to pray the rosary when I knew they were praying at her wake and honored her the best way I knew how.

Mary and Joseph, while making the first home for their child in that stable, accepted where they were and recognized where they were going because they acknowledged their blessings instead of dwelling on their misfortunes.

So here's my challenge to all of you today: think back over the last week to a time when you felt like you were in a stable instead of the inn. And then look at that time again and see where God put a blessing in the hay for you. Because if there is one thing I've learned, it's that the blessing is always there if you take the time to look for it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Prayers for Stellan

Update: MckMama updated on Twitter a little while ago and said that the doctors found no relationship between Stellan's high heart rate and his heart failure while in the womb, which is really great news! They are actually going to be taking him home from the hospital, and hopefully this was a one time event. She twittered at one point last night that she was feeling pretty peaceful about it and I'm sure she appreciated the prayers. Thanks, peeps...

Here's an update from her blog in her own words:

"NO RELATIONSHIP," 10:34 am:

Thank you all for praying for us!

It has been a 
very long night and Stellan is exceedingly sick. Lots of poking, prodding and crying last night. But fantastic news: All interested cardiologists have agreed after examining Stellan's heart and other symptoms thoroughly that there is "no relationship" between his high heartrate (Which has been bouncing up and down through the night,not staying consistently tachycardic.) and his heart failure in the womb. He shows no signs at all of heart failure and his racing heart is due, the doctors tell us, to his illness.

Stellan "just" has a cold! It's a cold that is currently kicking his rear, though. He's in a great deal of discomfort (Sore throat? Achy? Hard to tell exactly why a young baby is hurting...), crying a lot and is having a very hard time sleeping since he can't breathe well at all. 

But, we are on our way 
home!! We're not in the hospital anymore and are going to attempt to drive back home today, too. Stellan is going to see his doctors back home on Monday just to be safe and we're ready to get back into the swing of things anyway.

I'm hoping for smooth traveling, but even if not, I'm just so relieved that all the big stuff has been ruled out and our sick little boy is, in the grand scheme of things, just fine!

***** ***** *****

Ok, blog peeps... I know how you all followed along with me as little Stellan was born, and born healthy. Well his siblings have all been fighting colds, which he caught as well, and it appears to be doing a number on him. MckMama took him into the ER tonight and his heart rate is significantly higher than it should be, on top of his difficulty breathing. They are hoping it's RSV and not an indication that something is wrong with his heart, but we all know that prayer is a good thing and so that's what I'm hoping you'll all do for them.

I'm posting the latest update verbatim below, but if you want to check her blog you can

Thanks, guys... I'll post when I know something more. Here's her latest update:

UPDATE, 10:35 pm, CST:
I just heard from MckMama (Who has been updating Twitter when she can, but that will get harder now as she is alone with Stellan at the hospital for the time being...and she is dictating to me on the phone what to write right now!) and she said that Stellan's symptoms of coughing, wheezing, having low oxygen sats, choking, and struggling for breath (Signs of a terrible cold that may or may not be RSV...still waiting on that) have now taken a back seat to the fact that Stellan's heartrate is running around 220,
 way too high. 

Stellan has had a X-Ray, an EKG of his heart, is on oxygen (because his sats were in the low 80s and they should be in the upper 90s or 100) continuous heart monitoring as well as being hooked up to the pulse oximeter. She's waiting for the lab to come and draw his blood. The doctors at the hospital they're at (They are still away from home visiting her parents) are showing Stellan's heart strips electronically to the pediatric cardiologist who followed Stellan back home when he was so sick before he was born. I guess they are now just waiting for word on if that cardiologist thinks that Stellan's tachycardia is related to his bad cold, or if his heart has indeed flipped into a sustained electrically dangerous pattern.

Please pray that it is the former and that his high heart rate is only because he is sick with a miserable cold, and not because his heart is itself having problems. Please pray for wisdom for the doctors as they try to figure this out and that Stellan's heart rate will come down from its dangerously high pace, no matter what the cause of his tachycardia is.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all...

Since I couldn't send a Christmas card to each and every one of you, I thought I'd post it here! Know I'm grateful for all of you and pray you have a beautiful holiday surrounded by friends and family. I'll be thinking of you all and will meet you back here on Monday...

Love, Sara and Riley

Riley Xmas 2008 [click to enlarge]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stranger Friends

"Holiday gifts: To your enemy, forgiveness. To a friend, your heart. To all, good will."
                                                                       --Don Ward

As I've been writing this blog the last several months, I have often had one particular person in mind as I wrote about the changes in my life due to my illness. My Aunt Judy was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension a few years ago and had been dealing with the changes and limitations the diagnosis brought into her life. I would talk to mom on the phone and she would say Judy was having a tough time knowing her limitations or adjusting to not being out and about, so I would write about a time in my life when those feelings were new to me and how I adjusted my thinking in order to deal with them.

It was my way of trying to help without being one more person who was trying to tell her what to do. Because I know how I feel when people try to tell me what to do. :) So it's a little strange for me to sit and write this post today knowing that Judy isn't here to read it. She passed away on Monday afternoon with her husband Jon and two boys, Brad and Todd, there to love her into her new life in heaven.


I so wish every one of you could have known Judy, because you would have loved her and she would certainly have loved you. My mom hit the nail on the head when we were talking tonight and she said that everyone Judy met was her best friend. Everyone she introduced mom to was her best friend. She loved big and loved a lot.

And she also whined like no one else I know. Seriously, people... I know it sounds weird but it was my absolute favorite thing about her. She wasn't an annoying whiner... she whined in a way that made you laugh and want to wrap your arms around her and take care of everything for her. When I called her once in the hospital, I was expecting to hear how she was feeling and instead we had a 20 minute conversation about the fact that they had changed her diet and all these food commercials are on TV and it just wasn't fair that she couldn't have a hamburger and fries. I mean, a little grease and fat couldn't be that bad for her heart!

My sister Janette had visited her there and sure enough she had become best friends with the nurses and would lower her head and look at them through those eyelashes and convince them to just bring her a little smidge of coffee. A little whine from Judy and people just couldn't help themselves.

We would be sitting next to each other and she would whine about my long eyelashes and how hers weren't long and, how did I curl them like that? Which would sometimes lead to a full-on makeover for Judy by the time the conversation was ended. But Judy noticed those things because, let me tell you people, Judy had to be classy. Which means everyone around her needed to be classy, too. Mom, Dad, Judy and Jon spent many a holiday together and no one would leave the house without the right clothes, cologne and overall look. I can see her practically taking my dad's white socks off his feet and explaining to him that socks with sandals just aren't classy. Thank goodness Dad and Jon still have Mother to keep them in line and check their outfits before going out the door... because Judy wouldn't have it any other way.

There are so many things I want to tell you about her but just can't on this blog. Because not all of our hog roasts were with nuns and singing, Oh Lord It's Hard to Be Humble. No, we had many a hog roast at their lake house in Brainerd that were equally entertaining in much different ways. There is a video floating around somewhere of Mom, Me, Janette, Judy and Jon in a kick-line singing, Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw. Let's just say we didn't have many dull moments ... and Mom's right ... everyone in Judy's life was so fortunate to be her best friend.


The world feels a little different without her in it, but it would be a much more beautiful place if we all took a little bit of Aunt Judy into our hearts and greeted every new stranger as our best friend. It's definitely something I'm going to try to emulate from Judy.

That, and staying classy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm a Winner!!! (Part 2)

As Riley and I have stayed cozy warm and bundled up in the gorgeous afghans we acquired in our first giveaway win, the weather outside has been frightful!

This is what it looks like when they pile snow from the parking lot right in front of your condo after 13 inches of snow falls overnight:


And this is what a spoiled and attention-starved puppy looks like after you've just taken the time to photograph anything other than him:


Some things around here never change. :)

One thing that looks different, however, is the wall above my computer desk, because of that second giveaway win I told you about a few weeks ago! One of the regular blog peeps around here is a bona fide artist. Not a doodler like me, but an actual sells-her-art-for-money-and-makes-lovely-pictures kind of artist. You can see more of Susan's art here, or check out her blog Raisin Toast for all sorts of interesting stories.

Lucky me... I won an absolutely gorgeous oil painting just for guessing that her husband dressed up as a Harley rider for Halloween. And let me tell you, the prize far outweighs the effort of the guess.


I obviously like it because it's beautifully made, but personally I love it because it allows me to look at green grass and blue skies and barns in the country... letting me pretend like I'm closer to home. A cityscape might have been lovely, but a farm scene touches my heart.

Looks like Christmas came early around here... and I'm sending out the canvases today for all of last week's winners so you can have some post-Christmas fun, too!

Yea for free stuff!!! :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Emmanuel, God With Us

When I was in college, one of the big traditions on campus was the Men's Glee Club Christmas Concert. It's a big event that is usually sold out every year, and they hold auditions for students to try out and earn a spot to perform. I was always a little bit chicken to try out because I wasn't a part of the music program or any choirs in college and figured I didn't really have a shot.

But my friend Nicole, the one who is sitting at home this Christmas preparing for the arrival of her twin girls, was always one to encourage me... so I sucked up my courage and tried out. When I came back to our apartment one day to find balloons and notes of congratulations, I realized she had gotten to the answering machine before I did and that I was going to be performing at the concert. It's one of those moments that I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience.

The song I sang at that concert is also one that I sang each year during the Christmas season at St. Stephen's. After all of the wonderful comments and stories last week, I thought this recording might keep us in the right mood for all we have to celebrate in the days ahead...

If you missed the story behind my recordings, you can find it here.

06 Emmanuel, God With Us  by  gitzengirl

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Hear It's Your Birthday...

Ok, first things first: the final winner of the Canvas for Christmas is:

Jess to the Lo!!! chose your entry:

While in Jr. High we always put on the Best Christmas Play play. It was so much fun to be on stage for that show and to also work behind the scenes. It was also the only play that my Dad saw me in...that makes it pretty special

Congratulations!!! Email me at with your mailing address and I'll get your canvas sent to you!

***** ***** *****

See that cute little girl?

mom little

She turns 65 years young today. :)

My mom is a woman who has taken so many courageous steps in her life. When she was in high school my Grandma Flo had gone to confession as she did every week, and the priest one afternoon refused to give her absolution for her sins unless she started sending her children to the Catholic school. My mom had good friends at her old school, played on a basketball team that won the state championship and had no desire to transfer anywhere... but her junior year she took the plunge and enrolled in the new school so Grandma could get absolution and save her soul.

Thank God.

Because that's where she met my dad. The cool guy who had a van and a boat and loved to dance... he fell in love with my mom and that's where the story gets started. I can't even imagine, with the pace my life exists, the pace my mom was living at my age. She married my dad in 1964 and had her first baby 9 months later... and had her sixth baby 8 years later at the age of 29.

She learned how to help out on a hog farm (clipping pigs tails and teeth... a job I could never bring myself to do) not to mention taking care of six little kids, doing laundry, making meals and everything else that a household entails. And often, in the middle of it, a couple of dad's younger brothers would be living with them while they worked on the farm.

Does your head hurt yet?

And when I say something like "making meals" I mean full-out meals with meat, potatoes, side salads and dessert... and in the summer time that was how we had lunch and supper. The table was always set properly and while we had fun, we learned manners and how to be respectful.

When we were little and would come in off the bus, mom would sometimes have snacks ready for us... doing the little things that make a difference like putting our pudding in separate little fancy dishes so we would feel special... because sometimes love is in the smallest of details.

Now, truth be told, as we got older and my siblings started leaving the house, mealtime changed and the snacks became different, but that's because mom was taking courageous new steps in her life. She had gone to work for the first time in her married life and she eventually found herself employed at Merle Norman Cosmetics (where her favorite phrase was that natural beauty takes time). :) She started working there, and eventually bought the business and through trial and error made it a success.

I definitely get my creative side from mom and loved going to her store during my junior high and high school years... helping out, doing makeovers, even piercing ears. She taught me about not being afraid to try, assuming you can do anything with enough effort and believing that new challenges are a good thing. She eventually sold that business, but couldn't stay idle for long.

She has had a recurring dream for years about being in an old house and redecorating it, and she woke up one night and told dad she wanted to start an interior design business. Courageous steps. So they took our attached garage and converted it into a show room... and she was in business! At a time when most people would be slowing down my mom was just getting started. Her business (Interior Designs) eventually moved to a space in town and she gets to be creative every day, helping people make their houses into the homes they want for their families.

There are a million things I could tell you about my mom... about how I was attached to her hip through most of my childhood, how she would show off being able to turn a cartwheel with the best of them, or how she would take the Izod lizard off an old shirt and sew it onto a new one so we felt a little cooler at school...

But today, on her birthday, I want to say that most importantly she helped teach me by her example to not be afraid to try when you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Because that's the kind of lesson that brought me here to all of you.

Happy Birthday, Mom... I'm very proud of you and love you around the world and back.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Canvas for Christmas: Day 5

Well, it looks like we are going to have more than enough snow here for Santa to land his sleigh... they are predicting "thunder snow" that could leave us with 13 inches of snow overnight into Friday morning, with more storm fronts coming in through the weekend! Anyone in the South want to trade places? :)

On to the winner of yesterday's canvas...

Sharleen! She has a blog, ironically, named: Choose Joy! chose your entry:
For as long as I can remember my Mom's side of the family has always gotten together for Christmas. We actually just had our Christmas get-together this past Sunday.
There is my grandmother, who was widowed in 1968. My mom is one of 5 children. I am one of the 11 grandkids,and there are currently 9 great grandkids. As the years have gone on you can imagine how our numbers have grown. We used to do a gift exchange where we would pick names, but we no longer do that. A couple years ago we tried doing a "dirty Santa" gift exchange...I've heard it called other names as well. It's the one where you get to steal gifts from one another if you like the other person's gift better. Well that got a little ugly so we have not done it since. LOL
Right now it's just about getting together with one another and food of course. We have started a new tradition over the past few years where my mother makes a birthday cake and we sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. I know this tradition has really helped my 4 yr old son have a tangible impression of why we celebrate Christmas. Any time I ask him why we celebrate Christmas he confidently replies...."because it's Jesus' birthday!"
Congratulations!!! Email me at with your mailing address and I'll get your canvas sent to you!

Christmas Canvas Giveaway

Here's today's final canvas: IMG_3755

If I had to choose my absolute favorite part of our family Christmases, it would hands-down be our yearly Nativity play.

We have a beautiful baby Jesus that came from a church's nativity scene after it had closed. It used to sit in our curio cabinet, and was so pretty with the lights shining on it that it became awfully tempting to open the glass doors just to touch it every once in awhile. I remember walking into the room more than once to see one of the grandkids gently holding the precious treasure that was supposed to be left alone.

When my nieces and nephews were little, dad built a small manger to hold the baby Jesus... and while mom read the Christmas story from the bible the little ones would each have a role and act out the story. The first year, my oldest nephew Alex had the big job of carrying in the baby Jesus at the appropriate time and laying him in the manger filled with hay. As years went on and the role of carrying in Jesus went to the next in line according to age, the plays became a little more detailed.

Costumes were made and the acting sometimes became more dramatic, with little kings kneeling prostrate on the floor (with no prompting from the adults, mind you... maybe a few chuckles but no prompting). It became a very big deal and often during the year there would be mention of who was in charge of the baby Jesus that Christmas... a few even took it upon themselves to practice at home ahead of time.

The scrapbook page below is from 2002, and shows the kids opening gifts on the left and the nativity play on the right. It was Becca's turn to be an angel and carry in Jesus that year, and she was the cutest angel I'd ever seen. My favorite photo is of Alex being Joseph and Anna being Mary... notice he's holding her arm and gently helping her into Bethlehem. So cute.

[click to enlarge]scrap page 16

As time went on and the kids got older it was difficult to keep the older ones going... but they were good sports for awhile and stuck it out until all of the grandkids had their big moment of carrying Jesus in the procession. Instead of making costumes we eventually let the kids raid Grandma's closet and come up with their own outfit concoctions... which I have to say were actually much more festive than anything we ever did.

As you can see on the page below, Alex and Thomas look more like terrorists than kings with Grandma's scarves...

[click to enlarge]

A few of the younger ones took part last year, and it's hard to believe that soon there will be no one left still excited about the idea of the play... but all those years of their excitement and commitment to their roles will never diminish in my memories.

Answer this question in the comment section to win today's canvas: 
Do you have a favorite Christmas play/program memory?

I will have a special Saturday post this week to announce the winner for today's canvas giveaway, so be sure to check back in!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Canvas for Christmas: Day 4

Blog peeps... it has been getting to read about all of your traditions and memories. If anyone is starting to feel "grinchy" about the spirit of Christmas, all they need to do is read yesterday's comments and they would be set straight and filled up again. I'm so glad to know you all.

Now, for yesterday's canvas winner:

Vicky!!!!! :) chose your entry:

I had to visit you several times yesterday to read all the great comments! This is so fun : )

While we were growing up our church group would go caroling the Wednesday night before Christmas to anyone unable to leave their house : ) One of the stops was always at my grandpa's and grandma's house. Only this one year, he was in intensive care in the hospital. Our pastor, knowing how much it would mean to grandpa, got permission for us to carol through the halls of the hospital so that grandpa wouldn't be left out. The only thing we brought was our voices, our scriptures and prayers, but the way it reflected in the eyes of the recipients I could tell it brought CHRISTmas.

Now for the boys I am still figuring this out! I hope for some good suggestions through your comments! Thanks for letting me share : )

Congratulations!!! Christmas Canvas Giveaway

Here's today's canvas giveaway: IMG_3731

One of the fun things we did as little kids was to draw names for our K.K.s. That's known to most people as Secret Santa these days, but when we were little we called it Kris Kringle. It was fun to play Kris Kringle throughout the season... we'd keep our K.K.s secret (or at least we tried) and do nice things or leave little notes for each other. Stretches of time might go by when it was forgotten about until somebody would mention that their K.K. sure was slacking off... and then an insurgence of notes would be found around the house again. And finally on Christmas Eve we would give the special gift we had gotten for our secret K.K.

My nieces and nephews now draw names for each other and exchange presents at our family Christmas celebration. The last time I was home for Christmas was 2006, and during the gift exchange I was, of course, taking pictures. Alex - being the oldest - went first in the exchange process and gave his gift to Anna. She gave him a hug to say thank you and darn it if I didn't miss the shot by just a second.

So I made them reenact it.

And they humored their Aunt Sara... but to make sure I got the shot this time I said out loud, "Ok, hug... and HOLD." That way that pesky little shutter delay wouldn't matter.

Being the obnoxious little twirps they are (wonder where they get that from?) every time someone would exchange a gift and go to hug, all the kids would say, "aaaaannnnddd... HOLD!" until I got the picture I wanted. I tell them that someday they will thank me for all of these recorded memories, but for now they just roll their eyes and think I'm crazy.

I missed all the hugging-and-holding last year, but I did get a lot of calls on Skype to show me their presents and fill me in on who had their name that year. I love that all the cousins are loving each other and seem to get closer every year.

Scrap pages of them appeasing their Aunt Sara :) [click to enlarge]scrap page 48

Answer this question in the comment section to win today's canvas:
Did you have celebrations or traditions
with extended family/cousins?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Canvas for Christmas: Day 3

And the winner of yesterday's canvas is:

Beth Ann (mbs & j) chose your entry:

We open our gifts on Christmas morning and no change there after I got married. Once we had the kiddos, we all open one gift Christmas Eve - and it's always new pajamas! Last year we got my son red "Cars" pjs and discovered later on Christmas day, that they had rubbed off red all over his new stuffed beagle pup AND his bed covers! No more red pj's that aren't washed first!
Hugs to you for your constant inspiration to us all and a blessed and merry holiday to you!!
Beth Ann

Congratulations!!! Email me at with your mailing address :)

Christmas Canvas Giveaway

Here's today's giveaway:IMG_3724

Even though we had a lot of fun remembering our favorite and most memorable gifts, to me remembering Christmas is really all about the moments.

There was one Christmas after my sister Laura was divorced that she and her two munchkins spent the holiday at my parents' house. My sister Janette and I are both single and were used to it just being the two of us with Mom and Dad over Christmas, with the whole family getting together the weekend after. As much as we enjoyed our quiet, more intimate celebrations... having two little kids in the house made Christmas have magic again.

Thomas and Becca were reluctant to go upstairs to sleep on Christmas Eve, so Grandma had the bright idea of Santa motivating them. We were all in the living room (minus Grandma who was getting ready for bed, *wink *wink) when there was a loud rap on a window in the other room.


Becca flew out of my arms and behind Grandpa's chair faster than I've ever seen a child move (apparently I wasn't security enough in that moment), and Thomas was close behind her. Grandpa declared that Santa must be waiting for them to get to sleep and the two of them tore upstairs with their mom like their heels were on fire.

The funniest part was looking at mom when she came back in; she obviously hadn't considered the snowdrifts she had to walk through to get to the window and she was soaking wet... the things we do for kids!

Laura came down to get their gifts from Santa set up, and I went and laid down with the two little ones... Thomas' heart was still almost beating out of his chest as he told me he was sure he heard the bells. In that moment, I was pretty sure I'd heard them too.

It was so fun to get up that next morning and see their faces and play with their toys. I think my sisters and I had about as much fun with all the stuff as Thomas and Becca. I doubt they remember the gifts they got, but I wonder if they remember Santa rapping on the window that night.

[Below: two pages of a mini-book from that Christmas]IMG_3742 1 IMG_3742 2

I know with money being tight for many this year, there are a lot of people who are coming up with ways to make Christmas more about the moments rather than the number of presents. My friends Meg and Scott have always had a tradition of getting three gifts for each of their kids every year (one for their body, mind and spirit), just as the wisemen brought three gifts for baby Jesus. I love how that ties all of the gift-giving together with what we are really celebrating, and it also helps their kids to have realistic expectations every year rather than always trying to outdo the year before.

Answer this question in the comment section to win today's canvas:
What are the ways you make Christmas about the
moments and meaning instead of just the gifts?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Canvas for Christmas: Day 2

Ok, THAT was fun. :) It was so hard not to comment back to you on all of your amazing memories, but I didn't think it would be fair to enter myself in the drawing! I have to tell you after reading the ones about children born or pets received on that day I looked over at Riley, and he was giving me the evil eye.

While I wrote about my most memorable gift yesterday, my best Christmas gift ever was Riley in 2003, of course. A few more pupcorn treats and he may just forgive me for that snafu.

So, on with the results! Thanks to I can say: Congratulations Neas Nuttiness!!! 

Here was her most memorable gift (and it's a doozy!!!):

The most memorable gift that I ever received for Christmas, must be child #7 who was born on Christmas Eve!

I have quick deliveries, and most of the staff at the hospital know me - BUT - on this night there was a new "crew on board", and the sweet little nurse, didn't want to call my doctor when I arrived. Luckily, he is a dear man (and he and his family are dear friends) and we have home and cell numbers, soooooooooo dear husband gave him a call. About 3 minutes after we arrived upstairs, I gave birth (fully dressed I might add) in the birthing room, where said sweet little nurse put me, in order to monitor my progress. I was on top of a lovely comforter (not so lovely afterwards I might add), and sweet little nurse kept saying "STOP - you can't do that...the doctor isn't here!"

Ralph (the doc) showed up after Solomon was "checked, wrapped, and in my arms". He got stuck in Christmas Eve traffic, and was so frantic to get to me, that when he arrived at the hospital...he pulled into the ambulance entrance, jumped out of his car (still running) and came flying up the stairs to the maternity wing. Thank goodness a quick thinking security guard moved the car, locked it up, and brought the keys upstairs.

All this took place during the staff Christmas Party (Yum - I got some really good eats that night!), so several of the staff's husbands got to listen in from down the hall,to the "goings ons" in the birthing room. Thank goodness for them, I'm not a screamer during labor and delivery!

Yes my most memorable Christmas gift, was Solomon Rafael, born December 24, 1989.

Neas: Email me at with your mailing address!

Christmas Canvas Giveaway

Here's today's canvas you can win: IMG_3716(the square accents have light blue in them; hard to see in the photo) 

I don't know about all of you, but I've listened to many-a-friend lament over Christmas traditions after they were married. Apparently the debate of when to open Christmas presents is enough to incite talk of divorce, or at the very least great insults toward the opposing side of the family's traditions.

In my family, the tradition was born out of necessity more than anything else. We would start with food: some type of hors d'oeuvres, and then soup and sandwich. And of course sweet treats, too. One of my favorite parts was that we used mom's good china, crystal glasses and wedding silver for the place settings... nothing like a pretty table to make it all feel special.

Of course, trying to be patient through the meal knowing there were gifts under a twinkling tree in the next room wasn't the easiest task, but we managed.

Then we'd gather in the living room and gifts would be handed out one at a time... no random ripping through paper. Everyone would "ooh and ahh" and move on to the next gift. While it was exciting and respectful and fun, what it was really about was stalling for time.

Mom and Dad were just trying to keep six kids awake way past their bedtimes so we wouldn't fall asleep before heading out to Midnight Mass. I always thought it was magical... going into church with the air crisp in the dark of night. We'd walk up to the door with sounds of the choir echoing into the darkness and the light inside illuminating the details of the stained glass windows. Christmas was magical for so many reasons, not the least of which was celebrating the birthday of Jesus as the chimes announced the midnight hour.

We'd get back home all tucked in our beds (I don't remember that part as I usually fell asleep at some point during Mass or the ride home), and waking in the morning knowing that it was Christmas and Santa had arrived was nothing short of spectacular.

Answer this question in the comment section to win today's canvas:
Do you open gifts Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? And did you have to compromise about it after marriage?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Canvas for Christmas: Day 1


Tell your friends, tell your neighbors... they can win a canvas for Christmas! Ok, that sounded way more exciting than it is. :)

Christmas Canvas Giveaway

I decided after my two giveaway wins that I'd have a little fun of my own ... and give to you! Now, I don't have fun sponsors or cameras to raffle, but I did make up five little canvases with some sayings I thought you might enjoy... one to give away each day this week. All you have to do is read to the end of the post and answer the question I give you in the comment section. (Only answer once, please.) :) At midnight I will do a random drawing and announce the winner in tomorrow's post!

I used some flat canvases because I thought they may be more versatile for you... you can attach ribbon on the back to hang them or set them up on a bookshelf or, since they're flat, even put them in a frame if you so choose. I had never used these before but I think they're pretty fun.

Here's today's 5x7 canvas:IMG_3721

So, over the years I've gotten a lot of fun Christmas presents. I've gotten meaningful gifts, silly gifts, homemade gifts and extravagant gifts. My friend Nicole one year sent me this huge box FULL of presents... like 20 of them. She had bought me necessities, like envelopes and kleenex and shampoo and socks... but each and every item was individually wrapped and it was so much fun. I seriously felt like a little kid again.

And then I've had the shocking gifts like a couple of years ago when my sister and parents got me a new TV and armoire. I think it took about 3 days for me to wrap my brain around that one it was so shocking. And also really practical considering my previous TV was an old counsel that I couldn't hook a VCR up to. :)

But if I had to choose the most memorable gift I've ever gotten, the first one that always pops into my head was when I was eight years old. We had been shopping in Sernett's Department Store and I wanted one of those gray sweatsuits with the colorful stripes on it. The cool thing at the time was to have your name across the back of the sweatshirt... and God knows I wanted to be cool.

I showed what I wanted to mom and she said no way. She told me I was too young for something like that and only the big kids wore names on the back of their sweatshirts.

In hindsight, that was the stupidest reasoning ever, but when you're the youngest of six you hear "you're too young for that" so often that I didn't even bat an eyelash. I was so disappointed to once again not have what the big kids had, but I put it out of my mind completely.

And then we opened our presents on Christmas Eve and I got my name on a sweatsuit! I remember being wide eyed and asking mom why she changed her mind, and she rolled her eyes at her youngest and most gullible child. That happens to be something I never outgrew... I sadly would probably fall for the same reasoning today.

christmas sweat suit My brother Jim, Mom and me in my sweatsuit in 1981.
(Notice my brother has longer hair than me?)

Answer this question in the comment section to win today's canvas:
What is your most memorable Christmas gift?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flashback Friday: The Dancing Brady Bunch


See that gaggle of little children in the photo? It consists of me and my five siblings (I'm the extremely well-fed baby in the middle). Having six children in eight years either puts my mother in line for sainthood or the loony bin, and I'm sure during the years of raising us all she had moments of leaning toward both.

The order of our family goes boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl... the doctors told my mom after my brother Steve was born that she should think about maybe not having anymore children. But as she tells it, she informed them that she needed one more little girl to finish off the pattern. As grateful as I am, that might have been a loony bin moment. :)

Standing in the "train" pose ... we have lots of these kind of photos.

You can imagine why, looking at the photo above, we were able to relate to the Brady Bunch at a deep level. Although it didn't happen until later in life, I even completed the story by being the youngest one in curls. (I never, for the record, had a lisp like Cindy. The curls were our only similarity.)

The other television show that was a staple for us kids growing up was Lawrence Welk. We'd all gather around the television on Friday nights to watch the bubbles surround Lawrence as he declared all things to be, "Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful." When my brother Steve started playing the clarinet, my parents' motivation for him was to tell him that if he practiced enough maybe he, too, could have a clarinet with gold buttons like the dude in the Lawrence Welk orchestra.

Apparently that wasn't quite enough incentive to practice, as his clarinet dreams didn't last very long.

My favorite part? When Lawrence would announce that a-Bobby and a-Sissy were about to perform. Oh, those two "modern dancers" were exactly who I wanted to be someday. Spiffy, those two were.

So, that was our Brady Bunch moment. Every Friday night we would match up with our closest sibling and dance to Lawrence Welk. Jerry/Laura, Jim/Janette, Steve/Me ... dancing our little hearts out.

Yeah, that's right. You heard me. We freaking danced to Lawrence Welk. Every Friday night. And no one made us... WE LIKED IT. And we're all really pretty good dancers now. But the point is, we lived a life that made the Brady Bunch look scandalous.

Ahh... the good old days. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Off The Table

This seems to be the time of year when there's a lot of reflection on the past 12 months... the ups and downs, the changes, the celebrations and the sadness. It seems hard for me to believe that three seasons have come and gone and winter is upon us again. It felt like a "blink and you'll miss it" kind of year for me.

Awhile back I was reading Alece's blog Grit and Glory, and she posed this question: What’s the most significant thing God did in you this year?

My first thought was, why doesn't anyone ever ask easy questions?!?! But this was my second thought:

He took fear off the table. I’m not even sure how it happened… but I think the extreme uncertainty of my life finally made it very clear. Fear isn’t an option. It’s like He drew a line and said fear or ME. And I didn’t choose fear. And it was one of those fundamental changes where I know it’s just not an option. Everything can be taken away, and I trust Him. Period.

I don't think I stopped to realize it until that exact question was posed, but it's the absolute truth. And I think it was something that was graced for me because it wasn't a specific thing I was consciously trying to do, although it definitely fits with the intention of how I'm trying to live. Something shifted in me and I know that I unequivocally trust Him.

That doesn't mean life is suddenly carefree and easy... it means that in the midst of hard stuff, I'm not scared. If I look back on the past year there is no doubt I'm doing worse now than last year. But I'm not afraid of what next year will bring. He took that option off the table. And I intend to work as hard as I need to in order to keep it that way.

I've found, though, that it's much easier to not choose fear when it comes to my life, but when it comes to those I love I have to work on it more. I want to fix things for them, I want to take away their hard times, their illnesses, their uncertainties. I have to watch my words when I pray for them so it doesn't come from fear, but rather faith.

I was recently having a conversation with my sister when we both agreed that He is the same God today as He was yesterday, we just wonder what in the world He's thinking sometimes.

But that's the point: faith is believing without seeing. I can't see it... I can't know what happens tomorrow. But I know He's got it under control. And that fear is off the table.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rebel For A Cause

So, speaking of blog giveaways...

You all remember MckMama and her gorgeous little miracle boy, Stellan, right? Well, he's doing beautifully -- healthy and strong and growing. He now has his very own "Mck" nickname and is affectionately referred to by all as MckMuffin... and the sweet name fits him perfectly.


As you can imagine, she's a grateful mama, and a generous one to boot. She and her friend Amie have arranged a raffle/giveaway in order to support three of their favorite charities. And they aren't giving away a podunk little prize here, people. When you buy a $10 raffle ticket you enter for a chance to win a Canon xsi DSLR camera, with an amazing zoom lens and a carrying case and all sorts of other amazing things to go along with it. They are calling it Rebel for a Cause.

Now, I've been lucky lately winning two blog giveaways, and I'm not going to lie... that right there is my dream camera. And if it wasn't such an amazingly good cause I totally wouldn't tell you about it in order to improve my chances of winning. :) I'm not a saint, people. But the truth is, they are a raising a lot of money for some beautiful organizations ... at the time I'm writing this, they have raised $11,784.60. Seriously.

The contest is open until December 14th, and whoever wins will have their brand-spanking new camera in time for taking photos on Christmas morning. If you want more details you can read MckMama's original post here: Rebel For A Cause, and if you want to donate you can click on the button on the left-hand side of my blog. That will take you to her page and the donation link will be the first thing listed.

I find it amazing what blog communities have been able to do for the world of charities and non-profit organizations, and I love that this camera happens to be incentive to participate. If I win, expect to see more photos of Riley being cute than you can possibly handle. :)

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[Also... if you have a baby and love to scrapbook, my friend Jessica is having a giveaway everyday this week for her Best in Baby Scrapbooking. Don't you just love free stuff?!?!?! :) ]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm A Winner!!!

Ok, let me clarify... me making that statement is kind of like when someone says, "I'm hot!" and it sounds like they're being conceited but really they're just saying their body temperature makes them want to stick their head in the freezer.

When I say, "I'm a winner!" I don't mean that I'm cool and exceptional, I mean I'm actually a winner. And it should actually be plural because I now have won TWO different blog giveaways. I'm on a roll people. Somebody hand me a lottery ticket.

Now, if you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know that this is not the norm for me. I don't win stuff. And the one time I did win something, I made a complete fool out of myself by swearing into the microphone at church in front of the whole congregation. Now that was a situation where I'm sure many people have sarcastically thought to themselves, "Wow. She's a winner, that one." But hey, what comes into my head flies out of my mouth... we all have our flaws.

So, today I'll be talking about the first of my miraculous giveaway wins. Coloradolady (who ironically lives in Texas... that cracks me up) has been having giveaways on her blog... and not only did I win, but I won on the very first week. You could have knocked me over with a feather. It also happened around the week of Thanksgiving when I wasn't feeling so hot, which made it all the more fun.

But not as much fun as today when it came in the mail. I'm not going to lie, people. The exact same words flew out of my mouth that did on that day in church... only there was no microphone and Riley didn't know enough to point and laugh. But these boxes were amazing.


See that? It is a beautiful, handmade Christmas afghan knitted by Coloradolady herself. I wish you all could see it in person... it's so heavy and warm. My friend Katie, when we were growing up, had some of these blankets at her house that her Grandma had knitted, and we termed them 'Grandma Blankets.' (I know, you're all marveling at our linguistic creativity.) But when we were hanging out in her basement watching Dirty Dancing for the 763rd time, the first thing all of us girls would do is run to take ownership of the good Grandma Blanket.

And now I not only have one, but two.


I'm going to let my friends use my Christmas Grandma Blanket, but this Coloradolady Blanket is all mine. This lovely woman knitted me one to be left out year round, and said a prayer for me with each and every stitch. This blanket will always be treasured in my home.

I know this was above and beyond what she needed to do in that giveaway, and I want all of you to know that every time I wrap up in it I'm going to be grateful for the friendships I've been given by each and every one of you bloggers. There is nothing I could ever want more than what all of you and Coloradolady have been giving to me for so many months...  lovely comments and encouragement and friendship. It truly means the world to me.


But the cutest part of all of this? The fact that Coloradolady's two dogs, Sophie and Dora, didn't want Riley to feel left out. He has a Maltese-sized Grandma Blanket of his very own. And considering it was 3 degrees here last night, it couldn't have come at a better time. :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Breath of Heaven

Since my first day at college, I was involved at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center. I loved that place and the ever-evolving community. As a freshman I had upperclassmen who took me under their wing. I had friends my age who were going through the same ups and downs of college life. And as I made my way through the years I eventually mentored others and took them under my wing. While the community changed, the environment didn't. It was a place of love and support and acceptance and learning.

All of those things are still in that building for me. I haven't been able to be there to celebrate Mass or join in activities for a long time, but I can close my eyes and see the details, smell the essence, hear the trickle of the baptismal font and feel the closeness of the air that hugs you into a sense of serenity. I loved worshipping there.

Mostly, I loved singing there.

I'm not the best singer in the world, but it is, hands down, the thing I loved to do the most. I don't read music so I would meet the pianist for our practice session carrying a mini-recorder to tape the songs. Then I would take it home and play it over and over to have the music ingrained in me until I could sing without thinking.

I would stand up to the microphone on Sunday morning and see a sea of faces who were there for something so much bigger than us. And I would do the same thing each time... silently pray the Memorare and ask for Mary to send one of the angels in the choir to sing for me that day. I would ask that whatever message was supposed to be given would be heard, and then I would concentrate on the words and the meaning and trust that the notes would come out right. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't, but regardless I always felt a connection with the community.

One year around Christmas time I had recorded a radio jingle for our local airport... it was the corniest jingle ever, but the studio I was at gave me a deal on some recording time. I had enough money from the jingle to be in the studio for one hour, and I recorded eight songs back-to-back. Each song had one take... no going back to fix it if I hit a wrong note or ran out of breath. I took the opportunity to record the songs I had done most often at St. Stephen's to share with the people it meant something to.

The song I still have people tell me they miss at this time of year was a song I would have sang today on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception... Breath of Heaven. So, for all of you from St. Stephen's that read the blog, and for all of you new friends of mine, I'm going to share my recording of it today. I know others have sang it better, but I hope you get as much out of hearing it as I got out of singing it for so many years. Just click the play button on the player below and wait a second for it to start. And remember I'm not a professional... just a person who loved the experience of sharing the moment.

07 Breath of Heaven  by  gitzengirl

Friday, December 5, 2008

Flashback Friday: Vacations at Mt. Loretto

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume the majority of you reading this didn't spend your vacation every year in a large convent full of nuns. I have to say I feel a bit sorry for you, because we did and it was fantastic.

Every fall my mom, Grandma Rita and all six of us kids would load up into the station wagon and make the long trek across the state to Dubuque, where the Mother House (Mt. Loretto) is located. My dad and my Grandpa Gerald would be following in the pickup hauling behind it a hog roaster and a freshly butchered hog to feed the nuns.

I can hear you laughing in disbelief... but I'm serious. And I have the photos to prove it.

My Aunt Janella was a PBVM (Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and she was living at Mt. Loretto at the time, so this was our chance to visit her and spend some time with all of the Sisters. And let me tell you, we had the run of the place. When I was little one of the nuns would offer to take me for my nap (usually Sr. Raeleen), and instead of laying down we'd sneak to the craft room and paint figurines or sculpt clay or make all sorts of fun little art projects. We'd play hide and seek and ride the elevators and have sing-along sessions. I like to think of it as my own little version of sleep away camp, only my parents were there, too.

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As you can see, they tried to groom me early for religious life (1976)

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Me at age 3, just trying to be helpful...

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Back: Grandma Rita, Sr. Joy (I think that's her name), Laura, Mom
Front: Steve, Janella, Me, Jim, Janette (Honestly, I mainly included this photo because I think it shows that Steve totally fits his nickname, Hoody. Doesn't he look like a "Hoody" in this photo?)

The facilities at Mt. Loretto were so much fun. They had a gymnasium where we could run around and play volleyball or basketball, and it's where I first learned of wolleyball, which is like volleyball but the ball remains in play off the wall.

mt loretto_0003
In the gym, working on my dream of being the next Mary Lou Retton.

One of my favorite things to do during the week was hang out with Sr. Stephen. I would help her clean the chapel and dust the pews, and then we would go into a separate room where they made their own hosts. The communion host would come in a large, flat sheet and we would have little hand punchers that would punch out the hosts into little circles with a cross pressed into the middle. (Much like scrapbook punches, now that I think about it.)

After we would finish making the hosts we would put the leftover scraps into a bag and walk down to the lake, get in the rowboat and feed the ducks. It was always so quiet and peaceful out on the water, and we were always there during the fall of the year so the air was crisp and the trees would have turned their mighty colors. It was a perfect example of work and reward... showing me that at the end of the day, the scraps we're left with can become something that can still nourish.

And the main event of the week: the hog roast.

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This particular year we were there on Halloween, and some of the nuns helped me with my costume to trick or treat. FYI: lipstick stains your cheeks and it doesn't come off for days. Trust me.

During one night of our stay, there would be a celebration with all of the nuns... we'd roast a hog and gather in the dining hall for a feast. And for entertainment? The six of us kids would at some point get up to the microphone and sing for everyone. Yes, we were the Von Trapp family without the fear of German invasion.

Our best song was, "O Lord, It's Hard to be Humble" and we sang it with enthusiasm. Because the microphone was raised up higher on the stand and I was so much shorter than everyone else, Sr. Martin would take the microphone after we sang and bring it to my level to see if there was anything I would like to say since I couldn't reach.

Foolish woman. Of course I had something to say. It was usually my standard joke that I told at my grandparents' card parties about the Lazy Family that was too tired to go out and see what was wrong with the dog (you have to hear it to fully appreciate it)... and since then I've never met a microphone I didn't like.

So, we were unorthodox. We didn't go to Disneyland. But we had more fun, more life experiences and more fulfilling moments on our trips to Mt. Loretto than most people could hope for. And I wouldn't trade a moment of it for the world.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blog Buttons

You know how I like to make everyone happy? This is another shameless attempt at making that happen.

Awhile back I had an email asking me if I had ever thought about making some blog buttons with inspirational sayings on them because a reader wanted to have a visual reminder for herself to think positive on her blog.

I didn't, and didn't know how to go about making any.

More recently I had an email from another reader with an idea that I should have some blog buttons made so people could have visual reminders of positive thinking on their blogs. She even offered to pay to make the buttons.

Hmmm... ok. I'm listening.

So, I went surfing around online (ever the frugal one) and figured out how to make blog buttons all by my little old self. I have NO IDEA if this is something you all are interested in or if it will just make two readers happier people, but if it only makes two of you happy then it will have been well worth the effort. :)

Here's where I feel the need to put a disclaimer: I'm not promoting anything. I'm not asking you to put these on your blogs to increase my traffic. If no one uses these, it's ok with me. But if you think any of these little buttons will somehow make your day more Pollyanna-ish, then they are all yours. I made four buttons for you to choose from (two are graphics, two are from canvases I had made) or if you have a different post/saying you would prefer let me know and I'll whip one up for you.

I've also put them on the right sidebar so you can get them at your leisure. All you have to do is copy the code underneath the button, paste the code into an HTML widget and it should appear on your sidebar. Just spreading the love, people. Enjoy. :)

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