Ringmaster

Ask any parent of a former preemie and you’ll find that they very likely honor their kid’s due date as much as, if not more, than they celebrate their birth date. Once a mama finds out that she’s pregnant, the due date is the end goal, the day she will dream about and anticipate. When you best that date by more than two months, it can be a bittersweet occasion. For that very reason, I tend to commemorate my due date every year because it reminds me of the hurdles we went through and the sheer fighting spirit that our kiddo has as a result of his early arrival.

We knew from the get-go that our son had some moxie. His daddy has joked that he stared down the angel of death and gave him the middle finger on the day he was born. In fact, his middle name means lion heart which has proven to be a very fitting moniker. And since his birth, we have seen him continue in this fashion. He is no doubt his own person…adventurous, loud, imaginative, and tenacious with endless energy and an old soul. One minute he can be racing across the backyard, in full cowboy regalia with guns a blazin’ and in the next breath asking you some deep question about heaven and hell. He loves to wrestle with his daddy to music from Rocky. And he dreams of living on a farm where he can be a full blown homesteader. I love all of these qualities but the one I find most endearing is his ability to become whoever he wants to be and is not afraid of what anyone might think of him. Oh, to live life with such abandon…it’s a freedom that few people allow themselves to experience and one I hope he never surrenders.

We have built a rather massive dress-up box to feed this alter ego. Really, it’s more like a box, three drawers, and two hooks full of any imaginable hat, accessory, jacket, vest, or weapon imaginable. It seems excessive, but he is in character everyday, sometimes several times a day, so it seems warranted.

When we took him to see The Greatest Showman last week, it was impossible to say no when he leaned over in the middle of the movie and asked if he could get a top hat. Before we even made it home from the theater, Amazon was set to deliver his new hat just 48 hours later. And of course, it had to be accompanied by a ringmaster jacket…so we pulled that together the next day too.

Indulgent? Yes. But paramount to his persona and therefore essential for us to back? For sure.

In the same way that our son entered this world with a bang, he also lives BIG. So in honor of my due date today…I give you the first ten pics from my phone of him all decked out. And all of these are from last week alone! 😉

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Army Guy.jpg

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A Valentines Day for the books

This is our 23rd Valentine’s Day together. It’s not even a holiday that we choose to celebrate BIG because isn’t every day supposed to be “love day”?

I must admit, though, that there is one particular Valentine’s Day that stands out to me that I would probably claim as my favorite. It was our second one. We were poor college students living in a small, East Texas town. We were likely heading in the same direction of celebrating this Hallmark holiday the way we did the first year…with a sheet cake from Walmart and a couple of forks.

But for some crazy reason our good friends, who were celebrating their first Valentine’s as a married couple, invited us over for dinner that night. We went to their tiny garage apartment where we sat around their table, like grown ups, and ate a simple but yummy, home cooked meal while talking about school and church. The conversation led to how we would spend the rest of the evening. Go rent a movie at Hastings? Play a board game? Or splurge by spending our last $20 that we had between the four of us. We chose the last option because we like to live on the edge. 😉

Once we agreed to go all in, we created our best game plan. We split, guys versus girls. Each team got $10 to spend on something to do that evening. I don’t even remember what the reward was for the winner, but it was enough motivation to get us fired up. We went our separate ways with an hour time limit before we would meet back up to present our plans.

I have no idea how the conversation played out for the guys, but she and I jumped in my car and were off to Walmart. On the way, we excitedly chattered about what would impress our men the most. We knew that they both loved basketball and Rocky, so we decided to create our own half court in their living room. We bought an over-the-door basketball goal and a package of slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies, because you can’t lose with warm cookies. We quickly headed back to throw the cookies in the oven and then proceeded to move all of their living room furniture into their bedroom and kitchen. We miraculously located a Rocky CD and had it blaring when they arrived.

The guy’s jaws dropped when they walked in. They proudly expressed their satisfaction with our plan. But I think they were even more impressed that we managed to move all of their beastly living room furniture all while baking cookies. After a game of two-on-two, they presented us with their offerings. In the course of an hour, they composed a heartfelt poem and produced two, small wooden jewelry boxes for us to paint. Ladies, say it with me now…”awwwwwww!”

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Do you see the basketball hoop inside?!?!

It was simple but it was sweet. And it’s hard not to smile BIG when I think about that night. It just goes to show that you don’t need a lot of money or over-the-top plans to have a memorable celebration with people you love.

“The best nights are usually unplanned, random and spontaneous.”
-Unknown

Jock

When my mom was a little girl, she would play basketball with Johnny Macourt and all the neighborhood boys. They would choose her, time and time again, in the schoolyard pick and she would run circles around them during every game. She played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse throughout school and carried on her love of sports into adulthood, playing on every church softball league, pickle ball at the rec center, and competitive basketball with the local seniors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

When I was a kid, she would sit in the bleachers during my games, hollering with all manner of conviction that if I would just stop spinning on the field then I would be the star player with scholarships coming from all arenas. I was in third grade.

Never give up. Be a team player. Stick to your commitments. These were the things I heard my mom saying throughout my life and no one lived them better than she.

About ten years ago, she joined a senior basketball team, the Texas All Stars. She’s a 5’3” point guard with a dead on three pointer. During tournaments she typically wins the foul shot and around-the-world challenges. They were the dream team, coming home with one medal after another. They even practiced with the Globetrotters (she’s #43 in the video)!

Check out the Granny Globetrotters here!

Several years in, the team split. Feelings were hurt but their spirits were not broken. Her new team, the Texas Phoenix, “rose up from the ashes” and came back with a newfound confidence and team attitude.

Their team knows how to have a good time too! These ladies have clocked some miles together, driving from one tournament to another in Jean’s minivan. They have an uncanny habit of making illegal u-turns which they manage to convince the police officer to turn a blind eye on. One of their teammates insists on stopping at every Dairy Queen so she can satisfy her Blizzard addiction. And they are frequent flyers of the Drury Inn because they can get free breakfast, dinner and popcorn.

My mom is seventy-five and just played in her 5th National Senior Games in June. Their team was a little worse for wear this time around. One teammate battled breast cancer this past year. One had her hip and knee replaced. One had a blood clot in her brain just weeks before the games. And my mom separated her meniscus in her knee and was slowly rehabbing it back to being fully functional. They could have easily backed out of the games and no one would have bat an eye given their injuries. But, they are one determined bunch and took on the challenge with gusto. They played their hearts out, but came up short, placing fourth out of six in the loser’s bracket.

I remember sitting there, watching these seniors approach their games like they were professionally paid athletes. Their only compensation was the right to say that they played in the National Senior Games…something the majority of people their age can not claim and most of us can hardly dream of.

While at the games, I decided to take in a few other sports and found myself at the 50 meter dash one afternoon. That day, I watched a man who was 104 years old finish the 50 meter dash in 39 seconds. He stood at the starting line with his cane, handed it to the race official when the starter pistol was fired. The race official then met him at the finish line with his cane so he could walk back to his seat.

These athletes…they’re inspirational. They have a level of grit, passion, loyalty, and general badassery that I aspire to. And in ten short years, I too can be a senior athlete…if I would just stop spinning in circles on the field.

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”
-Babe Ruth

Too Pretty to Open

When your mom’s love language is gift-giving, you better believe Christmas morning is gonna be crazy town. This is my mom to a “T”. She can’t help herself…she gets a lot of joy out of seeing others open the gifts that she has thoughtfully chosen and beautifully wrapped.

My mom starts her holiday season with the out-of-town folks. She carefully picks out little “nit-nits” and treats. She hunts down just the right box from a local store’s recycling pile and then puts her mad Tetris skills to test. And although the gifts on the inside of the box are what matter the most, she also prides herself on a well-wrapped box. Apparently the folks at the post office appreciate it too because they’ve asked her to give lessons on how to mail packages. If she could work out a deal with them, she would probably find herself breaking even. As it stands now, she’s keeping the post office open with all the money she spends there!

If you’re on the receiving end of one of these boxes, you will quickly find that it takes several different tools just to open it. But the goodies within are worth the effort. She even includes a plastic bag inside for easy clean up of all the packaging. Now that’s thoughtful!

Once the out-of-towners are done, my mom works her way through the immediate family. She always asks for a list but you can also guarantee she’ll deviate from the list to include some random, yet helpful, trinket that you eventually find you can not live without.

And the wrapping…well it’s an art in itself. I don’t know anyone who can match up the patterns on wrapping paper better than my mom. And she is notorious for tying a bow that is impossible to untie. Each package is carefully thought out so there are no two presents wrapped in the same paper and the bow and tag beautifully coordinate. She even wraps all the tiny gifts in each stocking!

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As a kid, we were welcomed into her wrapping lair under very specific guidelines: she got to cut the paper and would be monitoring our tape use like a hawk. But it was an apprenticeship that has come in handy throughout my life. I can wrap any shape gift and tie bows like no other.

When I call home during the holiday season, my dad will often comment that my mom is tied up in “wrap mania.” Sequestered in her back office with her card table that is loaded down with all things gift wrap-related…wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, and tags for days. All my years growing up, I remember my mom and grandma going out the day after Christmas at the crack of dawn to load up on paper and cards for the following year. You can never have too much wrapping paper!

It’s a lot of work that I am sure goes unnoticed by many. But for those of us who are detail oriented, the effort is recognized with many “oohs and ahhhs”…right before we tear into them! As she watches everyone savagely destroy all her hard work, she’ll proclaim, like clock work, “they’re too pretty to open!”

I get it, though. It’s so nice to look at a decorated Christmas tree with beautiful presents underneath. The anticipation of watching someone you love open that present and the look of surprise or joy on their face. It’s priceless. And that’s why, every year, I’m especially sure to wrap my mom’s presents in the prettiest paper and bows because if anyone will notice, it’ll be her.

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Spritz Cookies

Christmas is hands-down my favorite holiday. From decorating the tree to singing carols, wrapping gifts to lighting candles at the Christmas Eve service…the beloved traditions are endless. One I remember fondly is making spritz cookies with my grandma.

It would be difficult to put my relationship with my grandma into words. Nothing would come close to expressing what she meant to me and what an incredible lady she was. When I was in second grade she moved in with my family. Regardless if she had lived with our family or not, I do believe we would have had a close relationship because we were kindred spirits. However, this particular arrangement proved to be a life altering deal for me. Seeing her every day, living life with her, allowed me to know her on a more intimate level. I cherish the afternoons of sitting on her bed, looking at family photos and hearing stories of her childhood. Faithfully watching Oprah while playing poker and gin rummy at her game table. Being familiar with her daily rituals of eating Puffed Rice with a sliced banana in the morning, wearing skirts and pantyhose every day, and the way she would habitually arrange and re-arrange her silverware on her placemat. She was and always will be one of my favorite people of all time.

Each year, Grandma would unearth her cookie press after Thanksgiving for her annual spritz cookie bake-athon. Spritz cookies are a fairly plain butter cookie. Not much to look at…but highly addictive. She was never distracted by all the shapes that come with a cookie press. She was devoted to her star shape that produced a simple, yet refined, wreath-shaped cookie. She unpretentiously decorated them with green and red sugar sprinkles. She would crank out 5 dozen in an afternoon, cooling them on the kitchen table on brown paper bags. And then packaged up two tins for my aunt in Georgia and my uncle in California…leaving the rest for our family to devour that week.

When she passed away in 2003, I inherited her cookie press and have continued the tradition since. I have experimented with different decorations and shapes but quickly recognized that her ways were tried and true. And while I bake, I listen to Christmas music and remember the sweet afternoons of watching Grandma press out the cookies while she let me add the sprinkles.

“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
-Kurt Vonnegut