Catching Up…Spring & Summer 2014

Well first of all, I’m happy to announce that I actually remembered the login password for my blog.  It’s been that long.

I don’t ever feel pressured about this blog, because it’s a hobby.  But when I printed the past couple of years’ posts into blog books last spring, it reminded me how much I love having this as a scrapbook.  I was also reminded by a certain family member that I’m way behind.  So I’m back in the saddle, so to speak.

I’ve definitely had enough time to blog.  I can’t use that excuse.  I could chalk it up to life experiences.  But I’m not playing that card either.  Somehow I imagine those life experiences will one day make their way into words on this platform.  Or maybe in a novel.  (I’m not suggesting I have the ability to author a book, but I may possibly have the content and the characters.)

In the meantime, I am ready to catch up on the past year’s happenings in the lives of my kiddos.  Thankfully modern technology sorts photos chronologically.  Otherwise, I would have no idea where to start.

My last post, written in early March of 2014, actually occurred at the end of 2013. (And this is why it’s best to keep up with a blog on a regular basis.)  January and February are always my least favorite months, as I’m not a fan of really cold weather, and I’m also sad to see the holidays end. But the winter months flew by, and we had some fun things happen along the way.

Walt competed in his first TaeKwonDo tournament and won a trophy for 2nd place in his division.  I’m not sure at this point if karate has a place in Walt’s future, but I do know he is quite fond of a  trophy.

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Walt also lost his two front teeth.  Apparently it happened before February 14th, evident from the heart and “Be Mine” owl in the background.

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Anna Katherine continued to play a lot of tennis.  Her high school team competed in several local tournaments, and she and her partner came away winners on this particular night.  (She also earned her letterman jacket.)

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IMG_1346It was chilly playing at the end of February, so AK and McKenna chose to stay warm in hammocks and blankets between matches.

 

Charlie turned 11.  He still believes he is one of the kids, and I don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.  Considering he’s the best behaved in the bunch and never talks back, I’d say he deserves a cupcake once a year.

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Anna Katherine performed in Hallsville High School’s talent show with a classmate.  And they won.  (For all those people who worried about AK moving during high school to a new school and adjusting, rest easy.  She has completely settled in and feels very much at home here.   I fully believe if we moved to Kuwait she would be hosting dinner parties within a matter of days.  It’s her personality.)  They sang beautifully, and I was really blown away by all of the talent I witnessed that morning.  I’m grateful most of all that AK is happy and enjoying these last couple of years in high school.

 

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Ben and Walt headed to Mississippi to visit Gran & Granddad during Spring Break.
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Ben especially enjoyed some time on the lake fishing.IMG_1397IMG_1381

 

And he always loves spending time with his cousin, Matt.

 

While the boys were away, Anna Katherine and I considered taking a long vacation to the Bahamas.  Instead, we opted for oral surgery.  She had her wisdom teeth removed.  Happy times.

IMG_1383We did make a quick trip to Mississippi to visit Nana at the end of the week.  AK was definitely not at full speed while we visited, but she did get to see a few friends, and it was nice to be back “home.”

 

I took a break from working when we made the move, so I could spend some time getting the kids adjusted to their new schools and new schedules.  And I also needed a little time of my own to adjust to a new place and make some new friends.  After a few months, I knew it was time to seek at least a little part-time work.  So I completed the necessary paperwork and application for a Texas PT license, and it arrived mid-February.  While I was grateful to receive it, it seemed a little bittersweet.  It meant my time of volunteering at the school, meeting friends at the gym for yoga, and gathering with ladies for Wednesday morning Bible study was coming to an end.  It was very nice while it lasted.  But the bank account was screaming for back-up.  All those years of working part-time to help pay for groceries and “stuff” made more of a difference than I realized.  So I started looking for a job.  And by the end of March, I was officially hired by a local pediatric therapy clinic.  I enjoyed the time I spent in Tupelo doing physical therapy in the schools, so I knew this would be a good fit.  While I was  a little reluctant about taking a full-time position, my boss explained it might later transition into a part-time position as he added additional staff.  It sounded like a great plan.

Meanwhile, Ben kicked off his first year playing baseball in Hallsville.  He was allowed to play several positions including pitcher.  He always seemed perfectly calm on the mound, while I sat on the bleachers biting my nails.  I guess it’s part of a Mom’s job description.

 

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Anna Katherine decided she wanted to register for  some area USTA tournaments during late Spring.  So the first one she chose was in Dallas.  It started raining as soon as she was assigned a court.  And it never stopped.

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After an hour in the vehicle, the officials finally determined to postpone matches until the following morning.  AK and I headed to the Galleria for some dinner and shopping.  (We weren’t exactly dressed for anything fancy, but we were starving.  So we hit the food court.)

AK couldn’t resist a little ice skating.  She talked me into joining her for a few loops around the rink. Not before I reminded her that if I fell, she would need to get a stretcher.  (It’s a sad day when you are old enough to know that a fall will mean a fracture at worst and a few days “down in your back” at best.)

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That’s a fake smile with the face of fear behind it.  A little girl was determined to keep circling around me.  I tried to use my sweetest voice as I pleaded, “Please don’t touch me.”  She finally spun off and found her family.  And it wasn’t long before I found a comfy bench and enjoyed watching AK.

That tournament in Dallas was eventually cancelled.  We awoke in our hotel early the next morning to a downpour.  Fortunately we had some prettier days the following weeks as the school year came to an end.  And the tennis team enjoyed some nice weather to finish out their season.

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IMG_1451AK and McKenna had a great year together.  So thankful these two girls have had such a fun time on and off the courts.

AK celebrated her 17th birthday in April with a few of her friends at a local restaurant and then came back to our house afterward for cake.

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The following week, Walt’s first grade class enjoyed an Easter party.  (His teacher sent me and the other homeroom Mom a text early that morning saying she had pink eye and wouldn’t be at school.  She needed us to arrive a little early and take care of business.)

Sharla was in charge of the craft.  She (and Pinterest) decided it would be sweet to paint each child’s foot and make “footprint carrots.”  It was really cute and a little stinky, but we got it done.

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All of the first grade classes participated in an egg hunt.  At the same time.  In the same school yard.  Ten classes lined up, and after a grand countdown, approximately 200 first graders  ran simultaneously for a field full of colorful, plastic, candy-filled eggs.  It was mass chaos.  Of course, each child could get only 10 eggs, so Moms and teachers monitored the baskets.

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After returning to the room, the class decorated sugar cookies.

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Before it was over, Walt’s sweet teacher sent a text to check on us.  I responded that only two children had cried, and we were making it just fine.   I also included this picture in my reply.

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We actually checked out a little early, and since the weather was nice, we took Walt’s buddy Tom home with us for awhile.  And we made a trip to the park.

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We enjoyed a nice, long weekend at home.  The kids played with all the neighbors and hunted eggs numerous times in the backyard.  Sunday morning the kids scrambled through  their baskets early before heading to church.

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And then they posed so happily for the annual Easter pic.

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AK went to Jacob’s that afternoon to visit his family, and she sent me this photo taken by Jacob’s Mom.  I have no idea what the future holds for this cute couple, but I do know they have a fun time, and they’re making some sweet memories together during high school.  Regardless what direction their individual paths may take over this next year, they are the best of friends.

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At the beginning of May, Walt’s class enjoyed a trip to Gators & Friends (an alligator park in Louisiana).  I’m not really a fan of gators, but this was a really neat park with lots of other animals.IMG_1502

IMG_1505(Ummm, yep.  It’s a good thing those little gator-jaws are tightly shut with some extra-duty duct tape.)

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Next up on our calendar of events was prom.  In fact, Walt and I ran by the florist on our way home from the field trip to pick up Jacob’s boutonniere.   Jacob, by the way, is “the boyfriend,” allthough he now feels a little more like a part of our family.  They’ve been dating since March, 2014, and they really are such sweet friends.  My boys also treat him like a big brother.

Jacob picked AK up at the house, and then they  joined a group of their friends at a nearby restaurant for dinner before prom.  And lucky for me, I was a chaperone later in the evening.  So I had an excuse to take some fun photos.

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My shift at the dance was during the 10:00-11:00 hour.  I was really impressed with the decorations at the high school.  The Moms and teachers did a great job.  (I was at a gator park while this transformation took place.)

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I tried to stay out of the way of my own child while chaperoning, to avoid any potential embarrassment.  Thankfully I brought along my best zoom lens.

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The end of the school year wrapped up with Awards Day.

 

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IMG_1594It was a fun year in the first grade, and since I had a chance to help in this class each week, I was a little sad saying good-bye to these little rascals.  It was a sweet bunch!

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Walt had a great year with Ms. DeWare in first grade.  It was her first year teaching, and I told the school counselor that we would be thrilled to have a teacher just like her every year from here on out.  She was as good as any “veteran” teacher that we’ve had through the years.  And we’ve had quite a variety.  I didn’t even have a clue until half way into the school year that she was a rookie teacher.  Anna Katherine will sometimes mention one or two of her “favorite” teachers from her early elementary years.  I have a feeling when Walt is a senior, he’ll still be talking about Ms. DeWare.

As the school year ended, Walt earned his green belt in TaeKwonDo.

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He and his buddy Tom had fun being in the same class at school and in karate.  Two tough boys.

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Earning the green belt meant he was ready for sparring gear, complete with pads, helmet, footwear, mouthpiece, a jockstrap, and protective cup.  (Yes, he had a few questions about that cup.)

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The mouth piece makes him look extra-tough.

At the beginning of the summer, the boys spent a few weeks back in Mississippi. (AK stayed in Texas to play some tennis matches required by her coach and to spend some time with friends. Once the boys returned, she babysat as a summer job, keeping her brothers while I worked Mon.-Thurs.)

Since Ben’s birthday falls right before the 4th of July holiday (and he is always out of town on vacation with the grandparents during that time), we decided to have his party a few weeks early just before they left for Mississippi.  He and Walt were both wanting a water slide for the backyard, and since it’s hotter than you-know-what in Texas during July and August, I thought it would be a wise investment that they could enjoy during the summer break.  So we got the slide and used it for a Sunday afternoon party with the neighborhood friends.

(I also made a mental note that after this year, I will plan any future parties for Ben during the school year.  It’s tough on a kid having a summer birthday.  It’s more difficult to contact classmates, and everyone is busy traveling or playing ball.  We’re going to back up the birthday celebration to early May.  He totally agrees.)

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Five days later, I packed the boys up and carried them to Nana’s house.

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We had spent part of the previous summer with Nana while I worked a few weeks to finish covering maternity leave for a PT back in Tupelo.  The boys were thrilled to be back to do some fishing, swimming, playing with the neighborhood buddies, and hanging out with their Nana.

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Ben has a great time with Evan, who lives immediately next door to Nana.  They both share a love of fishing.  And they will spend hours together on the bank, talking and catching fish (or turtles).

I got to see my girls for a quick visit before leaving town.  We enjoyed dinner together at Bess’s house on Saturday evening to celebrate Brandi’s birthday.  These sweet ladies are like sisters to me, and I can’t even describe how much I miss them.  I’m so grateful for technology and the convenience of texting and Facebook.  It makes it much easier to stay in touch and keep up with their day-to-day lives.

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I would love to say that I wasn’t a wreck leaving this crew on Sunday morning.  But it was tough.  In fact, I cried the first three hours of the drive back to Texas.  First of all, I wanted to stay and visit, too.  We had only been there 36 hrs. before I had to return.  Not to mention I had never been away from my kids for a month.  And I also hadn’t worked full-time during the summer months since Anna Katherine was a year old.  That was sixteen years ago.  I enjoyed spending summers with my kids and just living life with them, watching them have fun and knowing what they were doing.  We didn’t have to do anything major but play in the backyard or ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  But it was just good to be there with them.  This new life was a big adjustment.  I just had to keep remembering that no situation is permanent, and the full-time deal wouldn’t be forever.  It was just a season in life.

Fortunately the boys had lots and lots of fun and stayed very busy.  Each time I talked to them on the phone, it made me smile to hear the joy in their voices.  As much as I missed them, I realized they were having a wonderful time and would have eventually become bored at the house while I worked.  They enjoyed a week of VBS at our home church in Tupelo, and the last week at Nana’s they played with the neighbors and swam at the pool everyday.  They were thrilled about getting to eat at all their favorite restaurants and going to the mall to “Time Out” to play video games.  Basically, they were loved on and spoiled rotten.  Exactly what grandmothers are supposed to do with their grandkids.

I had hoped I could work out seeing them midway through the month, but I had to attend a therapy conference in Austin, TX during one of the weekends.  Between traveling to and from Tupelo during one weekend (14 hrs. round trip) and the Austin trip  (9 hrs. roundtrip), I couldn’t manage another road trip to see them.  Once they connected with Gran & Granddad, they made their way to Smith Lake in Alabama to spend the week of July 4th with their cousins.  They had a fun time.  AK was also able to be there.  Since I had just started the new job, I had no vacation time.  (In retrospect, it was not meant for me to be on that trip.)

I answered a knock on my door after work on the evening Anna Katherine and her Dad left for that vacation.  I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids.  I was wrong.  I was being served divorce papers.  (And for now, that’s all I’m going to say about that. )

The kids returned on July 6th, and it was like breathing fresh air to see their faces again.  Nana had come to Texas to be with me during that week, and she stayed several more days to spend some additional time with the kids.  All three kids were scheduled to leave a week later for camp (Pine Cove for the boys and Young Life for AK).  I was originally a little hesitant for the boys doing a week of overnight camp, but since AK was their daytime sitter while I was working and she would be away during that week, I thought it would be a fun alternative to having another week of a babysitter at home.  I loved camp as a kid and also loved being a camp counselor, so I want my kids to be able to experience it.  AK had already been made aware of the situation by another family member, but the boys were completely unaware.  And I felt it was best to keep it that way until they returned from camp.  Either that or they wouldn’t need to go.  I couldn’t imagine the possibility of getting homesick and then having that to think about.

That Saturday afternoon, AK boarded a bus with some other kids from the Longview Young Life group and headed to Buena Vista, Colorado for a week at Frontier Ranch.

 

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I drove the boys the next day over to Tyler to Pine Cove.  I remember taking several pictures of the boys outside of their cabins and sitting inside by their bunks.  Yet I can’t find those photos anywhere.  (That can happen when you wait 6 months to post anything.)  I do have these photos from the day I picked them up.

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The counselors presented each camper with an award at the closing ceremony, describing a special character trait seen in that camper throughout the week.  (Another reason I should blog more frequently…I can’t remember what they wrote about each of the boys.  But we do have those certificates in a drawer somewhere.  I promise we do!)  Anyway, the descriptions of each child were very thoughtful and personal.  Sadly, by the time I walked away from Walt’s group and found Ben’s counselor with his group outside, they had just wrapped-up their presentations.

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And the real fun began for me when we arrived back at home.  There’s no greater joy than knowing your children have rolled in mud and water all week, returning their clothes to tightly sealed plastic trunks.

I’m glad the camp puts pictures on its website each night during the week of camp.   Sometimes it was a little challenging to spot one of my kids in the midst of all the others. And then other times, it was pretty easy. Exhibit A.

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They had a theme each night, and the boys said “Black Out” was their favorite.

imageThat’s my boy in the middle above with his mouth wide-open.

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They had to be detectives one evening. Not only was I happy to spot Walt in the corner of the photo, but I was tickled to see he wore the $5 “Detective” cap I ordered on eBay.

I was especially happy to see both Ben and Walt having a great week and meeting new friends.

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The last half of the summer flew by.  AK kept the boys busy during the week with a schedule of reading and various activities to keep them from being bored and just watching t.v. all day.  Walt did some tutoring with his teacher, Ms. DeWare, to keep him on track with reading.  And then I was off on Fridays, so we tried to find some fun things to do.  We went to a nearby water park one of those days, but I didn’t take a single picture.  The boys still say it doesn’t beat Geyser Falls, but they do love it.

My dear friend Brandi came to stay for the last full week of summer vacation.  She entertained the kids non-stop and spoiled them as much as any grandparent would do.  She also spoiled me.  I came home each evening from work to find a home-cooked meal.  In fact, when she left, the kids asked me if “Ms. Brandi” could come back again for a week next summer.  The weekend prior to keeping the kids, she treated me to a spa weekend in Dallas.   (We actually opted out on the spa and spent some much-needed R & R by the pool.)  That weekend and the following week helped revive me.  And it reminded me that friends are one of life’s greatest blessings, especially those life-long friends that stand with you through both the happy and the tough times.  The older I get, I’m realizing the true measure of a friend is her ability to ride out the storms with you.

I have so many thoughts I’d love to share about this past summer.  I love to write and express what I’m feeling.  But for now, I’m pondering most of those things.  And doing a lot more praying.  While sometimes people can say words that are hurtful in a difficult situation, I feel very grateful to have been surrounded by folks who have shared encouraging, sustaining words of truth.  Among those, I received this sweet message from a dear friend here in Longview.  “God is always faithful and will never leave or forsake you.  He is your constant.  And He will restore what the locusts have eaten….” (Joel 2:25)

I’ll wrap this lengthy post up for now.  And I’ll be back hopefully in the next couple of weeks to catch up on our fall and winter 2014.

Walt’s Baptism

During the fall, Walt began asking serious questions about salvation.  Heaven has been a frequent topic of conversation since losing Pop, but Walt began probing further.  He’s been in church since he was in the womb, so the terminology has long been familiar and “Sunday school answers”  roll off his tongue easily.  But he had come to a place of knowing he lacked a relationship with Jesus.

I began praying that God would continue to tender his heart and give us moments to share Scriptural truths without pressing.  On October 13, 2013, just before bedtime, Walt prayed and invited Jesus into his heart.

He also did as the Lord commands and went to school the next day to “share the Good News.” However, we later had to discuss his tactics.  He may or may not have told a few people they were gonna go to hell if they didn’t know Jesus.

Walt was baptized on Sunday, December 22, 2013.    He discovered Christmas in a new way.  He had received the greatest Gift of all during 2013.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  Ephesians 2:8

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(We were grateful to have Eric Perkins baptize Walt.  He served on staff at Harrisburg in Tupelo several years ago and is now at Mobberly in Longview.  It’s been a blessing to have a familiar face in our new church.)

Another blessing has been the ministry for new Christians.  Walt attended a six-week class on Sunday mornings that covered a variety of topics including: prayer life, serving Christ, obedience through Baptism, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, and spending time in the Word & memorizing Scripture.  He learned so much and had the sweetest teachers.

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Over the River and Through the Woods

The day after Christmas we loaded up the vehicle and headed to Mississippi.  And when I say we loaded up, I mean we stuffed ourselves, our dog, our luggage, and a pile of gifts into a compact SUV.

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We made even the Brady Bunch look more comfortable, riding on those camping trips in their 1960s sta-wag, complete with Alice and Tiger in tow.

About midway through the drive there was lots of grumbling and complaining.   Mainly from me.  Shannon pulled into a parking lot where I was able to get out of the vehicle to stretch my legs.  And since I have the back of a ninety-nine year-old, I went inside the Dollar General and bought the largest bottle of Aleve I could find.  And a diet Coke.  Because just holding a diet Coke tends to sooth my nerves.  I think some people might refer to that as an addiction.

Anyway, with the naproxen and caffeine in my system along with some return of sensation in my lower extremities, we pressed on.  We made it to Gran and Grandad’s late-evening, just in time for the big gift exchange with the cousins.

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AK & Matt

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Grammy, Ben & Walt (with “Delta” the chihuahua)

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There was a hunting theme with the gifts this year.  Which makes sense seeing that our kids spend most of the time in the woods when we visit Gran & Grandad during the fall and winter months.

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The next couple of days the kids and Shannon enjoyed hunting.  (I kept the sofa warm, as usual.)  Ben killed a small deer, and the rest of our crew just had fun being in the woods.

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That Sunday afternoon we headed to Tupelo for a late Christmas celebration with my family.

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Reagan brought her guitar and sang a few songs for us.  She just got this for her birthday back in September and has been teaching herself to play.  She’s really good and has even written a song.  Of course, we all had to work hard to keep the tears from flowing since the song was about Pop and his influence on her life and her love of music.  He would have loved it.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s heard it once or twice and been singing along from above.

Anna Katherine was able to spend some time with friends while we were back home.  She even decided to go to winter formal on New Year’s Eve with a group of girls.  She couldn’t wait to see everyone.  It felt like a class reunion for her.

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The boys enjoyed a couple of afternoons at the skateboard park.  Nana gave them both inline skates and skateboards for Christmas, so they were eager to break those in.  And we haven’t found a good place to skateboard in Longview, other than our driveway.

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We had a great time being back in Mississippi, and while the time with each family was fairly brief, we were so thankful to be able to spend it with them.  This Christmas was definitely an adjustment for our family, but we quickly realized new traditions can sometimes be fun.  Maybe a little crowded during the ride, but fun nonetheless.

Christmas in Texas

This was a year of new traditions for our family of five.  For the first time in twenty years, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day away from extended family.  We decided we would have more time to visit if we waited until after the holiday to make the trip back to Mississippi to see both families.

The kids got out of school on the Friday before Christmas, and we got busy that weekend making our iced Christmas cookies.  Upon Walt’s request, we decided to also attempt gingerbread men.  (Thank you, Betty Crocker mix.)  Anna Katherine decided she would make our usual cinnamon rolls that we have on Christmas morning.  As I told Shannon, the cinnamon rolls are a true labor of love.  We make Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls, which take a little time but are so worth it.  Anna Katherine hung in there all afternoon that Sunday and had enough rolls for our family and plenty to freeze for later or give to the neighbors.  (We decided to make White Trash Chex Mix to give to our neighbors instead, so now we have enough cinnamon rolls to last us awhile.)

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Ben and I actually made these cute little reindeer cookies the week before he finished school.  His teacher decided it would be fun to give the kids a Christmas project.  One of the options was to bring something homemade or baked that could be shared with the class.  While it was busy work, we appreciate an easy “A” every now and then.

Along with all the Christmas cooking, we enjoyed a little entertainment from our Elf on the Shelf-ish, Elbert.  He’s not a legitimate Elf on the Shelf, seeing that I bought him at TJ Maxx several years ago in the Christmas decor section.  He was cute, and I just liked the idea of an elf on a shelf.  I haven’t once actually read the book.  And our elf, for the most part, really sits on a shelf.  But after Ben looked at him one night and dared him to make a move, even going so far as attempting a $20 bribe, I decided it was time for Elbert to cut loose.

IMG_1119After sitting in this comfy spot for several days, he made a big leap across the room and brought a book along.

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Ben was ecstatic until I reminded him he owed the elf twenty bucks.

All jokes aside, the elf isn’t a big deal in our home, but we did have a little fun with him on an occasion or two.  And just as quickly as he appeared in our home, he quickly returned to the North Pole on Christmas Day.  (The pressure is off for another year.)

On Christmas Eve, we attended the 3:00 service at our church.  This was a “new” experience for us, as we have traditionally attended the Christmas Eve service at our church in Tupelo with my family.  It was a bittersweet time, creating new family traditions while leaving behind established ones.  Our hometown community had experienced a tragedy that week, and while we sat in the service that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of Walt’s friend from four-year-old preschool.  Dixie would be spending her first of many Christmases without her Daddy as the result of a thoughtless, cruel act of a violent man.  And as our family of five sat in our new church, surrounded by many people that we have yet to meet, I was reminded how fragile life is and how grateful I am for the opportunity to make new traditions together.

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Following the service, we had dinner together at home, lit the final candle of our advent wreath, and read one of our favorite Christmas books.  We also let each kid open one gift.  (Tacky Christmas jammies.)  This was also a new tradition, and I can’t wait to continue this one.

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IMG_1222The book that they are reading is one that my Dad recorded for them several years ago and gave to each of the grandchildren for Christmas.  It’s sweet to hear his voice reading The Very First Christmas.  I treasure hearing this each year and know they will treasure their books for many years to come.  (I also love that he recorded a special introduction for each child.)

They modeled their pjs for us before going to bed.  It appears the tacky jammies resulted in a little bit of the crazy.

 

 

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Ben was the first one awake on Christmas morning.  We heard him scrounging around in the den very, very early.  And we continued to sleep.  I told him the night before that he couldn’t wake us until he saw sunshine.  So around 6:45 both boys came in to announce Santa made a delivery at our house.

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After we played with the gifts for awhile, we enjoyed our traditional Christmas morning brunch.  Again, our traditions were changing somewhat, since we normally had my whole family over to eat brunch with us.  As much as we missed everyone, we enjoyed our time together and still had our typical menu of breakfast casserole, jalapeño cheese grits, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, and fruit.  And I stayed in my pajamas most of the day.  And then after all the merriment and a little nap, I did a whole lot of cleaning and a whole lot of packing as we prepared to leave the following day to visit both sides of the family.  It was a very Merry Christmas in Texas.

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Yellow Belt

Walt fully recovered from the flu on Wednesday (after being diagnosed on Monday), and he was ecstatic that he was able to attend the belt testing at his Tae Kwon Do studio that night.  He advanced from orange to yellow belt.  The boy is serious about his karate skills and plans to have his black belt within the next couple of years.

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I love the enthusiasm of the little guy on the back row.  (Walt is calmly posing second-from-left on the front.)

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Way to go, Walt!  So proud of you.

Fabulous Forty & the Flu

I was able to make a quick trip back home during mid-December to celebrate Bess’s 40th birthday with the girls.  Sadly I didn’t take any quality photos, but among the five of us, we did get a few of pics on our phones.

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Brandi is the official party planner, and she did a fabulous job on the t-shirts.  I don’t have a close-up, but the photo on the front is Bess in a Reed’s ad circa 1987-ish.  Total diva.

We surprised her with a girls’ overnight getaway to Oxford.  We knew December would be a difficult month to get away, but Oxford was the perfect location.  Not too far from home, yet such a great spot for shopping and eating.  Not to mention we had a really nice condo to stay in.  (Thanks sweet friends!)  Some of the husbands were able to join us for dinner that evening.  (Shannon stayed in Texas to keep our kids, and Gentry had to be away that weekend for a business trip.)

The following photo isn’t the best quality due to poor lighting, but I think it’s obvious from the smiles on our faces that we all love being together.  I miss these folks like crazy.  Sweet bunch of friends!

IMG_1173 IMG_1126Happy 40th, Bess!!  So thankful for your friendship and glad you are now joining the rest of us as we settle into mid-life. 🙂  Shea is next!

 

I spent a couple of days at Mom’s before returning to Texas.  On Sunday, the day before I was scheduled to fly back home, Shannon called to tell me Walt was running a little fever and wanting to lay in the bed.  I knew it was one of two things.  Strep or the flu.  He doesn’t get sick often, but if he or either of the other two have fever, you can count on it being something significant.  (Last time Ben had fever, it was flu.  And the time before that, he hit the jackpot…strep AND mono.)

So I called the pediatrician’s office first thing Monday before heading to the airport and scheduled Walt’s appointment.  Shannon sent me a text just before noon to let me know Walt had Type A flu.  And, yes, we all got the flu vaccine back in October.  Same scenario last year when Ben got the flu.  The flu tends to somehow beat the vaccine.  Fortunately, no one else in the family got it.  I made it home in time to spend the next couple of days hanging out with the little guy until he was fever-free for 24 hours and could return to school.  In the meantime, he was the happiest sick kid I’ve ever been around.

Since he was in no mood to rest and needed something to keep him busy, we did Christmas crafts.  Walt loves a craft more than anybody.  And he was also missing several activities at school, including building their miniature gingerbread houses.  He also had to miss the first grade Christmas program, which upset me more than him.

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Every little boy knows a gingerbread house isn’t complete without a Si bobble head nearby.  They compliment each other nicely.

 

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And just in case we didn’t have enough entertainment inside, the developer in our neighborhood decided to put in a new water pipe outside.  The water pipe will run through the entire neighborhood, but they chose our house and our next door neighbor’s house first.  Because there’s nothing merrier during the week before Christmas than a digger in your front yard.  Best of all, the following week, while the kids were out of school, the men were STILL working, and we had lots and lots of red dirt coming into our house on little boys’ shoes and jeans.  It was great entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving 2013

The kids got out of school early on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  So we loaded up and headed to Mississippi.  Shannon worked through the following Wednesday, so the kids and I stayed in Tupelo until Wednesday evening and met him in the Delta at his folks’ house that night.

About three days before leaving, Shannon sent our trusty van to the shop.  It was long overdue for a good tune-up.  We’d recently noticed some unusual motor sounds that made me feel a little uneasy about driving seven hours with three kids in tow.  I’m glad I was sitting in Bible study when I felt my phone vibrate and saw the text from Shannon.  The blow of bad news was somehow softened in the midst of a bunch of sweet ladies studying the Word.  The quote for the repairs needed on the van exceeded any potential trade-in we could get.

I guess I wasn’t surprised.  After all, the Odyssey has been with us almost eight years and 150,000 miles.  We’ve done a lot of living in that vehicle.  If those walls could speak, I have a feeling they would scream for me to pick up all the petrified french fries and Cheetos.  That vehicle carried some precious cargo.  As a newborn, Walt made his way home from the hospital in the Odyssey.  The entertainment system proved to be well-worth the extra expense.  We played countless DVDs during never-ending carpool lines and various road trips.  I’m pretty certain that van and I could quote every line from Finding Nemo.  It’s the only movie Ben watched during the first few months we owned the minivan.

If I’ve never mentioned how much I don’t like change, let me go ahead and say it for the record.   I don’t like change.  And my life has been about change this past year.  Good times.

So we realized, despite my desire to hold on to the van forever because IT’S PAID IN FULL, a trade was imminent.  (I’m still adjusting.)

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Shannon laughed a little, yet completely understood my need to take a photo with the van.  It’s a little thing we like to call attachment issues.

Fortunately we found a good deal on a trade, and I’m now an SUV owner.  But I’ll always be a fan of the minivan.  Don’t hate the van.  It’s like a townhouse on wheels.

So thankfully the kids and I were able to leave as scheduled that Friday afternoon.  It was a dark, rainy afternoon and evening, making for a mildly stressful drive.  Especially since  I was still trying to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers.  But we made it safely to Nana’s around 9:00 p.m.  Not before Anna Katherine shed a few tears as we passed by Tupelo High School coming off of the Natchez Trace.  It was her first time back home since our move back in July.  I didn’t foresee the emotions she might experience upon her return home, and she certainly didn’t see it coming.  I frantically started asking if she wanted to move back home with Nana, was she okay at her new school, did we make a huge mistake asking her to to switch schools, did she know we were okay with it if she needed to finish high school in MS instead of TX??  After I stopped the six hundred questions, she took a breath and said, “I’m fine.  And I’m good at my new school. I don’t want to leave Texas.  I just wasn’t expecting that.  I miss it here.”

And I completely understand.  I’m older and it’s very different.  But I really do understand.  It’s something my Mom and I refer to as fresh grief.  Sometimes life is rolling along fine.  And then a memory is stirred, or a moment catches you by surprise, and grief comes on as new as the day you felt it the first time.  Whether it’s losing a loved one or moving away from loved ones, grief is a process.  And it will often just grab you by surprise, fresh and new, even when life is full of blessings and joy.

We arrived at Nana’s, and although we were tired from the trip, we all stayed up late and talked.  Even Aunt Shannon and Reagan came over for a late-night visit.

The next couple of days were cold and rainy, but the boys spent some time at the next door neighbors’ playing with their boys while the weather wasn’t cooperative.  And when the sun was out, they stayed busy raking leaves.  They both like a project, so we sent them across the street to an open lot that was packed full of leaves.  Kept them busy for an entire afternoon.

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We also went to the mall to eat at the Food Court and play games at Time Out.  (This was always one of Walt’s favorite Friday afternoon activities on his half-days in kindergarten.   In fact, he saved over 1,000 tickets to redeem and finally cashed in on them for a handful of toys that broke that afternoon.)  While we were there, we noticed the line to visit Santa was very short.  So we couldn’t resist stopping for a quick chat.

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Anna Katherine stayed busy catching up with friends, and one night she decided to go to a movie with one of her friend-boys.  That’s when Walt totally threw her under the bus.  In the spirit of being a brother ten years her junior, he announced to the guy, “You know she ALWAYS has a different boy at our house.  She has a BUNCH of boyfriends.”

I only wish I had their reactions on video.  We would have already been on the Ellen Show.

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The cousins gathered at Nana’s one evening to make their annual gingerbread houses.  Each year it seems they spend a lot more time on the details and are a LOT  less messy in the process.  Nana has kept a collection of these houses and uses them to decorate.  It’s neat to see how the houses have changed over the years.

After all the decorating of the gingerbread, the kids and I went out for dinner while Nana waited for the delivery man to bring her new refrigerator.

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Her old fridge decided to quit a couple of days before the family was coming for dinner.  Always convenient.  After we ate and drove around looking at lights (yes, some of the neighbors already had their Christmas lights on their houses), we came back to find the new refrigerator in place.  I could write an entire post on the refrigerator debacle, but I’ll let that be Nana’s story.

This year we all made a few changes to our normal traditions for Thanksgiving since we were traveling to visit both families.  We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s on Wednesday evening instead of Thursday.

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Walt also got to celebrate his birthday with a cookie cake and some gifts.

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We headed to Gran and Grandad’s house after dinner Wednesday night.  Shannon had to work through Wednesday afternoon and met us there that night.  We enjoyed a long weekend hunting with cousins and spending time with all the family.  And when I say WE hunted, I mean everyone except me.  I kept the logs on the fire and started dinner.  I’m not a fan of the hunt, unless it involves doves.  And I only like that because it’s 80 degrees outdoors and conversation is allowed.

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Walt scored another cookie cake and quickly realized there are some serious advantages to having a birthday on a holiday.

He also opened a few more gifts from the family.  And now if we could just add on a Lego room to our house, we would all be happy.  The tiny little pieces are taking over.

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After eating an abundance of turkey and dressing, everyone (except me) headed to the woods.   I napped and watched Christmas movies by the fire.  Score.

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I jumped in one of the photos last-minute, since we rarely have a chance to get a full family photo.  And then I wished them all good luck before hurrying back upstairs to assume my position on the couch for the remainder of the afternoon. The dogs and I were quite the lazy bunch.

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Within an hour, Shannon sent a text with these photos.

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Apparently I wasn’t the only one napping.  The birthday boy was worn out.  Turning seven was exhausting.

 

Just as the sun went down, I heard the shot of a rifle in the distance.  Shannon sent a text to let me know Ben killed one.

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Ben always loves going with his Uncle Danny to hunt, and he was thrilled to kill this deer with him.

After the hunt, Ben came inside to rest awhile.  All in a day’s work.

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The following afternoon Walt stayed awake in the stand and killed his very first deer.  A doe.

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Anna Katherine also killed a couple of doe during the weekend but didn’t take photos of hers.  She said they weren’t large enough to photograph.  Whatever that means.  She also is somewhat selective in what I can post on the blog.  So trust me when I say she killed a couple of doe.  They weren’t trophy deer, but they were edible deer (to those who love deer meat).

We had a great Thanksgiving, made some sweet memories, and arrived back in Texas late Sunday afternoon ready to finish the final three weeks of school before the Christmas break.

 

 

 

Decking Our New Halls

While some folks would be terribly upset with us, I will go ahead and admit that we decorated our home for Christmas BEFORE Thanksgiving.  That’s right.  I said it.  Knock me down.  Spit at me.  But in the spirit of thankfulness, peace, good tidings, and Christmas love, I say just embrace it.  Some like to decorate early.  Some like to do it late.  Some go all out.  Some are minimalists.  And it’s all good.

I’ve always loved putting up our fake tree the day after Thanksgiving.  Occasionally I’ve been known to put it up a day or two before Thanksgiving, depending on our schedules.  This year we knew we would be out of town the entire week of the fall break.  Since I picked the kids up from school on that Friday afternoon and headed straight to Mississippi for nine days, I decided to decorate the weekend before they got out of school.  (If you are keeping up, that means our halls were decked almost two weeks before Thanksgiving.)  We didn’t skip Thanksgiving, either.  We don’t need a cornucopia on our table to be reminded how grateful we are for the blessings in life.  I’m thankful every day knowing we are all under one roof, Shannon has a job, and our kids are healthy.  I’m also thankful he has the patience to deal with the lights on the Christmas tree each year.

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And he’s teaching the boys the fine art of making every single strand shine brightly (while reassuring Mom they will all work).

 

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So we basically have all the same decorations.  But it looks different in a new place.  Another of the many adjustments to a move.  While this house is smaller, it’s also cozier somehow, and I like it better in a lot of ways.  The downside is that we have “no room in the inn.”  If anyone wants to visit, we have to pull out an air mattress (or get a hotel room).  And speaking of cozy, we had a few really cold nights back in November, and the boys decided to roast marshmallows in the fireplace.  It’s not exactly chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but it’s the next-best thing.

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Seven

Walt turned seven on Thanksgiving Day this year.  I couldn’t help but think about Thanksgiving Day in 2006 when I was a very rotund girl with a face that glowed something like a full moon.  I felt if someone stuck a pin in me I just might pop and go flying through the air.  Well, except I was way too heavy for the flying.  I remember thinking it would be sweet to have a Thanksgiving baby, albeit inconvenient for family members.  He was due the last day of November, and on the Monday night following Thanksgiving, I couldn’t rest easily and knew it was time to go to the hospital.  The nurse didn’t feel the same sense of urgency and questioned briefly whether I would be admitted.  I assured her there would be no going back home.  I would have to be knocked out, either with medication or a heavy hammer, if I was to return home in that kind of pain. Fortunately the physician on call told her to keep me, and my sweet doctor came in bright and early that next morning ready to deliver my baby boy.  Walt arrived shortly after noon, and I won’t ever forget those sweet brown eyes staring into mine as I held him that first time and whispered, “Hello, little man.”

He really has grown into a little man.  And it’s been a joy to watch him.  He was the surprise of my life.  God isn’t surprised by anything, but I think he delights in surprising us.  And I’m so glad He felt we deserved it.

This year we celebrated the birthday with a few friends here in Longview the week prior to the fall break.   He decided to invite all boys (with the exception of two neighborhood friend-girls).  I’m learning as I go, and next year I won’t plan a party at 4:00 in the afternoon on a weekday.  That always worked in Tupelo.  To paraphrase Dorothy, “We’re not in Tupelo anymore.”  (I tend to say this expression a lot these days.  Especially after my boys get haircuts.)

School ends at 3:20 here instead of 2:45-3:00.  I’ve recently learned that most of his classmates ride the bus.  Only a handful are car riders.   Therefore, many don’t arrive home until after 4:00.  Fortunately our neighbors and Walt’s closest buddy from school were able to make it to the party.  We had the facility mostly to ourselves, and they had a great time.

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He requested a Lego cake.  Since I couldn’t find a local bakery to make a Lego cake, I did the next best thing.  I chose one of Walmart’s “catalogue” cakes (minus the 4-wheeler), and I decorated it myself with Lego pieces.  Easy enough.  I also chose the cupcake-cake for the convenience of serving.  Walt loved it.

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Christmas Break Begins

So Christmas break officially started two hours ago.  Actually school gets out at 1:30 today, but the teachers “encouraged” parents to take their children home following the class Christmas parties this morning.  I remember fonder time when parties were at the end of day.  Now they have breakfast for their parties.  My middle child volunteered me to bring pancakes, hot and ready-to-eat, for his 8 a.m. party.  He has great confidence in his Mama.  Love that boy.  My youngest knows my limitations and also has an appreciation for the donut hole.  So his contribution to the class breakfast was a little easier.

Fortunately Ben’s party was at  8:00 and Walt’s started 30 minutes later.  Since their schools are right around the corner from each other, I was able to attend both.  I must say I’m quite impressed with the parent participation.  I’ve never seen so many Mamas, Daddies, and Grandparents lined up with food to check in.

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I have a feeling my  party-attending days are numbered at Ben’s school.  He’s about to decide it’s not cool to have me there.  When I suggested we get a photo together beside their class tree, he just rolled his eyes.  I knew this day was coming.  In other words, I’m now needed to heat up the pancakes, drop them off, and RUN before someone sees me.

I did get to snap a few pics of him and a few of his buddies.

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I headed to the little man’s school and found this scene.  A room full of energetic, smiling faces dressed in their pajamas.  I was thankful Walt was able to be at his party.  He spent the first half of the week at home with the flu.  It wouldn’t be December at our house unless we welcomed a case influenza.  Last year it was Ben.  And yes, we all got the flu vaccinations.  I’m sad to say that once again the flu beats the vaccine.  (He did have a very mild case, and our pediatrician attributes that to the vaccine.  So it wasn’t all in vain.)

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Walt & Ms. DeWare

 

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A couple of weeks ago, Walt’s teacher sent me an email with the above photo attached of the class elf (“Buddy”), who landed on Walt’s ornament one morning before school.  I responded that I was just happy to know their elf is mobile.  At home, ours is literally an elf ON A SHELF.

Yay for Christmas break.  Now if Anna Katherine will just get home from school, we can begin all the being lazy, watching movies, sleeping late, and eating until we can’t breathe.  This year will bring new traditions for our family due to our move.  I’ll be sure and post a holiday wrap-up when we’ve had our family time here and in Mississippi.  For now, I’m going to do some catching up on the blog since I’m several weeks behind.