Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Packing Perfectionism

I should be packing. We are leaving in a couple of days and my suitcase is empty. This is uncharacteristic for me as I am a strong believer in advanced packing. My strategic strengths run full throttle when it comes to packing suitcases. I leave the driving/flying details to my husband, suitcases and snack bags are my domain. Or were. For some time now, my husband and children have been responsible for their own personal effects. While they may scoff at my over-preparedness, it is rarely I who arrives at our destination without underwear, shampoo, or matching socks.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to the concept of wardrobe capsules. It has transformed the way I shop, pack, and organize my closet. I start with a capsule- basic pieces that will work together in the same or similar color palette. In choosing the capsule, I have to factor in the "where" and "what" of our trip. The "where" is usually firmly established in regards to specific location but it also includes factors such as weather and casualness scale of said destination. The "what" is sometimes less established and creates some packing dilemmas as I consider all the potential scenarios that play out in my mind. For example, what if we get a last minute invitation to the White House for a last- blast- before- the- new- occupants- move- in- party? I should pack for that...cause you just never know. Actually, and more morbidly, my "what-if" scenario most often involves a funeral and whether or not I have a proper and solemn enough outfit if the occasion should occur.

There is also a process to packing--a method to my madness. It involves lots of floor space. I have to lay it all out by day & activity complete with the proper "foundational garments", accessories and shoes. Once I have it all organized, I can start the packing. Plastic baggies are also my friend. I haven't invested in the vacuum sealed ones yet but even the standard Ziploc ones do a great job at keeping things organized and clothing items arrive less crumpled. I found some new packing hints here that I intend to incorporate this time. The final step for me, is to pack it to the hilt. If the pre-selected and coordinated clothing items do not fill the entire suitcase (and I do not anticipate shopping on my "what" list), then any and all remaining space is filled with all my "what if" items. This has perhaps created, on occasion, a few strained muscles and additional airline charges but overall has served me well.

I have now motivated myself to clear the closet and go get packing. Tell George and Laura to forward my invitation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Home for Holidays

I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving holidays. My two "not yet out of the nest" children are out of school the entire week and we are headed "home". When I talk about going "home" I am referring to where our parents now live. Home for my husband is a small town in south central Arkansas where all of his family has resided for ages. My husband moved only once--from the country to "town" when he was in 6th grade. He even commuted to college for the first 2 years. He grew up with all of his grandparents and cousins in the same town. Thanksgiving with his family will mean lots of traditional Thanksgiving fare (his mom has been cooking for weeks) and lots of relatives. I remember being overwhelmed with all the people during those first holiday visits. The holidays with my family will be quieter and less traditional. So as not to duplicate my mother-in-law's traditional turkey dinner, my side of the family celebrates our Texas heritage with Mexican food or BBQ at Thanksgiving and a shrimp boil at Christmas. With no extended family in the area and depending on my brother's family schedule, it is usually a smaller seating arrangement. They are both equally enjoyable times of celebration.

I may speak of home as where my parents now live--and it home because of them-- but for me, "home" isn't any ONE place. You see, I am a PK (preacher's kid- yeah I know that explains a few other things about me) and over the course of my childhood, there are several places I've called home. Most of what I remember of the small East Texas town where I was born and lived until I was 3 except is vague memories stimulated by family photos. It must have been a great time in my life though-- as the first born child, I had the focused love and attention of my parents and according to my mother, was spared multiple spankings during church services when well meaning church members would rescue me during the service and give my mom a break.

We moved to Arkansas when I was three and that's where we "got" my baby brother (at least that's the way I understood it to happen). We lived next to the church building- this arrangement had its burdens(noisy parishoners) and blessings. One time the local radio station held a contest where the first person to bring a church bulletin to the station van parked behind our church building would win a prize. I do not remember what the prize was, I just remember falling and skinning my knee in my effort to be the first one there. I remember filmstrips in Sunday school class and Vacation Bible school crafts. Mrs. Kelley was my Kindergarten teacher and she taught me how to cut with scissors. I loved her gentle voice and did not like it when I had to move to first grade where I had Mrs. Hale for a teacher. She was old and mean and I thought her name was spelled "Hell" (if you speak southern you will hear the similarity). I did not have to endure Mrs.Hale/Hell for very long because we moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in the middle of first grade. Elementary school, piano lessons, roller skating parties, Brownies & Girl Scouts--I have great memories of that time and place. It remains, to this day, my favorite place to have lived (I even returned there to attend college some years later).

I spent my middle school and high school years in the Houston area. It was the best of times and the worst of times. The big city had many opportunities, experiences, and temptations and I dabbled in it all. I didn't know that I needed to be rescued from that place but God delivered me out of circumstances and relationships that I could not shake on my own by moving my family back to Arkansas. It was not the big city opportunities that would most affect my life but was God working through a committed youth group in a Baptist church that would forever change how I lived my life. Through their witness, I realized that I had been playing church and not fully committed to following the One I said that I trusted as my Savior.

The course of my life was forever changed. School choices, marriage, career, ministry & children would all be altered by that one choice--a lifetime commitment to following Christ. I've called 5 more places "home" since that time. Going home for me means visiting all of those places and people God has used to mold me into the person I am today and the being grateful for the impact they have had on my life.

So how about you--where or what is "home" for you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Brain is Still on Vacation

I think my brain must still be on vacation because I'm drawing a creative blank these days. I gotta shake it soon though because the holiday season is just around the corner and will require a good amount of mental stealth to negotiate through the next several weeks. I'll save a few brain cells by not fretting over a Thanksgiving feast--we are headed down south to spend Thanksgiving with family. I get to eat my momma's and momma- in- law's down home good cooking for the week. That's reason enough right there to be thankful.

Thanksgiving really does not get the full attention or respect it deserves. It's become the forgotten holiday squeezed in between Halloween and Christmas. At our Walmart they were putting out the Christmas decorations before they had Halloween leftovers on the clearance aisle. "Rushing the season" my momma used to say but I think that had more to do with my wardrobe choices than the over-commercialism of the holidays.

Being brain dead, however, has not prevented me from my pre-holiday shopping (shopping like breathing is an automatic reflex for me). While in honor of Thanksgiving I'm not ready to decorate my house for Christmas or start playing Christmas music, I have purchased some new Christmas music to put me in the mood as we travel the many hours over the river and through the woods on the way back home from Grandmas house. Twelve hours in the car deserves some serious music.

This is a no-brainer that truly embraces the holiday spirit.

I'll be back when when the gray matter regenerates.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Making Connections

My husband travels quite a bit. He always takes a book with him on the airplane so he does not have to talk to people. I don't get out much and take a book with me on the airplane just in case there isn't anyone to talk to!

On the 2nd leg of our return trip from Hawaii, my husband and I were not seated together. I was on the very last row next to a pleasant looking woman and a quiet guy that I assumed was her husband. I'd been on a plane since 10:30 pm the night before and wasn't quite sure how my appearance or breath was holding up so I was not my usual talkative self...until I noticed the reading material on her lap.

A couple of years ago, a dear friend hooked me on the fiction of Karen Kingsbury. I've read most all of her series books and had recently purchased, Sunset, her last book in the Sunrise series about the Baxter family. I had saved it for poolside and beach reading knowing that it would be an uplifting and entertaining read during my vacation. I finished it on the last night of our stay.

As I settled into my assigned seat on the airplane, I saw that this gal next to me was reading a previous book in the same series by Kingsbury. Now Mrs. Kingsbury's books have a straightforward Christian message and are filled with God's promises from scripture brilliantly woven into the story line. It was a good chance that my seatmate was a believer but I did not want to make assumptions. Before the pre-flight instructions were given I broke the ice and asked if she was a fan of Karen Kingsbury books to which she answered in the affirmative with a sweet southern drawl. A southerner! I knew we'd have a good conversation then!

However, as the flight attendant's helpful (but already heeded) instructions rambled on, sleep deprivation overtook both my seatmate and myself and our conversation gave way to hopefully silent sleeping. It wasn't until the last 30 minutes when we awoke and were able to resume our conversation. As we maneuvered through the generalities of where are you from, where are you going- etc, we found out that we both had been in Hawaii to celebrate birthday milestones (hers a few years short of my 51 years), that we both had 3 children (hers much younger than mine and all still at home) and that we both worked in church ministry. Once the ministry word was spoken it was a free for all discussion of the challenges of balancing family and ministry, being a woman in ministry, and seeing a ministry through changes and challenges. It was a brief conversation but we made a connection and I hope that it was as encouraging for her as it was for me. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us to be ready to make a defense to everyone who may ask us to give an account of the hope that is within us. I'd like the way The Message phrases that verse:

Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.

I'd like to think that I would make the best of any opportunity I have to interact with other people wherever those conversations may take place.

I Am Blessed

I may not know what day it is or what time zone I'm in but I do know that I am blessed. It has been an extraordinary week in beautiful surroundings. I am grateful for new experiences that have expanded my horizons and stretched me out of my comfort zone. I am in awe at the variety of God's creation. I am thankful for friends who share out of their abundance and for the love and provision of my husband of 28 years. It was good to have time to rest and re-energize.

It was good to be home even when our plane had to be de-iced before leaving the Twin Cities and when the wind chill factor made the short walk/run from the airport terminal to our car unbearable even in my warmest vacation ensemble ( capris & a jean jacket).

It was good to be greeted at home with homemade brownies courtesy of The Princess and a cleaned kitchen and house as well. It will be good to sleep in my own bed when the jet lag wears off and I finish re-setting all the clocks in the house from the time change that occurred while we were 2 time zones away.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Thanks for the swim lessons mom" or The Adventure Continues, part 2"

My mom is deathly afraid of water. She was an east Texas sharecroppers daughter who didn't have many opportunities to learn to swim and is just one of those people who prefer their water limits to standard sized bathtubs. However, recognizing the limitations and ridicule this fear of water created in her life, she was determined that my brother and I would learn to swim. I must have inherited some of that fear from my mom because I remember a somewhat traumatic experience when after a few lessons I was forcedto swim in the the deep water. I didn't like that I couldn't touch bottom. I did learn to swim that summer but limited my excursions to the 3 & 4 foot depths.

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased lake property in east Texas for a getaway from the Houston rat-race. We had friends with property nearby and they had a ski boat. Their daughters could all water ski and I wanted to learn how. My dad informed me that I would have to learn to swim in water over my head before I could learn to water ski and so I went to the fatherly school of advanced swimming lessons--also known as throw your daughter off the swimming platform and let her figure it out. Note: I may have over dramatized his methods but that is how it felt at the time! I did learn to swim in deeper water and eventually water ski and have enjoyed doing both over the years.

This week I got an opportunity to test those deep water swimming skills even further with an excursion out to a remote island to snorkel. It was the best experience ever! Thanks to Frank and the crew of the Pride of Maui (and 40 bucks for the rental of the underwater digital camera), I was able to see some spectacular coral reef, exotic fish and sea turtles on my vacation adventure part 2.

Thank you mom for making me take the swim lessons and for the way it has enriched my life ever since.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's All Good

I have lived to see my birthday come to an end. It started at 6:30 AM with a van ride to the top of Haleakala with Bob our tour guide. Bob was a little crusty and crude and my initial impression did little to alleviate my concerns that he was the best person to trust with my personal safety. But as the trip up the volcano progressed and he entertained us with his bad jokes and vast knowledge of the area, I relaxed and decided to go with the flow. Once we reached 9700 feet we had this gorgeous view of the crater created by the last eruption of the volcano.

Have I mentioned that I am afraid of heights? I've come a long way in my fifty-something years on this earth but my knees get wobbly and my stomach does flips whenever I get to the edge of a sheer drop. Grasping tightly the railing, I held my breath and squeezed the button to get the shot. If this is what it means to live life on the edge--thanks, but I'll stay back on the flat even ground. So then Bob shows me where we are headed:

What you can't see is in this photo is before you can get to a reasonably flat and safe stretch of road, there is a series of swithchbacks down the side of this mountain/volcano. We were told that to maintain a schedule and not to impede the other traffic on this highway, we must maintain a speed between 18-25 mph and hoping that the opposing traffic heading up the mountain stayed on their side of the yellow line. I was most certainly headed to my early and untimely death. Bob assured me that he had never lost anyone in his 18 years of leading the tours down and I was determined not to be the one that ruined his perfect record!

Bob fit us for bikes & helmets, lined us up, gave us last rites, I mean final instructions and we were on our way. The basic rules sounded simple, "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the handlegrips, your feet on the pedals and your butt on the seat". I aspired to all that and added, "stay on the right side of the handlebars". I have never experienced such a rich and sustained prayer life as on that first 30 minute leg of the trip. Though it was not deep and theological, I do believe that my prayer of "God help me, I don't want to die" was heard my my loving heavenly Father. I made it to the lunch stop and would live to eat another meal.

The second part of the trip was less steep and I was a bit more confident in my skills and our leader. I actually got to the point of enjoying the view and loosened my grip on the handlebars enough to see blood return to its normal circulatory path. When we finally reached the end, this was our view from the beach:

I was happy to have completed the challenge and was happier still when we ended the day like this: It was all good!