….It’s Cold Outside

There are chills running up my spine. Goosebumps cover my skin. Gazing out my window it seems the whole world is weeping. No I am not experiencing some emotional upheaval; the first winter storm has arrived in Arizona. We have received only rain in the valley but the mountains that rim the bowl I live in are covered with snow. There is a brisk breeze stirring around so we actually have a wind chill factor. Our high sixties temps of yesterday have dropped to the high thirties range and this old thin blooded desert rat has trouble adjusting to such a quick change. Aw but it does add to the spirit of the season of Christmas. Hot chocolate tastes a little sweeter, the warmth from the oven as cookies bake feels more welcome, and soft sweaters are cozier. We can use mittens, mufflers and stocking caps for more than fashion. I love the comfortable fit of my fur-lined Bear Paws, and today I can wear them without my feet sweating. My friends in the far north may chuckle at thirty something degrees being wintry, but I’m delighted.
We rarely have snow in our valley and usually only a light dusting at that. But there has been those special mornings when we awake to a picture perfect Winter Wonderland so I will continue to dream and wish for a White Christmas.
I have added to my bucket list. I want to acquire the knowledge needed to post pics on my blog. Will have to pin down some kind soul with enough patience to teach me how this is done, just in case our Christmas is a snow covered-one. Most likely we will be tracking mud into the house, not snow, not sure if I would want pics of that :).
No matter if you are looking forward to a snowy holiday or sunny warm one on the beach I send wishes your way that yours will be perfect for you.

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Heros

We all have heroes in our lives. People who have inspired us to reach higher, run faster and to have the courage to step out of our comfort zones. One such man for me lived in the first century A.D. He was called Saul in the early years of his life until he changed the direction of his journey, and then became known as Paul. As Saul he was an important man in his community, a man of money and prestige. After years of dedication and study he had achieved a position of authority in the prevailing belief system of his country and people. He was present at the first execution of a member of a new religious sect that was considered blasphemous. Although he didn’t throw any of the stones that killed the accused himself, it is reported that he held the cloaks of those that did. This act is in holding with his position of hierarchy. He then was convinced his mission should be to track down others of this sect and turn them over to those who would set in judgement and handed down what they considered just sentences. So Saul became a bounty hunter of sorts, not for coins but because of his sence of duty. He traveled throughout Israel in pursuit of this quest until on one of his journeys he had a life changing experience.

Now no matter your spiritual beliefs or what religion you subscribe to or if you reject all such beliefs, imagine the courage of this man who put aside his old life and embraced the teachings of the very people he had been arresting and imprisoning. He faced complete rejection of all those he knew, family, friends and colleagues. Now he would be considered an enemy of his very countrymen, and would not be easily accepted by those he now wished to join in their cause. He had been pursuing them with intention of harm. How hard it would have been to win even a small bit of trust from them. Saul even put aside the most basic of his identity his name, not in an effort to conceal his past but because he believed the directive he was given, and took the new name of Paul.

Paul is described as being small in size, not very attractive and had some chronic health problems. He was haunted by the authorities, both Israeli and Roman . He was imprisoned, put on trail and threatened with execution more than once. He suffered through being ship wreaked and difficult travel conditions we will never experience. We think a delayed flight or traffic jams are a hardship, they are nothing compared to touring a big part of the known world at the time of Paul’s’ life.

Paul wrote letters to the people he visited in his travels as he went to other places and when he was under house arrest in Rome to encourage them and to advise them of solutions to problems they were encountering. One such epistle is the book of Romans in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. I have just finished a thirteen week study class of this book with a wonderful group of women. Now again regardless of ones belief there are some valuable truths to inspire us in Paul’s’ writings. He expresses the need for kindness, generosity, non-judgement, patience, humility, respect for authority and most of all love. Love not only for our family and friends and those of like minds but love for those who have hurt us, to those we might describe as enemies. Given the life he lived I find this teaching not only inspirational but remarkable. That a man could endure the hardships he went through and come out on the other side not only without bitterness but with love truly in his heart and then with real humility, giving all the credit for his virtues to the Savior he worshipped. So Paul is one of my greatest heroes.

All your commits will be welcomed with love.

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Sweet Memories

This time of year always finds my mind constantly drifting into the past. Much advice is given us to look forward, to move on and embrace the future. I know this is sound advice and some things we do need to let go of if we are to achieve our dreams and realize our full potential. However memories of the sweet type can help us to understand who we are, how we got to the point in our journey we are at now.

My first paying job, other than babysitting for fifty cents an hour, was working at a Christmas tree lot when I was fifteen. It had great appeal for me because of being outside, surrounded by the heady smell of the fresh trees and being my first experience  serving the public, it was fun because the customers were filled with holiday cheer. Families with excited young children who ask me if I worked for Santa, an older couple who was so eager for Christmas because it would be the first one in a while that all their family would be together. They took a lot of time choosing a tree because it had to be just perfect and after narrowing their selection to two ask me to pick because they weren’t sure which was best. All the shoppers’ enthusiasm was contagious so in spite of being very shy I soon was having little problem helping strangers with their purchases. I also discovered that a big smile and bright greeting on my part, generated more tips.

This awesome job came about because of my Dads older sister, my Aunt Hope. She was an enterprising single lady, who worked for a truck supply business. When a customer with a load of trees found himself delayed from his destination because of major break down of his rig, Aunt Hope went to work finding a lot she could rent for a short-term, had temporary electric service installed and went into partnership with the truck driver to sell the trees. And I was hired as a helper. Some years later I began to understand what a valuable gift she had given me. As I mentioned earlier I was very shy and prone to avoid challenges because of a lack of self-confidence, but I found the success I had selling the Christmas trees was something I could draw on when faced with new situations. I never ask her but I wonder if that was partly why, out of all her nieces and nephews, I was the one she offered the job to.

So this time of year brings memories of , keeping warm by a  fire in a fifty gallon drum in the early morning chill, hot chocolate poured from a stainless steel thermos, gloves sticky with pine sap, laughter over the needles in our hair, the truck driver declaring it was the best lay-over he had ever had, and the feeling a young girl took away with her from being a part of something important. Thank you Aunt Hope.

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Greetings By Mail

I love buying greeting cards and can spend a shameful amount of time looking for the perfect one. This isn’t a problem for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. because then I’m shopping for one person at a time. However with Christmas and other universal holidays it can become a real project. The boxed type are o.k. for some on my list but for most I must have a just right individual card from the rack. So while popping into market just to get food for hound, what is the first thing I encounter front and center just inside the door, a large display of Christmas cards. I’m completely aware of marketing strategies and all that, but who could resist the allure of the bright colors, sparkly glitter, shiny foil, and bits of ribbon there on display. I was in quite a hurry, so told myself I’d just glance at a few and return when I had more time. Now I feel ashamed of my next actions, for mind you hound was at home waiting for her supper, still I spent over half an hour looking at the cards, selecting first one then another, putting some back when I discovered another that was just too perfect to pass up. Finally I pulled myself away with five cards in my hand and hurried to the pet aisle where I got kibbles, and out of guilt, a small bag of special treats. Exiting the store I notice the temperature has dropped for the sun is completely behind the mountains. This gives me another pang of guilt because hound does not like the cold and I can picture her curled up on her pad on the porch waiting for me. Aw but I have purchased five beautiful greetings that contain just the right sentiment and that makes me smile.

So I say okay that’s a start and it’s just a five minute drive home. Trouble is all five cards are for the same person, my grand-daughter.

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Chistmas Is Coming!!

I’m officially in the Christmas spirit. Just got home from watching our small towns’ 59th annual Christmas Parade. Oh yes it is still called a Christmas Parade; we have not been bitten by the PC bug as of yet. Not that we are an insular community, to the contrary, our populus is quite diverse for a small town. We have respect for each others culture and traditions and have a live and let live attitude as long as no one is being harmful.

This years theme was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The floats and costumes were outstanding. Lots of green faced Grinches and sweet-faced Cindy Lou Whos with elaborate hair-dos. All the schools had entry’s, the marching band of our only high-school, sports teams and cheer squads. Girl and Boy Scouts, zumba dancers, ballet and gymnastics clubs, Yavapai-Apache Native American group in traditional dress, equestrian riders and horse-drawn carriages, wagons and one stage-coach. This is just a sampling as there were over a hundred entrys.

The parade participants toss candy and small trinkets to the children lining the route to watch. Business entrants hand out coupons and samples as they roll by. The air of festivity is accented by music and the tinkle of jingle bells. All together a wonderful event!

The most meaningful thing for me is the feeling of familiarity and continuity. Seeing the young women that were in Scouts with my daughter years ago who are Troup leaders today. Santa (who is my pharmacists) calling my name and warning me to be good because he is watching. My grandsons teacher saying “Merry Christmas, Nicks’ Grandma” and my little grand-niece’s sweet call of “Hey Auntie Carol” as she marched proudly by with her pre-school class . I was standing next to a teacher from the high-school and some of the  big burly football players broke ranks to come give her a hug. One more reason I love living in this small town.

Now I can get out my gingerbread scented candles, fill a bowl with pine cones and peppermint candy canes , and start decking my halls because the Season of joy and Good News has officially began for me.

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Followers?

He puts on his hat of plenty and tilts it at a jaunty air…He dons his happy pants and slips on his dancing shoes…Over all goes his cloak of oportunity…He clasps his walking stick of hope and steps out his door…First one then another start to follow as he passes by…Soon we are a crowd, drawn by the jingle of gold in his pockets…A sweet melody rolls off his tongue… But wait what’s that he said, not sure I understand…Oh it doesn’t matter, look how high he leaps to click his heels…And how perfectly he twirls his cain…So many are following now…He must be the one, the next big thing…Yes this has to be right, for thinkers we all be…not just a bunch of lemmings prancing toward the edge… We aren’t are we ????

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A Detour In Her Journey

Our journey takes us down many different types of roads. Some smooth and level, others twisting or rocky. Up hills, down steep grades. Wide and narrow. At times we will come across detours we had not expected or planned for and our course will be changed forever. This is such a tale; a detour that lead to a rough, near impassable path or perhaps the path was so difficult because the detour signs were misread or just ignored. As I am unsure I will let you, the reader, decide and hopefully give me your insight.

If just one word is allowed to describe her I would choose “sunshine”. She has an abundance of bright copper curls, deep horizon blue eyes, and fair skin. For good measure the angels dusted her nose and cheeks with a fine sprinkle of golden freckles. The shape and structure of her face would have inspired Raphael and Vermeer to start grinding and mixing colors, with the hopes of not only capturing her image, but also the essence of who she is, for sunshine not only fits her physical appearance but also her spirit. She is sentimental and caring, lighthearted and quick to laugh, tender-hearted and loving so is easily brought to tears as well. I love her dearly and unconditionally so this is a painful endeavor but one I have needed to do for quite sometime. I will try my best to be unbiased and honest in this telling.

Little sunshine girl grew up in our small town. Like way too many children in today’s world she was raised for the most part by a single mom. Her father, who will be referred to as the “jerk” did a disappearing act when she was six months old and did not rear his head again until she was graduating from high-school. She treated him with kindness, no retribution, but did not embrace nor extend the opportunity for him to become a part of her life. Her mom is a responsible lady that worked hard and did well at making a life for her and her child.

The first dark period of their lives occurred when Sunshine was around five. That’s when mom met the ” charming snake”. He was a relative of long time friends and was really charming. He wooed with aplomb and soon won moms heart. After marriage the honeymoon was short-lived. It is a familiar story, first comes the degrading of her confidence, the manipulation of emotions and thought , the physiological abuse of both mom and daughter. Then the physical abuse started. It was a two-year nightmare for them, but with the help of family and friends and her own strength mom broke free. The Snake went to prison (not long enough for the harm he had done) and Sunshine and mom began their healing with therapy and lots of love and support.

Life became normal, and  Sunshine appeared to be that happy laughing child we all knew once again. She enjoyed school, played softball in the summer, learned to cook and do chores around the house. There were lots of giggling little girls bouncing around the house and pets of course. She could be stubborn so had her share of grounding and time outs, but was over all a good kid.

When Sunshine was on the cusp of becoming a teen-ager they caught a break and “good-guy” came into their lives. As would be expected Sunshine was less than enthused with mom seriously dating. Good guy was patient and understanding so before long her resentment evolved into acceptance and then into fondness. In an act of   courage good guy married this strong, independent woman with a thirteen year old daughter. Mom and good guy had a baby boy two years later so Sunshine became a big sister. She was delighted! She was given the choice and eagerly accepted being officially adopted by good guy, voicing that now she had a “real Dad”.

Through high-school Sunshine also worked part-time at a local fast food eatery. She paid for her first car and the insurance and kept up with above average grades. This was a requirement of her parents if she wanted to keep her job. She wasn’t always an angel, broke curfew, sometimes argued about rules, didn’t keep her room clean enough for mom, the typical teen-ager stuff.

By her senior year she had decided on a career path and took nurses assistance classes along with her regular classes. Her plan was to get her CNA licence and work while going to school to become a RN. All sounds great, right? Here is where I will struggle not to sound bais. For she was about to derail big time.

The year before Sunshine had met “slick” , wait maybe that’s not quite fair,umm you decide. O.k. at first. he was just a young man who was a little to taken with himself. But soon a pattern began to develop. they would argue , break-up, tears and misery on Sunshine part, then they’d get back together. He was a user, she “loaned” him money regularly, paid for dates because he had car payment, insurance, helped his mom, etc.etc. He was a cheater. And she was in misery most of the time. Her friends were all telling her to get rid of him, mom and dad were telling her the same, and finally forbid her to see him. But love or what passes for love to the tender heart of a young girl, trumps all. So she ignored the advice and disobeyed the rule and continued to see him on the sly.

Two weeks before her graduation her grandfather, who she called Papa became very ill. Between finial classes and shifts at work she spent all her spare moments at the hospital putting what she had learned in her CNA classes to use comforting and helping to care for her Papa. Four days before her grad ceremony he passed away, this man who had always been there for her. He had been her harbor through many storms in her life. She was devastated and didn’t want to attend the grad but we all encouraged her to not miss it, so the night before her Papas’ memorial service Sunshine attached a picture of him to the top of her mortar board put on her robe and a smile and marched with the rest of her class to receive her diploma on a warm evening in May.

In the fall she enrolled at our local community college and continued at the fast food job while waiting for her NA certification to come through. Slick had moved to the city but was still in her life. In February she had her nineteenth birthday. Slick made a date to take her to dinner and a movie. She lied to her parents and said she was going with some friends. He arrived with another young man she had never met and was not happy about having a third wheel on their date but acquiesce to slick as usual. And oh by the way says slick, they have a baggie of pot and does she know anyone who might buy it because he has etc., etc….he needs money for. Now here is were poor little sunshine becomes poor pitiful stupid. She talks to guy friend who likes weed and yup he’d purchase but has no money so she is persuaded by slick and buyer to loan friend the money. I can’t answer the obvious question of why she didn’t just loan slick the money and not get involved with the drug business. So after visiting the ATM the deal is made and they go to dinner but during the movie she begins to worry about her expenses and says they have to undo the deal because she needs her money back. After a call to the buyer they drive to his house to get the pot. She goes in while slick and other guy wait in the car. When they weigh the baggie they say it’s not all there and still parked in front of house call the friend and start arguing about it. Again I can’t answer why they don’t just take money from Sunshine to cover the small amount that’s missing but…..that is when it became a nightmare that shattered dozens of lives.

The argument escalates on the phone. The unknown young man produces a gun and fires out the window, emptying the clip in the direction of the house.  Sunshines’ four friends in the house dive for cover but not before one young man receives a fatal wound. A couple of hours later she and slick are arrested at her home and the shooter who has gone back to the city is picked up there.

The family of the murdered boy are the most shattered, their hearts are forever broken for nothing can undo that lose. I can not imagine their pain and can only weep and pray for them. The victim was a nice young man I had met several times and a good friend of Sunshines’. His story may need to be told but I do not know it well enough to say more.

The wheels of justice move exceedingly slow. There are multiple hearings spaced weeks apart. Her charges are changed three times , after two grand juries. Her parents and I visit weekly, as she awaits her fate in the county jail. That fate lays in the hands of God and lawyers. I don’t want to belabor about the legal process, it is what it is. After fourteen months we come to the day when a plea on her final amended charges will be entered. In the now familiar courtroom I watch as my five-foot four, hundred and fifteen pound grand-daughter, in an orange jumpsuit with shackles around her wrists and ankles connected by chains to a thick leather belt around her waist, stands trembling before the judges’ bench and pleads guilty, making no excuses, owning her part in the tragedy. She listens to the victim statements from her friends family and to the character testimony from her parents, employer, and friends. And then at last comes the sentence, her fate, her near future at last becomes known. She does not collapse but continues to tremble , as it is read. Eight years flat time with two more years parole when released. So thus begins the next phase.

We continue to visit. It’s a two-hour drive to the women state prison. Over time we have split our visits so she has someone almost every week but we don’t each have to go every week. She looks about the same. Styles her coppers curls in different ways, though always pulled back as the rules require. Still quick to laugh, still softhearted and loving. Mourns for her dead friend and is sorrowful for what she has put her family through. She has taken college course when available because her parents are willing and able to pay for them. She has worked a wide range of jobs, landscaping, laundry, warehouse, telephone for MVD, just to list a few. She was so excited to show us her licence to operate a fork lift. Fourteen more months to go. She’s excited and fearful. I am excited and fearful for her. We will never know who she would have become if this all had not happened. What lays ahead is up to her, but think about the eight years between your nineteenth birthday and the year you became twenty-seven. Over whelming! So this is the story so far of my “sunshine” girl. Hope this isn’t too long, Don’t know how to shorten it. All comments welcome, good or bad.

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