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Giving (a piece of) yourself away



Posted by on Dec 7, 2012 | 1 comment

One of my favorite things to do is to gift someone I love with something I know they'll love:

Surcieslittle love gifts, the value of which is seeded in the thoughtfulness of the gift, not its pricetag.  It's why giving a giftcard or cash is  s o  v e r y  h a r d; for me, gift-giving is an intimate, personal expression of my relationship with the recipient and not just anything will do.  Overall, gift giving is the least of my love languages because if you don't give to me (or I don't give to you) it doesn't mean I'll feel unloved or I don't care or love you; in my crazy head, Nothing itself is better than a hollow something (am I even making sense??).

One of my least favorite things to do is to give out of obligation or because a day on the calendar mandates it.

This is the part of the Christmas season I struggle with, excess to those who don't need a thing and a culture that shouts bigger is better and more is never enough.  Even in Christian circles, lovies.

I admire those who are smart enough, crazy enough, restrained enough or counter-culture enough to disassociate gift-giving with Christmas within their family, and instead give to those who have materially little to nothing.
I do hope you hear me:  I'm not saying that Christmas gift-giving to family and friends is bad or wrong; but based on the time invested in shopping and the amount of money spent from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, sometimes our focus is skewed.  Again, even in Christian circles.

It's simple and yet so complicated.  We give because God gave.

Thinking on Jesus' humble, magnificent, unimaginably difficult, astonishing birth stills my soul's thrashing during the Christmas Season and helps me to align giving with joy–


Please, please, please continue reading Giving Yourself Away at incourage today; I've asked you to share a piece of yourself (but you'll have to read to understand that fully).  


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Posted by on Feb 14, 2012 | 5 comments

“Not necessarily better or worse,
just different.”
~ me

It’s Valentine’s Day.

It’s Valentine’s Day, but it doesn’t f e e l like Valentine’s Day, and in fact, little feels like it always has.  Gone is routine.  Familiarity vanished.


Try to imagine landing in a place where e v e r y t h i n g is new.  You’re seeing people, places and things for the first time ~ all the time ~ so there are no touchstones, no landmarks, to remind you of where you are.

Except you know where you are, but that’s about all you have to hold onto.

Well, that, and GPS, God’s greatest invention for Me-and-My-People who can’t find our way out of a bucket.

The converse side of all that is people are people, places are places, and things are things–not better or worse, just different.  So in that sense, all these new things ARE familiar. 

And, this, my friends, is why my husband would tell you I’m complicated. 

It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s snowing...a first for this ol’ Southern gal who still has a few Michael Simon heart-embellished sweaters in her closet.  Back home.

For 16 years, I’ve co-hosted a Valentine Tea Party with my mother-in-law, Sarah, and daughter.  What began as a timid suggestion by Sarah has flourished into cherished tradition for the women in my family and a few close friends. 

Five thousand miles Almost eight thousand kilometers between us makes this year’s Valentine Tea an ImpossibiliTea.  And this, this of all things, is my first taste of homesick.  Bitter on tongue’s tip.  Ache in my heart.

Distance between Chattanooga and Burghausen, Bavaria (Germany)
For me, Valentine’s Day isn’t roses and romance (though we usually go out for or cook a candlelight dinner); instead, it’s a day to candy and treat my children, and to celebrate the women in our family…three generations strong

We brunch.  We eat off my mother-in-law’s delicate fine china, pink Depression glass and gorgeous sterling silver.  We tell stories.  We laugh.  We listen.  We hear.  We “please” and “thank you” and restrain ourselves from licking our plates clean, because manners matter no matter how good the raspberry mousse is this year.  I mean that year.  We’d exchange surcie’s ~ little love gifts ~ and some of us have been known to clap approval and squeal with delight.  ~smile~

S i g h.

I can’t seem to crack time’s code.  Monday, Tuesday, Friday–does it matter?  Not really.  My laptop clock remains set on Eastern Standard Time; it orients me to what my children might be doing without having mentally to calculate the difference.  The wall clock strikes Bavarian time, orienting me here

Because here is where I am.

So, today no Valentine Tea tradition.  Instead, we’ll practice hospitaliTy to strangers–we’ve invited three young work associates of Tad’s for dinner; translators from America and Great Britain and a German intern. 

People around a table, talking, listening, and hopefully laughing.

See?  Not necessarily better or worse than my 16-year Valentine’s tradition.  Just different.

I’m beyond thankful to be able to say I love being here; Skype, Facebook, emails and Twitter keep me connected to family and friends back home and allow me to SEE and talk to my babies.  I even like the challenge of living outside my comfort zone.  But, still, my steps have an uneasy traction, sliding on ice instead of skating on steel blades.  And the language barrier–I feel like I’m living in the shadow of Babel’s half-built tower(Though I should add many Germans speak at least a little English and everyone I’ve met has been gracious to extend kindness not condemnation when I shyly stumble over my words.)

It’s 14:00 CET (Central European Time) on Valentine’s Day and snow has been falling for almost seven hours; I think the highest temperature we’ve seen since arriving two weeks ago is -4°C (25°F), and the snow hadn’t yet melted from last week!  In less than three hours my husband will ride his bike home from work.

Believe it or not, he’ll likely say about that, “It’s different but better.”

blink blink.

* * * * *

In April, I’ll head back to the States; in May we’ll have a mother-daughter tea with our family’s newest addition, Miss Abigail.  Our Valentine tradition will move into Spring (at least this year), and again we’ll circle around a table with everything that’s necessary.

Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Which I’m beginning to see is more than fine.


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The Southern Way…



Posted by on Jul 29, 2011 | 4 comments

Peach-Ice-Cream-Pie-REGFOOD0805-de Blood and marriage are reason enough to gather on the hottest day of the year to celebrate family, for no other reason than that.  It's the Southern Way.

On a canvas of conversation broad-stroked with laughter, the fizzy flit of flies joins a threatening purr of bees to fill the air with contented sounds of Summer.  I can almost hear the ants creep and crawl.  Though unwanted guests, they’re expected.  Today they will feast.

It's a crying shame my eyes are bigger than my stomach; no restaurant on the planet can match the spread covering a mile of mismatched, cloth-covered folding tables.  It's fine dining in the most fulfilling sense of the word…scrumptious and diverse and laden with secrets.  Unpretentious and under-appreciated, it strikes me that beautiful doesn't have to be fancy.

Unearthing buried treasure from their gardens, my relatives produce bowl after steaming bowl of butter beans and butter peas and baby limas and black-eyed peas–and it takes a discerning palate or being raised in the South to understand the differences…to even realize there's a difference!

There are always two or three dishes of macaroni and cheese, three or four potato salads, and one of each is always better than the rest; I wish I could remember from reunion to reunion.  Instead, I get a small spoon of each, and if Murphy is in the house, the biggest serving is my least favorite.  Regardless, I'd eat them all not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, 'cause—good gravy!–the dish's cook could be sitting right next to me!  Graciousness and good manners are also the Southern way.

It's 96 degrees in the shade and I can hear the creak and groan of the handle as it's cranked.  Wood and aluminum, rock salt and ice, there's treasure at the end of this cream and sugar rainbow, and we covet it more than gold.  Eager to help, cousins stand in line to wait a turn to churn, not realizing it's work.  The grown-ups don't let on; they smile inwardly and cheer outwardly, knowing in the end, it'll take a pound of elbow grease to finish this frozen magic.

I don't understand how a wooden barrel and a hand-cranked mixer can produce The Best Ice Cream In The World.  This is the only time I'll eat fruit in my ice cream; strawberry is fine, but peach—ab-so-lute-ly luscious!  It’s done when just a tad thicker than a bonafide milkshake.  Perfectly spun and mixed, taste buds cheerfully applaud taste and texture.  Did you know there’s a “best” way to eat homemade ice cream?  Place a spoonful in your mouth; close your lips around it as you slowly extract the spoon; squish it to the roof of your mouth, then let your tongue “chew” the fruit.  Teeth only get in the way.

Moppin’ sweat and swattin’ flies don’t both bother a soul and talk about the weather isn’t small, it’s good conversation.  History is preserved in the oral tradition as well-worn laundry is re-aired, and embellishments aren’t just tolerated, they’re expected.  Children wear grass-stained knees and dirt-caked nails, and though mamas complain, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

A summer’s day eases into a symphony of invisible crickets and bullfrogs.  It’s music I don’t care for but in which somehow I find comfort.   It’s the perfect note to herald the day’s end.

This is my childhood legacy, a gift from my mother long lived after she was gone.  Tradition that shaped me.  Family who loved us in our presence but mostly in our absence.  The Southern Way, a banquet of savored memories and moments…not just of food on the table, but of life seasoned with people and places that forever feed our soul.  

And it's where dessert is a bowl full of magic and rainbows :).

Hugs & smooches to my BFF Paula Deen for sharing a link to this post with her followers on Twitter (Here first, then here with the correct link).  If you're visiting due to her mention, won't you come again? Subscribe to me in a reader or have PENSIEVE delivered to you with a free email subscription (see left sidebar) and I shall be forever in your debt.

Photo credit


Originally posted in June 2009 but, oh, how its truth still lingers :).

Hugs & smooches to my BFF Paula Deen for sharing a link to this post with her followers on Twitter (Here first, then here with the correct link).  If you're visiting due to her mention, won't you come again?  Subscribe to me in a reader or have PENSIEVE delivered to you with a free email subscription (see left sidebar) and I shall be forever in your debt.  Or something like that ;).


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A Fourth of July neighborly tradition



Posted by on Jul 2, 2011 | 3 comments

{Originally posted two years ago, but the tradition is still going strong and ended with a yummy barbecue potluck at our club house.  And we almost missed it because I was thinking it was going to be MONDAY!!}

DSC_4315 Our neighborhood resurrected a years' old tradition last week, born of Mayberry and family and simpler times:  a Fourth of July parade.

We don't have 76 trombones or 110 cornets or a thousand reeds, but we do have air horns and car horns and I think a kazoo or two.

white convertible VW on July 4th

red suv july fourth red mini cooper july 4th

Crowds don't fill the streets, but neighbors come out of their woodwork or brickwork to cheer for the red, white and blue…

DSC_4207 DSC_4222

Patriotically-embellished lawnmowers replace tissue-laden flatbeds, golf carts putter street-side instead of brobdingnagian floats suspended overhead, and characters aren't cartoonish giants, they're pint-sized or daddy-sized.









Slices of All American Apple Pie:  John Deere tractors, Radio Flyer red wagons, Harley and Rolling Stone tee shirts on middle-aged men, and a little surrey with the fringe on top.  They all bless my born-in-the-USA heart.


Fouth of July decorated golf cart   


S i g h…how can you not love a home grown parade?  Since we don't have a riding mower or a golf cart or a tractor, I figure I could still "participate" by taking pictures of those who do…although a few rabble rousers asked me if they needed to sign a release.  To teach them a must-needed lesson, I added 10 pounds to their weight in Photoshop. 

You can have your Macy's Thanksgiving Day or Rose Parade…I'll stick with the party in the 'hood :). 



How do you celebrate Independence Day?  Is this the quirky kind of thing you think of when you consider the South?  If you live in a neighborhood, do y'all have any community get-togethers?  If not, why not initiate a new tradition!!!


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Eucharisteo ~ The Beach Edition



Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 | 12 comments

beach umbrella under blue sky

sand in shoes on the beach

balcony view of beach

Loggerhead turtle nest

sunset in Ponte Vedra

I feel like there's something wrong with me; the premise of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts is so…well…me.  It's my nature to be grateful for simple things, to notice the beauty of the ordinary and every day.

But I can't seem to finish her book…

and I haven't yet cultivated the habit of journaling gratitude.

Ann opens her veins and bleeds painstaking beauty in One Thousand Gifts.  It's spiritual and mental feast, meaty and rich and delicious…but difficult for me to digest.  Am I the only one?  Maybe I'm spending too much time ruminating over thoughts cast in new light, maybe I'm making the simple too hard.

Thanksgiving, joy, grace–should pursuit and practice be such a challenge?  Then again, there is a learned aspect to all of this.  Gratitude comes easily when good things happen, but it takes intention to be thankful when life takes turn unexpected.

Today I'm not giving into defeat; in spite of my inconsistency and lack of discipline in journaling my own 1,000 Gifts, I'll pick up where I left off, and this time remember and share a glimpse of the easiest things to celebrate ~ moments from our beach vacation.

6.  Blue skies (almost) and rainbows you can touch.

7.  Sand in my shoes.

8.  A room with spectacular view.

9.  Crashing waves, thunderous applause for their Creator.

10.  Invisible loggerhead turtle nests.

11.  Spectacular sky shows morning and evening. 

12.  Happy feet.

13.  Cousins working hard.  Cousins playing hard.

14.  The best buried treasure of them all.

15.  Palmetto trees.

16.  Fascinating sea creatures, ordinarily taken for granted (or depised!).

17.  Tan lines.

18.  Beach walks, beach talks.

19.  Gulls who dance with the wind.

20.  My boys…and the staff member who captured an image of us on the way out of town :).

21.  A perfect reading spot.







  Dasani water bottle on the beach

reading on the beach


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Where the wild things are



Posted by on Mar 19, 2011 | 1 comment

Thirteen is their lucky number.

Jeff, Tad, Joe and Scott playing Harbour Town golf

For 13 years the guy in the blue and the guy in the black have been roughing it on an annual golf outting, traipsing up and down a trail pioneered by some joker named Robert Trent Jones; the other two characters have tagged along most of those years.  Another four rounds out an even eight, most of them friends for decades.

When they got tired of the commute–and because Cool Sunglass Boy on the left has a condo there–they switched venues to Hilton Head Island, certainly close to God's Country and one of my favorite memory spots of all time.  At least one round they'll ferry over to Daufuskie Island, sparkling diamond in the rough.

This year when a door opened to play Harbour Town, they held hands and skipped through; or something like that, I've been told.  The course is unmistakable with the Harbour Town Lighthouse standing sentry.  Some would say it's too pricey to play, but I'd wager the guys would say it's priceless to have played.  

They leave the womenfolk behind, and we're just fine with that. Some of us bake poundcake (guilty) or cookies (Fancy), and the rest just send them on their merry way, knowing this is good for our guys.  It's a tradition we've come to appreciate almost as much as them, and I must say it's easier now than it was when our babies were, well, babies.  

And though a few stories make it back home–riding in the porno-van (no, it's not what is sounds like…exactly), catching restaurants on fire, and tales on the way to Marshside Mamas–what happens in Hilton Head (or Alabama) stays in Hilton Head.

Which is perfectly alright with me.

* * *

Do you take part in an annual girls'/guys' weekend away or encourage your spouse to do the same?  What are your thoughts about the benefits or why might you discourage it?  I'm curious.


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