Beauty from Ashes

pexels-photo-592667Ever had a day where you felt like you failed at everything? From the moment your feet hit the ground, you made not one, single, solitary, good decision? Yeah, me too. In fact, today feels a little bit like that. Although, I did make a few good choices early on, so I guess it’s not quite that bad, but still, not my best day.

It’s really easy on days like this to spend the evening hours beating yourself up. And trust me, I’ve spent a little bit of time doing just that. But then I realized that of all the days in the year to have a bad day, this is the best one. It’s Easter.

To me Easter is more than just a day for egg hunts and stuffing my face with a ridiculous amount of chocolate. Easter is about a promise. A promise made centuries ago and still being fulfilled today. A man, fully human, and fully God was nailed to a cross, laid in a tomb and three days later, He rose again. He bore my sin and my shame so I don’t have to. Even on my worst day, His grace is sufficient. And the best part is – it’s free. All I had to do was ask for it. I don’t deserve it, but because He loves me so much, it’s mine for the asking. That’s it.

One of my very favorite verses is in the book of Isaiah. It reminds me that no matter how big of a mess I make, He can redeem it. Even if I manage to burn it all down, He can create beauty from the ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3

If you don’t know the Author of All Creation on a personal level, you’re missing out. There’s truly no better coping mechanism for a bad day; and He makes it so easy. All you have to do is invite Him in. It’s just that simple.

I’m ready for the clean slate I get tomorrow. I’m hoping I make better use of it than I did today’s, but I know that even if I don’t, He still loves me. Because at the end of the day, I am His – signed, sealed and delivered.

 

 

On The Move

DCIM113GOPROThe new year is a time of to start fresh and make change. In the spirit of that idea, I shared with you a couple of weeks ago that I have adopted the word “Finish” as my word of the year and my personal goal to be sure I finish what I start.

This week, I did not manage to finish the blog I was scheduled to post yesterday. As I was self-flagellating last night, I realized that perhaps, I need to make a change in my schedule. Mondays used to be a great day for me to get some writing done. I’ve discovered of late, that is no longer the truth. Mondays are often filled with the things that didn’t get done over the weekend, thereby removing any time I have to work on my writing, either on the personal side (i.e., my blog), or on the professional side (i.e, my big project).

I decided this morning that instead of shaming myself, I need to extend myself grace, and take some time to figure out what my schedule needs to look like. Monday is definitely not a good day to plan to post. Over the next few weeks, I am going to experiment with different days. Hopefully I will manage to get back into a rhythm that works and return to a regular posting schedule.

During this period of transition, I will continue to post links to my blog on Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram (when I remember.) If you don’t want to miss one, you can go to the blog site and subscribe to my blog. You will get an email alerting you to a new post and even a link that will take you straight to the post.

I appreciate all the encouragement I have received in this endeavor and for the time you take to read and share my posts each week. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

Hope you have a fantastic week. See you soon!

 

One Mimosa To Go Please

pexels-photo-2This past Saturday morning some DOD employee in Hawaii caused mass panic when he accidentally hit the button to warn the islands of an inbound missile attack. Every phone in Hawaii went off warning of impending doom with the message stating, “This is not a drill.”

I lived in Hawaii for a few years as a teenager. It’s a great place, but not one you want to be in when a nuclear missile hits it. Or maybe, if you’re like Stephen Falken, a character in the movie War Games, you do. “I’ve planned ahead. We’re just three miles from a primary target. A millisecond of brilliant light and we’re vaporized. Much more fortunate than millions who wander sightless through the smoldering aftermath. We’ll be spared the horror of survival.”

I have to be honest and say that I’m in the Dr. Falken camp. With one, small, tweak: I want to be far enough away to get to see the explosion, but close enough for that to be the last thing I see. I have no desire to survive a nuclear holocaust. The movies don’t make it look very fun. (And I would look terrible completely bald. Thanks cracked and poorly remodeled skull.)

The whole situation spurred on thoughts of times I’ve faced crisis in my life. Sometimes I’ve done it with grace and aplomb, other times I’ve completely broken down, but most often I’ve found ways to laugh about it. There is one time I reacted with anger. Although, in my defense, it would be difficult for anyone to not be angered by watching her husband and brother go out to look at the tornado threatening their house while she corralled two toddlers, two dogs and two cats into the closet by herself. I remember yelling at them as they headed out the front door, “How am I supposed to teach these kids to take shelter when you two dumbasses are putting on coats and running out into a tornado?” Admittedly, I was a little jealous they got to go outside while I had to be the adult. Especially since I tend to agree with my brother’s philosophy – he’d rather go out riding a tornado than by being buried under the destruction it leaves in its wake.

I spent a while today perusing social media posts that came out of Hawaii on Saturday. There were all types of reactions, but I found myself drawn to those that contained acceptance of their fate, or silver linings. One dad recorded a goodbye message to his family and then continued his round of golf. Another young man posted he was sharing shelter with none other than Michael Jordan. Still another described checking his phone, and deciding to go back to sleep. What better way to go gentle into that good night?

The post I felt the most kinship with was actually a text from a father to his son. Dad was in Hawaii on vacation, while the son was back on the mainland (the proper name for the continental U.S. if you’re from Hawaii) concerned for his father’s safety. Upon learning of the missile threat, the dad did the only sensible thing he could think of: he walked through the chaos of the front lobby as people ran for their lives, went to the dining room, and took advantage of the short breakfast buffet line. That, ladies and gentleman, is my kind of guy. If we’re going to die, let’s do it with a full stomach, mimosa in hand, in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

These days the world is a scary place. But I refuse to let it stop me from enjoying life and taking advantage of fortuitous circumstance. I hope you’ll join me in embracing the positive, and giving a big middle finger to the negative. If so, I’ll be sure to save you some coconut pancakes, and a mimosa, of course.

A Time to Finish

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Last year I started a new tradition for myself – identifying a theme word for the year.  I find it kind of funny that my Facebook feed has recently been awash with people sharing the word a new Facebook app identified for them to use for their new year. Coincidence? Possibly, but I choose to believe I am a trendsetter.

Anyhoo, it’s a new year, so I need a new word. Last year I used “Courage.” I have a long history of allowing fear to stop me in my tracks. Fear of the unknown; fear of failure; even, ironically, fear of success. At the beginning of 2017 I declared that I would no longer allow fear to rule my life. I do not regret that choice.

My first act of courage was starting this blog. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I was always too afraid to share anything with anyone, so I either failed to do any writing, or hid what I had produced away. Honestly, I’m still surprised when people tell me they enjoy the things I write and share here. Not only has it been personally satisfying, but I am completely blown away by the opportunities that have landed in my lap as a result of this endeavor. The support and encouragement I have received has truly blessed me. And best of all, I have this blog to thank for a couple of other projects I’m working on. I had no idea that one little step of faith could help me transition into the next phase of my life. I may not be ready to go bungee jumping, but I’m going to put last year in the Win Column.

Now onto this year. I spent the last month dealing with illness. Every day I woke up and asked myself, “Am I finished being sick yet?” The answer is still not yes, but I am definitely much better today than I was even a week ago. My desire to be done with being ill is what got me thinking about all the things that I leave half done. I’m a great starter, but I have a little trouble on the finishing end of things. Some call it the curse of ADD, others pure laziness, but either way, it’s completely and totally annoying. I decided this is the year I face this tendency head on. My word for 2018 is: FINISH.

I vow, to the very best of my ability, to finish what I start. No more half-cleaned out closets. No more piles of paper left from cleaning up the office. No more shoes strewn about the living room because I ran out of steam to get them into the closet. No more half-eaten cakes left to waste on the counter (sorry waistline). No more vegetables needing to be chopped languishing in the vegetable drawer, doomed to grace the bottom of my garbage bin (you’re welcome heart). No more half-read books on the nightstand (you’re welcome husband). The half-assery ends here. I will finish things.

I have a long list of things I need to finish. In fact, I even have a list started of things I need to get done around here somewhere. Of course, it’s not finished though. It’s probably in one of those piles in the office, or on the top of the book pile in the bedroom. I guess I’ll start with that list. As soon as I finish the cup of tea I’m about to brew. That’s a task I know I can complete.

 

 

A New Christmas Poem

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house,

The kids were heard yelling, “Please cover your mouth!”

The Kleenex were piling up in the waste bin,

And all were avoiding them, even their kin.

 

See, the parents were ailing, in their blanket covered chairs,

Dreaming of when the next Nyquil dose could be theirs.

Hot tea and cough drops gave temporary relief,

Healing before Christmas was their fervent belief.

 

The kids did their best to take of the ‘rents,

But they did consider pitching some tents.

All in a bid to protect their own life,

From the plague they were watching wreak such strife.

 

From Costco to Target and even Trader Joe’s

The eldest dashed around on her toes,

While the boy could be found picking up in the kitchen,

Making sure he helped his sister pitch in.

 

As the mother sat down to write up her blog,

The coughing and snuffling making her sound like a hog,

She couldn’t help but notice her kids’ hard at work,

And they did it while smiling with nary a smirk.

 

And though she was feeling like a pile of manure,

And probably looked like she lived in the sewer,

The mom could not have been any prouder,

Of her kids’ and their efficient use of soap powder.

 

That mom knew that no matter her health,

She was blessed with the best kind of wealth,

Children that knew how to care for another,

Without any squabbling between sister & brother.

 

As she settled back into her chair with her sweater,

Battening down for the upcoming weather,

She smiled to herself and said a prayer of thanksgiving,

Because her kids would make sure she stayed among the living.

 

Now Dasher and Dancer may land on the roof,

And maybe even Rudolph, as her dog bellows woof,

But no gift they could bring her would give her more joy,

Than the love displayed by her girl and boy.

By the valiant effort of one son and one daughter,

There would be healing and health for the mother and father.

And when Christmas morning arrives in mere days,

Santa will surely gift them with praise.

 

As the illness we’ve suffered bids us adieu,

We have one very big wish for you,

That your Christmas is filled with love and cheer,

And that you are blessed in the new year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Elf on My Shelf

elf-meme

Dear Santa,

I thought I would take a minute to thank you for holding off on the whole “Elf on a Shelf” phenomenon until my kids were too old for it.

I know that you and your fellow holiday dignitaries rely heavily upon parental participation to complete your holiday related tasks. After all, employing enough workers to fill all those stockings, Easter baskets and even tooth pillows, has got to be cost prohibitive. And considering most parents want their children to be happy, it’s safe to assume that they would be willing participants in your holiday hijinks and tooth collection duties.

I wish that I could assure you that I would have been up to the task of assisting your elves during their December visits, but I must, ashamedly, admit that I simply wasn’t. Nor am I now. Nor, I doubt, will I ever be.

Seeing as you are the keeper of the Naughty and Nice list, I assume you know this already, but I’m not a very good helper. Just ask the Tooth Fairy. I honestly tried to help her collect my kids’ teeth and then leave them a small token of her appreciation. I did remember to do it a couple of times, but eventually my kids learned that if they wanted to get paid, they had to come downstairs, tooth in hand, and request compensation. Finally, out of frustration for my lack of Tooth Fairying skills, they gave up and decided to hang onto their own teeth. Perhaps they decided to deal with her directly? I’m not certain as I informed them to take their complaints about her helpers up with her. Not one of my better moments, but it got them out of my hair, so I call it a win.

Of course, the fact that you are privy to all our activities, you may have suffered some trepidation at the thought of the kind of influence I would have been on your elves. I’m all about new experiences, even if they sometimes involve questionable choices, so while I can’t guarantee your elves would have always partaken in purely innocent adventures, they would have returned to the North Pole with plenty of stories having thoroughly enjoyed themselves. And, for the most part, having suffered no life altering injuries. (Yes, I know you’ve watched us hang Barney in all sorts of precarious positions on our Christmas tree each year, but come on, it’s Barney. If anyone deserves to be given a hard time, it’s that purple dinosaur – annoyer of parents everywhere.)

No matter the reason you delayed dispatch of those creepy, child surveillors, I appreciate that I never had to deal with them. From what I hear Pinterest is an elf helper’s best friend, so I also thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving me from disappearing down that rabbit hole. Because of your wisdom in elf deployment timing I can sit in my chair, with my nightly cup of tea, and enjoy the Christmas lights hung throughout my home, free from the stress associated with the little red guy on the shelf.

I hope that you have an incredibly successful Christmas season and bring joy to lots and lots of children. I will do my best to help spread holiday cheer, as long as I remain free from the obligation of elf-helping.

I promise you I will try to remember to leave cookies out for you this year, and if at all possible, not eat them before you get here. Sorry about last year, Mr. Brown and I got the post candle light service munchies.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Please give my regards to Mrs. Claus and, of course, Rudolph.

Sincerely,

One Grateful (and maybe a little lazy) Mom

Reality Can Be Delicious

mm-cookies-recipe-1024x576Ever have your day planned out and then unexpected things happen? Yeah, me too. And today was one of those days for me. Thankfully my day was filled with pleasant surprises, including a visit from a friend I rarely see, but even so it threw me off a little bit and put me behind schedule. Even good things can leave us with derailed plans.

Our desires and reality are often at war with each other. In today’s busy world it’s easy to become mired in the disappointment of unrealized desires. Sadly, we often allow something as simple as failing to check off items from our To Do List to ruin our day. I know I’m guilty of that at times. Just ask my husband what I’m like to live with when I haven’t gotten my chores done.

The truth is, it is up to us to decide how we handle reality when it so rudely interrupts our life. We can choose to be angry and stay mad at the world, eventually dragging ourselves into a deep depression, or we can choose to put a positive spin on it. After all, I could very easily be upset that I’m just now sitting down to write, but in reality, I’m still getting a post up today. It’s just a little different than the one I had intended.

While I may have a good attitude today, I know that the next time I have a day like this, I may not be so happy about it. One sure fire way I’ve found to combat an impending foul mood is for me to bake a batch of cookies. And one of my favorite recipes is aptly named Reality Cookies.

The original recipe for these cookies comes from a restaurant that used to be in Juneau, Alaska called The Fiddlehead. Because I’m rarely good at following directions I have made some alterations to their original recipe, but I love the name, and I loved the restaurant, so I kept it.

The Fiddlehead focused on providing healthy, whole foods. They were known for using whole grain flour, few preservatives and low-fat ingredients. The Fiddlehead was as crunchy granola as they come. Even most of their baked goods fell on the healthy end of the culinary spectrum. Now there’s no good argument against a healthy diet, but sometimes you just want to indulge in a sweet treat. And even the bakers at The Fiddlehead knew that:

“In spite of our best intentions, the fact remains that granulated sugar and white flour make really good cookies. These celebrate that reality with brightly colored candies sprinkled like confetti through the dough.” – The Fiddlehead Cookbook pg. 167

The next time you feel like reality is only out to get you I hope you think about these cookies and it reminds you that reality can be delicious. Even better, take an hour and bake a batch of these for yourself and to share. That way you not only sweeten your reality, but you bring joy to someone else.

Reality Cookies

3/4 pound butter                                                   1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar            1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar           1 cup finely ground almonds                                      2 ½ cups unbleached white flour                      1/2 cup M&Ms

  1. Preheat oven to 275 and arrange racks so thy are evenly spaced in center of oven.
  2. Beat butter until fluffy. Add white and brown sugars and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add almonds and flour. Stir gently until almost completely combined.
  4. Add M&Ms and stir just until dough comes together.
  5. Shape dough into ping-pong size balls and place on cookie sheet. Lightly flour bottom of a small glass, or palm of your hand and flatten each cookie to about ½ inch thick. Place an M&M in center of each cookie and bake until very lightly golden brown and beginning to puff slightly in center (about 20 minutes).
  6. Remove from oven and transfer to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Makes about 32 cookies

*I modify this recipe by using almond M&Ms instead of the regular ones.

*For an even chocolatier version, use ground almond M&Ms in place of the ground almonds. You won’t regret it.

 

The Names I Call Myself

IMG_20171127_184131893I’m a little under the weather today so I’m having a lazy day. And a lazy day at the end of November can mean only one thing – a Hallmark Christmas movie.

At the risk of spoiling what is a riveting, nail biting film, this one is about a fledgling writer at a writer’s convention. Of course, the movie has a meet cute, a budding romance briefly derailed, a plot twist that no one but the characters couldn’t see coming, and the requisite happy ending.

In the movie, the writer struggles with calling herself a writer. She feels as if she has to earn the title. I know that struggle well. Sitting in my favorite chair thinking about the character’s, and my own, struggle, I came to a realization. I may have a given name, but I go by many, many other names.

  • Shannon – This is the name I was born with and the one most people know me by.
  • Daughter – I’m the first born in my family and the only daughter. My parents had no idea what they unleashed upon the world the day I was born.
  • Sister – I have one little brother. He’s called me many names over the years, but this is the one fit for polite company.
  • Brown – 25 years ago I took on this name and I have never regretted it. At times, I have done the name proud; at others, not so much. But Mr. Brown is stuck with me either way.
  • Mom – I remember the day my daughter was born my mom leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Now you know how much I love you.” She was right. It was in that moment that I finally understood how much a mother loves her children. The birth of my son two years later taught me that the addition of each child increases your capacity to love exponentially.
  • Shay – Those closest to me call me by this name. It’s been my nickname since I was young. I gave it to myself because it seemed like everyone else I knew had one and I was jealous. My parents obliged my little bit of insanity and the name stuck. (It’s definitely better than the long names I used to give myself. I have several books from my childhood inscribed with extended monikers. The silliest of which includes Dorothy, Cinderella and Rapunzel. All in one inscription.)
  • Miss Shannon – I have loved and cared for many children over the years. Some are the children of my friends, some came to me for after school care, some are kids I met at church, and some are friends of my children. I’ve never been one for formality, so I happily embraced this distinctly Southern way to show respect to an elder.
  • Auntie Shay Shay – This one is a little more recent. It was given to me by a dear friend when her youngest was born and it’s kind of stuck. The little ones in my life tend to call me this.
  • Friend – I am blessed beyond measure in the friendship realm. I only hope that I can be half as good at being a friend to others as my friends are to me.
  • Counselor – Much to my bewilderment, and at their own risk, people seek out my counsel. Considering my sanity is frequently questioned, this one never ceases to amuse me.
  • Crazy Lady – See above and ask Mr. Brown about my bad days if you need more explanation.
  • Writer – I’m still not convinced this one fits, but seeing as I’ve begun to spend a fair amount of my time writing these days, I guess it’s time. I hope someday to upgrade to Author, but until then, I’ll settle for writer.
  • Redeemed – I have done nothing to deserve redemption, yet it was freely given. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I am proud to claim this title.

I’ve come to understand that this list of names is incomplete. And as long as I live, it will remain so. As new challenges arise, I’ll earn new names. But for today, I’m happy with my list.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear my chair, my dog, my blanket, a cup of tea and another movie calling me…

The Little Cake That Could

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Once upon a time, in an oven far, far away, there was a bundt cake happily baking away. This little cake was excitedly looking forward to the joy he would bring to those that consumed him. He had been told he would be moist, sweet and buttery.

The cake had been assembled with care; his batter fluffy and a gorgeous shade of yellow. His creator had lovingly spread him into a well-buttered and floured bundt pan. As he began to feel the warmth reach his core, he knew that his outer skin would be light and crunchy by the time he was finished baking. His baker had also told him that he was so delicious on his own, he didn’t need any frosting. Perhaps a few pieces of fruit for decoration, but he was the true star of the show.

After what seemed like forever the little cake heard the oven timer buzzing. “Oh, it’s time! I’m done!” he yelled from inside the oven. As if he had been heard, he felt a gust of cool air as he was lifted out of the oven and set upon a rack to cool before being ready to assume his perch on the porcelain cake plate he saw in the center of the kitchen island.

Somewhat impatiently the cake waited for the timer to count down. Finally, he heard it buzz and before he could utter a word, he felt himself lifted up and turned over onto the cake plate. Still feeling the warmth of his metal bed, he was anticipating his impending freedom. Gently his baker began to lift the bundt pan off of his outer layer. Just when the cake thought he would be free, he felt a little air on his outer edges, but then a little air in his middle as well. He felt like he had lost a few pieces of himself, wasn’t worried by it at all. The feeling was odd, but not painful. Much like a person feels when the top layer of a blister is peeled off a heel.

The cake heard the baker gasp. “She must be marveling at my beauty!” Prepared to be greeted with applause, the cake was dismayed when all he heard were muffled tears.

“I don’t know what I did wrong. I followed the directions to a T,” he heard the baker say. Puzzled by this statement, the cake looked around for a mirror. Finding his reflection in the microwave oven, he was so startled by what he saw that he almost jumped off the cake plate. “Oh no! I’m ghastly! My skin is all splotchy and half of my golden, crispy crust is still in the pan.

The little cake was ashamed. How could he be so ugly? He had been assured he would be the best cake the world had ever seen. And now, here he was, looking like a leper. His skin clinging to the cake pan, mocking him.

Just as he felt all was lost, he heard the man that lived with the baker come into the kitchen. He watched as the man picked a piece of his crust out of the pan and took a bite. As the man chewed, he saw a smile begin at the edges of his eyes and then grow to include his entire face. “Honey, that’s the best cake you’ve ever baked.”

“How could it be? It’s so…so…ugly. It looks like a cake that suffers from leprosy. I’ll never be able to put this on the Thanksgiving dessert table,” the baker declared.

“Good! Then I don’t have to share it. Here, try it. You’ll see. It’s incredible.”

Tentatively the baker peeled a piece of the cake’s crust from the pan and popped it in her mouth. She was immediately glad she had done so. The crust was crispy and buttery and the small piece of inner cake that had clung to the piece of crust was moist and delicious. It was the best thing she had ever eaten in her life.

Smiling at the man, the baker now beamed with pride. “It’s not much to look at, but that’s a dang good cake!”

The little bundt cake could not believe what he was hearing. He had been afraid he was hideous and worthless. Doomed to a life in the trash bin, not filling tummies with joy. A wave of relief washed over him as he knew he was a masterpiece, destined to bring joy to many. Or at least the two people in the kitchen with him.

Little did the cake know at the time, but his recipe would be passed down from generation to generation. And for those adventurous enough to look past the name of his recipe, his descendants would bring joy, satiating sweet tooths, for years to come.

And I can assure you dear reader, if you’re brave enough to look past the surface of this cake, you will be rewarded. Mightily.

Leper Cake (Golden Pound Cake)

3 cups sugar

1½ cups butter, softened

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon juice

5 eggs

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the mixture taking turns with the milk. Beat I the vanilla and lemon juice.

Pour into a VERY well buttered & floured bundt pan. Place in a COLD oven turn it on to 325° and bake for 1½ hours.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from pan and continue to cool completely on a wire rack.

It is very common for the cake to stick in the pan, thus the name.

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

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