My baby sister…

I remember being just 7 years old and waking up at 6 am every weekend. My baby sister was just a few months old but her crib was in the room next to me so I heard her cry before anyone else in the house. I’d wake up, walk to her room and open the door to her huge smile. I don’t think there was a better way to wake up.

I’d change her diaper, grab her milk out of the fridge and bring her into the living room. We would snuggle on the couch together and watch Saturday morning cartoons. She would smile brightly and hug me as tight as she could.

Today that baby sister celebrates her 26th birthday. Growing up with 3 sisters, we had our fair share of fights. We were close one minute and not the next…and yet we were always the best of friends.

This sweet girl has been by my side since the day she was born. She visited me in Florida and stayed for a week at a time, she took a leap of faith and moved to Georgia a few years ago to create her own dreams and she has grown into an incredible young woman.

We have met each other for quick trips in Savannah and Myrtle Beach more times than I can count. We have visited each other regularly and won’t leave each other without the next trip planned. Every Thanksgiving for the last 4 years we have spent together. She has jumped in the car to lay by my side in the hospital when I had brain surgery, she drove down to celebrate my double mastectomy with a trip to the beach just 4 days later, she planned a week long vacation to spend with us last year and she traveled down to meet her nephew right after he was born. The miles don’t matter.

We call each other just to say hello, with no agenda in mind. We ask advice of each other regularly, knowing that the other person is listening intently for an idea of what to do. We laugh so hard together that we cry helplessly and breathlessly. I am not afraid to call her crying to vent or with exciting news to share. I was beyond honored to stand by her side on her wedding day. 

We have had a lifetime of memories together…and they are no where near finished. She is one of my very best friends and I am so blessed that God chose her to be my baby sister. 

I love you, Katerdid. Forever and for always. 

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The night before Christmas…

Growing up, my grandparents had a barn on their property. I have no idea what they originally used it for (anyone?) but it became the place that we gathered for Christmas. My grandparents on my momma’s side had eleven children. Add in their significant others and a few dozen (50ish?!) grandkids and Christmas became a rather large event. There was never a discussion about what to do or where to go – we always gathered at my grandparent’s barn.

The grandkids were all gifted wooden stools with their names engraved and a burlap sack. We all brought our stools to sit on while opening gifts. My grandma always arranged a gift exchange between the grandkids and one for the adults. One of my uncles would dress up as Santa and handed out gifts.

The sacks were filled to the very top with gifts from my grandparents. Each grandkid collected something that my grandma decided when we were born. My collection was brass and my sack was always loaded up with different types of brass, mostly antiques, that I would display on a huge shelf in my room and play with all the time.

The gift exchange was no joke. We would sit on our stools for hours while the presents that spread across half of the barn slowly grew smaller as our collection around us grew bigger. There were tons of laughs, lots of hugs and some of the most amazing memories. I would usually fall asleep in the car on the way home, believing whole-heartedly that I could hear Santa’s bells ringing high above.

Since moving to Florida, we spend Christmas Eve with Joe’s family. Though the setting is different and the family is smaller, the love and laughter is there. My cheeks hurt tonight from smiling so big and laughing so hard. We enjoy a fabulous meal of Italian food prepared by Joe’s mom, indulge in cannolis and share gifts that we thought hard about giving each other. We even have a tradition of giving out a bag of coal to one person each year based on something silly or funny that they did that year.

Tonight was no different with the exception of my momma joining in on the fun. I have been enjoying this past week with her here but this is the first Christmas that we have spent together in well over a decade. Having her here and buying matching jammies means so much to me.

And then there’s Jacob. Every age I say “this is the best!” but this age…oh, how I love it. He is truly becoming his own little person, talking and asking questions and learning more and more. He has been counting the “sleeps” until Christmas & Santa and he even left out cookies (cooooo-kkkeeess), milk and a carrot tonight. 

One of his gifts tonight from grandma and grandpa was a pair of binoculars. Although he enjoyed his other gifts, these went around his neck and he didn’t let go. He played with them all night and even looked for Santa in the car on the way home. When snuggling in bed tonight, his excitement was palpable. He looked at me and said, “Momma, I look for Santa?” Sure, love bug. He lifts up the binoculars and looks through the half window above the curtains. “Santa, where are yoooouuuuuuu….hohoho (deeper voice)…Oh! I shink he’s ouside.”  I am fairly certain we did that routine for about 45 minutes (and one potty trip!) before he looked at me, kissed me and said “I go to seep so Santa comes” and rolled over. Oh, be still my heart.

This Christmas is special, like all others. But it’s filled with more love, laughter and snuggles than I know how to contain. I can’t help but smile ear to ear as my mom, Joe and I sit by the light of Jacob’s little Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas to all of you. May you each be gifted the blessing of love and happiness this holiday season and always. Spread the love!

“It’s Christmas!”

christmas-120116Growing up, we had one Christmas tree in our house. It always stood in front of the picture window facing out towards the street, for all to see. We would even rearrange our furniture if a couch or chair was in front of the window when we were setting up our tree.

When I moved to Florida, I learned that multiple Christmas trees in a home is quite common. This was the first that I had heard of it and over the years I’ve loved watching people have multiple trees in their homes that had different themes. It was like Christmas in every room – something that seemed so wonderful to me.

This week, we took Jacob to pick out a tree. Every year with him is fun and I love sharing traditions – new and old – with him. But this year…oh, this year is so wonderful. At this age, he is understanding and asking questions and making his own…fun in the world! We went to pick out a tree and he walked up and down the aisles, arms outstretch and head turning side to side saying “These are nice! Look how nice!” It made me laugh & smile & tear up all at once. He had a ball “hiding” in the trees and got very excited as Joe pulled out different ones to see which Jacob loved. Oh, it was all so wonderful.

After we had chosen a tree, we started to make our way up front towards the registers. To our left, we spotted mini Christmas trees. Jacob immediately ran up and started picking up the different trees because they were his height. They were so cool!! I don’t remember ever seeing “little” trees like that before and we couldn’t pass them up. Jacob picked out his own tree out and even helped carry it to out.

We typically put the big tree in front of the bay window because I love that it can be seen through the window. It causes such a beautiful blue and white glow. But we spend most of our time in the tv room, which is decorated but doesn’t typically house a tree. So, Jacob’s tree solved that dilemma! His tree fits perfectly in the room and helps to create the Christmas feel.

When unpacking the box that holds Christmas ornaments last night, Joe found a cd. Upon seeing it, it made my heart swell. Half a lifetime ago, my uncle used to make Christmas cd’s for us every year. It’s filled with the classics and he would make a new one for every year. With 10 brothers and sisters and tons of nieces and nephews, this wasn’t an easy task for him. But he did it without complaint every year and we would always listen to it in the car driving around upstate New York to get in the Christmas spirit. Joe immediately popped it into the cd player while we decorated the tree. We sang, we danced and we spun Jacob around to the music. He giggled & smiled & even picked out his own ornaments to help decorate his little tree.

When we were all done decorating the trees and the cd was over, it was time for bed. Despite that fact, Jacob refused to take off his Santa hat. The little munchkin fell asleep with it on. I can’t think of a better way to end November and start off this wonderful holiday just right.

As Jacob says, arms outstretched, “It’s Christmas!”

Thanksgiving…

I have been thinking about traditions and blessings today. I read my post from last year and couldn’t help but smile at the traditions we share and Joe’s first Thanksgiving with my family. I remember many Thanksgivings, though many meld together in one happy memory.

I remember my dad making popovers every year and if they didn’t come out just right, he would try again…and again…and again. We would often have a few dozen popovers half risen before dinner. I recall the first time that I made popovers for Joe and, though he thought me crazy at first since he had never heard of them, he enjoyed them so much that we ate them for dinner with gravy all by themselves for about a week straight.

My mom’s mom would always make fresh made biscuits from scratch and would let us grandkids cut out the circles. I remember being propped up on the counter or standing high on a stool while she rolled out the dough and showed me the best places to fit a circle.

I remember the first year that I sat at the “adult” table at my dad’s sister’s house and felt a little sad that I wasn’t at the kid’s table. The next time I sat at the kid’s table.

I made green bean casserole for Joe’s family one year and somehow managed to mess that up despite it being the canned kind. I have since learned to make it from scratch and that seems to come out alright.

I know how proud I was of Joe when he cooked our first turkey in our home. We hosted his parents and were determined to make it perfect. It was perfect because we were blessed with family by our side.

Opening the windows and letting in the beautiful fall breeze wasn’t an option in New York. But it’s something that I have grown quite fond of in Florida. The year that we served appetizers on the back porch while watching the birds play in the yard is one of those times that I was so grateful for Florida weather.

Pecan pie was always a staple in our house growing up. I would typically stay up late the night before with my dad making two pies for the next day. We made two this morning too.

One year at my aunt’s house, my cousins and I were jumping on the bed (a no-no) and I heard my older cousin come in from work and say “I need caffeine!”. I had no idea what caffeine was but I was parched from all that jumping and needed some. I expressed that to my parents, aunts and uncles upon walking downstairs and they looked at each other and laughed, knowing I had no clue what it was. I drank my water and smiled, oblivious to how big of a role caffeine would eventually have in my life!
When my baby sister ventured to Florida for her first Thanksgiving a few years ago, the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza began. We have celebrated together each year since, taking turns between our states. Though this year was Florida’s turn, we were anxious for fall weather and with all of our recent travel, Georgia made sense. I imagine this is a tradition that will not ever end.

When Jacob was born he sat at the head of the table and we made hand turkeys on a table runner with him each year. It’s a new tradition that I love so much.

This year, we were surprised with wrapped gifts on our plates. Our brother-in-law has a family tradition of receiving a new Christmas ornament from his mom every Thanksgiving. This year, the three of us were blessed with this wonderful treat of a tradition – one that I may have to begin myself!

As I write out these few memories that make me smile and warm my heart, I cannot help but think about how blessed I am. This time last year, I was mid-IV chemo and completely bald. It seems like a lifetime ago and yet just the other day. This year, I have my family by my side as we celebrate this holiday and create new traditions.

As I see all of the smiling faces and delicious meals on social media, I smile at all of the wonderful traditions that surround us. We are so blessed to have the most amazing people in our lives, incredibly lucky to be here to celebrate this day and so loved as we acknowledge the lives that we have lived so far.  There have been many memories created and there are still so many to be made.

I hope you all enjoyed this holiday with your loved ones and snuggle them hard tonight. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! 🦃❤

Easter blessings

Growing up, Easter was typically spent at my grandparents’ house. They would spend the days prior to the holiday preparing for dozens of grandkids to come participate in an egg hunt. Looking back, I realize that they must have bought hundreds of eggs for us kids, so that we could all find plenty. They owned a good amount of land and would hide the eggs all over it. All of us grandkids would gather after church and search for the eggs after we ate a big supper at noon. Our baskets would all be full of the bright colored eggs by mid-afternoon, when we would open them up and see what goodies we found. My grandparents were so good at hiding the eggs that we sometimes found one or two eggs in the weeks after the big event.

When I was a bit older, I was lucky enough to help them prepare for the hunt. I recall a large bag filled with tons of coins that would be used to fill the eggs. The amount in each egg varied and some of them were filled with sweet treats too. A few lucky kids would even find a one dollar bill in their egg. I have many wonderful memories of these events throughout my childhood.

In recent years, Joe & I have done different things to celebrate the holiday. Sometimes we would host dinner, sometimes we would go to his parents’ house and sometimes we would do something different. This year, we decided to start a new tradition for our little family of three. I bet you can guess what it involved…

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After Jacob woke up and found his basket filled with books, shirts and coin filled eggs, he ventured outside in search of eggs filled with grapes. This little man loves his grapes! Next, each coin was carefully placed in his piggy bank and each grape was plopped in his mouth or fed to one of us (a new favorite pastime of his). Then we packed a cooler and headed to (you guessed it!) the beach.

Our typical go-to spot was taken so we tried our hidden spot number two, which was also taken. Uh-oh. Spot number 3? Yup, taken. We thought for sure we were ahead of the crowds! Although not entirely prepared for our next go-to place, we found it was pretty deserted and set up there. It worked out perfectly; the rain that had been threatening all morning focused its energy around us and only landed a few cool drops on our heads.

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We spent the day fishing, collecting shells and playing in the sand. The tide was going out and Jacob had a blast running in and out of the shallow waves as they formed a little pool for him to play in. There were lots of birds for him to chase and the wind was strong enough to play ball with him. His giggles filled the air all day long. It was a warm day with a cool, humid breeze that only Florida can offer. It was relaxing and fun – a perfect combination for us. We ended the day snuggled up together, thankful for the blessings that Easter brought to us.

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