Friday, December 12, 2014

Catching up with Christmas

Loveys, we're less than 2 weeks out till Christmas. That is crazy! This month is a blur. I've got authors coming into town, family coming into town, Christmas shopping to do, trips to the airport, cookies to make, school parties to go to, a visit with Santa that's in our future--and so on! My calendar is full, and I don't really mind. I'm super excited to spend time with my family this Christmas. We don't live near my parents or my youngest sister so we only see them a few times a year. It's the same with Jeff's family. So our times together are special to me and I want to treasure them. Plus, these days with my own little ones go by fast, so each Christmas is extra magical while they're small. Tonight we've got pizza on the menu, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas on TV, and gingerbread cookies to bake that we'll share with some of our neighbors! The tree is lit and the fireplace is glowing and I love nights like this. There's the church Birthday Party for Jesus in the morning for the kids and our friend's graduation party tomorrow night. Another party on Sunday and a trip to the airport.

Good grief. December can be hectic. So nights like this one--home with family--are good for the soul.

I was thinking of family and how I'm looking forward to seeing mine, and that brought to mind my sweet grandmother Mimi. I still miss her so much. When I was in college, I wrote this short, children's story called A Cardinal's Christmas. Mimi loved it. And she ended up giving me this beautiful cup that my great-grandmother, Taye, painted. My Mimi loved the holidays. I remember going to her house at Christmastime as a child. She loved for her family to fill up her house, and she loved to cook for all of us. I want to be like that. Those memories at her house are priceless to me. Looking back, I see the main gift she gave all of us--the gift of herself. What a blessing.

In the midst of holiday chaos, sometimes it feels like there's not much left to give at the end of the day. But giving of ourselves is something that goes beyond wrapping paper and bows. Giving our love, our patience, our time, ourselves--to those around us, I think those are the gifts that last and that make the most difference. I think of Mimi and Taye, chopping vegetables in the kitchen the night before Christmas, and I see the gift of love they freely gave us. Presents and smiles and Christmas magic and families together--those memories are part of me, they're part of all the love I received growing up, and that's what I want for my own children.

Ashtyn took a "tradition box" to school this week and shared one holiday tradition that our family has with her class. She shared the tradition of reading the Christmas story, and in her box was a little Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. How sweet is that.

What do you want for Christmas, loveys? There are the rather lofty (but very heartfelt) wishes of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. There are the practical wishes like popcorn makers and lotion and DVDs. Then there are those things we crave . . . peace for our family. Love and romance with our partner. Endurance to get through the season with everyone happy and healthy. For our children to know that there's more to all this than just wrapped packages. For our spirit to remember the wonder of the Nativity story. For the people around us to feel loved.

And we want to feel loved. There's something about feeling loved that gives us the endurance to go above and beyond. It starts with us. With giving the gift of ourselves, with loving the people around us.

There's a lot to do, I know. For me too. Work and family and dishes and shopping. And there's less than 2 weeks until the big day. I suppose I can let it overwhelm me, or I can embrace all of it and count myself lucky to have friends and family to love and share my life with. I've finally been feeling a few more kicks now that I'm 6 months along with this pregnancy. Each kick is a reminder that there's one more person to love. I think she really likes gingerbread cookies. :)

Merry Christmas, loveys. Take a moment to think of what your soul is wishing for this Christmas. I hope you're heart is filled with love for the people in your life.               

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

Loveys, it's already December 8th. Doesn't this month seem to fly by? One week down, only a little more than three to go. Last night I had my annual ornament-exchange party. Success! This was my fifth year doing it, and I just enjoy it so much every time. The month gets so crazy that I'm happy to get one night just chatting with girlfriends over food and wine (in my case, sparkling cranberry juice).

Let me tell you what we did in case you're looking for party ideas. Before I forgot, I tried to snap a few pictures. I don't have any pictures of the first two years I hosted this kind of party. Tragic! I want to remember these fun times and who came. I had an empty portrait frame for the girls and I to use for pictures. So we started with chatting and eating, and I had everyone fill out MadLib pages. Then we took pictures.

The past couple of years, we've shared traditions and stories during the ornament exchange. There was some of that last night too, which is always fun and wonderful. But we started with sharing some of the history of the traditions of Christmas. I searched the Internet for the history of things like Christmas trees, stockings, gingerbread, poinsettias, the novel A Christmas Carol, the songs O Holy Night and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Then I printed off what I found and placed one page each in a Christmas card. We went around the room and each girl opened her card and read the story of the tradition to us. I love this type of thing because it involves all of us. Mingling and catching up or getting to know someone new is fun. But I love for there to be some point in the evening where we all engage together. After the "history of Christmas," we did our ornament exchange. Then we read the MadLibs that the girls had filled out earlier. MadLibs are always funny and fun.

To me, the best part of the evening is just having a houseful of friends. You guys know I'm six months pregnant at the moment. So I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself. I ordered a platter of sandwiches from the grocery store and picked up some pasta salad. I did make peanut-butter balls and cheesecake squares because those are easy, and besides, Christmas baking is so fun! (Jeff was thrilled that I made peanut-butter balls.) Friends brought bottles of wine. I threw together a veggie tray and put some lil smokies in the crockpot and voila! You've got a party. I love hosting these parties because we're carving out a little time during this busy season to make memories together. It was a warm and cheery night in the Bruce house!

The Jeffster helped me so much to prepare for this party. Last night, after the girls left, he came down (had some leftovers!) and then helped me clean up. I told him how grateful I was for all he did for me, and he told me that he's really glad I do things like host these parties. That touched my heart because it reminded me that he appreciates those things that make up who I am, that he loves me for who I am. And being loved just as we are is such a gift.

So last night was special to me. I love that Alyssa's ornament is now hanging on my tree (and Tracy's is on there from years past). I loved hearing about Nancy's extra-special Christmases and Jodi's favorite things about Christmas (and gasping when I heard that Myseesha is not a fan of Christmas music!). I loved giggling with everyone and sharing pregnancy stories (and grocery-shopping stories!). I loved hearing about Tara's father-in-law's special eggnog. The glow of the fireplace and the twinkle of Christmas lights and wine glasses all around--it's just a little Christmas magic with friends, loveys.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Southern Thanksgiving

Loveys, I feel like it's been forever. How are you? Well, we're back from our Thanksgiving down south in Louisiana. Our first night in, we unloaded at my mother-in-law's place and she served us some gumbo. Seriously. You know you're in Louisiana. It was delicious. We had a wonderful holiday. Very Southern. Bonfires and marshmallows. Four-wheelers. Catfish King. Cotton fields. More camo than I've perhaps seen in my lifetime, despite growing up in Texas. The best BBQ I've had in forever--at a gas station/smokehouse in Texas. Oh gosh. It was a great trip and I loved it.

All until we had a flat tire. Yeah, that happened. About six o'clock in the evening on our drive back (which it looked like midnight already it was so dark), Jeff realized that our tire was losing air. We stopped at three places to air it up. No air. Are you kidding me? Finally we pull off into a teeny town at a gas station with five pounds of air left and our tire flat. No air at the tiny gas station. Sadness. And rather a sketch place. Which is awesome at night when you have a 50-inch TV stuffed in your SUV that you bought on Black Friday. And the kids are hungry and whining while Jeff reads the car manual and pulls out all the Christmas gifts to fix the flat tire.

Those are stressful moments, lovey. For any family. Like a good wife and mother, I distracted the kids by feeding them massive amounts of goldfish and Pringles while Jeff stressed out and changed the tire. Despite the frustration, isn't there something just so attractive about a man who's out there changing a tire for his family? Good grief. My Southern roots are showing. Too bad he wasn't wearing any camo while he was changing the tire.

By the time we could reach a tire place, they were all closed. Awesome. And the following day was Sunday. We stopped overnight and then just drove home on the spare. At which point, Jeff dropped us all off and went to buy a new tire. At which point, they wouldn't let him and said all four needed to be replaced. Very sad. Very expensive. We might as well have flown! Ugh. Anyway, you do what you must.

At least our Thanksgiving was filled with good food and family and warmth and love. I'm grateful for that. The kids had a blast, and Jeff and I did as well. We stood in line that night at the Walmart in the next town for Tablets and TVs, and this pregnant girl could really have used a chair. There was a fight in Jeff's line. Black Friday craziness, you know. All in all, a perfect holiday.

How was yours, lovey? Now we're full-on into December. I'm planning my Ornament Party and so excited about it. (More to come on that later.) Our tree is up. I registered the kids to see Santa at the library again. We're on to gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies and all that goodness. Christmas posts will be coming soon!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Messy Cars and Embarrassing Moments

Loveys, I was thinking of my dad this week. And how, when I was just a young'un growing up in Conroe, Texas (no idea why my pioneer voice is coming out but let's roll), he used to get so frustrated with how utterly messy my mom and my sisters and I kept our minivan. My mother was a working mom, and we were on the go every second of every day. My dad would take the cars and clean them out all the time. (He also always took out the trash at our house and straightened the millions of shoes that we left by the front door. I think it's probably quite a chore to be the lone man in a house of all girls).

Anyway, I am now a grown-up woman with children of my own, and yet I'm apparently not any better at keeping our Acadia clean. Do you know that feeling, loveys? When you rush through the carpool lane at your daughter's school, already running late for work, and when the car attendant opens the door to let her out . . . half-eaten cheeseburgers fall to the ground? And your daughter stumbles through the McDonalds wrappers while she tries to get out of the car? Maybe that hasn't happened to you.


Yes. We may not have it altogether at the moment. And my car is dirty. So yesterday, I had a lunch date with two friends from work, and one of the women said she would ride with me.

Oh dear.

I'd meant to clean out the car post-McDonalds embarrassment, however, I haven't got around to it. And yesterday I'd stopped at the grocery store on the way to work for two chocolate-iced donuts and one regular (no judgment please). (*Side note: why doesn't Colorado have drive-throughs for donuts? Texas figured this out decades ago. What is the problem? Not all of us are drinking smoothies and going for a run when it's five degrees outside. Some of us need a chocolate-iced donut before staff meeting in order to maintain happiness.)

Anyway, I mentioned that my car was a little messy when we walked out to it together, thinking that I really needed to turn down the radio the minute we got in since I'd been blaring Dirt by Florida Georgia Line on my way into the office. I grabbed the donut bag (I'd only eaten the two chocolate-iced and left the regular one in the bag, which was sitting in the passenger seat) and threw it in the back, along with my work binder and papers that were on the seat as well. There wasn't anything I could do about the McDonalds bag on the floor. She kicked it over.


So I'm asking Jeff to take up his husbandly duties and go clean out my car today. (I'd actually do it myself, but it's like five degrees and snowing, remember? This is why women get married.)

Anyway, I was up late working last night and will be doing that again tonight, sadly. But we've got to go brave the elements eventually because Ash needs a bigger jacket. I had to hear her whine every morning this week that she felt weird when we put her jacket on. Weird, meaning the arms are tight and her long-sleeves are bunched up, and the sensation is one she cannot live with. So it's time for a bigger jacket.

I'll be so glad when my deadline has passed (that is, if I hit it, which is doubtful). I miss my friends. I miss watching TV with Jeff. I miss not feeling so anxious. It's been a long week. But holidays are coming! Thanksgiving! I'm looking forward to all that yummy food and being with family. And I'll be putting up my tree as soon as Thanksgiving is over, and starting to plan my ornament party for December. Good tidings of great joy are headed our way, lovey. December magic. Twinkle lights. Glowing fireplace. Romance. Presents. Jesus. Christmas carols. Gingerbread houses. (You could add weight gain to that list, but this pregnant girl is trying not to think about it, so please be sensitive.)

I love Thanksgiving. And I love Christmas. And I love Jesus. And Jeff. And cookies. Christmas and Thanksgiving come but once a year, loveys. Make these days count. They're precious.

(And try to keep your car cleaner than I do.)   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pressed for Time

Loveys, do you ever feel panicked? I have a deadline on Monday. It's making me feel rather panicked at the moment. I'm not ready for it. The truth is that I seem to have things to do in every direction I look. And when I look down, I just see this growing baby belly. And my hands feel swollen tonight.

I'm tired just now.

I was up late last night working, and I most likely will be up late working Saturday and Sunday as I try to hit this deadline. Also, I keep having distracting thoughts of gingerbread cookies. Do you know I love gingerbread cookies, lovey? Well, I do. Who knows why. I didn't grow up eating them. I am fairly certain my mother has never made a gingerbread cookie. But I like them and I want one (or ten) really bad.

My hair is still wet from my shower, and I'm feeling like I wish bedtime had gone smoother tonight. Jeff wasn't here, and I had to tell small people to brush their teeth and get into bed more times than I should have to, and it made me very frustrated. You know how it goes. Then after the fact that no one has been listening, those same small people want you to tell them a bedtime story. At which point, you are just unable to be rational. I know bedtime stories are good things. But not when no one has listened to you and your hands are swollen and you feel panicked.

I'm so glad tomorrow's Friday. Even if I'm pressed for time. Even if this weekend will consist of a lot of work for me. Even so. I'm ready for Friday, and my chances of getting a gingerbread cookie will look better.

It's been frigid here in Colorado, loveys. Truly. So cold. And it's been sort of an emotional couple of days for me with so much on my mind. Heavy thoughts, in some cases--worry for friends who are sick, and fear of so much that can go wrong for all of us. Then just the pressure of work looming over me and much to do. Then other things that overwhelm me or are unexpected. (Did I mention I had another tragic bangs cut? Seriously. Enough to make a pregnant woman weepy and wonder why no one understands her when she says, Not that short.)

So it's Thursday night and I'm thinking to myself, Sometimes I'm just not enough.

Sometimes I'm not going to finish in time. Some days bedtime is going to make me a crazy person. Sometimes frozen dinners from a box are going to be part of our life, and I will pretend I don't see all the laundry. Sometimes I need quiet and time to myself but it doesn't happen.

But then, sometimes it does. And if I'm not enough then . . . well, I suppose there are worse things. I might finish, I might not. I might have the energy to cook dinner tomorrow, I might order pizza. I might have to push through the weariness for another several days before I feel calm and rested. All of that can be done, and has been done before.

The heat just kicked on in my house. I'm home. Warm. Safe. My bedtime-story-less children are sleeping soundly across the hallway. Jeff is here now. I was able to have lunch with two of my sweet girlfriends today and that was a boost. I picked up a good book from the library.

Life is filled with stress and blessings. Both come and go at any time. It's a matter of holding on to who we are in the middle of it, I think. It's a matter of letting our shoulders rise and fall and saying, If I'm not enough this week, I just have to trust that God is.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How's Your November?

Loveys, how are you today? Let's talk Pink News.

We're having a GIRL!

Exciting news (for everyone except Lincoln. Poor thing was desperately hoping for a brother. I told him she might like superheroes. You never know). So it's time for me to starting thinking pink and finding all those boxes in the garage filled with Ashtyn's baby clothes. I can't believe I'm halfway through this pregnancy. Seriously. It's like I'll be delivering any minute (except for all those pounds I still have to go).

Other news, so today the beautiful and very cool Melissa Tagg is doing a giveaway of my new book Recipe for Love. Go enter here! AND I've got an article posted on my friend Ashleigh Slater's webzine Ungrind today. I'm talking about marriage and fish sticks, ya'll. You need to read this. Click here to find the article.

Speaking of Recipe for Love . . . it's available on Amazon now! Yay! I'm so excited. I loved writing this story. Go grab a copy and let me know what you think. I saw the first two reviews up on Amazon today and that thrilled me!

On another note, how's your November coming along, lovey? This can be such a hectic month. We're only like eight weeks out from Christmas, or something crazy like that. What in the world! This month always seems to zoom by. We're spending Thanksgiving with family, and I have a deadline to hit before all that fun starts so I'm thinking this November will be a blur. But I hate for the fall season to get past me without doing a few things I love. We had sweet friends over for dinner Sunday night, and then I had a couple of girlfriends stop in Monday morning for a November brunch. I really want to try to host at least one brunch per month to get together with the girls God has brought into my life. It's going to be a goal of mine. But next month, my one main goal is to host my annual ornament party (girlfriends, get ready!).

Since November can get crazy, it helps to set a few goals early on (and give yourself grace if you don't meet all of them). For myself, I want to think through my gift-giving this year and really plan ahead so I'm not scrambling mid-December. This is our last holiday season as a four-person family, I want it to be special for my kids. That means gingerbread houses, movie nights with popcorn, decorations, and so on. Time with friends can be hard with so much going on, but I want to keep in touch with our community during this season when we can. My parents will be in town next month so Jeff and I are thinking of spending a night away at a B&B. I need to plan that and make it happen. I need to get started on Honey Bear's baby scrapbook.

Things to do. Things to do.

Deadlines. Holidays. Baking. Cooking. Cleaning.

It's hard to keep up, right? So I'll set goals. I'll breathe easy when things don't happen and feel encouraged when things do.

Happy November, lovey. What's on your goal list?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Messy Houses and Perfect Fall Days

Loveys, I felt very pregnant yesterday. Large and tired and frustrated by a messy house that I didn't feel up to cleaning. I'm sitting here this morning, trying to work up the motivation to clean. I know it has to be done. Next to me, sweet Lincoln has taken to trying to eat his cereal like a puppy. (More to clean up.)

It was a good weekend (despite the largeness and the tiredness and the frustration). Actually, all the goodness started before the weekend. My sweet friend Robin Gunn was in town and we got to spend a little time together, which is always a huge blessing for me. She's one of my VERY favorite authors (Christy and Todd, anyone?) and chatting over smoothies with Robin on a perfect fall day is a recipe for happiness for this girl. Every minute was fun.

After all that loveliness, I headed over to my sister Sara's house Friday night. She made some yummy minestrone soup and we watched Downton Abbey for hours. It was the kind of kid-free night I truly needed. I got to be at Sara's clean house for a while, before returning to my messy house.
Saturday we decided to take a quick drive up toward the mountains. I needed a river. And right now, with fall in full effect, it's great to enjoy the scenery. We just drove up toward Evergreen, Colorado (a little town I love and wrote about in Table for Two!). The drive was beautiful. There was this hilarious moment where we're winding around the mountains and suddenly the radio gets a signal and we hear Boyz II Men belting out End of the Road. Literally, Jeff and I both start singing at the same time. Children of the nineties, you know. :) We ended up heading over to John and June's house for dinner. Which was also wonderful. June fed my family and we spent some time at their lovely (clean) home. I love nights like that.

Sunday was rough. The kids didn't want to go to church. We ended up sitting in the sanctuary with two squirmy, noisy children, and leaving early. Jeff wasn't feeling well all day and we were both frustrated with the kids. I had a ton of work to do so I absolutely had to hole up in our home office all afternoon. Showers and bed time for the kids felt more draining than usual. Ashtyn--sweet little thing that she is--is quite fascinated by my growing evolving shape. So she was making these totally innocent comments last night that ended up making me feel larger than ever. I could see Jeff's concern as she was talking. And then she magically came and apologized to me later (I'm very certain Jeff was behind this). I don't mind, truly. She's six and it's all quite interesting and that is okay. But I'm sensitive as it is, so I can't help it if I get weepy. And then I realized I'd missed Death Comes to Pemberly on PBS. NO! How is that possible? I saw all these tweets about it and went into despair last night.

Now here I am. In my kitchen. Wishing Blanca Brumble would stop by. Alas, Honey Bear and I are about to roll up our sleeves and clean house. There's nothing else to do but dive in. Laundry, dishes, toys--good grief. Doesn't it seem like housework can snowball so fast? You go just a few days without tackling it, then it's this mountain you have to climb.

But a little Ninja Turtle just came over to me for a hug, and that does help. :)