Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Blessing


And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you;
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,
and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
LUKE 2:8-14

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Angels Don't Always Wear White - Sometimes They Wear Fatigues


Behold an early Christmas gift that showed up on my doorstep yesterday!! An angel dressed in his fatigues!! Let me explain....

I attended the funeral for my little student's mother yesterday morning.... it was a beautiful, simple, very emotional ceremony. Afterwards, we went to their home for a warm reception. I'll admit....I was worthless. The food and kitchen activities were being handled by wonderful women from our school. Family and friends gathered and visited and children ran up and down the stairs while a video of this beautiful mom taken from her family way too soon played on the television. I found little J, and once again, she jumped up on me for a long, tight hug - and at one point, I was embarrassed by myself, for I felt that the tides had turned a bit and that she was comforting me more than I was her. After paying my respects, I quietly left.....

I had a few gifts to buy for my son and daughter so I attempted to go to several stores to get these....well, I was a total idiot driving around town.... I couldn't focus, got lost, had tons of doubts about what I had planned on buying for them, etc. I finally made it into one store and was looking through all of the picture frames (I am going to give the picture of J and her family to them next week, I've decided) when someone called out my name. I turned around to see one of my wonderful parents whom I have known for many years and her boyfriend. Let's be honest here....

I looked like shit.

I was embarrassed by how I looked - puffy, red eyes...make-up cried off.....sorrow in my heart as I feebly attempted to find some Christmas spirit among the left-over items on the store shelves... We exchanged pleasantries and good wishes and I went on with my shopping....

When I got home, I was absolutely spent. Four days into my winter break, and I was worn out, cried out and so behind in what I felt I needed to do to be ready for the big day this week. I fixed myself a snack since I hadn't eaten all day and just as I took the first bite, the doorbell rang. "Crap!" I thought....

M couldn't tell who it was and so I went to the door. A quick glance through the window showed a military man standing at my door. 'Great!' I thought. 'Now they have military men selling magazine subscriptions door to door!' I opened the door and started to say "Yeessss..... ??" .....
but before I could even say the sound for the letter 'y', I gasped, screamed and burst into tears, for standing at my door was this wonderful young man!!! Who is he? He is a former student of mine...from many years ago!

This is Nick - a new recruit who enlisted into the Army Reserves this past September. Back in August, 1998, I was fortunate enough to be hired as my daughter's 1st/2nd grade substitute as her teacher went on maternity leave. I was to begin the school year with her class (who was returning back to her from having done 1st grade with her) and I was her sub through Thanksgiving. The children all knew each other, as they had been together the previous year. But I received a new little student Nick, one day - I believe his family came from California. He was quiet, shy, cute and a bit moody about all of the changes he was going through. There were days he would quietly be a bit stubborn about doing his work. I tried my bag of tricks to get through to him - none of which were very successful. Finally, out of sheer frustration, I walked the class to P.E., but told Nick to come back to the classroom with me. We were going to have a pow-wow about his behavior. And we did. I'll never forget Nick sitting in that little blue plastic chair by mine. His hands in his lap. His bottom lip sticking out. His brown eyes looking sad. And his jaw set firm as I told him how the cow ate the cabbage. He stoically listened to everything I said showing no emotion and saying nothing. Afterwards, we walked back to pick up the class from P.E. in silence and I was sure that I had turned him off to me, school, everything with my hard-nosed chat with him that day.

But something in this young boy didn't give up on me. No, Nick never gave up on me.

Through the years, as he went through the intermediate grades, he would come by my room every so often to get a hug and say 'hello'. I would ask him how he was doing, how school was going, how his family members were doing. We'd visit for a while, then I'd hug him, tell him to take care and go back to the rhythm of my day. Nick moved on to junior high and high school - even being in band with my daughter and I'd ask her if she had seen Nick and how was he. Occasionally, I'd see him riding his bike around the neighborhood and we'd sometimes run into each other at the store, etc. Often, Nick would show up at my home out of the blue and we'd catch up on how he was doing. A couple of years ago, Nick had a period of time, like so many young people do, where some choices he made weren't the best for him. I was ticked at what I heard he was doing and scared, too. Yet, when he would come by, I'd always have a hug for him and listen to his world.

This past summer, the doorbell rang one hot day. There was Nick. I hadn't seen him in a while and he looked great! He had just spent the day at the V.A. hospital getting his physical done....he had enlisted in the Army Reserves! I was happy, thrilled, shocked and ... yes, scared. How can you not be scared for anyone who is in the military?? He spoke with confidence, excitement, focus and direction. I listened to his future, his hopes, his life before him and I couldn't stop thinking of how much this young boy was growing into such a wonderful young man!! He promised to keep in touch with me as he hugged me and left....

And he did. Here he was now, sitting in my family room - confident, strong, happy, secure and full of love for what he is doing!!! He finishes up in February and will be stationed here in the valley. He will be heading out to Afghanistan within a year. He and M had a wonderful visit, too - these two classmates who have known each other since 2nd grade.... And he was so sweet as I would occasionally get teary-eyed throughout our visit..... my emotions already raw and then to be graced with his surprise visit. What a blessing I was given!!

The time came that he had to be going. He gave me another big, huge hug as he put on his jacket and hat. He's staying with his family and catching up with his friends. We exchanged emails and he will keep in touch with me. I told him how very, very proud I am of him and how happy and great he looks!! He knows my door is always open to him.

I received the most wonderful of Christmas gifts today - a visit from my Nick. It reminds me that, each night when I lay my head down to sleep, there are untold numbers of men and women all around this world, like Nick, who are standing post in the cold night, huddled in a tent or foxhole, or tending the wounded who give their lives to keep me safe and free..... to keep us all safe and free! May God bless each and every one of them and their families.

Yes.... angels don't always wear white.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Picture In Your Mind...

It's been a month since I last wrote .... I've been well-aware of this. I've thought of blogging several times, but not having the right picture has dampened my little light of inspiration. However, today is a day to post, to think, to ponder, to reflect....but this time, the picture will be from your mind and not from my camera.

It has been a pensive time; many irons-in-the-fire and things to do......and, yet, a time where the focus of people that I dearly love keeps seeping through my crazy days.....like a quiet little rivulet of water, salted by tears.....

Tonight I will be attending the rosary for the beautiful, young mother of one of my students. This woman endured a very long, painful fight against an illness which eventually took its final toll on her 3 days ago... Thursday, I maintained normalcy in my classroom and guided my kiddos through a pajama/pizza party and a ride on the 'Polar Express' as my heart quietly hurt with the knowledge that my little student would soon learn, herself, upon her return home that afternoon that her beautiful mother was no longer there. I thought about her all that afternoon and all evening long. Friday morning...greeting my kiddos outside the door upon the chilly morning's bell ring, this little girl was the last one to come running across the grass towards the line. I had the other children go on inside as I walked back through to greet her and give her a hug. Instead, as I bent down, she jumped onto me - throwing her arms tightly around my neck and her legs around my body....

and she sobbed..."I miss my mommy."

She sobbed into that soft spot between my left shoulder and neck....with a tightness in her arms and legs around me that I have never felt from a child before....ever.

She didn't let go for over 20 minutes....clinging to me like a bear cub to a tree...her grip never easing up, as if she was afraid that she would fall if she did....

We were needing to walk over to a holiday show at the neighboring junior high pronto...
but there was no way I was going to interrupt this child's moment of grief....
so a wonderful staff member took my class over for the show....

...and J and I sat at my desk....

...and I held her for those 20-plus minutes and let her cry.... and cry.... and sniffle..... trying to comfort her and her heart while the horrible reality of what had happened in this precious child's world settle down around the two of us in the silence of my classroom like soft, cold, winter snowflakes....

Later that morning after the show, J sat with me in my rocking chair and she and I told the other boys and girls of the news.... that her mother had passed away. A child-like gasp answered back.... and then tears fell from classmates who had known of J's mother's illness months ago, but, as children so wonderfully do, had held out hope for a happy ending to this story, too.

Cards vividly illustrated with crayons, colored pencils and markers soon came to be.... floating pink hearts with scalloped borders, yellow flowers on green stems, stick children holding hands and hugging with smiling faces under rainbows..... words like 'love', 'sorry', and 'friend' danced across the white card stock with invisible hugs of love folded inside each one. A grosgrain ribbon of spring green tied the gifts of love into a bundle that J would take home and, hopefully, remind her of how much we love her and how sorry we all are for her and her family. Her deep brown eyes were finally dry and a beautiful smile bowed between her dimpled cheeks as she carefully tucked the bundle into her pink backpack and zipped it closed.

Tomorrow I will attend the funeral service for her mother. And I am lost....lost as to what to say, lost as to whether I bring her something.... a teddy bear? a bracelet? Or what about the picture of her and her amazing family taken at our flag ceremony last month when she won the bike for the 'Character Counts' award that was just given to me a week ago...her beautiful mother smiling with a bouquet of pink-tipped cream roses in her arms? I've been planning on buying a frame for it and giving it to her.....but now I wonder if it's too soon to give that picture to her??? Will it make her feel even worse? Make her cry even more?? Miss her mom even more?? I don't want to cause her any more heartache....

..... I don't know....

I just don't know.

I sat quietly in church this morning - looking like a bump-on-a-log....staring off into space as 'Angels We Have Heard On High' surrounded me.... trying to hold back unexpected tears and trying to be still enough to hear what God wanted me to do... hoping for direction...an idea... a "That's it!!!' epiphany as to what to do. All I could come up with that didn't seem like a feeble attempt at helping was calling Dad and asking if I could help with anything today... Maybe the kids needed to go shopping for new shoes for their mother's rosary tonight. Did the girls have dresses or did the boys need some dress pants?? Maybe there was an errand I could do for them, or was there something that I could bring them...... Dad was wonderful and family members were there helping him out so all was good. But he did tell me that he would probably need help later on....after everyone leaves and goes back home...

Concurrently, two women whom I adore and admire in so many, many ways fight the fight of breast cancer and my thoughts, love and prayers fall on them daily. Updates, hugs, happy hours, .... each encounter is a precious one for me.

I find myself feeling the focus of this next week or so is not a flat screen t.v., a wii, or diamond jewelry or whatever the store ads try to entice us to buy. I find myself, in a bit of a panicky way, wanting to gather my family and friends into a tight, tight circle....and hug them and hold onto them...and feel their body warmth and hear their laughter in my ears and see their twinkled eyes...... I want to hold onto them all so very tightly...

like a bear cub clinging to a tree.....

...for they are the gifts in my world this holiday season.

May Christmas blessings surround you and your loved ones this week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Playing - A Treasured Past-Time

Ahhhh..... Autumn has left me mellow and drinking in all of the wonderful colors that I see.... It's been way too long since I took some photos with my oh-I-so-love-it Nikon. I had no intention of taking any today, either....too much to do before the big Thanksgiving feast here on Thursday. But an impulse prevailed over dusting and so I tippied out to the back yard for a few pics of my flowers. Upon loading the photos up, I discovered these... taken after the Ya-Ya trip up to the cabin a month ago. We had gone on a forest walk and collected treasures along the way. Once I got home, I arranged my goodies in an amazing wooden bowl that I had picked up recently.... I love the textures of the pine needles, pine cones and the sprinkle of peacock feathers among them.... so I played with my Nikon one afternoon....

I can't seem to get close enough to nature....


Our patient, Skittles, is doing fabulous! She is ornery, growing her back hair in and back to roaming back and forth across the street or lounging out on the 'sitting rock' - taking a lazy sun bath in the autumn afternoon....

A few weeks ago I visited the nursery and brought home a treat for da kitties... Skittles was all over the catnip and apparently its effect was grand!......

...for soon.... this was da baby Skittles.... schnoozing on the porch swing.....

Today I played in the garden with my Nikon.... not worrying too much about settings or lighting....
just simply playing....

a new rose bush - proceeds of which went to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness Fund...

.... um, yup.... a picture of birdseed in my 'reclaimed' bird bath feeder....

...this little guy is in my old antique sink garden....

...as is this little one, too....

I ADORE pansies!!! And I think little 'johnny-jump-ups' are just the sweetest! These little fellows have a place at the base of my bird bath and jacaranda tree...and seem pretty darn happy about it all!

Simply beautiful.

As I was shooting this cutie, I notice a red dot moving around on the right yellow petal - a little eensy-weensy red spider!! Do you see him??

A little bit later I was hanging some laundry on the clothes line and this beauty caught my eye...just laying there...so I grabbed my camera again and began shooting....
...only to be interrupted by someone....

...who couldn't resist playing in the leaves, himself....
A busy week ahead with excitement - a real family Thanksgiving will be this Thursday and I can't wait. Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday of the year!! Pumpkin pie, my Mom's famous Waldorf Salad, a 20 lb. turkey and my awesome dressing and my world-famous gravy are on the menu. My sister is coming over Wednesday evening with collard greens, garlic mashed potatoes and her suitcase because she's staying for a few nights....we can't wait!!! Are you busy with plans for the days ahead, too? Do share what they are....
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!! : )

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Welcome to Arizona, Pioneer Woman!!

Do you follow The Pioneer Woman's blog like I do?? Oh, don't you just LOOOOOOOOOVE her?? I never tire of visiting her on the ol' cattle ranch - herding errant cattle, baling hay, brandin' and the likes. I love her photography section and refer to it often to help me understand my Nikon. Her confessions, humor and take on life are akin to having a cup of coffee with your ol' girlfriend....

This lovely lady has published her amazing recipes and food photography into a grand beauty of a book and as luck would land, my local independent bookstore hosted The Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond, this past Thursday evening. Several of my friends, my sister and I galloped over for a quick dinner at the cafe next door and an evening with our favorite cowgirl. We were not disappointed!!
Ree Drummond was adorable! And charming, humble, kind, funny, witty, gracious and patient! She talked a bit about life on the ranch as a blogger, and now, author and her style was ingratiating. Soon, she took questions and comments from the audience and we laughed and chuckled throughout the variety of them. The line for the book-signing was loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong.... and at some point, we contemplated about leaving our books to have her sign them later on and then picking them up the next day. But I just HAD to meet the woman whom I won that fabulous red mixer from!! Plus, I had a couple of questions I needed answered.....

After much patience, and propping my foot up on a post (um...I seriously injured my leg in a fall - I am doing you a HUGE favor and sparing you the horrific pictures of my bruises - and as my camera went flying across the concrete as well, I'm thinking that is why these pictures are fuzzy..boo-hoo!!) we were in line for our turn with The Pioneer Woman! She was sweet as could be and seemed a bit curious about my name, Velvet Brick, as she wrote it in her signing on the title page. I assured her that it was my blog name and not my 'stripper' name! After gushing about how I had won one of her mixer contests and her commenting "Hmmm.... Velvet Brick...that sounds familiar.....' as she continued writing, I was able to ask her my burning question. I prefaced it with "I can take the truth, no matter what it is..." then I asked...."Did the cow with the prolapse... um... is she okay???"

Yes, that was my burning question. I've needed to know the answer since reading about it on her blog. This was my chance and I wasn't going to pass it up!

What a relief it was when Ree replied that said mama cow was just fine - she had come through that ordeal a-ok!!! Yeeeeee-hawwwwwwww!!

My sister, friends and I are all a-giddy over our beautiful cook books!! Signed by The Pioneer Woman, AND her sister-in-law AND even by her mother-in-law; who were traveling with her on this leg of her book tour journey. We're planning on having a Pioneer Woman cookout with each one of us bringing a recipe from a section of her gorgeous cookbook! Ree's asked that we take pictures and email them to her - with pleasure!!

Treat yourself and pick up a copy of this book or put it on your 'wish list' for Santa Claus - you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Retreat


I never tire of this view. Our cabin view out the front window of the enchanted forest. The ya-ya's and I headed up the highway to that corner of the Earth that smiles for me. A beautiful log cabin nestled deep within the woods is home for 4 days and 3 pitch-black nights. We unloaded the Tahoe - and one would have assumed that we were moving in for a month! We do have a tendancy to bring tons of gourmet treats and goodies in our celebration of life in the forest. But no matter. We soon were settled into our cabin with the best of comforts and a beautiful view before us.







Here's my girl soaking in the peace and tranquility. I gifted her with the knitted hat - complete with 'fall bling'!!! The peacock feather, however, was a gift to her from 'Handsome'! It looked beautiful on her and she wore it all the time - such a sweet spirit with a beauty that is timeless and enduring.









A lone sentry among the tumbled remains of majestic ponderosa..... the aftermath of human carelessness.





But God's hand touches this place and renewal is in full swing.













Sapplings abound....














....as do critters













and flowers among the pine needles....
















and there is a wealth of autumnal beauty to be seen....















.... much autumnal beauty, indeed.






relax,

renew,

reflect,

recharge,

respite,

relief,

retreat...





That's why this corner of the Earth smiles for me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Home


I'm home....
from being at 'home'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inside Out






I'm back! I know it's been a while since my last post, but, truly, things have been busy, busy around here. The Fall Fairy showed up a few weeks ago and decorated with an autumnal touch!! Little amber lights glow around my doorway and beckon fall to come inside.















The Fall Fairy is always welcomed here at this home....

In fact, we eagerly anticipate her visit a bit more than Santa's!











I love my fireplace and can not wait to celebrate the first fire of the season!! The logs are waiting and it's almost ceremonial when we strike the first match!









Even Lucy is decked out in her fall finery!!
My bedroom has been a kitty recovery room for the last two weeks. Skittles had surgery to remove the lump on her back. Unfortunately, the news was not good and it will more than likely come back. But she's doing great, was SUCH a wonderful 'patient'...(if you knew her, you'd appreciate that statement - she has a bit of an 'edge' in her personality!!) and is outside today for the first time. Lessons I've learned this year on loss have served me well in dealing with this latest event.



The weather has been glorious and I have found myself sitting out on my back patio almost every morning and every evening. I've even dined by candlelight several times to celebrate being able to be OUTSIDE again!!! There have been days when I haven't even turned on my computer...it's hard to be inside when it's so gorgeous outside!
The song of autumn is being sung by everyone!
Today was spent doing errands, finishing two knitting projects and getting the car ready for a trip up to my favorite place on earth! It's fall break and my ya-ya's and I are making our annual trek up to the cabin in the middle of the ponderosa forest and we are like kids packing for Disneyland!
I need some time to relax and rest. To stop. To breathe. To unwind. To be. What do you do to renew?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Autumnal Abundance

video

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Merry Christmas To Me!!

Yup! Christmas came early to this house! Yesterday morning my son came over to help me with a 'little' job around the house and after some raspberry-filled Munchkin's from Dunkin' Donuts out on the patio, we ended up going shopping instead! It wasn't planned, but you know how sometimes those spur-of-the-moment shopping trips turn out to be some of the best?? Well, let me tell you, Christmas came early to this house!! I've coveted one of these for several years now and any time I see someone with theirs, I think "Gosh, I wish I had one of those.... do you know what I could do with one??!!??"

Behold my new present from Santa (aka myself):

That's right! I got a new CHAIN SAW ON A TELESCOPING POLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Behold its glory and omnipresence!!! Behold it's power and possibilities!! Behold its promise of dead branches gone!! Isn't it gorgeous??!??

After a bit of assembly and some oil to get things lubed up, the time came to power this baby on and get to work - and WORK we did! Actually, I should state right now that of ALL of the branches we cut, my son did them all, but one. To tell you the truth, he was stunned by the shear power of this little gadget and after the first 'little' branch came spear-heading down into the ground, impaling itself upright and proving to be more like 18 feet tall, he was like a little boy with a new choo-choo train to play with! Of course, others gathered to witness the greatness, too!

We spent 4 hours trimming off branches from my back jacaranda, my pine tree in the English Garden and my front jacaranda. He even cut up 20 foot branches by detaching the chain saw and cutting them up into firewood logs for his outdoor fire pit! This toy works like a CHARM and made child's play of every branch we tackled. It was awesome!!!

Yes, there were a few bumps in the road - like me falling flat over the extension cord - in front of prospective buyers for the neighbor's house. (I'm sparing you pictures of my bruises - trust me, they are not pretty.) An injured thumb was acquired on the way down, too. We started early in the day to avoid the desert heat, but there's no way to do that at 1:00 in the afternoon. It's never a good sign when it's 100 degrees outside and you're getting 'the chills' (even after drinking plenty of water). But we managed and I dragged, raked, carried, stacked, crushed, swept and trashed all of the big limbs, broken branches, pine cones and other debris into the driveway for bulk trash pick-up this week. And the result is this:

It makes me want to do my happy dance!!

After a cold, cold shower and more water, the Magster and I headed over to son's house and I treated everyone to a pizza dinner (and ibuprofen, too!). So I don't get that macro lens for my camera this year....it's okay. I'll just place a big red bow on my chain saw and carefully lay it under the Christmas tree. (Oh, I hope my tree is okay with that!)

And the beauty of all of this????

Bulk trash pickup week for the month of October!!! I can't wait!!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is There Really Such A Thing......... ??

......as too much of a good thing????

Can you really love the clouds too much? Can you see too many clouds?? Can gorgeous clouds of all shapes, sizes and colors become too much? Too many??

Last night a bestest friend invited me out for dinner with her family and a cousin from 'across the pond'. We went to a wonderful steakhouse up on a mountain here in our desert land. All afternoon the thunderheads had been building - some releasing their rains, others lying in wait for a later pour. Heading to the restaurant, I could hardly keep my eyes on the freeway; the bank of clouds was unlike any I had seen all summer!!! OHHH, I wish I had had my Nikon with me!! We were seated in a comfy booth by the front of the restaurant - with its floor-to-ceiling windows and let me tell you .... the view was nothing short of SPECTACULAR!!! There were several huge thunderstorm cells surrounding the valley and the lightning was unbelievable! As the sun set, wispy pinks, lavendars, steel blues and grays shared the stage - with bumbly cloud tops illuminated by bolts deep within. Through all of this, plane after plane after plane glided in on their approach and decent at our airport....like brilliant diamonds hanging by invisible threads ... dancing through the energy of the storms unfazed. Wonderful company, an excellent steak and the most incredible display - compliments of Mother Nature and God.

I know there's such a thing as too much roast turkey, or too many 'nectar-of-the-gods', or too much chocolate (well, fortunately, that's a very rare occurrence!)....

but clouds????

.... never.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

From This To This

When you wake up to this.... and this.....

and it's so dark that your garden lights look like this....

and you begin to hear this....

and you start to feel this...
and the scent of the desert rain makes you do this....

then you have to make this....