Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter preparations for Christmas

I listen to WGBL on my way to work and the day after Thanksgiving, they begin playing Christmas music. Recently I heard a song by Matt Brouwer and I had to call in and ask for the name because it struck a chord with me - it was “Better Days.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
"And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe
We'll find better days

'Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in string
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe
We'll find better days

Refrain: So take these words
And sing out loud
Can everyone
Be forgiven now?

‘Cause tonight’s the night
The world begins again. ...
There was one poor child who saved this world
And there’s ten million more who fight to live
Can we just stop
And say a pray for them?


Refrain…"

(www.songlyrics.com)
This song resonates in my heart this Advent/Christmas season. First, it reminds me of the true reason for the season – Christ’s birth. I want to buy less and give more. How can I give more to the people I love and care about without expressing my feelings, necessarily, with money? "Every good gift and every perfect give is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change," James 1:17.

Be honest, how many Christmas gifts do you remember?

I remember being with family (my own and my husband’s). I remember spending time with Joe’s mom and dad, and witnessing their joy at having everyone gathered together. From the moment their front doors open to us, they are "in service" – whether it’s getting someone a drink or ensuring that everyone gets plenty of food. They give of their time, talent and treasure and wish only that their children, and grandchildren, with differing personalities, careers, blessings and challenges, share a meal and conversation, without argument or judgment. The word "reconciliation" comes to mind, and how important that must be to God for his children. I am sad that we can't be together this year but know that we are in each others hearts for the holidays.

I think of my great nephews who were babies, first crawling and, at this Thanksgiving, were talking and hugging (instead of crying). Their "personalities" are distinct and oh, so, cute. I remember my sister-in-law’s tasty cooking and the fact that my brother requested that I make my Grandma’s recipe for coleslaw, although it's not very popular because his side of the family does not like tomatoes. However, it’s tradition and familiar and comforting.
“We’ll find better days,” says the song.
I think those precious moments are always around us. It’s whether we choose to acknowledge and appreciate them. Those times with people we care for and love rather than gifts, trappings and pretenses. We remember the people in our lives and how they made us feel rather than the gifts we received.
“‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again.”
My mom, with Matthew, her grandson, during her last
Christmas with our family in 2009.
This is a reminder that Christ was born thousands of years ago but He lives daily in each one of us. He’s a personal God who knows what’s best for us but who balances that with what we ask of Him.

Each year, Christmas is a time to remember that we matter to others. We may come into each others lives for a moment, a decade, or a lifetime but we help refine each other. We can make a difference. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t acknowledge that until it’s too late – until someone we love has died from cancer, or passed away suddenly.

I’ve worked for Fortune 1000 companies and made big bucks! And, what I was asked to do didn’t amount to a hill of beans when it came to world hunger, or peace or even assist in feeding people in my own community. I now work for a non-profit for a fair wage that helps women effect positive change in small but effective ways. Which is going to mean more to God? I pray and hope that it’s the latter.

We can, truly, begin again each Christmas, as we let the love and light of Jesus breathe new life into our work, homes, ministry and world. Gifts are great at Christmas if given in the spirit of love and are accompanied by a warm hug and confidence from the giver. Let’s not let another Christmas go by without letting those around us know they are loved and valued. That’s one of Christ’s greatest gifts to us!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Very thankful

It's Thanksgiving day and Joe and I arrived safely back home among snow flurries and unexpectedly icy roads, after enjoying a delicious dinner made by my sister-in-law, Amy, in Indianapolis.

We had all the familiar foods that warm our tummies and remind us of gatherings past: home-made dressing, melt-in-your mouth turkey, sweet corn casserole, green bean casserole, two sweet potato casseroles, cranberry sauce, other delicious carbs and of course yummy pumpkin, peanut butter and apple caramel pies.

My nephews were present with their sweet wives and children. My two great nephews seem so grown up (the oldest is three and a half) and a great niece is expected mid-December. And, I was reminded that my other great niece, beautiful and poised Abby, is in third grade. Where does the time go? My sister-in-law's best friend was there with her son, Darin, and his friend, Dave. The house couldn't have been fuller (well, it actually could have been because everyone is welcome).

I'm so thankful for our present family, although both my mom and dad have passed. My birthday is around Thanksgiving and I usually hear from treasured friends, reminding me of how blessed I am to have friends near and far, although always in my heart.

This year Amy and I reminisced about several new first cousins that we met in June when Gary, Amy and I made a road trip to Allentown, PA. Thanks to Facebook, we discovered these long-lost family members. We began to instant message and one thing led to another, and to our East Coast visit.

Amy and I talked about how fun it would be to have these relatives come for Thanksgiving, and grow the good food/family/friends tradition even bigger. Although we've only just met these "Hites and Beckers" as new branches on the ever-growing family tree, we felt immediately at home with them and were sad to leave this summer. DNA really is stronger than distance, time and circumstance. Our hearts and family circle grew bigger and it was wonderful breaking bread with people with whom we shared a common bond and heritage.

I'm thankful this Thanksgiving for my family and friends, the many blessings that God continues to bestow upon us and the many opportunities for us to learn and grow. Friendships and family relationships are rooted in love which becomes richer and better over time. We're not perfect but we are perfected in our love for each other - a love that originates from and is shared with our Heavenly Father.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones this holiday season!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Under-wear?

If you're like most people, you have pondered now and again where that one sock, that matched only one other sock in your entire wardrobe, went, when both went into the washer but only one came out. My "sock drawer" has been building for years. It had gotten to the point that rather than venture into the drawer to spend 20 minutes to find two same-color/ design socks to wear, I'd begun purchasing new ones. The madness had to stop.

Last weekend I spent three hours matching up sock mates and throwing the singles away. As you can imagine, it was a daunting task. Here are the steps, should you wish to undertake this arduous task yourself.

First, you need to put away all of your laundry from any baskets and piles and ensure that all socks are within reach and not stranded in, say, your underwear or bra drawer.

Second, you need to determine your categories. I had black, blue, green, brown and white socks. I had design socks (which were the easiest to match up). I also had short socks, knee-high socks and everything in-between. Size and length do matter in this effort.

Third, once you've matched up all the correct socks, you need to force yourself to throw away the ones that do not have mates or have holes from your dog, Hershey, chewing on them. I had these cute ankle socks with an embroidered Tweety Bird on them but only one emerged unscathed from the dog attach so they had to go. My Scooby Doo socks will just have to do!

It's a pleasure when getting dressed in the morning to only make one decision - what color of socks do I want to wear today? There's no swearing or 4-letter words involved. I simple match the color of my socks to my outfit for the day. It's the way dressing should be in the morning.

How hard could it have been, you ask?

My pre-sock sorting mornings consisted of throwing various socks onto the bed to see if I could find two that matched. Hershey would then rustle through the socks and take off with one or more into the living room. A chase ensued and usually included both my husband, Joe, and me, cornering the dog and getting said socks out of his mouth, only to begin the process all over again.

Not to mention that it's been dark in the mornings and so it is extremely hard to discern whether a sock is black or navy blue. I admit there have been mornings when I have discovered at work that I had a black and a blue sock on at the same time. This of course ruins two more days' worth of worthy socks because there will now be a black and blue single sock that will not match up to anything else.

I've actually thought about offering my services to others but thought better of it. It could be a little weird offering to sort other people's underwear drawers, right?

I'll admit it's the little things in life, like having your sock drawer organized, that can make or break your day. I estimate that it will take at least one hour of maintenance per two months to keep everything in order. Next I'm going to tackle the tangled jewelry mess that exists in my bathroom vanity drawer ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Telephone, tell a friend, text a message...

I am going to be 52 in a few weeks. I'm not young but I'm also not ready for assisted living, if that helps paint a picture. When I was growing up, the best way to communicate with friends was by telephone if I wasn't at school or over at a friend's house. My junior high school was 45 minutes across town by bus and it was important for us to communicate about homework, our classes and, of course, boys we liked. Friends' advice was golden. We'd also arrange weekend get-togethers. And, remember, there were no computers or smart phones so the rotary dial telephone was "it." With out-of-town friends, we used (drum roll, please) the U.S. Mail to send cards and letters. Sounds like the Stone-Age, you say?

We had one phone line so after about an hour on the phone talking to friends, my mom or dad would remind me that I was one of four people in the house and someone else might like to use the phone.

Today we have smart phones. I store my entire address book inside, including mailing and email addresses. I program speed dial numbers so with the press of one or two buttons, I can make a call.

Why, then, do most friends, family and even co-workers communicate by text? It blows my mind. We as a society have chosen to look-up the "contact" in our address book and type in a text message that, with a swooping sound (at least that's the one I've chosen), leaves our phone and is "delivered." Then, when the person we've texted notices our message, they text back. My phone shows a "..." to indicate that my friend is typing a response. And, I wait to see what it says. Why is this easier than just picking up the phone and calling a person?

When I talk to a friend by phone, our personalities are expressed with pauses, voice inflections, laughs or gasps. There are none of these non-verbal cues when texting. I've had to learn a new language of abbreviations, such as "lol," "idk" or "brb". There are also less politically correct exclamations like "omg" or "wtf" that somehow make swearing more acceptable, although I still can't bring myself to send the latter.

Being an English/Journalism major and business person, I'm trained to communicate in complete sentences. It's stressful when I try and abbreviate words or, better yet, auto-correct changes my tongue-in-cheek "Birthday Pahty" message to "Birthday Panty."

I've had entire texted conversations, over a 15- or 20-minute period, that could have easily been discussed in a simple 3-minute phone call. But, somehow a text conversation is less intrusive at the dinner table or family gathering? Not to mention driving. With hands-free devices, it's easier than ever to talk and drive without crashing into inanimate objects. Why do people insist on texting and driving, which to do successfully requires four hands and four eyes (with at least two on the road).

Voice messaging used to be popular as well. Now, it's common to look at your phone's caller ID and call the person back, never listening to the actual message. And, if you call a person's phone more than once, you're "blowing up" his or her phone. If I do leave a detailed message with time and date information, I usually end up texting that same information to the person or giving it to them when we talk, which is the rarity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm catching on to texting and am having fun with it. Just as the computer will never replace the sincerity of a hand-written note or message, texting will never replace, for me, the warmth and care of a one-hour phone conversation.

Let's talk!

Friday, November 7, 2014

St. Francis

I’ve always loved animals. When I was young, we had turtles, a Welsh Corgi and my parents raised and showed English Springer Spaniels. Today, my husband and I have one dog, Hershey (although he prefers to think of himself as a person), and four cats (three are rescues).

I shared this love of animals with a good friend of mine, Becky, who passed away last year from lymphoma. She was with me when I spied Hershey as a puppy and was supportive of Joe and me adopting him.

Did you know that St. Francis of Assisi, who lived from 1182-1126, felt he could communicate with animals and that he was one with all Creation? When I became a Catholic, he was one of the first saints with whom I could relate.

It wasn’t long after Joe and I arrived in Terre Haute that I found a St. Francis statue for our garden. While he gave it a good “go,” he first lost the bird, then his entire right hand and, lastly, his head. He just couldn’t withstand the outdoors. I had looked for a new St. Francis statue for the past three years but hadn't been able to find one in my price range.

My friend Debbie and I wanted to pay tribute to Becky this year by visiting her grave site. It was a good two-to-three-hour drive to the cemetery from Terre Haute and we took our time, talking about fun times with Becky, work and just about everything in-between. It was gloomy and rainy. We got so involved in the conversation that somehow we managed to find ourselves on the wrong highway, an hour south of where we needed to be.

As Providence would have it, we were near an outlet mall and, like Becky, we both liked to shop. We decided to take a detour and visit a store that was going out of business before proceeding to the cemetery, hoping that the weather would break. Right after we exited, we ran across the largest statuary distributor that I had ever seen. He not only had St. Francis, he had St. Francis standing, leaning, seated, painted and plain concrete. There must have been five or six choices. And, they were affordable. I paid for St. Francis and the man hoisted him into Debbie’s car like he was made of cotton.

It was at that moment that I felt Becky’s presence. It was too much of a coincidence that we took a wrong turn and found a St. Francis statue that was not only affordable but was seated so it would never fall over and break like the other one did. Becky would also have been laughing at our "detour." Debbie's GPS device kept saying that we were indeed going the wrong way but we thought it was broken so we didn't pay it any mind.

We made it to Becky’s grave site and the sun had broken through the clouds and warmed up the day. Debbie and I sat down on the grass and spent time talking to and with Becky, sharing our remembrances with each other. I brought an orchid flower (it was Easter time) and Debbie put a crystal flower next to the headstone. What started out as a gloomy, sad, cold day turned into a warm and bright experience ending with tears and laughter.

Thanks for the memories and the St. Francis statue, Becky.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rustling of leaves

I can’t imagine living in a part of the country that doesn’t have four seasons. I love the greenery and freshness of spring flowers and budding trees. Although I'm in the minority, I enjoy the snowy wonderland of winter with its stillness and beauty. I like the sunny, longer days of summer where I have energy long into the evening. I admit, however, that the autumn season and all that it entails, is my favorite time of year. There is something for all five senses.

Sight – The beautiful fall colored leaves, in a variety of sizes and shapes, that dance across the road, get caught under my windshield wipers and swirl around my feet. The darker colors of clothes – wine, navy, brown and gold. Different shaped pumpkins, gourds and freshly baled hay. Acorns and walnuts dropping from trees and crunching beneath your feet.

Sound – The winding down of the bird songs and the ramping up of the crickets. Festive groups gathering at festivals, trick-or-treating or cookouts by a crackling campfire. Leaf mulching while, overhead, migrating geese honk.

Touch – Dressing in layers of clothing - soft warm sweaters, thick socks and boots, long underwear. Our dog, Hershey’s, thick undercoat that deserves a good scratching. Jumping into piles of soft, crunchy leaves.

Taste – Apple cider, sauce and pie; cranberry, mulled wine, hot chocolate, pumpkin and pecan pie.

Smell – Cool, crisp air; wood burning fireplaces, an earthy wind; pickling spices and cinnamon from the kitchen.

What are your favorite sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures of autumn?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Quitters never prosper...

© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
Okay. Officially the saying is "Cheaters never prosper." But, since I am going for encouragement with this photo and short blog, I've changed it up a bit.

For any of you out there that are having an especially trying time - you've lost a friend to cancer, or you've lost your job, or you just need to know that God is real and available, and unconditional in His love ... this bridge is for you!

It is to remind us that there is always another way, another opening, another opportunity right around the bend. There is always a different perspective, or a lesson to learn that will make us stronger for the journey ahead.

Lately, I've been feeling like I need a bridge. I've come to the edge of something, an ending, whether it be to summer, to a really big project that was successful, or perhaps a change in a friendship. Something that makes me stop, reassess where I'm at and where the next step or road might take me. The bridge is where I am right now.

The bridge could be confirmation that something has changed. It's not necessarily good or bad, just different. The bridge is a promise that no matter what's on the other side of the river, or bend, or situation, that there's a place to go from here. The bridge is a stronghold that will get me from here to there, wherever "there" is. I read a quote that reminded me that no matter what's happening in my life, no matter where I am, that it isn't a surprise to God. He's all-knowing so He knew ahead of time that I would be here, now. And, He's the affirmation and encouragement to go further. To take His bridge of faith and support.

So, if you've been feeling like that too, here is your bridge. Focus on it, take the next few and don't stop until you've reached the other side. You'll arrive somewhere new, with renewed strength, resolution and hope that will carry you through. Send this "bridge" on to someone you know that could use it. You never know how the Spirit of God nudges you to do something just at the right moment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Passion for music and art

© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
I learned how to play guitar on a whim. My parents planned to send me to a private school for junior high, because of desegregation and forced busing in Colorado in the 70s. Even though I lived five minutes away from a junior high school, busing would send me 45 minutes away, to attend a school in a predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhood.

When I was asked to sign up for my public school classes, I added Beginning Guitar to my list, along with Home Economics and Spanish. Why not? I'd always wanted to play guitar but I'd never had the opportunity. I thought, "It won't hurt to sign up for guitar class, since I'm probably not going to that school anyway. What was the harm?"

At the last minute, I decided that I didn't want to attend private school. All my friends were going to Horace Mann and I wanted to go, too. As children, we didn't have the instilled fear of meeting people of different cultures. The blessing behind all of this was that I learned to play guitar. I also learned how to make pork green chili and tamales in my Home Ec class, which I thoroughly enjoyed.Turns out busing wasn't a bad thing after all. I made great friends in the process.

Beautiful wood is matched so each
guitar has its own beauty and style.
© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
I still dabble with playing guitar and enjoy it personally, but I'm rusty so public performances are out. I've had renewed interest in this pastime, since my brother, sister-in-law and I visited C.F. Martin & Co. in Nazareth, Pa., this past June. We went through the tour, which was more interesting than I first imagined.

The first part highlighted the custom shop where we got a glimpse of how every part of the guitar was hand-made to exact specifications. These guitars begin at about $5,000 each (the D-28 Louvin Brothers model goes for $4,666). There’s a beautiful Guatemalan Rosewood model (the CS-GP-14) for $8,499 or the darker Mahogany SS-OM42-14 at $11,999 list price, if you are so inclined.

Marianna carefully adds the
frets onto the neck by hand.
© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
The tour then progressed to the mass-market area. This process still included some hand-detailing but there was also much done by machine.

The Frets, Fingerboard Position dots on the neck and mother-of-pearl accents or striping on the Rosette are hand-applied, and required the patience of a saint.


Inside look shows the braces and
centerstrip. There are more supports
on the backside of the guitar as well.
© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
It’s amazing to see the many types of beautiful wood from which they cut out the fronts and backs. Watching the manufacturing process was a wonderful reminder of the incredible detail that goes into making each instrument's sound (from the braces and centerstrip that are included inside each guitar).

Heat is used to shape the sides of the
guitar. Talk about a stressful job!
© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
At one point in the manufacturing process, the wood is heated and shaped into the beautiful lines that make up the sides of the guitar. One wrong move and the entire piece of wood is ruined. Talk about a stressful job!


Did you know that you can buy a guitar named after your favorite rockers: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Johnny Cash or Clarence White? There’s even a custom model that has the Last Supper artfully depicted on the pickguard.

A custom model has the Last Supper artfully
depicted on the pickguard. (How cool would it be
to play in a church choir with this baby?)
© 2014 by Diane Weidenbenner
And, there's even an App for that! You can download to your wireless device the Martin Guitar App that assists you in tuning, training your ear, giving instructions on changing strings and pro tips.

When we were there, we met a young gentleman who was next in line to lead the C.F. Martin Company. I can't remember what type of degree he had but it was in a science-y discipline - it didn't seem like a natural next step for him.

However, he was very personable, talked with us in the shop and came out into the waiting room. It does truly remind you what a family-run business is like - he had the passion for the business in his DNA.

My current guitar is a base model Martin. It’s got a matte finish and I recently had new strings put on it when I moved to Terre Haute (I’ve lived here nine years and counting). Although my guitar is not expensive nor does it boast the Eric Clapton brand, I have a new appreciation for what goes into crafting a beautiful instrument that creates such a wonderful sound.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Oh boy...!

Life is a journey, not a destination. So is my blog. Road leading to T. C.
Steele's workshop in Brown County, Indiana. © 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Life got the better of me and I did not finish the Blogging A to Z Challenge. There, I said it. It's out there. I'm a loser with a capital "L"!

I am also excited because the Blogging A to Z Challenge is offering a second chance, of sorts, to 1) continue visiting bloggers who participated in the original 2014 challenge and 2) finish my own challenge.

Since life is a journey and not a destination, I have a second chance.

So, I am in the process of finishing my A to Z Challenge so that when people visit my blog, they will know that I am a work in progress. I have not given up. My hope is that by the end of September, if not before, I will be at Ze End.

I'd love it if you'd come along for the ride!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Newport Beach - a gift from a loving God

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
There is something magical about the beach. I never gave it much thought until two of my good college friends from California showed me pictures of the beach at sunset. What a spectacular site. Just as I cherished the beautiful, lush mountains from Colorado, they had the same fond memories of spending time at the beach. I have since been to several beaches: those in California, Florida and Mexico. One of my favorite places to visit is Newport Beach, near Los Angeles, California.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
The evening tide comes in to meet the sand as if on schedule and it leaves a gift or two on its way out, whether it be a seashell, sand dollar, crab or stone. Or, you find something less mysterious and more out of place like fishing line or a plastic straw from trash that's been dumped. After the water retreats, the sand is washed clean and smooth, like a chalkboard ready to capture the next visitor's story.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
The birds seem to know that it's feeding time when the waves come in, and they stick their long beaks into the water and sand, finding the most delectable treats. Seagulls dive in and land like the beach is an airport runway. They leave tiny tracks as they hop across the sand, hoping to find the next great treasure.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Dry sand shifts as you walk and gives under your feet where you least expect it. Wet sand is sturdier but your shoes or bare feet make tracks just the same. The sturdy poles leading out to the pier seem to disappear into pools of sand and water. They mark the height of the tide.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner

It's amazing to stand in the water and have the waves ripple over the shore, spilling into your shoes. One wave might not quite make it but then the next may overtake you. Anticipation becomes everything!

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Each beach has its own personality. Newport Beach is known for its easy access and comfortable atmosphere. It's not in a terribly commercial or artsy district. You'll find families, young people and even family pets visiting after work or on weekends. There are also restaurants, pizza-by-the-slice shops and t-shirt/souvenir shops, but nothing detracts from the beauty of the ocean and the relaxing sound of the waves.

The complexity of the beach, the tide, the amazing wildlife in the ocean - the rhythms of nature - all point to a Creator that is miraculous and beautiful and and as intricate as its creation. We only have to spend time at the ocean, or in the beautiful forests of Colorado to understand that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.