Thursday, December 31, 2009


: a sweet friend

My dear friend Mikkee will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow - and a new phase of her life. Next week, she's starting a new job in Washington, DC. I've known Mikkee for years, but our friendship has grown over the last year or two and while I'm happy and excited for her to start a new job in a new city, I will miss her.

So here's my celebration of who Mikkee is and what I've learned from our friendship:

Mikkee is a reader. In fact, she starts every year by re-reading two of her favorite series of books: Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter. As you surely know by now, I am a reader as well. But it's rare that I re-read books. At Mikkee's suggestion, I re-read Anne of Green Gables this year and felt like I was seeing an old friend who hadn't changed at all over the years. Mikkee is not afraid to devote precious reading time to a well-loved series and her decision to re-read these books helps them take root in her heart. And if you're going to choose books to seed your heart with, Anne and Harry are great choices. They remind us that life is meant to be lived wholeheartedly and that friends help us, strengthen us and show us who we are.

Mikkee is single. I've valued my friendship with Mikkee for many reasons - we have a lot in common! But I love that our friendship has transcended our life stages. I love that I can talk with her about my children and she can share her current work project. It's natural for moms to develop friendships with other moms, but I have greatly valued a friendship that allowed me to be Shannon first and a mom second.

Mikkee is an introvert. (I said we have a lot in common.) Mikkee has helped me acknowledge and manage my needs as an introvert and has encouraged me to meet these needs without shame. She's also helped me see how a job that requires so much of her heart, soul and energy is exhausting, but fulfilling. And her example is food for thought as I think about what my future will look like.

Mikkee is a strong woman who uses her God-given gifts. She uses her organizational skills, her sweet spirit and her knowledge to do her job not just well, but with excellence. She knows her strengths and is not afraid to speak her mind, especially when speaking on behalf of others. Mikkee also affirms others in their gifts. A while back, she sent my daughter B a letter that affirmed B's one-of-a-kind style. I love that B's creativity emerges in every part of her life and it was great encouragement for her to have another adult validate this.

Mikkee has a sensitive heart. Mikkee hears and feels the needs of others and instead of letting that cripple or overwhelm her, she uses that sensitivity to labor and advocate for others. I think it would be easy for someone with a heart as tender as Mikkee's to be too soft to do her job well. Instead, that soft heart channels her gifts beautifully and shows me the example of how to use all of our gifts in harmony, instead of letting one gift override other, equally important, gifts.

Mikkee is wounded but healing. Both Mikkee and I have wounds from our childhood that have shaped the way we see ourselves as women. Her strength and honesty in facing these wounds head-on has helped me understand my own feelings and has removed a layer of shame that has always surrounded this part of my heart. I'll desperately miss being able to talk through these things with a friend who understands and doesn't wallow with me in the pain, but gives honest encouragement about how to move forward.

Mikkee is growing. I've watched Mikkee grow as a woman and a writer in the time that I've known her. And I have full confidence that this next stage of her life will see her continue to grow into who she is meant to be.

Mikkee, may 2010 bring abundant blessings, new friendships, success in work and time for you! I'll miss you!

Sunday, December 27, 2009


1 : to give a name to : call

On Christmas night, I gave each of my daughters a final gift: the gift of words. I started with each girl by asking her who had named her. Then we talked about how when J and I named her, we didn't even know her yet. (When I shared this with B, she said, "What else would you have named me now that you know me? How about Caroline? I like the name Caroline.")

I told them that now that I know them, I want to tell them things that I do know about them. I shared with the older girls that I think it's easy sometimes to forget who you are when you get older. I told them each that while I now know I'm a reader, I spent several years where I read hardly a book for pleasure. That's hard to believe given that I've read nearly 80 books this year, but it shows how little I listened to my own heart and how much I let myself be defined by those who didn't even know me. I told them that I will write these things down and put them in their Christmas stockings and add one trait each year.

It was especially important for me to use my words to affirm the many positive traits that I see in my daughters during Christmas. I'm sure I was encouraged at their age, but I remember the criticisms much more. I still feel like a failure around my parents and I wanted to have these quiet moments with each of my daughters to remind myself of who I am becoming. And one of the things I am becoming is a mother, a woman, a wife who uses words with knowledge of the power that they hold and in a way that builds up, encourages and instructs wisely. So this gift was as much for me as it was for them. I wanted to remind myself of who I am by reminding them of who they are.

If you're curious, their lists were:

Quick Learner

Good Eyes (she sees things others don't see)

Detail Oriented

I hope reminding my daughters of these traits each year will help them remember that they are strong even when they feel weak. I hope it will help them ignore those who will tell them they are ugly because they will know they are beautiful.

I know they will have their moments of doubt. But I hope the power of having these traits within them named aloud and called forth will stay with them through the storms that await.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


1 : small flat or slightly raised cakes

As I've mentioned, this Christmas season hasn't gone exactly as I would have liked. The tree went up on December 6th, more than a week post-Thanksgiving. The nightly Advent calendar didn't happen. My book of Christmas devotions went largely unread. A gingerbread house was never made. I knew I had to give myself some grace with the little things in order to get A to and from Nutcracker while retaining some semblance of family sanity. So it came as a huge blessing and a bit of a surprise to find that the Christmas I know and love was waiting for me on Christmas break.

Earlier this week, the girls and I hosted a Cookie Party. When A was 3, a friend invited her to a cookie party. I went with her and we decorated cookies with a few friends and their moms. Ever since, we've hosted our own cookie party. We've done it many different ways - one year we invited classmates from ballet class, another year we hosted it at their ballet school, last year it was a family affair with Scofields, Horns and Trusses in town from Alabama and Wisconsin. This year, each girl was allowed to invite three friends, so we had a house full of girls (and two boys).

The day before the party was busy. A was still recovering from The Nutcracker and her cold, so she spent a lot of the day reading and lounging in bed. I joined her for a few hours while B & K were at a party in order to finish a great book. This was a Christmas gift in and of itself, but it put me a bit behind in cookie preparation. Just before bed on Monday night, I finally threw together a sugar cookie dough and put it in the fridge to chill overnight.

When I got up Tuesday morning, I pulled the dough out and got to work while I drank my first cup of coffee. It wasn't long before K joined me. She picked her favorite cookie cutters and went to town, making star after star, Christmas tree after Christmas tree. B soon joined us, using multiple cookie cutters to make hearts with stars inside and stars with hearts inside. Leave it to B, my most creative daughter, to find her own way to make cookies. I loved having them in the kitchen with me, cutting the dough, sneaking a bite here and there, hanging out with me doing something I love to do. It made it that much sweeter to see them decorate their cookies later with friends.

Things only got better the next morning when I started melting chocolate for dipping pretzels. All three girls wanted in on the action and they quickly developed their own system of each doing a certain part of the job. Dipping and decorating the pretzels went so well that I figured they would all want a break while I worked on the next batch of cookies. So I let them watch a TV show while I got started. They all surprised me by joining me at the dining room table and rolling dough, leaving the TV blessedly unwatched.

And then their final cookie gift to me: Christmas Eve dawned with one very important cookie left to be made, along with my entire Christmas Eve menu. I was making a gumbo for the first time ever and was nervous, so I decided to start with the roux. Once that was done, I could get the gumbo base simmering and move on to cookie making and appetizer prepping. Unfortunately, the roux burnt.... and I was out of flour. So J left for the grocery store while I decided to go ahead and get going with the final batch of cookies.

The girls were playing quietly in their rooms when I started. I got the dough separated and lining the mini-muffin tins about the time J returned with more flour for my second attempt at a roux that was dark brown, but not burnt. My daughters came to the rescue. A was the first to join me, lining each pastry shell with pecans. B and K soon joined us, allowing me to give them instructions and say a quick prayer before heading back to the stove to stir up a roux.

I don't think my daughters know it, but their biggest and best gift to me this Christmas season was the way they joined me again and again in making cookies. I have such fond memories of baking cookies with my grandmother. We did it every year at Christmas, using the same recipes I made this season. I didn't have to cajole, beg or even ask the girls to help me. They helped because they wanted to. They helped because it was fun.

And I hope they will want to help me year after year because it makes my heart sing to bake alongside them, to roll out memories with the dough and pop them into our hearts to bake.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


2 : a power or process of transforming something common into something special

Today I mixed together flour, sugar, a raw egg, vanilla and pecans. Then I rolled this dough around a Hershey's kiss and baked it. Like many of you, I was making Christmas cookies. But as I mixed, measured and baked it occurred to me that baking - and Christmas - are all about taking things that aren't especially exciting alone and putting them together to make something magical. I've often wondered as I baked a cake or made cookies who first thought to put these ingredients together. Who decided it would be a good idea to mix these items that taste OK apart and turn them into something delicious?

While I was mixing dough, another alchemical process was taking place in my kitchen. The eldest daughter held the melted chocolate and the middle daughter dipped the pretzels.

The youngest daughter sprinkled the crushed peppermints on top.

And three ordinary sisters were transformed into friends, co-workers, merry little Christmas elves.
So I think the real magic of Christmas is alchemy: the power of transforming something common into something special. Whether those common things are sisters, baking ingredients or a baby in a manger, it's all magical at Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
3 not capitalized : a coming into being or use

I've been thinking about Advent lately. Not just the season itself, but the term. Our family attends a church that doesn't make a big deal of Advent - there's no Advent wreath, no lighting of special candles, few Christmas carols sung. Each year, that kind of makes me sad. Once Thanksgiving has come and gone, I want all Christmas music, all the time. It lifts my spirits, it lightens my heart, it reminds me of what this season is about. And I could use a few reminders...

Sadly, this time of year is extra busy for our family. This is the second year that our daughter A has danced in Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker production. She loves it. She spends hours practicing for mere minutes on the stage. But she gets to dance in TPAC's Jackson Hall, she sees professional dancers up close and personal, she hangs out with other girls who share her passion for dance and she grows in her gift of dance. I've been trying to remember that these are important, things worthy of advent.

I was sharing with J a few nights ago that I've been a little sad lately that I haven't had the time or energy to focus as much on others as I would like during this season. I've been too busy shuttling children to and fro, keeping our family schedule straight and seeking to build rest into our day, our week, our month. I want to be able to focus family time and energy on giving to others - on adopting a family and buying their Christmas gifts, on cooking dinner for a neighbor's birthday, on meeting a need that I hear about because I actually have time to listen. J listened sympathetically and then gently reminded me that I am focusing on others - I'm focusing on my children during this season. (See why I love this guy?)

That conversation soothed my spirit. And it made me think about the fact that advent is not just about coming, but about becoming. Jesus didn't come here and take on human form for us to stay the same. Advent changed him and it should change us. Advent should be a time when we ponder the miracle of God made flesh and ponder how our flesh, our bone, our gifts reflect this God. But we don't always like to ponder this. It's a little scary, isn't it? Because if we actually seek to understand who we are made to be, we might have to leave safety, security and comfort behind. We might actually yearn to become someone who doesn't fear.

I long for that. I long to let go of my fear of what others think. I long to be comfortable and confident spending my advent pouring into my family and children, sowing seeds in their hearts, pruning and growing them into strong women. But all too often I find myself worried about what others must think. We've missed church a few times this month. We've all been exhausted or sick. Once we just needed a day to be home together. So what do I fear?

I fear other families judging our choice to let A dance in The Nutcracker. I fear B & K being envious of the time our family devotes to A's dancing (although we try very hard to make the season special for them as well and they have thus far shown only joy in seeing their sister dance). I fear failing them. I fear they won't remember Advent as anything special. But if I am testing my own heart and listening to who I am becoming this season, I should set fear aside and celebrate not just the arrival of a special season, but my children becoming more of who they are made to be while being mothered by a woman who is seeking to become who she was made to be.

As I write this post, A is finishing up her final performance. She's not feeling well. In fact, she's danced three times in the past two days with a sore throat that hurts so much it has made her cry. But she begged to dance. She didn't want to let her classmates down. She didn't want Nashville Ballet to have to get another dancer to replace her. She wanted, desperately wanted, to use her gift. And I look at her and feel ashamed that I am so hesitant to be who I am called to be. I find excuse after excuse not to write. I have a daughter who will push herself beyond what many 9 year olds could bear to use her gift. So how can I leave my gift to wither and die? What kind of example would that be?

Who are you thinking about this Advent? And perhaps more importantly, who are you becoming this Advent?

Monday, December 14, 2009


3 : something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance of something)

A friend of mine e-mailed me the other day to say that if she had a blog, her topic would be how much her filter interferes with seeing people the way God intends. She went on to tell me about a specific incident with someone she views as inconsiderate and how she views everything through this filter. Because of her past experiences, even innocent actions are held back by the preconception that they are coming from someone who puts themselves first.

My friend is right that she sees people through filters. We all do. And I think my friend is a step or two ahead of most people because she realizes that she has filters. It's nearly impossible for us not to make assumptions about people based on our past interactions with them, other events in our lives, our fears, our dreams, our prejudices. I'm not saying it's right for us to see other people through a specific frame of reference that might, at times, be a faulty one. But I am saying it's neither right nor wrong. It's simply how we are.

And the people who scare me the most are the people who go through life believing they have no filters. The people who think that because they see someone as stupid or selfish or lazy, it must be true. These people are scary because they'll never change. They'll plow right through life and run right over people with their self-satisfied ignorance.

If we take the time to analyze what our own filters are, I think that's the first step towards seeing people for who they really are, not who we think they are. I'm not implying things will go easily from there. Even when we identify our preconceptions, we have to then determine whether they are misconceptions or not. My friend has legitimately been hurt by the person she views through a filter. What's challenging is determining when she is seeing this person realistically and when she's judging harshly. It's not an easy line to walk. But I think the coward's way out is to not examine ourselves too closely, for fear of what we might see.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


1 : to weigh in the mind : appraise (pondered their chances of success)
2 : to think about : reflect on (pondered the events of the day)

One of my favorite verses relating to the story of Jesus' birth is Luke 2:19. It comes near the end of the story: Mary and Joseph have traveled long distances for the census. They've struggled to find a place to sleep. Mary's given birth nearly alone, without her mother there, without women from her community, with only the company of a nervous, exhausted fiancee and some animals. She's surely beyond the point of exhaustion, overwhelmed and probably a little scared. So when some strange shepherds arrive to wax eloquent about the child she's just given birth to, Mary takes note. In fact, she does more than that. She stores up their words as treasures and ponders them in her heart.

I love this image of a mother creating a place in her heart for the words that others have of her child. And I want to do this with my own daughters. Yesterday was a day packed with dance from start to finish. We left our house at 7:30 for A to rehearse and then perform at a Christmas party. She had missed Friday night's final rehearsal with her class to dance in opening night of The Nutcracker, but she did a great job. When an acquaintance realized A was my daughter, she came over and said, "She is a beautiful dancer. A total natural." A few months earlier, the owner of a dance studio told me that A has a musicality that you can't teach, that it just comes from within her.

I know next to nothing about dance. I just know that A loves to do it, that she is radiant while doing it, that she lives and breathes dancing. So as her mom, I see these little nuggets from friends, acquaintances and near-strangers as treasures for me to store up and ponder in my heart. Sometimes it's difficult as the mom to really see my daughters for who they are. It's my job to train them, to empower them, to help them grow into the strong, beautiful women I see lurking in their hearts.

So I'm thankful when someone tells me that A has a gift for the thing she loves, when B's teacher tells me that she has a strong internal sense of right and wrong, when K's teacher laughs with me about the stories she tells. And I'm trying to store up these treasures and ponder them. I want to think on my daughters' gifts and encourage their use. I want treasure boxes for A, B and K in my heart and I want to pull these treasures out and show them to my daughters, affirming them in who they are when they doubt themselves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Clinton, Jr. 1930–Clint Eastwood American film actor & director

Yesterday, I heard an interview with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman on Fresh Air. (It's been a good NPR week, by the way, with a story on Tuesday that prompted me to add two books to my to-read queue.) Whilst listening to Mr. Eastwood, I decided that I'd like to be just like him when I grow up. If you know me at all, you might find this a bit surprising. I'm not an actor of any sort, have never actually seen a Dirty Harry movie and have absolutely no desire to act in a movie, write a screenplay or direct a film. But I've heard actors talk about how different it is to act for a film Mr. Eastwood is directing. He doesn't say "Action!" or "Cut!" and a previous interviewee shared that it was easier to relax and be in character without an artificial start and stop. In yesterday's interview, Clint Eastwood told the story of why he does it this way:

When he was a young actor on Rawhide, the directors (often new each week) would get a scene ready, yell "Action!" and the horses would bolt, the actors would be startled, the scene would be wrecked. So he suggested that they choose another word to help both the horses and the actors know that the scene was starting.

What occurred to me as I listened to this story is that Clint Eastwood is an actor's director. He chooses the right actor for the role and lets them do their job. He creates an atmosphere conducive to that job and does what he can to assist with vision, when necessary. And I want to write that way.

I want to be a reader's writer. I want you to read words that I've chosen to do the job. I want to trust that my words will do their job. And most often, their job is to make you think, make you feel, make you pause for just a moment. I'm not trying to give you the answers (because I don't have them), but I do want you to read something I've written and say, "Yes! I know what she means. I feel that way, too."

The good news for me is that in order to be a reader's writer, I've got to read. I need to see what writer's make my heart ache with that familiar pain, what tunes resonate with my own experience, what images sear into my brain. And then, do the best I can, with the words I have. I'm no Clint Eastwood. But I take heart in the fact that he was in his 40s when he directed his first movie. Maybe there's hope for me that I can find the right words with the time that I have left.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


3 a : to make happy : please b : to gratify to the full : appease

My husband doesn't get a lot of vacation time - two weeks goes pretty fast with family stretched from Alabama to Wisconsin. So it was a special treat for him to take a vacation day on Friday. The girls had school and we were having a party on Saturday, so he picked this as a vacation day in part to help me with party prep and in part to give us some time alone. It's difficult to put into words how satisfying this day was to my soul, but as WordGirl, I'll give it a try...

Working Together - I won't lie, it was nice to have help cleaning the house, meeting with a contractor about a new fence and running errands. I often feel closest to J when we're working on a project together and Friday was especially nice because we accomplished a lot without assembling or moving any furniture, thereby avoiding frustration on my part and swearing on his.

Day Time Date - In the midst of errands, we had lunch together and lingered. We weren't paying a sitter, didn't have an appointment pressing up against our time together and there were no work projects hanging over our outing. I can't remember what we talked about, but it wasn't our children or the mundane activities of life. Actual adult conversation can be shockingly hard to come by, especially in the busy month of December.

A Glimpse of Our Future - I told J as we headed out for errands and lunch that it was so much fun to have a day together because it made me excited for the day (still 12+ years away) when K starts college and I have him all to myself again. I've heard lots of couples struggle with empty nesting but as much as I love my daughters, I look forward to it being just J and I again someday. The girls can visit as often as they'd like...

Who I Am With Him - J makes me feel good about myself. He laughs at my jokes, tells me I look good and enjoys my company as much as I enjoy his. I feel like a better, bolder Shannon after a bit of time alone with him and that was a nice bonus heading into a party where our house was filled with friends from all of the various facets of our life.

Thankfully, starting in 2010 J will have an extra week of vacation. I can't wait for another Date Day in the spring. I'm sure it will leave me as filled to overflowing as Friday did.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


1 a : to get away

Sometimes I just want to get away. There's not a consistent prompt for my desire for escape. It's not that I hate my life (love it, in fact). But I do long to get away. And while that is an impossibility this time of year when taken literally, I have known for years that the cheapest, best, most exciting vacations lie between the covers of a book.

Earlier this week, I was somewhat weepy, mopey and out of sorts. I had an ache in the center of my chest and longed for a good emotional outpouring. And I knew just the book. It's the sixth book in a series that's been out for a while, but I had been saving it for just the right moment. You see, it's the kind of book I know I'm going to voraciously consume once I start it. This series is not high art, it's more Entertainment Weekly than The New Yorker. But I love the characters. I love the way they love each other and how the book just sucks me in and carries me along.

Unfortunately, my desire for this book hit on a Sunday night when the library (and all bookstores) were already closed. Monday was then filled with chores that needed doing after time away from home for Thanksgiving. So I didn't make it to the library to get a copy of the book. I tried. I called J and had him check to see if the branch library nearby had a copy. It didn't. And I couldn't make it to one of the branches that had the book before closing time. So I figured I'd wait another day.

J had other ideas. When I came home Monday night, dragging three tired girls behind me, the book was sitting on the dining room table. Not a library copy. My very own paperback copy.

To say that I was grateful doesn't quite cover it. I had tried to explain to J the ache I was feeling and my desire to assuage it with a book. He clearly heard me. And the beauty of being married to a reader is that he got it. He understood how the right book at the right time is better than an all expenses paid vacation to the Bahamas. I was so surprised, so touched that I cried as I thanked him.

And I've hardly put the book down since. I've read at night, in the car, while I eat my lunch, when I should be doing other things. I'm over 400 pages in (which still leaves over 1,000 to go with this book) and it is just the escape that I wanted and needed. And how blessed am I to have a husband who bought me the ticket for my escape?