“Amuck, amuck, amuck”– in a Pumpkin Patch! My (Early) 36th Birthday Party

I decided to celebrate my birthday about three weeks early this year– since all the fun Halloween/fall stuff is closed by November. I chose a family-friendly, sober activity where we could all just be kids again and run “amuck, amuck, amuck!”

Bengston’s Pumpkin Patch in Homer Glen.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so special. I’m beyond blessed! It was an eve of hilarity, surprises, generosity, memories, and non-stop laughter. It was exactly what I needed.  It was a great mix of old and new friends! I hadn’t seen most of them in quite awhile but we all came together as if no time had elapsed.

In attendance were my dear friends Melissa and her husband Bill; Kaela, Justin and his son, Kai; Leta; Tammie; Ian and Mallory (siblings) and her boyfriend, Camron; Heather and her man, Phillip, and Dawn. I love them all and am so happy they made the effort to come celebrate with me, even though it rained earlier! In your 30’s it’s easy to feel disconnected from people you’ve known for years– everyone is so busy with jobs, families, obligations.

But I was happy to learn tonight that the ties with these people run deep. I see them always being in my life. They indulged me in my favorite love language: pictures. They posed for pictures with me that were classic and adorable, they took pictures of me just being myself and enjoying the day, they took tons of unflattering but hilarious selfies!

My birthday is actually four days prior to Election Day, which is depressing. So I told myself I deserved something extra-special to compensate. Who hasn’t been stressed with all these horrible news stories about our candidates?

My friends were the perfect anti-dote. We took so many silly pictures that I’ll have to finish uploading them tomorrow! Work in the morning. 🙂 It was a small group, which was perfect. Everyone got along great and I got to spend time individually with them all– something I’ve learned from past birthdays is hard to do at a big party.

I’m glad I didn’t go in with a plan. I just had people text me when they arrived and we found each other and decided what to do. And we did everything fun! The Fun Slide (twice!) — I finished first both times! The petting zoo, a hayride, the haunted barn, and mostly just hanging out, catching up, and taking myriad fun pictures because I’m an obsessive picture-taker! Luckily, they were all good sports and everyone jived well together, too.

I had a Toasty Cheese sammich, an apple cider donut, and apple cider ice cream with a flabbergasting hyper-color orange spoon that turned purple where you ate!

Somehow it was 75 degrees but I luckily had found the perfect ensemble yesterday, including a big loose sweater that matched my very ’90s black floral dress, which I wore with black tights and brown leather lace-up boots I’ve had for eons! I felt stylish and beautiful in it.

Tammie, Dawn and I closed out the park together, including a manic spinning session on the Honey Pot ride (like the Teacups at Disney!)– which Dawn commandeered. Tammie was in the Teapot behind us and went “Live” on Facebook to record it– which I’ve always wanted to do but never thought anything I was doing was cool enough. Haha ! I got my chance. She had us spinning so crazy all I could do was hang on, cackle with abandon, and do my best not to hurl. (I didn’t!)

Party on, Wayne.

Then the three of us gals walked to our cars together and I separated from them to find mine. However, we were all in a muddy field. It was dark. I couldn’t see the path. I went down a hill and then tried to turn right and power up a hill to get out and realized I was spinning in the mud. I tried second gear. Nothing.

Luckily, both Tammie and Dawn were still there– I texted them about my problem and within minutes, they both came to find me. Tammie got out and suggested I put in in the “L” gear and drive slow– Dawn gave me a push from behind with her SUV and told me via phone to get on the grass, out of the mud. It worked!

For a few minutes before, I almost panicked. There were no parking lot attendants. I was in the back of the field, alone, in the dark, past 8 pm. at least 30 miles from home on a Sunday.

But God heard me. And with a little help from my girlfriends, I was back on the road going home within a few minutes.

Today is one of those days I’m loving being single. I love that I can spend five full hours at a pumpkin patch with my friends having adventures among the ordinary, and that they will not leave me when I truly need help. I’m more than okay– I’m loved and cherished.

I already know that 36 is going to be my best year yet! But I’ll also cherish my last few weeks as a 35-year-old, indulging in as much Halloween fun as possible! The actual weekend of my birthday I will be traveling to see family.

And now, it’s time for a hot bath and a good sleep! Goodnight, my pretties.

 

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My Father’s Smile

My father has a wonderful quality: faith.

Recently I received an unexpected bill and was feeling frustrated. Just when I thought I was getting ahead! I aired my frustrations to him, and he quietly smiled.

Just seeing that relaxed me.

He reminded me that there will always be unexpected expenses in adulthood. It’s not something to despair over– just a part of life to accept and tackle. He’s confident that I will manage and overcome these situations as they arise, so I’m beginning to believe it.

It used to be that I wanted a partner who would embody those qualities in him.

But now, I am delightfully surprised to see them appearing in myself.

I rarely panic these days– even when I have just reason to be overly emotional. When I do, I get over it much quicker.

His gentle strength emanates. I’ve become a calmer woman.

Someone my friends rely on.

And today I’m relying on myself, more and more.

Yet I always know his advice is a phone call or a hug away– if I do need him.

He’s taught me that though I may fall, he’s not far away. He will always encourage me to get up and keep going. He will always smile at me.

When my belief falters, his bolsters.

The Beauty of “War Room:” Don’t Believe the Bad Reviews

Last Wednesday I heard about the Kendrick Brothers’ movie “War Room,” at choir practice.

Our choir director said it was a prayerful movie and that anyone of faith should go see it. That despite the title, it had nothing do with actual, political war. That an unbeliever who saw this movie would be convinced of the power of prayer.

I was sold immediately. I’m a believer, but it sounded like just my kinda movie.

Thursday night, the next day, I was invited to my parents’ for dinner, along with a longtime family friend. She’s a mother of five, a grandmother and a devout Catholic woman– I grew up next to her family.  I had planned to invite her and my step-mother.

Once I brought it up, SHE said she had heard about the movie and planned to invite ME! We both enjoy movies and are single. My step-mother ended up canceling, but she and I kept our plans.

We decided to share a medium popcorn and she asked for butter– just like me. Apparently there wasn’t enough salt, so she poured a heaping pile of it in some napkins, then folded it up into her purse so that we could disperse it in the middle as we ate our way through it. It made me laugh.

I was so glad she went with me. Like me, she’s a movie talker!

After, she wanted to stay and watch the credits. We were the last to leave. Afterward, we went for dinner, which I hadn’t been expecting. I had the best time.

I won’t spoil it- -but I will share a few details.

It’s an ambitious movie that works because it’s focused on one small family, and the way the one family member’s decision to surrender to a disciplined prayerful life transforms the family’s circumstances in every area.

The hero is an elderly woman named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). I think she deserves an Oscar.

She’s got the sternness of Madea, with a little more empathy. She’s a small woman of fire– but she commands just as much respect as Madea. She’s the kind of woman who commands your attention. The kind of woman who refuses to accept your facade, no matter how good you think you are at hiding the pain. The kind of woman who reminds you that you deserve love. That you are accepted and forgiven, no matter what. The woman who teaches you about God’s grace.

Miss Clara notices something amiss in her realtor, Priscilla, and buts into her business in the loving way that older people tend to do. She wants to know about her marriage, her daughter, if she has a relationship with the Lord.

It parallels “Fried Green Tomatoes,” in that a woman’s life is set right by a deep friendship with an older woman, a mentor, who helps another adult woman who feels a bit lost.  This woman could have given up on a marriage that was held together only by contempt. Their own daughter felt unloved as a result of their constant fighting– there was no affection present at all. On the brink of infidelity, both partners in this marriage might have abandoned hope and ended up divorced.

But Priscilla (Elizabeth Jordan), the wife and mother who befriends Miss Clara, is so desperate she is open to prayer,

Miss Clara challenges her to fight FOR her husband, rather than with him. To fight in Jesus’ name.

And it’s Priscilla’s devotion to changing HERSELF, accepting her husband and loving him as is, and praying unceasingly for him, her daughter, and her own change of heart– that is what inspires.

It’s about acceptance, surrender, owning responsibilities, about amends.

About passing on your faith and what you’ve learned with others.

It’s about creating a physical space in your life to be with God and his Word– to pray for those you love most.

It’s about the Bible.

It makes me want to overhaul my own space– to create my own War Room. To eliminate the clutter.

To put the focus back where it out to be: on God.

I heard a lot of “That’s right!” and “Uh-huh,” and “AMEN!” in the rows surrounding us.

I know I will see this movie again.

Please, give it a chance. Even if you’re a non-believer. Especially if you are.

Order My Steps

Mass today was, again, wonderful!

I woke up late but still made it on time. Thankfully I had my ensemble laid out before I went to bed.

I’ve only been in this choir less than a month, but already I’m feeling such a part of it!!

And I discovered a bonus— when it’s a little windy, choir robes keep you warm.

I feel so much more engaged with Mass. I never realized before how many songs we actually sing. It’s a hustle to keep up with them all, and I love it! I still need my book and sheet lyrics for most, but the other members assured me it took all of them awhile to get it, too.

Everyone is so welcoming and laid-back. So many smiles and laughter. But what’s most amazing is that they’re not cliquey. They greet me with the same warmth as they do other parishioners they’ve known for years.

I’m beginning to open up a little more each week. People are beginning to call me by name and I’m slowly learning theirs, too. That’s one reason I love that we have a small parish. It’s mostly the same people each week. That stability really does make a difference.

Our big song today was “Order My Steps,” by Glenn Burleigh.

And today I noticed people so into the music that they stood up, hands up in the air.

After the song ended, most of the parish gave applause!!

I’m including a video of a different choir– I don’t have any footage of us. But I love this song.

Singing to our Lord is my new favorite way to praise Him!

Gloria Festiva: I Joined a Choir!

This morning was my first official performance as a choir member of my parish.

I am stoked! Other than a fest high school spring musicals, this is my only choral experience.

And it just makes Mass so much better. For one, I now have the best seats to hear everything I would normally be straining to follow. Father Ray is to my right, and our parish is in front of me. It’s like getting sky box seats to your favorite team!

We’re a small choir, which I also like.

I’m enclosing this Mariah Carey song, “Make It Happen,” because right now in my life, GOOD things are happening! I love this video shot in a church. I love her old-school songs.

Apparently all these years I’ve been wrong: I’m not an alto. (But I can sing Cher!!??)

David, our choir director, said he heard me as a soprano. To step down into the front row. I obeyed.

The first song I learned (and the only one I really know!) is “Gloria Festiva.” Even more perfect, I studied Latin in college. Of course, I’ve since lost it. But it just feels so AUTHENTIC. Every line is beautiful.

I’m learning gospel! I’m learning to harmonize. I’m participating in a new way during Mass.

BEST of all??

We get to wear the most elegant choir robes. White, with a red and white stole with a big red heart underneath the collar. It was Easter when I first thought I really like to join.

I daydreamed a bit, imagining myself wearing one of those robes, rocking out.

This robe makes me feel powerful, special, a little closer to God.

This robe signifies that I belong– first to our parish, and now our choir!!!

At my first rehearsal, they were so welcoming. And I loved that afterward we stood in a small circle and prayed– anyone was able to volunteer an intentions. They prayed for me– thanking God for “our newest member.”

I couldn’t stop smiling.

David gave me a black folder with the music, a phone list, and a rehearsal schedule.

Today was wonderful. Mass started off with us proceeding in singing, “This is the Day,” clapping and with a bit of a bounce in our steps.

We were on our feet during most of Mass. I did my best to follow along with the music, just singing what I could.

My Aunt Pat went with me to see my first performance!! She picked me up and we drove together.

I feel so loved.

It’s not a heavy commitment– rehearsal once a week.

I feel like this is exactly where God wants me. I get to meet great new people and learn Gospel songs.

All day, I’ve been in the best mood!!! Singing for God does that you.

The Family Right in Front of Me

I’ve always been wistful about living in a town with my family.

My Dad and my Mother’s family are both out of state.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in the city full of people with my last name.

That, I may never know. But my step-mother’s family lives in-state, and some of them right here in town.

I have two aunts within 50 miles, one of them within five.

They’ve always accepted me as one of their own– called me cousin, niece, etc.

But I always kept a distance from them, probably because I wasn’t close with my step-mother for a long time.

But as we age, we are both working together to change that– trusting and accepting each other.

On some level, I think I felt it would be disloyal to my Mother, who is deceased.

But they have never held that against me– included, invited, sent cards, given gifts just the same. Hugged.

I have some young cousins who are wonderful and sweet and people I’m proud of. Right here. Older cousins, here.

I can use this time to get to know them, make plans with them, let them into my life.

I feel so incredibly lucky.

They are Catholic and Italian! Conservative. A generous, affectionate, outgoing bunch.

I DO have local family, even if we don’t share a last name.

Indomitable Annie: A Five Star Re-Make

“What if you have no cards?” Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) asked her temporary guardian, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx.)

“You bluff,” he answered.

They were flying in his personal helicopter above New York City.

That’s the moment I remember most about this new re-make on the 1982 original movie.

Why? Because the relationship between the business tycoon and this young girl is both believable and inspiring. It’s clear that they were meant to be family: they share the same go-get ’em mentality. Both are opportunists- but Annie’s agenda is pure. She just wants a better life for herself, and to help out her friends when she’s able. She never forgets her roots and isn’t corrupted by fame or instant wealth.

She also sees right through any attempts at manipulation and calls it immediately. She reminds the adults trying to hustle her that though she may be a kid, she deserves respect and will not be forced into anything that doesn’t feel right to her. She will not be used as a PR prop. Rather, she agrees to play along to help the mayor’s campaign– but only on her her terms. She requires that Stacks get to know her. She is not bought or dazzled by paparazzi.

The best thing about Annie is her refusal to be defined by her current circumstances. She does not see herself as someone rejected by her parents or society– but someone waiting for what she knows she deserves: a family that will cherish her. Even when people try to label her an orphan, she corrects them: “foster kid.” She doesn’t attach easily to Stacks– she reminds him he is not her real father. He realizes he needs to earn HER respect and cooperation: something new for a man used to being surrounded by greedy fans and “Yes men” paid to meet his whims.

Annie cannot be bought. Thus, she wins HIS respect. And he finds that, probably for the first time since he was a boy who idolized his workaholic father, he values a human connection more than money.

The movie is a Republican fairy tale– with a heart! Republicans always get a bad rap, but they’re not evil. Just motivated, which is why they are successful in business. From the first scene, it’s clear that Annie is a smart kid, capable of navigating the city streets alone. She has plans. She has dreams. She’s the leader at home, where is she one of a small group of foster kids (not orphans)– run haphazardly by Miss Hannigan.

I’ve never much liked Foxx before this movie– he always seems arrogant. But he played his role so well that I even changed my mind about the actor himself. It’s clear that once he stops his denial about his genuine love for Annie, he is ready to step up and become a devoted family man.

Annie’s optimism and unrelenting kindness changes him.

Annie also refuses to be bullied by Hannigan and escapes at her first opportunity without fear.

And contrary to the bad reviews of Diaz, I think she claimed this role of Miss Hannigan and made it hers. She starts out as openly verbally and emotionally abusive– a desperate alcoholic. She throws her self at every male who enters her lair, and it’s cringe-worthy to watch. But there’s obvious pain and palpable regret behind her negativity. She was once a promising star, now faded. She, too, feels trapped by her circumstances. To begin she hates Annie, who represents what she herself will never have: joy. She singles out Annie the most for bad treatment and talks badly about her. Clearly, she sees Annie as a threat.

So what if she can’t sing like Carol Burnett? Rather than try to do the impossible and copy the master, she had the courage to do her own interpretation. She more than conveys the anguish behind the character’s hostile facade. As she sees Annie holds no resentment toward her, even she begins to change for the better. She puts down the bottle, sees herself as valuable, and begins treating others better.

The girl is downright unstoppable.

I loved the music! It’s more urban, with complex arrangements. It reminds me a lot of the “RENT” movie, which I love as much as the Original Broadway Cast version now. Not all of the songs are included, but I think this team found the heart of the songs and did them justice.

I don’t compare them– it’s that good. This movie stands alone.

I won’t ruin ALL the plot twists for ya. This movie teaches us about faith, love, ethics and sacrifice.

Go and see it. It will make your day and remind you to believe in your own potential, and that of everyone.

It exudes Christmas spirit.

This is a film everyone can enjoy, and LEARN something from. And that’s a big statement from me, because I’ve been a hardcore fan of the 1982 movie since it’s release. It was one the of the first movies I saw, and I STILL HAVE my vinyl record soundtrack! I wore out my first cassette tape of the soundtrack.

I can’t wait to see it again! And buy the soundtrack.