Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why No Christmas Letter this Year?

One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is writing.  I wait until most have gone to bed and hunker down in my Christmas PJs to reflect on the gifts of my life.  I always find myself in a state of prayerful insight as I jot down the blessings of this holiday.  I have carried the words for this year's post in my "think tank" for the past month.

I have sent Christmas cards since I was 13.  Every year, I would love the event of gathering addresses, stamps and my favorite pen to write a message to those I loved.  There have been years that my words flowed smoothly.  The stories and memories from the prior year flooded my soul with happiness.

And then there were other years.  Those years, the words were more difficult to find.  I would wrestle with finding joy in my memories.  At times, I would question if anyone cared what I had to say.  But still, I would write.  It would start slow, almost forced, typing a paragraph and then deleting half of it.  Letter by letter I would build my story for the year and with each word, my spirit would lighten and my heart would swell.  Fondly, I would think of those I shared my words with and know that there was purpose in my words, even if for one reader.

This is my Christmas - reflecting on the year to prepare for the season.  And then there's this year.  My journey to Christmas Day has looked different this December.  A few weeks ago, Robbie carried the dozen boxes down from the attic and I started the day-long task of decorating for Christmas.  I have loved Christmas my whole life, so you can imagine the vast amount of stuff I have accumulated over the years. Its a favorite time for me as I unpack each item and remember the story attached to it.

My sentiment towards each item was more present this year than in year's past and I'm not quite sure why.  One ornament in particular struck me.  Its story has stuck with me throughout this month.


This child ornament is part of a set of three.  Each child wears a glittery suit and appears to be frolicking in the snow.  The sentiment of these ornaments carries a big weight to start.  They were hand-painted by one of my dearest childhood friends almost twenty years ago.  If you look closely, you'll see there's more to this ornament's story.  The dusting of soot on the face and feet were not painted there.  Instead, they're remnants of a Christmas several years ago.

Christmas of 1998 was a rough one for me.  I was a poor, college grad in the midst of relationship blues.  The question loomed over my head "What are you going to do with your life?"  "Is this all there is?"

Life wasn't all that bad.  I had rented a house with two friends near campus.  It wasn't fancy, but it was OURS.  We painted it and found treasures at the local junk store to make it our home.  I was especially excited to put up a Christmas tree.  I came in from work one night, made a bowl of soup and hunkered down on the couch to decorate the tree with the ornaments I had brought back from NY.  Despite my personal struggles, I was proud to decorate that tree.  It felt like a rite of passage in my new home.

It started as a peaceful night.  

Christmas music playing.
Alone time journaling.
Twinkle lights twinkling.

And then suddenly, there was no peace.

The smoke rolled in....slowly at first and then so quickly it was suffocating.  I forgot every preventive word I had heard growing up.  I ran straight toward the smoke and opened my bedroom door.  Immediately, the heat was so intense, I fell to the ground and crawled outside.

I remember very little from the following days.

Friends and strangers cleaning out our burned things.
No renter's insurance.
Desperately wanting to go home to my mom and dad.

I lost a lot that night.  I didn't have much, but what I did have, I treasured.  There wasn't anything in my room worth a lot, but to me, it was worth everything.

A bible from my parents.
Ornaments from my grandmother.
My original Cooper softball glove.

My perspective changed from that fire.  Everything is replaceable, except the people that make the things special.  A bible is just a book - until its written with an inscription from your parents and filled with highlighted verses from many years at youth camp.  An ornament is just something you hang on a tree until its the only thing you have with your grandmother's handwriting.  A Cooper is just a glove until its used to work on "soft hands" with your grandfather and aunt.

I have lost people over the years from both death and disagreement.  There have been times in my life that I have invested in the wrong people.  Other times, my life's circumstances have prevented me from investing in anyone at all.  As a relationship person, the absence leaves a whole in my heart, regardless of the reason.  What I have experienced over the years is that I will find new treasures and will treasure new finds, but there is nothing that can alter the dynamics of my life more than a change in landscape of the people in my life.

This revelation comes to a crossroads, specifically this year, when it comes to sending Christmas cards.  Earlier this week, I came to the realization that I had run out of time and sending the letters felt more like a check in the box than a celebration of the season.  As we sat at Dunkin Donuts with my family, I blurted out, "I don't think I'm going to mail a Christmas Letter."  As the words came from my mouth, I was flooded with a sense of relief and I knew I had made the right choice.

I had fought the internal battle of not sending them because it means a lot to me to touch base, once a year, with our family and friends from all over the country.  I am certain its a temporary decision and I have not written my last O'Bryan Christmas Letter, but for this year, my Christmas story looks a little different than it has the past 30 years.  Christmas 2014 is about baking melted snowman cookies and staying up late chatting with my husband after everyone has gone to bed.

I'm perfectly ok with it.

Yesterday, the six of us went to Target and spent the money we would spend on cards and stamps and bought gifts for a family that lost everything this week in a fire. 


We didn't know them, but read about it on our Facebook newsfeed.  Its kind of serendipitous, don't you think?  


We took this picture at church last night.  If you can't tell, my heart is beaming!

Enjoy those you love and remember the greatest gift of love born on this day.

Merry Christmas!
ao


Thursday, November 27, 2014

BEAN Post: A Table Fit for a Bean

WELCOME TO THE BLOG, MISS LILY BEAN...


Today is Thanksgiving and I am very excited to see my family at 5:30, but before then we have to get a lot of things done so our guest will be welcomed. This is what our tables look like. 
                                                      


I made a lot of things to decorate the house and tables. Let’s get started on telling what I did to decorate the table and house. First off I made these Tom the turkeys.
                                                       

All it needed was feathers, a glue gun, a foam ball, orange and brown paint, a paint brush, and googly eyes. All I did was I painted the foam ball brown and let them dry. Then I painted a beak orange on the foam ball. After all the paint dried I glued the eyes with a glue gun. Then I took the feathers and I took out all the orange, red, and yellow feathers so they would be Thanksgiving colors. I cut the feather into thirds so they won’t be too big and made holes on top of the the foam ball then I glued the bottom of the feather with a glue gun so it would stay and I stuck them in the holes. Then I let them dry and there were tons of Tom the turkeys on the table.
           
Next I made the edible turkeys. They look like this.


All you need to make the edible turkeys is any Oreos of your choice, Rice Krispies cereal, salted butter, any kind of chocolate, candy corns, and mini marshmallows. All you have to do is melt three tablespoons of butter and wait till it is all melted. Then you add three cups of marshmallows and wait till they are melted and together. Next you add three cups of Rice Krispies cereal and stir. Then put Rice Krispie mixture in a cake pan and put in fridge for about five minutes. Then you take it out of the fridge and roll the Rice Krispie mixture into balls. Then you take your Oreos and take out as many as you need for your guests. Then you take the same number of Oreos out again. Then you melt the chocolate and then you cover one group of the Oreos and cover them with chocolate and then put them in the fridge for about five minutes. After you take the Oreos out of the fridge you take some of your melted chocolate and put a handful on the bottom of the Rice Krispie ball. Then you put the Rice Krispie ball and put it on the Oreos that don’t have chocolate on them. Then you take the Oreos that do have chocolate on the back of the Rice Krispie ball with chocolate and leave a little bit of space on top of the Oreo so you can put the candy corns for the feathers. Then you use chocolate to stick the candy corns on the space that you left. Then you put a candy corn on the front of the Rice Krispie ball and add little eyes and you are done! 

I just decorated the table how I wanted. I am so thankful that I get to spend time with my family! I hope you have a great Thanksgiving! 

-Lily Bean

Thursday's Child ~ Welcome to the World, Sweet Davy Karol




She was born on a Thursday.  It was a normal Thursday for most.  But for some, it was a day that life changed forever.


David Bowie sang about Thursday's Child,

"Lucky old sun is in my sky
Nothing prepared me for your smile
Lighting the darkness of my soul
Innocence in your arms."

The birth of a child.  There's nothing like it.  It is the one single moment that demonstrates not only the existence, but the pure omnipotence of God.  The miracle of it is both humbling and fascinating all at the same time.

Innocent.
Delicate.
Tender.
Sweet.

And created by our Father with an absolute purpose.  Psalms 139 says it perfectly.

For you created my innermost being
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;


Words danced around in my head as I held all 6 pounds of her in my arms.  I have waited a long time for it.  After all, we all know how special my aunties are to me.  I love her sweet baby scent and the crease in her lips.  I love the way my Lily girl adores the very thought of her.  I love her soft baby breath as she sleeps.


I'm not David Bowie, but I also savor moments with writing.  In honor of my first baby niece...

They counted her fingers.
They counted her toes.
They watched each breath through her cute, button nose.

They held her tiny hands 
They held her tiny feet
They listened intently for her precious heart beat.

They cried and they smiled.
They hugged and they kissed.
They cherished every moment of their sweet, baby bliss.

In memory of her uncle, Davy is for David.
A brother and a fighter who will always be remembered.

Karol is for Papaw and her Dad's Brother.
Two strong men who will love her forever.

Knit together by him to be loved by us.
Welcome to the world, lovely baby girl.

I am swooned.
~ao


~ Thanksgiving TRO ~

Welcome to the blog, Tatum Robert O'Bryan:



Today is Thanksgiving so I thought I should write about it. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621. The Thanksgiving feast was held to celebrate the harvest. The pilgrims and the Native Americans feasted together and ate lots of food like turkey and pumpkin pie. Yum! Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving to be thankful of all that we have. The pilgrims and Native Americans were thankful for the harvest and all the food before them. I am thankful for my family, Jesus, and God. My family has supported me my whole life from school to sports. Jesus because he died on the cross for everyone's sins. I wouldn't be alive today without Jesus dying on the cross. God because he created everything, and I love to be alive. As John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." He sent his son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. Have a happy Thanksgiving! 

Bye!
-TRO

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

~GATHER: A Hike for all Ages~


I put on my hiking boots and my new #SS15 tshirt.  I climb in the car with five of my favorites.  We are very different people.  We are quiet and reserved.  We are outspoken and opinionated.  We are tall, short, lean, curvy, blonde, brunette, and red-headed.

Our struggles are real and our accomplishments are great.  Our conversations range from divorce to mammograms to raising children and caring for our parents.
We represent a kaleidoscope of lives that could be featured in any modern women’s magazine. We are real live women doing our best to survive and build our lives.

This is our 15th year.  It didn’t take us long after graduating from college to realize we NEEDED each other.  It was a small group at first, but each year it grew as we recognized the value in this time together.

So we gather. 

We gather to laugh.
We gather to rest.
We gather to reflect.
We gather to grow.

But most importantly, we gather to love. 

As I step out of the car, I know we are quite the sight.

Big sunglasses.
Matching tshirts.
Loud mouths.

We start our hike walking down a trail, talking a mile a minute.  We’re like a group of teenage girls that haven’t seen each other in ages.  We stop talking long enough to capture the most amazing view from our first overlook.  Instantly, we turn in to photographers and their subjects. 

“Look at that single red tree in the middle of all that green.”
“Don’t fall over the edge.”
“Did anyone bring water?”
“I need a picture with someone!”

We find a sweet couple to take a group shot and then pause again to admire the little red tree in the canyon.  We encounter our first story on that overlook.  Her name is Mary.  She’s a photographer and outdoor enthusiast.  She is impressed with our matching shirts.  After hearing our story, she tells us she graduated from college 40 years ago.  We leave Mary and wish her a wonderful day.  Our minds start imagining what our girls’ weekend will look like 25 years from now.  Hopefully, it looks an awful lot like Mary.


We start across the rim trail and pause briefly at the next overlook.  A sweet couple compliments our shirts.   We tell them our story and quickly find out they are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.  We offer to take a picture to remember the moment.   I somehow imagine they don’t take pictures together often.  I also imagine a day they look back at that picture and remember their hike and their first 25 years together.

We continue down the trail.  Its quickly evident that every step we take down, we will have to take a step back up at some point.  We pass many “resters” along the way.   One resting couple inquires about our shirts.  We tell them our story and they declare they are “empty nesters”.  I imagine their thoughts as they heard our conversation coming down the trail.  I’m certain there is no judgment, just an awareness of our different places in life.

The trail widens as the sound of running water gets louder.  Its as if there is a magnetic force that stops our voices and opens our eyes.  Immediately, we each find our place. 



Some of us pray.
Some of us reflect.
Some of us write.

Each of us is in a totally different place while sitting at the same place.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about relationships.

"The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart." ~Elisabeth Foley

Many people will hike the Rim Trail in 2014.  Each of them will have their own story, capturing their perfect images, while reflecting on their place in the world.

Its certain, on this beautiful October day, we know our place in the world.  At least at that exact moment.

And so we gather. 
Once a year. 

Always the same. 
Yet just a little different. 

We are broken.
And still, we are complete.

And so we gather.
Thank god we do.


~ao

Due to an abundance of doing "nothingness" (aka laziness), I have no other pictures from SS15.  Probably a good thing to spare you from pictures of almost middle-aged women in yoga pants.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

~Dare to Daydream~



She takes my breath away.  There’s no other way to describe it.  I don’t render myself speechless often, but when it comes to her, she takes me to that place where words leave and the soul slows down. 


Big blue eyes.
Blonde whispy hair around her face.
Small dimples in the crease of her smile.


I think she goes there too.  I will catch a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror, gazing into nowhere while the wind blows through her hair.  She makes eye contact and gives me a sideways grin.  She knows that I am all too familiar with that place.



We hear too often how she’s my “mini-me”.  I’m sure in my younger day, it could be true.  While, I appreciate the compliment, I have to say, she’s so much more than I could have ever dreamed.

Thoughtful.
Strong.
Sensitive.

Her life lullaby, Daydream Believer, almost appears intentional, like a slow molding of her soul.  If only.  If only it were that easy.

“Cheer up, Lily Bean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.”

She came in to this world on her own terms, early and with little preparation.  She simply wasn’t going to wait around until everyone arrived, including the doctor.  Once she made her grand entrance, she barely let out a whimper and immediately found her self-soothers, her two middle fingers.


Our Lily girl, is a spirit all her own.  She is bold when she needs to be, and then in one swift move, she nestles into her calm place, like a comfortable blanket.


Tomorrow she celebrates her 9th birthday, the last in single digits.  I know the next several years have the potential for an extreme amount of turmoil.  My prayers are simple.

May she know she is loved.
May her life shine bright.
May she never stop daydreaming.


Happy 9th Birthday Bean!

~ao, aka Mama

Friday, October 10, 2014

~1994~


It was the year of the MLB Player Strike and Forrest Gump.  Millions also watched as police chased OJ Simpson in a white bronco.  I was twenty years old and settled in to my first off-campus apartment.  I was starting to gain momentum on my new life in Cleveland.

The call came on a normal October day that started with class and work.  As soon as I heard my mom’s voice, I knew something was wrong.  My childhood friend, Brad, had been killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. 

I met Brad in the 4th Grade.  He was immature and completely ridiculous.  He was the kind of kid that would pick his nose and wipe it on you.  Fortunately for him, he had a charm that far exceeded his grossness and a smile that made you feel like the most important person in the room.  We became instant friends.

We spent our summers bike riding and playing tennis.  In the winter, we would play hockey and inevitably, he would make me goalie.  He said I was great in the goal because I had “good hands”, but I’m sure he just liked watching people shoot pucks across the ice and toward my face.

We had the kind of friendship that felt like family.  He protected me like a brother would and I nagged him with sisterly love.  His parents made me feel adored and like a part of their family.  Since he was an only child, I felt like the daughter they never had. 

His mom, Mary Ann, would sit at the table with me, drink tea, and tell me the most fascinating stories.  His dad would always greet me with that famous Anderson smile. He would walk in the room, wink, and call me “dollface”.  It was obvious where Brad got his charm.

We maneuvered our way through the awkward junior high years and our unique bond grew stronger.  He kept me honest in who I was and didn’t let me get too far from the younger version of myself.  There are not many memories from those years that don’t include Brad.  We were both quirky, fun-loving teenagers who connected in a way that was special.  And we both knew it.

I remember a day at the Prendergast’s Lake House.  We had spent the day on the water with all of our friends.  Brad walked down on the dock and pushed me in.  “Let’s take the paddle boat out.”  Thirty minutes later, we had paddled ourselves to the middle of the lake.  We jumped off the paddle boat and swam around in the deep waters of Seneca Lake. 

I will never forget the look on his face as it started pouring on us.  He smiled really big and said “Looks like we need to paddle faster.”  We paddled back to the closest shore and ran back to the lakehouse in the rain.  We laughed the entire way.

Brad was so many things to me.

Risk-taker.
Confidence builder.
Adventurer.
Loyal and true.

He was the obvious choice as my Homecoming Court Escort.  When I asked him, he smirked and said, “Well, of course.  Who else would you ask?”  He picked me up wearing a mauve sport coat and tan suede shoes.  We were both unusually nervous.  Two friends dressed to impress and making a date of it.  We were two kids playing grown-ups and it felt just plain weird.

One of my lifelong, favorite books is Bridge to Terabithia.  It is the beautiful story of two friends, Jesse and Leslie, who struggle with the everyday trials of adolescents.  They would swing across a creek to a make-believe land in the walls of a forest behind their house.  It was an escape from their regular lives.  Then one day, Leslie suddenly died in a tragic accident in the creek.

“She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there--like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”

Stranded.

I spoke about that word at his funeral.  I fought back anger at the idea that he was gone.  I knew a part of my heart would be gone forever.

I think of him often and wonder what he would be like today.  I can see him, standing in front of his locker with his boombox blaring music between classes.  My heart aches to think of never seeing the twinkle in his eye or hearing the convincing way he laughed. 


It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for half my life.  While I was in NY last week, I reminisced with friends about our times with him.  His memory is never far from us.

Twenty years ago, on October 11, 1994, my life changed forever.  I learned the value of life, true friendship, and laughing in the rain.  I learned that life can change in the turn of a wheel and leave you staring at old photos and grasping for memories.

In our senior Last Will and Testament, he said he wanted to be remembered for "laughing all the way."  He is most certainly remembered for that and so much more.


In loving memory of George Bradley Anderson, IV

Forever in our hearts,
~ao

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

~Song Sung Blue~


It follows me.  It seems it has always been around no matter what stage in life I am in. 

I went to high school at Marcus Whitman.  The school colors were BLUE and gold.  As a junior in college, I joined a sorority, Sigma Nu Sigma.  Their colors were BLUE and white.  I became the softball coach at that same college.  They added BLUE as an accent to their maroon and white.  I married a die-hard Kentucky fan and became an involuntary member of the Big BLUE Nation.

I started my administrative career at Red Bank High School.  Their colors were not in the red family.  They were BLUE and white.  One would think I applied for the job at Cleveland because of their school colors ~ BLUE & white, with a little bit of red.


It’s a cheesy thread of my journey ~ a pride for all things BLUE.  It could be worse.  I could be forced to adorn yellow, orange or any other hue not in my color palette.  Fortunately for me, BLUE looks halfway decent on a person with my hair color and skin tone.  Because of this, my closet is overflowing with every shade of the color that falls somewhere between green and violet.

Google compares the color BLUE to “the sky or sea on a sunny day.”  If you ask me, it’s the perfect definition.  I tread lightly in this post to not come across as a “fanatic”, but the simple fact is, when it comes to the color BLUE, I’m in.  All in.

Neil Diamond says it best…

But when you take the BLUES
And make a song
You sing 'em out again

This weekend we cheered for the BLUE and white at two venues.  Friday nights feel like home to me.  

The band plays.
The cheerleaders cheer.
The fans sing the alma mater.


And while all these things are awesome, I sit back and revel in the idea that we all belong to something bigger ~ a tradition that has cheered for the mighty BLUE Raiders for fifty years strong.  While I am not from here, I, too, feel the pride that surrounds every Friday night when the BLUE Raiders take the field.  Even more so, I have a heart swell as I watch my husband and two kids cheer from the sidelines.  It’s more than just a football game.  It’s a community brand that has been tested and cherished. 

I wake up on Saturday morning and drive 3.5 hours north to Lexington, KY to experience another version of pride for the BLUE and white.  I, again, watch my husband and kids as they celebrate with the Big BLUE Nation and cheer their UK Wildcats to a victory.


Tailgates.
Cats Walk.
Shiny, Silver Helmets.

We stormed the field for a second time in 24 hours.  My kids jumped up and down meeting players and mascots.  My husband flashed his prideful grin. 


There are no words to describe a sense of belonging.  I am lucky to experience school spirit at its finest.  In a world that says our children are lost on the traditions of our past, I know differently.  Each Friday night, after the third quarter, I beam with pride as our student section sings the alma mater.

We lift our hearts in song and praise
For our school, Cleveland High.
In love and gratitude we’ll sing
As days and years go by.
We love the white and BLUE,
We will be loyal, true.
So Alma Mater, here’s to you
Our own school, Cleveland High.

This week our school is on Fall Break.  Many will take vacations.  Others will work.  But on Friday night, there will be no other plans. 

The fans will show up.
The bleachers will fill up.
The players will gear up.

It’s just a game.  That’s how some define it.  But to me, its an opportunity to show pride.  Every pom-pom, instrument, and jersey signifies a love for something that reaches beyond the color BLUE. 

History.
Tradition.
Legacy.

And hopefully, a win!

GO BIG BLUE!

~ao