Tag Archive: family


The Disease of Expectation

winter snow heartAhhhhh, February – Christmas decorations are packed away, tax returns are being filed, winter stews fill the crock pot, and we watch the skies anxiously for a cozy blanket of snow or a promising hint of spring. And Valentine’s Day…oh yes, Valentine’s Day: the one day that possibly generates more stress in the hearts of men than a wedding anniversary; or a first date; or the wedding day itself; or the honeymoon; or becoming a father; or being a father on his daughter’s wedding day.
In a word, Valentine’s Day = anxiety.

Here’s the quandary: if a man spends too much his wife may question his motives or wonder if he is being financially responsible; if he doesn’t spend enough she may feel cheated, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected. This presents a tightrope walk for sure with only past successes (or failures) as the balancing pole for our men.

Enter peer pressure. “Well, so-and-so’s husband took her [fill-in-the-blank]” or “you should see what so-and-so’s husband gave her for Valentine’s Day” or the ever popular “I just thought you knew how much this day meant to me” (accompanied by sad little tears, manipulative pout, and possible stomping of feet and/or a lock on the bathroom door).

And exactly when did one day on the calendar become the benchmark for LOVE? Love can’t be measured in a day! I propose we have taken a dangerous detour from the word’s true meaning when it has been reduced to what can be paid for, wrapped up, and tied with a bow.

A group of professionals recently posed the following question to a few children between the ages of 4 and 8: “What does love mean?” The answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think (italics mine):

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4 (Love protects)

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl, age 5 (Love inspires our best)

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy, age 6 (Love shares)

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri, age 4 (Love energizes)

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, age 7 (Love makes the extra effort)

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy, age 6 (Love is committed)

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy, age 8 (Love is empowering)

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. I don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare, age 6 (Love is affectionate)

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine, age 5 (Love is selfless)

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann, age 4 (Love is happy)

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, age 4 (Love is smart!)

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, age 7 (Love is romantic)

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8 (Love is expressive)

And in my personal opinion, hands down the best one:

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby, age 7 (Love is profound)

WoW! “… if you stop opening presents and listen …”

As parents, my husband and I have tried very hard to instill balance in our children’s expectations about holidays, and about life in general. While we want them to always believe in the magic of Christmas and the unique celebrating of their birth day, we have worked to keep their expectations within the framework of reality. As in, “I don’t care if one of your friends got a limo ride downtown to share a hotel suite with their friends for the weekend, complete with 24/7 room service and tickets to a concert.” Someone – or several someone’s – will always have more, do more, be more. And the disease of ‘expectation’ may be far more dangerous than any other childhood illness they will ever face.

So what kind of example are we setting for our children when it comes to this one day set aside for lovers? What are we teaching them about what love really means? I’m not suggesting that gifts are not appropriate; I certainly enjoy opening a pretty little box or two and I have never been accused of turning away from chocolate. True, there are times when a card can express what we may not be able to say in our own words. But maybe right alongside reining in our children’s expectations, we ought to be evaluating our own.

Ladies, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to set aside your expectations of the presents you ought to get – or stop comparing what your friends and co-workers get – and simply listen to what’s already around you?

Men, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to pause, look your wife in the eyes and give to her from your heart? Not as an excuse to squeeze your wallet a little tighter, but because you truly want to share yourself with her.

sharing hearts

It’s easy to buy something. What takes time and effort is giving of our selves. To share a piece of who we are. This Valentine’s Day, let’s stop opening the presents and listen. It just might be the best Valentine’s Day ever.

A Boy, A Girl, and A Canvas

ImageMy parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary this past week.  55 years. My mom was not even 19 when she and my Dad married – and he was an old man of 21. Robert Vern Chambers and Charlotte Cathleen Crowe married on a very hot June afternoon in a sweet little southern church with no air conditioning — at 6pm! My mother was every bit as elegant as Grace Kelly in her borrowed wedding gown and my Dad would have given James Bond a run for his money in his elegant white coat tuxedo.

Shortly after they were married my Dad, enlisted in the Army, became stationed in Germany. Mom went along and without the comfort of cell phones, email, or Skype to reach ‘home’, they managed to turn his call of duty into an extended honeymoon all across Europe. For two full years, each time my Dad had leave, they would set out for a previously unvisited country and explore the diverse and unique beauty that is the continent of culture. My Mom still tells wonderful stories of their ventures into Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monte Carlo among others.

As I’ve watched them over the years, there are many things that stand out to me about their relationship. My Daddy is reserved, kinda’ serious, a packrat of sorts, and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. He enjoys spending time with friends but would never be one to initiate any kind of social gathering. An excellent (and sometimes experimental) cook, he especially enjoys baking. For years, we have enjoyed his homemade cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, and German Christmas bread. I can think of only one mishap of his which has jokingly been placed in the annals of history as “Dad’s sauerkraut cake”. Ick – my mouth curls up even now as I remember that first (and last) awful bite.

My Mom is super organized, highly social, and has an incredible way of making everyone around her feel special and important. She’s tenderhearted and compassionate to the core. Watch out though, she will cut you like a butcher’s knife through soft butter if you come after her family! Mama can make popcorn and brownies seem like a feast fit for a king, cry tears of joy as quickly as tears of sorrow, and read a story in a way that truly makes you feel as if you have been transported through time.

Daddy gave me my blue eyes, my appetite, and my ugly knees. Mama gave me my great cheekbones, my love of entertaining, and my stubborn streak.

So how do two people, with such diverse personalities, make a marriage that is still going strong after 55 years? There are several things which come to mind:

Commitment. The dictionary defines the word “commit” this way: To give in trust or charge; to pledge oneself; to entrust, especially for safekeeping.  My parents have encompassed all those beautiful attributes of commitment in their attitude and actions towards each other. They trust one another. And they know that no one else on Planet Earth has more invested in their safekeeping than each for the other.

My grandmother told my mom the morning of her wedding that if she ever showed up at their door after she married my dad, she would swat her on the backside and send her back home.  Bottom line, it was my Memaw’s way of saying ‘you’re in this for the long haul; be committed to it and work it out.’ And work it out they have. There have been incredible highs and devastating lows, but my parents have gone through it all together. Their commitment to each other is absolutely unwavering. And everyone around them knows it.

Strength. Strength is not the same as commitment. One of the definitions for strength is moral power, firmness, and courage. My mom and dad have been strong for each other, strong for their marriage, and strong for each other’s families. My dad has always had an excellent relationship with my mom’s parents. Daddy grieved the loss of one of his best friends when my Papa died. And Mama was every bit as caring and loving towards my dad’s family as she was her own. They have been strong and courageous for each other, on behalf of each other, and with each other. They give strength to one another and receive strength from each other.

Loyalty. In a word, faithful. My parents have many friends and acquaintances of the opposite sex. But they have observed and respected undeniable boundaries, remaining loyal and faithful to each other from before their wedding. They are truly each other’s one and only.

Perseverance. Definition: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Nothing could be more true of two people in this world than the perseverance of my mom and dad. They have faced insurmountable odds, endured betrayal by those they considered friends, survived financial hardships, and suffered the heartache of their extremely rebellious children. But they have stayed the course. Unwavering in their faith and their commitment to prayer, my parents have walked what they talk.

Unity. Oneness. “The state of being one.” I remember growing up, there was no playing one against the other in our house. Mom and Dad always presented a united front to my brother and me. Even if they might have disagreed behind closed doors, we never knew it. Mom and Dad truly enjoy each other’s company and have made their friendship a huge part of their marriage.

My parents are not perfect. They have disagreements and spats. They get frustrated with each other. And there have probably been at least a couple of occasions when they questioned their sanity. But they have, over the years, taken a blank canvas and painted a beautiful picture of commitment, strength, loyalty, perseverance, and unity. In their 55 years of marriage, that canvas has become a masterpiece. And I, for one, am grateful to have watched these two artists at work, at play, at home. Together.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you.

This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

800 Feet in the Air

My family and I went on a week’s vacation to Florida last week, compliments of a Christmas present from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) We moved to our new home in early April and I hadn’t needed our luggage until last week.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

So we opted for Plan B: everyone packed their own duffel bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m usually a complete nut about everything being packed, perfectly organized, in its proper space, folded correctly. Not this year. It was every man, woman, boy, and girl for themselves.

We started out early in the morning and between GPS and the directions provided by the resort we managed to turn a 5-1/2 hour trip into 7+ hours. For all her engaging British-accent instructions, Miss GPS led us astray. By the time we arrived at our destination we were an engaging mix of slap-happy and belligerent, which is probably the reason I misunderstood the directions to our room provided by the smiling young lady at the front desk.

The kids and I unloaded the ‘luggage’ while Richard went to park the car. What we thought was a direct route to our room took us to a revolving door that launched us out onto the ocean-front pool deck. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies trekking across the landing with our mis-matched duffel bags, pillows, blankets, and bare feet. I was tempted to call out to the children in my best redneck accent, “Looky thar, kids, it’s a cement pond!”

A kind (and slightly embarrassed) security guard rescued us and escorted us straight to our room. Oh, the stories he must tell his family at the end of a shift!

We enjoyed a week of gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful accommodations, late nights, and later mornings. On our last full day the kids decided their big splurge was to go para-sailing. After several phone calls we made an afternoon reservation and headed out for a bite of lunch.

We had a grand total of 12 on the boat, plus two instructors. Eleven of us were flying and Stephen had made it perfectly clear we were NOT going to be the first ones up. He wanted to see what everyone else thought about it before the captain strapped us in. Much to his dismay, we were the very first ones – the chosen ones – to venture up into the Big Blue.

I was not about to let the kids know I was afraid but I have to admit I was a little shaken by the thin strap under my seat, the one (only one) buckle around my waist and the two hooks above my shoulders. This is really the only thing connecting me to that chute and this rope??? 

Because of the weight distribution (no sarcastic remarks, please) I had to be in the middle with the kids on either side. Stephen was none too happy about being on the outside. He had planned to be safely encased between his sister and me.  Rachel, on the other hand, could not get up in the air fast enough. The metal bar to which our hooks were strapped was literally shaking with our fear as the chute inflated and began to take us airborne. Higher, higher, higher: 800+ feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The boat appeared like a toy in that vast expanse of ocean.

I kept reminding myself to breathe while trying to take Stephen’s mind off the fact that we were 800 feet in the air by pointing out how far we could see and how beautiful the water was as we looked out. The thought kept running through my mind, “I wonder what would happen if I just leaned back and let go.”

I didn’t find out.

After about 30 seconds in the air, I noticed Stephen’s legs swinging back and forth. He was smiling, pointing things out here and there across the horizon, and almost laughing out loud. He loves it! He really loves it! Rachel was shouting down to the boat, and at first I looked at her and said, “Shhh, not so loud.” Then I checked myself and laughing out loud, I said, “Go ahead, girlfriend, give it all you’ve got!”

Back on the boat we were all smiles and talking a mile a minute. Stephen couldn’t wait to tell everyone about his adventure once we got back home and it has now been permanently placed on his “all time favorite things” list.

I’ve been thinking about that sky-high ride a lot since last week.  

Sometimes life brings us to a place where we have to hang on with both hands and simply let the chute take us where the wind is blowing. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also exhilarating. The sun is warm, the breeze is perfect, the view is breathtaking. Fear makes us more aware of what’s around us and sometimes we see things we might have otherwise missed. White knuckles and all, you realize you wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

800 feet in the air; and 14 minutes that will last a lifetime.

Taking the First Plunge

I wrote recently about our impending move to a new home (see, The Beauty of Transition on this blog site). Well, last week was not only Spring Break for our county school system, it was our week to move. Sometime soon I will blog about all the God-orchestrated events that brought us to this place. But my emotions are raw and my body is tired so for right now, let me share with you a few thoughts about packing, unpacking, and moving lives.

Our very first day brought an unexpected and wonderful surprise. A friend of mine had called and told me she would help. I wasn’t really sure what I would ask her to do that first day because we had only so much packed and we were going to take it slow. You know, pace our selves. Well, she showed up with a carload of high school boys who spent the next several hours moving everything they could get their hands on. She said, “Dawn, you know I refuse to break a sweat but I sure don’t mind making these boys work!” She helped orchestrate moving some major pieces of furniture and we ended the day excited, deeply grateful, and way ahead of the game.

The funny thing was that when the guys were moving a couple of particularly special pieces I had told them in the event of an impending fall to get out of the way. The furniture might be antique, but their lives could not be replaced. Come to find out, Richard had just told them a few minutes earlier that if they started to drop something they should sacrifice their bodies, not the furniture!  Thankfully, no one had to sacrifice anything. Everything and everybody survived the afternoon.

We had ideal weather throughout the week. Cool mornings and not-too-hot afternoons allowed us to have windows and doors wide open all week. Our children were incredibly helpful, picking up boxes, moving furniture, and climbing endless flights of stairs. We did everything ourselves except for a 3-hour shift late in the week with three professional movers who looked like they had just walked out of a wrestling arena. Man, those guys were big! And fast, too! Rachel and I were trying to move a mattress while struggling to hold its shape intact as we navigated through the hall and around a corner to the stairs. One of the movers walked up and said, ‘let me get that for you.’ In one quick motion, he threw that mattress across his back and had it in the back of their truck faster than Rachel and I could silently call each other wimps =)

Box after box after box after box made its way to the car, the trunk, the back of the truck, and the trailer. After surveying that every available space was filled, we would convoy over to the new place and unload box after box after box after box. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. We put our kids’ friends to work and bribed them with pizza. Little by little, one room at a time, one house was emptying as the other was filling. We still had a very long way to go, but we were making great progress.

On Wednesday afternoon Stephen, our youngest, asked if we were going to be able to have Easter Sunday dinner on “Grammie’s china”. It is a long-standing tradition that I bring out my paternal grandmother’s beautiful, antique china for Easter Sunday. My dad cooks a beautiful ham (a two-day process that makes my mouth water just thinking about it) and we sit down to a lovely meal around the dining room table. There was no way I could say ‘no, not this year, honey’ but I wondered if it was even remotely possible that we could pull it off in just a few days. On Thursday, my Mom emailed me to say that she and my Dad were preparing the entire meal and if I could just have the table set, Easter Sunday dinner was a go.

And so, amid still unpacked boxes and a mattress leaning against the wall just inside the front door, we sat down to the first of many family celebrations around the dining room table. Grammie’s china was in place, all our favorite side dishes had been prepared (we even had two of the same thing that Mom and I accidentally duplicated!), and Easter Sunday dinner found a new home for the Hoods. Exhausted? Yes. Unpacked? Not by a long shot. But looking around the table at my family, taking the plunge to make a home out of this new place, I felt incredibly blessed, thankful, and satisfied.

And I hadn’t even taken the first bite of that beautiful, scrumptious ham.

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