Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Family Times

We have had so many fun times together with family over this Christmas season. Erica and Mary Lane are at some fun ages to make celebrating even more exciting and we all just love being together. It was also an added bonus to have a visit from my cousin, Ashley and her husband, Jonathan, as well as Bud and Vickie. Getting to spend time with family is my favorite gift any time of year!

Daniel, me and Mom on Christmas morning

Russell, Daniel, Bud and Jonathan

All of us with Bud and Vickie

Mary Lane (w/ her monkey hat), Erica and Daniel

Christmas Day family pic

In age and height order. :-)

Blevins girl cousins

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comfort and Joy

Last Friday, a horrific tragedy took place in Newtown, Connecticut, and our country has been grieving the loss of those 27 lives. On Saturday night, our church held the first of two nights of Christmas Worship, two identical services dedicated to celebrating Christ's birth and remembering that He came as a little baby to grow up and be our Suffering Servant.

I know that the service was planned well before the tragedy in Connecticut, but the songs and the readings and the theme of the whole evening spoke into our need for comfort during sorrowful times. Even if we hadn't had that tragic occurence last week, there is much suffering in our world and many people have heavy hearts, even when they feel like they should be joyful and happy and celebrating during this time of year.

The first song was a solo and from the first line, I knew that it was providential that the song was included. Here are the lyrics to this centuries-old hymn (Words by Johannes Olearius (1671), Music by Louis Bourgeois (1551)):

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Yea, her sins our God will pardon, blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day, now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness into ever-springing gladness.

For the herald’s voice is crying in the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance, since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him, and the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble, as befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token, that His word is never broken.

On Sunday night, I went to my mother's church to attend the Carol Candlelight service, which included a full choir and an orchestra, along with a handbell choir. I was glad to be there to see my mom sing in the choir and to have an opportunity to participate in a candlelight service. Toward the end of the service when the minister came forward to begin the candle lighting portion, he explained that in response to the shootings in Connecticut, we would be taking time to remember the victims by name and light a candle in their memory.

As the names were spoken, along with the ages, I began to pray for the families and friends who had lost such dear loved ones. I also began to cry and allowed myself to grieve the loss of innocent lives. In talking about the events with some friends at different times over the weekend, it seemed so evident that we all felt helpless and unsure of what to do in response to the tragedy, especially at what is supposed to be such a joyful time of year. One friend said that sometimes we just have to grieve and not fight it or suppress it. That night while hearing the names of the victims being read, I chose to grieve and to allow myself to experience the feelings that were inside of me.

Both worship services last weekend also spoke of much hope and I am thankful that because of Christ, I don't have to grieve without hope. And I don't have to suffer minor and major things on this earth without hope.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns, "Joy to the World" tells us that Jesus came to "make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." And "He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and the wonders of His love."

As the sanctuary filled with light from the candles being shared from pew to pew, person to person, we sang:

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night,
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.
The hope that we have is in the fact that God did not leave us in darkness. He sent us His Son, the Light of the World, and in Christ, we can find comfort, joy, hope and peace. Thank you, Lord!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What did you say?

A couple of weeks ago I finally made it into the world of smart phones. I love my phone for many reasons, but one of them is that it gives me a good laugh whenever I get a voicemail.

There's this cool feature where it creates a text version of whatever message is recorded. The only thing is that it must not have paid attention in dictation class, because what it thinks someone said and what they actually said are hardly ever the same.

Here are some examples:

Text version:
"Hey matt...just that paul I'm trying to I gonna make that happen nothing was there so call me back.

What she really said:
"Hey Nanette the phone just rang twice and I picked it up and nothing was there, so call me back."

Text version:
"Hi we just want to say hi I don't know why it's brian I think so I need to on and up see how."

Real message:
"Hi! We just wanted to say hi on the way to our birthday pj party. We've got our slippers on and our pj's. See ya!"

Text version:
"Hi this is Rebecca calling from Lincoln Anthony I was calling to see if we can have the electrician there in a about 30 minutes give us a callback as soon as possible thank you."

Actual message:
"Hi, this is Rebecca calling from Lee Company . . ."

Interestingly, I had a voicemail today from Daniel and his voice must be picked up better or something because the text version was the exact wording of what he actually said. He must just have one of those "golden voices" like radio announcers have. Hey . . . there's an idea!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sister Saturday: Big Girl Bed

"Would you like to come up and see our new room, Aunt Nette?"

I think I've been asked that question about three or four times in the past couple of weeks since Mary Lane got moved out of her crib into a big girl bed. They already had the beds, but they were set up as bunk beds. Now they are set up like twin beds and Mary Lane is so excited (and Erica is too)!

Since it wasn't a good idea for me to take pictures at their actual bedtime, I got them to pose for me in their beds, and they happily agreed.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Favorites: Hot Tea

It used to be said of me that I did not drink coffee. It's still true that I don't like the taste of coffee without some sweetener and yummy creamer, but I have traveled over to the "dark side" and can enjoy a coffee beverage here and there.

But lately, I've come back to my first love of hot beverages (wait, maybe my first love was that homemade hot chocolate mix that my mom used to make). Anyway, lately I've been back on a hot tea kick. I'm not sure why, but it may have to do with the fact that I can enjoy flavored, decaffeinated tea without needing to add creamer (i.e.: calories) to make it palatable. It hasn't been very cold in Tennessee lately, but I've still been enjoying a nice mug of tea at work or in the evenings at home.

My thoughtful friend, Gwyn, shares my love for tea and likes to bring me surprises when we meet for community group. This week, she brought some decaf French Vanilla tea bags and suggested that I might want to add a little milk and honey, and it would "taste like dessert." She was right! Gwyn shared some of her tea bags (that she had to buy in bulk because she couldn't find them at the grocery store this year), so the next day I found some sugar-free vanilla creamer in the fridge at work to add and had a little morning treat with my snack.

In case you want to try something new, here are some of my other recent favorite tea flavors:  Vanilla Chai, Chai Spice, Apple Cinnamon.

My sister also made up a tea blend that rivals the tea you can get when you go to an Aveda salon. I often learn new tricks from my smart sister and this time she combined the following in her brew basket to make the tea:

1 bag licorice tea
1 bag peppermint tea
1 T. fennel seed

1 T. dried basil
Hope you can find some time to relax and enjoy a cup of hot tea (or coffee) this season, and feel free to call me to join you!

Friday, November 30, 2012

My favorite drummer

Tonight we got to hear the awesome concert of the Hume-Fogg Jazz Bands! Daniel, my favorite drummer, played in one of the best jazz combo and then was one of three drummers in the Silver Jazz Band. He works hard and puts a lot of time and energy into his drumming and it has been so fun to watch him grow and excel as a drummer.

I also have to give a little blog time to the band director, Dr. Richard Ripani. He gives tirelessly (it seems) of his energy, time and life for his students. He genuinely cares about who they are as people, not just as musicians. He is so encouraging and likes to look for ways and opportunities for all of his students to shine. I'm very thankful that Daniel has been able to learn from Dr. Ripani and be a part of the band program at Hume-Fogg.

I was trying really hard not to be a little sad, but I couldn't help thinking about all of the band concerts through the years, both at Hume-Fogg and at Meigs Middle School, and how some of these same kids have been with Daniel at concerts since the 5th grade. There is one more official concert at Hume-Fogg for Daniel's high school years, so mark your calendar for Friday, May 5. You won't be able to miss me:  I'll be the one with a huge smile and tears running down my cheeks.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankfulness Thursday

Happy Thanksgiving! I really love this time of year and it's been fun to read Facebook posts all month and see what others are thankful for. My list includes most of what I've read from others. I'm a big fan of thankfulness all year long, but it's nice that we have this time set aside each year to really focus on being thankful.

Two big categories of people who I am thankful for today are my friends and my family.

Friends:  I wish that I could list by name all of the friends who I am thankful for in my life. In my journal, I started listing and realized I could fill up pages with names of friends, near and far. I am so thankful to have the gift of friendship and am humbled when I think of all of the people God has put in my life through the years.

Family:  Today I am also thankful for my family. My mom and I are getting to spend some time with her brother and family for Thanksgiving and will be in touch with other members of our family throughout the day and weekend. I'm thankful that while we can't physically be with all of our family members on Thanksgiving, we can and do hold each other in our hearts and are able to stay connected in many ways.

"I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6, NET

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankfulness Thursday

Wow! It's one week until Thanksgiving Day! I am looking forward to spending the holiday with my mom at my uncle's house in Memphis, and we'll get to see lots of other people from that side of the family. And eat lots of delicious food!

Last night at my community group, our leader asked us to each share about when we first received Christ as Savior. It was such a rich time of hearing how all of us could look back and see the benefits we have because of God showing us our need for Him and how our lives have been transformed by His grace.

So, in light of that time of sharing, here's what I'm thankful for today:
  • God's grace and mercy that saved me, for Jesus' death and resurrection, and for His continuing grace and mercy that is continuing to transform my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • My parents and grandparents, who prayed for me, taught me about Jesus, brought me to church, and shared their faith with me. God used them to bring me to salvation and I am so thankful for that heritage and opportunity.
  • The churches that I have been a part of throughout my life and for the pastors and teachers who spoke truth into my life and helped me to grow in my faith.
  • The "mountaintop" and camp experiences I had during the summers when I was growing up that gave me opportunities to be with other believers, to see Christian young adults who loved the Lord and were serving Him, and gave me more teaching and building up in my faith.
  • Bible studies and groups that I have been a part of that have helped me to learn more about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and how the gospel is relevant for my life every day.
  • Daniel's salvation and faith in Jesus Christ. I will always cherish the memory of the times we shared when he was young and would ask questions and that God allowed me to be with him when he received Christ into his heart.

"God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:4-10)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankfulness Thursday

I have seen lots of people on Facebook participating in 30 Days of Thankfulness (or something like that) and it's been great to see thankfulness posts every day. Thankfulness is a great way to live every day of the year, and listing out things that I'm thankful for often lifts me out of a pending pity-party and reminds me of the goodness of the Lord.

Today I am thankful for:
  • the completion of the 2012 Election season! Enough said.
  • Daniel's continued hard work and talent in the area of music. It's fun for me to hear him practicing the drums or playing the piano in our living room and to know that he is passionate about music.
  • a shared whisper with my fun four-year-old niece. Sometimes I like to whisper in her ear, "I love you" and she likes to come close, lift my hair up away from my ear, and whisper back, "I love you, too!" So sweet!
  • playing a little game of "chase" with my two-year-old niece and hearing her giggle when I catch her.
  • a job that I love going to each day and being able to work in an environment that is mutually encouraging and team/servant-oriented.
  • hearing from a friend who I haven't seen in a while and having an opportunity to go to dinner with her tonight.

"Rejoice always!
Pray constantly.
Give thanks in everything,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. "
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, HCSB

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My East Coast Heart

Since I was born and raised on the East Coast, and spent most of my growing up years in NJ, the events related to Hurricane Sandy last week have been heavy on my heart. I know many people who live in the states that were affected and have many close friends and an uncle who live in the NJ/NY area. It has been difficult and surreal to see the photos and video of familiar places near where I grew up and I have felt helpless at times this past week (and also a little guilty when I was taking a hot shower in a house with working electricity and easily drove my car to fill up with gas).

Thankfully, all of the people who I am in touch with who live there have come out of it relatively well. One of my friend's parents had flooding in their home on the Jersey Shore and are currently still displaced while their house is repaired. Other friends lost power for days and some are still waiting to have power restored. The gas situation has been frustrating, to say the least. All of these friends have been thankful for a roof over their heads and have been ready and willing to help their neighbors.

We have also been in touch with several ministries/churches in the NJ/NY area. One pastor who used to work with my dad at the Metropolitan NY Baptist Association has given updates of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams that have gone in and are helping with recovery and feeding people (using his church as part of their headquarters). Another ministry on the lower East side of Manhattan, Graffiti, had some damage to their basement and have some items that are needing to be replaced.

If you feel led to donate to the relief efforts, here are some specific ways that you can help:
  •  Our pastor here in Nashville told us about how we can donate through the Tennessee Baptist Convention to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts. You can donate specifically for relief efforts related to Hurricane Sandy.
  • The Metropolitan NY Baptist Association has set up a place to donate and you can read more and find the link here.
  • If you would like to help the Graffiti Community Ministries/East 7th St. Baptist Church replace items from their nursery that were damaged in some flooding in their basement, you can check out their Amazon Wishlist.
I know that the people who live in the NJ/NY area, as well as other places that were affected by Hurricane Sandy, greatly appreciate our prayers. I have been praying that this catastrophic event will open doors to the gospel and that the people who receive help will know that God cares and is with them, even in this hard time, and that they have hope.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankfulness Thursday

Happy November! I wanted to put something up here today on my blog since it's a new month. A few years ago I wrote a blog every day of November telling about things I am thankful for. I could do that again, and every month, but I thought maybe this year I'll have "Thankful Thursdays" for all of the Thursdays in November (and maybe I'll continue to do it after the month is over).

Today I'm thankful for:
  • Daniel's college applications being completed and submitted (oh wait, there's that one last essay-- well, then I'm thankful that the applications are almost all finished).
  • A nice, relaxing weekend in Destin last weekend with some dear friends. It was great weather and we had fun just doing whatever was restful (reading, watching the sunset, finding yard sales).
  • Generous friends who include me in activities like the one last week.
  • Our continuing Fall season in Nashville. When I returned from Florida, it was cooler and the leaves were still somewhat on the trees.
  • A family who lives close by and who likes to get together on the spur of the moment.
  • My son who makes me laugh (usually not at my expense, but sometimes I am the reason we're laughing).
I'd also like to invite you to add your own thanksgivings in the comments. Don't be shy and don't worry if you don't have a Google account. I have made it so you can comment as "anonymous" if you want.

So . . . what are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Conflicted October

I love October. It's really been one of my favorite months for a long time. I love the changing colors of the leaves (especially when I view them through my sunglasses--the colors really pop!). I like the fact that the weather is cooler. It's also a month when there are fun activities planned and people gather together, and I always like that.

I don't like October, though, because it makes me sad. I was married in October (by choice, because I love this time of year), but ironically, my divorce was final in October, too. And my dad passed away six days before his birthday in October last year.

I was dreading October this year, mainly because of the first anniversary of my dad's death. I wasn't sure what it "should" look like and feel like and what we should do. I didn't want to ignore the day and the memories of last year, but I also wanted to celebrate my dad's life and the life we live now and the fact that he's with his Savior for eternity. I wanted to be with my mom and sister and be together in whatever ways we needed, but I also wanted to be alone to process my grief (or truth be told, to try to ignore it sometimes).

This October has been a busy month in our lives, with it being "crunch time" for Daniel and his college applications. We took a trip to Knoxville to tour the UT campus, with neither of us having very high expectations of it being the place for Daniel. We were proven wrong and he actually came away (we both did) with a great impression of the campus and of the music program. This was a surprising twist to Daniel's pursuit and desire to only apply to Belmont University and their School of Music.

On the drive home, it hit me that while I want Daniel to go to whichever school the Lord wills and guides him to, there is some conflict in my heart about the fact that Belmont is in our backyard, so to speak, and UT is two and a half hours away. I know that I don't have much room to talk, since I went over a thousand miles away from my home when I left for college. And with today's technology, it will be a lot easier to stay in touch with Daniel if he ends up at UT. Not that I'd pester him with daily texts or anything. Give me some credit here!

So, there are some of my thoughts from this month. I've been quiet on the blog, but I haven't been in the doldrums all month and have had some fun times with friends and family this month. In fact, I am getting ready to go on a fun trip to Florida and get some R&R on the beach. Not a bad way to end the month, although I do hope that the colorful leaves will still be on the trees in Nashville when I return so I can look at them through my sunglasses and stand in awe again of God's wonderful creation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Favorites: Apples

I think if I had to choose only one favorite food, it would be apples. I love many other foods and types of foods, but there is just something about a nice, crisp, tart/sweet apple that makes me go, "mmm!" And then there are all of the apple by-products:  apple pie, apple butter, applesauce, and my mom's apple cake. YUM!

A couple of weeks ago, I took my nieces to an apple orchard, mainly to buy some local apples and some apple butter. Sometime, I'll take them to actually pick apples, because that can be fun, too. I also remember going with Daniel's kindergarten class on a field trip to that same apple orchard. You haven't really lived until you have gone on a field trip with a bus load of five-year-olds. We had so much fun that year going on eight different field trips!

Last night I decided to cook up some leftover apple slices that I had in the fridge. I probably could have figured out out on my own, but I got out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook and got the right time for microwaving them. I only added cinnamon and once they were cooked, they were just the right thing for my fall taste buds. Of course, a little vanilla ice cream would have put them over the top, but those apples were just fine by themselves.

I could probably go on and on about my love for apples and how I used to decorate my house with apple-y things. We had some friends in Virginia who lived in a farm house and they had a red-and-white checkered floor in their kitchen. I loved that idea and dreamed of decorating my kitchen that way when I grew up. Miss Lenora probably made one of the best apple pies that I've ever tasted, too, except for my own grandmother's pie.

And speaking of apple pie (and then I'll stop, I promise): my Maw-Maw even made me an apple pie for my birthday when I was five years old. She knew how much I loved apple pie and I may have even requested it. We have a picture somewhere of me standing in front of her refrigerator holding my birthday pie with five candles in it.

So, now you want some apples, right? They shouldn't be too hard to find, so go on out and get some!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sister Saturday: Happy Fall, Ya'll!

I know I'm a couple of days late for a "Sister Saturday" post, but the picture was taken on Saturday! And it was the first day of Fall!

I got to spend the weekend with these sweet girls and one of the things we did together (along with Grandma) was take a little trip down to an apple orchard. I did not have expectations for us to pick apples, only to buy some apples and some apple butter and to enjoy the late afternoon drive. I think those expectations were met and we got to see some pumpkins as a bonus!

I'm usually a "wait until October to get excited about Fall" kind of person, but since the weather has given us a little teaser, I've loosened up on my "rule" and have started drinking pumpkin spiced beverages and hung a Fall wreath on my front door.

In case you can't tell, I love Fall!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Trip Home: Old Favorites and New Experiences

Happy Friday! Can you believe that I have posted almost every day this week??!! But, sadly, I don't know by the comments whether anything was read. I know this isn't Facebook, but . . . just sayin' (and hinting).

To wind up my posts about my awesome Labor Day trip to NJ/NY, I just wanted to post some random pics of things that I felt compelled to take a picture of for sentimentality's sake. Also, I actually got to do something I had never done before in NY:  I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge! So cool, even with the construction that was being done on the bridge. I highly recommend it if you're ever visiting NYC.

And speaking of visiting NYC, I could easily be swayed/bribed to take small groups of people at a time for personalized tours. I mean, think about it:  how often are you able to go visit a city with someone who grew up there and knows people who are even more familiar with the area? It would be fun!

This is a chain restaurant known for ice cream. The wattmelon roll is significant in our memories, because our friend Lara C. loves watermelon sherbet w/ chocolate sprinkles.

I had to get a pretzel from a street vendor. I had already shared and eaten some of it by the time I took the pic. I don't do mustard on my pretzel.

No trip to NJ is complete without a trip to a diner. We at breakfast at this one in Nutley on Labor Day. I had never been to that one before, but used to frequent diners w/ friends back in high school. I got some yummy French toast.

The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge (looking toward Manhattan).

This is the place in Brooklyn where we ate lunch (pizza) out in that courtyard. Didn't get the name of the place nor did I get pics of the pizza. It was good, though, and we had plenty to take home for supper!

Got to ride the subway several times. Not all of the cars have this, but it's a nice addition to be shown/told what the next stop will be. Helps me look like I know what I'm doing without having to look at the map!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Trip Home: Remembering Dad

One of the reasons I felt like I "needed" to go to NJ and NY was to help me remember my Dad. It was his job, his calling to ministry in the city and to planting churches, that moved us there. Dad was the one who introduced me to the hustle and bustle of the city and helped me to be able to say, "I "heart" NY."

On Saturday morning of my weekend up there, I got on the DeCamp #33 bus on Broad Street in Bloomfield and rode into Manhattan to meet Randel, my uncle and my dad's youngest brother. The emotions I felt as I rode the bus along Route 3 (up there we pronounce it, "root" not "rowt") and saw the Manhattan skyline and went through the Lincoln Tunnel were very mixed. I was excited, sad, a little nervous. I kept thinking of how my dad would ride the bus almost every weekday to get to and from his office on W. 72nd Street. While I was on the bus, I had the epiphany that one of the reasons I felt so compelled to go to NJ was that I was "looking for" my Dad. That was where I remembered him being young and active and unhindered by Parkinson's Disease. I also realized as I rode into the city that my Dad is not there. But memories of him are all over that place and that made me happy and comforted my heart and soul.

View of the Manhattan skyline from the bus, coming back out of the Lincoln Tunnel

My uncle moved to NY in 1982 to pursue a career in music and while he has had several career changes since then, he has become a New Yorker. When I turned 16, I was allowed to ride the bus into the Port Authority, where Randel was given instructions to meet me as soon as I got off the bus (or got into the main terminal). When Randel and I were talking on the phone prior to my trip, he suggested that we meet at the statue near the ticketing windows that was our old meeting place. And for the record, Randel was about a half hour late, just like he used to be when I was a teenager. It was just like old times!

The meeting place:  these statues have been there for as long as I can remember.

I had asked Randel to take me on the subway to go see where my Dad worked, at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. I told myself I'd be content to just walk by the building, but it was very special that we were able to go inside and get a quick tour to see the recent renovations to the six-story building. It was great to be able to reminisce about where my Dad's offices were (for the first few years, his office was a glass cubicle on the 2nd floor and then later he moved up to the 5th floor, to an office with walls and a door and a view of 72nd street).

Street view of the MNYBA building

In the renovated chapel at the MNYBA building, there are canvas prints on two walls with this verse written in the various languages represented at churches in the association.

After we visited the MNYBA building, Randel and I walked around that neighborhood and I quickly saw that things had changed a lot since I was a kid. The Royale Bakery, where my Dad would buy us special "bakery" cookies, is no longer there. The "green grocer" on the corner of 72nd and Broadway is now a several-story building with a Trader Joe's store on the street level. They have added a new subway station at that corner, although the old one is still standing and is in operation.

The "old" subway station at 72nd and Broadway

We walked up Columbus Avenue and onto another side street and found a restaurant with a side-walk cafe where we ate a nice brunch. Then we walked off our frittata and omelet (and potatoes) by going up to W. 80th Street to a specialty grocery store called "Zabar's" that is fun to walk through (very "New York"). We didn't really intend to keep walking all the way back down to the Port Authority at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., but that's what we did. And it was awesome to just walk in the city. It was fun for me to dodge the people on the sidewalk and to see things I remembered and new things that have been built over the years. It was great to just hang out with Randel in the city, like we used to do, and to talk about Dad and remember him together.

Randel bought me a pink New York baseball cap at a souvenir shop near the Port Authority and then took me back to my bus terminal and waited with me until the 4:00 bus got ready to board. As I rode the bus back to NJ and back to my friend's house, I realized that the day had been exactly what I had wanted it to be. And I was happy and content.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Trip Home: Seeing friends

As I mentioned yesterday, after seven years, it was time for me to take a trip back to where I grew up. Thankfully, several of my friends still live in the general area and we have stayed connected or have reconnected via Facebook. One of the reasons for the trip, and one of the highlights of the trip, was to get to have a mini-reunion with some of these friends.

Friends since 5th grade

My friend Nicolette and I met in homeroom in the fifth grade. My last name, Ryals, was right before hers, Salerno, on the roll, so we essentially sat next to each other for most of the next eight years in class. We were in the marching band together. We endured some of the same classes and teachers and homework and the joys and heartaches of growing up. After we went to college and got married, we ended up having baby boys just a couple of months apart.

Elizabeth, Nicolette and Ryan

Nicolette, Bill, Ryan and Elizabeth live about three miles from the house where I grew up. Their backyard borders a large park where we'd go for picnics and to play. A block away from their house is an ice cream and confectioners shop where my dad would buy treats to bring home to us on special holidays. It was so cool to be able to stay at their house and to be so close to many familiar things from my childhood.

The house where I grew up

On Sunday while I was there, Nicolette and I drove out to western New Jersey to the home of another friend from high school (and middle school), Deborah. She and her family welcomed us into their home and it was fun to meet her husband and four kids and to sit around their table reminiscing about our years together in the 80s and catching up on what we'd been doing since graduation. I hadn't seen Deb since 1985.

Sue, Me, Deborah, and Nicolette

Also with us on Sunday was Sue, my very first friend in Glen Ridge. We moved there in March of my first grade year, so everyone pretty much had formed friendships and knew each other. Sue and a guy named Sean, came up to me on the playground at Central School and offered to be my friend. I remember that we were pretty much the "three muskateers" for the remainder of elementary school. We drifted apart through the years, but through Facebook, Sue and I reconnected and it's been great to hear about her daughters and to see what life has been for us over the years.

Elaine, Me and Nicolette

One more friend we reconnected with was Elaine, who lives in Brooklyn and is a partner at a large law firm in Manhattan. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge after we visited the 9-11 memorial and got to spend a few hours catching up with Elaine. Again, I hadn't seen her since high school graduation.

There were some other friends who it would have been nice to see, but it didn't work out for this trip. That just means that I'll need to make another trip up there, hopefully sooner than seven years from now!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Trip Home: Remembering 9-11-2001

I recently took a trip back to where I grew up, in northern New Jersey, and to the city that I relate to as "mine," New York City. I want to say that I do not consider myself a "New Yorker," since I technically lived across the river. Also, I have now lived away from there longer than I lived there, but it still has a special place and connection in my heart and mind.

It had been seven years since I was up there and for several reasons, it was time for me to go back. I'll get to that in another post soon, but today, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93, I will start with my visit to the 9-11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

My friend made plans for her family and I to go to the memorial on Labor Day. We drove into the city from New Jersey and my friend's daughter said something about how beautiful the Manhattan skyline is (she has lived there all of her 15 years of life). I had to agree. But it still seems strange to me that the Twin Towers are no longer in the skyline.

I don't know how many times I visited the World Trade Center, which actually included several other buildings besides the two that came down. I have several memories of taking friends and out-of-town family members to the top of the WTC to see the spectacular views. The elevator ride made your stomach drop. You could see a long way from up there (although my favorite panoramic view is still the one from the top of the Empire State Building because you can see further north in Manhattan from there).

On the day we went to the memorial, I didn't really recognize the area and there is a lot of construction going on around there, rebuilding some of the surrounding buildings, including the new Freedom Tower. Once we went through the tight security to enter the memorial area, I was immediately drawn to the first fountain, which was the footprint of the South Tower. I walked all around it and looked at some of the names engraved in the granite ledge. I looked down into the infinity fountains from every angle and took some pictures. It felt sobering to me, as I think it should to everyone who visits.

We walked to the North Fountain and walked around it as well. We had gone just a little way around when I found the name of my former neighbor on my street who had died that day. Along another side, I found the name of the younger brother of one of our high school classmates who also lost his life that day.

At some point during our time at the memorial and maybe while driving to and from Manhattan, we talked about our memories of 9-11-01. Where we were when we heard the news. What we did the rest of the day. How we felt. Our three kids (my friend has two teenagers) were very young:  ages 4 and 6 (her son and Daniel are the same age). They don't really remember life before 9-11. To my nieces and other children for generations to come, the attacks will be something they read about in their history book (or online).

The museum is not completed/open yet, but we got to see a couple of things in the visitor center. One thing that was displayed was the fire helmet pictured below. I do not want our generation or future generations to forget the sacrifices and heroism of the responders who were doing their job that day. I do not want us to forget the innocent victims who went to work that day and didn't come home. I do not want us to forget about the families and friends who are continuing to live their lives, but have to do it without their loved one.

I didn't get a full shot of this because the line was moving to get into the memorial.

The corner views give you the best idea of how big the fountains are.

The white, slanted building is the museum that has not opened yet.

Freedom Tower

Tommy Bowden lived on my street.
One of the things I remember from 2001 is that I was doing the Beth Moore Bible Study, Breaking Free, with a group of women from church and on the night of September 11, I read a focal passage from that study that taught me that Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, to rebuild the ruins, for His glory.

Please take time to read Isaiah 61:1-4 below (and the whole chapter sometime on your own) and pray for the families and friends of those who lost loved ones on that day in 2001. Pray for all of us to know Jesus in the ways that He came for us and to know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday (on 9-11-01), today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Access-Life Expo 2012

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to go participate in another Access-Life Expo in Dandridge, TN. My friends, Doug and Leanne Goddard, are the leaders of this ministry to people and families affected by disabilities. There are several of these events that take place in different areas of the country throughout the year and it is a highlight of my year to be able to volunteer and be a small part of what God is doing.

It's always fun to get to visit with Doug and Leanne and to serve alongside them, as well as our other friends, the Umbarger family. (I neglected to get a picture with Doug in it this year--oops!) It's awesome to see how it all comes together each year, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, and how God has grown this event in the three years it has been held in Dandridge. This year there were a total of 650 who attended the event, either as a volunteer or a participant.

My role as a volunteer has been to help with the photography of the event. There are "roving" photographers who take candid shots throughout the day, as well as some photographers who are stationed at the dock fishing area to capture shots of people catching fish (some for the first time in their lives). I helped at the photo tent, where we took pictures of participants standing by a boat or with their faces showing in some fun stand-up cut-out props. Some of the photos from the day are printed out and the participants can also make a picture frame to go with it to take home as a souvenir of the day. To me, the smiles on the faces of the participants is what it's all about!

I encourage you to check out the Access-Life website and to consider being a volunteer at a future event (right now, the closest one to Nashville is in East Tennessee, but that could change in the future).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sister Saturday: Birthday Edition

My sweet sister, Jeanette, had a birthday this week, so I wanted to give a little "shout out" as part of her birthday celebration. As sisters go, I think she's TOPS! I love watching her as a mommy to her precious girls and as a devoted and encouraging wife to her husband. She gives me love and encouragement every day, whether it's via text, chat, phone calls, or in person. She knows that I am a pretty independent person, but she loves to look for ways she can help me in my life, and I love and appreciate that about her.

On Thursday night while we were eating out as a family for her birthday, the waitress looked at us and said,
"You must be sisters!" I'm glad that people can tell from our looks and our actions that we are related.

I love you, Jeanette, and I'm thankful each and every day that God blessed me with a sister-friend for life!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I "Like" Gabby's Burgers and Fries

In case you've ever wondered, interesting phone calls come into the church office all of the time. In fact, I could probably start a blog to document these phone calls, or at least begin a new feature on my blog.

Case in point: This morning a guy called and told me that he owns Gabby's Burgers and had found some purses in his dumpster, one of which had a church bulletin from Grace inside. He had Googled our church to get the number and was very interested in helping the owner of the purse (turned out it was a tote bag--and if you're a woman like me who carries both, you know the difference) get her belongings back. One thing that was in the bag was a Bible and this guy was willing to go out of his way to bring it to our office to see if we could find the owner.

I had recently seen a friend from church post on Facebook about having had her purse stolen from a car while in the lot of a local park, so I was ready to put two and two together and get this bag back to that friend. I asked the guy on the phone where his restaurant is located (by Greer Stadium, at 493 Humphreys, if you're interested), and that is WAY away from the park where my friend had her purse stolen.

When the restaurant owner walked into the church office with the bags/purses, I immediately saw a red bag that belongs to a different friend of mine and the other purse had some ID of a person who I didn't know. I called my "red bag friend" and she said that she had had her purse stolen while she was kayaking not far from the park where the other friend's purse was taken (stay with me, I know this is confusing). My "red bag friend" was ecstatic to know that her bag had been found (the bag itself has sentimental value), plus the only thing missing was a ten dollar bill! Her prescription glasses were still there. Her house key. Her driver's license. All there. Praise the Lord!

While she was still on the line, she told me to tell the restaurant owner that he was an answer to prayer. He thanked me, but he was eager to get back to Googling the address found in the other purse (since we didn't know that person) and he soon left to continue being a Good Samaritan (loose reference, since the Good Samaritan in the Bible was caring for someone beaten up and left on the side of the road, not returning purses found in dumpsters, but you get the idea).

 I did some Googling of my own and found the website for his restaurant, Gabby's Burgers and Fries and can't wait to go eat there sometime soon (I purposely chose that page to link to instead of their homepage so you can read the story). I also went on Facebook and "liked" his place, even though I haven't eaten there yet. Sometimes, it's just the right thing to do, especially when someone else has done the right thing first.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Erica is Four!

Today is Erica's fourth birthday! As excited as I was to meet her and hold her when she was born, I think she surpassed that excitement in anticipation of her birthday this year. She was thrilled to get a special outing to the zoo with her friend, Colette, from preschool.

Erica: "Aunt Nette, would you make a birthday card for me and for Colette?"
Me: I think I could do that (and of course, I did!)

After the zoo outing and naps, we got together for Erica's family birthday party, complete with presents and cupcakes and her choice of chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries for dinner. I had made a banner similar to the one for Mary Lane's birthday, but I put some flamingos on Erica's, since that is her favorite animal to see at the zoo.

Here are some pictures of the exuberant four-year-old:

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Walkin' in Memphis

At the end of July, our whole family took a weekend trip to visit Uncle Bud and Aunt Vickie who live in Memphis. They have lived there a long time (Vickie was born and raised there) and we've been to see them lots of times. But this time, we decided to be tourists for the afternoon.

With Daniel's strong interest in music, we thought it would be fun to go check out Beale Street and some of the musical connections in Memphis (we didn't make it to Graceland). Since it was very hot, we opted to walk a "few feet off of Beale" to the Rock and Soul Museum, which happens to be adjacent to the FedEx Forum, where the Memphis Grizzlies play basketball. Later that evening, we met up with the rest of the fam and ate dinner at a restaurant on Beale Street and then went to see a Memphis Redbirds baseball game (the stadium is also in downtown Memphis).

The museum was curated with the help of the Smithsonian Institute, so it's not too shabby. Lots of fun musical memorabilia and juke boxes with music from the 40s, 50s and 60s to listen to (or dance to, if you're a woman off of a tour bus who was reliving her youth . . . not anyone we knew, but she was comical to watch).

Before we went downtown on Saturday, we also spent some time in Germantown, outside of Memphis, at a park (again, it was HOT) and walking around a shaded outdoor museum of sorts with an old-timey jail and fire truck and train caboose.

It was a fun trip and we enjoyed getting to spend time with Bud and Vickie and various other relatives and friends of the family.

Now for the pictures:

Swinging at the park

A little piece of shade

Mary Lane liked this "little boy" and thought he was crying.

Erica and Grandma in jail

Someone's peeking around the ladder on the back of the red caboose


Daniel was conveniently wearing his U2 shirt that day, so it was a great photo op

Our dinner destination

Uncle Bud, Aunt Vickie and Erica

Vickie's sister, Valerie, and Erica became buddies

Vickie and Bud own the jewelry store that sponsors the "Kiss Cam"

My cousin, Scott, and his wife, Sonnia

Vickie's nephew, Cole, with Daniel and Vickie