Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Christmas Letter That Almost Wasn't

 2013 - the year of the Christmas letter that almost wasn't. Some years are busier than others and this was one.

Some of my Christmas cards went out without a Christmas letter for the first time in years. The rest aren't done yet!

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, digital photography and the mind of a writer, the Christmas letter has been rescued.

Here are highlights of our year, month by month.

In January, a big group of my coworkers retired, just ahead of the mail processing plant's closure. The group included eight who worked on daylight shift with me.

Our oldest grandson Kyle celebrated his 12th birthday in February.

It doesn't seem possible that 12 years have flown by since Kyle was born.

Kyle's in 7th grade and plays trombone in band. He also loves creating video games.
The Lynchburg Mail Processing Center closed at the end of February.

This was the end of an era for me. In this picture, I'm in my office on the last day in the transportation job I've done for 20 years.

But life goes on and life is good! I work now as a window clerk and get to see lots of people every day.
We had most of the family together for Easter in April. Our two youngest grandkids loved the Easter egg hunt.

This picture of them holding hands is so sweet that it had to make it into the Christmas letter.
Our daughter Lauren's friend Brenda also joined us for Easter. The little ones love Brenda, who lives near Lauren for part of the year.

The rest of the year, Brenda's in California living the good life of sleeping late and scuba diving as time permits.
Our two daughters Jenny and Lauren celebrated their birthdays in March. But Mother Nature cancelled the planned family celebration.

So we celebrated their birthdays on Easter with the Easter Bunny birthday cake.
Our little granddaughter Alexis turned 3 in April. She's a little cutie who loves My Little Ponies and princesses.

Alexis attends three-day preschool. She loves her friends, teacher and the director of the preschool.

Alexis requested a pink animal zebra cake and her mom Lauren made her one. Very cute!
In April, Kenny and I took our daughter Stephanie to Washington DC to see the cherry trees in bloom. Of course, the trees waited until a few days after we left to be in full bloom.

I'd only visited the National Basilica once before. During this trip, I went to Mass at this beautiful church. I know I wasn't dressed for the occasion, but I was meeting Kenny and Stephanie to do tourist stuff afterwards.

The Mass was beautiful and I got a woman to take my photo inside the National Basilica.
We had a good time walking around DC and seeing all kinds of things.

No matter how many times I visit Washington, there's always something new to see.

This time, we watched a huge pillow fight that we found when looking for events.
May was the month of the graduates. Our son Jack went back to school after working part-time following earning his four year degree in 2011.

Jack graduated from Central Virginia Community College in May and we're really proud of how hard he worked!
Our son-in-law Steven also graduated in May. Steven has worked full-time while attending National Business College since he got out of the Navy.

Early in May, we celebrated Steven's birthday. May was filled with celebrations but there's one very important celebration I missed.

My Mom's 88th birthday was celebrated without me. Even though I had pre-approved vacation time, our management team took away my vacation and that of coworkers. Such is life.

You never know where you'll find Thor or what he'll be fighting.

In June, we celebrated our younger grandson's birthday with a party held at Riverside Park.

There's a really great Sprayground at the park. Andrew wanted a superhero birthday so he and his friends all dressed in their superhero costumes for the party.
Jack spent most of the summer working a paid internship at NASA in Maryland. He loved the job and we loved visiting him in July.

Jack took us around the building where he worked and we also visited nearby Annapolis.

Here I am with my son, the rocket scientist! Jack is currently working a paid internship with a local company that will most likely lead to a full-time job.
In July, I finally got to see my Mom. My July vacation was thankfully not taken away.

Mom's sitting in her favorite spot on the front porch in this picture with her favorite petunias in the picture.

Whenever I go home, we always try to take a photo of "the primes" of our family.

The three siblings who live in Kansas are numbers 2, 3 and 7 out of the 8 kids in our family.

I'm number 5. If you're not sure why that makes us the primes, ask a math teacher. This photo is Mom and her primes.
Note that Kenny's shirt says, "Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional."

We celebrated Kenny's 60th birthday in August. The kids and I got together and bought Kenny a bike for his birthday.
In August, Andrew started kindergarten. I didn't get to watch him go to school the first day, but I walked from our house to his in September to watch Andrew get on the bus.

Andrew loves his new school and especially loves writing and math.

Unlike his Grandma, Andrew writes mostly about superheroes.
In September, our son Brian came for a visit with his girlfriend Bryce to announce their engagement.

Brian and Bryce live about an hour from us and plan to be married in October 2014.

Two of our granddogs live with Brian and Bryce. Lily and Tebow came along on the visit but weren't in this picture.
One of the columns I write is about outdoor recreation in Lynchburg. This year, my work schedule allowed me to ride the media truck for the 40th annual Virginia 10 Miler, a local race that draws elite runners from around the world the last weekend in September.

Although I'm not much of a runner, I'm a member of the Lynchburg Road Runners Club.

I was overjoyed to attend a club meet and greet with two running legends, Kathrine Switzer and her husband, Roger Robinson the weekend of the 10 Miler. Switzer broke the gender barrier when she became the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon in 1967. What an honor to be in the picture with Kathrine and Roger!

Earlier in September, Kenny and I celebrated our 13th anniversary with a short weekend trip to the beach.

We both love the beach a lot. We've been to many of the East Coast beaches, but this was our first trip together to the Outer Banks. We'd each been separately but never together.

I wasn't able to enjoy my favorite sport at the beach. A work injury earlier in the summer kept me from riding a float on the waves. Instead, I had to be content with walking on the beach.

I'm still trying to get healed. I've been going to physical therapy for a month, but not making much progress. My orthopedic doctor will have to figure out where to go from here.
For the first time in a long time, all of our kids and their partners were able to come over at the same time on Thanksgiving.

You'd think an ace photographer like me would have noticed the sun wasn't in an optimal location for this photo but you'd be wrong.

But this is one of our Christmas card photos anyway.
Don't you love Pinterest recipes? I found a recipe for this turkey veggie platter on Pinterest.

I made one tray for Alexis' Thanksgiving party at preschool. Stephanie made another tray for our family's Thanksgiving celebration.

On Thanksgiving, we also celebrated Jenny's husband BJ's birthday.
Our family's tradition on my birthday is to put up the Christmas tree. As a December baby, I have a special love of Christmas that even years at the Post Office hasn't taken away.

We didn't finish decorating on my birthday but we got some of the ornaments on the tree.

Lauren made me an awesome Wizard of Oz cake for my birthday.

Jack's girlfriend Raichel also has a December birthday so we shared the spotlight.

Alexis was very interested in the cake and had to get a closer look.

Kenny decided I needed a new camera for my birthday. Wow, it's super!

I have been able to take some awesome pictures with my camera including great daybreak photos out the window of my writing room.

My new camera allowed me to zoom in for several close-up shots of Kyle during his band concert.

On Christmas Day, we will celebrate Brian's quarter-century birthday.

The day after Christmas, I won't be out bargain shopping. Instead, Kenny and I will be flying to Kansas to visit my parents and siblings and celebrate a late Christmas with them.

We'll return home in time for New Year's Eve. We often have a family party early in the evening and watch the grandkids so the kids can stay up late.

Time with friends also marked 2013. Friends are one of life's great gifts. I've been blessed to be a part of a wonderful group of women. Among the group are two of the friends I've known the longest.

Our group enjoys many social gatherings, including Bunco nights once a month.

Our friends Linda and Jack returned to Virginia and Linda promptly joined the group.

Several friends moved away during 2013. Our group said farewell to JoAnn and her mom and to Judy. I will miss these friends, but know that they will enjoy being closer to family members.

Kenny and I also said good-bye to our good friends, Doris and Dewayne. We've known them for a long time and will miss spending New Year's Day with them this year, but know that they'll enjoy spending the day with their son and his family.

Our church family said farewell to Father Richard this year and welcomed Monsignor Michael. We've been blessed by being in the presence of both of these men of God.

2013 brought some sadness too. One of the young men who attended high school with Jack, Ben Kunkel, was tragically killed while jogging in the Norfolk area. Ben and Jack played soccer together for many years on a team coached by his dad. The Kunkels are a wonderful family and Ben's loss shook so many who knew the family.

Kenny's company and the greater Lynchburg community lost a giant of a man in December when the company's owner, Sonny Merryman passed away. Sonny was a driven man who never forgot his simple roots. Sonny's fingerprints can be seen throughout the state in the many places he contributed to the betterment of others, including the Merryman Center at Virginia Tech.

Just a week before Christmas, one of my coworkers, Paul Farley, died from a heart attack. Paul was a great guy who was always ready to help others in need and he'll be missed.

May the joy of Christmas fill your heart to overflowing and may 2014 bring you more joys than sorrows!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Blogging Grandma Sandy, Kenny and the Bottoms-Wallace family.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Live Your Life Well by Following Grandma's Rules

Once upon a time, there was a kinder, gentler attitude among people of all ages.

Many of us were raised with what I think of as Grandma's Rules.

Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Work hard and be nice to others, even if they can't do anything to help you. Treat everyone you meet with kindness.

Whatever happened to that way of life? In an age when rudeness seems to be a way of life for many people, Grandma's Rules seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Grandma's Rules often taught doing what God wanted us to do, not what we wanted to do.

With God, all things are possible. Grandma knew that was true and it's still true today.

Back in Grandma's day, people talked freely about God.

When someone sneezed, Grandma said, "God bless you."

When someone was in trouble, Grandma said, "God help them." To wayward children, Grandma said, "God knows everything.

Grandma knew that kindness matters. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone would just be kind, even to those they don't really like.

Turn the other cheek. Grandma learned those words from the Bible.

Turning the other cheek means walking away from arguments and not reacting in anger.

Reacting with kindness means being the first one to reach out and say, "I'm sorry" even if you weren't the one who was wrong.

Work hard. No matter what your job is in life, do your best.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Grandma might say to a child, "If you are a teacher, be a good one. If you are a garbage collector, be a good one."

Spend time every day learning something new. "Look it up" is what Grandma would say to a child who asked a question she couldn't answer.

By looking something up instead of being handed the answer, you were more likely to remember it.

In all things, respond with love. Whether it's at work, school, home or play, love is the answer.

Greet hatred, anger and indifference with love and love always wins.

How would that play out in today's world? When that guy in the slow pickup is creeping along in the passing lane, you would do nothing instead of swearing aloud or under your breath.

When an angry customer lashes out at you, your response would be kind and calm. After the customer leaves the building, you wouldn't talk about them.

How was Grandma able to stay focused on the positive?

Life wasn't easier in Grandma's day than it is today. There were many chores to be done and few of today's modern conveniences.

Meals were cooked from scratch. There weren't box mixes, frozen dinners or drive-through windows.

Grandma believed in the power of good over evil. There is still good in the world today even if it's harder to find. Look for it and believe there is good in the world.

John Lennon wrote the song, "Imagine" about a world in which all people lived in peace with one another.

"Imagine all the people living life in peace" is one line from that song.

A song with a similar theme from my youth is "Let There be Peace on Earth".

The key to peace on Earth is that it must begin with me.

What would the world be like if we did all the things we were capable of doing? As the sign says, we would literally astonish ourselves.

Grandma's rules are a simple way of becoming the people we are capable of being. That's enough for me. Maybe it's enough for you too.

Until the next time, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart. Grandma would be proud.

Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Our Christmas Family Traditions

If you grew up in the '50s and '60s, there may be a photo of your family that looks similar to this one.

Gathering around the tree on Christmas morning for a family photo was just one of those Kodak moments in our family - and it still is.

In big families, many Kodak moments are never recorded or aren't exactly accurate.

Although this photo makes it appear that there were four children in the family on Christmas morning of 1957, there were actually five. The baby of the family was sleeping in another room. That baby was me.

In our family, the Nativity was always the first Christmas decor item on display.

When the Nativity was put on display, the wise men and shepherds were far away and baby Jesus wasn't yet in the picture.

Each day the wise men and shepherds moved closer to the Nativity.

On Christmas morning, baby Jesus finally arrived in the manger.

This photo, taken several years before my birth, features my oldest sister. The same Nativity is still displayed every year at my parents' house.

This photo of the Christmas tree was taken with black and white film, so you can't tell that the bulbs are multi-colored.

The photo also doesn't tell you that the tree was decorated in the early hours of Christmas morning after Midnight Mass.

When we went to bed, there was a bare tree. While we slept, or tried to sleep, Santa decorated the tree.

The tinsel was placed on the tree one piece at a time and only placed, never tossed.

The tree contained various ornaments including many Old World style ornaments, bubble lights, tinsel, strands of garland and a star at the top.

My Mom made the curtains in the background when she was a newlywed in the mid 1940s. Those curtains have been around longer than any of my parents' children.

Same ornaments with a few added, but a different tree. You'll notice the same curtains.

This photo was taken in 2003 and includes two of my parents' many grandchildren.

My parents' children were spread out over almost 20 years.

As a result, their grandchildren range in age from five to several in their 30s.

My parents have seven great-grandchildren, the grandchildren of me and one of my older sisters. All of the great-grandchildren are close in age to my parents' younger grandchildren, the children of our three youngest siblings.

Our family has been members of the same church since I was in elementary school.

Several of us attended the parish school which was located next door to the church.

Each week, my parents meet the local siblings and grandchildren for Mass and then they all go out to lunch together.

Those who are visiting from out of state nearly always attend Mass with the family.

This photo, taken in front of Immaculate Conception's Nativity, features my youngest brother's five children.

All five of my brother's children were baptized at this church, as were my older sister's five children and my oldest.

My two younger children were baptized at a different church near my parents' home. The priest who performed their Baptisms was my childhood priest.

Each year when I was a child, we made special Christmas cookies using a recipe handed down from my Mom's side of the family.

As you can see, my younger brother was invading my personal space, something that happens a lot in big families.

For many years after we all moved out of our parents' house, my Dad made Christmas cookies each year and sent to us.

Some of us continued the tradition in our own families, making hundreds of rolled shortbread cookies and decorating each cookie with icing and colored sugar.

Christmas cookies were pretty much the only thing I had cooked when I got married. I learned to cook on the fly, but always loved baking more than cooking real food.

My children grew up with the tradition of making our family's special Christmas cookies each year.

When my kids were younger, we made dozens of plates of cookies each year for teachers, friends, coworkers, neighbors and family members.

Now my daughters make Christmas cookies at their houses with their own children.

I always try to get together with my kids and grandkids during December for a baking day.

In addition to our family's Christmas cookies, we make a variety of other cookies to give to our friends.

The rolled Christmas cookies are a perennial favorite among friends and coworkers.

I shared the recipe with my sister-in-law while staying at my youngest brother's house after Christmas one year.

For several years, my sister-in-law and her kids have made cookies for all of the family and shipped them out, carrying on the family tradition.

Several of the cookie cutters I use were gifts from my parents when I was a newlywed.

I always decorate the Santa cookies the way I remember decorating them as a child.

Santa's boots and bag are brown, the toys in the bag are multi-colored and Santa is red.

I also decorate wreath cookies the same way I remember decorating them years ago, using red sugar for the berries and green for the wreath.

In my family, gifts were always opened one at a time. Everyone else watched as each person opened their gifts.

With such a large family, Christmas unwrapping takes much longer now. The one gift at a time rule still reigns in my parents' family, but I eventually had to let go of that rule with my kids.

The Christmas celebration is usually held at my youngest brother's house these days.

There's not enough room for everyone at my parents' house and the noise level quickly grows too loud for my Mom to handle.

The youngest kids in attendance generally pass out gifts, but an adult oversees the operation to make sure that things go smoothly.

In this picture, my older sister is reminding my brother's kids that we hand out gifts one at a time and that we wait for each person to open their gift before handing out another.

There's always a big open box sitting nearby for the used paper. Basketballs made from balled-up wrapping paper fly across the room and some even make it into the box.

It's great being part of a big family. Those who grow up without lots of siblings don't know what they're missing.

Family traditions are a way for each generation to feel connected to the others. Whether your family is big or small, family traditions remind kids that they are part of something bigger and that they are surrounded by love.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Parenting in Today's Busy World

Life has changed a lot for parents over the past 50 years.

Many of the changes have made life easier for today's parents.

However, life is a lot busier than it was 50 years ago and nowhere is that more evident than in the land of parenting.

When I was a child, there were a few sports and other organized activities for kids.

Families nearly always ate dinner together each night and many grandparents lived nearby.

My family was a little different than the average family of the '50s and '60s.

Dad was in the Army and we moved a lot. We lived in the same town with my Mom's parents and grandmother briefly, but they were far away most of the time.

Like any big family, I'm sure it was challenging for my Mom to get dinner on the table. We ate together every night and talked about our day at the table.

No matter how rushed life may have seemed to Mom, parenting had changed a lot by the time I became a parent.

More activities were available for kids by the '80s and '90s when I was raising my kids.

From sports and dance to church and community groups, the evenings were filled with activities.

There were also more activities available for families to enjoy together.

As the kids grew older, they were involved in a variety of activities where they made new friends and learned new skills.

Summer offered a break in the action each year, since team sports were done for the year and none of the kids were involved in competitive swimming.

Since we lived far away from my parents and siblings, summer also meant taking a road trip.

Often, summer vacations had to be squeezed in between the various organized activities.

Baseball, soccer, dance and band scheduled were pulled together to figure out when vacation could be taken.

Like most parents, I tried to avoid schedule conflicts that kept the kids from participating in their activities.

When we visited my family, we often spent a lot of time attending my nieces' and nephews' baseball and softball games, sports played in the summer in the Midwest.

My dad once asked why kids played team sports at such young ages.

Part of the reason is to learn skills at a younger age, but another part is for the competitive edge as they get older.

My son and two stepkids were involved in many more activities than my two daughters. Countless hours were spent by me and my husband on fields and in bleachers across the area.

My son ran cross country, played baseball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, football, was in band and competed in ROTC.

My stepson played baseball, basketball, a little soccer and was in band.

My stepdaughter was involved in theater productions, played soccer and basketball, sang in chorus and was in color guard.

As I watch my younger siblings parenting, the number of activities is sometimes staggering.

Like their older cousins, my young nieces and nephews are involved in sports, music, scouts and more.

My younger brothers and sisters coach hockey and soccer, run kids to dance and sports and are scout leaders.

Summer visits nearly always feature kids' organized activities and our extended family is always there for support.

Regardless of all of the activities, there's always time to spend together as a family.

Dinner may be served really late in the day or lunch may be eaten on the run, but family time remains a big part of our family's life.

Although some aspects of parenting have changed over the years, the love of parent for child remains constant.

Until the next memory is made, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.

Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.