Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters


I'm a mother of twin toddlers and two adult daughters. My dad says I ran the engine and the caboose on grandchildren, but I'm having a really hard time driving the potty train. (They always told me boys were harder!) I am passionate about family, football, politics, and good books, and I'm liable to blog about any one of them on any given week.

Flourishing in the Chaos of CandelaLand

Rituals and routines. Teachers understand that these two mainstays set expectations for, and an atmosphere of, success in the classroom.

But as everyday folks, we tend to forget the importance of rituals and routines to relationship success, both in parenthood and partnership.

Our family found ourselves resorting to them out of necessity. When dealing with twin boys and adult daughters in separate cities, we kind of had to, to keep us all connected and emotionally healthy.

Our family keeps and celebrates daily, weekly, and yearly rituals and routines. I’ll start with our daily wake up ones…

Mike and I, we get up early — way too early for mere mortals. But we’re twin parents, so that makes us… EXHAUSTED.

Our alarm sounds at 5:20 AM every weekday. Now, Mike throws his exotic, caramel-macchiato, model good looks together in a matter of minutes. Me, it takes me longer to polish my less-than-model-looks. So while I put on my face, Mike packs our lunches.

Sometimes he brings me coffee, strong and black like my eyebrow hairs — which I must pluck every morning lest they obstruct my line-of-vision. But husband-delivered coffee is not quite a regular morning ritual these days because… well, twins.

The boys didn’t sleep for the first 16 months of their lives, and Mike and I lost a lot of brain cells. Bucket-loads of the little gray things. So now it takes us aeons to do the daily grind, which means the coffee grinds often wait till I wander into the kitchen on my own. But sometimes coffee appears at my vanity while I’m tweezing. And it’s the sweetest surprise.

What Mike does do every day, though, is kiss me good morning and good night. Without fail. And tell me he loves me in a thousand different ways, from words, to actions, to emojis, to even sweet little inspirational notes written on my peanut butter sandwich baggie every single day. Without fail.

But back to our morning routines… every day at 6:30, before leaving the house, both of us are responsible for waking one boy.

Mike is on Parker duty, and my big, burly, teddy-bear-of-a-half-Asian-man climbs into bed with our small, burly, teddy-bear-of-a-quarter-Asian-son and gently nudges him toward daylight — which is no easy task. There’s a reason the sign over Parker’s bed says, “Don’t Wake the Bear.”

Me, I get the easier boy. Tate,’s nickname is Bug, and he crawls into my arms and snuggles into my neck like a little cocooned caterpillar. But then, after about two minutes, he unfurls his shine and rises to meet the day. Easy peasy.

While our morning rituals are essential, our nighttime rituals are essentially sacred.

At dinnertime, the boys often FaceTime their big sisters, a tried-and-true way to keep the love and connection alive long distance.

The girls call and ask about preK or gymnastics, or the boys chat up Bentley and Beau and Bray, their nephews and niece. When you’re a postmodern family with miles and generations between your kiddos — and mere months between your sons and grandsons — you make it work through both technology and trips. And since trips are generally reserved for school holidays, FaceTime, it is.

We are also a multigenerational family who believes strongly in the power of books. (What kind of English teacher would I be if we weren’t?) I read with my girls when they were little — first picture books, then chapter books, then young adult novels — and I’m following the same recipe for success with the boys.

Story time is practically the Candela version of communion, where hugs and cuddles are passed around like daily bread. Where word is made flesh to dwell among us through fairy tales and imagination.

Sometimes it’s Ginny Goblin, sometimes Dr. Seuss, sometimes Marlon Bundo. The books vary, but the ritual rarely does. Daddy reads the stories — since sometimes during football season, those last 30 minutes of the boys’ day is the only time he truly shares with them. And mommy disperses the allergy meds like wine and wafers. Our day is cleansed, decongested, and consecrated through story time.

Which brings me to the sweetest, quietest part of any day: tucking the boys in. The bedtime routines are beyond sacred. They replenish us, which is critical during this whole “the-days-are-long-but-the-years-are-short” twin reality of ours. Because the days ARE so long. So exhausting. But bedtimes, they sustain us.

Mike and I share distinctly different goodnight routines with our boys.

Mike gets quality time with the boys in the bathroom — him sitting tub-side while they hold court on the throne. And hold court, they do, chatting him up about friends, fire trucks, phonics reviews… you name it, he hears it.

And me, I get cuddles and kisses and slow-dancing in the nightlight-illuminated darkness to Jewel lullabies from my iPhone, usually “Forever and a Day.” If you don’t know it, YouTube it. It’s poetic perfection.

Beyond our daily routines, we also have weekly ones: Wednesdays are reserved for gymnastics practice, Friday nights are for Chick fil-A (and football in the fall), and Sunday afternoons are for family baking binges.

And then there’s the holiday rituals: Christmas is for hand-picked, personal ornaments and look-alike jammies for all of the kids, New Year’s is for soul food and Seoul food (southern and Korean fusion at its finest), and July 4th is for fireworks in Dallas.

My family loves itself some rituals and routines.

It’s our way of controlling the chaos. Because Lord knows, twin preschoolers at fifty-something definitely lends itself to chaos. And so does teaching 180-plus high school students essay writing. And being married to a football coach in a successful football program. And having adult daughters living time-zones and lifestyles apart.

Rituals and routines — our family found ourselves resorting to them pretty much out of necessity. They brought this mama and her kin some semblance of connectivity and calm. And in a world full of very little connectivity and calm, I needed it. Desperately.

But now, I think we no longer resort to rituals and routine.

I think we flourish with them.

Being Authentic — in Life and in Writing (oh, and excising big, hairy, tooth-filled teratomas)

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that.

In another swipe, I spy with my little eye…Matthew Stafford’s lake house, complete with soaring eagle and cute little size zero cheerleader wife. A wife who is two months (nay not so much, not two) months postpartum with twins. Twins. Me, I have twins. And a lake in my backyard — a muddy, shitty one (they’re dredging our septic tank). And I am my coaching husband’s greatest cheerleader…  But as far as being a size zero… try multiplying that times … wait, it doesn’t work that way. Or… YES, yes it does. Do that! And then, lookie there: I AM a size zero cheerleader wife who’s three years (yea, quite so much, quite three) YEARS postpartum with twins. And with a (muddy, shitty) backyard lake. No eagle, though. Although we do have crows nesting in our gas-powered grill. So there’s that.

And then I swipe again, straight into an Anne Lamott essay or a Mary Oliver poem. And holy shit. They are profound and powerful and absolutely perfect. And I am far from that. And so are my words. Some days I think I am profound and powerful and perfect. I think I’ve written something I can feel good about. But then I see Anne Lamott on my newsfeed, her careening pinball prose depicting the messiness of life and the tender mercies we can find within all that mess…

It reminds me, believe it or not, of the teratoma my eldest daughter removed a few weeks back – a tumor full of tissue and organ components, and even teeth and hair. The excision of something profoundly messy and twisted and ugly – and the healing that came after. That’s how Annie Lamott writes. I want to write like that. I want to excise teratomas. I want to tackle the hairy and the messy, the stuff with the teeth and the brains. But I don’t know that I’m skilled enough to do that.

So I scroll some more. And there I see Mary Oliver’s handiwork. And I realize her poems are the exact opposite of Annie Lamott’s prose –they are quiet and they are calculated. They are hushed. But then again, they are exactly the same, too. Because beneath her pen, nature’s truths are untangled, separated — carefully and deftly — into thin slices of ink and placed under a microscope. Where she leaves them for me to analyze, to interpret, to explore. Her teratomas are cut down to size. But they’re still full of the messy stuff. And the hairy stuff with teeth. They bubble and swim beneath the scrutiny.

She has a poem called “Sometimes.” It is beautiful. And still. And liquid. And hairy and wet and tangled. And one of the stanzas gives me hope. Helps cure my cancerous self-doubt.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.

No, it’s NOT possible to be original. Not in anything. Not in motherhood, not in life, not in writing… not even in teratoma surgery. Those suckers may be weird, but they aren’t that uncommon.

No you can’t be original. But you can be authentic. You can be true to yourself. It’s true, I’m no Fixer Upper goddess, or a size zero NFL wife with twin daughters. Nor am I a progressive and unorthodox, recovering addict writer with self-deprecating humor and dreadlocks. Or a hushed and reverent nature poet with a Pulitzer Prize in my back pocket.

But I am me. I am Heather Candela — décor-loving, size 8 writer and teacher and coach’s wife with twin sons and adult daughters. And I WILL untangle the complexities of life in my writing. I will tackle the beautiful and the shiny and silver, but I will also tackle the hairy, the stuff with teeth and brains. I will excise teratomas. At least the metaphorical ones. I’ll leave the real ones to my daughter.

I will pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it.


A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.


Keeping the Faith and Following the Signs

Remember lucky pencils from elementary school? The ones your teachers would give you so you would ace those standardized tests?

Well, I have a lucky pencil. It’s an old-fashioned #2 pencil. It’s a deep, slate blue #2 pencil. It’s got gold lettering on the side. And a simple, profound message: TELL YOUR STORY.

It arrived n the mail last year when I ordered a children’s story for my boys, a book about building tree houses from Magnolia Market— the world-renowned Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market, the same Magnolia Market to which I had entered (and not won), a writing contest earlier that spring.

I took that pencil as a sign.

A sign that somebody over there in the land of Magnolia milk and honey had remembered me and my writing and decided to send along some manna from Magnolia to encourage and sustain me along my writing journey through the wilderness.

And while odds are that was not the case, and odds are that my inspirational magic pencil was quite simply a gift-with-purchase that every patron receives, I like to think otherwise. I like to think it is special. Because my words — and my story — are special. That’s what I like to think.

Only now,  my magic pencil is gone.

I noticed its absence yesterday morning while applying my eyeliner.

Normally, my magic pencil hangs out in my bathroom in a ceramic container along with my toenail clippers and eyebrow scissors. (I don’t actually WRITE with it. It’s a symbol. A sign. A powerful promise, if you will.) And so it sits prominently in my line of vision (or it did until yesterday), reminding me every day to do what it commands me to do.

And some days, I notice the message has twisted round to where I can’t see it, so I rotate my promise, feeling its hexagonal planes shift beneath my thumb and forefinger, until I can see it again. Because I need to see it daily. I need reminding. Daily.

Especially lately, when my words seem to get lost in the frantic shuffle of my busy teaching and twin-mom world. Lately my words have been getting harder and harder to find, and once found, to put in some semblance of order.

And even when I do manage to round them up — recently in rather ramshackle fashion — I don’t know that they really make much of an impact at all…

So I need my sign, my writing-on-the-writing-utensil sign, shipped from some random, nameless, faceless true believer of both me and my story out in Waco-turned-Canaan, Texas (intentional or otherwise.)

Because me… sometimes I don’t believe. Sometimes I lose my faith.

And now, tragedy has struck. My magic pencil has gone missing. And I’ve looked everywhere. And my husband has looked everywhere. (And he’s much better at finding things than I am. He found me in the eleventh hour after all, and saved me from drought and famine, and I am forever in his debt.)

So my magic pencil has gone missing and I see this as an ominous sign. And I’m a firm believer in signs. But then, you already know that.  So I guess that means…

Okay. Wait.

This is going to be hard to believe, but I swear to you it is the God’s honest truth…

Just as I closed my computer, thinking I was pretty much done with my blog (as well as my entire storytelling career), my youngest son bent down at a spot we had all gone over with a fine-tooth comb and exclaimed…

“Mama, is this your pencil?”

Why, yes. Yes it is.

And since I’m a firm believer in signs… I guess I know what I have to do now. I have to obey.

So I’m sending this story — and many, many more — out into the universe.

Cuddles and Comfort; Sandpaper and Salt

Two friends. Two distinctly different personalities. Both now gone. Gone way, way, way too soon.

The first was full of cuddles and comfort — the human equivalent of gingerbread and coffee. She warmed and invigorated. She sweetened a room. Her cheeks were sprinkled in cinnamon. Her voice was warm molasses. And when she laughed, your moods floated like cream in her wake.

The second was sandpaper and salt — all quick, gritty wit and billy goat gruff. She flashed lightning one minute and sunshine the next. She could be a tough nut to crack, but once you broke through, she loved you for life. And you were a better person for that love.

Both women — larger-than-life itself — now gone from this lifetime.

It’s always such a jarring, jagged feeling, knowing someone has been pulled from the world, leaving snagged roots and empty spaces — in this case, big, buxom empty expanses where bright patterned tunics and laughter once rang.

How can the world simply keep spinning? How do we just adjust to their absence?

And it seems like sacrilege to ask such questions as a mere friend. A friend. When we know others have been so much more enormously — monumentally –impacted by their loss. Children and parents. Spouses and siblings.

My bruises, though they feel deep, are nothing compared to the trauma in those lives. To the violent rifts and vast voids and crushing avalanches of raw emotion they know and feel.

I’ve started to write about my first friend half a dozen times since her death, but I kept stopping. It didn’t feel right.

And how could it?

Because it was all so wrong. So very, very wrong. My friends had families. Children. Grandchildren. Parents. They were loved. They were needed.

And somehow or other, some force or other chose not to take that into account.

And it infuriates me. And devastates me.

But that’s the nature of time, isn’t it? She’s a bitch. Or is Time a HE? Father Time, isn’t it? Of the infuriating, devastating, abusive variety.

Never asking permission. Doing with us as he will. Sketching lines, loosening skins, brittling bones and dry-rotting joints. And stealing friends. And former students. Time is a crook and a thief.

And he steals more and more from us as the years whiz past.

They say death happens in threes. But it seems in the past few months there have been many, many more than that. Friends have lost fathers. Mothers have lost sons. Families have lost matriarchs.

But I guess that’s the nature of the game. And as we get older, death increases exponentially. And none of us escapes the endgame. And eventually, if you’re the last one standing, then… you’re the last one standing.

And that’s hardly a good thing. I definitely don’t want to be the last one standing.

But I do want to stand a whole lot longer. My two friends who recently left this world — they weren’t a whole lot older than me.

I would appreciate it if Father Time would simply sling me more etched lines and loose skin and spare me a lot more life. Because my boys and my girls and my grandkids and my husband… we’ve got more we want to accomplish. We aren’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

But then, neither were my friends and their families.

Every morning and night, I drive by one of their houses. There’s a light shining on the front porch, as if waiting for her return.

The primroses that pepper the front lawn of her house in the spring are nowhere to be found in this cold winter chill. The trellis, just visible in the backyard sits sparse and bleak in its grief.

But soon, nature will replenish herself. That’s simply her nature. Always resurrecting.

But the inhumanity of humanity is: we don’t. At least not in our original form. But if you’re a believer, there are options out there…

Some people believe in transmigration of souls — from one body to the next. Or others believe in a spirit realm where our loved ones may watch over us as angels. Still others believe in an afterlife where we will all meet up again in mansions and on streets made of gold.

All of these beliefs are the spiritual equivalent of cuddles and comfort amid the sandpaper and salt, the pain and the tears, of this life.

Cuddles and comfort. Sandpaper and Salt. That’s what life — and the afterlife — is made of.

Home Place

Coal towns and college towns and asphalt-paved-metropolis towns: they’ve all been my hometown at one point or another in my life. I’ve run through sprinklers in them all. I’ve collected fireflies and friendships in them all.

But Cartersville, she’s special. She’s the town I raised my girls in. She’s the town I’m raising my boys in.

She’s more than just a hometown. She’s a bodacious grand dame, with personality for days. 

She’s got train tracks whipstitched across her landscape.

She’s got deep front porches and old oak trees, wax leaf magnolias and homespun hospitality. 

She’s got a bridge straddling a waistband full of historic buildings and an underbelly freckled in trendy boutiques. 

She’s got bakeries, bistros and bars.

Her skirts are a checkered hodgepodge of farmland and fields: soy beans and corn fields, cotton and sunflower, and don’t forget the baseball and football fields. She has all the fields.

A river runs through her, mountains ruffle her petticoats, and she’s got steeples sitting way up firm and high.

I love her so much. And I’m not the only one. New residents spill in from other cities, from other states, drawn to her charisma and charm. Growth is every which way you look…

Neighborhoods are blooming in former cow pastures and sod farms. School systems overflow their classrooms. Streets burst at their white-lined, yellow-dotted seams. True to her river roots, she collects rich new sediment daily.

Yes, she’s a big-boned, bodacious grand dame grown a bit blowsy in the infrastructure department, but oh, that personality!

She is my absolute favorite place. But she’s more than that. This little place… she’s my Home Place. 

Home Place — a term used by my grandmother when speaking fondly of her childhood home in Appalachia — a place full of warmth and nostalgia, mists and mountains, kith and kin.  

Whether a physical home or home town, the term seemed to be interchangeable for her. And since I never had a static childhood house or hometown of my own (my papa was a rolling stone), I’ve adopted Cartersville as my Home Place.

Like I had any choice in the matter… she’s magnetic. She pulled me in long ago and held me tight, anchoring my roots deep inside her silty soil. Her salt-of-the-earth people with their hearty smiles and ready hugs made me one of their own and never looked back. And neither did I.

Her people became my people.

And so did her transplants. 

I owe the love of my life to an exotic hybrid set down within her fields of the carefully maintained, gridiron variety.  

And I owe my Boy Mom status to a full season of  careful and precise tending inside her field houses (I feel the need to clarify here… I’m talking painful IVF injections at halftime every Friday night for an entire fall, just so there’s no confusion :b)

Yes, this place is my home place. 

And no matter how far and wide I wander, when I round the top of that hill on East Main, and that steepled skyline swings into view, I get a peaceful easy feeling. 

I am back at my Home Place. And she is the best place I know.  

I Choose a Kaleidoscope of Beauty and Light

Kaleidoscopes. Remember them? Those geometric spinning fragments posing in rapidly shifting flash points of coordinated color and chaos?

Sliced beauty with sharp, precise edges. Jangled and jarred gemstones, clicking into view.

Suddenly you see…

Jewels tumbling from a pirate’s upturned chest.

Dragon’s scales shifting in flight.

A flamenco dancer’s swirling skirt.

A Spanish shawl.

A thousand butterflies having sex.

A million flowers spilling seeds.

Blood blooms. Light bursts. Magic is born.

All at the flick of a wrist.

It all feels slightly pornographic and oh-so-beautiful.

I can’t help but be reminded of life. The creation of life, sure, in the flick of the wrist, the spilling of blood and seed, absolutely. As the cylinder twists in the slimmest of fractions, new magic appears. in glorious technicolor.

But also in the biting, sharp edges, cutting almost constantly, spinning almost endlessly, into gravity-defying, rotating cartwheels of color.

We can choose to see life as broken shards of complete calamity and chaos in ever-widening, gravity-grinding, beyond-our-control tumbling. Nothing more than flotsam and jetsam crashing inside an unrelenting tidal wave. (It certainly felt like it this week, what with all the stomach bugs and travel woes and deep-seated cavities of the physical and metaphorical kind.)

Or we can choose to see ourselves and our lives as prisms of dancing light, beautiful and gleaming, made all the more so when we’re bumping and rolling up against other jangled and jagged prisms. Again, slightly pornographic, but I didn’t mean for it to be this time. Or maybe I did. Because that’s for sure beautiful, too. And the absolute quintessence of life.

For me, I choose prisms of dancing light.

I like to see us all as slivers of sapphire and ruby, gold and obsidian, emerald and opal and more. Succulent suds of shimmer and shine, made exquisite when randomly and richly tossed by the universe into predestined patterns, made richer with family and friends and even complete strangers knocking up against us in richly syncopated design.

Our lives are what we (and our maker, with a flick of the wrist) makes them. You see what you choose to see. You be who you choose to be.

Tumbling jewels, coupling butterflies, phosphorous flotsam.

You decide.

Me? I choose gemstones and swallowtails, tumbling and tossed. In this randomly rotating gyre, my kaleidoscope blooms beauty and light.

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie, 2018

I love gingerbread. And hot buttered rum. And the Elf on the Shelf. And the Nutcracker ballet. And Christmas lights. And Christmas ornaments. And A Christmas Story. And THE Christmas Story. And… did I mention gingerbread?

I am a holiday junkie. I mean, I absolutely crave all things Christmas. Alas, I married a man who does not. He does crave egg nog — so there’s that. But I think that’s it for his tolerance of the season. He tolerates me, too — although he does roll his eyes at all my holiday hoopla. In his defense, I may have been known to overdo it just a tad. Clark W. Griswold and Martha Stewart are my inspirations.

The Christmas jonesing kicks into full gear on Thanksgiving night. That’s when I throw off all pretense of self-control and set my Christmas carol playlist on shuffle, where I keep it running loud and proud straight through New Year’s Eve. Carrie Underwood’s “O Holy Night” gets me all teary-eyed. Josh Groban’s “Ave Maria” makes me weep outright. But then, I run the entire emotional gamut. I get downright giddy over Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Julie Andrew’s “My Favorite Things,” too.

And speaking of MY favorite things, Christmas cards in the mailbox and my personalized, hand-knit stocking hanging on a peg on the fireplace are at the top of that list. As is gingerbread straight out of the oven. I know I’m repeating myself, but if I’m not mistaken, gingerbread was one of the precious gifts of the magi. There was gold, gingerbread and myrrh. Look it up 🙂 So it’s a seasonal necessity. (And a couple years back, my sister introduced me to a Williams Sonoma mix that is the absolute definition of comfort and joy. We feed each other’s addictions.)

So yes, I love gingerbread and Christmas carols, but I think my favorite Christmas accoutrements are the ornaments. I’ve collected them for years and years and years. People who know me know I take my ornament selection VERY seriously. I will search half a year to track down the perfect one for each special person in my life.

I’m an ornament snob, too, so that makes ornament purchasing even stickier. The medium doesn’t matter so much; the ornaments can be absolutely anything from anywhere. I’ve found designer blown glass Betty Boops, Pottery Barn bottle brush squirrels, and Australian handcrafted felt angels. My criteria is ambiguous and esoteric. I just know when I know. And sometimes it takes months and months of Etsy surfing and brick and mortar navigating to find each family member’s certain special something. That’s where my Martha Stewart OCD kicks in. I admit I have a problem. That’s the first step, right? Only I don’t want to be cured.

I love the freakishly sentimental feelings that Christmas stirs in me. I know I can be over-the-top in a way that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Especially for someone who is used to quiet, single day, perfunctory family dinners and gift card exchanges. But me, I thrive on the chaos of the season – the gazillion get togethers, the flurry of family obligations, the weeks’ worth of baking and wassailing and all-around merry making. I become a paradoxically highly-charged, gooey lump of blubbering happiness.

Because my absolute favorite thing about the holidays as a mother is being with my babies. All four of them.  And this year, as in the past few years since the girls have been full-grown and on their own, that can be tricky. And it can require some creative calendaring, and come-hell-or-highwater maneuvering, to make it happen.

This Christmas, thankfully, there are no epic road trips scheduled. This year my crew of kiddos gets to be together — at least for one day — on Christmas Eve. Plus, my baby sis is coming into town.

Unfortunately, there are many whom we won’t see this season… Mike’s folks and JoJo’s family and all sorts of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, but I will see all my babies and we’ll all be together, and for that I am eternally grateful. And it makes for a very merry me.

Tonight, we’re kicking this season off with a shindig of eggnog and cocoa, red wine and amaretto, and crazy-fun kith and kin. Tomorrow, will be calmer… with Mike lighting a fire so we can all settle in to watch The Polar Express.

And just before Josh Groban beings to sing “Believe”– when the unseen narrators says my favorite lines — I am guaranteed to get all sorts of misty-eyed. The line that speaks to the driving force beneath my unbridled Christmas cravings and addictions… 

“Seeing is believing… but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Things like love.

Like the eye-rolling, eggnog-fueled love of a man who doesn’t get my holiday love affair, but still gets me. Who will drive to the ends of the earth – or at least the ends of the Southeast – to make my mama’s heart happy at Christmas time. Or at any time.

Like the fierce, full love of a mama for her babies. All of them. The ones full grown and on their own, and the ones still underfoot in footed pajamas.  A love that will always find a way – come hell or high water (have you SEEN how much it’s rained this year??? – to get to her offspring at Christmas time. Or any time.

And like the passionate love of a God who sent his only begotten son as a gift to the entire world at Christmas time. And all the time.

Yep. I am a Christmas Junkie. And I’m not giving it up anytime soon.

True Believers vs. Those of Little Faith: Our Team Can Do This Hard Thing!

This year, the doubters were many, the believers, few.

This year, our iconic program was supposed to find itself in transition. It was supposed to be our year to regroup and rebuild.  

This year, while our five-star phenom would be launching his meteoric rise into the ranks of college football legends, our home team would just have to relegate itself to mediocrity…

That was the talk. Those were the predictions. 

And thank Heaven, the football prophets only got it half right.

Trevor has done it. Through skill, dedication, humility and faith, he has taken his rightful place in the football firmament. He is an inspiration and absolutely worthy of celebrating, this hometown hero who cut his teeth on our home team’s gridiron. Trevor has done it, and we couldn’t be prouder!

And then there are our current Canes. They have done it, too! And we couldn’t be prouder of the football team everybody discounted. The feisty little engine that could, full of pluck and conviction, that nobody saw. That nobody had faith in. 

No, the nobodies didn’t… but the Somebodies did. The Somebodies saw. The Somebodies had faith.

Those Somebodies are the young players, full of scrap and vinegar, iron and might, willing to put it all on the scrimmage line and battle for their vision. 

They saw. They had the faith. Faith enough to run roughshod over the limits others tried to put on them. And they answered the naysayers and killjoys with action, not words:

With laser beams, pancake blocks, stiff arms, and jukes.
With forced fumbles, pick sixes, blitzes, and sacks.
With return yards and field position, field goals and PATs.

And the Somebodies are the coaches, full of wisdom and know-how, discipline and drive, who put their minds on overdrive and their loyalty into overtime for their vision.

They saw. They had the faith. Faith enough to scheme circles around the limits others tried to put on them, answering the naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words:

With spread formations, read options, slant routs, and screens.
With zones, crossers, fakes, pulls, and grind-it-out ball. 
With run defense, pass defense, zone defense too (Good Heavens, this DEFENSE!)

And those Somebodies are the coaches' families, full of passion for the game, love for their coach, and grit enough to handle the grind of daily life without a huge member of the family at home for a huge portion of the year -- all for the vision. They saw. They had the faith.

Faith enough to balance the insanity that is the football wife’s way of life far beyond the traditional limits most mortals could endure, answering the naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words:

With hurry-up dinners, game-time decisions, some stiff arms and jukes.
With bath zones and screen zones and quick bedtime reads.
With run defense, pass defense, zone defense, too. (Good Heavens, the DEFENSE!) 

And those Somebodies are the players' families, full of fire for their sons and their abilities, and full of trust in their sons' coaches and their abilities. They saw. They had faith, answering naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words.

With transportation to and from practices and games.
With reinforcement, not doubt, about play calls and techniques.
With love and encouragement to all members of the team.

These are the bodies — the Somebodies — who saw, who believed, who had the faith to find the magic to make the miracles of this season thus far.

And now we have one more hurdle to overcome, one more limit to surpass — and however many naysayers to prove wrong — through ACTIONS.

Let’s DO this hard thing, Canes! We have the faith! 

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