Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Resolutions? This is a better fit for us instead.

The New Year is upon us. While many of my friends make New Year’s resolutions, and some are successful at keeping their resolutions, we have found an even better fit for our family. You might find it fits yours, too. About five years ago, our family went in a new direction with our New Year’s goals, and it has been life changing. Truly. 
Decide what is important to you, and stay the course.
In keeping with the tradition of New Year's Resolutions, for the past four years, our family has chosen one word on which to focus during the entire year. Our word sort of guides us and is used when making decisions, both big and small. For example, when questioning a decision, a trip, purchase, or a life change, we ask ourselves if it is in line with our chosen word. The first year we did this, our word was "balance." We all stayed focused on our word until the very end of the year and even still use it as a guiding factor. At the end of the year, I felt as if our lives and lifestyle were much more in balance, and it continues to be so. It is a big consideration when meal planning, budgeting our family expenses, time management, and in our consumer habits. We learned that year when to save and when to splurge, practiced moderation, learned to budget and stuck with it, weighed our priorities, and learned lessons in wants versus needs. 
Our family learned to better balance work and play. We got very creative with our activities and balanced the occasional expensive trips and activities with free activities at the public library, state parks, and farmer's markets. We had so much fun!
The word, "Truth," as in telling the truth, expecting the truth, finding truth and meaning, and staying true to God, self, and family, was chosen our second year, and has now permanently become a part of our family's focus.
The third year, we chose "Wellness." Ironically, our family was most unwell during this time. We traveled back and forth to the hospital visiting Mark’s father, first here in South Boston, then in Lynchburg for seven weeks. He passed away that February. Mark was heartbroken, as was his family. He hasn’t fully recovered, and I doubt he ever will. I thought Wellness was going to be a physical journey of eating well and exercising, losing weight and getting into shape, trying new recipes, that sort of thing. It ended up being very different for us. It became clear to us that being well was about treating the whole self and the whole family structure. It became so apparent to us the interconnectedness of the whole self, mind, body, and soul. Wellness involves relationships, energy, action, our choices, our feelings, how we treat ourselves, and how we react to others. We found that ironically, wellness began with a great deal of vulnerability. Although it appeared that we were far from wellness at the start of our year, having that word gave us so much to meditate on and to focus on and from which to learn. 
What is truly important to you?
Our word for 2014 has been "Intention." Our motto for the year was to "Spend Intentionally, Give Intentionally, Love Intentionally, and Live Intentionally." Along the lines of Wellness, the word Intention became important to me in a way I hadn't expected. When I started the year, I wanted to be very intentional about accomplishing some projects I had wanted to do for a while but hadn't made time for. I wanted to renovate our basement and turn it into a great family living space for our family to enjoy. I had always wanted to write a blog, but didn't know where to start. I wanted to devote more of myself to the community and volunteer more. I wanted to reconnect with some friends and forge closer friendships. It was all to be very intentional. Then something happened that was completely out of my control. After I was struck with what appears to be Meniere’s Disease and had my first episode which lasted for 8 days in February of this year, I became very frustrated and discouraged. It took a very purposeful act to refocus on my goals. Throughout the year, I realized that living intentionally is not about having control over all aspects of my life, but in being very deliberate about how I live my life despite some things being out of my control. I learned how to better respond to events beyond my control and how to best proceed. I learned how to stay focused on my plans and goals. I learned to focus on the things I could control and practiced letting go of things outside of my control. I learned that living intentionally is about thinking ahead, planning, having a Plan B, learning what is truly important and living accordingly with purpose.
In the past, friends have loved this idea, and some have shared with me the word they chose for themselves. Chosen words have been Compassion, Love, Happiness, Growth, Follow Through, Peace, Acceptance, Gratitude, Minimalism, Family, Simplify, Perseverance, Progression, Consecrate, Braveheart (for with God nothing shall be impossible to you and because perfected love casts out fear), and Be Wise (Wisdom). 
What brings you joy?
Our family has a new word for 2015, and I’ll write all about it in the next day or two. If you had to choose a word for yourself or your family, what would it be? I would love to hear what the rest of you might focus on in the upcoming year. Wishing you joy, peace, and the very best that the new year could possibly bring to you and all those your love. Blessings to you January 1st and all the year long! 
xoxo, Erin

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Katniss Everdeen Barbie - Finally!

Oh, Santa!
Santa hid a gift and forgot all about it. It's like Christmas morning all over again. Courtland loves Hunger Games, so when she saw this Katniss doll, she asked Santa to bring it. Christmas came and went, and last night, Courtie wondered aloud why Santa hadn't brought the Katniss doll. I started scratching my head, wondering where in the world Santa might have hidden, then forgotten the poor doll. After searching all the good hiding spots (Santa has had to be more and more clever as the children have become older and smarter!), I finally found it. The Katniss Barbie was worth the wait, though. Good choice, Santa! She loves it.

Courtland and Carrington play outside with the neighborhood children a lot, and are usually using their imaginations to play Hunger Games, survival skills games, have three imaginary "forts" in the neighborhood which consist of our tree house, our neighbors' shed, and behind another neighbor's garden plot. I bought them each one of these soft dart bow and arrows, and they love them! Courtland can pretend to be Katniss Everdeen herself.
Air Huntress Firetek Bow, Pink 
This one is the Air Huntress Firetek Bow in Pink. Totally Courtie.
I love these because they encourage physical activity and outdoor play, they allow the children's imaginations to run wild, and can be played with solo or in a large or small group. Here's the group playing in the yard at our house Christmas morning. They could not wait to show each other what Santa brought.  
Here's to friends, imaginations, and many hours of play! I certainly hope Santa was good to you and yours. If you call and I don't answer, I may very well be hiding in a tree fort orf running from the children while they chase me around the yard shooting pink foam darts in my direction. Moms have imaginations, too, you know. Wishing you much fun and laughter as you and the little ones break in those Christmas gifts.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

What our family thought of the movie "Into the Woods"

Mark and I took Courtland and her friend Lindsay to the Danville Cinema 12 last night to see "Into the Woods," Disney's cinema adaptation of the fantasy musical by the same name. We don't go to the movies too often, and I am very far from a movie critic, but I know what I and my family like. We liked this movie a lot. It was brilliant, really.
Into the Woods was originally a musical theatre production with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine which premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987. It won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical, in a year dominated by The Phantom of the Opera. This movie adaptation stars, among others, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Tracy Ullman, Daniel Huttlestone (you'll recognize him as having been Gavroche in the Les Miserables two years ago), Emily Blunt, and of course, Meryl Streep as the brilliantly over-the-top witch. The movie is rated PG. My daughter and her friend, ages 10 and 11, enjoyed the movie, but the dark, scary scenes would have been too much for our 7 year old son, who scares easily.  The story intertwines four Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, and creates a tale around a baker and his wife and their next door neighbor, the witch, who sets them on a journey into the woods to break a spell she has cast on their home.  I found this video that explains the art, the music, the fantasy, the story, and the acting behind this film far better than I I am able, so watch this and see for yourself.

I recommend the movie, and hope you enjoy watching it as much as we did. Let me know what you think. It is playing at the Danville Stadium Cinemas 12, in Lynchburg at the Regal River Ridge Stadium 14, and at Palace Point in Roxboro, NC. We have a few more movies on our to-see list. Courtland and her friends want to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and I want to see Annie. A friend recommended Night at the Museum 2, which would be right up Carrington's alley. Until then, enjoy the magic and the movie. Maybe I'll see you there.  
xoxo, Erin

Friday, December 26, 2014

National Gingerbread Competition, Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC

The Grove Park Inn is a magical place at this time of year. From the time you pull into the drive, white light lined trees hang overhead, valets bustle and bellhops are busy carrying bags and toting packages, while the large and beautifully decorated Christmas Tree invites you to the front entrance, and men in their overcoats and top hats hold the door. Once in the lobby, two grand stone fireplaces glow on either side of the warm lobby, and another ceiling tall tree centers the welcoming space. This resort is a special place at any time of the year, but at Christmas it has a certain unparalleled charm. Part of that charm is the National Gingerbread Competition display.  
Our family had the great fortune of seeing the winning gingerbread "houses" at the historic Grove Park Inn Resort in Asheville, North Carolina this last weekend. Established in 1991, the gingerbread competition has grown to include hundreds of entries from 20 or so states each year.    
This year, there were four age divisions: Child, Youth, Teen, and Adult. 
I believe this cathedral was a top ten winner in the teen division.
These ginger breads are works of art.
Very clever, too. Carrington loved this monster truck design best of all.
What impressed me so much was the impeccable detail. This teen thought of everything.
I was in awe of the children's and teens' gingerbread creations. The adult ginger breads, however, had me completely mesmerized. The one below was perhaps the most beautiful. It's hard to believe that this is made from an edible confection. 

Of course our family was moved by this gingerbread soldier kneeling to open a care package at Christmas time. He was so detailed that even his arm patches were accurately scaled. Inside the box were goodies, and his family's photos were "taped" to the inside flaps of the box. According to the competition rules, everything used in the gingerbread creation has to be completely edible. I wonder how this gingerbread artist made those photos.  
I would never have thought to create a Trojan Horse out of gingerbread, but evidently someone else did, and it was amazing. Beautiful, really.
Here is another gingerbread house that had me mind-boggled. Look at the detail. The scrolling, the dalmation perched on the front seat, the fireman's helmet, the post box, the fire hydrant, and the street light. If I had been a judge, this may very well have been my winning pick. 
I adore this sleeping Santa.
Here are a few more top ten gingerbread structures that had us scratching our heads and asking, "How did they do that?"
Our ten year old daughter asked to enter the gingerbread competition next year. I think we might. I doubt we'll have a winning entry (although you never know...),but one thing is for certain. We will have lots of fun designing, baking, and decorating our ginger breads. Not to mention, it would be a great "excuse" to stay at the Grove Park Inn once again.   What? It's all for the kids (wink, wink)! 

We were at the Grove Park Inn admiring the gingerbread creations December 19-21. As I was looking back through my photos, I found this charming gingerbread house that I shared on facebook exactly one year before, on December 20, 2013.The caption read, "I present the 2013 Thackston Family Gingerbread house. Although I love the notion of smiling happily while baking cookies and gingerbread in a clean kitchen with my children as we politely take turns with the candies and sprinkles with resulting beautifully decorated and delectable holiday treats, I just am not that mom this year, and I am OK with that.  I wonder if this tastes as good as it looks..." 
I think it may be time to change my ways. I'm being summonsed by a ten year old girl who's as sweet as a sugar plum, and a roaring fire from within the stone fireplace in the spirited lobby of the Grove Park Inn. I guess I need to get cooking. 
Until next time, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
xoxo, Erin

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How We Spent My Birthday ~ Random Acts of Kindness

My birthday was less than a week ago, and I wanted to do a little something different from the norm and special for the big day. I remembered reading a post written by a lady who, like myself, had two children and wanted to do something nice and meaningful for others for her birthday. I read in her blog post here about how she and her children spent her 35th birthday doling out random acts of kindness to others and how it was her best birthday ever. That's exactly what I wanted! This is how the children and I spent the day: Random Acts of Kindness!
I don't know if the children were thrilled with the idea of getting dressed early and driving all about town for these random acts. Courtie, try to contain your excitement. Really. You're out of control. 
As the day went on, however, the children came around, and we actually had fun. It's amazing how much fun it is to do nice things for others, especially when you're super sneaky about it. I found these super cute little cutout graphics here that read, "Please enjoy this random act of kindness." The children cut these out for me, and we attached them throughout the day to the goody bags, dollars, water bottles, and other gifts. 
We started the day by donating 15 pairs of new warm winter gloves to the Good Samaritan, located in the back of First Baptist Church of South Boston. They accept donations of clothing and food to give to those in need. Once when I worked as a social worker, a family came to me needing a warm winter coat for their five year old son. I called Good Samaritan and asked if they had one. They not only had a coat, but the volunteer I talked to personally delivered the coat to me after her volunteer shift was over. It is truly a wonderful, giving organization that continually helps those in need. 
We then left quarters at the Laundromat with the Random Act of Kindness tag attached. This was suggested by a friend of mine who had been to the laundromat before and noticed that many people there struggled to find enough quarters to wash their clothes. This is something I am embarrassed to say that I have taken for granted. Not anymore. I hope someone gets a kick out of the random quarters!  The children and I snuck in ninja style, rounded the corner, and quietly left the quarters on the bench, then scooted out hoping to go unnoticed by the lady inside. Courtie high-fived me once we successfully got back to the car. 
We had to buy some grocery items for the upcoming food pantry delivery and some doggy treats and toys for the upcoming SPCA delivery, so while at the Dollar Tree, we each paper clipped a  tag onto a dollar bill and hid them in the store.   This was the children's favorite random act of kindness that day.
Carrington put his in the bin with the die cast race cars. Courtie clipped hers to the side of a ball bin. I left mine on the shelf with the granola and trail mix. I would have loved to have seen the person who found these, but we couldn't wait around. We had lots to do! 
We went through our closets at home, then donated our outgrown coats to the Rotary Club's coat drive. There were boxes around town, and we left ours at the drop off at the Visitor Center.
We filled a gift bag with dog treats, dog food, and toys for the local SPCA. We left the bag with our friend Laura, who fosters through the SPCA. We made sure to include a note of thanks, as well. Working with animals and trying to find foster families for them is a difficult and often emotionally challenging effort.  
Next, we filled a gift bag with canned soups, canned spaghetti and meatballs, and boxed pasta. We delivered it to the food pantry. The Halifax County Food Pantry Coalition includes Main Street United Methodist Church, Serving Hope (The Worship Center), Good Samaritan (First Baptist Church, Main Street, South Boston), and White Oak Fork Baptist Church. In addition to the local organized food pantries, the Department of Social Services located in the Mary Bethune Building in Halifax often supplies food in emergency situations to families awaiting food benefit eligibility. 
Before heading home, we gathered our spare change and made a special trip just to drop it in the Salvation Army bucket. While there, we saw Mark Foster, who had just finished his shift. These volunteers are the best! 
We (I) wanted to do more than we were able to do. I was reminded that  a little bit of planning goes a long way. In the future, I will plan better and do some things ahead of time, like baking cookies. When we got home from the deliveries, Courtland and I baked 18 batches of cookies to deliver to the fire department, police department, emergency room, and others. We had to put off delivering the cookies that day, because we simply ran out of time. 
The next morning, the children delivered caramel mocha coffees to each of their teachers with the kindness notes attached, and gave them each a calendar from their dad's bank. The teachers loved their coffee drinks. Mrs. Glascock texted me to tell me how much she enjoyed hers.  While in line to get the coffee, I paid for the breakfast of the person in line behind me. I paid the cashier and gave her the kindness card to hand to the man instead of his bill. That was my favorite act of the day. 
After the children got home from school, we had a few more loose ends to tie up. We put kindness cards on bottled waters to leave at the gym, pulled magazines to leave at the social services waiting room, and bought travel sized packs of baby wipes to leave on the baby changing tables at the health department, with the kindness cards attached. 
Finally, we started a drive to raise items to send to soldiers overseas. We purchased a couple of things and announced on facebook that we wanted to collect items, and got a good response. We are looking forward to completing that project soon. 
Again, we didn't get everything done that we would have liked, but it was a good start, and now I have lots more ideas of what to do next year. Here are a few:
1. Pick up trash at the park
2. prayer garden
3. cancer garden
4. Put flowers at cemetery, flagpole
5. Coffee to teachers/school personnel
6. Soldiers
7. Police department
8. Fire department
9. Hospital
10. Bank
11. Public library
12. Sheriff’s department
13. Prizery
14. Visitor Center
15. Coats for coat drive
16. Care packages to military
17. House of Hope
18. Animal Shelter
19. Chastain home-take cookies and read books?
20. Play guitar and read books at the alzheimers unit
21. Bake cookies for nursing home
22. Leave something nice for mailman
23. Take something to neighbors
24. Gloves to good Samaritan
25. Food to food pantry
26. Books to child care or checks to different organizations
27. Well water, animals and farming,
28. Change at Laundromat
29. DVDs at Dentist Office

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remembering Loved Ones and Honoring Legacies this Christmas

The holidays aren't always the happiest of times, especially to those who have lost loved ones. When I first heard this song, "A Different Kind of Christmas" by Mark Schultz, I thought of my husband's family, particularly my mother-in-law, who will celebrate Christmas without Pop for the second year. It also reminds me of how my own mother must have felt on Christmas after my father passed away, and how difficult it must have been for her to wake up on Christmas morning a new widow, playing the roles of both mom and Santa to three-year-old and six-year-old daughters who had just lost their father. Smiling through the pain and finding magic in Christmas despite the loss must have been beyond difficult. As difficult as it is and must have been, we take some comfort in the memories we have created, the legacies that are inherited, the traditions we uphold, and the love that we share. I hope that if you are experiencing sadness and loss this Christmas, that you are able to remember the legacies that are left, honor the memories, and find some magic this season. No Christmas will be the same without our precious loved ones. We will always remember them each and every year. In the way we decorate our trees and make special recipes. In the way we hang our lights and wrap our gifts. In the way we sing holiday hymns and at the church services we attend. Each and every thing we do will remind us of someone special. Though our heart aches that they aren't able to share in our celebrations here on Earth, we know that they are still with us in memory and in our hearts forever.  Wishing you peace through the loss and joy through the tears this Christmas. xoxo, Erin 

"A Different Kind of Christmas" by Mark Schultz

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Southern Virginia Mom's Christmas Wish List (sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things")

Last year I sat down to write my Christmas wish list at just the time I was awaiting the new Sound of Music television movie. What resulted was the first part of a holiday wish list, sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things." I posted my list on facebook last year, and at the urging of several friends, wrote the second verse, which included even more local shopping ideas. If you have a business you'd like to see included on the list, please let me know. If I have enough, I may just write a third part. Let's always remember our local businesses and friends when knocking out that holiday shopping! 
Cheers! Erin
Molasses Grill Dinners and Brooks Brothers Sweaters
Reaves Engraved Papers with Monogram Letters
Oversize Reva Clutch Tied Up with String
These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Sans Soucy Ginger and Matt Stafford Vases
Prizery Tickets to see Friendly Faces
Charming Charm Bracelets which Sing Jing-A-Ling
These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Coco Mademoiselle and a Phil Ramsey Creation
An Overnight Trip to Berry Hill Plantation
A Blackberry Spa Card Will Make My Heart Sing!
These are a Few of My Favorite Things!

When the Guests Leave,
When the Fire Dims, 
When I’m Feeling Sad, 
I Simply Head Down to the Bistro to Eat, and Then I don’t Feel So Bad!

Peroni’s Gelato, Music Lessons at Fincher’s,
A Coat Bought at Lantor’s for Cold Snowy Winters,
A Pair of Jack Rogers from David McC (That last part is a stretch, but I’m going with it.)
These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Distinct Impressions and Keep it Classy
Warm up with Chili at A Southern Plenty
Antiques and Ornaments at Enchanted Surroundings
These are a Few of My Favorite Things!

A Lulu Necklace at Global Friends Gallery
Reading a Book from the Local Library
Taking an Angel from the Angel Tree
These are a Few of My Favorite Things!

When the Guests Leave,
When the Fire Dims,
When I’m Feeling Sad,
I Simply Head Down to the Bistro to Eat, and then I Don’t Feel So Bad!
Courtland and Carrington took this picture recently to promote Destination Downtown South Boston's 2014 Christmas Open House. Thanks to DDSB's Tamyra Vest for asking the children to take part in this ad, to Blakely Swanson at Images by Swanson Photography for the beautiful photo, and to Andy Newland, owner of 3 Women No Truck for the lovely Christmas backdrop. Isn't this horse gorgeous? It is for sale at 3 Women No Truck. Thanks to Andy, also, for the wonderful candle. It smells so good! We all had fun with this, and love to support our local businesses! Merry Christmas! 
xoxo, Erin

Monday, December 8, 2014

Disney's Frozen on Ice-We loved it!

My mom has been taking us to see ice skating shows ever since I was a little girl, creating somewhat of a family tradition. Yesterday we all - and by all, I mean all but two teenage boys - caravaned to the Greensboro Coliseum to attend the spectacular Disney's Frozen on Ice. It was beautiful! Thanks, Mom!

Since we had just seen a great show about true sisterly love, we sisters had to get a group photo (never mind the women's restroom sign). 
As we were leaving the Greensboro Coliseum, we came across this fun car in the lobby. This is a fundraising car for early breast cancer detection. It is called the Hope Mobile. For $1, you can sign this car. The pink outer part that is signed is later removed and displayed at the Crown auto dealership in Greensboro, and the white Volvo underneath is raffled off. 
Each of the children signed the car, Courtland signing "for G" in her grandmother's honor.

We loved Frozen on Ice! It was beautiful magical, and very entertaining. Thank so much, Mom and Dad, for taking us all so that we could see the show, spend time with our family, and continue our family tradition. xoxo, Erin
Courtie and Aunt Mimi