Thursday, June 28, 2012

Born at Christmas

I've never properly finished my Christmas in Haiti series, but today as I sit at my computer, my mind is taken back to that beautiful country filled with hopeful people.  And I'm crying.  We were only there a week so there was not enough time to actually build meaningful relationships.  But even in that short time, I fell in love with people.  However, I felt helpless to offer them anything.  Oh, I could give them some money.  They've long come to expect that from Americans.  But I longed to leave behind something that would last beyond their next meal.

We didn't arrive in Haiti with an agenda.  I knew I would be at Kathy's mercy.  We've known each other a long time and she knows my gifts and my lack there of.  She rightfully steered me to her workshop where she showed me a basket of fabric rosettes the ladies and girls had made and said, "We need to figure out how to make these into something marketable to sell."  Hmmm....ok.  So, I spent a better part of the week fiddling in the workshop, trying to design marketable products.

Raegan with the original bow with rosette
I kind of liked these rosettes with a ruffle behind them.  Kathy was not initially keen on them.  I was rather insistent they were cute.  They're not really Kathy's style.  I persevered anyway and even taught a couple of the Haitian girls how to make the ruffle.  I turned out ten or so different color combinations, attached them to various kinds of clips and left them hanging in the workshop.  Well, I did bring one or two home to give away...just to see the reaction of moms who might buy them for their girls.  I left Haiti not certain I had been a bit of help to Kathy.

Back to my crying this morning.  Facebook greeted me with my top story being "2nd Story Goods is now open online."  Excellent!  What I was unprepared for was my reaction to the product line - most of which I had seen a dozen times.  You see, the rosette bows are now being made by students at the deaf school in Goniaves, Haiti.  And they are among the products for sale.

 Additionally, the burlap headbands were born that week, with Kathy making the first one for her daughter as I sat on the stool next to her.  I encouraged her that the teen crowd would love them.  She knew Benson, the guy who makes journals, could easily help perfect the design.  I think I was wrong.  More ages than teens want to sport a burlap headband.

So, click over to 2nd Story Goods and buy some bows and headbands - well, why not get one or two of everything.  Some of those products were born at Christmas and contain a piece of my heart.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    The Calm After the Storm

    Sometimes I wonder how I used to get anything done when I had four young kids in activities that required me to taxi them places.  I guess my saving grace was, all three girls were dancing at the same studio so I was only taking them to dance and baseball.  The end is in sight though.  When Hannah starts driving in the fall, my transportation duties will be cut drastically.

    But, for now, I'm still full time taxi driver - except this week.  After a whirlwind few days last week at the 4-H State Horse Show, this week is the opposite.  Completely, almost eerily quiet. Hannah is a teen leader at 4-H Horse School in Perry and Victoria is in Jacksonville staying with her Aunt Cynthia and attending Camp Broadway.
    Hannah had a wonderful show last week with just a few hiccups - one that resulted in Honorable Mention rather than a 5th place finish in Western Pleasure.  But overall she had excellent performances.  Unfortunately, the arena where all the western events take place is dimly lighted and so I have no decent pictures of Hannah's actually rides. 

    Wendy and Hannah after an excellent Western Showmanship pattern

    English Showmanship

    English Showmanship results - Hannah was 9th out of more than 50 exhibitors and Hannah's friend Ann was first.  Aren't they beautiful?

    Hannah's 2nd place in Showmanship, Honorable Mention in Western Pleasure and 7th place in Western Horsemanship landed her 8th place overall in the Stock Seat Senior Division.  A guy whom she has competed against all year in the Saddle club shows was the Stock Seat Champion and Ann (see pic above) was the Reserve Champion.  It's so much fun knowing and competing against such terrific kids.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    Graduation 2012

     Graduation for Kevin has come and gone.  Coastal Georgia Home School Association did a terrific job organizing the commencement ceremony and dinner.  Each grad (there were 4 boys) was honored with a video and a charge by their parents.  But I must confess,  I couldn't say a word.  As usual, I let Patrick do the talking.  While no one is happier to graduate students than I am, I do get choked up thinking my little boy is a man and will soon be leaving home.

    Patrick's Charge
    Happy Grads
    I think the girls are smiling because they want Kevin's room
    Such a cute couple

    Sunday, May 20, 2012

    The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

    I can't believe it's been nearly two months since I've managed to visit with you via the blog.  I fear I'll never get around to finishing my Haiti posts - so if I don't, know that we had a fabulous time with Beaver, Kathy, their kids and all the lovely people serving in Haiti.  The Haitian people were lovely - even if Port au Prince does scare me a bit.  I've taken wild taxi drives in Nigeria and sat white knuckled in vehicles in South Africa (and the fright wasn't just from being on the "wrong" side of the road), but traffic in nothing I've ever experienced.  Really.  Unbelievable.  After seeing Kathy Brooks navigate the bumper-to bumper chaos, she is my hero now more than ever.  I'll never be half the woman she is.

    I'd like to say I'll be back in the saddle here at my blog, but it is the saddle - and the horse - and the trips to the barn that keep me from being here already.  And it isn't looking to improve any time soon, though with school being out, maybe I can carve out some time to spend with you all.

    The Queen
    Hannah's regular show season came to an successful end yesterday.  Not only was she the High Point winner for her age division at the show, she clinched the title of Queen for the Coastal Empire Association AND is the overall High Point winner in the 13-19 age division for the 2011-2012 Coastal Empire show season.  I suppose that makes me the mother of the queen - quite an honor, don't you think?  I think that simply means I get to continue transporting her to the barn so she can live up to her title when she competes against the eight other queens in their own Horsemanship class at the state show over Labor Day weekend.

    Hannah also competed in her first American Quarter Horse Association show, the Region 10 Experience in Jacksonville last weekend.  It was the epitome of that old catchphrase from ABC's Wide World of Sports- The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  (And I'm pretty sure I'm dating myself by remembering that, aren't I?  I don't suppose the Wide World of Sports has been on television for quite some time).  We knew the competition would be stiff, but we didn't know it would be so plentiful.  Hannah's English classes boasted about 25 riders each and her Western nearly 20.  After not placing in either English class on Friday, I was bracing to have one disappointed girl.

    Hannah, Grace and Wendy
    Not to fear, my girl rose to the occasion and she and Grace (a.k.a. Zippin With Chocolet - her offical show name) placed 5th in the Western Pleasure class, qualifying her to attend the AQHA Novice Youth Champions in Tennessee in October.  The thrill of victory was sweet.

    Hannah optimistically prepared for her Western Horsemanship class, a class she normally excels in, and is the class that qualified her for Queen of Coastal Empire.  Horsemanship is a "pattern class", a class that the rider individually rides a pattern the judge has selected.  In this case it was trot from cone A to cone B.  Stop at cone B and pivot 180 degrees to the right.  Back the horse to cone C, etc.  Hannah was the 10th rider and up to that point no one had ridden a really successful pattern.  None of the riders could pivot their horses well and I knew Hannah had recently made great strides pivoting Grace.  The door was wide open for Hannah to ride in and set a very high bar for the remaining riders.  She trotted in, began her pivot and was flawless...but she kept going until she'd done a 360 degree pivot...and we all knew she had completely blanked out and forgotten the pattern.  She was facing the wrong direction to begin the next element.  She trotted Grace around toward the judges and politely asked to be excused.  They nodded.  The agony of defeat was palpable - really, my heart was broken and beating out of my chest.  Picture being the lone rider in front of five judges in an arena big enough for rock concerts - and your mind going completely blank.  Just thinking of that happening to me nearly sends me into cardiac arrest.

    But, like the champion that she is, she chalked it up to experience (I probably would have bawled my eyes out) and will have a fabulous story to tell younger riders that she might some day end up coaching.  We all went to bed Saturday night with the agony of defeat ringing in our ears - or in my case, replaying in my mind.

    Sunday, Mother's Day, was just the Showmanship class.  We thought the class might start around lunch time and we'd be home by mid afternoon.  The joke was on us!  Her class finally started at 5:30, so I spent a leisurely Mother's day on shed-row watching some fabulous horses come and go.   I can't even describe how badly I wanted Hannah to do well - if for no other reason than to recover her confidence that had taken a beating the day before.  I think there were nineteen girls in the class and they all looked amazing.  I knew a couple of elements were less than perfect and figured Hannah would not be super-duper excited about her performance.  But thankfully the judges saw something they liked at placed her 5th, again qualifying her for the show in Tennessee in October.  Victory is even sweeter after the previous day's defeat.

    The fifth place winner sporting her new Showmanship jacket


    We can't even begin to explain how thankful we are for Wendy (Hannah's trainer and Grace's owner) allowing Hannah to ride such a lovely horse - and for dragging Hannah all over South East Georgia Saturday after Saturday to compete.  We are humbled and thankful for bringing Wendy into our lives.  She has truly made huge sacrifices for our child and  transformed her into a competitor that would make any trainer proud.  Hannah is not only a graceful winner, but is also - what is even more difficult - a graceful loser.  I've seen plenty of riders have tantrums and take their frustrations out on their parents or other adults.  Through the loving guidance of a wise trainer, Hannah has become not only a skilled rider, but a lovely young lady.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Haiti: Pati De (Part Two)

    Much to my pleasure, I successfully refrained from buying anything for my kids for Christmas.  Not a single, solitary gift.  But, I still couldn't stop thinking gifts.  I racked my brain trying to think of something meaningful to take to our hosts, Beaver and Kathy Brooks.  But what?  What do you buy people who are already wealthy beyond their neighbors wildest expectations.  What could I bring to someone who sees hungry, distended bellies daily without seeming like a) I am completely out of touch with their daily reality, or b) I am a classic first world snob who can't help importing my materialistic mindset to a culture that has so far escaped Christmas = overspending.

    Honestly, I tried to ignore the idea that I should arrive bearing gifts...but I also tried to put myself in Kathy's place.  Yes, all her kids (sans one) would be there with her and that in itself is the most precious gift a mom can receive; but even so, I'd still want Christmas morning to be somewhat different than all other mornings.  I finally settled on stockings filled with a mixture of goodies and necessities for the guys.  Alyssa and a friend went shopping for them.  I guess they figured all single 20ish aged guys need socks, gum, goldfish crackers and...oh, I can't even remember what else.  Victoria and her friend Lily had been accumulating gift for Rebecca for months, so I knew she was already well taken care of.

    I still found myself wanting to do something special for Beaver and Kathy.  I asked around and no one who'd been to Haiti could offer me any direction.  Being left to my own devices, I prayed.  Novel thought, I know.  Should have done it weeks before rather than on December 22, but there you have it: a perfect illustration of how I like to rely on my own wits rather than the voice of the Lord.  Thankfully, I felt God whispering an idea, a Kindle.  A Kindle?  In a third world country?  Would they want one?  Is that just too much of a luxury item to own in a country where few can read and even fewer can afford to buy a book?  Do they already have one?

    I asked around.  Victoria said Kathy owned a Kindle.  Taylor, their son, said they didn't.  I couldn't come up with anything better and so bought a new Kindle Touch and an Amazon gift card to get them started.  My thinking was, shucks...even if they already have on Kindle, there's three readers in the family living in a country with no libraries.  I despise sharing my Kindle so they, if they are as selfish as I am, probably would love to have another one too.  I then told Patrick I had bought Beaver and Kathy a Kindle...sort of an "it's easier to ask forgiveness than get permission" kind of moment and so my Christmas shopping was complete.

    Medical Supplies - a gift from Patrick's staff to take to the Brooks
    Armed with my gifts, the 300lbs of lined paper for the journal maker and countless other supplies, we packed...and packed...and packed.  We weighed bags, redistributed goods, and reweighed and then reweighed again.  After hours and hours we finally thought we had 2 bags per person, totaling 80 lbs between the two bags with no single bag over 50 lbs as per the directions at the Insel website.  Yes, it's true...Insel Air still allows two free bags for each passenger.  Each Eades packed in a carry-on so that we could take as many supplies as possible in the luggage.  Everything was labeled and ready for the drive to Miami.  Let the fun begin!
    More gifts from Patrick's staff for the ladies who make jewelry in Jubilee Blanc.  Add in the paper for the journal man, 20 sets of sheets, bags and bolts of fabric that Kathy requested and I collected for the newly formed fiber arts guild, and the gifts for various Haitians that started pouring in from friends who had been to Haiti and we easily maxed out our 480 lb. limit for our luggage for the six of us.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Oops...How Could I Forget

    Pitiful as I have been at blogging this year, I still can't believe I haven't given my few faithful readers the low down on our Christmas adventure to Haiti.  Looks like this is going to be a multi-part post, so stay tuned for "the rest of the story".

    Sometime last summer, the kids concocted the idea of skipping know...Nora and Luther Krank's idea of no presents, no tree, no Christmas anything and going to Haiti to spend Christmas with our friends the Brooks in Gonaives.  If you haven't read Grisham's book, Skipping Christmas, AND seen the Jamie Lee Curtis/Tim Allen flick, "Christmas with the Kranks", you are missing a treat...but I divert.  Patrick and I asked the kids questions.  Lots of questions like: So, you know this means no presents?  Zip, Zero, Nada?  They said they were fine with that.  They just wanted to make a mission trip as a family.  And you also know Mom's not decorating the house. No tree, no garland, no lights?  It's like Luther says, "A total boycott!"   They assured us that was perfectly fine.

    Somehow that gave me pause.  A part of me wanted to jump up and down and cheer.  No tree, no decorating the house...think of all the money and time in December that would save me.  Nutcracker wasn't in the cards for the year, so it was like I was adding a whole month to my life that had been annually missing for the last 8 years.  Then a part of me wanted to cry.  The kids don't even care about all the things I've done to make Christmas special for the past umpteen years.  I wanted to have a bit of a pity party - and feel like a failure that my kids can do without all the traditions I've created (or thought I had created) to make Christmas, well...Christmas.  But I confess, the thrill of a short term mission trip together (which also meant less holiday stress for me) won me over.  Besides, it might be nice to see Christmas from the perspective of being an observer of holiday materialism rather than a participant.

    Sometime in mid September, while Kevin was gallivanting about Europe, we took the plunge and bought six tickets from Miami to Port au Prince.  As excited as I was, I wasn't certain *I* could do Christmas without buying gifts.  I LOVE giving gifts.  I was beginning to think I was going to be the problem child in all the Haiti preparations, since it was really me all along who loved the tree, the traditions, and seeing the smiles of surprise on Christmas morning.   Almost daily I would wake and resolve NOT to think of gift giving and Christmas decorations.  I realized I had been conditioned to be a part of Christmas commercial madness, and this whole "cold turkey" approach was probably good for me.

    In hind sight, I'll probably never see the trappings of Christmas quite the same.  In the future, I think I'll be able to see the decorations and parties as a way to facilitate the real meaning of Christmas rather than be the focus of the holiday season.  It's something I've always wanted to do, but in retrospect, probably failed to accomplish.  All in all, even if you don't go on a cruise (like the Kranks planned to do) or visit the poorest nation in the western hemisphere like the Eades, I highly recommend a year of "Skipping Christmas" to adjust your perspective.

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Spring Training Trip in Pictures

    Our first visit to Space Coast Stadium, home of the Washington Nationals
    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
                                  - Ernest Lawrence Thayer

    Kevin really wanted Bryce Harper's autograph, but had to settle for Stephen Strasburg's.   While we were impressed that he signed balls, programs, and various baseball paraphernalia; he seemed as though it was a part of some sort of punishment for being tardy to class. 

    Maybe he was just having a bad day.  I'd hate to think he was simply patronizing the very people who make his fat salary possible.

    Strasburg was the name du jour.  Even Peter Gammons got in on the action.

    The foul ball that Alyssa "caught".  It would be more accurate to say, "the ball that found Alyssa".

    Alyssa, Hannah, Lauren, Kevin, Victoria and Grandma

    The kids at Daytona Beach

    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Europe Revisited

    I have spent months procrastinating, but finally made albums for Sam and Kevin.  I sorted through well over a thousand pictures and ended up with this:
    Kevin's Album 

    I hadn't even seen some of the pictures and was blown away by some of the snaps they took in Venice.

    Sam has a thing for hand stands.  Not sure how it started, but there are about two dozen pictures of him doing hand stands in all the cities they visited.  His album has fewer pictures of Kevin and more of his hand stands.
    Because everyone does a hand stand in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Valentine's Breakfast at Stately Eades Manor

    Patrick's Place Setting

    Treats for the Kids
    Strawberries and Bagels
    Kevin and Lauren went to Olive Garden in Jacksonville last night and brought us bagels from Panera. What a nice surprise for everyone!  Strawberries and some delicious coffee (compliments of Starbucks) combined with all SIX of us being home for breakfast made for the fabulous Valentine's Day treat for the mom.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Letting Go of the Guilt

    The house is completely silent save the sounds from Pandora radio.  I can't even remember the last time this happened, and I'm certain I should be doing something productive - like putting away the school books that somehow were left on the sofa, vacuuming and mopping in preparation for the party Alyssa is hosting here tomorrow evening, or sorting the piles of mail that have grown up out of no where, or, God forbid, preparing tax documents for the dreaded day, or...please, stop me before I panic.

    After 15 years of homeschooling and having the accompanying guilt over the disarray of my house as my constant companion, I am happy to report that my to-do list and I have finally come to a truce.  I ignore it on Fridays and it doesn't shout above the normal din on that day.  How have you accomplished this, you ask?  Simple...I leave.  That's right, I just walk away from it.  I've instituted Fine Arts Friday and the girls and I (and whoever else I can round up to join us) attempt to expand our appreciation for the arts.

    While we aren't able to fill every Friday, we are becoming enthusiastic patrons of the Jacksonville Symphony's Coffee House Series, an 11am performance preceded by coffee and sweets.  December found us at the Christmas Pops Concert and the Nutcracker.  We also took in a local performance of the Messiah, which I'd been wanting to do for years.

    January's schedule treated us to "Broadway to Hollywood", a collection of show tunes and popular television medleys performed by the Jax Symphony. I had purchased a twenty-five dollar "Sound Check" card that's available for students for the girls who can now attend free, and I buy a rush ticket for a pittance.  Imagine my surprise when the soprano was introduced as having had the title roll of Mary Poppins on Broadway.  And the tenor...he'd played Raul in Phantom of the Opera.  Yeah...that's right.  I heard Broadway performers sing in trade for a ten dollar bill.  I was in awe...honestly, in awe.

    Last week I talked dragged Mom and Dick along for a celebration of Mozart's 256th birthday.  I had no idea he had composed "A Musical Joke".  I do now - and even to my untrained ear was laugh out loud funny in a couple of spots. 

    In the mean time Victoria's birthday dream came afternoon of Wicked entertainment.  My car seems to be on auto-pilot to the Times Union Performing Arts Center.  But it's okay...because I get to ignore my messy house for a few hours and listen to some of the most amazing musical scores ever written.

    Join me any time on our next Fine Art Friday adventure.  We've got Brahms and the Canadian Brass coming up this month.

    So, what's been your guilty pleasure as of late?