Simplifying the Busiest Time of the Year

December is often a very busy month for folks.  There are extra events, things to do, shopping, decorating, and all the other things that make the month feel overwhelmed and stressful.  Don’t fall victim to this hub-a-bubble.  Here are a few ways I have found to simplify December by focusing on what matters to our family during the Christmas season!

Focus on what brings you joy.  Think hard about your favorite Christmas memories.  Do you love baking cookies with your sister?  Does addressing 50 Christmas cards bring you happiness?  Are you a big fan of decorating a tree in each room of your house?  Some of these ideas may make you want to lock yourself in a closet while others may truly bring joy.  The good news is you can focus on what makes you happy.  So what that you put up three decorated Christmas trees last year but hated every second of the set up (and take down!).  Just because you’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean you have to do it every year.  Figure out what makes you happy and focus on that.  Let that be “your thing” instead of being mediocre at everything and overstressed because you aren’t enjoying it anyway.

Don’t let your commitments exhaust you.  It’s hard to believe this, but you are the one that controls your calendar- even at Christmas time.  There are a gazillion events each December- parties, cookie swaps, open houses, concerts, train rides with Santa, light shows, and the list goes on and on.  Prioritize what you attend by who you want to spend your time with and how you want to spend your money.  Don’t fall victim to being exhausted all season because you say yes to everything and are completely worn out.  Instead, be selective to what you want to do with your time and don’t forget to schedule in down time for relaxing, recharging, and spending time focusing on what matters during this season.  Also, be mindful of what all is included in an accepted invitation.  Buying formal wear, baking cookies, travel time, and buying/wrapping white elephant gifts also take up precious time.  Even though the party is only 2 hours, if it requires two hours of prep, then it’s not really two hours- its four!

Buy experiences and not stuff.  The majority of parents I know don’t really want their kids to have more stuff- toys, games, dolls, legos, etc.  Instead, they’d love for their child to have more experiences and future memories.  Memberships to local attractions are a good gift idea.  Tickets to a show or concert are also great.  For smaller children, passes to indoor bouncy house places or tickets to a puppet show may work well.  Want to spend more money?  Consider purchasing a weekly class of some sort (ballet, gymnastics, tennis, etc) might be a good choice.  If you are truly trying to simplify Christmas, then that means honoring others wishes to help them simplify their lives by not buying stuff for their kids and cluttering their home.

Spend less but spread more cheer.  I am a big believer in “it’s the thought that counts”.  Instead of buying something “small” for your kind neighbor, mailperson, or favorite waitress, consider writing them a short note.  Let them know how much you appreciate their wonderful service, kind smile, or whatever else you like about them.  I promise your kind words will mean more to them than another cheap coffee mug.

I’d love to hear how you have found ways to simplify your Christmas season!

love, brooke

Rethinking Hospitality

Being a hostess is in my DNA.  My parents constantly host dinner parties, birthday parties, fish frys, bon fires, and every other party you can imagine.  I had the pleasure to grow up seeing how wonderful it was to experience fellowship with so many in our own home.  It’s something that is a part of me and that my own family now tries to include in our weekly schedule.  

But recently, my Christian understanding of hospitality has been challenged.  I have been reading “The Year of Small Things” and one of the chapters focuses on hospitality.  I was reminded of Luke 14:12-14 (NIV):

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

But wait, we are really hospitable.  We host friends for dinner or get togethers frequently.  Why can’t that count?  But, Jesus is calling us to another level of hospitality- providing it for those who cannot repay us.  That makes it a little less fun for me.  We love going to our friend’s houses for dinner and drinks or play dates and then us hosting at another date.  Why can’t that be enough for “our’ form of hospitality?

I have been marinating on this scripture for the last several weeks and praying for ways that God can allow me to experience it.  The first was including an awkward, single neighbor by inviting him to our home for a get together.  I was nervous about how his behavior could affect our other guests.  Would he try to smoke around children?  What would I talk to him about?  Do we have anything in common besides being neighbors?  Thankfully, God proved my fears wrong and we had a nice time getting to know him.  He thanked me repeatedly for including him.  I didn’t really need the the thank you but the part that made me smile was that he felt welcome and not left out.

The next nudge came from God to become more involved with a church ministry that feeds the homeless.  This one was especially scary to me because I hate the social awkwardness that has come with previous interactions with homeless men or women.    That’s where my uncomfortableness came from.  “No, I don’t have any cash” I would reply as I grabbed my son’s hand and quickly headed into the restaurant.  Even if I had cash, I was fearful to open my wallet with my son present.  

But today, I went out on that uncomfortable limb to provide hospitality that wouldn’t be repaid to me.  I helped load up metal carts with sandwiches, chips, cookies, oranges and lemonade to serve the hungry along Ponce de Leon Ave in Midtown.  We walked half a mile to our first location and everyone lined up to receive a meal.  Many were homeless, some day laborers looking for a lunch while hoping to get picked up for a job, and others were there to help us.  One man said a loud version of a children’s blessing then everyone went through the line to get their food.  My job was to pass out the oranges- only two per person.   I smiled as I did my job and asked names while introducing myself. Some folks were happy and wanted to chat while others were quick to move along.  When it was all over, I was shocked at how we still had sandwiches left and that everyone had gotten as many as they wanted.  I also was surprised at how quickly we were done.  From start to finish, it was two hours.  It takes more time for me to grocery shop, cook, set up, and clean up for a party than that!

Don’t worry friends, we still are going to have parties and we still want to be invited to your homes.  I think God wants that for us too.  Just not to let it be our ONLY type of hospitality.  

What are some ways you can practice this type of unrepayable hospitality?  Can you host friends/neighbors/family that can’t repay you?  Can you visit the homebound or those in nursing homes?  Can you work at a food pantry?  Can you donate baby supplies to a baby you will never meet?  Can you help a co-worker pay for her car repair?  Can you foster children that you may never see again?  

Can’t wait to see what kind of hospitality God has in store for me next!

love, brooke

 

Ode to the Summer of Love: 2005

When I first laid eyes on him, he was laying on a porch swing reading a book about personality types.  He was tall, pudgy and lounging in a free t-shirt with mesh shorts.  Yes, the pure image of sexiness.

It was the summer of 2005 and I was moving into his fraternity house at Georgia Tech.  I had secured an internship working at the Governor’s Office making a whooping 12 bucks per hour!!  I would later find out that he had worked hard to rally the fraternity brothers into allowing girls to live on the top floor of the house for the summer.  I am guessing he was hoping for someone like me to show up which is why he was perched on the front porch on move in day.

One of the first conversations I had with him made me think he was a pompous jerk.  He told me that he had a job interview the next day and I asked what he was wearing.  He sort of scoffed at my idea of wearing a suit and tie to interview.  Instead, he insisted on a button down and khaki pants.  At least I realized he was a bad dresser from the first moment I saw him.

IMG_1997A few days later, Georgia Tech was doing a massive paving project and had my main route home closed down.  I got detoured to the west part of campus and after a few attempts, finally figured out how to get back to the fraternity house.  (This was pre-GPS-on-your-phone days).  When I arrived, I complained to the group gathered in the front room that I had no idea how to get around this “big city”.  He insisted on giving me his number as a “just in case it happens again”.  Ok, he may not know how to dress but he at least has some smooth moves.

We started talking on AIM (that’s short for AOL Instant Messenger, for those of you under the age of 30) late at night and early into the mornings.  I have no clue what we talked about that long but for some reason I was intrigued by this Tech guy and he was intrigued by me, a UGA girl.

My daily schedule that summer looked like this… Wake up at 7:55AM to the first whistle, be at work by 9AM, work til 5PM, nap from 5:30-7PM and then hang out, go out or AIM it up til 2AM.  Man, those were the days.  By this point, he had moved out of the fraternity house and was subleasing a room for the rest of the summer across from Grant Park.  This was probably good for my sleep regiment and made it possible for him to get some studying in for his last semester of college.

One evening, a few guys were getting together at his new place and I was invited to come hang out for a movie night.  They let me pick the movie and I chose “Out Cold“.  I had not seen it in recent years but remembered it being very funny.  Well, it was funny but I forgot about all the inappropriate parts including a hot tub scene.  Definitely not the best movie choice for a bunch of Christian guys to watch with me.

IMG_1988As the summer progressed, I became the social event planner; planning picnics, Braves outings, movie nights, dinners out, tubing trips, and overall just making sure it was a fun summer.  I had recruited my college roommate and her friends to come down and start hanging out with me/the guys.  On one outing, several of us went to Centennial Olympic Park to picnic, throw frisbees/footballs and genuinely just hang out.  I remember everyone tossing a ball or frisbee around and me telling my friend, Coker, that I thought something was going on with me and him.  She seemed surprised, and at that exact moment we both looked his way in time to see him almost fall down while trying to catch a frisbee.  Not his smoothest moment.

Our friend groups really meshed well including several new couples forming.  The weekends were a blast- everyone hung out together and there were some epic parties. One party really stood out in my mind.  It was mid June and a good bit of beer pong had been played.  Someone came up with a “great” idea to head across the street to the park for some golfing.  But not with golf balls, but instead with rotting limes left over from a cinco de mayo party.  Yes, you read that right, golfing with old limes.  This epic night is now simply referred to as Lime Golf.

In mid July, I planned a tubing trip to Blue Ridge, GA.  We spent the afternoon floating down the Toccoa River and enjoying the warm day.  Afterwards, my family friends graciously hosted us for dinner at their mountain cabin.  As we walked into the house, my dad’s friend shook his hand and said, “So you are the one I have been hearing about.”  I was totally mortified and embarrassed.

FullSizeRender (3)At the end of July my family was throwing a big birthday party for three family members in Augusta.  For some reason, I thought this was the best time to introduce him to my big, loud family.  Except, I never realized I had a big and loud family until this weekend.  My parents welcomed him to their home and had managed to shove a twin bed in the office so he’d have a place to sleep.  Both of my sisters were still in middle/high school so their big sis bringing home a boy for the weekend was a big deal.  Plus, it took a village to help raise me so all of that village couldn’t wait to meet him too.

The party is somewhat of a blur because there were so many people that I had to introduce to him.  He got asked so many times who we met that he finally started telling people that we met in DUI school.  Only a few didn’t realize it was a joke.  He also managed to drink about fourteen beers.  Thankfully, this is not frowned upon among that crew.  There was a DJ and we did some dancing on the back porch.  My baby sister saw us sneaking a quick kiss in the front foyer of my grandmother’s home and nearly peed her pants.  We went back to Atlanta the next day and he didn’t break up with me.  Success.

FullSizeRender (2)A few weekends later, I took him to Athens as my guest for a friend’s wedding.  It was the first time I realized how much he REALLY hated UGA.  For some reason, I kept him around anyway.  On the way back to Atlanta, we were in my mom’s LEAKING convertible and it started pouring rain, so he was soaked… even with the top up.

As the summer was winding down, he managed to graduate from Georgia Tech.  It was a big day and I don’t think he really knew for sure that he was getting out on the day of the graduation since grades weren’t in yet.  But, thankfully it happened.

FullSizeRender (4)It was a magical summer spent making new friends, falling in love with this great city, and building a relationship with him.  We all have such fond memories of that summer and it is a bond that many of us will never want to forget.

Sadly, (or maybe thankfully) I couldn’t find my scrapbook from this amazing summer, so these few pics will have to do for now.

On the day of our 9th wedding anniversary, I think about how much I loved being with him then and how much more I love being with him now.  One thing that is always true in our relationship is that we have always been surrounded by great people who are cheering us on.  Today, I am thankful for them as well.

love, brooke

 

A Plea for Life Jackets

This is a very difficult post to write but I think it is VERY important to share especially as summer vacations are quickly approaching.

I grew up on water… the Savannah River to be exact and have been swimming and boating as long as I can remember.  In the summers, we’d go to a sandbar to swim 2-3 nights a week and would spend several hours there on Sunday afternoons.  I love being on the water, it is so calm, beautiful and peaceful.lifejacket

Growing up on the river meant that my parents had strict rules about life jackets.  We always had to wear them.  The boat would not turn start until everyone had on their life jacket.  Even if we were strong swimmers, we always wore our life jacket jumping into the water.  We wore them on pontoon boats, jet boats, and fishing boats… discrimination on the kind of boat did not matter.  If you were leaving the dock, you had on a life jacket.  Thankfully, we never had any issues with following this rule and had plenty of fun, safe boating.

Fast forward to last Memorial Day weekend, my family was on a boat leaving the beach off the Georgia coast.  I’m still unsure of what really happened, but a wave knocked our boat over and we were all tossed into the ocean a few hundred feet from shore.  Thankfully, all of the children had on life jackets, including my 3 year old son.  He did not know how to swim and the water was deep.  His second-hand, $10 life jacket SAVED HIS LIFE and for that, I will always be SO grateful.

I had been boating EVERY single summer for 31 years of my life and never had a boat flip.  It was totally a fluke but I am so thankful we were prepared.

Please do yourself and your children a favor… make them wear a life jacket.  Obviously, it is so important to wear while on a boat or while tubing but also on a dock too.  Things can happen so quickly.

It is also valuable to remember that you cannot control all situations.  Yes, you may be a safe boat driver but you can’t control how others are driving their boat.  Or yes, your children may know not to go near the edge of a dock, but what happens if a raccoon runs down the dock towards them?  (No joke, this has happened to me.)  So many things are not in our control but putting your child in a well fitted life jacket is.

And finally, every time I mention this story to friends, I want to make one final point.  As an adult, if you are ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable on a boat or body of water, just put on a life jacket.  There is no harm or foul in just being prepared.  Yes, the water is beautiful, calm and relaxing but we have to also remember how deep, strong, and overpowering it can be.

If you want more info on life jackets, I’d encourage you to check out the US Coast Guard website.

I wish you all a safe, wonderful and happy summer at the lake, river or ocean!

learn & love, brooke

Ode to Stinky

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When I was 9 years old, my parents were blessed (and surprised!) by another little pink bundle of joy.  She joined my parents, me, and Jackie as our baby sister… the youngest of three girls… and was named Alexandria Jennings Cadle.  I remember Jackie and I (dressed in matching cat t-shirts that said “Big Sisters”) coming to the hospital to meet Alex.  I was immediately in love.

We used to sing her baptism song to her on repeat.
“Alexandria, Alexandria, sent from Heaven above.
Alexandria, Alexandria, sent for us to love.
Alexandria, Alexandria, we love you.  
Alexandria, Alexandria, we love you!”
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I felt like she was my baby.  I changed her diapers, put her down for naps, put her in her car seat, got her dressed, and helped feed her.  To this day, I still feel like she is partly mine.

When I was twelve, my parents would leave me home to babysit her and Jackie each Friday night.  I’d make us all a frozen 99cent Totino’s pizza for dinner and we’d watch TGIF together on ABC.  We’d wear Alex out for bedtime by getting her to run up and down our bedroom hallway.  She would run around in just a diaper with so much glee. Jackie and I would spin her around and then get her to run back again.
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As Alex got older, she was a bit of a wild child.  I remember one time- in the span of just a few weeks- she managed to cut her own hair (at the top of her crown) and cut the straps off her bathing suit because she wanted a strapless suit.  She also told our mom that she had put a button in her nose one afternoon.  My mom couldn’t figure out if Alex was telling the truth or not.  So after some prodding and investigation, mom decided that she was telling a lie and gave up on the button search.  About three hours later, we were at a neighborhood cook out, Alex sneezed and the button popped out in front of everyone in attendance.  My parents were just grateful it came out on it’s own without involving a doctor.

As she got older, my first nickname came out for her… “Stinky”.  You may be wondering why.  Well, it’s because she was very active, sweaty and smelly most days.  So, “Stinky” fit the bill.  Eventually, she began showering more regularly and using deodorant.  But, I also felt she was very spoiled- so I kept calling her Stinky… as in spoiled rotten.  Now, it’s a very affectionate name that I still use without even flinching.  The altered version, “Stinks”, also easily rolls off my tongue.

Eventually, I went off to college and left home.  I wasn’t very close to Stinky during this time but I’m glad she came to stay with me in the dorms some and go to a few football games.
Wedding077I got married at 23 and Alex was only 14.  Still a baby.  She was a wonderful bridesmaid in my wedding.  It took some time, but she and Peck became good buds.  Thankfully, she
decided to move to Decatur for college and we reunited.  We were together 2-3 times a week with lots of shared meals.  I enjoyed spending time with her friends and roommates too.

She would come over and sit on my bed while I cleaned out my closet to donate what I no longer needed.  We’d have long talks and I enjoyed the company while doing such a boring task.  Somehow, she’d end up taking all of my clothing donations with her in a giant black trash bag for her own personal use.

When I got pregnant with JB, Alex was extra helpful in “ladysitting” me.  This is a term my husband uses to describe my need of having someone around while completing a task.  Alex helped with the nursery, registering, and documenting my ever growing belly through unflattering, candid photos.  She came to all of my showers and even a sonogram.  AlexandJBhosp2She along with Jackie and my mom, were at the hospital when JB was born and immediately began loving on him too.

That’s when the newest nickname started.  I called her AA for Aunt Alex.  As JB got older, he couldn’t say AA so he called her YayYay.  This eventually morphed into RaRa.  Not exactly sure how, but it has stuck.  The amount of love that JB has for RaRa is super special and they are great buds.  I am thankful to still have her so close and such an important part of our Atlanta family.

When Alex got married, I cried like a baby when she walked down the aisle.  One reason 12238294_10153725404214814_1356554656216976054_owas because my dad was walking her down the aisle and I love my dad so much and appreciate him working so hard to raise three daughters.  The other reason was because I felt like my baby was getting married.

In the last year, I’ve been able to witness Alex’s take on life and faith in action.  We supported each other emotionally after our candidate lost the Presidential Election.  I had the pleasure of marching with her in Atlanta with 60.000 others at the Women’s March.  I began witnessing her passion for art and being a creative maker each week.  She has turned into a beautiful adult and I’m so proud of her.
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This morning, Alex and I played our first competitive tennis match together (and won!).  It’s crazy that it’s taken this long in life for us to play on the same side of the net together (thanks 9 year age difference!).  I’ve never been more proud to have her as a partner and look forward to more matches together.

As I think about the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday, I think of Alex who I jokingly call my first born.  She helped me prepare to be a real mommy much later in life and is now one of my best friends.
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So, I raise my glass to you, Alexandria: Alex, Al, Ali, Stinky, Stinks and RaRa…

I love you so much and am glad you were sent from Heaven above and sent for us to love!

love, brooke

Deal of the Day!

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This actually may be the deal of the century… but I’ll be humble and just call it for the day.  I’m a bargain shopper… I come by it naturally from my mom.  She is always on the hunt for a deal.

I was doing a late night Walgreens run for neosporin and just happened to spot the orange clearance price tag and it said $.03.  Upon further inspection, I realized it was for toe warmers and decided to buy them all to donate to a homeless shelter for next winter (they don’t expire til 2020).  When they rang up, they actually rang up for $.01!  I bought them all- which was only 7- but felt very proud of my deal.

Did you know that socks and first aid supplies are ALWAYS needed by homeless shelters?  Did you know that food pantries always need diapers for babies?  Did you know that food stamps don’t cover toiletries so support organizations always need them?  Did you know that some teen girls stay home from school when they are on their period because they can’t afford feminine supplies?

So, the next time you see any of these items on sale- please keep food pantries or homeless shelters in mind.  Their guests would be so appreciative of your donations!

learn, brooke

Lent Wrap Up

Since I so publicly shared my Lent goals, I wanted to share my wrap up.

Trifecta wrap up:

  1.  By far, my most successful action was the prayer journal.  8 out of 10.
  2. The organization effort started off really strong but then lost a lot of steam.  6.5 out of 10
  3. The not texting when driving went ok.  Not as great as I had hoped, but improvements were definitely made.  7 out of 10

How did your Lent exercises go?

love, brooke

Lent Day 35

Today I took on a project that I SO wanted to keep ignoring… our kitchen pantry.  In my mind, it just needs to be tidied up… but in reality, it needs to be cleaned out.  Thankfully the oldest thing I found expired in 2016… so I’m not too out of it!

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love, brooke

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