In the land where "Yes Ma'am's and No Sirs" are tradition.  Where the house wine is an ice cold glass of sweet tea in the midst of pig pickins with fried okra and sweet potato pie.
     Where the summer nights are dancing with fireflies and the lazy warm days lead to trips to the beach.
     Snowmen aren't found very often.
     When they do happen to come around however, the whole world stops, (like literally) while family and friends gather together to play.  
     Snowmen are but a temporary fixture in this great land, and they usually bid their farewell all too soon.  
     They sure are fun while they last though.
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Dear Neighbors,
     I'm not quite sure where to begin.  When you came over to help the other day, you were met with a pretty typical day in our house.  I'm sorry if it frightened you, but you couldn't have known.
     You couldn't have known that earlier, I decided to start working out, like first time this year working out.  Getting dressed in my yoga pants and t shirt, I faced our treadmill head on.  After a good stretch, I climbed up to push start, only to begin running with a new sense of empowerment.  This sense was immediately met with a fuse blowing, causing the treadmill to stop on a dime.   
     After literally face planting it, (that'll teach me to work out), I was met with an annoying *beep* for the remainder of the day from some random smoke detector.  It was incessant, but oh well. 
      You couldn't have known that our cat, who is 1000 years old, is on her last leg.  All four kids sit around her petting her nose as she lies on the floor while I struggle with whether to take her to be put down or keep her home.  It makes our dog, who just turned one, crazy by the way, because all she wants to do is push the kids aside, so she can lick the cat...I'm not quite sure if it's for support...or as an appetizer.   
      Speaking of appetizers, you couldn't have known that I was trying something new for dinner.  Roasted chicken with sweet potatoes.  Who would've thought that by cleaning and stabbing sweet potatoes, they would drip down onto your oven, causing the most horrible smell and smoke all throughout your house.
      Guess what happens when smoke occurs?  Yep.  Smoke detectors.  Even though I know that a smoke detector should NOT be used as a timer when making meals, in this case, no matter what I tried, opening every window, door, fanning every pillow...the timer (ahem) smoke detectors would not shut off.
     So, dear neighbors, needless to say, as you stood in your driveway and turned to see the chaos that ensued while four kids in shorts and t shirts ran around outside in the freezing cold, screaming "FIRE!", while the windows and doors were open, me with a pillow chasing the dog down from flying through the yard from ear splitting pain and a limpy cat trying to hack up a fur ball, you didn't judge.
     You did what any awesome neighbor would do and came in, without thinking, tsking or shaking your heads, you helped chase down a runaway dog, stepped over a dying cat, ignored putrid smells, walked through a smoky house...all while dodging wild children to go into the garage and flip the fuse box thingy.  (Why didn't I think of that?)
     In literally one second, there was peace.  For one split, glorious second, the alarms stopped and it was quiet.  I can't thank you enough for that one and only fraction of time, but it meant so much.
     Thank you again Monica and Matt!  The world is a better place because of friends like you.  I would make you dinner, but well, you know.  XO 
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    I never used to understand when people had birthday parties for their dog.  That's before we actually had one.  This month, our 'puppy' Lilly turned one.
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      The kids were so excited to throw a party for her with doggy treats and toys.

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    The more Lilly has grown over the past year, the more she's taken our hearts.  We couldn't imagine life without her and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a birthday.  
     Needless to say, I get it now.  People who have birthday parties for their pets, do it because they're not just dogs or cats, they're a part of the family...and oh what fun they can make it be.  Happy Birthday Lilly!  We Love You! 

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    During a recent conversation with one of my friends named Gretta, I was complaining about how crazy our days seemed to be and how life seemed to get away from us.  She smiled and said, "Long days, short years".
    I had never heard of that expression before, but Gretta was right.  As long and monotonous as the days feel right now, with the backpacks, lunch boxes, homework, sports, meetings, work and so on and so forth...the years sure do seem to be flying by at the same time.
    One of my favorite people ever, is 95 years old. She saw what kind of day I was having early one morning after all of the hustle and bustle with dropping the kids off for school.  Taking my hand with her New York accent she smiled, "I know how busy you feel right now.  If I could go back though - I'd give anything to have a house full of children with laughter and love - and just be able to make one batch of cookies in the midst of the chaos....as crazy as that seems to you right now, that would be the best day of my entire life."
     That hit me.
     The kids didn't have school today due to snow and ice, which in North Carolina is a rarity.  Instead of feeling bothered by the disruption of the small amount of routine that we have, I decided to love every minute of it.  I didn't mind the day being long and drawn out, because I knew that all too soon, these years will be a memory.  
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     Hell hath no fury like a grocery store in the South when there's a chance of snow.  
     Here in North Carolina, we're evidently getting ready for Armageddon.  Yes, Old Man Winter has threatened us with a hint of snow and if you didn't know any better, you'd think the end of the world was coming.
     Keep in mind if you will, that meanwhile, back in the North, entire towns and cities are covered in record breaking weather.  Here though?  There's a chance of a few inches for tonight and maybe tomorrow - and the schools were let out early, people are taking off from work and everything is already closing for tomorrow.  The craziest part?  Not one flake has even fallen from the sky yet.  I'm not kidding. 
     I naively made the mistake of thinking it would be nice to make a big pot of chili for dinner tonight since it'll be good and cold outside.  I quickly remembered, that about the last place you want to be however, is between a Southerner and a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.  WHY milk and bread?  I will never know.  It's the universal rallying cry for survival skills down here for some reason.  
     I think they teach it in Boy Scouts or something once you get below the state of Virginia.  
     Just pulling into the parking lot of the store brought visions of panicked masses, foaming at the mouth with white knuckles clenching onto their steering wheels, ready to pounce on any given sign of an open parking spot.  The entire lot was full while the 'lucky ones' who had already parked, were bustling about in head to toe winter gear worthy of the Iditarod.  
     Everyone had that crazed look in their eyes as if they'd hurt you, really, really hurt you, if you got in their way.  
     Two people right in a row cut me off when a parking space became available.  I was sitting there waiting for the other guys to back out when, bam.  They pulled right in and glared with such carnal snarls, it would've made your mouth drop.  
      Yes, there's no getting between a Southerner and their groceries before a storm.  
      I don't dare say that being from the North, I actually hope for a ton of snow.  People down here don't seem to like to hear that.  Then again, around this same time last year, we actually got a few inches of snow and it turned into this...
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                       and this...
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                   and yes, even this...
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    Come to think of it, I guess that pot of chili can wait for just a few more days. 
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    You know those tiny samples of perfume you get in those little tubes?  The kind you carefully pop the top off of, so they won't spill all over the place?
     Ummm, yeah.  I had one of those in my bathroom drawer of a scent I wasn't particularly fond of.  Why haven't I thrown it away?  Good question.  I'll never know, but I can tell you one thing for sure, tonight I wish I had.
      If you've ever been around a little girl, I think you already know where this is going.  
      Our five year old daughter was planning a wedding with two of her stuffed animals this evening and it was quite the event.  All the dolls were coming.
      Stuffed kitty was planned to marry stuffed lion so she needed to be "really pretty".
      What makes a bride pretty?  You guessed it.  Going into my drawer, she found the perfume that I've told her I didn't want.  Now you and I know this means, I don't like it...what SHE hears is that I don't want it so she can have it.  
      Like some sort of nuclear blast, in a split second our entire house smelled like something from the fragrance section of the mall exploded.
      You know how you can always tell when there's an Abercrombie and Fitch within a three square mile area?  Well that is now our house.  Except it's AWFUL.    
      Running to her room, I gasped as Lauren Elizabeth stood there beaming, "She's PRETTY!  She's ready for the wedding!"  (As we all were now evidently.)
      I have a pounding headache, I have no idea how to get rid of the stench and all six of us smell like...well...you can imagine.  
      How one tiny little bottle could emit such a stench will forever be a mystery.  It's really bad though, like, I'm worried we're going to get letters from the school tomorrow, bad.
      If you happen to see one of us, just give a wave from afar.  You don't want any of this.
      Maybe in a day or two it'll settle down, but for now, being a wedding planner is definitely out of her future.  Come to think of it, we should probably keep her away from the fragrance department as well. 
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 Dear Scarlett,
     Just a note to say Thank You.  It doesn't matter where we are or what we're doing, you always have a smile and kind heart.  
     Thank you for always taking the time to say "Hi" and for giving a hug that's true.
     Your influence on everyone around you is nothing less than wonderful and your light shines through to anyone you meet. 
     When I'm having a bad day or I'm stressed up to here, it's always nice to see you to remind me of what a good friend should be.  
     So to you, Dear Scarlett and to people like you in this life, again I say Thank You.  You're who make this world a better place to be.  XO
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    My Mom asked once, "What happens when you run out of things to write about?  What if you come to your last blog?"
    I thought about this...and then it hit me.  As long as our house is (ahem) as calm and peaceful as it is, I can't imagine having nothing to write about.
    Take today for instance, it was a lovely afternoon.  My Dad and husband closed in the staircase of our basement a long time ago to make a clubhouse.  I'd started painting the two main sides, one being for the boys and the other, for girls. 
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   It's a perfect hangout for the kids and they spend hours playing and goofing off inside.
     I finished painting the boys side awhile ago, but haven't gotten around to painting the girls.
     Our five year old daughter asks constantly, "WHEEEEEEN can we do my side MOOOOOOOMMY?"  I always tell her how we'll do a fancy castle and have the door open where the tunnel under the stairs comes out.  (I've had the whole thing planned out in my mind and have been excited to do it.)  
     I've held her off for quite sometime.  I always mean to get around to it...I really do.  One thing leads to a hundred though, and well, you get the idea. 
     So now, today comes into play.  When the kids are together, it's usually about the equivalent to sounding like a circus or any given episode of WWF.  Today though, things were different.  
     There were no high pitched squeals from a crazy person running around.  No particular screams that would shatter glass.  Our daughter was completely silent.
     (Oh no.)
     Going down to see what was happening, I turned the corner and completely freaked when I found this...
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    My first thought was how was I going to paint over it all so I could paint the castle I had planned on, and HOW did she paint that high?  (table.)
     Then I took a second to breathe.
     She was so proud of her work and had planned her castle out in her very own mind.  The more I looked at it, it was far better than anything I could of done.  It was hers.  Hers to play in, dream in...and create in.  I couldn't paint over it and "redo" my own castle for anything in the world.
      When she's older and looks back to her castle, I don't know if she'll remember painting it by herself or not.  I'm glad to have the pictures to remind her of it though...and until I do come to that very last blog I write...I'll be happy knowing that the kids will be able to write their next new chapters, all on their own. 
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    Being a therapist, I'm able to work with patients from all walks of life.  On any given day, you wouldn't believe some of the personalities and stories I come across.
     Recently, one woman in particular has effected me.  She's in her 90's and is as sweet as she can be.  A nurse and I were in her room when she reached out and took our hands.
     "I want to go home," was all that she said.  Squeezing her hand, I nodded.  "I know you do.  You keep getting better and stronger and we'll work on getting you back."
     Shaking her head, she lifted my hand slightly while pointed up.  Piercing through my eyes, she repeated, "No.  I want to go home."  
     Taking a deep breath, I raised my glance to the nurse across from me.  Confirming my concern, she nodded and whispered, "Send flowers to the living". 
      I'd never heard this expression before.  Later, I asked what it meant.  Smiling, the nurse answered, "My Grandmama always used to say it.  It means to take advantage of loving people while they're here.  Don't send flowers to their funeral, because they're already gone.  Spend time and show them you care while you have them before it's too late. 
     It's stayed with me.  How simple really, but it means so much.  
     In my job, I see death more than I'd ever care to, so it's taught me some very important lessons about life.  
     One being, to embrace it.  Live to the fullest extent while loving and appreciating those in this life with you.  It all goes by too quickly to wait until the end.
      As of yesterday, our patient was still was with us.  She reached for my hand again and wanted to make sure that I told her boys how much she loved them.  They're on their way to see her which will make her heart sing.
      Reassuring me that she was ready to go home, she told me how she wanted to be with the Lord.  "Being on this Earth for almost 100 years is more than enough," she grinned.
      I'm getting ready to go into work now with hopes that she's there.  I want her to be able to spend time with her sons before she moves on.  They are her pride and joy on this Earth and truly, her most beautiful bouquet of flowers to cherish.  
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     Growing up in a small Ohio hometown, I LOVED the Winter.  Our neighbors behind us had a beautiful pond that we'd skate on each year when it froze over.
     My Dad played hockey in his younger days, so he and my Mom would take my big brother and myself to the pond or the ice skating rink from when I was about the age of three.
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     (Thanks Mom, for the cool 70's duds.)
     Now that I'm in my (ahem) forties, I'd love to take my kids skating too, but I just don't feel the desire to kill myself in the process. 
     One of the last times I donned the old skates mind you, was in my twenties with two of my girlfriends from home.  (Hi Amy and Michelle!)
     We had the fabulous opportunity to bond over good times while home on our first winter break from college.  Our togetherness was short lived on the ice however.  It mainly took place in route to the hospital where I was gleefully wisked away for a nice surgery to put my whole left ankle back together after I snapped it in half doing what?  Oh yeah, ice skating. 
     You can understand my hesitation then, when one of my favorite friends from work named Alicia had the idea of a skate date for our girls.  She has a five year old that my daughter adores so it only seemed right to put them together on the ice.  Them, as in the two five year olds.
    When Alicia smiled and said, "Oh, we can go too!" a wave of panic mixed with a little sickness covered over me.  The paradox between self preservation and ferocious maternal prowess over your child, is at times a complex and challenging beast.
    Half of me thought the girls would be fine as long as they were together.  Alicia and I could stand smiling through the plexiglass wall cheering them on.
    The other half of me knew better.  When we got there, there were big kids zooming around the rink and our two little girls would've been terrified.
     Nervously standing to pay for our rental skates, it was difficult to silence the battle raging in my mind between the possibilities of an afternoon of beautiful memories for my child, versus how long the wait time would be at the emergency room on such a fine day.             
     That's when it hit me.  Tightening Lauren Elizabeth's skates wasn't too hard to do, minus her wiggly squeals of energy.  My skates however?  To bend over and tighten them lace by lace made me realize that I was indeed not a youngster anymore.  I began to really second guess the decision.  In fact I think the words, "I'm going to die.  I'm going to die," began pulsing through my brain. 
      The four of us stood and I tried to convince myself that it would be just like riding a bike.  Um yeah, no.  You can take your bike.  Lauren Elizabeth and her cute friend, Adriana were already off and running while I looked for each object I could hold onto for balance.  If it was someone's head at the nearest bench, I didn't care.  
     Alicia and I gathered the girls and made our way to the rink as my heart pounded through my chest.  I couldn't help but wonder what color my hospital gown would be this time.
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     The rink was huge.  It stood there taunting me while I knew it could only seem bigger through the eyes of a child.  
     As the four of us took the ice...well...the wall, we began to feel the uncertainty under our feet.  The ice somehow felt more slippery in North Carolina than it did in Ohio.
     We held onto each other for dear life.  The good news was that we had five year olds with us and were able to go at their pace.  
     I was using muscles I didn't know I had, but settled on the fact that I'd rather have soreness from that, than a hard fall with all of its glory.  
     What went from a day of fear and anxiety eventually turned into one of ridiculously funny slow and steady balance between the four of us.  The little ones had a ball and believe it or not, Alicia and I did too.
     If it weren't for her, I never would've gone.  Everything from my shoulders to my calves are screaming at me in pain now and it even hurts to type.  That will fade though.  
    My daughter has asked a hundred times since then, when we get to go again.  She doesn't even have the concept of how much it worried me and for that, I'm grateful.  
    Because of a good friend and the love of a child, it taught me that you're never too old to have fun, no matter how much it might scare you at first.  
    Sometimes you just have to lace up your skates and go for it.  You never know what memories might lie ahead.
    Now if you'll excuse me, I have some bags of frozen peas calling my name. 
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