2013: The Year in Review...

2013: The Year in Review...

Last year, I used RA's questionnaire as a end-of-the-year review, and I decided to the same for 2013. It's fun to remember the year and challenging to answer introspective (and retrospective) questions that force me to take an open, honest look at the past twelve months. (It's also pretty entertaining to read my answers from last year and see how many of them changed... and a few that stayed the same.)

  1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I went to church, sang in the ensemble and choir, kept the nursery during Sunday school, and went to Zaxby's for dinner... you know, glamorous stuff. Oh, and I turned 24.
  2. What are your strongest memories from this year, and why? I was able to spend some really sweet quality time with my nieces and nephews, both this summer and at Christmas, and also I think (though it's not one particular event) that Jonathan and I grew closer to each other than ever before. AND I've had some writing opportunities/experiences that have been really exciting!
  3. What did you do this year that you’d never done before? I've been able to get close to some family I didn't get to see much growing up (yay!) and 
  4. What did you want and get? Well, it wasn't on my wish list, but Jonathan got his Mac (finally!) so I received his laptop as a hand-me-down and it's worked out beautifully. No more dinosaur computer that weighed as much as a small foreign car. 
  5. What did you want and not get? A baby =) No, probably a chance to travel more. We have California, Washington, and NYC on our list! 
  6. What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year? A baby! And a house!
  7. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Psssh... not really. I'm making more but they're not really resolutions as much as they are life changes that need to be made for Jonathan's health (and my own well-being.)  
  8. What was your biggest achievement of this year? Getting a copyright on my first play (publication, come next!), directing the Christmas play that I wrote, writing another (new) play, and becoming more assertive when I need to be.
  9. What was your biggest failure? Still being afraid of controversy when it's necessary, both personally and professionally. Also, I did the whole "eat well and exercise for a while and then fall off the bandwagon" cycle again, which I hate (but, isn't that the American way? I am nothing if not patriotic.)
  10. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed? Matthew 11:28, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (It was posted on the chalkboard on my wall for most of the year.) And caffeine. I'm kidding, but only a little.
  11. What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies, music, etc) I LOVED (could not love more) The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. As Janssen put it, "If I could write a book, this is the book I would want to have written." Also, discovering Jon Acuff, from his books to his blogs to his Twitter account, has been a major blessing. He is challenging and entertaining and I'm a little ashamed of how many times I've retweeted him. For music, I've been loving The Canadian Tenors, Jim Brickman, Carpenters, Jim Brickman PLAYING Carpenters, Casting Crowns (their lyrics are the BEST), and Michael Buble's To Be Loved has been on repeat since I bought it. I haven't watched a ton of movies this year but of course Psych remains my favorite show and I'm super excited about the return of the The Sing-Off to NBC.
  12. What song will remind you of this year? "The Well" by CC and probably "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman because we've sung it at church a lot. And, thanks to my school program, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." =)
  13. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year (not necessarily from the song that reminds you of the year).   "Life break and falls apart, but we know these are places where grace is... soon to be so amazing." (From "Unredeemed" by Selah.)
  14. What was your most enjoyable purchase? It's hard to narrow down just one but I've been better about consciously making an effort to only buy clothes that I really love, and that's paid off quite a bit. And investing in some nice boots (since I wear them constantly) was a good idea.
  15. Did you travel? If so, where? Yes, to Georgia, Tennessee, and through South Carolina. We're big adventurers over here. But, like I said, we've got some trips planned for 2014 that I'm really excited about. 
  16. What do you wish you’d done more of? I wish I'd read more books, planned more blog posts, invested myself into others (outside my comfort zone) more, watched more movies, written more notes and cards for people, studied more Scripture, exercised more, and saved money for more experiences than "stuff." 
  17. What do you wish you’d done less of? I wish I'd done less worrying, caring about what others are doing when it doesn't affect me,eating out, stressing out, and doubting myself and my abilities. 
  18. Compared to this time last year, how are you different? I'm closer to seeing some big dreams realized than before and more sure of starting the process to get there (for example, getting a copyright, I hope, will get me a step closer to publication.) I feel like I'm more sure of myself and what my priorities are, and maybe a little better at speaking up when I need to. =)
  19. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same? I'm as awkward and self-deprecating as ever. =) Maybe someday I'll wake up a poised, graceful swan but not yet! I'd love to be able to gracefully accept a compliment without immediately deferring to "It's no big deal!" or something similar. I guess I'm still learning the difference between confidence and pride. Right? (Do I sound insecure? =)
  20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year? I'm a naturally curious person and a planner by nature, so often I want to know what's happening and WHY. At lunch with a friend today, I mentioned that I'm thrilled that, at this time last year, I didn't know what the next year would hold. It's been a difficult lesson to learn, and goes against my questioning nature, but knowing God knows what's next (and why) has to suffice. He knows what I can take and only chooses to reveal a little piece at a time, and I'm (slowly) learning to accept that. Psalm says that "the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" but He doesn't necessarily lay out the path (visibly) years, months, or even weeks in advance. So, day-by-day it is... not an easy concept to grasp, but I'm getting there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I've also learned that the gifts and passions God's given me are just that... gifts from Him. And if He's entrusted me with certain abilities, I can't ignore them or feel weird about using them. I don't know what opportunities will arise this year, but I want my desires and His will for me to align. And, according to Psalm 37:4, they should: "Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
My friend Laura asked us on Twitter the other day to "describe 2013 in one word." I chose challenging, because it was. Overall, I faced more challenges- good and bad- then any year so far, but that's good because it caused growth in my life and change, when needed. Like I said, I can't imagine a year ago knowing what all would take place in 2013, but God knew what was coming and equipped me (even when I didn't feel like it!) for each step of our journey. (This is all sounding very melodramatic and that's not what I'm intending. I didn't climb Mount Everest or backpack across Europe...) 

I'd love to take the hard challenges from this year and learn from them what I should, while taking the new and exciting ones and pushing forward in implementing them in my life. 

Peace out, 2013. I'll look back on you older, wiser, and with the memory of a perpetual headache...  But it's been nice knowing you.

Happy New Year!


I Have a Problem...

I Have a Problem...

This weekend, I finally pulled down the over-the-door, four-hook hanger thingie that has been weeping under the strain overloaded with my necklace collection for months. I guess you can say I have a necklace problem... My earring collection is tiny, I have like five or six bracelets, but the necklaces. Oh, the necklaces I've somehow accumulated over the years. (I received five just this week as Christmas presents!) And I do have a whole lot of statement necklaces, some long chain-y type ones, and a few that I wouldn't be caught dead in now but that I am holding onto for sentimental reasons because I'm a big schmuck. (My friends and sisters are probably not sad that I have a huge pile that they're now free to pilfer through.) It's hard for me to decide what to give away, because I just KNOW that as soon as I get rid of one I'll put together the perfect outfit for it. But really, does anyone NEED bubble necklaces in four different colors? (The answer is no, especially since they kind of get on my nerves a little bit now. In my defense, two of them were gifts, but still.) 

So, I guess this explains why my jewelry board on Pinterest is called "Excessories," right? And now, excuse me... I need to track the shipping for something I just ordered online. It may or may not be another statement necklace. I guess you'll never know.


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Thank you so much for reading and being part of my "blog world" this year. I hope you have a simply magical day celebrating with family and friends, remembering the fact that while presents and "stuff" are fun, today is about celebrating Jesus... his birth, life, and ultimately death that made eternal life possible. 

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

...and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 


P.S. I was stupid careless and miscounted the number of Christmas cards we needed this year... so if you didn't get one, consider this it! =)

Decisions, Decisions...

Decisions, Decisions...

For someone who loves clothes and shopping as much as I do, it's nearly unbelievable how indecisive I am when it comes to picking out my outfits. This is especially true of any kind of special occasion... so when I was trying to decide what to wear for our Christmas card pictures, I was torn. I knew I wanted a dressy outfit and a casual outfit but beyond that... no idea. I even enlisted the help of a friend and trolled Pinterest... and still ended up going in a different direction because this is a sickness, I'm telling you.

Anyway, the final results weren't really anything to write home about but I liked them and felt comfortable, which is more than I can say about how I am in front of a camera. I'm a pretty awkward person anyway (I may have to write a post about this soon because it's all too true) but I am really unhappy with my profile (ugh) and candid photos of me all look like I was just overdosed on Vitamin H (for hideous) so really the only thing we're gonna get that's good is a straight-on, smiling shot. All those cool, artsy poses where the couples look dramatically off at some distant object? Or seductively at each other? Not happening for the McNeeses. Jolly and plain is our photography style. Good thing our friend Juli  who took these pictures still managed to get some beautiful shots with, let's face it, very little material to work with from me. =)

I'm not begging for compliments... I really do look genuinely awful in profile or candid pictures. THESE shots, though, that fall into my acceptable criteria, I really do like. =)

Outfit details for those who care: 
Dress: Target (sooo old)
Belt: Kohl's
Shoes: Target
Necklace: Belk

Top and Skirt: Loft
Scarf: Old Navy (seriously such a good investment!)
Tights: Target
Boots: Nine West from Macy's

And... my favorite =)

He's adorable. I know.

Of course, I agonized over what to wear without thinking that it might not be a good idea to curl my frizz-prone hair on a drizzly, rainy day where it would quickly fall into one massive wave but hey... "we can't all be acupuncturists!" (Mulan? Anybody?)

So now you know that I'm terribly, obnoxiously indecisive about clothing and that if you take a candid picture of me and post it on Facebook I will mostly like, in a very sweet tone, tell you to remove it before I break your legs. =) A very educational post, right? I am a teacher, after all. 


Linked up with Lindsey!

Christmas Confessions...

Christmas Confessions...

So, when I talked about our Christmas traditions, I got to thinking about some things that are expected at Christmas but that I (gasp!) really don't care for. My feelings towards what's on this list range from "not my fave" to "this needs to die immediately." =)

Also, thanks for your input on Facebook/Twitter. Solidarity, people!

Just a little bit skeptical...

-I don't know how or why, but every Christmas we've been married, we've ended up with (literally) bags full of Christmas candy, cookies, and other "homemade" treats that never get eaten. I know the intention is good, but there are so MANY of them that the sheer number is overwhelming and I end up ignoring it all until January (and my annual diet) lead me to throw it all away. I appreciate the thought, but most of the time (with Candy Cane Hershey's Kisses being the exception this year) it just ends up going to waste. So, I don't hate the tradition- just my inability to plow through several cavities' worth of sweets.
On the scale: fairly low (since it's my own fault)

-How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite movies... the cartoon version, that is. But the Jim Carrey Grinch, while loved by many people, is something that falls closer to the "utter hatred" end of the spectrum. Every few years I revisit this and try to like it, but I just really don't. (Same thing with the Jim Carrey A Christmas Carol.... what is it with Jim Carrey ruining Christmas classics for me? Oh, well.)
On the scale: Hate with a little self-doubt (since I know so many people love it. I just... don't.)

-Elf on the Shelf. Enough said. Mr. Elf and his hiding spots can stay away from my house, thank you very much. And wipe that smirk off your face, you little creep.
On the scale: Pretty much hate. No redeeming qualities, no, "Well, if it had..." No. (Sorry, Jen!)

-Honestly... and this may come as a shock, but I really don't like the vast majority of Christmas movies. Of course there are some that are untouchable (like these ten) but nearly every ABC Family, Hallmark, and and other "made-for-TV" holiday movie is... wait for it... exactly the same. I know most aspects of Christmas entertainment are super cheesy, but I can only watch so many variations of the same plot (grumpy person won over by a show of holiday cheer, town brought together to somehow "save Christmas," family saved by Santa, troubled youths becoming nice when forced into a Christmas program, waking up at the North Pole, or the sacrilege of trying to steal the what-if-I'd-never-been-born plot of "It's a Wonderful Life." Take a couple of these plot lines and combine them and you've got nearly every Christmas movie on Netflix (where you'll also find a psycho version of Rudolph that introduces the concept of divorce between Dasher and his deer-wife. Really?)
On the scale: hmmmm... depends on the movie, but I guess from "no thanks" to "turn that garbage off; it's a disgrace to the birth of our Savior."

-This one has probably intensified since I became a teacher, but the little "extra" words in Rudolph (like a flashlight! like Columbus!) have really started to get on my nerves. I know it's supposed to be cute but I don't think it is.
-on the scale: like, annoying!

-Thanks to a Christmas dinner mishap years ago that involved a macaroni and cheese dish gone terribly wrong (think grabbing the wrong carton of what looks like milk), I haven't been able to stomach eggnog ever since. Even the smell makes me gag, and this is unfortunate because my husband loves it. As for me, I say humbug to any eggnog flavored anything.
On the scale: pretty high, because it's pretty gross.

-Every flavor of candy cane besides peppermint is unacceptable. Cherry? Chocolate? Fruit punch? Nope. Peppermint only.
On the scale: I mean, no one makes me eat other flavors, so I guess about mid-level annoyance. It's just the principle of the thing.

-It really bugs me when commercials change the words to Christmas songs in order to peddle their wares... mostly because the words usually don't rhyme and it requires cramming lots syllables where they don't belong.
-On the scale: immediate changing of the channel/mute.

-I know this makes me a terrible person, and I'm not against them, but the Salvation Army Santas always make me uncomfortable. It's like... yes, I just walked out of Belk with seven bags, but no I do not have any change for your needy children. A dichotomy, I know.(I've never actually left Belk with seven bags, so that's just hyperbole for effect.) And I toss change in when I have it (which is rare, since I never carry cash.) But mostly these guys make me feel like a heel for using a debit card and have me ready to pack for a guilt trip. (This also applies to those stores who ask "Do you want to round up your total for _____________ (insert cause)?" My answer is almost always no unless I know it's a good organization like St. Jude's. But an extra 34 cents to find someone's lost dog? Nope. Scrooging it up right here. And I guess certain people have ruined the whole "I give through my church" answer since that isn't exactly met with an understanding, "Oh, great, no problem.")
On the scale: directly related to the reproachful look that the Santa Claus gives me.

-Last but not least (and I'm about to break my dad's heart), the song "The Christmas Shoes" is just absolutely dreadful. Since Jon Acuff is far funnier than I am, read his perfectly poetic thoughts on surviving it throughout the holiday season.
On the scale: to quote my sister, it makes me want to put a kitten in a blender.

So, does this list make me a total Scrooge or what? (Hopefully not, judging from some of your comments.) But if you disagree... well, bah humbug.


Show's Over...

Show's Over...

Last year, I wrote a Christmas play. It was a completely unexpected opportunity and one that I am still a little in awe of, honestly, since I would never have imagined that I'd be writing anything fictional. But this year I had the opportunity to not only see it done but to direct our church's performance of it. I'm pretty much the worst at telling other adults what to do but I decided to take it on anyway. I chose the best possible cast and (what feels like forever ago) we began rehearsals.

It's kind of surreal to see a script I wrote performed, but it's kind of maddening to actually direct it and read the script constantly (we're our own worst critics, right?). And then lots of super fun things happened, like finding out that our entire set had to be repainted, or being down to the wire on some of our main props, or coordinating rehearsals with our already-crazy schedules.

Our wonderful cast! 

While I certainly spent a lot of time on this, there is really no way in the world I could have done it by myself. I had (very talented) friends helping with set design, makeup, and, let's be honest... the actors themselves made the show. I am NOT an actress, so working with people (including my husband!) who are able to actually get onstage without being super awkward (like me) is super impressive. And I won't say that there weren't days I was absolutely at a loss and feeling like a kid playing adult in all this, times I wanted to toss my script in the trash, and times I ugly-cried at the thought of never being able to pull it all off.

So when the second performances finally ended last night, I was really and truly overwhelmed by the goodness of God in this whole process (and you might have heard my sigh of relief wherever you are.) I've heard a lot of nice words about it, but the truth is (and this is not false humility by any means), this was all the Lord's doing. I'd never written a script before. I'd never directed anything of this magnitude before. And, I certainly don't have the ability to move in people's hearts... only the biblical truth of the Christmas story could do that. 

Now that it's all over, I feel a little lost and "thing-less" but I am more than willing to wait that feeling out while a) hibernating sleeping in for a few days and b) cleaning my sad, neglected house. But I do want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the cast, crew, choir, choir director, sound and light guys, and everyone else who had a hand in making this a success. 

AND not to be forgotten... I absolutely could not have done any of this without my husband. Jonathan has helped me in a million ways, from doing a great job in his role to keeping me from (completely) losing my mind. He's the greatest, I know.

And now I'm off to... did I say clean? I meant watch White Christmas and eat Hershey Kisses. =) 


One Proud Teacher...

One Proud Teacher...

Anyone who has ever worked with kids for any type of performance know that pulling it off with any measure of success takes a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears, prayer, and caffeine. Our school's Christmas program was no exception... but after tonight it was absolutely worth every minute of frustration, every rearranged lesson plan, and every moment of stress over costumes, sets, rehearsals, and lines.

My group of choric speakers (if you're not familiar, it's kind of like a choir, but with talking) performed How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which I love... and I'm a little in awe of their ability to memorize the whole book!

Make-up time... thanks Kenzie!

Waiting for showtime!

Mr. Taylor leading in prayer before the program!

The "Fireside Kids"... they did such a great job!

Twinning with Madison...

Humble brag for a second... I made the Grinch cave myself (with my fear and trepidation) but I really like how it turned it! (That's Max the dog up there =)

Pre-performance... love these goobers! They've tried their best to give me gray hair in the past two months but it was worth it. 

Yeah, I took a second out of directing to snap a picture.. guilty! They absolutely blew me away tonight... and I know I was a drill sergeant during rehearsals but it was worth every single, "NO! Do it again!" =)

Let me brag on this boy for a second... he was seriously the best Grinch of all Grinches ever. He was amazing... he took this performance to a whole new level. This kid is going places... really! 

The choirs and nativity... they were so awesome and well worth the afternoons of practicing for weeks on end. I may have cried just a little.

Blake did a great job of presenting the Gospel at the end of the program!

Reality shot.. I ditched my heels and wore slippers for the rest of the evening, including to dinner with some of the staff. 

And last but not least... this cute bearded man has totally had my back for the past several weeks and has (lovingly) handled my craziness. He's the greatest. =)

I love that after all the (very real) craziness, these kids (as they always do) pulled everything off and didn't just look cute or move people to laughter and tears (although they did both)... they really and truly glorified the Lord and presented people with His truth tonight. And, you know... the truth of Dr. Seuss. Both are important, right? =)

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

Well said, Ted. 


Mrs. McScrooge (and My Winter Bulletin Boards)...

Mrs. McScrooge (and My Winter Bulletin Boards)...

Well, I'd like to say that I am still the Christmas Queen and that I've "decked the halls" of my classroom just like years past... but that would be a lie. With a late Thanksgiving and a mere two weeks of school before Christmas break (which is made even shorter by field trips and program rehearsals every afternoon), I just felt very very lazy that it would be an inefficient use of my time to trim up every corner of the room with decor that would only be seen for a few days. I know what you're thinking: "But Ashley, it's Christmas! Surely decorating for your favorite holiday is worth the extra time, even for just a few days."

To this I say, "Bah! Humbug!" (My classes are attending a stage performance of A Christmas Carol next week and, because I'm a big meanie, I'm making them read the book and be quizzed over each chapter- pardon me- stave.) So, call me Ashley McScrooge, but I only went with a few little touches of Christmas that can easily be traded out for something else when the cold, depressing, dreary days of the second semester are upon us.

I know, it should say "as fast as you can" but I decided to be politically correct since not everyone reads very fast. (Also, my students would probably take that to mean, "skim the story and forget half of what it says," so, you know, in the spirit of reading comprehension, this caption works. (Also, forgive my inexcusable lack of punctuation. I'll add it... eventually.)

I snagged this penguin set on clearance this summer and I think it's adorable. (By the way, I googled it and a group of penguins is called a "huddle." I think something with penguins playing football would be ah-dorable.) The caption may be a stretch, but hey... my letters and time were limited.

This cute banner was super cheap last year at Target... and no, I'm not anti-Merry Christmas! =) (Check out this hilarious post on the subject, though.)

Love Snoopy and my Christmas tree!

I've had this snowman/snowlady set for a while but I could never decide on a caption worth mentioning. I love how this banner turned out (and chose to ignore the derisive snickers of my students when they read it.)




This was definitely a labor of love since I had to project and trace each character, have my husband assist me in cutting them out since I'm incapable of handling scissors, and fill them in using my (at best) kindergarten-level coloring skills. I'm glad I worked on it over a period of a couple of weeks, though, because I really do love how it turned out. (By the way, if you don't get the caption, the jack-in-the-box is from the Island of Misfit Toys, Herbie the Elf wants to be a dentist, and well, obviously Rudolph wasn't Mr. Popular until he saved Christmas and all that.)

There it is... not my usual all-day haul but I think it's pretty cute for being so simple. And other than the tree, it can all stay up (holla!). (By the way, I know I don't have my nativity scene out... I prayed about it and decided that the Lord would still be pleased with me if I didn't sticky tack a biblically-incorrect paper depiction of his birth on my wall.) 

If you want to revisit a more festive and less busy time in my life, check out last year's Christmas boards. And if you have any cute ideas for the dreary lull of January/February, do pass them along. =)

God bless us, every one... even those without manger scenes. 


It's Tradition...

It's Tradition...

The older I get (nearing a quarter of a century, dearies), the more I love the idea of Christmas... don't get me wrong, it's still my favorite holiday. But as my childhood begins to twinkle like a fading star on the horizon, each year I get more nostalgic about all our Christmases growing up... the traditions, the memories, and the moments that I remember as "Now it's Christmas."

Since this is only our fourth Christmas as "adults" (used loosely and reluctantly), Jonathan and I haven't established a whole lot of our own traditions yet, mostly because we're always out of town for Christmas. I'm sure that'll change once we have our own little ninos to think of, but for now we're still kind of riding the coattails of things we grew up with. And after a quick sister call, I have compiled as many as I can remember... some of these I can implement at my own house, but, like I said, I mostly remember them fondly and with an occasional tear depending on how many sappy Hallmark commercials I've seen recently. (Also, I realize that most of these are not unique to our family. I just like to think they are, okay? Don't Grinch on my memories, man.)

-Definitely (and we still do this) one of my most outstanding memories would be opening our one present on Christmas Eve.(BTW... no hard feeling or anything, but if you open your Christmas present on Christmas Eve and leave nothing for Christmas morning, well... you're basically a terrible person. But, like I said, no biggie. We'll just consider it your fatal flaw.) It was always pajamas (matching, naturally) and while it was probably cuter when we were all twelve and under, it's still something we love to do.

-Every year, our church would go Christmas caroling, mostly to different "Senior Saints" (Baptist for old people) and I loved going to the Driver's because they gave out candy canes and ending up at Mrs. Mitchell's house for hot chocolate and cookies. (I also remember being terrified that I'd spill the hot chocolate on her white tablecloth or white carpet or white couch.)

-Driving around to see Christmas lights was a must. It may have just been where we lived, but there were always tons of houses decorated. I can still remember a couple of streets where people went aaaaallll out that were my favorite.

-I loved helping my mom decorate for Christmas (probably more than she loved letting us) but every year our "homey" tree was the flocked one that my parents had had since they got married. It finally gave up the ghost a few year ago when it looked more like a little dandruff that snow, but the colored lights on it were SO pretty and we hung all our homemade (aka not pretty) ornaments on it. 

-Speaking of decorating, my very favorite decoration that got put out every year was a little set of stuffed Christmas bears. They're only a few inches tall and all fit in a little basket, but I loved to play with them. In fact, I went looking for them last year and was a little ticked off disappointed when I couldn't find them all. 

-Every year, without fail, my mom dressed us up and to the mall Santa we went. (I think the last time we did this Amanda asked for a boyfriend for Christmas- as a college student- and now she's married with two kids, so good job Kris K.) I'd love to find all these pictures in order! Maybe I'll do some photo trolling when we go home to visit. 

How cute and fat was Amy's little squishy face? =)

-I've talked about this before, but I can't even think of Christmas growing up without thinking of the Carpenters Christmas music. If Baines Family Christmases had a soundtrack, it would be these albums. Hearing it at any time of the year puts me in a festive (and nostalgic) mood instantly.

-We always had a real tree growing up... the smell is just incomparable. I remember feeling very betrayed the year my mom got a "fake" tree. What were we, the Scrooge family? (I guess she was tired of brown needles all. over. the. floor. after so many years.) 

-For many years, we lived right next door to our Cox cousins. (This was as lively and wonderful as you can imagine.... we literally wore a path between our two houses.) For many Christmas Eves in a row, our parents would get shrimp, sparkling cider, and other yummy treats and basically leave us to fight to the death fend for ourselves while they had their own little party. At the time I was probably bitter about it but now I think, "Brilliant! I cant' wait to do the same thing with my kids!" 

-Oh, there are so many foods associated with Christmas- sausage balls, my mom's homemade fudge, HAM, dressing, red velvet cake, Chex Mix (don't tell, but I'd just as soon have store-bought), and also mixing Sprite with cranberry juice for our own little Christian cocktail. =)

-Of course, we always read the Christmas story... my favorite passage is Matthew 1, but clearly we include Luke 2 and Isaiah 7 and 9. This is usually intended to be serious but typically becomes a running contest to see who can make it without snort-laughing while Dad reads because we are basically heathens. 

-Speaking of Dad (and I think we'd all agree this is one of our favorite traditions)... every year he sings "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" in that heavenly, mellow voice and it's beautiful and most definitely one of those "NOW it's Christmas" moments. 

- I have no idea why, but every year we got the typical candy and stuff in our stockings along with things like razors, shaving gel, and maybe a toothbrush. Were we the only ones? I don't mind, I just don't know that toiletries are typical stocking stuffers. That one may be indigenous to the Baines family. 

-They weren't always with us on Christmas Day, but I definitely remember Mamaw and Papaw spending Christmas with us and hearing Papaw read the Christmas story (we were probably better-behaved for him, thanks to a healthy fear). Papaw loved Christmas and although we were afraid to giggle when he read the Bible, he was always making us laugh by dressing up in Santa hats or (my favorite) eating the popcorn off Aunt Nancy's tree. 

-Watching Christmas movies... a given, but probably the cornerstone of our Christmas experience (besides the Christmas story. We were the pastor's family, after all.) Here are some of my our favorites, but I'm fairly certain White Christmas tops the charts for all of us. 

Other memories include our (dreaded) Christmas piano recitals, the annual ladies' cookie/candy exchange (of which my memories are fuzzy because I was always sequestered downstairs with the children), all four of us piling into the same bed on Christmas Eve (merging from our respective bedrooms), Christmas shopping at Alderwood Mall, Christmas in the Park (take me back!), singing together (not limited to Christmas, but still), making videos for the family "back home," since we lived in the Dark Ages, the Twelve Days of Christmas song at Mamaw's...I know I'm forgetting things (entering the twilight years, like I said) so I invite my sisters to add in their two cents but these are just some of the highlights for me. Now that Christmas means plays and sets and coordinating practices and, let's be honest- STRESS for the majority of the month of December, it's nice to look back to a time when my biggest worry was that the animated Santa figurine was going to come to life and stab me with that quill pen. 

Okay, maybe I still worry about that. All is calm? Haha, not so fast. (And I can only pray for you Elf-on-the-Shelfers whose life are at risk with that murderous little creep moving around your house.) I kid, I kid. What are YOUR favorite memories/traditions? Tell me! I wanna know. 




Given that a national holiday dedicated to gratitude is going on this week, you'd probably infer from my title that I'm going to talk about being overwhelmed with thankfulness for all my blessings... how numerous they are, how I don't deserve them, how I could never exhaust the list of all things good and wonderful in the life of Ashley McNeese.

Sorry to disappoint. (Sort of.)

I could certainly write a post like that (and should, I'm sure) but actually, I've been overwhelmed lately and not in a "holy chocolate chip cookie, Batman... I'm one lucky girl" kind of way. It's been more like, "holy acne, Batman... I'm way too stressed" kind of way. I've been quiet around here lately. I haven't posted much because, truthfully, who cares? "I am Ashley; hear me whine." I also really haven't had much to write about, which worries me. All the writing books say, "If you're a writer, you have to write. You can't help yourself. It's like breathing." What if you're a writer who's also a teacher and assistant pastor's wife and Christmas play director with an inability to function without sleep? And a fear of alienating your readers by bemoaning your pitifully small burdens?

During our midweek service last night, our youth pastor talked about giving thanks for all the good things in our lives (easy, expected) AND all the hard things (not so easy, a little unexpected.) And I nodded along and silently amened like a champ... but am I really doing that? I'd have to say, sheepishly...no.

So yeah... with a bleeding calendar (teachers only use red pens) and a never-ending to-do list, I've been feeling the craziness that is Christmas crunch time. And I really, really hate that, because the things that have me busy and stressed are all good things, but, as is so often the case with me and lots of other frazzled people, the work, attention to detail, and time that they entail are in danger of eclipsing the actual purpose for them. Let me transparent (which we all may regret) for a moment and say that I was ugly-crying last night from the sheer overwhelming fear that all I have to get done will not get done. And in the midst of all this madness, I'm angry at myself because I'm well aware that freaking out over events that are meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus are meant to be enjoyed... relished even. And during this week- the week of Thanksgiving, for crying out loud- shouldn't I be going through the alphabet naming things I'm thankful for instead of having a meltdown at the thought of the next two weeks of absolute madness?

Yes, I should. And I will. (I might cheat on the hard letters but I'll play.) In the meantime, I am determined to enjoy the next couple of days. I'm shopping, eating, watching movies, wrestling (with the munchkins), reading, and being thankful, even for the hard things. 

This big boy is already reducing my stress level quite a bit. 

This is not a cry for help, I promise. It's just my being honest, which, in the online world, is tempting to avoid as we post and filter the best versions of ourselves. I'm okay. I really am. But if you hear a shout of jubilant rejoicing on December 16 (that's when Christmas break starts and most of my craziness ends) don't be alarmed. Joy to the world, indeed.