Friday, December 30, 2011

 I love the holidays! I love the music, the cheer, the festivities, and the lights! I already posted my pictures of my Christmas tree, which I love. It's a simple tree, but the twinkling lights and simple ornaments make me smile every day.

A few places nearby have an exorbitant amount of lights and I LOVE IT! 

My first visit was to the Washington DC Temple. I don't even want to think about how many lights they have there, or how many people/how long it takes to string them... but they are breathtaking! The visitor center also has concerts every night in December and they are fabulous as well. It's a great missionary tool and I am sure the visitor center gets many interested individuals and family's inquiring about the church because of their experience here.

 One friend noted to me how the lights around the visitor center are bright and colorful, but as you get closer to the temple they turn to all white. Very fitting and I am sure it was done on purpose! But, I love just driving around the parking lot and taking it all in. It's beautiful!!
 My next visit was to see the National Christmas tree on the National Mall. This is my 3rd year in DC and my first visit to see the tree. I also learned that each state and territory has their own tree as well, so I had to come and take a look. It was the perfect evening! I found parking within one minute of looking on the National Mall and the temperature outside was only about 50 degrees! That's my kind of winter weather!!

I love this picture of the National Tree, with the state trees surrounding it and the White House lit up in the background.
 There's a National Menorah right next to the tree as well!
 The White House. 
It's hard to see in the picture, but you can see the trees and lights inside when you look closely. So pretty!
 Pennsylvania State Tree!
 Then, around the National Tree they had a train exhibit. It reminded me of my childhood. We had a "train room" in my house in PA because my family was so into model trains! I went on many excursions with my family to see model train shows and I would be mesmerized  by all the detail in the displays. It's really amazing how they are crafted and built!
 A train village!
 Me in front of the National Tree!
 My final holiday visit (well, the final one I got pictures of... I went to walk around Old Towne but forgot my camera!) I went to the National Harbor across the river. I had been there with my little buddy, Jeremiah, two seasons ago and at that point the village was just being built. But, oh my word... it's grown by leaps and bounds! Stores everywhere, conference centers, hotels.... it's huge now! But, I arrived just in time to walk around and see the sunset as well as their tree!

 I love the colors in this tree! It's hard to see, but there is a musical group performing so I wasn't able to get a picture in front of the tree. However, just opposite this tree was a HUGE PEEPS store. Never been in one before. Oh my word - more Marshmallow Peeps than I could EVER imagine! I like eating maybe one or two a year, but wow... they had more Peeps than I could ever imagine!
As the holiday season comes to a close, my heart is filled with gratitude for the blessing it is to take part in the holiday cheer, music, festivities, and lights. But, more than anything, the reminder that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. And that HE is the light, the truth and the way. It is through HIM that we can find comfort and peace, direction and guidance, and that if we seek HIM, we can feel HIS love in our lives all year long.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Little reminders from the Lord in every day happenings

For me, Christmas this year was different from any other. Or, I should also say, The Christmas Season.

In years past, I've been on top of gift buying and trying to think about the perfect gift for everyone in my family (& myself!). I usually help coordinate it for others in my family as well.

But, this year was different.

My mom's health has been on a slightly rapid decline since the middle to end of October. It's been difficult and heart-breaking on many different levels. So, this holiday season, my thoughts and energy have been mostly directed towards that and keeping my own life running as usual. I have found a lot of hope and strength in holiday music and thinking about Christ. I have made sure I took part in some of the joyous events of the season and embracing as much of the spirit of it as I could, while staying away from the commercial aspect as much as possible.

But, that doesn't mean there were times of personal pity parties. I'll not deny that it is hard to be single during the holidays. It's also been hard for me this season to see my siblings and friends get together with in-laws or their own families and celebrate the holiday. I have fond memories of Christmas past when my family would gather at my grandparents and all my cousins/aunt/uncles would be together. It was so much fun! And, even though numbers have varied over the years, it has always been a time of gathering. For me, Christmas has always been about the people you spend it with... and the more, the merrier!

Well, this year, with my mom's health and her being unable to travel, I knew it would just be me and her for the holiday.... knowing she was so sick...

Then, when she went in to the hospital last week and was then transferred to a hospital about 90 minutes north of our house, I knew that would mean for me waking up on Christmas in a hotel room and spending the day in the hospital. Sadly, I let myself wallow in this for a bit last week... until I was reminded to maybe think of someone else for a change?! Maybe my mom? Imagine that. Thinking of someone else for a change.

Did my mom really want to be in such poor health? Did she want to be the one in a hospital bed on Christmas when she is usually doing all the work to make Christmas special for her children? ABSOLUTELY NOT. So, I worked on an attitude adjustment and tried to make Christmas nice for her. I brought some of our family traditions to her!

It was an enjoyable day. Would I rather have been with family, and not have my mom so sick. YES. But, the Lord reminded me and helped me see that trials can give us strength and new perspective, that it's always better to focus on others, and that Christ is there to help support us when life gets hard. My mom made me laugh and smile yesterday, even though I know the challenges she is facing could bring her to tears at any moment. But, I learned in a new way that Christmas isn't just about the actual day and what you do on that day... it's more about how you live your life, how you treat others, and really just being a disciple of Christ as best you can.

I was also reminded how blessed I was to have always had the day off in order to celebrate the holiday with my family. In the hospital, every one of my mom's doctors came in to see her (even though it was a Sunday and Christmas) and there were many other staff there who were happy to be there helping patients, when their own family members were at home.

Later that night, I was reading "Little Women". (It's the book my book club is reading for January) and I just so happened to read this last night amidst my contemplating the gentle reminders the Lord had given me recently...

(Mrs. March is sharing a story with her 4 girls)

"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented.... (They) were constantly saying, 'If only we had this,' or 'If we could only do that,' quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many things they could actually do. So they asked an old woman what spell they could use to make them happy, and she said, 'When you feel discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful. ...

Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soon were surprised to see how well off they were. ... So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy the blessings they already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest they should be taken away entirely, instead of increased, and I believe they were never disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman's advice."

Coincidence in my reading that Christmas night? I think not. The Lord had another reminder for me and that is to focus on my blessings... because one day they might be "taken away entirely". I know I have been so blessed and there is no reason for me to have pity parties for myself. I am grateful to the Lord for this reminder, grateful for the things He continues to teach me, and grateful for the opportunity I have to study the life of Christ and try to follow in his footsteps.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Charity is...

I love this quote:

"True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere....Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others... Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out."

President Thomas S. Monson

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Time with Aunt Cara

 This weekend, or really just Sat & Sunday, my brother and sister in law took the opportunity to go to NYC, so I had the chance to watch Holland while they were gone! 

She is now just 3 months old and is the cutest! Her little chubby cheeks and the smiles she gives melt my heart! I tried to capture some of them in the camera while she was doing it, but as soon as the flash went off her eyes got so WIDE and she stopped smiling. I thought it was funny! She probably wondered why I was torturing her with this!
 We fared well for the most part. I definitely could not swaddle her just like mom and dad do, or prepare her bottles so there wasn't any air getting in just like they do, but she was patient with me. She got lots of "oohh's and ahh's" when we went to Target together yesterday. And, today in church she continued to get lots of attention since she was one of two babies/toddlers there!

On our way home from church, we had an explosive diaper, so I took this picture while I was washing ALL of her clothes. Babies are messy! She loves the swing that she is in... even though she still doesn't smile when the flash goes off!

 Ha ha... love her wide eyes in this one too! It was a fun and slightly eventful 36 hours, but she survived :) I think she was happy to be reunited with mom and dad though... and have things return to normal once again. I am sure she wonders what her crazy aunt was thinking at some points over the past two days! Ha ha... if only she could talk :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Decorating... I'm no Martha, but I am proud to be Cara!

 This post will seem very silly to others, esp those who are creative/crafty... but it is a real struggle for me to decorate anything and to be creative in the approach as well! I really want to have my apartment feel like "home"... and to be cute as well!

Even though this looks (and is) very simple, I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish in my new apartment! It's no Martha Stewart, but I think it's cute, and that's all that matters :)  ...(and many thanks to my mom who let me raid the decorations in her basement!)

 My dining room table
My $20 Target 6" Christmas Tree!
For $20 I can't complain!
And, decorations from the angel tree 
I won many, many years ago :)

Merry Christmas!