Wednesday, December 28

::Christmas at The Homestead::

This year we spent Christmas at a magical place - The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA. Cannon's side of the family joined us there and Parrish had a blast with all of his cousins. The Homestead is a place that has a little something for everyone. Skiing, ice skating, indoor bowling alley, movie theatre, carriage rides, hay rides, smores, horse back riding, visits with Santa, and of course yummy food. The list goes on and on.
We met people there that have been spending Christmas there for the last 30 years and are on a first-name basis with the staff. It was unseasonably warm while we were there, so we didn't have a white Christmas, but it was cold enough for them to blow a little snow. Parrish learned to turn and stop on his skis in an hour! That's more than he learned in two days at Vail ski school last winter. I think his age and the one-on-one really helped this time.
On Christmas Eve we took a family hay ride around the grounds. There are beautiful, old Southern homes surrounding the property, but otherwise, it is in the middle of no where. We rode up to the ski lodge and had hot chocolate and smores. It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas eve. After the festivities died down is when I always got sad missing Olivia and wishing I was laying her toys out with Parrish's or that she was piling in the big king-sized hotel bed with the rest of the family.

Santa found Parrish even at The Homestead and he burned up the hallways on his Ezy Rider and ripped into presents with his cousins. I don't think the hotel will ever be the same after that crazy morning!

My sisters-in-law Christy and Jacky put a beautiful silver ornament in Olivia's stocking Christmas morning and CC and Grandaddy made a donation to her foundation in her honor. As hard as it was to see her stocking without her there to open it, I was so glad she was remembered that morning in a special way. Cannon and I have decided we are going to start decorating a small, live tree with her collection of silver ornaments for our room each year in addition to the decorating I do for her at the cemetery.

While we were in Virginia we had to go to the Hot Springs that gave the town it's name and I must say that I wasn't all that impressed. Located in delapidated structures are two natural springs that stay about 95 degrees year round. Indians and past presidents have soaked in the "healing waters." The history was neat, but it wasn't something I wanted to do more than once!

When we got home from Virginia I rec'd a letter from Ella Zeigler's grandmother's employer with a Christmas donation for Olivia's Foundation in honor of Ella. In her letter she told me that her parents had lost a baby boy just a few days old when she was little and couldn't afford to mark his grave with anything more than a number that the funeral home provided. 20 years later they were finally able to put the little boy's name on the grave and she was glad to know that our foundation was working to provide burial assistance to people like her parents. She went on to tell of their relief to finally have been able to give him the proper headstone he deserved.

This has gotten me thinking a lot about wanting to move forward with this mission and I have been praying about the best way to get the word out that this is something we want to help people with. No one wants to think about burying their child, but the truth is that when it happens, the costs can be staggering. I know people who have had to cremate their babies because they couldn't afford a burial plot. I can't imagine not having a place to go and sit and "be" with Olivia. I can't imagine not having the choice at the most horrible time in my life.

If there is anyone reading this who needs burial assistance, or knows of someone who does, we want to help. Just post a comment on this blog with your contact information and I will contact you for details. Our oliviacharlesantiques website should also be up and running soon and there will be contact information listed under the "Olivia's Light" tab for those needing the assistance of our foundation.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas.
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Sunday, December 18

:: Light from the Dark ::

Have you seen the pre-assembled gingerbread houses at Publix? They have put the joy back into decorating gingerbread houses in our family. The frustration of (unsuccessfully) gluing the walls and roof together are a thing of the past.
All that's left to do is decorate until their hearts content.
Decorate and eat the icing straight from the bag, that is.
Our little kitten Parrish got last year for Christmas is not so little anymore. He is a hauss. And it's a good thing because Parrish routinely chases him around the house to "wrestle" and he and Kaden even managed to pin him down long enough to grace him with a beautiful Santa Claus hat last week. (You can tell he was thrilled)
My friend Katie gave me her Rachel Ray magazine with this yummy peppermint patty cookie recipe inside. Since I've only burned one out of about ten things I've baked recently I decided to give it a try in hopes that my baking skills have improved over years past. After having one of these cookies, even Cannon had to admit I've gotten better.

If you have a sweet tooth around the holidays, check out the recipe here.

Last night we had my sister Caroline and her boyfriend Nate, my brother Hunter (who is home from basic training for the holidays), my grandparents Glorio & E, and my mom Tappy over for an early Christmas dinner and gift exchange since we will be celebrating Christmas out of town this year.
After a yummy dinner there was lots and lots of wrapping paper tearing....
And high fiving "thanks!"

Friday we head to Virginia for Christmas. We decided that celebrating Christmas where there are lots of activities to keep our minds off of Livy's absence was just what we needed this year. We hope that Parrish having his cousins to pal around with on Christmas will lessen the sadness of missing his Sissy. He often still asks me why other people get to "keep" their sisters and tells me he wants another sister. It's just heart-wrenching to think of him opening presents alone on Christmas morning again with only adults to keep him company. Our Olivia's absence is a void in our hearts all of the time, but is even more keenly felt at the holidays and on special occassions.

And that same void in my heart has me wrestling with the usual barage of questions, thoughts, and heartaches. I've been reading "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp, who herself watched her mother loose a child in a horrific way, and in her book about living a thankful and praise-filled life (even in the darkness) she writes, "Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full. God wastes nothing but "makes everything work out according to his plan" Ephesians 1:11

Even though I don't always "feel" this way, that does not mean that it is not real. It is a promise that God made. So although I sometimes don't feel like believing that is true, I can intellectually know that it is - that we as mere humans have no way of knowing the intricate inner workings of his perfect plan and what hardships, grief, and disappointments that may entail on our parts.

Ann Voskamp goes on to point out that so many things filled with light and life that have been born of the darkness, most namely the eternal life born to us from the darkness of the horrific events at the cross. This rebirth gives me hope that even this dark hour of our lives can make way for even greater blessings.

Because God is always good, even when my circumstances aren't. Even (and maybe especially) in the valley - His grace and mercy are never ending.

"Everything I hoped for from the Lord is lost! The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfullness, his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritence, therefore I will hope in him." Lamentations 3:18-24

"Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow." Lamentations 3:32-33

This Christmas I am looking to the darkness of the cross and the light of the resurrection and remembering the lengths to which God would go to save us from this dark world. I am remembering Mary's trusting spirit as she submitted willingly and joyfully to God's plan (which had to terrify her). I am praying for that same trust in God's plan for our lives.

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Thursday, December 8

:: Cake Auction & Gift Wrapping ::

Dr. Robert Johns and his wife Sasha are hosting a community share and appreciation day tomorrow at the Southern Pines Chiropractic office in Mt Laurel. Please stop by between 3 and 5 p.m. There will be a cake auction, crafts for the kids, and free gift wrapping for a donation to the Olivia Charles Foundation. Come by for some fun and get a jump on that gift wrapping-all while supporting our efforts to distribute more prayer pagers in our precious Olivia's memory.

Visit for more information. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, December 3

:: Greenery, Gift Tags, & Gruyere ::

I heart greenery. You know that stuff that's left over after they trim the bottom branches off your fresh Christmas tree? It's free and it has one-hundred and one uses. Even if you're more of a pre-lit tree family, you can go by the Christmas tree lots and snag some off the top of the free pile. Combine those evergreen trimmings with fresh magnolia branches, holly berries and a few stick twigs and voila! An instant holiday arrangement that will last weeks and possibly the whole month of December outside. Best of all - everything is free!
Friday my mother-in-law CC and her friend Gwynne hosted a ladies luncheon at my house. I'm sad to say that the only picture I managed to snap was of the arrangement above (what is up with that?) Nevertheless, Gwynne had a lot of cute ideas for projects using things that can be found right outside our back door. One of my favorite was her idea of bleaching pine cones. Really wishing I had snapped a picture to show you here, but a word description will have to do. To me they reminded me of pickled wood - almost ash colored. From a distance you might think they were dusted with snow. Anyway, I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds simple enough. Have your kiddos gather lots of pine cones. Then mix 1 part bleach with 1 part water and soak the pine cones 6 hours or more until desired color. After they dry they have a lot of uses. Stack them on your mantle, pile them in a basket, or glue or wire them to a wreath form.
My very creative friend and neighbor Dee brought me a hostess gift tied with personalized popsicle sticks. One says "Merry Christmas" and the other "The ONeals." Is that adorable, or what?? I asked her if I could pass along the idea and she was happy to share. The best part is that the little alphabet stamp kit she used to create them were .97 cents at Wal-Mart!! So quick...go grab yours before they're sold out!
I blogged before about my obsession with Bistro Niko in Atlanta and their melt-in-your-mouth gruyere bites. Well, today I was flipping through my Fresh Market cookbook trying to decide what to bring to a party next weekend when I ran across a recipe for Gruyere Puffs!! Right then and there I packed it up and headed to publix for the ingredients. They were surprisingly simple and (almost) as delicious. (Because let's face always tastes better when someone else cooks it!) If you need a salty bite to bring to a get together this season, try them out.

Gruyere Puffs
(from The Fresh Market Cookbook)

1 C Gruyere cheese, grated
1 C water
5 T butter
1 t salt
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg
1C flour
5 large eggs, at room temp

Preheat oven to 425. Grate cheese. In a medium saucepan bring the water, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to a boil. When butter has melted, remove from heat. Add all flour to the mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan clean. Add cheese and beat until incorporated. Beat in 4 of the eggs one by one until thoroughly absorbed. Beat until mixture is smooth, shiny, and firm. Drop by small spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet or silpat. Beat remaining egg with 1/2 T water and brush tops of uncooked pastry with egg wash. Bake in upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and doubled in size. Remove from oven and serve. Make 3 dozen. Recipe can easily be halved.

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