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The Best of 2016

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.
– C.S. Lewis

How would you describe the past year of your life?

Were the last 12 months long and difficult – or short and sweet? Did they creep by or fly like the wind?

Here are my Top 10 experiences from 2016.  I’m hoping that when you see mine, you’ll fondly reflect upon your own.

Maybe you’ll laugh about something funny you’d  forgotten, or perhaps you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that you made it through that thing. You know –  that thing. 

So, here goes. Let’s sit here for a few minutes together, look back on all that’s been said and done – and let’s just be thankful for all the blessings that came and went with the past year of our over-fifty lives. 

“Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much a heart can hold.” -Zelda Fitzgerald

She didn’t want a big wedding, she said. She could totes stay within our budget, she millenially declared.

All she wanted was a pretty dress. And orange flowers. And a simply elegant orange flavored cake with real bits of fruit in it, and smooth white icing. And for her hair to look nice. That was all she really wanted.

It’s just like our middle child daughter to say that. She was always one to proclaim the practical in out of whack situations, rallying the troops to get behind her sensibilities. She paid her own way through nursing school and bought most of her first car. She saved money and methodically worked her plan.

When Mike and I once hit rock bottom, she was solid as a rock. She comforted and prayed for us at OUR lowest of lows.

However, when she moved to Houston and was alone and lonely, this source of strength for so many became a little weak for her own self. A flying cockroach threw her into a screaming fit of terror, and we had to go clean up the mess where she had tried to kill it with everything she could throw. She can dress a wound the size of Dallas, but don’t ask her to whop a flying cockroach.

When she hit rock bottom, we encouraged and prayed for HER at her lowest of lows.

How will I ever meet anyone in this big city?  she asked.  I’m never going to make it, she cried.

Hey, I know what you can do, said her mom. Make a list of what you’re looking for in a husband. That way, when he appears on his white horse out of the humid Houston haze, you’ll recognize him. So she did. She made a list.

And then she met Nick.

The next thing we knew, they were in love and we were planning a big ol’ hill country wedding.

From the padlocks we placed at The Oasis to the chandeliers we danced under at the historic Austin Club, it was magical.

Her dress had a million buttons down the back and was just right. Brilliant orange flowers were everywhere. The cake was citrusy and delicious. And her hair looked so very nice.

It was all she really wanted.

And so we, our hearts immeasurably full, gave a toast at the end of this beautiful, not very practical, best and most delightful day of 2016. 

Whoever decided to position the Capitol Building where it sits at the head of Congress Avenue did us a mighty big favor.

Driving up Congress, you can see its looming beauty for blocks. Walking across Congress from Brazos or Colorado, check traffic as you cross, but be prepared to catch yourself in a patriotic swoon.

And at night? Well, it’s a dadgum stately sight for sore eyes, our Capitol Building.

Mike and Keagon got to Austin a few days before I did. While I was staying behind to sell the house and accomplish the endless whatnot that comes with moving across the state, Mike was working on Congress Avenue and walked every noon hour to sit on a painted park bench and call me.

The Capitol is right here he would say. The eyes of Texas are upon you, he would quip. He couldn’t get over it.

Neither can I.

I’ve seen a naked man on a bicycle (at least twice), policemen on horseback, a sweet little flower vendor, a knock-your-socks-off Veteran’s Day parade, two protests, a whole family on horseback, carriages all lit with twinkly lights, fast-moving-pedi-cabs, women carrying packages, and men carrying briefcases.

And on Fridays – well, almost everyone carrying a breakfast taco. It’s a thing.

South Congress is a whole ‘nother story. Kendra Scott is down on that end. And Hopdoddy. And Warby Parker eyeglasses.

What I’m trying to say is this: Congress Avenue is the address of Texas.

From housing our government to showcasing our creativity, this is where our collective six-flagged selves are united in a weirdly wonderful way.

Well, it’s Friday! Enough already with this gushing on about #9 of our 10 best 2016 Austin experiences!

Time to throw on a scarf and make my way to work. Carrying a taco. 

A wise person once told me that when you move to a new city, it takes 5 years to really feel like you can call it home. In 10 days, we will have been in Austin 3 years, and I’d say she was pretty much on the money.

Soon after we got here, God placed a friend in my path that has been the mainstay. The kind you don’t know whether you could have made it without. But as for pockets of deep and abiding friendship groups like I’ve known and loved before, well, that just takes longer.

It’s worth the search, though, and it’s worth not giving up, because a girl just needs her girls.

Finally, I’m getting there, and it sure feels good. Comfortable and encouraging friendships are beginning to weave themselves into the daily fabric of my hill country life.

I’m so looking forward to the next year as my girls and I continue to experience life, the good and the bad, trusting God together through whatever comes our way.

And then, all of a sudden, we will have been here 5 years.
That which gets scheduled is that which gets done. – Michael Hyatt

Number 7 of my best 10 Austin experiences could easily be a category all its own.

Back in the panhandle, it was a little hard to experience nature. Planning an outdoor event was so risky, what with the wind and all.

Don’t get me wrong – the Texas panhandle is a beloved place with much outdoors to be enjoyed. The difference is that you just need to be spontaneously ready to enjoy it as it comes.

Here in Austin, I’ve yet to postpone a planned picnic. It just sounds like bragging or boasting to say that, but here’s my motivation. Many people in the hill country take the hill country for granted.

On my list of 2017 places to go and things to see, at least half are outside, and at least half the Austinites I know have never been.

That could just be a case of the familiar not getting noticed. But it sure is enticing and exciting to a newbie.

What adventure needs to be scheduled into your new year? Have you seen and done all there is to do outdoors where you live? One couple we know has taken up hunting, decked out in camo with their teenagers. Another takes long weekend hikes together. Have you always wanted to fish?

Now is the time. Put it on the calendar. Make fun plans!

What gets scheduled is what gets done.
  Once while watching one of Beth Moore’s videos, as I was feverishly taking notes, I watched my hand as it wrote what I heard her say: All excess is rooted in emptiness.

At the time, it struck me as kind of a staggering statement, and I immediately stored it away in my brain for later contemplation – which occurred July 2016 when we moved downtown.

Maybe your “stuff” story is a lot like mine  1st year of marriage, tiny apartment, livin’ on love. Seventh  year – a baby and attic boxes labeled with words like “high school memorabilia” or “college papers and love letters.” Then, the 15th year.  Four bedrooms and photo albums out the wazoo.

30th year, two acres and a barn with extra stuff – in case the kids need furniture for their 1st apartment.

Now that we have downsized back to the “stuff” of year one, I must say this.

I had forgotten how it felt to be so free.

It didn’t happen overnight, but in highly analytical stages of letting go. I digitized boxes of old photos and high school prom programs. We kept our dining room table and found an apartment where it would fit! We did not get rid of my Kirby vacuum cleaner, KitchenAid mixer or heirloom dishes.

How do you feel about your stuff? Are you adding to it, categorizing and organizing, accumulating more as you go? Item by treasured item, have you asked yourself if your kids and grandkids will really want to keep/display/store what you’re planning to leave them?

At the end of the day (and our 35th year), I realized Beth was right. The things we possess and the stuff we accumulate aren’t bad – but a whole bunch of it has the power to take root and start producing the fruit of emptiness.
Ain’t nobody got room for that
It might surprise you, but my #5 for the year is actually in the top 10 of ALL the new experiences we’ve had in Austin.

I think there are only two or three other historic theatres in the country similar to Austin’s Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue, where since 1915, performances from Houdini to The Monkees have thrilled an appreciative audience.

We’ve enjoyed a few live music performances at the Paramount – but even better and more memorable has been seeing the classic film, White Christmas.

“Snow” falls at the theatre’s entrance on White Christmas night, Santa makes an appearance in the lobby, white lights twinkle everywhere, and wine is served with the movie popcorn.

The colors have been enhanced so that the blues and reds and snowy whites are incredibly vivid on the massive screen. As Bing Crosby croons, the audience sings along. When lovebirds kiss, the whole group cheers and claps.

Pardon the double negative here, but nobody is not having fun on White Christmas night at the Paramount.

But here’s the deeper truth. A lot of people are in places they didn’t want to be this Christmas, and a feel-good movie can be a really nice distraction, but doesn’t have much lasting effect once they’re out the door. If those songs and dances were the magic combination for a carefree real life, Bing Crosby would have had one. But he didn’t.

Today we celebrate the Christ child of Christmas. The baby born in a manger, who grew up to say these words: “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and who is described as the Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor. If you’re dreaming of a little more than a white Christmas – like maybe that your adult child will get her act together, or maybe that you can get through this diagnosis, or whatever it is that has you feeling anything but peaceful on this Christmas Day – may you seek out the Jesus that Christmas is really all about. In him, you’ll find peace, and I’m guaranteeing that in the midst of your trouble, when you think a hopeful future is a thing of the past, he’ll still make your dreams come true. Way bigger dreams than a white Christmas.

If you’re wondering just exactly how to connect with Jesus, here’s a prayer you might want to pray:
Dear God: “I know I’m a person who doesn’t do everything right and can’t fix all in my life that needs fixing. You’re the only one who can. I believe that you sent your son, Jesus, a baby wrapped in a manger, who grew up and gave his very life for me. What a gift! I ask you to forgive me of my past and give me hope for the future as I place all my trust in You.”

If you prayed that simple prayer and want to tell someone, feel free to message me. Nothing could bring me more joy than knowing that my #5 experience of 2016 led to your #1.

Merry Christmas!
 Coffee….I’m drinking a big mug of Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice right this very Christmas Eve minute! With a generous splash of half and half.

#4 of the best 10 things we did in Austin this year involves the realization of my long time dream to have a blog – and my first giveaway on said blog.

It all started when Keagon turned up his nose at my weekly Starbucks habit. “Merm,” he said, “you need to try some coffee from other places. You can’t go around always talking about Starbucks. People won’t respect you for that.” Actually, I’m not sure those were his exact words, but I pretty much got that drift. College students know what’s cook and what’s not, ya know.

So, off I went on a coffee tour of Austin’s best. What fun I had. Some cups were enjoyed with Mike, some with friends, and all were delicious. You can read more about it on my blog when I announced the winner of my first giveaway.

So, if you’re out doing some last minute crazy gift-buying, or in my case, dragging your husband along to the grocery store, maybe a good cup of coffee will keep you perkin’ as you check off that last item on the list.

When you add that splash of cream (or when you order your favorite from someone wearing a green apron-shhh) know that I’m thinking of all of you, and praying that you have an intentionally adventurous, delightfully joyful Christmas Eve.
The Best of 2016
Once on a flight from Dallas to Amarillo, I sat next to a young woman from upstate New York who was coming to work for three months in the panhandle. She had never been to Amarillo and not to Texas either. She was just plain giddy with the excitement of it all.

We struck up a friendship, and I showed her the best that Amarillo had to offer, which included a visit to Cavender’s where she tried on a jillion cowboy hats and bought herself a pair of western boots. She giggled the whole time, and we took lots of pictures for her family and friends, to prove where she was and what she was amazed to be doing.

That’s how Mike and I feel in Austin sometimes. So many experiences here are familiar to a general Texan, but very new and exciting to someone who grew up in the Panhandle.

The football program at the University of Texas has been a hot topic around Austin this year, and right in the middle of it all, we were invited to a tailgate party. Like the giddy gal from New York, we dressed to fit in for this party under a white tent on the grassy lawn of the LBJ Library – and we took pictures to capture the memory. (You can tell from this photo that Mike was like a kid in a candy store!)

Have you met someone new to your community? Whether you send them back home with a pair of boots you helped pick out, or just help them feel connected to their new home, inviting someone to experience a little slice of your life is surely the ultimate expression of hometown hospitality.
A couple of years ago, I was staying with my granddaughter in Amarillo while her mom was out. As we got all situated in our jammies and ready for bed, she said, “Grammie, let’s watch some Netflix on your iPad.”

We scrolled through the kids’ selections, which I don’t mind telling you looked about as appealing and engaging as watching cartoons subtitled in Chinese. “How about Annie?” I asked.

“Annnnnieeee?” “I’ve never heard of it,” said she.

What?? If an elementary school girl anywhere in the whole of these great United States hasn’t even HEARD of Annie, well, that’s a crying shame and should be remedied right away.

Now, we needed popcorn. And fluffed up pillows. I was 95 percent sure this was going to be a memory maker.

Oh, the joy of being the first to experience something monumental with a grandchild. I bet my Mamaw felt the same way when she introduced me to Bobby and Sissy on Lawrence Welk.

As the munchkin’s polka-dot painted toes gently rummaged around on my pajama covered leg, her hand occasionally squeezed my arm, especially when Mrs. Hannigan was really ugly to the floor-scrubbing orphan girls.

But neither of us spoke. It would have ruined everything to start analyzing the characters and digging for deep meanings before we knew whether Annie’s lousy, greedy parents were going to snatch her away from Daddy Warbucks.

So, in silence, with a white puffy kernel munched every now and then, we watched.

As soon as the movie was over and the last Tomorrow sung, I lazily turned on my side to settle in for contented slumber as my little sweetie curled her left arm around my waist, closing the gap between her front side and my back. With a sleepy sigh, she declared her review of the movie with a title she’d never heard of, and a theme song she’d never sung. “Grammie, that was goooooooood.” (I can hear grandmothers all the world over, jumping out of their rockers, wildly screaming, “Yes!”)

So, when Annie came to The Long Center this past Thanksgiving, you’d better believe we were there.

She loved it. And well, I was 100 percent sure she would. 
I bought this hat on a day trip to Luckenback with new hill country friends.

I’ve never been a hat-wearer, but the sweet man who married me said it looked cute and wanted me to get it.  Since then, I’ve worn it all over the place, and I love what it represents – doing something new – getting out of your comfort zone – a sun shield for an adventure-seeking face.

Every time I wear it, I think of all the places we’ve been, and I’m especially reminded of that very delightful hill country day trip – the best we’ve taken so far.

Whether your year flew by like a Derby stallion or crept along like a tired turtle, I hope you at least remember it! LOL!

I also hope you’re thinking of your very own top 10 list and that your heart is plum swelling up with thanksgiving and gratitude, because even if you thought things pretty much stayed the same, now that you’re looking back through that lens, it’s clear.

Everything is different.

Encouraging intentional adventure and amazing memories in the new year,


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