Clearance underwear and why you'll never see me shopping in public ever again.

If you haven't laughed today, I'm about to change that. And if you have laughed today, please tell me that it was the tear-stricken from-the-gut snort-inducing laughter that left you wondering whether or not you should change your underwear.

It's worth the laundry.

And about that underwear.

Recently I had a return to make to Nordstrom Rack. While I was there, I remembered I needed new underwear so I thought I would pop over and look at their selection. I found a pair, picked them off the overstuffed rack ('merica) and headed to the checkout.

As I was standing in line, very close to the front of the store, I saw out of the corner of my eye a beautiful family walk into the store. I made eye contact with the man, not registering that I recognize him, until my eyes turned to the woman and the baby she was holding. Think Beckhams. Except more smiley.

It was at that moment that all of the memory networks in my brain snapped into action and sent me the message: YOU KNOW THESE PEOPLE.

It was also at this point that my brain reminded me that I just made eye contact with the man, like our eyes MET, which means that his memory networks told his brain that he knows me.

And it was at this point that my neck flushed red hives, my eyes jolted to the floor, and embarrassment shot my blood pressure to audible.

Brace yourselves, friends. I had just made eye contact with my ex-boyfriend, his gorgeous wife, and their model-worthy baby girl. AND I WAS STANDING THERE WITH NOTHING IN MY HANDS EXCEPT A PAIR OF EXTRA LARGE UNDERWEAR.

Sweet Jesus, where is the mercy?

I know what your thinking. "Oh, I'm sure they didn't see the underwear. I'm sure it just blended in with your clothes/purse/skin."

Oh, aren't you kind. You really are. But you are WRONG. Let me add that the underwear in my hand was the only pair in my size because it was on clearance, and it just so happened to be FIRETRUCK RED.


Digest that.

If ever there was a reason for me to never shop in public ever again, I now have one. Because seeing your ex-boyfriend and his picture perfect family while you buy screaming red granny panties is enough shopping humiliation for a lifetime.

The santa dilemma

You better watch out. Santa Claus is coming to our house.

And I'm excited about that. The Santa buzz around here is building and I'm eager to find out what that jolly ol' dude has in store for my family.

But here's the dilemma. There's a truth about Santa that some of you might already know, and some folks think that Santa's truth is getting in the way of The Truth. The Truth that is living and breathing and blossoming in my heart. The Truth that means everything to me. And Lord willing, that Truth will mean everything to my precious children.

Recently I read a post here and a post here, and believe it or not, they both resonated beautifully with me. But how can I be moved by one author who doesn't celebrate Christmas with Santa and presents while agreeing with another author who not only celebrates Christmas with Santa Claus, but get this, she flat out believes in the ol' man?! How can I hide elves humorously around my home each night while praying intensely for my dear friend whose non-Santa practicing family is sacrificially spending their Christmas loving on a country and a people who so desperately need Jesus?

I don't know.

But I do.

And for what it's worth, here's where I've landed, at least for now:

1) I love a child's imagination. LOVE. My absolute most magical memories of childhood are my daydreams and make believes. When my childhood was lonely, I dreamed and imagined up a friend of my very own. Her name was Dorothy, and I still love her. My parents never fussed at me about Dorothy. They let her have a seat at our table and they brought her a water cup along with mine. And I thank them for that, for allowing me Dorothy.

I think this is where I find Santa in all this. It's an opportunity for me to engage in my children's imaginations. If only for a few years, it will be delightful to whip up silly stories and fanciful tales about elves and reindeer and chimneys. Some might call me a liar. I call me a dreamer.

2) If I do my job right, there will be no confusion about Jesus & Santa. If I preach THE TRUTH about Jesus all year round, then what's the difference in December? There is no difference. We still celebrate Jesus in December just as we do in February and August. His miraculous and holy birth. His eternal gift of life. His grace and mercy. Definitely His mercy. It was only this morning that I pulled into our driveway and asked my children for forgiveness and we sat there, the van in park, praying and praising because God is merciful when I'm impatient and snippy and wretched. It's the week of Christmas and I'm as broken as ever. Santa might be able to deliver happiness in a wind-up toy, but only Jesus can deliver pure, undeserved joy.

In my world, we can sit on Santa's lap on Wednesday and walk through the life size nativity on Saturday. We can write a letter to the North Pole and paint a picture of the blessed nativity.
It's not an either-or. And yet the two don't get equal playing time. Jesus will always be the King of this home.

For me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Jesus will always be the reason. The reason we breathe. The reason we love. The reason we celebrate. Santa and his shiny bells are nothing more than a fantasy that we bring to life. Jesus, He is our life. He is our heartbeat and our breath. Fantasy ain't got nothin' on our faith - our daily bread.

In a few short days, my minis will wake from their sugar-plum-filled visions to stockings full of trinkets delivered magically by a sleigh. And we will thank Jesus. Thank Him for blessing us with a loving home, warm beds, a full fridge, and precious dreams.

And don't worry. We paid Santa a visit last week. And one thing's for sure. Jesus has never received this kind of reaction from my kids.

*These pictures are from last year's Santa visit. There was only slight improvement this year. I'll share more soon.

Grandma Hollywood and the minis

During Grandma Hollywood's recent visit to oh-Alison-it's-too-cold-here Ohio, I spent a morning with her and my two minis. The nearly 90 years between them brought forth a range of encounters, some endearing, some frustrating, and some just plain hysterical.

For starters, my kids don't perceive age. They see Grandma Hollywood's thin coarse white hair and say, "Great Grams' hair is funny." Nor do they perceive the limitations that come with age. They expect her to scoop them up to her level, and bless her still beating heart, she tries. And it breaks mine to watch her disappointment when she realizes that her ability to lift a small child is forever in her past. My spunky and gregarious daughter is unaware that when she barrels into Grandma Hollywood's 90 year old legs, she risks knocking my grandmother to the floor, a fall from which Grandma literally might not recover.

And yet Grandma Hollywood lives as if the life-threatening fall would be worth it. When Miss Harper Lynn looked at her and said, "Chase me, Great Grams," Grandma Hollywood looked at me and said, "What did she say?" I responded, "She wants you to chase her." Grandma only grinned, and sure enough, she started her feeble chase, a snail's pace behind my hare of a daughter. And my 2 year old baby girl only knew one thing, she was being chased. The burst of squeals and giggles that ensued were as dramatic and effervescent as if the chase might actually result in a catch.

As I sat with my grandmother listening to her repeat the stories I had heard dozens of times before, I juggled my annoyance of her faulty memory with the constant needs of my kids, "I need to poop! I need to poop! I keep tooting and I need to poop!" No matter how high her hearing aids were turned up, Grandma Hollywood needed clarification on almost everything the kids said, "What is he talking about, Alison?"

Well, Grandma, do you really want to know?

Though I'd love for you to believe that each exchange between my grandmother and children results in pure joy and laughter, there is much harmony to be desired.

Typical of most three year old boys, my son sees pillows and immediately thinks fort. As he pulled the decorative pillows from the couch, Grandma Hollywood became intensely concerned. "Alison, do you see what he's doing?"

Me: "Yes, he's fine, Grandma."
Grandma Hollywood: "But he's pulled all of the pillows off of the couch."
Me: "I know Grandma; he's just playing."

Grandma Hollywood walked away in obvious disapproval of my son's creativity and my kids-these-days parenting. And typical of most three year old boys, it was a mere five minutes before Henry was distracted, leaving the pillow fort glaring at my grandmother. She wasted no time. I've never seen feeble bones move so fast. In record time, she had each of those pillows fluffed and positioned back on the couch ready for a magazine cover shoot, thankyouverymuch.

There wasn't much to say when my son ran back into the room and blurted, "What happened to my fort?!"

I took one look at my now-playing-dumb grandmother and turned back to my son, saying what every good granddaughter would say, "Go play."

As I sat across from my 90 year old grandmother, a woman whose grace has deteriorated while her opinions have intensified, I wonder if she remembers the days when her four children were small, imaginative bursts of energy. "Alison, Henry didn't finish his lunch." "Alison, what is that noise?" "Alison, where did Harper go?" "Alison, don't your children wear socks?" "Alison, Henry went into the bathroom." "Alison, Harper is climbing on the table." Alison. Alison. Alison. The thoughts swirling in my mind were not of a very good granddaughter.

The sweet and gentle Mrs. Claus of a grandmother who I remember has evolved into a nosey, nagging, negative Nancy. And yet as I gather my minis to say goodbye to the woman who still travels solo 2000+ miles from California to spend time with us, she clasps her thin-skinned hands around my face and directs her macular degenerated eyes directly into mine. With pure sincerity and warmth, she says to me, "Alison, I love you and your family so so much." She doesn't let go. She stays there for what seems like minutes. And I begin to melt, remembering only a fraction of what she has survived in a near century: the loss of a twin and mother during birth, the horrors of a wicked stepmother, the passing of a spouse, and the sudden death of a child.

And it's no surprise that within minutes of her departure, I long for her company once again, kicking myself for the moments squandered because of my irritability and impatience. The distance now between us truly does cause my heart to swell, and I become saddened as I think of her now home alone, her only companion the chiming clock that strikes every 15 minutes, a sobering reminder of the minutes passing, her memory fading, her brain diminishing, and her body failing.

Thank you, Jesus, for Grandma Hollywood. Wrap her in Your comfort and peace as she suffers the countless losses that come with her age. Help me to remember the blessing it is to still have a living grandparent. And give me patience and a controlled tongue in those moments when I want to load her back on a plane destined for California.

Grandma Hollywood turns NINETY!

Remember Grandma Hollywood? The matriarch and queen bee of my family? Did I mention that twice a year she travels over 2000 miles from beautifully pleasant California to Grandma-really-likes-to-complain-about-the-weather Ohio - and she travels ALONE?! I know, I know, she's amazing.

So this year she flew out in June, one month before her 90th birthday. And let me tell you, my grandma looks damn good for 90. When I realized that my maternal grandmother was turning 90, I first thought, "Crap. I don't want those genes. I don't want to live until 90." But then I looked at the gal and thought, "Shoot! Screw 90. I'll live until 100 if it means looking like that." She's pretty hot, a fact that has been confirmed by her neighbor who has offered to "keep her company" if she's ever interested. The man can't keep his paws off of her. But don't you worry. Grandma Hollywoood's lived in Southeast LA for over 50 years making her the Mamacita de Samoline Avenue Locos and she ain't messin' wit no hombre.

So where was I? Yes, my hottie-bo-bottie almost 90-year-old Grandma flew out for a visit, and my always hospitable mamma decided to throw Grandma a surprise birthday bash. It was touching to see how many people gave up their Friday night to celebrate my Grandma - most of these people only knowing her from Grandma's occasional visits.

Her actual birthday isn't until July 24th, so she was obviously surprised to know that all these people showing up were there to honor her.

It was one of those amazing nights where I sat back and breathed in all the love that my family shares.

And I thank God that Grandma Hollywood is still around to share in that love.

While everyone was gathering outside, my parents' dog, Heidi, sampled the birthday cake.

And naturally, these two had to sample the key lime pie. It's a good thing that the dog and kids are cute.

We spent most of the night in my parents' backyard. It was beautiful.

The only thing missing was the rest of the family. My Grandma has three daughters and one son (her son has passed). Aside from my mom, her family, and my cousin Jared's family, everyone else lives in Southern California. The California family would celebrate Grandma's birthday at a later date.

9 candles - one for each decade.

Grandma with her youngest great-grandbaby. 88 years between them - amazing.

It's not easy shopping for a woman who has already started giving away many of her valuables. Nonetheless she had some wonderful gifts to open.

Bless my mom's heart. She read each and every card to my Grandma. Grandma can only read when wearing her magnifying eyeglasses and she can't hear unless her hearing aids are cranked to the max.

Grandma laughed a lot. It was such a blessing to watch her so joyful.

That's Pauline playing with Jenson. Pauline is one of my mom's dearest friends, and Pauline just happened to be my middle school guidance counselor. Pauline is really really good with middle schoolers and toddlers. It's peculiar, really.

My sister and dad. Love.

If you want your face to look thin in a photograph, stick your neck out. See?

I gave my grandmother a framed picture of all 7 of her great-grandbabies. Needless to say she couldn't tell who was who in the picture. She said, "I'll have to get out my magnifying glass and look at this later."

This is what happens when you give a 90-year-old a pair of white capri pants, elastic waist, size 8. She was ELATED. No seriously, she was so thrilled to be given those darn pants. Apparently my mom and Grandma had been to several stores only days before and could not find a pair to save their lives. All it took my fashionably savvy sister was a visit to ONE store to find the perfect pair. Thank you Penny's!

Here Morgan explains how she is awesome and found the magical pants. My Grandma's face says, "I'm in disbelief that you found white capri pants, elastic waist, size 8."

What kids don't love a party? Our friend, Aaron, came over with his niece, Audrey. The four minis were instant friends.

Getting four minis to sit still on a hammock proved impossible as you can see by how blurry the kids are in this picture.

I'm fairly certain this was their second helping of cake.

Harper had some very important "older women" questions to ask Audrey.

Crazy cuteness.

That's Susie. Another dear friend of my mom's. I just adore these women for loving on my Grandma so stinkin' well.

Did I mention that Pauline is also really funny? At least my 90 year old Grandma thinks so.

Audrey really wanted to be in our family picture. We kindly kicked her out.

Grandma with the Nameth clan.

Grandma with her Ohio family. Jared was in Cambodia and Ella & Jake were in California so only Lisa and Jenson made it to the party. Pauline is standing behind the camera trying to get the kids to smile. She was playing peek-a-boo, and instead of smiling, Harper was imitating.

Happy Birthday, Grandma Hollywood. I would not be surprised if in 10 years we are celebrating your 100th. You're a lifer.

The Hooper Family

What can I say? The Hooper Family - they are so so so dear to me.

They are my husband's family. Technically they are my husband's family on his dad's side. My father-in-law, Roger, has one brother and a half sister. Between them there are 7 kids and 10 grandbabies.

What I love most about them is that they have loved this sheltered city girl from the minute they met me. These folks are country bred, still living and breathing the sweet country breeze, and yet they don't treat me like the foreigner I am. Not only have they embraced me, but they've opened my eyes to a different way of life, where slowin' down means savoring each moment and simplicity brings a greater appreciation of each opportunity.

Memorial Day weekend we traveled south for the annual Shrimp Boil at Matt's cousin's Scott's house. The first time I went to Scott's house we came home with one of Scott's dead birds - alive only minutes before we loaded up for home. Scott gave it to Matt so that Matt could train our new pup to fetch birds. It was a learning curve for me like no other. Not only was I learning that my sweet labrador puppy needed a freshly-whacked bird to fetch if he was gonna be a huntin' dog, but I was also learning that it wasn't uncommon to keep birds for the purpose of training dogs. Like raising a rat to feed a snake or keeping live crickets to feed a pet lizard, some folks keep birds as eventual bait for training dogs. And now our cooler full of Stella Artois had been overtaken by a very dead and bloody bird.

I remember driving home that night in disbelief. I was raised in the 'burbs, for goodness sakes. We lived on a cul-de-sac ruled by pages of zoning laws and building codes - uniform mailboxes, three-inch grass lawns, city-approved fencing, and absolutely no hunting.

Now I'm married to a man who moved a refrigerator-size gun safe into my home. There was a time when I celebrated seasons by shopping Banana Republic's new fall line. Now the seasons in my life are defined by doves and ducks and deer.

But here's a secret. And please don't tell my husband (because there's a gorgeous leather purse at BR that I've been drooling over), but I actually like my city girl meets country boy life. I like it a lot a lot a lot. I love that my husband taught me to shoot a gun in his parents backyard. I love that my kids are growing up surrounded by four-wheelers and above-ground pools. Even though I'm still learning to stomach some of the country life, I'm so thankful that my kids will have exposure to both the city and the country - making memories that I never had the opportunity to make.

Honestly, I didn't think I'd feel this way when I married Matt. I assumed our urban surroundings would gradually take their toll, pulling him farther away from his firm country roots. But God has shown me that He has no such plans. In fact, God has slowly tugged on my heart, revealing Himself to me in the most precious ways on my in-laws 400-acre property in a small town that the Hoopers have called home for well over a century.

Through my marriage, I have been given the blessing of experiencing a different culture. And it is an honor to watch as that culture seeps its way into my own, a merger were the dividing lines are blurring, creating a family that has a love for things both here and there.

For that I am so thankful.

I love this family.

Aching for Mardi Gras

Three years ago I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. It was my fifth Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and I PRAY that it was not my last.

I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans. LOVE it. Everything about it.

I love the city. There is no place quite like New Orleans.

I love the anticipation of the next parade.

I love the white masks.

I love watching a less-than-sober individual stumble off a float in the hopes of finding a bathroom. Good luck with that.

I love scoring an enormous, light-up, colorful set of beads with a ten-pound medallion hanging from it. In any other setting, this would merely be plastic junk. But at Mardi Gras, the plastic-y-er, the better.

I love the lack of rules and inhibitions. It's nearly impossible to get arrested at Mardi Gras. I haven't tried, but I have SEEN IT ALL. And while I've witnessed some ridiculous debauchery, I've never seen anyone actually get arrested.

I love the casino buffet and bathrooms.

I love waking up to streets lined with broken beads, beer cans, and pop-up chairs. As crazy as this sounds, the trash-filled morning-after sights of Mardi Gras are part of its beautiful atmosphere.

I love beignets and cafe au lait. Heck, I love all the food.

I love watching small children perched atop a ladder in hopes of catching the best loot.

I love it all.

Here I am guarding our goods. Bags and bags and bags full of sacred beads and stuffed animals and cups and coins.

These are my people. Oh, how I miss these people. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my Louisiana friends. This picture nearly brings me to tears, I miss them all so much.

This is B-Money (right) with a stranger. Best-friending all strangers is just a part of Mardi Gras. B-Money is brilliant at making new best friends.

One of the HUNDREDS of floats. "Throw me some beads, Mister!"

Don't ask me what is going on in this picture. It's Mardi Gras. Which means nothing makes sense. And I love it.

Honey, when can we go back? Let's take the kids next year, K?!

Mardi Gras, I miss you. I miss you. I miss you.

Let's meet again soon.

The blessings of . . . mastitis?!

Warning: Dad, if you are reading this, Stop Now. I know that you would like to believe that we ordered an infant from a cabbage patch, and a stork conveniently delivered a baby girl to our home nine months later, and with a sprinkling of water and a dose of sunshine, she thrived and grew and blossomed into a delightful garden flower. But let me remind you of the time we saw the equine students artificially inseminate a horse or the many times we witnessed the cows in the milking parlor on your aunt's farm. Because the conception, survival, and nurturing of your grandchildren involves most of the same principles also witnessed in the animal kingdom. And that includes the crusty, dried-up leftover umbilical cord that took weeks to part from Harper's darling navel. It's still oozing, by the way. You've been warned.

Breast-feeding. I know, I know, it's a beautiful thing. I, the proud milk-bearing mother of my sweet gift from God, have the honor and privilege of bonding with my daughter in a unique way. I, sore-chested and well-endowed, am the sole provider for my baby girl's health and crucial weight gain. I, crack-nippled and oh-so-saggy, am chained to my daughter's cry or an obnoxious breast-pumping device every 2-3 hours around the clock. And as if all that wasn't glamorous enough, the exhausting efforts of my upper-half ultimately led to a terror that left me bedridden and downright ugly for most of a week.


It sounds like the title of a cult horror flick, doesn't it?

But this is real life horror, y'all. Mastitis takes precious bonding between mother and child and turns it into a painful, aching, infected, and downright dreadful experience.

But thanks to the magic of forty green capsules and the grace of the good Lord, my mastitis was blasted from my body in a week's time. Thank you, Jesus!

But guess what? And you won't believe what I am about to say. The mastitis turned out to be a blessing.

Yes, I said a blessing. In all seriousness, I learned a lot about nursing because of the infection. You see, I was required to nurse through the mastitis, and in an effort to rid my body of the infection for good, I revisited my grad school days and hopped on the research train. I read and read and read about nursing, latching, milk supply, and anything else related to da boob. Forget La Leche League, I am a breast-feeding extraordinaire!

Now there is no guarantee that the mastitis will never return, but I now have a much better idea of how to prevent it. And if I suspect that I am getting a blocked duct, I have an arsenal of weapons for nipping it in the bud before it gets worse.

And because my dad is a dad and wants to remedy all my problems, even those that have nothing to do with carburetors or accelerator pumps, he did offer me some help through all this. (It's important to note that my Dad has an extensive background in agricultural sciences.) But because he would never speak to me directly about issues concerning my upper-half, he called my mom and had her deliver the following information. First he assured me that cows often get mastitis. Then he went on to say that farmers often treat the cows with a warm compress and medication (medication that he even offered to get for me, implying that I could take cow pills?)

Thanks, Dad. That really helped. As if I didn't already feel like a first-rate dairy cow. Now I might as well sprout udders and wait, what's that?


Non-Maternal Instincts

Nonmaternal Instinct

Whose hair is it anyway?

We took the plunge.

We cut my son's hair.

And by "we," I mean my sister cut as I supervised and my husband took pictures (in case there was a snafu requiring photographic evidence). My sister is a professional, and by golly, no one other than an experienced, knowledgeable, and licensed hair-cutting professional was coming within a mile of my son's precious locks with $200 scissors (I'm not kidding. Her scissors cost $200. They're magical scissors).

Before I share pictures, let me back up.

Once in a blue moon, when I get my hair cut, the interaction with my sister goes something like this -

Morgan: "So what do you want done today?"

Me: "I don't care. You're the one who told me I needed a haircut."

Morgan: "I know, but do you want layers? Are you growing out your bangs? Do you want to be able to pull it back?"

Me: "Yeah, all that."

Morgan: "Seriously, Ali, you have to tell me what you want."

Me: "Okay, fine, I want the haircut that will take the least amount of time and makes me look 20 pounds lighter. Go."

Morgan: {tosses my head back in the sink, turns on scalding hot water, and shampoos my head viciously} {something tells me she is slightly annoyed}

On the contrary, when I finally broke down and agreed to have my sister (her official title is Artistic Director) (she graduated from the Vidal Sassoon Academy of L.A.) (you know, L.A., like Los Angeles, the heart of fashion) cut my son's hair, the interaction went something like this -

Me: "Okay, fine, you can trim it, but I mean trim it. Not cut it. There's a huge difference."

Morgan: "I know, Alison {it's never good when she uses my given name}; I do this for a living."

Me: "But mostly just the front; he just needs a little taken from the front. Only a little. And just a teensy bit from the back and sides. You know, just clean it up. But nothing dramatic. I don't want people to notice."

Morgan: "Okay, but he needs that hair out of his face and ears, so you're going to notice a little bit."

Me: "But then don't leave the back too long because then he'll look like he has a mullet."

Morgan: "He's not going to have a mullet."

Me: "But you don't see it every morning when he wakes up and the back is all smashed down. It sometimes looks mullet-ish."

Morgan: "Okay, Alison {oh dear, there she goes again with that Alison crap}, I'm not going to give him a mullet."

Me: "And don't you dare take off any of his curls. He can't lose his curls. Promise me you won't take any curls."

Morgan: "No curls, I promise."

Me: "I'll be so mad if you take his curls."

Morgan: {she gives me a really stern look that, when translated, means something that I cannot repeat}

Me: "Okay, I trust you."

Morgan: {still staring me down}

Me: "And just a trim."

Morgan: {still staring}

Me: "And leave the curls."

It went well. It really did. But hey, let's face it, we've all cried over a haircut before.

Oh, and for the record, I think she took a curl. I'm just sayin'.