This Christmas Means to Me…


Something had been eating at me as we lived out of boxes and suitcases and from house to house in the 6 weeks between the sale of our home and purchase of our new one.

I really wanted to get Christmas started, but I didn’t know why.

You’d think that it would be next year, with getting to watch on wonder as four ‘lil Burghers gather by the tree and squeal in delight.  But that wasn’t it.

It wasn’t until I was around a table with some aunts and cousins, talking about Grandma’s tree star that I really got it.

I wanted to get Christmas started for Grandma. There are a zillion reasons why…

She always decorated her home with gingerbread people graced with each of our names. My mom tended to make her sweatshirts with all of us on it, too. (One year someone fell off and got crushed in our van door and I lost my mind because that’s just horrible to watch a cousin’s apple get crushed.)

She always wrote us cards, individual cards, with a sentiment…sometimes a “Love you” and sometimes more. Grandma had a lot of cards to write.

She always gave us ornaments for our tree, and last year they were accompanied by the note above. If you’ve received an ornament from me this year, it’s because of Grandma. Our kids will have a collection to start their trees with because I plan on adding to their yearly collections, too.

And, finally, because without Christmas with Grandma, I really am not sure I’d have what I do today. Grandma and Pappy welcomed us to their home every December, often on Christmas Day after 12 to 20 hours of driving through snow to the beach because it was 6 days my Dad usually could fairly safely take off before the new year. We would spend those days in Surfside with a walk or two on the beach, driving the Boulevard to see lights (hotels used to do that), and enjoying a warm Christmas week together. During these days, I fell in love with the Myrtle Beach many of you may not know…the local side of it. It gave me courage to spread my wings and eventually move there and close a chapter of my life and start a new one with Arianna and Greg.

And because this year, for the first time in a long time I will not get to go for winter in SC or get to enjoy moments with Grandma, I think I really wanted to get Christmas started early and let it last.

As we hung the ornaments, I cried a little. It’s easy to forget the little things until you realize you won’t have them again (at least not in the same way as before). And this year, the little things came in the form of four glittery ornaments in envelopes that we got for the last time last Christmas. But it prompted me to pick up some for us this year, as well as a chirping cardinal to remind me of my Grandma Peterson. Because even if in the moment you don’t realize what it is, someday you will. And it will be bittersweet, like this Christmas will be for me.

Got it from My Momma

There are so many things that I am glad to say I “Got it from my Momma” to. One of those things is writing. And sadly, today, I was reminded of that oh so much.

As I tried to work, I kept refreshing the page, waiting to see what I know my mom had been so lovingly working on with her siblings…the listing of the things my amazing Grandma did in her life. When the page finally refreshed and my Grandma’s, my babies’ “Grammie the Great” or “Great Great”, life story was in front of my eyes, all I could do was cry. I cried tears I didn’t think would come. I cried tears that I’ve had several years to cry, tears that have come on rides home after other times we thought “this was it”. Tears that were filled with the love that this woman showed all of us as a family. Tears because I knew the words were written with so much love and thought behind them – words written by my mom.

When I called my mom a little later, we talked about the words. How there were so many words. So many beautiful things about a woman who had two amazing husbands, seven children, 34 grandchildren, and 22 (so far) great grandchildren. So many memories that we shared with her – church, bingo, the beach. Blurs still come to my eyes when I think of the things this woman did in her 89 years.

God called my Grandma home to be with her Daves and her son yesterday. She passed peacefully, having heard many of us say “I love you” and share our best memories with her over the past few days. After sitting with her for hours, just holding her hand, on Saturday, I know it was all part of the plan and that she’s in no pain anymore.

I didn’t write much about my Grandma here on this blog, but my family sure has cherished a lot of time with her over the past five years since moving back home. We’ve been really lucky to have her in our lives. While the memories may be few here on this page (like this one, this one, and this one), there are a lot in my mind. Grandma was traditional, and a few years ago, I stopped taking pictures at her place because she wasn’t all about our internet lives. But today, Grandma, I hope you are okay that I am sharing your story.

Because I got my love of writing from my mom, who got it from you. And I know that Arianna will have it too. Just like so many other things – our smiles, our eyes, our desire for everyone to be together and to be happy, to do for others, to love Jesus, to be a good mom and wife, to really and truly enjoy life, to remember the little things. We got this from you, and I am so glad we did.

4 Generations of Steelers fans

Loving Our Scars

The other day, my ‘lil cousin Dana posted something on Facebook that is something that absolutely all of us (women and men) should take to heart:

You know when I think about it scars, blemishes, and stretch marks are such beautiful things. We are born blank. Like a canvas. Nothing to show what we have done. But as the years go on we get bumped here, slam in to that. The freckles on our faces and arms show we saw the beautiful light of day at a time or another. The stretch marks show how we have grown. We remember most of the reasons we have all of these markings. So they are beautiful little ways to tell our story. The story of us. How we painted our canvas. How we lived. It shows that we actually did something with our selves. It shows the beautiful and not so pretty parts of everything, how it is all a part of you. You are just making some beautiful memories and showing your story.

I am thankful for Dana sharing part of her story by this post. She’s a brave young woman with a whole life ahead of her. What she, at 15, understands as evidenced by this post is something it takes many of us a lifetime to even scratch the surface of.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some self-admiration to go do, thinking about my story. How about you?

My scariest scar
My scariest scar

Five Favorite Moments: Vacationing While Growing Up

The other night, my family got to talking about family memories, specifically vacations on a frugal budget. While the stories were mostly memories about how my Grandma made vacations (and life) special on essentially one income to raise seven kids, I have to say that my Mom and Dad made some amazing memory magic of their own, too. You see, my dad is a pastor. Not sure if you know, but that’s not up there with the income of a doctor or lawyer…or most other folks. We had some amazing times, though, and I figured I’d share five of my favorite moments vacationing while growing up.

1. Disney World – Other than the fact that my dad was gifted a week at a parishoner’s timeshare in Orlando, I have no idea how we swung this trip. The four of us (plus Aunt Wink’s family) flew to Florida to enjoy not only Disney but also Kennedy Space Center. I remember that we packed our snacks and lunches, and returned to the condo to eat dinner at home. We visited all three parks (at the time, that was Disney World, MGM, and Epcot) on a hopper pass, and the parents split us all up to do the things we wanted to do. Dad and I went off to Epcot to feed my inner nerd in the “Worlds” (just look at me, if you can’t tell, I am on the left). Jack and Russ enjoyed fast rides, and Sally, always the ‘lil one getting left behind by the big kids, got to enjoy time on smaller rides. We even got “the hats”–mine was the Minnie head–and I still have it (and, as a frugal mom, plan on giving it to Arianna when we go next year).

Us in Disney ~ 1995 (I think)


2. African Safari Wildlife Park – During one (of many) conferences that my dad attended, we took a trip to Port Clinton, Ohio’s drive-thru safari. Although I don’t have a photo of this, I would be willing to bet that somewhere there’s a video of it. As a kid who loved animals, it was pretty cool to drive through an area where giraffes and zebras roamed. A bit scary, a bit crazy, but 100% fun. I look at the prices, and again, I am not sure how we did it, but we did.

3. Camping at Pymatuming Lake – My family has had lots of experiences camping, but the best has to be when my family took a weekend and (most of us) headed up to Pymatuming Lake. Uncle Matt was still alive, and he and mom spearheaded tent setup. Monica and I rode our bikes all over that park, and even taunted our (older) teenage cousin who was there with her boyfriend. Stale bread was bought, carps and ducks were fed. We rented two (what I recall rickety) plontoon boats. One was for fishers, the other for those who wanted sun. Hilarious stories were shared around the campfire. As we cleaned up the campsite, I recall lightning tearing through the park and Jack and I hitting the floor in the laundry room for fear of being struck. I vote for another family camping outing, stat. 

4. Myrtle Beach – My heart belongs in Myrtle, I tell you. Since Grandma and Pappy lived there, there was no cost for staying. For the most part, my family vacationed there in December, just after Christmas. My memories are not of going to the beach to swim or enjoying the water parks or eating at one of the many restaurants there. They are of late nights playing scrabble, waking up to the smell of coffee and danishes, reading the Sun News (perhaps including articles written by my future father-in-law), playing Bingo at the Oceanside Village clubhouse,  and peering in at Pappy watching sports. These trips pretty much just cost my parents gas and some food, if I were to guess.

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My family, last year, in Myrtle Beach

5. Christmas Cabins – When we were not traveling to Myrtle Beach, we were renting a state park cabin the week after Christmas. Again, a simple yet memorable trip. (One stands out because Jack had just fallen down the stairs and had a black eye the entire week.) We would sled ride, play Pass the Pigs, enjoy fireside chats. There is something magical about spending Christmas in a cabin, surrounded by pines and eating holiday leftovers.

These are just five of my favorite vacation memories while growing up. Now it’s your turn!  Comment below — What is your favorite childhood vacation memory? 

Wanna Grow Old With You

We just got home from an entertaining night with my parents and Aunt and Uncle at Grandma’s. Most of the evening was spent as such: Dad, Uncle, and the kids enjoyed the “playground” until their ears were too cold to stand it anymore (hello, fall!). Mom, Aunt, Greg, Grandma, and I shared stories about my family’s growing up.

The stories were a hodge podge of everything. We talked about getting back on a boat, lighting a couch on fire, and finding a skull in the woods. There were recollections of weighing 119 pounds (hint, that was not me, maybe in 4th grade?), almost falling into a fire (me), and ditching the family camping trip to the Finger Lakes to hit up Pymatuming “because the boys there were hot” (Mom and Aunt). We talked about some of the crazy things that happened to us at churches, visits at all of our various houses (Aunt/Uncle are Army, we are Pastor’s Family, so lots of moving), and survival camp (Richie, you must share your side of this).

The evening was fun, and I think it bonded us all a bit more. Greg, I wanna grow old with you and be able to share these fun family stories with our kids and their kids some day. What do you say?

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Dr. King’s Speech: In Dad’s Eye’s

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech. As you know, our family is living that dream. Our dad (Pop Pop) was there for the March on Washington–he and his Dad rode a bus from Harlem to D.C. We asked him some questions about the day, and are so glad to be able to hear his recollection of this moment in our history. He was 24 years old at the time. 

Pops & Mom

Why did you and your dad decide to go? Were you going to listen to Dr. King, or take in the whole “March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs” experience? What prompted you and your Dad to join those who traveled to DC for this? 

Part of the reason we went was for our descendants, so to have you ask about the March makes it worth it to have gone that day [and be able to share it with you]. To be able to look back and say, “Great-Great Grandpa was there” and ask questions, to let the significance live on in our family. That’s important.

Martin Luther King wasn’t the big name, it was about equal rights. I went back and forth and back and forth on whether or not I was going to go (due to perceived threats of violence). Late in the decision, my Dad decided to go…and then we had to find a way to get there. The National Maritime Union was taking buses. We left late in the night and rode to Washington and got in around dawn.

Were you afraid of any violence? 

Not when I was there. When I was deciding to go, I hesitated, thinking “it may be a mess”. But when I was there? It was very calm, and I don’t even think there was a large police presence to alarm you.

Were there a lot of white people there with you? 

There was a good mixture of whites in the crowd, a fair number of whites in the civil rights movement. This was the day to be there, the place to be.

How did it feel to be one man among many standing there along the pool, waiting to listen to the speech? This is Dr. King’s speech, but our story. How did you feel when Dr. King spoke those historical words, “I have a dream”? 

Dad said he was about a third of the way back on the left side of the Pool as you looked toward the Lincoln monument, so he was able to hear and see the events. 

As I recall, it was kind of humbling. You couldn’t claim to be special–there were a quarter million people as I remember. It was quite a crowd, and so it was sort of humbling to be one of the people. The talks before Dr. King were interesting, but they tended to be what we’d heard before, by and large. When Dr. King started speaking (he was a fantastic speaker), the feeling grew that this was special. As the speech built, I could feel with certainty that this was a special speech. There were high points, like:

“little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls”

and of course, the “I have a dream” theme was very dramatic. It was rousing, it really moved the crowd. It made the hot day worth it as we stood along the reflecting pool with no trees and no shade. The importance of so many people coming to Washington and saying silently (other than the speakers) that they wanted equal rights was exciting. It made it seem entirely feasible, and it was a great crowd. It achieved its purpose and negated the naysayers who were fear mongers, saying there would be rioting in the streets. It was a great day.

What else should we, your children & grandchildren, know about your experience? 

There’s a historic context to that day and to that experience that it’s important for my descendants to know that I was there. It draws their attention to where it was and why they were there…a great day in our country. It’s important that some of us remember it, what it was about, the aim, the goal.

Following our questions, Greg and Dad talked about the impact of the March on our lives today, on having the first Black President. This March made strides to get us to where we are today. Thank you, Dad, for sharing your story, this legacy, with us. 

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Dad’s only souvenir from the March on Washington–a shirt from the Union he rode with on the bus to D.C.

Idlewild Park

Oh a whim, we decided to join my aunts, uncle, grandma, and cousins for a trip to Idlewild Park. This has to be one of the best parks in the area for ‘lil ones, so there really wasn’t much thinking about if it was the right decision. We were right, for the record.

You already know that we trusted Arianna and cousin A to lead us with the map, but not before we enjoyed a glorious picnic lunch. The park has great picnic shelters that you can rent or claim if they haven’t been rented. We shared a shelter with some random families during the day, and felt comfortable leaving our bags there while we went for a swim. (Note, this is the park where Greg lost his wallet a few years ago. We returned back over an hour after it was lost and it was turned in with nothing missing. It’s that kind of great.)

Yes, we got to go for a swim at the amusement park. No pictures here, but we enjoyed trips down water slides (I finally got over my fear), the wave pool, and Lazy River. It was refreshing to enjoy fun in the water as a family.

In the late afternoon, we headed to Story Book Forest to enjoy a walk around the nursery story book world.

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After this part of the park closed, we headed to Jumpin’ Jungle to ride slides, play in a ball pit, and enjoy time climbing and playing. The bigger kids went with their dads on the Log Flume…poor ‘lil Man was not happy to learn he was 1/2 inch too short to ride with them all, but he enjoyed 45 minutes with Mama while we waited.

Later, we headed on the train to Racoon Lagoon. (Park go-er tip, use the train to get from Hootin’ Holler to the kid area!) The ‘lil kids loved that their slightly bigger cousins could ride with them. They enjoyed every last minute of it, but avoided the camera like the plague.

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Once we had our fill on ‘lil kid rides, we enjoyed the Merry Go Round, Tilt A Whirl, Whip, Paratrooper, and Balloons. Lots and lots of spinning.  No veritgo issues. Swear.

Not even the moment when I looked at Arianna, grabbed her arm and told her it was okay, I had her. Her response? I’ve got you too, Mommy. And always our prince, Evan chimed in that he’d make it all okay.

Not even the moment when cousin E got on the Tilt A Whirl with us and knocked the balance off to the point all we did was spin around. 

We survived the park, and ended up being one of the last people out of the park…even after many employees had left for the day. Those are the things loving memories are made of.

Bonus Points on our awesome day? This was Evan’s first trip to Idlewild Park and he back-navigated us home in the dark. “Turn right up here, Daddy!” and “Just ahead, get on the Pittsburgh Turnpike!” He refused to sleep until we got off the turnpike and on 28, just one exit from our house. What a kid, he takes after his Mama.