my big, loving, chaotic, blended family.

this is just a fraction of this side of the family - it's really not even too extended.  every person is important.  just a few key players:  blockhead on the far right is Shoes.  he just does not want his picture on the web.  in fact, he's asked me to put a slowdown on the facebook pictures.  my answer is to not tag them.  eh.  that's probably not enough.  he is working in a town that has absolutely no courtroom security for his district court docket (not even a metal detector ... so professional and comforting ...)

facing the picture, i'm to the left of shoes.  my full sister cheryl is to the left of me.  my mom is to the left of her.  my step dad is to the left of her.  my brother, Gregg, is kneeling in front of Cheryl and I.  my sister, Lizz, is kneeling dead center in the striped shirt.  our host, my niece Chantea, is on the left wearing a green shirt and glasses.  of course, in that, there are spouses, nieces, nephews, parents of partners and more family goodness.

christmas eve was 22 person, one turkey, one ham, 2 jello salads, 5 bottles of wine, one big gift exchange full.   christmas day was one smaller family visit, replete with one raucous game of "Apples to Apples".  i'm not sure i want to play with my sister Lizz anymore.  she's either a genius or has amazing luck with her cards.  my cards?  not so lucky.  they included "my love life" and "my parents house." 

that's just trouble in the making .... i didn't put those suckers down at all.

i haven't seen some of these guys in years (i haven't seen my parents since last Christmas).   so good to see their faces and get caught up.  so glad to be able to include Shoes this year. 

and because this is just how i am, so excited to move forward to the new year ...
... and I haven't stopped believing. I will always be a Believer. That's a little difficult for some to accept considering:

* my 2007 divorce
* my political stances (don't worry ~ we'll skip a detailed discussion and stop at saying it's separate from what many conservative churches ascribe to)
* my work in secular agencies.

It's ok. It's ok, because in the end, I know I'm kept close to the heart of a supremely loving, supremely forgiving, supremely big God.

Hence, this time of year is heart wrenchingly poignant for me. The birth of Jesus, yes, (well, kind of. december is as good a time as any to celebrate the birth, even though Jesus probably made his manager appearance sometime near the end of September), but more than that, the heart of God. The heart of God in that people choose this time of year to open up to others. To serve at soup kitchens. To give to toy drives. To donate coats. (I call it the heart of God. You may call it decency, good will, responsibility, love ... and I respect that you see it differently.)

Trust me, I also see the commercialism. But I choose to focus elsewhere. I also see a year long need for people to open themselves up to the needs of other human-beings, and not just at Christmas, but I choose to focus on the good that comes out of people during this season. Is it enough?

Dear hearts, trust me. It's never enough. There's an entire, shocking world of people out there who are hungry, who are homeless, who are hurting, who are confused, who are amazing, who are real and who are no different from me. It won't be enough until we all take each other seriously, but until then, it is appreciated in ways that are inherently humbling.

My very liberal Master's program often references the early church as an outstanding model of social work. Caring for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned are themes peppered throughout the Old Testament. Jesus quite literally told his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33). (May we be forgiven for trying amongst ourselves to determine who are the worthy poor.) If Jesus said that when we take care of the widow and prisoner, we also take care of Him, why do we think these people are so different than us? We're one. I'm getting a graduate degree so I can help people on very human, interrelated levels.

I choose to celebrate that this holiday season - how we are connected and how we are extensions of each other and how we are wholly separate all at the same time. Me. You. Us.

The heart of God is this infinite universe of discovery, acceptance and love. I choose to celebrate that this holiday season.

And despite all of the very serious hurt I see daily, I choose to celebrate the resilience that lies deep within us.

May this New Year bring you peace and deep insight. May you feel it in the very core of who you are. May you breath deeply. Truly.

The best and purest of this Season's greetings to you, Dear Hearts.  Merry Christmas.

It's Sunday.

Last Tuesday I was about to begin my first full week of school vacation.  Wednesday through today loomed large.  I had planned to sneak away to the Vineyard Town, tell almost nobody, hide out, sleep, rest, watch Shoes' giant T.V. and check my email on his giant Mac.  I so needed a rest.

Super enthralling, I know.

Instead ... instead I spent time with all of my old Juvenile Justice buddies.  I'm still not sure how that happened, and it's not at all what I had planned.  It was, however, better than I had planned. Probation officers, juvenile detention officers, my kindred spirits at CASA.  Time well spent laughing, commiserating, drinking wine. 

Telling war stories.

Shoes was a trooper during the entire week.  He sees these guys all the time, but he patiently listened to my incessant chatter and escorted me to the office Christmas party.  These times in the Vineyard Town help me remember that good things happened there too.  Shoes is one of those good things.

We had to run up to Pullman to help Shoes' parents with a few things, and after that, we slept on the couches like the dead.  13 hours of sleep.  And then I drove home.  And drove through some insanely crazy snow in the dark through Hood River.  And now am ready for this coming week.  No slow down expected, but despite the pace, it's looming lovely and full.

The very best part of this last week, hands down, was my time with my old roommate, Tiffany, and her now 2 year old daughter, Madelyn.  This was my roommate before I moved to Portland to go to grad school;   Madelyn was just 7 months old when I left.  She is smart and social and talkative and mischievous.  And I miss her dearly.  Her mom, too.

Lovely and full.  This entire fall and holiday season has been lovely and full.  Christmas next week and I'm hoping to have big, big, big news for you by the end of the year.  Maybe it will happen.  Maybe it won't.  I have a few hints and a few clues and so much family support I think I could burst.  What will be, will be ... but I have a feeling this season will continue to be lovely and full ...

This IS a holiday picture - see the snowflakes hanging from the ceiling of my office?  So nice of him to stop by the Very Large Hospital I work at in Metro Portland.  I'm sure he's listening with bated breath to all of my ideas on the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the abused ...

Trust me, I'm FULL of ideas.

Shoes and I had a little pre-holiday dinner with these guys.  Surely you recognize my goddaughter, Rebekah.   She shows up here all the time.  And I may I just say that she is hilarious.  And talks a mile a minute.   And, though she tries to play coy, she is madly in love with Shoes. 

Other pre holiday bonuses:  a GSSW Swanky Holiday Party (thanks, Eliz!) of which I have no blog worthy pictures.  Lots of holiday shopping.  A trip to the Vineyard town soon to hide out and rest.

Another holiday bonus:  another semester of straight As.  Thanks, Santa!

Last day of Internship for fall term today!  I love all of the elderly people here at the continuing care community (yes, even the ones who definitely do not love me back), but I'm a little pooped.  A little worn.  A little looking forward to a couple of weeks off.

But today was Big Adventure Day here at the home.  Today, Mr. Smith (right, you guessed it - not his real name) and I had big plans to find every Christmas Tree in this place.  And this is a big, 27 acre place.  Mr. Smith is frail - exemplifying the frailest of the frail, "old-old" that we have.  With his tiny little head, his wispy white hair, and his big brown eyes, it wasn't hard - no, not at all - for him to convince me on this slow Friday that we needed to go (and he whispers this conspiratorially) "cause some trouble."  Sometimes I think if I breathe too forcefully I will knock him right out of his chair.  What he loses in mass, however, he makes up with wit.

And this social worker said, "Lead the way."

Which is all the permission Mr. Smith needed, if he needed any permission at all.  Off he zoomed (literally - I literally cannot keep up with him when he's in the mood to cause mischief) to the elevators.  "Down to 2!" he commanded, his finger held high in the air.  "Up to 4!" 

And find the trees, we did.  As we rolled up to the first, Mr. Smith craned his head carefully towards me and said, "The first thing we do, is look to see if Santa has been here yet ...."

"And if he hasn't," I countered slowly .... "does that mean we're too early ... or that we've been a little naughty?"

"It's a combination of both!" Mr. Smith explained wisely.

 On the 3rd floor, we encountered a tree decorated exclusively with blue decorations and blue lights and Mr. Smith very purposefully puckered his lips and shook his head.  "Gaudy," he declared.  "Just awful."

But we aren't just professional Christmas Tree critics.  No.  We're also employee appreciation event crashers.  We passed by the open banquet room that was set with trays and trays of food and I said, "Mr. Smith?  What's going on in here?  Should we infiltrate?"

And I was almost knocked over by the wind force of his chair rushing by.  As we were leaving, cookies in hand, several of his friends passed by and he casually, coolly told them, "We're party crashers."   As in, no biggie - We do this all the time - It's not even a party until we crash it.

We also encountered a children's choir in a separate building and crashed that too.  "That energy," Mr. Smith said.  "If we could only bottle it up."

By the time we had seen 5 trees and crashed 2 parties, Mr. Smith was starting to feel a little winded.  "Better head back," he said.  "Need to get in my comfy chair."  So we did.  And on the way, almost took out a lady with a walker, a large, plastic Rubbermaid garbage can, and a mop bucket and a custodian.  I think Mr. Smith's depth perception is a little off.  Or maybe the trouble happens because his chair is set so fast it shakes when he goes top speed.  I might need to talk to him about "turtling" it down a little. 

On the last elevator on the way back to his room, this social worker said, "Mr. Smith, how did you get so very good at causing so much good natured mischief?"

"The key," he said, raising those big brown eyes to me, "is to find a good partner in crime.  It's your free pass."

Happy Holidays, Mr. Smith.   May they be filled with all the non-blue holiday merriment you can muster.

{This encounter did not take place during session and the client's name and identifying information have been changed.  However, I cannot guarantee that it did not have some therapeutic benefit.  O, wait.  The therapeutic benefit was mine... ;)  }
because it is that time of year again.

It is.

the end.

of fall term.

Praise God.

5 terms left.  In a few weeks, I'll be halfway through the program.  It's more chaotic than normal this year -- I went over the river and through the woods (literally) (and snow) to Shoes' hometown for Thanksgiving.

 A Very Full weekend completed by a fierce shopping trip with Shoes' mom (she is a Champion), lots and lots of niece and nephew play time, and saxaphone playing.

You thought maybe I was kidding?

Shoes and I had a down night and I made him get out his saxaphone from the 8th grade and his high school year books.  Why he humors me, I'll never know.  Why we almost died laughing, I'll also never know.  You should have heard my Lisa Simpson solo.  These times when it's just us - away from work, away from school, away from stress - are amazing.  So thankful for this boy who's so, so good at long distance.

Now.  This is how these next few weeks will wrap up.  Flying out tomorrow to go to Apple Cup (I've packed my ski clothes!!).  Finish my last 2 projects.  Complete my last 3 days of internship.  Dinner with Shoes and the Magees.  A fancy schmancy Graduate School of Social Work party.  Preparing to have Christmas with my entire family (maternal) for the first time in 8 years.

Hopefully these sparse posts will pick up winter break ....