Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas card & letter 2008

*Some parts left out to somewhat protect privacy from people who may read this who we don't want reading it!*

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all of our family & friends! We hope 2008 has been a good year for all of you. It has been a year of huge changes for our family!

*Sadly, we lost my grandfather, Richard Essner, in February. He is missed by all of us, but we rejoice knowing of his faith in God!

*In March, Chris accepted a transfer with ________, the company he’s worked for since we moved to Aiken in 2001. The transfer was taking us back to Texas-back to where Chris & I met and lived for almost the first 7 years of our marriage-back to where Gracie was born-back to GREAT Mexican food and BEEF BAR-B-Q! However, this move also took us away from many wonderful friends and a great church home. It took us a lot farther from my parents, BUT it put us a lot closer to Chris’s parents. We’re actually almost exactly half way between the 2 sets of grandparents now. It was definitely a move of ‘give & take,’ but we felt God was leading us back to Texas for some reason, so we took a leap of faith and in April we made the move to Houston! This is a different part of Texas than where we’d been before, so it was something new to get used to. We left a town of approximately 30,000 and moved to a town of approximately 4 million! WOW-what a change!

*With MUCH help from a new friend I met through a mutual friend in Aiken, we chose an area of Houston & an apartment to live in which included a school for Gracie to finish out the last month & a half or so of 2nd grade. She did GREAT with this transition which was such a blessing! Chris started his new job and LOVED it from the beginning. It is definitely a blessing for him to come home happy with the work he is doing. He is busy, challenged, & tired but also happy!

*We visited different churches and decided to make ________ Church of Christ our new church home. It is a larger church than we’ve been used to, but it is becoming more & more home all the time and is a wonderful place filled with loving Christians and new friends! My brother used to go to church with some of our new friends which has helped us a lot in meeting new people as they have been great about welcoming us & helping us get involved. They are also huge Dallas Cowboy fans which bonds Chris to them immediately-he even got to enjoy a game in Dallas with Kevin a few weeks ago which was a highlight to his year!

*My mom came in early June to help us during the last days of my pregnancy and to be here when our precious baby would make her arrival. On June 24th, Ellie Hollyn Shanks entered this world at 12:50 pm, weighing 8 lbs. 3 oz. and measuring 20 ½ inches. She is a joy & has brought such happiness to all of us! Gracie & Katie are both wonderful big sisters. Gracie is very nurturing with her and has a natural “mothering” nature. Katie loves dancing for her and making goofy faces at her!

*Our house in Aiken sold right after Ellie was born which was such an unexpected blessing based on the housing market at the time! We couldn’t start actively looking right away since I’d just had Ellie via c-section, but before too long we got serious about it.

*We had already decided we wanted to live in a different part of the city than where we were in our apartment-a lot because of Chris’s commute to work-and had decided _____ is where we wanted to be. After spending time online looking at what was out there, we started actually looking at houses. Long story short-we found a house and got a contract on it and moved in less than a week after the start of this school year. We were able to start Gracie at her new school even though we hadn’t actually moved in the new house which was yet another blessing and positive answer to prayer. She had already been to 2 different schools the year before, so we really wanted her to be able to start where she was going to finish this year (and the rest of her elementary years)! She is a wonderful 3rd grader who continues to love school and has a very sweet teacher and enjoys socializing with the other little girls in her class & at church. Katie is staying home with me this last year before Kindergarten and is such a fun little 4 year old! She makes us laugh everyday with all the funny things she does. She is truly a joy to have in our family!

*With the help of many friends from church, we were able to get moved into the house and are now STILL in the process of unpacking & getting it the way we want it. We LOVE our new home and the area of Houston it’s in. We are able to walk Gracie to school which takes about 6 minutes. Despite how bad Houston traffic can be in general, I can get to any of 4 different grocery stores or the outlet mall in less than 10 minutes. Katie enjoys that we are within walking distance of 2 different parks. It’s just a really nice area. Chris has joined a vanpool for his commute to work which saves him a little money and a lot of wear & tear on his car. Plus, he can relax on the way home! He now has about a 35 minute commute thanks to traveling on the toll way. Again, a HUGE blessing when you look at the fact that his commute to our apartment was well over an hour in the afternoon with him driving by himself the whole way.

*We also survived Hurricane Ike about a week after we moved into our new home. It was terrifying and something I hope to never experience again. We boarded some windows and tried to sleep that night although we didn’t get much sleep because of what was going on outside. (Gracie & Katie slept fine!) We were blessed to have no major property damage, minimal power loss, and we were safe!

*We have been blessed with many visitors already which has been great! Both sets of parents have come, as well as Chris’s brother’s family. My aunt & uncle visited when Mom & Dad were here, we’ve been able to see Chris’ cousin, Ashley, who lives in San Antonio and her parents who were visiting her, and he has some other cousins who live here in Houston (although 50 miles away!) who helped tremendously when we first moved here! Some friends from Dallas came before Ellie was born. My mom came again because she couldn’t stand not seeing Ellie again, my brother & niece have visited, and my friends, Melissa & Mary Beth, have both come which was lots of fun! I think Katie has the way to the airport memorized! We also enjoyed a trip to San Antonio-one of our favorite cities-in August which is now just a few hours away and spent Thanksgiving in New Mexico with Chris’s family. It was wonderful to make the trip in just 1 day and so nice to see Nana & Papaw (Chris’s grandparents) enjoy spending time with the girls, especially Ellie, their newest great-granddaughter! My parents & grandmother will be joining us for Christmas.

*Looking back over the last year, we have made such huge changes: moved across the country, added a new baby to our family, sold & bought a new home, survived a hurricane….God has been with us through it all and has blessed us tremendously, and we thank Him for those blessings! We miss our friends in Aiken but are thankful for technology such as Facebook, unlimited long distance, texting, & email as it allows us to keep in touch easier! We have been blessed to add new friends to our lives here in Houston. God is surely wonderful!

Chris, Jacinda, Gracie (8), Katie (4), & Ellie (6 mo.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hero of the Grocery Store

I copied this from another blogger. Enjoy!

Here's an article that Twilight author Stephenie Meyer wrote for Ensign magazine.

Christmas stories happen in the most everyday places. I was part of one not long ago at the grocery store. I hope I never forget it, though the memory is bittersweet.

I had been shopping for almost an hour by the time I got to the checkout lines. My two youngest sons were with me, the four-year-old refusing to hold onto the cart, the two-year-old trying to climb out of the basket and jump down to play with his brother. Both got progressively whinier and louder as I tried to keep them under control, so I was looking for the fastest lane possible. I had two choices. In the first line were three customers, and they all had just a few purchases. In the second line was only one man, a harried young father with his own crying baby, but his cart was overflowing with groceries.

I quickly looked over the three-person line again. The woman in the front was very elderly, white haired and rail thin, and her hands were shaking as she tried unsuccessfully to unlatch her big purse. In the other line, the young father was throwing his food onto the conveyor belt with superhuman speed. I got in line behind him.

It was the right choice. I was able to start unloading my groceries before the elderly woman was even finished paying. My four-year-old was pulling candy from the shelf, and my little one was trying to help by lobbing cans of soup at me. I felt I couldn’t get out of the store fast enough.

And then, over the sound of the store’s cheery holiday music, I heard the checker in the other line talking loudly, too loudly. I glanced over as my hands kept working.

“No, I’m sorry,” the checker was almost shouting at the old woman, who didn’t seem to understand. “That card won’t work. You are past your limit. Do you have another way to pay?” The tiny old woman blinked at the checker with a confused expression. Not only were her hands shaking now, but her shoulders too. The teenage bagger rolled her eyes and sighed.

As I caught a soup can just before it hit my face, I thought to myself: “Boy, did I choose the right line! Those three are going to be there forever.” My mood was positively smug as my checker began scanning my food.

But the smiling woman directly in line behind the elderly lady had a different reaction. Quietly, with no fanfare, she moved to the older woman’s side and ran her own credit card through the reader.

“Merry Christmas,” she said softly, still smiling.

And then everyone was quiet. Even my rowdy children paused, feeling the change in the atmosphere.

It took a minute for the older woman to understand what had happened. The checker, her face thoughtful, hesitated with the receipt in her hand, not sure whom to give it to. The smiling woman took it and tucked it into the elderly woman’s bag.

“I can’t accept …” the older woman began to protest, with tears forming in her eyes.

The smiling woman interrupted her. “I can afford to do it. What I can’t afford is not to do it.”

“Let me help you out,” the suddenly respectful bagger insisted, taking the basket and also taking the old woman’s arm, the way she might have helped her own grandmother.

I watched the checker in my line pause before she pressed the total key to dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue.

Paying for my groceries and gathering my children, I made it out of the store before the smiling woman. I had made the right choice of lanes, it seemed.

But as I walked out into the bright December sunshine, I was not thinking about my luck but about what I could not afford.

I could not afford my current, self-absorbed frame of mind.

I could not afford to have my children learn lessons of compassion only from strangers.

I could not afford to be so distant from the spirit of Christ at any time of the year—especially during this great season of giving.

I could not afford to let another stranger, another brother or sister, cross my path in need of help without doing something about it.

And that is why I hope never to forget the Christmas hero in the grocery store. The next time I have a chance to be that kind of a hero, I can’t afford to miss it.

Stephenie Meyer

Sunday, December 07, 2008

December so far......

Since I last updated, Ellie has had another 'month birthday,' we've traveled for Thanksgiving, cut down a Christmas tree, and now my friend Mary Beth, from Aiken, is here visiting!

Ellie had her 5 month birthday on the 24th. This sweet girl is just a jewel! She is so laid back and just goes with the flow....MOST of the time. She definitely has her moments! She started having some of those 'moments' last week which prompted us to think she might have an ear infection. Sure enough, I took her to see the doctor Wednesday afternoon after some much fussier evenings and a particularly bad fussing fit that afternoon and voila-ear infection! That night was HoRrIbLe-she was up so much and so fussy and unsettled. However, once she went to sleep she ended up waking up the next morning with a smile on her face and has been back to her regular mellow self! aMaZiNg what antibiotics can do for a baby!She has turned over once or twice and has started the cutest little habit of sticking the end of her tongue out when she gets excited & smiles. It is too cute!

Back before the ear infection, we traveled to New Mexico for Thanksgiving. 14 hours there & 13 hours back. (stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way there) It was a long trip, but A LOT shorter than it was when we drove it from South Carolina! It was nice spending time with Gramps & Gramme, Nana & Papaw, Great Uncle Jerry, & Great Aunt Cheryl too. The girls had a blast!

We got back and got busy getting the house ready for Christmas. We went to a tree farm and got to choose one and cut it down. It was a lot of fun! Over the next few days, we got the tree set up and decorated and a few other decorations set out around the house. We look forward to my parents & grandmother coming to visit for Christmas this year.

Last Thursday, Katie, Ellie, & I picked up my friend, Mary Beth, at the airport! She & I have been friends since we met picking up our children from Kindergarten at school in Aiken. We have had a lot of fun shopping & eating out. I told her I AM cooking tomorrow night! I'm not sure what it'll be, but I'm a bit tired of eating out to be honest! It has been fun though! She will sadly leave Tuesday, but I will look forward to seeing her again in January when Ellie & I visit our friends in Aiken!

Yesterday, Gracie attended a "Gingerbread Tea Party" with some little girls from church. She had a lot of fun, and the mom who put it together did a great job-it was really cute! Today, she had a very busy day. After church, she went with other 3-5th graders from our church and some other churches as well for another "Sunday Funday." They went to eat lunch and played laser tag and also sang carols at a nursing home. Tonight, the K-5th graders went to a different nursing home and sang carols & delivered gifts they'd wrapped.

Mary Beth & I have plans to do some more shopping tomorrow, and I need to start making more plans for our Christmas company who will be here 2 weeks from Tuesday! December is a FAST month!