28.12.11

the Not Fake Holiday Letter - 2011

[Every year about this time I start to get daily hits for the Not Fake Christmas Letter post I wrote in 2006. I think it's about time for another one.]

Dear Family, Friends, and people who won't even open this when it hits your inbox.

It should come as no surprise to you that I'm not going to print this letter out and sign it and address it to each of you and then pay $40 for postage. It is 2011 after all, and I have a blog, and the feed goes to my facebook account, which is linked to a twitter account, and a Linkedin account that picks up the twitter feed, not to mention a google+ account. I have at least 5 email accounts that I monitor daily, or more, I've lost track really. I also have 4 facebook pages, a website, another blog to go with the website, another twitter account to go with the other blog, and that's one of the pages. I have social media profiles everywhere, some of which I even update daily, so unless you don't have a computer/tablet/ipod/smartphone you really have no need for a snail mail letter. I make it really easy to spy on me. (I will write to you, dear grandparents, and maybe even you, dear mother who finds the updating of her antivirus software confusing, but it may take me a while.)

It made me tired just typing that. No wonder I always feel behind.

So, the good news first. I got to go to a blogging conference, which was a lot of fun. I met some of my favorite online people and was totally awkward with many of them. But I still enjoyed myself.

Oh, and I won blogging recognition for some stuff I wrote about how much I suck as a parent. Come to think of it, that bit that I published in an anthology last year was also about how not very good at parenting I am. Apparently people like to read about how badly I fail every day. I'm not sure if this counts as a success or not.

It was actually a pretty good year for the non-profit that Aaron and I co-founded and that we fill all 3 of the necessary officer of the board positions for. We raised enough money to buy land to build an orphanage on, and a farm to feed the kids. Not that we can actually take credit for much of that since it was other people's money and generosity that made that whole thing work.

If I tell you that one part is going well you should really ask yourself what kinds of things were neglected to make that happen. I'll go ahead and tell you. It's school. Particularly math.
Please don't ask my children to do long division because they will look at me in accusatory tones and mutter, "Mommy hasn't taught me how to do that yet, she's been busy on her computer."

Yeah, and I don't even get paid for it. Well, there was that one time one of my posts was syndicated... and there's the less than lunch money in ad revenue... let's stick with not even paid. It's less confusing. After all, most of the time when I'm on the computer I'm not writing, I'm trying to learn how to be the CFO of a non-profit corporation, or answering emails, or answering more emails, or accounting, or editing websites, pages profiles, etc.

My five year old will take my face between her hands and turn it to face her in order to break my gaze on the screen so I will notice she's talking to me.

Not my proudest moment.

You see, a mom who homeschools, runs a non-profit corporation, and likes to write never, ever keeps all the balls in the air. It's less like jugging and more like constantly dropping things and then picking them up and chucking them as high as I can so that I have time to pick up the other balls on the ground and chuck them back in the air, over and over and over again. There are just too many balls.

But math needs to be picked up more often.

Aaron took a job that has both less pay, and more travel. So we see him less, and don't have enough to fix the car, or pay all the bills all at once, or take the girl to the orthodontist, though the dentist asked for an emergency consult. He is enjoying the challenge of learning something new though, as he usually does. We hope he'll be successful at it and then we can do things like go to the dentist again. Woohoo! We didn't take a family vacation this year, or last year, or the year before that. The time we can afford for Aaron to be off work is time he spends in Thailand with The Charis Project. The Boy might go with him this summer though, which he's excited about.

I thought maybe with Aaron gone a lot I'd have more time to watch movies that he doesn't like. I've still never watched The Notebook. But usually I just work until Bam Bam wakes and then drop off exhausted when I nurse him back to sleep. My oral hygiene is often not up to par as a result.

We like our kids still, that's something. They continue to amaze us with just how well they adapt to our craziness. They have started figuring out how to do a lot of things for themselves. We like to tell ourselves that we are fostering independence and a can do attitude in them by having them make their own breakfast, lunch and dinner, and clean up after all of it. Of course, they prefer that to going hungry so they're becoming quite proficient at it.

The economy has hit hard this year. Not so much because we are tightening our belts, though we are, a lot, but because we know so many more people who are in real difficulty and we wish we had the means to help.

I'm writing this on Christmas eve, while Aaron is in Thailand at the orphanage, and making caramel sauce for the cranberry cake I'm taking to the friends who live outside (homeless) Christmas party tomorrow. Odds are the sauce will be chunky because I will forget to stir, but that's ok. It will still taste good.

I probably won't actually post it for several days after that though, I'll fall asleep instead and forget to put all the links in for a few more days after that.

But I think it's been a good year nonetheless, if measured by a different standard. There was the guy who told us that he's reconciled with his family and will be leaving the state to live with his son when he gets his kidney transplant. He says it's the past decade of being around our extended family that healed him enough to make him able to make that phone call.

There were 150 people at the Christmas party in Mae Casa Thailand yesterday, mostly political refugees, migrant workers and ex criminals, all drawn to the life and light they see in the community we get to be a part of there.

Thirty-two formerly abandoned kids went to bed somewhere safe, with full bellies and warm hearts clutching Christmas gifts that our kids handpicked for them.

So while far from successful by conventional standards, and though I still, daily, feel as though I am failing at something, maybe it was a good year after all.

I hope you have a lovely holiday, that you have someone you love nearby to celebrate with, and that if not you find someone else who's lonely and invite them in. I hope that the coming year will be full of light and life for you as well and that you will have the strength to welcome it.

Love,
Carrien and family

23.12.11

And the Girl is 8

Hello solstice child,

The pagan doula who attended your birth held you for a while waiting for a gift from you, born in the dead of the longest winter's night. That was sort of odd of her, but I didn't mind. I think the gift was simply you.

Every parent has that child who is just a constant puzzle to them. That is what you are for me. I can understand pretty easily what goes in the hearts and heads of your other siblings, for various reasons. But I never know what it is that will matter to you, and what will just slide off.

You have strong ideas of what is fair and what isn't, and you are most easily upset when your sense of justice is offended, even if your ideas of what is just are very different from that of those around you.

You are clever. You see through people. You love to have fun. You love to be silly.

You look too old. You are too old.

Your bones are solid now, big kid bones. I can no longer wrap my hand all the way around your ankle. There is weight to you now. Not visible, for you still look super skinny, but it's work to carry you to bed.

You got a cool hat and new boots for your birthday last Saturday and Sunday when we went to the nutcracker you wore them along with your frilly girly sparkly dress that we had planned weeks ago. And you looked awesome.

At 8 years old you are officially more stylish than me. Just FYI, I never really have been stylish. You can dress me in a decade or so. Kay? Actually, you already do on occasion.

You have the greatest attitude about things, most of the time. When we all play a game together it's obvious who cares about winning and who is there just to have fun, win or lose. You are that child. You don't care about winning. You care about being able to play.

You're also my most flighty child. You leave laundry sitting on the kitchen floor and dishes in your bedroom and any thing you were told to put away simply relocated to another room. You were going to put it where it belongs, but you thought of something else to do before you got there and completely forgot you were even holding something. This is how I find all of your things in random places.

I wonder what you will be like when you grow up and have a place of your own?

A friend took this photo of you a month or 2 ago and I almost had a heart attack when I saw it. It's you, just totally innocent in an unguarded, unscripted moment. But it shows so clearly how quickly your girlhood is fading away and womanhood is rushing at you.



I know we have a few more years, for which I'm thankful, but it was shocking to me, nonetheless to see just how old you are.

I always feel panicky when I realize that, like I'm running out of time to get it right. I haven't yet perfected my parenting skills you see, and I'm running out of time to make sure you have a perfect mother before it's too late.

Of all my kids though, you care the least about perfection. You only want to have time, and attention, and a place on my lap still. Which, I confess, kind of hurts now, but I try to let you stay there anyway because soon...  Oh too soon you are not going to be a girl anymore.

My heart squeezes a little too tight when I think about that.

I love you. I love you with all my heart. I hope I learn to speak your language well enough to make sure that you at least know that, always.

Love,
Mama

20.12.11

Little is 5!


Dear Little,

I'm not sure how this happened. You are still my baby girl, yet so big, yet so little, yet so much a small child, but sometimes not. You are a girl in transition is what you are.

You still ask every night if you can sneak into my bed if you are scared, and I still wake to find you snuggled up next to your daddy on many, many mornings. I stare at you those mornings, not having a camera nearby, to trying to memorize every detail of your sleeping face, the line of your jaw, your dainty little chin, the long lashes brushing flushed cheeks, perfect tiny lips parted as you breath, and your hair falling across it. I look at how tiny you are next to daddy's big arm that is wrapped around you and marvel that so much personality can fit into a child your size.

This photo was taken by Rosie from Like Mother, Like daughter
This year to took it upon yourself to start blessing people every time we sat down to dinner. You would go around and say things like, "I bless you to always be my big brother and to love me forever because you are my big lovey!"

Or there was that time one night at bed time when you prayed that, "Everyone in my whole family would always love me, always, always, always."



You are extravagant with your affection, smothering all of us with kisses and hugs and "I love you mama, you're my favorite mama in the whole wide world".

You are just as extravagant with your other emotions, which means the entire neighborhood can tell when it's you who are upset. Your little piping voice when it screeches can carry a whole city block. You are quick to anger, but also quick to relent when you realize you were wrong, which will happen more often before the anger erupts as you learn to listen first, then act.

Basically, you are five.

There is something about you that is fragile this year, as though you have discovered that there are things to fear in this world, and you cling to all the reassurance that your family can give.

You are in love with your big brother, unless he's annoying. He still serves you in ways that make you feel loved and you still think he's the funniest, smartest, most entertaining guy ever. But he shouldn't come in your room if you are doing something and mess with your toys. That leads to screeching.

Also by Rosie, this photo catches your personality perfectly.

Your devotion to the Girl is less slavish, though she can almost always convince you to help her with chores in exchange for "mystery prizes". She is still cool enough that random stuff from her collection of things is super exciting for you to get.

Bam Bam and you are friends. When you 2 are separated for any length of time you reunite with hugs and kisses and laughing. You love to make him giggle, and he loves to pull your hair and slobber on your face, and lay his head on your shoulder. You kiss him at every opportunity. Unless he messes with your doll house. Then you put him out of the room and shut your door. But you are generally very patient with him.



I love the way you color, with lots, and lots of different colors, all filled in all the way to the edges. You seem to be living life the same way so far, and that is a gift. I hope you always rush to meet things headlong filled with excitement.



I know that as wisdom tempers all that you are right now the little girl I can feel beginning to slip away will be the kind of woman I want to know.

By Rosie
I love you always,

your mama

17.12.11

Of the Father's Love Begotten

video
After a super fun day of preparing for and hosting the girl's double, we were both born the week before Christmas, birthday party, I was telling Brenda that I had wanted to make a video for Neil Kramer's Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert.

But since the deadline for entries was tonight, and I had a party to clean up after, a bunch of kids running around the house, ok, just my regular crew and Bug, hyped up on sugar, I didn't figure I'd manage to shoot a video. (Of course I didn't do it earlier in the month because hello, I have a non-profit to run, and they apparently suck all of the time you thought you would use to do other things all away in service of the never ending task list.)

She then promptly offered to shoot it for me.

We tried several times and each time about one verse in Bam Bam interrrupted, once by knocking over a drum, once by climbing into my lap, pulling down my shirt and nursing... He interrupts in this one too, but he's far enough away that we just kept on going.

(If I look like I was up all night baking gingerbread here it's because I was. The girls wanted a gingerbread house instead of a cake. But then I had to make enough for all their friends to have a house to decorate too.)

So here it is, a probably more realistic look at what it's really like over here at our house and one of my favorite, not technically a Christmas Hymn but a beautiful old chant nevertheless, and I think it's appropriate for the season anyway.

16.12.11

So You're Worried Your Wife is Getting Fat

Dear man who has a wife or girlfriend or other woman in his life who may be putting on a few pounds,

You have been noticing a few extra inches on her figure, some extra softness and roundness in places it hasn't been there before and you want to talk to her about it. You know that to talk about it is to enter an emotional minefield, our culture is so good at messing up women and their relationships to their own bodies. It's really sweet that you want to figure out how to talk to her about this without hurting her feelings. Don't turn to an article like this for advice. Top 10: Subtle Ways to Tell Her She's Getting Fat That would be a mistake. It's like asking someone from Switzerland to help you navigate through India, only they've never been there before. I know you don't want to shame or manipulate her into conforming to your idea of hotness. You aren't that kind of man, and your woman isn't the kind of woman who can't handle a straightforward conversation. Right?

So here, from this women's perspective, is some helpful advice. Please remember that what I tell my kids all the time holds true for you as well. The only person you can control in a relationship is yourself. So let's look at what you can actually do, and then have a look at how she may think or feel about it. Please keep in mind that I'm assuming love for her and concern for her health is your actual motive.

#1. Is the pot calling the kettle black?

Before you broach this delicate subject with the woman who shares your life take off all your clothes and stand in front of a mirror. How does your current appearance compare to how you looked when you first met her? There are probably some sags and bulges on your body too. Don't think she hasn't noticed just because she hasn't said anything. She does notice. But she probably won't ever mention it to you for 2 reasons.
1. She cares more about what kind of person you are and loves you regardless. She reminds herself often of the praiseworthy things about you and doesn't focus so much on your aging body. It may even be a comfort to her, that you are together growing older.
2. She knows how she would feel if you criticized her and she's careful not to do it to you.

Unless you are willing to address your own growing belly don't even think about talking to your wife about hers. Seriously. I shouldn't have to explain to you what a double standard is. Don't just make a change for a week and then start telling her how she ought to as well. Show some commitment. Keep at it. That way she can see that you aren't just trying to make her do something you aren't willing to do yourself.


#2. Ask yourself how many ways she may be investing herself to take care of you, and your children if you have any.

Does she iron your shirts, make you lunch, take care of the kids and the house and the dog? Does she drop everything in the middle of the day when you call wanting to talk and listen, even if it throws her whole schedule off? Does she volunteer at the kids school, drive car pool, have her own job that she goes to everyday while holding your family together and stretching ever thinner?

You must realize that when you bring up the subject of her weight and suggest she take yet another half an hour out of her day to exercise because you prefer her to look thinner that she sees it as yet another thing piled up on top of all the other things she does for you, and your family. She doesn't see it as something to do for herself, but as yet another burden, and it may feel like too much.

Before you ever even talk to her about her weight how about you talk to her about her schedule? Ask her what kinds of things she would like to be able to find time to do. See if you can find a way to lighten her load, perhaps do for yourself something she customarily does for you, so she can do those things. Even if exercise isn't one of them. Realize that if you remove just one thing she easily has at least 10 others that she'd like to do that will fill up that space. Exercise might not be at the top.

But helping her to find breathing room in her daily schedule is a good way to begin to show her that you care about her.

#3. Is she getting enough sleep?

Studies have shown that the more tired people are the poorer their food choices and the hungrier they feel. A tired person heads straight to the ice cream.

Are there any ways you can help her get more sleep?

Are there chores she does in the evening that you could take over for her before you sit down to relax so she can go to bed sooner?

Of course, she may have 10 other things that she will cram into the time freed up other than sleep, but you may have helped relieve some stress to begin with and that will help as well.

You could talk to her about your concern that she is well rested and look at her work load with her to see if it's possible for her to get more sleep. Remember, she'll need time to just unwind and do something relaxing before going to bed, just like you do.

#4. Does she get any rewards other than food?

In a busy, hectic, non stop day those little treats you see her eating may be the one positive stimulus she has going for her. After all, she doesn't have to stop what she's doing to sip a soda, or eat some chocolate, or potato chips. She may be snacking on things just to give herself a mental boost and give those pleasure centers of hers something to do.

Can you find other ways to reward her through out the day? How often do you say thank-you, for example? Teach your kids to thank her as well. Give her a quick back rub in passing, a hug, a kiss, words of appreciation, these can all stimulate the same chemicals in her brain that chocolate does.

Build into her daily, and weekly, routine whatever rewards you can manage that aren't food and see how she responds.

 #5. Plan family outings that are active.

Actually plan them, yourself. Don't tell her that you want to go hiking with the whole family and then expect her to find the date, pack up all the food, find everyone's boots, get all the kids dressed and then go. It may never happen then. Her plate is very full, remember?

Since you are already committed to your health you will have the energy to do this. You aren't going to be too tired on a Saturday morning to go do something fun and active together because you are caring for your own body and getting rest instead of staying up too late on you weekends. Show you care about this by managing your energy level such that you have some to invest in fun activities together.

The bonus to this one is that you will get to have fun with your kids and build memories together. (You don't need kids to do something fun and active together though.)

Do this one often.

*************

I suggest you try all of the above for a couple of months and see what happens. If nothing else it will help you to understand the obstacles in her way to a healthier lifestyle.

If after some time you don't see her inspired to take care of her physical health now that she's well rested, not as stressed, feels appreciated and has some time freed up you may still decide to talk to her about it. There are a few things it would be helpful for you to understand.

#1. She already knows she gained weight.
She's a woman. She looks at herself in the mirror every day. She goes through the closet trying to find something that she looks cute in still. She has to buy herself the next size up in underwear. She already knows she has gained some weight and she's probably far more critical of herself as a result than you are. So when you bring this up you are the voice confirming everything bad she's been telling herself in her head. Know that you aren't speaking into a vacuum, but jumping in on a dialogue she's already having with herself.

You say, "Honey, I'm a little concerned about your recent weight gain."

She hears, "See, you're failing at this too."

#2. She may want to make a change but feel like it's impossible.

Hopefully all of those earlier steps we talked about will have helped to alleviate this, but she may still feel overwhelmed by life in general and her weight in particular. She may have no idea how to begin. You can probably help with that. It's always easier for the person with some distance to see a solution than the person in the middle of it. But don't be glib about it. No matter how easy it seems to you, to her it's hard.

#3. She may be deeply ambivalent about her weight.

On the one hand she wants you to think she's beautiful and enjoys it when you praise her appearance. One the other hand she wonders if you will still love her when her looks are diminished. She knows that one day she will be an old woman, and she wonders if you are going to still be around then, or if you will move on to prettier packaging.

She's not sure there's much point in staying fit if it's only motivated by fear that you won't love her anymore if she's not. Fear is a pretty lousy motivator over the long term. It may produce short term results, but eventually she'll quit. She needs a better reason than that and she needs to be confident that you love her anyway.

#3. She may not care.

She may not think of her weight as an issue at all and may think that your concern is your problem and you should get over it. She might be right. Is she basically healthy with a few extra inches, or is her long term health in danger from her weight?

Here is where you need to be clear with why you care so much about her weight gain.

If it is merely aesthetic you need to figure out how to straight up explain that to her. To your  mind taking care of her physical appearance is in the same category of common courtesy as taking regular showers and brushing one's teeth before coming to bed. She might not think of it that way, and she may consider weight gain to be more a part of who she is than something as quickly remedied as hygiene.

#4. Give her real and healthy reasons to stay fit.

Tell her you want for her to have the energy she needs to have fun with you and the kids. Tell her that you want to grow old with her and enjoy your twilight years together. Tell her that you are worried that she's running herself into the ground and want to rearrange your own priorities to help her stay strong and healthy.

Make plans with her to do something fun that she can look forward to and gives her a short term goal. Maybe being strong enough for an adventure, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking or something else she used to love doing will help with short term motivation.

It's fine to say you want to take her somewhere nice and show her off too. If she knows you love her she'll want to make you proud. The interesting thing about this though is that it works better if you are already proud of her and act like she is your treasure. She'll want to be worthy of that, especially if she doesn't feel that it is conditional.

Bottom line, make loving her your main priority. If you are truly doing this out of love then it's worth trying.

Well, that's my opinion. Ladies? What do you think?

Guys, is this at all helpful?

13.12.11

How to feel rich

The Girl really did not like the $2 day challenge. The day started with tears as I explained that she couldn't have one of the clementines on the counter because they cost too much and then we wouldn't have much more we could eat that day.

"But why can't I have them? You already spent the money on them to buy them? Can I have one, mama, can I?"

She really didn't understand. I don't know if you've ever tried explaining things to a loudly weeping 7 year old but it's a venture doomed from the outset.

They were, however, won over by the homemade bread to go with the lentils for lunch. And those who didn't like the dahl for dinner had the leftovers from lunch.

"I don't want to do this." The Girl whined several times that day and I didn't really have a response, until I realized no one does. No kid chooses to only have a certain amount and kind of food every day. No mother chooses to give her children the poorest, most meager meals available. No one chooses to live in abject poverty. My girl has a choice, I have a choice. She can have clementines for breakfast normally. What of all those who don't?

This is what I asked her, and the rest of them, at the end of the day.

Yesterday, through facebook, I heard of a local family who lost every thing in their 4 children's bedrooms due to a house fire. I asked the kids if they had any clothes or toys they wanted to give away. They took off into their rooms, occasionally popping out to ask again, "How old are the boys again? Is this the right size?"

I got pretty teary when they showed me the finished pile. Two of the Girl's favorite skirts and blouses were in there, "matched up so the girl can have a pretty outfit to wear". The Boy's new skateboard, the one he received for his birthday 2 months ago. "It's nice enough to give away still mom and the 11 year old boy might like it." Little included her treasured Corduroy book and matching bear. The Boy selected Legos, making sure there were cool things in there, for the 5 year old boy and his lizards and reptiles book. We found hand me downs that are still too big for the Girl to pass on and I watched how thrilled they were to discover that they did indeed have things good enough to give away and how much pleasure they took in that.

We are rich with gifts. Sometimes it take giving them away to notice it.

Other gifts I'm counting,

Bam Bam hugs. He wraps his little arms around my neck and snuggles his head against my shoulder.

Coming into the bedroom one night to find Bam Bam fas asleep on Aaron's chest.

Little tucked under Aaron's arm, fast asleep, hair strewn across her lovely little face.

The Boy surprising us with apple pancakes and organizing his sisters to help.

Morning giggles as they all greet each other for the day.

The Boy asking forgiveness of his sisters for his tone of voice without any prompting.

Double ovens for simultaneous dinner and cookie baking.

Scented candles.

Rain storms.

Hot tea and homemade beignets.

Horse trails through marsh land.

Crazy dome shaped hills.

Sunshine.

Old stories, retold.

Sweet, sweet melodies sung together.

8.12.11

The $2 day challenge



"We're going to eat for only $2 each for the whole day tomorrow!" I announce. "Do you think we can do that?"

"Yeah," the boy exclaims, "I think we can."

"If we stick to basics and don't have treats or things like butter I think we won't even go hungry." I add. "I'll start some bean soup in the crock pot tonight..."

"I don't like bean soup!" the Girl whines. "Why do we have to do this?"

"Do you know there are people who don't have any choice about what they eat?" I ask her. "There are families who just have one bag of millet, one bag of beans and that's all they eat until it runs out, every day. If they are lucky maybe they have some vegetables to go with it. Those people are actually the lucky ones. They have food stored up. Some people buy their food every day with what they are able to make that day and if they don't make any money they don't get any food. If they only make a little bit they only get a little bit of food."

"I didn't know that." she answers.

"But why do we have to do it?" the Boy asks again.

"Have you ever felt what it's like to have to eat the same thing day after day?" I ask him. "Have you ever felt what it's like to run out of food before you stop feeling hungry? Do you know what it's like to wonder if there will be enough food to eat today?"

He answers no to each of these questions.

"Do you think it might be good for you to feel that so that you can know what it's like to be another kid in the world who goes through that every day."

I can see the wheels turning, and it's enough of a reason for me.

It's not too late for you to join. The challenge is to eat for one whole day for only $2. Just to get the slightest taste of what it's like to be truly poor. What if you only ate what you made that day and if you didn't make anything you and your children didn't eat? What would that drive you to do that you wouldn't even consider when you are well fed and warm and content? I always think of the families in Thailand who sell their daughters and wonder just how long the hunger lasts before that is an option for them.

Truthfully, at $2/person for a family of 6 I'm not even worried that we'll run out of food. I've been cooking peasant food for so long we probably won't even notice, aside from the extras, butter, olive oil, tea with cream and sugar... that's $12 for the day and I can do that, I have to do with not much more than that very often.

Even so I wonder, as I plan my menu and total the items using the bulk rate I pay for flour and rice at Costco what sort of rate the person who buys their daily food every day gets. I think of other things like how often I wash my hands in the course of preparing a meal, every every snotty nose I wipe, and every time I go to the bathroom and I think about the woman who have to walk miles every day for water. How often does she get to wash her hands? I go crazy if for some reason the water is off in my house for even half an hour. Imagine not washing, ever.

So we will think about it, as we go about our day, with the abundance piled on the counters that we must not eat and the set in stone menu with no extras that we cannot deviate from and I think it will be worth doing for these the short people.

But since they don't want bean soup I'll make lentils instead, green for lunch, red dahl for dinner, with rice, and potatoes, and eggs for breakfast.

I'm jazzing up my challenge by trying to do it with real food and we have a guest coming for lunch. I've never had to consider eating less so a guest can have her fill before. But I know people everywhere have to make that choice. I'll let you know how it goes.

7.12.11

St. Nicholas Day - How our family deals with Santa Claus



If you've been reading here a long time you would know that we don't much go for the standard commercialism of the Christmas season. [Ideas for a non Commercial Christmas] We don't give each other Christmas gifts for example. We try to find a way that our family can be a gift to others instead. We don't do the Santa thing either.

Now, if you do I'm not going to tell you not to, don't worry. There is something to the wonder that a child is capable of and the way they so sweetly believe that I can understand why parents love doing the Christmas morning extravaganza for them to wake up to. I continue to try to find other ways for them to experience wonder.

But having struggled with the desire to teach my children to not want things, or think first of their own wants, and also to not be a totally downer mom who never lets them have any fun, ever, I'm pretty content with the traditions we have happened upon so far.

In the beginning they didn't even know who Santa Claus is. They called him the Christmas man when they saw things at the store. Gradually they gleaned little bits and pieces about coming down chimneys and handing out presents and they wanted to know why some kids thought that Santa came to their house.

So I told them about St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra. You know, the real guy. We talked about how he gave to the poor in secret, most famously throwing a bag of coins down a chimney for a girl's dowry, but also hiding things in shoes, stockings hanging on lines, etc.

I told them how people only discovered that it was him later and that other Christians were so inspired by his example that they continued to give to the poor anonymously, and how they credited St, Nicholas with the gift, rather than take credit themselves, just as he had not taken credit for his own gifts.

A few years back, inspired by the years of reading about how Beck from Frog and Toad are Still Friends (yes, I know she has a new blog, you can click the link. I'm still in love with the old name.) kept all the saint days with her children year after year, including St Nicholas day, I decided to try out a bit of this church calendar liturgical living sort of thing.

Which is how we come to the keeping of St. Nicholas day and how we do it.

Every year the kid's Beema gives them each some money to use to give to someone else somehow. She has them record what they did for her to keep and show them when they grow up. [Actually, I get to record it all because a lot of them can't really write yet.]

On the eve of St. Nicholas day is when we usually work on this. They purchase a toy for a child their age perhaps, to give to a shelter or other sort of ministry and we wrap them to deliver. Or we make something for the kids in Thailand, or whatever we are inspired to do that year.


This year we made cookies, chocolate chip candy cane cookies to be precise, and sneakily delivered them to all the neighbor's doorsteps after dark, wrapped up pretty with a note that says something like, "This gift is in honor of St. Nicholas." That's not exact because we decided to do it in Spanish. A note in English when we're the only gringos on the block would be a dead giveaway.

My Spanish is lousy so I'm really thankful that Ashley joined us for the evening to help with the note, which we printed out with an image I grabbed from the internet. She also helped with cookies, which was awesome, and found my kitchen bar counter, which is a total Christmas miracle because I keep trying to get to it and never get the whole thing cleared. It is where I keep the mail after all.

She likes to bring presents for that day. We don't mind at all.



So after we ate, and baked and packaged cookies we headed out into the cold... what? It was cold, we had a frost warning last night! As I was saying, we headed out into the cold and tried to get cookies to doorsteps without anyone seeing us. The Boy got really into it, hiding behind cars and sneaking along under windows.

Then it was back home for dessert.

This year I left little presents on the front step in their shoes and they woke me, very early, to show me what was there. They think the next door neighbor lady may have done it. I told them it must be someone following the example of St. Nicholas who doesn't want to be identified.

I love how this works for us, combining giving and care for others with fun mystery surprises for them. They look forward to it for months. Which just goes to show that old traditions may be the best traditions after all.

*Some of you may remember Ashley as Hannah from when I felt the need to give her a blog name.

And Finally, Christmas decorating - a short tutorial on not spending anything at all


Last Friday night I unplugged! I decided any work I wasn't finished with could wait at least one day and shut down the laptop. It has been years since have gone that long without internet while at home. I opened it briefly late Saturday night, but only to forward the lesson plan to someone else as I called in sick to teaching Junior High Sunday school the next morning.


our little Charlie Brown Jesse Tree

The result of this crazy and drastic measure? Well, I spent a lot of time reading to my kids, and we went for a walk and stopped at one of the most well preserved adobe rancho houses in San Diego county for a tour and got a sneak preview of their Christmas decorations.

all that's left of the set my dad bought us years ago.


But then we came home, and I noticed all sorts of housekeeping I've been negligent about with this past month or two of NOTHING BUT FUNDRAISER CONCERT AND CHARIS PROJECT WORK MORNING NOON AND NIGHT.

Nothing like decorating to inspire some actual dusting and cleaning in rooms that haven't been given anything more than a quick once over and swept every so often since September? [full disclosure - It hasn't been me cleaning them. The kids each have a room to pick up once a day before dinner. Without them we'd have descended into total chaos way before now.]

That's a long way to get around to saying that on Saturday we totally did the holiday decorating thing.


But there was no way I could take down the nativity sets before doing some serious de-cluttering and arranging of the piano and the mantle. I really should have taken a before shot of that mantle.

I forget how fun it is to do little creative things like this around the house until we do them.



The wreath is from last year. I substituted the bow for the fake hydrangea blossom and little red flowers this year. Little desperately wanted us to get the white poinsettia also so I did. But she didn't want to just attach the pretty white flower to the wreath no. She cut every individual petal off and carefully arranged them where she thought they ought to be and then I wired each of them on for her, because I like to encourage her budding design sensibilities. Also, I didn't want her to remember crying because mommy said no to her decorating contributions. Total cost of silk flowers, 50% off at Michaels? $8. (OK I spent just a little bit.)


I've wanted to try an ornament garland, but those get pricey. This miniature version made from plastic ornaments also at 50% off is pretty cute I think, and I got the girls to string it on a ribbon so they had something else to make while I cleaned and dusted. [$5 for the ornaments.]

So I cleared the mantel and kept wishing that I had either gotten around to blowing up and framing a decent photo to put above the mantle because there are ugly outlets up there. (Apparently it's the thing now to put big flat screen TVs on your mantel. I wouldn't know, I don't own one.) So then I wandered through the house in search of something big enough to cover over the outlets that I could use. Along the way I wished I had a mirror or chalkboard, and that's when I remembered.


I have a big felt board. Was it big enough? Why yes it was.

The burlap draped over there is a scrap from something else. I first tried to see if it would stick to the felt or not. I just liked it there so there it stays. When I took this photo today the Girl wasn't yet finished cutting out all of the letters we put on it. Now it says, "I am the light of the world" Jesus

We almost didn't have letters, and talked about needing to buy white felt. A few hours later I was finally throwing into the trash the bit of sparkly white stuff that Aaron's grandparents always used to put underneath their nativity set which they gave to us a few years back. I think I just kept it for packing material. I have this thing about putting creches in snow you see. It's just too jarring for me considering there wouldn't have been much snow in Israel. But I remembered just in time, and it's what we cut our letters out of.

 Aaron's grandparents purchased this nativity set in Israel. It's hand carved out of olive wood. We were the lucky recipients of it when they downsized a while ago.

My wildflowers after they dried on the stalk.
I think I may need to unplug more often and remember my creative side again. Oh, and to hang out with my kids, that part too, I guess.

Do you like repurposing things for decorating?

1.12.11

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I have a sleeping boy in my lap right now. He woke up from his nap still tired. It's been a while since I just held a sleeping toddler. He's very sweet. So I have a second to write a PHFR post.

 Pretty

Yeah, I like flowers.
 Happy

My daily cup of tea.

I finally made granola again. They're excited.

I am happy that Little is learning to wipe the table after breakfast.

 Funny


Ok, these aren't very funny by themselves. Aaron took these Thanksgiving day. I made that sweater for the Boy a decade ago. I just think it's hilarious the way very small children will point at things as though the pointing will give them possession. "I can't touch it yet, but if I could it would be mine." Here he's after the little dog at Beema's house.

Real

why my entryway is hardly ever ready for guests

Coloring and felt board before I made them pick it up.
Also real, the lack of any seasonal or adventish decorations in my house. I'm a little behind, didn't even realize the season until yesterday. Maybe this weekend.

Little is waiting for me to read to her so I must go. Bye for now friends.


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