Thursday, December 24, 2015

Silent Night

The candles are passed around and lit, the lights are dimmed, and the song starts.

The kids look at me, nudging each other, because they know I'm crying like I did last year and the year before and like I'll do next year, too.

I'm crying tears of despair at babies washed ashore as families flee. I'm crying tears of sadness at lives cut short or families struggling. I'm crying tears of happiness because I am surrounded by these people I love in this community that feels more like home most days. I'm crying tears of awe as I stand in a dark church, the people I love holding small flames, lighting up the darkness. Proclaiming, in the face of hate and anger and war and famine, that love wins. God's goodness, mercy, and love win.

The candles are a metaphor for everything I have to believe in to keep myself from falling off the deep end.

Love wins. The beauty, goodness, and kindness of the world is more powerful than the hatred and anger. Good shall overcome. Good is overcoming now.

I forget those things. I worry. I cry.

And then I stand in a crowded church, the moonlight streaming in, the light of our candles streaming out, and I am renewed.

May our light continue to stream out. May it overpower the darkness. May love win in big and small ways.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Toys R Us or Time? Which gift will they remember?

We don't buy our kids a ton of gifts. For starters, we have four kids, a puppy, a cat, and one income. You do the math. There's also the fact that we want holidays to be about more than gifts. And we are doing our best to not raise entitled jerks. One of our kids went through this lovely phase where kid would open a gift, tear open next gift, get to last gift, and ask, "Are there more?" What a joy. (sarcasm!) We had some conversations and some consequences to nip that greedy behavior in the bud. Hopefully we won't relive it with Asher, but I won't be surprised if he does because kids don't come with instruction books, but they do need instruction.

We all know that time with our kids, attention, phone down, head up love is the gift our kids want, need, and will remember. Those are the gifts that will build relationships and grow love, not the new designer jeans or the mounds and mounds of gifts surrounding and dwarfing the tree. We all know it, but studies show that, despite our knowledge, we spend a boatload of money on gifts. This year the websites show we'll spend between $830-$1,270 on gifts and an average of $270 per kid. That doesn't count special dinners, new outfits, decorations, groceries for cookies, and all of the other things we think we must do every year.

On Saturday, I was wrapping up gifts for our kids. For the record, our kids want for nothing. They are clothed and fed and sheltered and loved. (I will readily admit that they often have really short pants because they just grow so fast, but they are clothed!) Yet I found myself buying into the hype. The beautiful packages, aglitter and bedazzled, and every last item on the long wish list checked off to ensure big smiles and lasting memories on Christmas morning. I found myself disappointed in the gifts were are giving, in the quantity. I imagined my kids disappointed.
(Not our house!)
I was lying to myself, believing the commercials and the consumerist hype. I was imagining that every kid would have more gifts than mine and they would be disappointed. I was being an idiot. That happens more often than I'd like to admit.

The truth is that the reason that our family celebrates Christmas is to honor Jesus and the beauty, peace, and love that his most unlikely of births brought and will bring to our world. We play games and sing carols and spend as much time with family as we can. We go to church and read from the bible, as well as lots of other Christmas books. We slow down, make fewer plans, and hibernate for a bit.

Most years our kids get three gifts from Jim and me. We joke that if three gifts were good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for our kids. Each kid also gets one gift from the other three siblings and one gift from Santa, for a total of five. Last month we got a new cat, nobly named Chandler Bobcat, and he required some rather expensive purchases, so we told the kids that Chandler was one of their gifts. They were over the moon about it, and it makes sense financially, yet there I sat, wrapping two gifts, feeling crummy.
Our sweet and snuggly Chandler boy
I posted about it on facebook, thinking that maybe others might be feeling the same way. I also shared this.
Because this is the truth. Most gifts will be forgotten, a new deposit in the land fill at some point in the distant, or even not-so-distant, future.

I also shared that we are giving each kid a calendar and an envelope full of special moments to share with just one parent. With four kids and two grown-ups, and one-grown up when Jim is traveling and traveling some more, one-on-one time is a hot commodity and a true gift for everyone involved.

A few people asked for more details, so here it is. We will give each child a wall calendar that matches their room or interests them. Audrey is getting a beach calendar to match her new beach mural and the boys are getting a baseball stadium calendar and a MN Twins calendar because they share a room and love baseball.

Isaac's calendar to write down our special dates
Along with the calendar, each kid will get an envelope full of special activities or fun surprises. Some examples are Pick a breakfast, picnic, ski day with dad, movie date, trip to the used book store, game of catch in the front yard, back rub before bed, hike, special braid, and bike ride. The best part is that it's one kid and one parent. I might be more excited about this than they'll be. Every time I have the chance to spend time with just one kid, I remember again just how much I sincerely like my kids, in addition to loving them like a crazy woman. Sometimes loving them is the easy part, so those reminders are much appreciated.
Isaac's list of fun parent/Isaac activities
There are many ways to celebrate and many reasons to celebrate Christmas. There are many ways to show love. Sometimes I think my ways aren't quite enough.
But then I think about what mattered to me growing up and what continues to matter now. I cherish the car rides looking at Christmas lights, the lefse making, the movies watched, the hours upon hours spent playing cards and board games, the living room dance parties, and the laughter.

Grandma said we looked like a field of flowers-Thanksgiving

Lefse making. The end product was our first failure at lefse, but we sure had fun.


hand, foot, and knee card game

ginger bread contest

books to remember why we celebrate
backwards plank sledding

silly matching pj pictures

Pure silly

Asher posed every single way we told him to. 


Searching for a Christmas tree

Cookies at nana's and babu's house

holiday parade of lights in Denver

Asher combined both of our nativity scenes for a big party for baby Jesus

Our small, up on lifts, Christmas tree, appropriately named Prince Malachi Cruise

Another beautiful snowy day, just perfect for sledding

A gingerbread house birthday party at a friend's house

cookie time

unwrapping kisses

Those are the things I want my kids to remember, too. Not the latest gadget or the most stylish jacket. The time. The laughter. The love.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Family Dinner Book Club

In a perfect blogging world, which is a world I have never and will never inhabit, I would have come up with this idea on my own. In a semi-perfect blogging world, our family would participate in this each month and I would take ah-maaaaazing pictures with a pristine, white background with my kids wearing matching monogrammed clothes.

In the real world, right here on the planet earth, I will share this wonderful idea with you, (hopefully) join in on the reading adventure each month, hope you'll join the fun, and maybe, just maybe, blog about it. If there are pictures in the blog, my kids' clothes won't match, mine might, and none of the boys' hair will be brushed. You'll see dirty laundry and/or unfolded blankets and/or dirty dishes in the background. True story, folks.

So, without further ado, I introduce to you: Idea I Wish I'd Thought Of.

Each month the family reads a book together, alternating between chapter book and picture book, and then picks a night to have a themed dinner and easy table crafts to go along with the book. The genius behind the blog Growing Book by Book also gives conversation starters related to the book AND a family service project that compliments the title. Can you even stand it? I am in love with this idea for a few reasons.

A: I love reading, cooking, talking, and serving with my kids, so this combines most of my favorite parts of parenting. (Now I just need to find someone to clean the kitchen, spit spot.)
B: I don't have to think of a darn thing.
C: It's free.
D: I don't need a D. This is so exciting. A-C is plenty for me!

The kids and I have read many of these, but I look forward to exploring them in new ways and getting introduced to new books. My kids range in age from nearly 12 (aaaahhhhh!!!!) to 2, but I know a good picture book will draw in the older kids, not to mention adults, so we're all going for it.

Who's in? If you're in, what book are you most excited about?

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 11, 2015

a haircut

Some things just need to be documented. Take, for instance, Asher's haircut earlier this week. All three boys needed haircuts or a surgery to have their eyeballs lowered since they could barely see. Off to cheap haircut spot we went. An older man was getting his haircut and Asher wanted to know his name. By that, I mean he asked me 35,032 times, "What his name? What that man name? What his name, mama?"

Finally I responded, "I don't know. Maybe George."

"His name George. Hi, George." And from then on, that man was George. "George" finished up, paid, and went on his  merry way, when another older gentleman came in. "Oooh, mama, look. There another George." The whole place is laughing by now because Asher, looking spiffy in his brand new haircut, is a hoot, making buddies with everyone, whether or not their names were George. All the hair cutters loved him and the woman waiting for three boys to get haircuts was making googly eyes at him and waving.

We went to pay, requesting no suckers, so the woman gave us four stickers. Isaac is not into stickers these days, being the ripe old age of almost 12 (gasp, gag, huh?, gasp!), so we had an extra. Audrey tried to give the extra to Asher, but he walked up to the woman waiting and said, "You want my star sticker?"

She smiled, looked at me like she was in love and would kidnap my kid in a heartbeat, and said, "I think I need to wait to get a sticker until after my haircut."

Asher thought about it, walked around a bit, then came back to her. "You want my star sticker? You can have my star sticker." (big brown eyes, beseeching her to please, ma'am, take the sticker.)

Come on. How are you going to resist that? She couldn't. There was a 60+ year old woman sitting in cheap haircut spot, sporting a bright silver star on her black sweater. Her smile matched the star as she beamed.

This is what kids do. They love people and make people smile. They also fill their diapers, spill a lot of water, and need plenty of reminders about picking up toys. But, generally speaking, they do a bang up job of loving and lifting up other people.

I want to get on my high horse, because I'm angry and sad and heartbroken about a lot of big things, but I'm not going to.

I'm just going to say Be Nice. It matters.

Smile at people. Give them stickers. Wave. Give compliments. Hug. Cry when people are crying. Look for our similarities and build on them. Share your brownies. Lift each other up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Heartbroken. Again.

Do you always, always, always have that gnawing worry in the pit of your stomach?

Why do we keep hurting each other? Not hurting each other. Stubbed toes hurt. Paper cuts hurt. Being called stupid hurts. We are outright gunning each other down. Massacring each other.

Picking up a gun to kill someone, much less multiple people, isn't anywhere on my list of possible actions. It doesn't register as an option for me.

It's true; I think about what I would do if someone hurt my child. I say I would want to kill them with my bare hands. But that's not a real possibility. As much as I hate violence, sexual predators, and murder, I respect life and love and humanity even more.

I don't know. I just came here to shed a few tears with people. To kind of wrap my arms around you and feel your arms around me as we mourn and shake our heads and wonder what we do next. To wipe our tears and decide to make new connections and forge new relationships to try to be the person who notices someone is off or overhears a conversation about violence. To mentor youth. To raise our kids with love and respect and consequences. To be champions for mental health care. To never stop caring, even when it hurts. To never stop fighting, even when it seems useless.

What are we going to do, you guys? Really. What are we going to do?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Waiting. Anticipating. Preparing. Living.

It's December 1. There is no elf on the shelf. My track record as tooth fairy gives me all the information I need to know it would be a disastrous attempt filled with tears. anger, and disappointment. The kids would be sad, too.  (haha!)

There is arguing. Asher woke Audrey up with his loud and boisterous voice before she was ready. That girl needs her sleep, so it was a rough start. We are all having a substantial amount of trouble minding our own business. Substantial, people. The dog keeps finding markers and we're all tired of chasing him down to get them away, but chase we must because that's a lot easier than cleaning marker off of the carpet. Finding a veggie to eat with lunch was a real challenge for a certain member of the household. The laundry doesn't fold itself.

These are the giant injustices and troubles we are facing today. Aren't we so very fortunate? Yes. Unfortunately, we are also grumpy. Those are real pieces of our real day.

Here are other pieces.
our soothing candle right next to a toddler's baseball glove. Real life, right?
Asher opened the first day of his Advent calendar, and Audrey sat with him in the kitchen and repeated the bible verse over and over in tiny segments until he had it memorized. "We say it again?" he requested. So they did it again. "We go tell mama?" So they came to tell me. "We go tell dada?" So they walked downstairs to tell him. "We say it again. 'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.'" (Isaiah 9:1)

We sat down and read our advent books together. This year I bought Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. We lit a candle, which is not attached to an advent wreath because we might still have one, but if we do it's in the garage in a box of Christmas decorations that we have yet to set up, so a random candle will have to do the trick. At any rate, we lit a candle and got lost in the story of Jotham. We heard the story of waiting and pursuing and being pursued, of perfect love coming from a long line of imperfection. We thought and talked about being the answer to someone else's needs and prayers and accepting the help of others when necessary. The kids colored or played legos and Asher distracted us a million (million? maybe billion.) times and we chased down a marker-chewing puppy, but we also sat and rested in the good news of the season, the good news of what came all those years ago, what is now, and what is to come.
plus an abacus, obviously.

We went through our December calendar and wrote down the acts of kindness that we'd do periodically throughout the month. Gifts for people at our Classical Conversations group and at church, the mail carrier and trash person, money and a note taped to the vending machine, a new bookmark and note placed inside the kids' favorite book at the library so the next person who reads it finds a surprise, hot cocoa for someone working outside. Little things to hopefully brighten a day and bring a smile.

We learned about history and science and spelling and writing and found far away places on maps. We laughed. Then we snapped again, but then we laughed again.

It's not one or the other. We don't fail if we argue. We don't win if we hug. Life is both and all and everything mixed up into one year and month and week and day and hour and minute.

In our mistakes and our love, we wait. We anticipate. We prepare. We live. At our house, this season is about celebrating Jesus' birth. We also throw in some Christmas cookies, a few low key decorations, and santa, but really, we're waiting for Jesus. It's another chance to quiet and center our hearts in the middle of a time when things are usually running at an even more frenetic pace than usual. So we light our little mismatched candle, open up a good book, sit, relax, and wait. We scale back activities, pick two kinds of cookies to make instead of 10, ignore pinterest, fight the urge to overindulge and overspend, and do the things that matter to us, that honor our traditions and values.

We give ourselves the time and space necessary to wait, anticipate, prepare, and live. Oh sure, argue and NOT mind our own business and freak about not finding the right gifts also make the list, but we don't get stuck there. We had about 27 do-overs today. I think the last one finally stuck and we are moving and grooving now.

Maybe that should be our goal: understand that we'll make mistakes, but don't get stuck in them. Shake the mud off and keep moving forward. Honor our traditions with our time and space.

Happy Holidays. Don't worry about the neighbors' light displays or the number of gifts under the tree. It sounds hard, but it really doesn't have to be.

Wait. Anticipate. Prepare. Live.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? 

Friday, November 27, 2015

The day after

Maybe your Thanksgiving was perfect and phenomenal and all of the dishes were finished at the same time and no one talked about Donald Trump or refugees and then argued or gave/got the silent treatment for the rest of the day. Maybe all the kids wore matching outfits and no one judged your parenting and no one got the stomach flu.

But maybe, just maybe, someone threw up (that happened here) or wept into their mashed potatoes because this is the first holiday (or thirteenth holiday) without a beloved family member. Maybe someone got in an epic argument for the ages. . . politics, religion, the proper way to stuff a bird . . . really, it could be anything, and no one is really sure how it will turn out.

Or maybe it was in between. A nice little day with people you sometimes argue with and sometimes laugh with, but always love fiercely, even when you don't exactly like them all that much. The food was good. You ate too much. Football. Cards.

We put a lot of pressure on the holidays. If they don't go well, we are a big failure. If they go well, our lives are great, right up until the minute that they aren't. But boil it down and the holidays are just another day wrapped up in traditions. The purpose of them isn't stress and outdoing ourselves or the people on facebookinstagramtwitterlatestnewthingidon'tknowabout. It's about celebrating the good. Being the good. Offering thanks. Living thankful. Loving harder. Forgiving bigger. Holidays are just another day.

So, please, let us all remember that no matter how yesterday went, it's not an indication of how today will go. We can move forward from whatever happened yesterday or last week or last Christmas Eve or on our 3rd anniversary or when we were kids. We can let go of the expectations of how the next month will go and how 2016 will start.

We can live today, the very best we can.

I truly hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. But if you didn't, it'll be okay. Today's a new day with a fresh start and a new chance to do the best we can.

(Psssst. If today's rough, too, we have the same chance tomorrow. The sunrise is good like that. It just keeps on coming, with love and opportunity anew.)

Here's to Friday and fresh starts.