2008 in review

All the cool kids are doing it. And for once it doesn't involve taking my life in my own hands. Like that time I tried cliff jumping and ended up belly flopping. That there was stupid, and I was trying to catch my breath, stay afloat, and pull my bikini top back down over my breasts where it belonged as they all peered over the edge to see if I was okay.

No, I'm talking about the end of the year favorite post retrospective for 2008.

January-I finally got around to writing a 100 things post. A lot has changed since then and I have just finished updating it to reflect all the changes.

February-I started recording daily moments I wanted to remember. This one may be my favorite but it was hard to choose.

March-More moments. The Boy wrote his first haiku. And he wasn't happy about it.

April-I didn't write much because someone called CPS on our family. The charge was eventually dropped but it was an awful experience nonetheless. I wouldn't recommend reading it really. But in a way it was a blessing as our lives took a totally different direction after that. Come to think of it, that wasn't a favorite at all. Read this one about my kids puking and peeing on me instead.

May-I went to Canada to visit my family and see old friends. And then my husband killed a rattlesnake near the house.

June-I started to write more about my thoughts on the global food crisis and poverty. And I posted another round of You Can Tell You Live in Southern CA When...

July-I told you all about our plans to move to Thailand and start the charis project. (We're still planning to go the end of March.)

August-The GH went to Thailand to form some more connections scout around and he took a lot of your generous donations with him to help Chala and the kids he takes care of.

September-The Boy went to work with dad.

October-I participated in Owlhaven's Love Stories For October and told the story of how the GH and I met.

November-I started keeping a gratitude journal.

December-My children thought of original and unique expressions of sibling love.

Well, that was 2008.

2009 already looks like it will have a lot of adventures to write about. Stay posted.

5 years old

My Girl, you are 5 now. Just like sun after the long darkness of a winter night you are like the hope filled dawn, pale and bright and filled with the promise of life. (Of course, being a solstice baby that simile is perhaps a bit too obvious, though no less apt.) You are shockingly beautiful when I am aware enough to really look at you. I love to watch your face when you are talking animatedly about something you find exciting or amusing, you call to mind every cliche I ever heard about a girl who is glowingly beautiful, alight, full of life.

I sometimes wonder if I am the right mother for you. You see, the Boy, I get. He is me all over again and most of the time I know exactly how to parent him. You on the other hand, you are often a mystery. I don't understand you like I do him. You are surprising, and frustrating, and rewarding by turns.

You are so strong and brave when it comes to physical hurts. You don't cry when you get a scrape or a fall. You hold still for a sliver extraction, even if it hurts a bit. When it comes to physical pain you have a very tough skin. But let something hurt your feelings and you crumple, wounded to the core. Let someone stop you in the middle of expressing the latest thing that passed through your head and remind you were supposed to put your toys away and you feel slighted and ignored.

I guess you are just normal for 5 year old Girl.

You flit from project to project, quickly finishing one or tiring of it and asking me for something else to do. You haven't yet got the concentration of an older child, but you really want to master the skills that older children have. But the things you understand and can do independently you do so quickly and efficiently that I'm quite certain the rest will all fall into place for you soon enough.

It's hard to remember you are such a little Girl. You are so articulate and capable of expressing yourself with such mature phrases and vocabulary that I often forget that you are just barely five, you are still a baby in many ways. This in betweenness wasn't something I expected so soon, but there it is.

Is there any way to express how grateful I am that you still need me? Even in the middle of the night when you need my help after a bad dream and Little is awake too and I am trying to settle her again so I can get to you and I find it completely frustrating that I can't just jump to your side without dire consequences to all of our sleep schedules if Little stays awake wailing I am grateful that you need me. I find it exhausting sometimes, this neediness of yours, but I am grateful for it. I feel like it gives me more opportunities to mend my clumsy mistakes from the times when I misunderstand you.

Like the time when you had a few little friends over and you sidled up to me and asked me if you could get out some really special things for them to eat, or play with, I don't remember which. And I, in the middle of something else, but also concerned that you were trying to buy your friend's affection with these things, or that they were manipulating you, vetoed the idea quite soundly and abruptly. You were heart broken, crushed. I couldn't figure it out because it went way beyond the standard reaction when you don't get your own way. I wondered about it for a long time, and watched you, and finally, a longtime later, I realized something about you I hadn't known before. What you had been trying to do was show your friends you cared about them by sharing our special things with them. You were modeling yourself after me and what you see us do when we have guests and trying to do the same for your friends. You are generous, which I knew, but also you have the desire to do kind things for others and to make people feel special. And then I felt like a total heel for stopping you.

Your grandfather used to word intuitive to describe you tonight and it is just about the perfect word. You feel things, you put group things together and make associations, not based on any sort of linear process, but more by instinct. And you are good at it. Your favorite school activities are the sorting and grouping kind, if I let you, you would just go through the books and do all of those. You also pick up on all kinds of social nuances in ways that your brother probably never will. You feel your way through life and that's what makes you such a mystery to those of us in your family who tend to think their way through more than feel it.

You just got barbie dolls this month. Add that to the list of things I said would never enter my house and now watch me eat my words. When we were at our friends house during our fundraiser you were in the care of their youngest girl, who had a few leftover Barbie's lying about. Which you immediately glommed onto and started playing with. So she, ignorant of my no Barbie policy, said you could keep them. What was I to do when you came to me, bursting with excitement, to tell me about your new treasure? Yeah, I didn't know either, so the Barbie's came home and you have been dressing them and undressing them and putting different colored shoes on each foot. I know that it's a part of you imagining yourself grownup, wanting to be a woman.

But I don't want you to be a woman, or want to be, for a very long time. It hurts to think of how quickly you will grow up and how little girlhood you have left already. I saw you trying on my one pair of high heeled shoes the other day, when you didn't think I was looking. I know about the lip gloss you sneak out of my bag and put on to admire yourself in the mirror. You got some scented body spray as a gift and you feel so grown up and special spraying it on your wrists. I don't remember being such a girlie girl. Though it's possible I was. And honestly, I'm intimidated by the way I see you modeling your womanhood after me. I want you to wait a few more years until I have my act together before you start imitating me. That's a classic mother's lament isn't it?

It scares me because I remember how high a pedestal I once had your Oma on, and I remember how hard the fall, how crushing, and how harsh my judgments of her were after for a time. I know that I am not perfect, and some day you will find out the same thing. Will it crush you, as it did me to discover your mother's imperfections? I want you to like me when we are both adults. Is that possible? See, it's my job to help you to mature and not be foolish and I sometimes worry that we won't survive the process.

I suppose this is a classic mother daughter conundrum, but you are the first daughter I have ever had, so I am stumbling my way through it for the first time. In the process I am learning how important it is for me to see you as you are, how different from me you are and how careful I need to be to not assume anything about you.

But there are a few things I know for sure, you are sweet, kind, lovely, warm, loving, generous, intelligent, and brave. And these are things about you that I hope will never change.

I love you with all my heart.


And now, instead of trying to get the better pictures of you to download so I can post them, I'm going to leave these up and go read to you because I promised you I would.


Writing on other subjects

When I found out that Veronica Mitchell, the voice of Toddled Dredge, might be accepting guest posts for her twelve days of Christmas series on the incarnation, with her starting off point being the texts used in Handel's Messiah I sort of [cough] volunteered [cough cough]. And she was too polite to say no.

I thought it might be a good chance to try my hand at a different kind of writing on a subject that it dear to my heart.

It turned out to be easier to write than the Girl's birthday letter, which I still haven't finished even though her birthday was last week. So you can go and read over there today. And then come back here later. I might have another post finished by then. :)


Non Commercial Christmas- A few more thoughts

So I know for some people with children the hardest part about the whole idea of not exchanging Christmas gifts with each other and giving to others instead is really emotional. We worry that they are missing out some how. We remember magical childhood Christmases and waking up to gifts and decorations. Will we be stealing the wonder if we don't do it the way our parents did?

A few thoughts. First, I think it's really really good for out kids to realize that not everyone is as well off as them. Even most of the poorest people in the US are still in the top 5% of the world's wealthiest people. How will our children learn gratitude, respect, compassion, service, and responsibility if we allow them to believe that it's normal for them to have such abundant blessings while the rest of the world doesn't? Every night my little Girl prays for the kids in Thailand to have enough money for mosquito nets so they don't get malaria. She knows that one of the reasons I don't buy her a toy every time she asks for one is so that we can have more money to give away for things like that. And even in the middle of a whine session she will stop and become sober when reminded of it. If a 5 year old can understand that, why can't any child who is shown the reality of the world they live in?

Second, I wasn't raised to believe in Santa Claus, so I don't have any experience compared to a grownup who did believe and has pleasant memories of the experience. I don't feel as though I am missing something because of this. I'm only aware of the possibility by talking to other people of different experiences. I doubt children miss what they don't know is missing.

If it really concerns you check out St. Nicholas Day, on Dec. 6. Still observed by many who follow the traditional church calender. Gifts in stockings to remember a man who was generous and good. But simple gifts, not built on make believe, but instead to inspire us to do kindness wherever we find it in our power to do so.

I like to use birthdays to give my kids the exact same special delight. They wake up to decorations and gifts all laid out for them and everyone singing happy birthday.

I also don't think it's good for children to have too many things. I don't think they are able to enjoy what they have as much if there is too much of it, if there is too much clutter. There is much good to be found in the hour spent entertaining them self by cutting up and taping back together a cardboard box to make an airplane.

I hope I don't sound like I'm being all preachy and talking down to people in these posts. I'm not saying that you should do what we do. I'm trying to offer a lot of different ideas for celebrating that don't buy into the rampant commercialism of the holiday season and bring it back to what's important to each of us.

A lot of people feel pressure to do things the way they always have, even if they can't afford it, even if they find it exhausting and stressful. I'm hearing a lot of people this month talk about how overwhelmed they feel by all of the shopping, cooking, relatives, parties, etc. This isn't what a time set aside to remember the birth of Christ ought to be. Hopefully these posts can relieve some of that pressure, and stimulate imaginations in new directions.

With that in mind I will direct you now to Brant Hanson's post on over spending at Christmas that contains the best line ever, "
You are being bullied by a bunch of advertising majors."
I thought it was pretty funny, as well as practical.

Other posts:
Ideas for a Non-Commercial Christmas #2-What about the family?

Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas

Why We Don't Do Conventional Christmas


1000 Gifts Friday-Week 9

Technically it's not Friday any more, I hasn't been for two hours. But I haven't been to bed yet so it's still Friday to me.

This week I'm thankful for:

Sister in Law who arrives for dinner bearing chick flicks to watch together while a husband is away.

Same SIL who will stay the night and go with us ice skating tomorrow, and provided the admission vouchers. [It's odd for my grew up in Canada brain to realize that this will be the second time in their entire lives my children have encountered ice to skate on. And we have to do it inside.]

Friends who have time to stop and talk and enjoy a meal together.

My dear little two year old girl.

The people who are going to do all the web design work for the charis project so I don't have to any more.

Joanne, the kind stranger who drove us to the dentist in the pouring rain.

The bus driver who gave us shelter.

The friends who hosted the fundraiser.

Sunshine again.

Love that knows the worst and still loves, that seeks the best in me and still loves, that believes the possibility in me and loves me toward it, the kind of love that gives me strength to try one more time to be what I hope to be, and then one more time after that.

The gratitude community is here.


2 years old

Dear Little,

I can't keep up with you. You've been pushing me along at your own pace since before you were born. From sending me into labor 3 weeks early, to a shotgun delivery, literally less than 4 hours from when I noticed the contractions to when you emerged, your fist next to your head, to standing on your own at 6 months and walking at 29 weeks, you have always had your own agenda to keep, and you are not the type to wait for me to be ready before you leap ahead.

You sort of remind me of your daddy.

You can say daddy now, the whole word, every consonant. You couldn't do that last month.

You are so alive. Unflinchingly, unapologetically joyful, or sorrowful by turns, throwing yourself headlong into whatever it is you have decided to tackle, especially me when I'm squatting down low enough.

It hard to think of you apart from what the act of bearing you has taught me. It was while pregnant with you that I finally realized that all good things are gifts. They are not rights, or earned privileges, they are not something I deserve or can earn. Every good is a gift, a precious beautiful miracle to be savored and enjoyed, but never to be taken for granted. I realized that there was no fundamental difference between me, and you the child within me, and the women traveling the dirt paths of Africa, heavy with child, water jug on her head. There is nothing about me that deserves luxury, comfort,education, and safe birthing conditions more than she. Apart from geography we are both the same, though she, I suspect, may be stronger. It's still hard to articulate, how that one thought opened me up to the possibility that each breath I take is a miracle, that each kindness is a precious stone, that I am rich beyond measure if I will only stop to count from time to time the splendor that is in front of me.

Basically Little, your passage opened to me the possibility of joy and gratitude in deeper ways than I had ever experienced before. I am less afraid. I am more alive. Because I learned to trust.

Finally with you I let go, I relinquished my death grip on control of things I had no real control over, and opened my hand to receive life. I chose trust instead of fear and that changed me, forever. I don't know, probably my first two were also this spectacular I was just unable to see it. You will always be linked in my mind with the blessing that came with you, which is perhaps as it should be.

But enough about me, let's talk about you. You are two years old, you are a delight.

You love to tidy. Poor you with a mama like me, wanting order when I am always in the shadow of just a little bit of clutter. You take great satisfaction in putting your own dishes in the sink, standing on tiptoe to push them over the edge of the counter and cause me to wince each time they clatter to the bottom of the sink, fully expecting one of them to shatter some day soon.

You dump out all of your blocks in the middle of the rug and then smile at me and pat the floor beside you, sweetly inviting me to spend some quality time cleaning them all up together. That's right, you don't play with them. You dump them out so you can put them away again, and then carry them back to their shelf while swinging your arms proudly and clapping your hands. It's your idea of togetherness time. Well, that and stories, puzzles, playing, and eating.

At breakfast you pat the bench beside you as I walk toward the table with my bowl. You are very satisfied when I sit next to you at your command. Then you shove your little bowl over until it is touching my big bowl, and you scootch yourself over until your arm is touching my arm and then turn your head to grin up at me before reaching your arm around and patting me in the middle of my back.

This isn't enough for you any more though. Lately in the middle of breakfast you will suddenly push your face into mine with with your lips pulled wide and a startling grimace on your face. I yelp obediently and you laugh and do it again, closer, until all I can see is teeth and inside out lips. Every time I whimper in mock fear you giggle, so I do it often.

You like this scaring people routine, you picked up a hippo puppet on night recently and walked toward your daddy with it, face all scrunched in a scary glower, and pretended to bite him with it. And he obligingly led you in a chase game all around the house.

You are always getting the Boy and Girl in trouble at bed time, distracting them with bids for their attention while they are supposed to be getting ready. Most often, if they are still not ready, it's because they have been chasing you through the house while you scream with delight.

You love to talk on the phone. As soon as I pick up you are there, pointing and saying, "Me! ayant to." [I want to, for those who don't speak Little.] Today your Oma in Canada called to wish you a happy birthday and you started pointing at your birthday decorations for her. Then you walked all over the house "showing" her things by picking them up and kindly holding them close to the phone so Oma could see them while intoning "Mine." When the object was too large to pick up you swept the phone grandly back and forth toward it so as to give her a full pan of the situation. It was vastly entertaining for me, and she didn't mind getting my shouted translations of what was going on.

You love to pose for pictures. You even ask me to take them. Then you tilt your head to the side and give me a big cheesy grin.

You wiggle your butt and shoulders rhythmically whenever there's music. You have turned hugs and kisses into an attack form.

Whenever I ask "Who farted?" you proudly thump your chest and yell, "ME!" It cracks me up every time. And then, just two days ago, when we were asking just for entertainments sake you suddenly pointed at the Boy and yelled, "Yi Yah!" Which was really very funny and we all laughed and you looked very pleased with yourself.

You really like the idea of a potty, and often like to sit on it, and then wash your hands and dry them like a big kid, but so far you haven't really figured out how to do the actual deed. I'm not in a hurry, quite frankly, but I let you try most times when you insist. I know you'll figure it out soon enough. Your own schedule seems to have worked out well for you so far.

You seem to have far too much personality to be packed inside such a tiny little body. Perhaps that's why you always seem about to bust at the seems.

The past two years with you have been full of joy, I'm looking forward to many more to come.


I'll Tell a Tale of Kindness

Last night went really well. People were surprised to learn that it was our first time doing a presentation like we did because we seemed like we had our stuff together. That was a relief, I must not have said ummm too much. And I didn't actually cry, though I did skip half of a cue card when I almost choked up and said something to the effect of, "I really don't want to talk about what happens to those kids, right now, but it's bad."

The first great thing to come of it happened last night already. We are getting a free logo design for the charis project, and help with the web development end of things, as well as streamlining all the technology so that it's really easy to use and update. They were even talking of making video presentations further down the road. I am so excited about it. It will be good to have someone who knows what they are doing working on these things. Yay!

[On a side note, I have to figure out how to respond to people who tell me they really admire what we're doing. I understand, I do, because I admire people too that I think are doing good in the world. It just makes me feel a little uncomfortable because I know that I've never though of myself as all that admirable. I think of what we're doing as something really cool that I get to be part of. I'm the lucky one.]

This morning, because I am brilliant scheduler, I had to take 3 overtired children who had consumed far too much dessert last night to a dentist appointment. I made the appointment over 3 months ago so that part couldn't really be helped. I mean, how was I to know that the day we went to the dentist would also be the day God decided to flood southern California. At least, that's what it feels like is happening. That rain, she keeps falling, beating down upon us. There are flood warnings and mudslides happening. There is a very cold wind chill factor. I grew up in snow and ice so don't y'all think I'm whining my little pampered southern butt off here when I say it is MISERABLE OUTSIDE.

Going anywhere outside of walking distance is a bit of an undertaking for us to begin with. We take the bus, the very slow bus that only comes once an hour. So two hours before we have to be a 10 minute drive across town we go out and stand next to the road and wait. That gets us to the transit center in time to wait 45 minutes to catch the bus that goes to the dentist, where we arrive 40 minutes early. This is actually almost pleasant on a normal sunny day here, and except for the time it takes out of the day, I don't mind.

Today, after dressing for icy rain and puddles we walked out to our bus stop only to see the bus pass right in front of us, just before we got there. The only thing for it was to walk. It's walkable, though far, about 3 miles, but it was going to be miserable in the pouring rain. We gritted our teeth and set out.

Enter Joanne, a tiny little old lady wearing a smart little suit, felt hat, and lipstick. As I was waiting to cross a street she stopped right in front of me, opened her door and said, "Get in, get those children out of the rain." She has grandchildren, so her car was kid ready and we bundled them into the back as she talked away about her morning. (She went to church and then to buy gifts and was headed to visit her disabled brother.) She drove us straight to the dentist's office where we were on time.

Little was not happy about someone sticking their fingers in her mouth to check her teeth for the first time, and screamed indignantly, but perked up when she realized that she got a prize after. The other two love the dentist, they wish they could stay there all day with the movies and toys and books. There was much complaining when I announced that we needed to bundle up in our wet things again and go catch the bus. That's when the dentist told me, she who sees hundreds of children every month, that she was hoping to drive us home but she didn't have any car seats so she wasn't sure that would be a safe idea. (Anyone else ever had their kids dentist offer them anything like that? Now I love her even more than I did before because she works on my kids teeth without scaring them or making them cry.)

I was really surprised by such a kind offer but opted to take the bus home. We only had a 5 minute wait and it was safer for the kids, and her insurance. At the transit center, we stepped out into the rain again wondering where to take shelter. There are no rain shelters down here, only sun shades, that are water permeable. A bus driver called out to me. "Ma'am, what bus are you going to be catching?...Well, here, wait on my bus until he gets here so you can stay dry."

He has 5 children and several grandchildren, a big burly black man who probably looks a bit scary if he isn't smiling, but he was smiling, and kept the kids all entertained until our bus arrived.

We don't live in a small town. Southern Californians tend to ignore and avoid contact with everyone else, especially perfect strangers. But today, my kids and I were on the receiving end of surprising generosity from several kind people. It turned a miserable day into a blessing. I feel like we got to witness a little mini miracle.


Random Tuesday

Our fundraiser is tonight. Which means that I am rewriting cue cards and heading out to the store to buy more cranberries for a cranberry cake...

Correction, I am back from the store where they had no cranberries and I am now deciding whether or not to fudge things with canned cranberries, or make an apple tart instead. But all that peeling and slicing and pastry work may be more than I have time for...

I met a man at Kinko's who was photocopying an old book with lead sheets in them. He told me they were for his grandson, who's piano teacher refuses to teach him any thing but note reading. Which I translate to mean his piano teacher knows nothing of chord sheets and improvisation. He's taking them with him when he goes to visit for Christmas to teach him how to play them.

I thought that was sweet so we talked a bit more and I learned he was a voice major at Julliard and ended up teaching economics in high school for 30 years. So that was fun...

I have bunch of silk poinsettias on my front stop right now. Friendly old lady who lives across the green moved out to day and deposited them here for me until another neighbor gets home to claim them. I looks like I've decorated...

The US government is holding the kids proof of US citizenship hostage until I send them proof of their Canadian citizenship, or rather, proof that the people who signed the passport application are really their parents. I am no end of upset about this because we spent time standing in line to get their applications processed by a person who is supposed to know these things and who didn't once mention that they might be necessary, even though I had them there with me. Which means that yesterday, when we should have gotten back the documents we needed to go to Mexico this weekend, we instead got, "please send their birth certificates" instead.

I haven't told them yet, but the kids and I are going nowhere this weekend as a result. And I am kicking myself, because the day after we applied I was informed that they didn't need passports yet for land crossings, we had all the documents they needed already, except, now we don't, the US government has them. Sigh. There will be tears, not to mention the rest of the crew going down being a few hands short...

I think Tuesdays are by default random entry days, there is something about Tuesdays...

I bought this nifty cookie press at a thrift store a while back, just like the one we had when I was little. I was filled with memories of all the fun I had with it when I was little. And I decided that it would be so much fun to have a cookie party for the girl's this year. The kids could press out their cookies, add sprinkles, decorate bags, and then take cookies home with them. Brilliant.
Except, when we tried it yesterday the cookies didn't come out properly. And then I remembered all the times my mother wrestled with the darn thing and refrained from swearing at it in an almost audible way. So I added milk, and then icing sugar when it got too wet and late last night I got it to almost work, except for the part where the cookies don't really hold their shape all that well when I baked them. So guess what I'm doing tomorrow after the dentist? If you guessed making yet another batch of cookie dough you would be correct. I'll send you some cookies, if they work...

Excuse me while I go and do some more baking. Maybe if I give them cookies at the same time as I tell them they aren't going anywhere they will cry less.


Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas #2-What about the family?

Last week a reader asked,
What about your family though (not your husband's)? How has this way of Christmas affected their traditions and how you celebrate with them?

Which is one of the things I was going to talk about this week. Obviously, not everyone in your family circle will be immediately on board with this idea of not exchanging gifts in the traditional sense, or even with scaling back on the giving.

We haven't ever lived near enough to my family for it to be much of a big deal. We have never been in the same province/state with them at Christmastime. I explained, every year for a while, that we would prefer they didn't send gifts for Christmas, but save them for birthdays instead. I make clear that we won't be giving them gifts for Christmas. (Though for the first few years I seem to remember sending token gifts, little things to mark the occasion, often homemade by my children or myself.)

Honestly, my parents still send little packets most years for the grand kids, because they want to. And I often send them a little something for $10 or less as well. It's still exchanging gifts but on a much smaller scale. The object is to say, I'm thinking of you and remembering you, without being excessive. The distance makes this whole process easier to adjust to for everyone.

I do my best to get them something really thoughtful for their birthdays, and to remember every one and make a big deal, to compensate for this lack of Christmas gifts.

However, the GH's maternal grandparents live nearby and they are VERY attached to their traditional Christmas celebration. They spend a lot of time and money getting gifts for everyone in the family. Yes, the family that doesn't much care about Christmas gifts. They really get something out of the part where everyone sits around together unwrapping presents.

So, we humor them. We all show up, we eat our jello salad and cookies and we thank them for the gifts. We give the gift of time, and presence by spending a day with them. And we get them something as well. This is difficult, because they have everything two people could want already, and we don't have a big budget for expensive presents.

What I focus on is this. What can I get for them that shows them that we love and respect them? Obviously one of their love languages is gift giving, it's how they express their love for their family and how they are able to receive love as well. With this in mind I try to make the gift really personal. Something that involves an investment of time rather than money. One year it was hand knit dish cloths, another a quilted pillow cover with pictures of the Boy on it. Other years it's been a framed photo or calender. Food gifts are also pretty successful, especially in pretty packaging.

This year I have the best idea ever. It started with the gratitude journal I've started keeping. I've decided to give them one as well. So I'm decorating journals, the outside has a ribbon glued on to look like it's gift wrapped, and I'm putting random things (decorative) in the margins and on pages through out the book. I'm enclosing a letter explaining what it is and that I hope they will use it because it would be wonderful for us, their family, to be able to find a record of the things that they are thankful for and what brought them joy when they were alive. (They have been handling the estates of many family members that have passed away in the past few years so I know this will mean a lot to them.)

Another idea is to purchase gifts for these people from third world artisans and provide, mostly women, with an income and financial independence.

The Charis Project Store
has handmade bags made by Karen women in refugee villages in Thailand for example.

Also, we have given donations to various charitable organizations as gifts to both of our families through out the years, in their name. And a little something to unwrap as well that symbolizes it if we can. You can buy a goat, school and medical supplies, cows, chickens, and warm clothing, all gifts for children and families in need that will improve their lives somehow. Most organizations have cards that you can print out or e-cards that tell of the gift.

There are many great places that you can do this through,

World Vision Gift Catalogue

I'm especially fond of
Samaritan's Purse Gifts Kids Can Give page, because it's small enough amounts that kids can afford to give too.

Heifer International

I think it depends on the person how well this gift is received. And while I'm tempted to say, "Oh grow up!" to the people who feel like you don't love them if you don't give them a present, I'm doing my best to be sensitive to the fact that gifts are a way that some people express and receive love. For those I generally go with something handmade as well, or instead.

Over time I have seen everyone in our families adapt to this idea in positive and surprising ways, as they grow used to it. It takes time, and I think it's important to remember to show love to the people who find it hard to change and be patient with them.

Here are a few ideas for food gifts and hand made presents:

Do it Yourself Kitchen Gifts- thanks to Meredith for the link

Home Made Face Scrub

In fact, just read all of Meredith's posts on frugal giving. You'll be inspired, trust me.

Family Fun Magazine is always a great resource for gifts kids can make.

10 Inexpensive Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas

Other posts:
Non Commercial Christmas-A few more thoughts

Ideas for a Non-Commercial Christmas #2-What about the family?

Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas

Why We Don't Do Conventional Christmas


1000 Gifts Friday-Week 8

Gratitude. It's an amazing discipline. The more intentional I am about cultivating thankfulness the more content I become. It affects everything, my interactions with people, my over all attitude, my felt level of happiness. Could this one simple thing be the secret of happiness?

This week I was reading to the kids the Bible story about the children of Israel complaining in the desert. God delivered them out of Egypt, great signs and wonders if you believe the story. All the nations around them were afraid of them. He personally was present in the middle of them in a visible pillar of smoke or fire and every single day there was manna for them to eat. And what happened? They started complaining about the food. Really. They started saying that it was better in Egypt because there they had meat, and melons, and cucumbers to eat. Who cares if Pharaoh enslaved them, killed their sons as they were born; let's go eat melons again. In hindsight it's obvious how incredibly stupid it would be to complain like that given the circumstances they found themselves in.

I read it with great drama and the kids were effusive in their criticism of the silly Israelites and their slavery to their appetites. But I wasn't finding it all that funny. I can't say for sure that I would not have been one of those standing in the door of my tent wailing because I was BORED WITH THE FOOD. Odds are I would have been. I would be the one on the epic journey wondering when we're going to get breakfast. That's why we all love the Hobbits so much, they inject a bit of realism into the whole story of wizards and kings and elves and such. Enough of that, I have a stomach to think about.

Later in the day the kids started to notice similarities between their complaining and that of the Israelites. Not their own of course, but they were quick to notice it in each other. As we walked to the store I spent time with the Girl talking to her about how if she spends all her energy focusing on the one thing that is wrong in front of her, it becomes so big that it takes up all of her attention, and crowds out all of the good things that she has to be thankful for.

It's the same for all of us I'm certain. I'm glad I'm finally learning to step back, broaden my focus again, and put things in perspective, and it is gratitude that makes it possible.

This week, by a complex series of events, we no longer have to move at the end of the month. This is such a huge relief. The neighbor with the new baby that I have been taking meals to is also the accountant here at this property. She quietly told me that the manager was having trouble meeting her occupancy quota for January and might be willing to bend the rules if I approached her. The next day the manager called me about our notice, so I asked, and contrary to every written company policy, and what I was told 4 months ago, she extended our lease for us. This is such a huge relief. I was feeling really overwhelmed by what was left to pack and move, especially since I didn't know where we would go so making decisions was really hard.

Also this week, just when we encountered a huge crisis with what's going on in Thailand, there were people who emailed out of the blue and asked how they could help. All I can say is that it feels a lot less lonely to know there are other people who will share the load with us.

Little is being adorable this week. She puts her fingers in her cheek and pulls them out into a grimace and follows me around "scaring" me. I make it really fun for her by shrieking in mock terror whenever she does because it is so funny.

The Boy is practising for his first solo performance. He practises all the time, and he is so easy to instruct, correcting and improving each time he tries. The sound of his little shaky vibrato and clear boy tenor sound on the high notes is just pure joy to me.

The kids helped me bake an apple tart. And oh it drove me crazy to let them stick their fingers in everything, but...I don't know if this will make sense, but I'm thankful that I let them help, even though I found it really challenging that day. I'm thankful I guess that I'm able to put those things aside to spend time with them, that they will have these kinds of memories because I was able to be present to them in that way. And it was really cute to have them all standing at the counter on stools stirring away and arranging the apple slices.

The gratitude community is here.


Now I'm a Bit Nervous

We're eating dinner last night and the Boy was making some irritating noise that was bothering the Girl. After a few rounds of her whining at him to stop it and him ignoring her I absentmindedly open my mouth to say something to him. What I hear myself say is, "Do you think you are being loving toward your sister right now by doing that?"

That's a bit of a surprise. I don't normally say that when he's being irritating. I wonder where that came from.

But it sounds good and I have their attention so I run with it.

"She has asked you to stop, are you showing her love if you ignore her and keep on making that sound?"

"No," he mumbles, staring down at his plate.

This was sort of working, so I take it a step further and ask the Boy if there is anything that the Girl does that made him feel like she doesn't love him.

"When she's ignoring me when I want to talk to her."

"Okay, now phrase that in a positive way, what could she do to make you feel loved?"

"She could not ignore me?"

"No, what's the opposite of ignoring you."

"Uh, not ignoring me?"

I give up.

"She could listen to you. Listening to you makes you feel loved. Anything else?"

"When she plays with me I feel loved."

Aww, so sweet.

The Girl chimes in, "And when he plays with me I feel loved by him."

So then we go on to how to show love to Daddy. The girls yells, "HUGS."

And Mommy. Again the Girls yells, "HUGS."

And Little, etc.

The conversation between them continues as I pick up my plate and walk away from the table, pleased with myself for so deftly imparting a life lesson and with my children for cooperating for once.

A few minutes later I walk by and hear this exchange.

By the Girl, "Would it make you feel loved if I peed in your mouth?"

[hysterical giggling]

Boy. "Would you feel loved if I POOPED in your ear?"

I'm suddenly hoping they don't try to show me love without warning. I want a hazmat suit on hand just in case.


Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas

I thought I would create a handy dandy little reference place for those of you looking to celebrate Christmas a little bit non traditionally by finding ways to give to others in need instead of exchanging gifts among friends and family in the conventional sense. (See this post.) They don't have to be huge dramatic steps at first. There are many simple and lovely ways to do this.

It has been so inspiring to wander the internet reading about how families get together in this season to give to those in need and create meaningful family traditions.

I read at A Holy Experience about their tradition of sprouting wheat kernels, one for every kindness, to make hay to line the manger with on Christmas eve before the baby Jesus figure is placed there.

Larissa's family is holding an in family handmade auction this year. Each person makes a gift about $10 in value, and the family bids on them. The money is given to a charity that they all agree on.

I found this sight called Buy Nothing Christmas. It's the brain child of the Canadian Mennonite Association. Their alternatives page is chock full of ideas, and I liked their catalogue too, all things that can be enjoyed for free. (hugs, horsey rides, sunsets, etc.)

I asked a few people I know of who don't give Christmas gifts in the traditional sense to tell me all about it. Tamra from It All Started With a Kiss sent me this beautiful long letter about all of the neat things they have done through the years, which I butchered a little bit for the sake of brevity.

We are one of those odd families who don't buy Christmas gifts for our children. It's not that we're dead-set against it, really. While you could say my husband is a big fan of 'no gifts', he would likely go along if I really wanted to buy a few. So each year I go through all the pros and cons of it again, thinking about all the things I could surprise each child with. Inevitably, though, I get turned off by the vast materialism that seems to drive this country and once again choose to opt out of gifts for the children. Besides, they get enough gifts from their grandparents! (We do make up baskets for our parents, which are a mix of store bought and homemade goodies.)

Instead of focusing on what we don't do, we have made an effort toward making it a special day.
  • Every evening, we open a door on our Advent house and pull out two papers that direct us to different parts of the story about Jesus. (In the past, Instead of an Advent house I used 24 mittens that hung from a clothesline on a wall.)
  • We also have a stack of books about the Nativity, Christmas, and the winter season, as well as a few DVD's. Before December I wrap each and place it in a basket. The children take turns unwrapping a book and then we read it together. It's a wonderful way to end the day. (This year with moving, I have misplaced the wrapping paper. So even though I never got around to wrapping the books, we are still taking time to read through each one.)
  • Usually, my husband and I would take the money we'd normally waste buying gifts and mindfully help out a family we knew. This year we went through our local Volunteers of America and directly sponsored a family and senior citizen in need. The mother we're helping this year is a single mom with four children. The children have a wish list, and we'll be visiting the family later this month to take them their gifts and a meal. The senior citizen lives farther away, so we'll probably be sending his in the mail. It is heartbreaking to read their wish lists and see their simple requests for blankets, socks or even an alarm clock or lamp. The woman at VOA I spoke with read me one elderly lady's sheet. She had written, "I am very old. But I would like a couch. Second-hand would be fine."
On Christmas Day, we just spend time together at home as a family. Sometimes we bake something together (cookies, gingerbread, etc), enjoy the snow, or just have a quiet day inside. At breakfast we read aloud from the Bible about Jesus' birth.

We are still working on creating our own traditions. For several years we spent Christmas day with my husband's folks, where it took hours to unwrap all the gifts that were purchased. That began to change when my husband's dad passed away, and we began to rethink what we wanted to emphasize. I am so blessed at that we can approach this season at a slower pace, and truly embrace a deeper meaning for this special day!
Thanks Tamra for sharing your ideas.

Other posts:
Non Commercial Christmas-A few more thoughts

Ideas for a Non-Commercial Christmas #2-What about the family?

Ideas for a Non Commercial Christmas

Why We Don't Do Conventional Christmas


1000 Gifts Friday-Week 7

No, I didn't forget about 1000 Gifts Friday. I've just been way too busy to post the past 3 days. And the frenetic pace doesn't show any sign of easing in the next few weeks. But that doesn't mean there are any fewer reasons to give thanks.

Little practicing her words for things, pointing at them and carefully trying to pronounce words like tent and car and draw. And the smile I get when I guess aright what she's trying to say.

Cloudy days that require Uggs to warm my feet and hot drinks.

An unknown child sitting on a chair on her balcony at night, swinging her dangling feet and repeating over and over again, "Happy, happy, happy, happy..." as I am walking by.

That the Boy is so easily pleased with kindness. He has such a grateful heart.

Three turkeys, surplus from Thanksgiving donations, made their way into my hands this week, just as I was trying to figure out how to stretch the tight grocery budget to include a family with a new baby in it.

The always sweet smelling maple trees.

Hugs from good friends.

Fresh washed damp hair under my nose as I hold the Girl close at bedtime.

The grace to be gentle with myself for the time it takes to learn new things, and adapt to new challenges.

A soft pink and purple sweater that falls one stitch at a time from Beema's nimble hands, a gift to the Girl because she asked her to knit her something. One last sweater, for one last winter.

A toddler at last asleep, beautiful lashes settled against beautiful cheeks.

The gratitude community is here.


7 Quick Takes

A la Jennifer F. But on Thursday instead of Friday.

1. On Saturday I was given a wedding present. We have these lovely dear friends Dori and Chad, who married the week before we did. We drove from their wedding here in CA all the way back to Canada the week before our wedding. They never did make it to ours. The nerve, going on honeymoon instead.

At some later date they also made the trek to Canada to visit Dori's family and several of our mutual friends. On one such visit they were handed a rather small little box wrapped with white roses to please give to us when they saw us again. That was more than 8 years ago.

See, they forgot, and then we moved to Canada for 5 years or so. And then they moved around a lot. etc, repeat. Finally, last Saturday as we sat down to dinner they presented this little parcel that they have faithfully held on to for more than 8 years, through dozens of moves. The wrapping paper wasn't even torn. We all had a good laugh about it.

I can't wait to write the thank-you card.

2. Ever notice that the less you go out the less stuff you need? A trip to the grocery store is a lesson in how people are encouraged to spend money they don't have on things they don't need, and may not even want.

In what kind of culture does it become possible to sell a blow up snowman on an airplane with rotating propellers for $100? And do people really buy it at that price when we all know in one month it will go on clearance for $20? If you wanted an inflatable snowman, would you really pay $100 for it?

3.Wouldn't it be awesome if the Genius Husband won the Art of Manliness Man of the Year Award? Then I could start calling him Man of the Year on this blog, instead of Genius Husband, or MOTY for short. That would rock. So go and vote for him if you haven't already kay?

4.The scarf that I was wearing in the haircut picture came from Dead Uncle Gordon. That is what we call him now thanks to the Boy. I think when uncle Gordon died the Boy was just at the edge of being old enough to understand such things. And it was the most hands on memorial he has ever witnessed. Who wouldn't remember driving to Palm Springs, riding the Gondola to the top of Mount San Jacinto, and the digging ashes and bits of bone out of a little ziplock bag and scattering them to the wind. Ever since, the Boy does not talk about uncle Gordon with out specifying his deadness. He is, and probably always will be, known as DEAD Uncle Gordon. The scarf is made entirely from muskox wool or qiviut and is from the arctic. We constantly wished, that week of packing up his things that we knew the stories behind the many exotic treasures he had stored up over the years.

5. My grandparents just celebrated their 60 wedding anniversary. That's 60 years of choosing to put up with another person's shit. That takes a lot of commitment to pull off. And realistic expectations. I think possibly the main problem with modern marriage is that people expect it to be like a romantic comedy, and if it's not perfect and they are not always happy they bail.

I'm still trying to figure out how our culture got to such a place, where immediate gratification is the only option. No wonder there are so many people so deeply unhappy and so deeply in debt.

So anyway, yay to my grandparents for not being afraid of work, pain and hardship, and for coming through the other side of life's challenges rich in family and friends and people who love them. Yay to them for putting up with each other and loving each other, even if they do the same irritating thing every day for 30 years. Yay to them for being bigger than the small things, for not stumbling over the pebbles in the road or changing course because of them. I wish I could be there with the giant crowd of cousins and relatives to celebrate them today.

6.My sister is getting married in January. In Canada. One corner of my mind will not stop doing math to try and figure out if I can go, even though my first gut reaction is that I will have to miss it. There is no room in our budget right now for travel, except, you know, plane tickets to Thailand in March?

My brother is having a baby in March, his first. Well, he's not giving birth to her himself... but, you know what I mean. I have a little niece in the works, my first niece. I have wanted to see my little brother as a dad. I know he'll be good at it. I always carry in my heart the image of him in the hospital room holding his little nephew for the first time and talking to him. The tenderness in his face toward that child is one of those things that I will always treasure. I've looked forward to the day when I can see him hold his own child the same way. And of course I will not get to because he lives thousand of miles away from me in a different country and we are moving away even farther.

This segment should be titled, My Siblings Have Lousy Timing. They finally get around to these matrimonial, procreative activities when I'm no longer around to enjoy them. (Wait, that sounded a lot dirtier than I intended didn't it?)

7. So have you seen the news lately? South east Asia is not the place you want to be headed to these days. And yes, it does make me feel apprehensive. I just gave notice this week, and now there is the chance of civil war, in which case getting a visa might be a bit tricky, plus there's the whole moving to a potential war zone conundrum. I don't like living in constant limbo. But I'm sort of getting used to it, which is good, because I have a feeling the need to be able to is only going to increase in the next few years. I feel like my entire life has been a process of letting go of stuff that I really really like, comfort, predictability, safety, and security in order to start to reach for things I want more, like life, joy, meaning. Yes, it's more dangerous outside the castle walls than within, but there's a lot of beauty that will be missed if I never venture outside.


Pressure cooked

You know that feeling, when you think you ought to write a post because it's been a few days, but there is a to do list a mile long staring you in the face and you've got nothing?

Yeah. That first sentence was your cue to stop reading and go somewhere else because this will be a directionless ramble. I used up my best writing at 4 am yesterday trying to get Little to go back to sleep again and commenting on another blog. I was passionate and poetic and almost teary about my response. This morning my brain is a dry, wrung out, exhausted dishrag. (See, even my metaphors don't make sense. How does a dishrag become exhausted exactly?)

My neighbors have a darling little newborn baby. I want to eat him he's so sweet. So in my clever plot to be allowed to hold him more often I am taking his parents dinner in the evenings. I think corn bread and chili is a fair trade for newborn snuggles. (Well, and I remember those fantastic ladies who barely knew me and brought dinner to my house after the Boy was born and I had a c-section. I decided then that I wanted to be like them when I grew up, so I'm trying. I managed brownies, but have not yet worked up to homemade apple pie and chocolate truffles as they have. Of course, they had older daughters who pitched in...)

We are speaking at a fundraiser in two weeks. The practice session is this Sunday, which means I must be prepared by then to talk and show pictures. I'm not really a shrinking violet when it comes to public speaking, that part doesn't bother me that much. It's just the responsibility that gets to me. To have so many lives hanging in balance on how my words communicate their situation. EEEK. Pressure. And you can't take back a spoken word and go insert a more appropriate one later like in writing, it's stuck out there. And trust me, I'm good at sticking my foot in my mouth.

Once I was talking to someone about religion, always an ominous beginning, and they were saying something about their heart so I asked, "Do you have a brain?" It was a rhetorical question. I was trying to make the point that I think one's brain is just as important as one's heart in matters of faith and that it should be considered too. But in the context it sounded like I was saying that the other person was totally stupid. Yeah, go me. If you were my friend in real life I would probably insult you at least once a month without realizing it. And then if we were really good friends you would tell me that I was a total dweeb, and I would fall all over myself telling you how sorry I was, I didn't realize. And then if you were one of my best friends ever you would forgive me and we would go on. See, I think all of the people who have been my friends for a really long time are just the people who were willing to forgive me when I made a total dork of myself. I love them dearly, but that doesn't stop me from saying some pretty stupid things in their presence. :) Perhaps I should be more of a shrinking violet when it comes to talking.

Here's where I change topic again without a clever segue. I've found another reason to be thankful for the time and money spent on a degree that I didn't complete in a field I no longer want to be in. All of those hours a week spent standing on a stage, in front of an audience of peers and professors, having my singing and playing critiqued by anyone who wanted to comment have served to make me pretty much bullet proof when it comes to fear of speaking in front of others. I think. I mean, there's not much that will make you sweat more than to have to perform a piece you have prepared, and the stand there under the lights for another 15 or 20 minutes and have your performance analyzed. And then there's the part where they tell you to try something new, or do this part again only different, so you have to experiment, and OMG, screw up in front of a crowd of people over and over again until you can get it right. Yeah, I'm kind of grateful for that experience now. One less thing to be afraid of.

And now I must go and start the kids on the next subject in school or they will start to PLAY AND HAVE FUN INSTEAD and we all know that can't be allowed to happen during school hours, they must LEARN STUFF. I'm off to kill the budding fun activity and force them to learn something.

And then I'm going to stuff a turkey because I have one to cook still.
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