Thursday, December 29, 2011


There are many times in my life when I feel as though I am running to catch up with myself, rather than stepping imto each day anew.  Many times when I feel like too much of yesterday is being dragged into today and too much of today is being overlooked until tomorrow.  This past month (months!) has definitely been one of those times.  Having men working at our house all month and having to spend our days here, there, and everywhere (everywhere but home!) has taken its toll on our sanity, and it has also taken a huge toll on Christmas.  At least Christmas as we know it.  No time or space for decorating or baking, no tree, no music...just coming home to a not-so-homey house each evening, tired from being gone all day, no hot meal waiting...  The great idea I had for this year's Christmas cards had to be tossed (severely altered, rather), a lot of shopping was done online (very little "made with love" this time around), and I didn't get an advent calendar until the last day of November.  Needless to say, it's a little...cheesey?...commercial?  I don't know.

But the kids don't seem to notice a thing.  They just wake up each morning, eager to open those doors, excited to see what each day will bring.  And in the midst of it, they decorated anyway.  Wall or no wall. (And the wall did come down! Just in time for us to put up a tree before we left for a visit up north!)

(Not too cozy without furniture but a lot of room for jump rope!)

We arrived home from another week out of the house (this time for vacation) just in time for Christmas Eve, and despite the frenetic month I had just endured, I felt relaxed.  There were some last minute things I wanted to get ready for the next day, but for some reason they didn't seem pressing.  So what if the presents weren't wrapped?  So what if the Christmas window wasn't finished, or the house wasn't clean?  So what if I hadn't finished making the few presents I had thought I could?  There are other things that are so much more important this time of three little girls calling out the window to Santa...
and some other stuff...

Being forced out of the house so much has made me realize how deeply I appreciate home, even though it's in my nature to crave adventure elsewhere.  And having a "thrown together" Christmas had made me stop and think about what I really value during this time of year, and always.  It's so much more important to me to enjoy my life than to sweat the details.  And who am I kidding, really?  "Thrown together" is what I do best. 

After people left for home, or for bed, I managed (quite easily) to wrap all the presents and get them under the tree.  As I took my Christmas Eve photo, I didn't feel such a tingly feeling of satisfaction as I had the year before, but I felt thankful for that night, and for what I have...which is a lot.  A lot.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Four years ago around Christmas time, we went to IKEA to buy a couch - specifically, a couch that came disassembled so that we could fit it through the door of our new apartment.  As Matt and I looked for something tolerable, Emerson collected all the little do-dads she could find into a huge IKEA bag, put the straps over her shoulder, and announced - fairly loudly - Alright! Got everything I need! I'm going to Bethlehem town! - turned around, and started walking away.

Ophelia is a little bit older than Emerson was that year, but the confluence of ideas is just as pronounced.

Meet Josephina:

(But don't ask her what her name is, because she can't pronounce it.  If you make the mistake and call her Ophelia, she'll just look at you and ask, "what's my name?")  Josephina ("Jophesina") is part of the holy family, in case you didn't know.  Her mother is Mary, her father is "Jophess," and her younger brother - of course - is baby Jesus.  You know...the one in the nativity scene wearing the size-too-small cheerleading outfit and leg warmers?  You can't miss her....

We've had many a look thrown our way this holiday season.  Emerson (in a panic) to Ophelia at the grocery store:  "We have to go back! We left baby Jesus on the floor next to the apple cider!"  Ophelia at school (also in a panic):  "We left baby Jesus in the car! I can hear him crying!"  (At which point she does her baby crying imitation)

But boy does she ever love that baby Jesus.  Here she is reading him a book about Santa Claus...

But in every pageant there are try-outs, right?  Half way through the holiday season, Ophelia decided that she wasn't quite right as Jophesina, and moved on to a role that fits her better (and is much easier to say): Mary.  Or more specifically, "Mary Nodded."  That's her last name, if you didn't know.  (Mary nodded, pu rum pa pum pum....the ox and lamb kept time pa rum pa pum pum...I played my drum for him pa rum pa pum pum...)

Baby Jesus has gone through some casting changes as well...
(some other front runners were her cousin's stuffed bear named Pecan, and various live cats)

before settling on the true baby Jesus in our midst.

We've gone through many set changes, many cast changes, many costume changes.

We've sung "The Little Drummer Boy" a hundred times, we've been reminded "my name is Mary Nodded" a hundred more.  We've seen Mary in a veil, riding a donkey, with the baby on the outside, with a baby on the inside, with Jophess, with the wise men, and - of course -with all the animals.  We've overheard things like, "I just put baby Jesus in his's his nappy time..." and "LOOK! Santa brought baby Jesus a new dress!" and "Mommy!  There's Jophess!  I saw his husband!..and his beard!"  And through it all, I know that although Ophelia might be a little fuzzy on the details, she gets the big picture...maybe better than most of us.

Just before Chirstmas, I overheard the girls arguing in the next room. 

Emerson: "You don't even know who Saint Nick is!" 

Ophelia:  "Yes I do! It's Poppy!"

My dad? Patron Saint of children? Jolly man with a sack full of toys at the ready?  Sounds about right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Moment of Silence

Remember this blog?... where I talked about how calm and organized my life was going to be now that Emerson was in school all day and I had my afternoons free?  Even though I had picked up an extra shift at work and was starting school?

Mm hmm.

For the last two months, my life has felt on the brink of totally out-of-control.  We never found a babysitter (although my wonderful friend has helped us out a lot over the last few months and my children adore her!) so there has been many a day that my Emerson spends her precious after school hours at work with me.  My glorious weekend days have been eaten up by work and school.  I'm behind on housework, behind on schoolwork,  and am looking at an endless list of half-written blogs and have many more in my head that will never be written.  My computer is on its very last legs, I feel like I spend way too much time in the car,  its dark, dark, dark, and now there's this wall.  Not a proverbial wall...this wall.
A wall that chops my already tiny living room in two; a wall to keep our house from freezing because of the gaping hole on the other side; a wall behind which men work all day long - pounding and sawing and sanding and talking and adding way too much noise to the already overactive din that is my life; a wall that keeps us constantly on the move - even more than we already are - seeking refuge from the caucophony at friends' houses, cafes, libraries, you name it...; a wall that prohibits us from putting up a Christmas tree; a wall that is nearly the straw that is breaking the camel's back.

But behind this wall, good things are happening.  And behind the wall of my blog silence, good things are happening too.  I just don't have time to talk about it... 

My plan for the next few weeks is to catch up with the past (lots of projects I want to finish before the year ends, including those half-written blogs!), while trying my hardest to keep up with the present.  Christmas is Christmas after all...even without a living room and with a lot of extra noise.  And a year of my life is a year of my life after all...even with hives, three freak natural disasters, and the heart-wrenching death of my father. 

Some years are just like that.  I'll be glad for the new year though.  I'm excited for the walls to come down.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Just Another Day

It's no secret that I love the holidays - the magic and anticipation, the stories and celebrations, the smell of snow in the air, fires burning both within and without, reminding us that even in this cold, even in this dark a light still shines.  I could go on and on about what makes the holidays special - my list of "favorites" could fill a book - so I'll just mention one for now:  the feeling I get when I know that all my collecting is done, every errand has been run, every card and package sent, the cupboards full of food, and that all I have to do now is go home to my family and enjoy our time together.

And I have had that feeling already this year.  Twice!  The first feeling came after we had just done some very special shopping for a winter surprise, tied up all the loose ends for the kids' Halloween costumes and sat down for an October lunch as snow started gently falling from the sky...  The second time was as I was leaving the local Co-Op the morning before Thanksgiving, feeling happy that I had everything I needed for the next few days, knowing that I wouldn't have to fight the throngs of shoppers wandering supermarket aisles later that evening.

We all know now that a snowstorm in October does not equal comfort.  Now I realize, neither does having everything in your cart.

As I left the Co-Op that morning - specifically, as I was exiting the store, thinking about all the heaping shopping carts I had encountered moments ago - my feelings of happiness and well-being were immediately displaced by something more insidious - not appreciation, not satisfaction, not thanks, but the complete antithesis of all three.  How has this celebration - this giving thanks for the harvest, friends working the land together side-by-side, this offering of what we have grown - how has this turned into a frenzied rush to the grocery store, where we fume at excess people blocking up the aisles, cut each other in line, and leave with more food than any person should ever eat at one sitting?  (food that we are only connected to through money)

Is Thanksgiving really a day of being grateful?  Or is it just vapid gluttony?

On the way home from the store, to stave myself from feeling completely empty, I thought about the kids and what this day might mean to them.  When I was growing up, it was all about Pilgrims and Native Americans ("Indians" back in those days...), paper-turkeys in the shape of our small hands with accordian-folded tissue paper tails, and a whole bunch of adults sitting around watching football.  Thus far in my own children's lives, the story of the Pilgrims has yet to be introduced, and we haven't watched football (or anything for that matter) on television in two years.  (In fact, as I write this, I realize that America's obsession with watching young, able-bodied men sustain brain injuries as they hurl themselves into each other requires the same cultural blindness needed to swallow the idea of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to a joyful harvest dinner together...)  Thus far in our children's lives, we've simply told them Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the harvest, to be with family, to remember everything we are thankful for.

But what does this mean after we've had numerous other harvest celebrations in our community this fall?What does is mean when we already spend so much time with family, (both surviving grandparents were just here last weekend for the Holiday Fair) and when we talk about what we are thankful for not only on Thanksgiving, but all through the year?  It's a couple of extra days off school.  It's a turkey that cooks all day, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  It's a day of "special drinks" and playing games and being silly... but really what is Thanksgiving?  What makes it different from every other day?

All families have their own traditions.  (My brother has a tradition of cultivating the most ridiculous mustache possible for the entire month of "Movember" and sharing it in all its glory on Thanksgiving Day)  Ruminating on what Thanksgiving really means to me was impossible without running down the list of some traditions I've been a part of over the years.  I've run the entire gambit - from paper-cut-out pilgrim hats as a child to rushing a half-cooked turkey through the streets of San Francisco after an all-night club extravaganza; from taking planes, trains and automoblies to reach friends I hadn't seen in years to sitting with a few other lonely Americans at a Taco Bell in London.  For me, there have been many Thanksgiving pasts - some wonderful (the San Francisco ones included...), some...well... 

And now here I am - with my own young family - feeling half dissatisfied, half bored, and ready to start my own traditions...or at least tweak the ones that have been handed down to me.  I want to move my family away from the rote and towards the meaningful, the memorable, the extraordinary.  I want my children to remember their Thanksgivings as more than a day when people get together and eat too much.  I want them to know that what we are celebrating cannot be conveyed with paper hats and turkeys.  I want the Thanksgiving Spirit to live deep in their souls.  And I have an idea...a plan for next year...

...a plan that starts here...

...a plan that includes friends and family, learning and adventure; a plan where we travel and laugh and act silly; a plan in which we still eat turkey and pumpkin pie, still enjoy those "special drinks", still come together to rejoice in our "Americanness"; but a plan in which along the way we gain a feeling of true reverence - of true community; a plan that makes us know that this is far more than just another day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

It's Sunday night, and I have lots of old, half-written blogs I could finish, but instead I'm going to leave you with a few photos of this year's holiday fair.  As is typical, I didn't take many photos, because I was so busy (egad!) having fun!  Seems to be a trend lately....
(This is the "Jack and the Beanstalk" gingerbread scene made by the first-graders and their eight-grade 'buddies.'  Jack is climbing down the beanstalk, and the giant's foot is peeking through the cotton candy clouds.)

After each holiday fair, after the kids are asleep, we always reflect on the holiday fairs of years past, and marvel at our growing place in this community we have chosen for our children and our family.  On this day filled with singing, music, celebration and goodwill, we feel so lucky to have landed here, surrounded by the closeness of friends that warm our hearts year after year.

Someday soon the girls will get sick of candle-dipping, and making jump ropes.  They won't care about the marionette show, and will spend more time running with their friends than hanging around with us.

But no matter how old we get, the third Saturday in November will always be a magical day...
Let the holidays begin!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

So Much Better Than Raking...

This is why things don't happen very quickly around here; why our lawn is -still, and eternally- covered with leaves; why we haven't turned over our garden for next year or planted any bulbs; why the fallen trees haven't yet been cut:


And more priorities.

(And this photo is the reason why my husband should never be allowed to hold the camera; why I should never let the new girl cut my hair; why I shouldn't eat so much cake; why I should stop hanging out with the pretty ladies...)

Happy Birthday Chrissy!  Happy Rest of Your Life Together Lisa Mo and Keegan!  Here's to all the friends everywhere that make us realize what is truly important in life!