Thursday, December 29, 2011

The St. Nicholas Project

He who feels that he is too small to make a difference has never been bitten by a mosquito.
It seems to me that every year, as soon as the Holiday hype begins, the media does it's best to swing us like a pendulum between the drama of good and bad in the world. We brace ourselves for stories of desperate people poised to pepper spray anyone who dare come near their hard earned and shopped for posessions. Then, after being beat down by bad news, we find a little comfort in the good, in heartwarming stories such as soldiers surprising their families with an unexpected homecoming. 
 I have no idea who these wonderful people are, but I couldn't resist sharing their photos.
Thank you. Thank you.
 On my count, the negative stories reign champion in the news. So much so, that I wonder if all of the bah-humbug doesn't creep into us a little, getting under our skin, and transforming our once favorable outlook on the world and the Christmas season into one of pessimism and irritation. 
Let's just say it doesn't leave us running through the streets yelling, "I love you" to our neighbors like George Bailey's jog through Bedford Falls.

Halfway through Advent, I decided enough is enough. I dug my heels in deep and refused to be sucked in by the blah.  I was determined to live Christ in Christmas and to share Him with those who find the holiday to be just another reason to shop and make things pretty. Or break out their pepper spray.

By the Friday, December 23rd, I was 100% convinced that despite all of the little armies of pepper sprayers and joy snatchers, the majority of the people in this country are hard-working, honest, kind and generous individuals.
Why Friday, December 23rd?  That was the day we joined a few other families to deliver meals to a number families in our community who were in need of a hot meal, warm clothes and an encouraging smile. 
We called our mission the St. Nicholas Project.
Along our journey of planning and preparing, we encountered a myriad of folks who, without hesitation, opened their schedules to help, their wallets to share and their hearts to pray for our little mission.  
The kids were a great part of the project, too.  They did everything from load the delivery cars with food to...
Open giant cans of green beans with the worlds largest can opener, to...
Keeping little ones content while the moms and dads took over the kitchen.
Thanks to the generosity of our community, we were able deliver a hot meal, warm clothing, gifts and words of encouragement to 85 beautiful individuals. Individuals who blessed us beyond measure.  
That day, we all embraced the powerful truth: It is in giving that we receive.
Despite what the political news reports may be, 
Rich people are not the enemy. 

The middle class has been taxed enough already, and yet are the first to give the little "extra" that they may have to help someone else.

The government may think they are best equipped to serve the poor and needy with our tax dollars but the truth is we are.  YOU AND I.  100% of our dollar stays local, providing food, clothing and provisions for our brothers and sisters. Administrative costs are donated with love. (I think they call it almsgiving.)

I find that I am better able to "spread the wealth around" without my hands tied behind my back and some stranger in an office breathing down my neck.  What about you?
If you would like to join us next year, or are considering starting a St. Nicholas Project in your community, we would be happy to share our ideas with you.  You may contact us at: 
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."             ~Winston Churchill

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Are In Love ~ Charlie 9 Months

How swiftly this year has passed, my little one...
Little musings of last year’s Advent and Christmas season have fluttered into our daily conversations around here, many of them fondly recalling how big you were in my tummy.  How my tummy bumped the dinner table and made holding Henry and bending down to tie shoes laces undone a little tricky. How we couldn’t wait to meet you, and how your presence in our family would be better than any gift neatly wrapped under the tree.
And, here you are! Here we are! Completely in love with you!
I find myself saying, more and more often to my patient husband, “I’m sorry you don’t have any clean socks honey, I couldn’t quite get to the laundry today." Or, "Is it okay if we have spaghetti again? I'll make something 'different' tomorrow.”
Mostly because I was distracted by this - 
(This is his "I know you want to hold me" grin.)
And, this -
(Sockless toesies are magnetic! No one in our house can resist tickling and smooching them!)
And this -
(This is the "lovin' eyes" look.  All plans to do anything productive are over at this point.)
For the past 9 months, there have been bills paid late, toast burned and dust bunnies undusted because of you.  But, everyone forgives me, and barely even notices the way we wear life at times - upside down, inside out and backwards. No one notices, because - 
That’s what happens when you are in love...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

She Calls Me Beethoven

"Do you see that girl over there, Mom?"
Girl? Who? What? Where? Did you say girl?

"Mom, that girl, over there, do you know what she calls me?"
She talks to you? Do you talk to her?Are you allowed to talk during school? What? When did this happen?

"Mom, that girl calls me Beethoven!"
Is that code for something like honey or sweetie or cutie? Because if it is I am gonna call her momma...

"Mom, are you listening?"
"Yes, Honey, of course I am!"

"She calls me Beethoven, because she can't believe how good I can play!"
"Oh (whew) that's so funny! Did you tell her Beethoven didn't play viola? Did you ask her to call you Yo Yo Ma instead?? And, it's well, honey, how well you can play, not how good....never mind."

Eye Roll here.  Very. Big. Eye Roll.
Hug. Kiss. Break a leg. Go get 'em. Don't sit by that girl....

And, this is how Benedict's very first orchestra performance began.
Growing up in Belleville, Kansas America, we didn't have orchestra.  I didn't even know what an orchestra was until I was older than Benedict is now.  And, at that time I could care less about stringed instruments, because I was falling in love with my tenor sax, and I didn't think that anything could be better.  

Fast forward a couple of decades. My saxophone is very dusty and my fingertips are blistered from trying to learn to play the guitar, since stringed instruments are topping my interests these days. Topping my "this makes me happy list" is the gratitude I feel knowing that my son is playing the viola and the violin.  

During my college years at Franciscan University, I had the opportunity to spend time with a few large families who home schooled and whose children played the violin or a stringed instrument of some sort.  It was such an awakening for me.  I knew then that if I ever had a family I would try very hard to create an environment in our home where a love for music could flourish and violin lessons could be experienced.
I have to admit, I'm a little sad that I can't play along with him, or help him with his lessons. (Even though I know he doesn't need my help, because he's smart and talented and can do it on his own. I'm just kind of bossy and like to jump in the pit and squish the grapes too.)  It's sort of like being illiterate and asking your son to read to you. You don't want that to go on forever, you want to learn to read too! Humbling. But, it gives Steve and I great joy to see Benedict grow in such a beautiful area of life.
A couple of weeks ago, he came home from school excited to tell me that he learned to play Beethoven's Ode To Joy in orchestra that day.  Ever since the boys first heard the story Beethoven Lives Upstairs a few years ago, they collectively decided that he was their favorite classical composer.  From the majestic 5th Symphony to the gentle Fur Elise to the melancholic Moonlight Sonata, they love his work the best.
For all of our family who were unable to attend the concert, here is a clip of two of the songs they performed, the second is Ode To Joy.
For all you parents who would like to introduce classical music to your children in a fun way, I highly recommend the "Classical Kids Series." While Beethoven Lives Upstairs is our favorite, Mr. Bach Comes to Call takes a close second.  You can find them here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

George Bailey and Clark Griswold Collide

During the Christmas season, my husband is a perfect mix of
Clark Griswold  and  George Bailey
Clark:  Lights man, family man, egg nog man, drives a large family vehicle fast with a tree strapped to the top man. And, if we had any hills, he would go sledding on a saucy saucer, just like Clark, all the way to Wal-Mart.
George:  Funny man, romantic man, charming man, generous man, adores his wife and kids man, makes the best of the worst man, looks good in a suit man (I get to see him in one about 3 times a year - wowzers!!!).
Saturday morning, he led my little army in a valiant effort to light up our house for Christmas....
I couldn't resist buying the hat for him, and he was a great sport and wore it for me.  I think he secretly liked it!
There was a lot of showing off that day, muscle flexing and all.  He should know by now, five kids later, I still have the hots for him.  "That's ok, Honey, go ahead and flex!"

Ladder moving drama from Henry. "It's soooooo heavy mom! But, wook how stwong I am!"
Then, the older two disappeared from the action, so I decided to hunt them down and give them a lecture about slacking off (sprinkled with a few threats about losing their hot chocolate and throwing the Wii in the trash if they don't get back to work.) Focus people! Your dad has a serious mission to accomplish, and he needs your help!
You won't believe where I found them.  Or, maybe you will...
One in a bush, and one in a tree.  Then, the one in the tree joined the one in the bush. And, they wanted me to join them in the bush, and I politely declined, because I had to pray that they wouldn't fall and take pictures at the same time.
They scaled up the center of this enormous bush in the center of their grandparent's yard.  That thing is a monster!  I was really entertained by how impressed they were with themselves!  Lights, muscle flexing, bush climbing, it's all too much for one mom to handle in a day!
How did Henry get up there?  He lost his glubs (still refuses to say gloves) during the rigorous climb.  Both of them.

So, I went inside to find Henry another pair of glubs and to unearth Steve's best suit. Time for a costume change.  Now that Clark has worked his magic on the house, it's time for a little George Bailey charm :)!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Weekend (Crafty) Warriors

If you have ever hot-glued, spray painted, hem-taped, re-painted or bedazzled anything to make your home a little more lovely today than yesterday then I am giving you a mental high-five right now!

But, if your lovely "today's" ideas have faded into yesterday, and you are asking yourself, "why did I do that?" then, I am giving you a mental hug, because I have been there so many, many, many times.   Even though I am a bit obsessed with painting and repainting rooms in our house, moving around furniture and spray painting strange objects to look like art, luckily, my husband still loves me!

I am in love with the blogging culture right now - the home design ones, that is.  One of the fruits of our struggling economy these past couple of years is that it has brought out the creative side of so many fantastic people who are willing to share their great tips on how to design and repurpose on a budget.

A couple of my favorites are Our Vintage Home Love, Nesting Place and The Lettered Cottage.

Repurposing isn't a new fad, it's an old habit that sort of disappeared for a while and is resurfacing.  Most of our grandparents were "repurposers."  My grandmas new exactly which kitchen scraps made their flowers bloom so bright Martha Stewart would be jealous! And, they could craft  things out of cool whip containers and fabric scraps so miraculous the Church should consider investigating.

Here's a design idea that I found in a magazine article which featured a designer from the south who goes to flea-markets and garage sales to decorate her home (we are soul sisters!)
I decided to steal her idea, because I thought that the framed chalkboard would have a variety of practical and decorative possibilities in our current home and our future permanent home when we build it (sometime in this century :).

I found this big open frame in the clearance isle at Hobby Lobby.  Already at half-price I negotiated a deeper discount, since it had a big chip in it (on the back side, but hey, it was still damaged!).  I ended up scoring it for less than $20.  Then, I found an online sight to custom cut the chalkboard for me at around $40.  Similar frames sell in design catalogs such as Ballard Designs for over $200! (Ours is 30" x 42".)
It's currently hanging in our dining room.  In the fall, K-State's football schedule gets first dibs, then the rest of the year, we write poems, quotes, jokes and funny messages to each other on it.  Its a nice piece of personal art that has so many possibilities.

I think that this spring it will be painted a distressed shade of turquoise. Steve will love that, I'm sure :)

I'll throw the idea out to him as soon as the Christmas lights are up - he should be warmed up by then!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Today, I really appreciate the wise old saying, "Good things come in small packages." Zees is twoo. Zees is why:

Since I am doing 99.99999% of all my Christmas shopping online this year, I am getting to know the UPS man, Chuck pretty well.  I don't know what's up with Fed Ex, they send a different guy every single time, which tends to put a damper on the human relations element of my team-building strategy. 
Online shopping is a bit like football.  You need great "special teams" to make it happen. I've got my "Box-n-Ship Team." They are like the undercover agents of shopping.  You never see them, but they are out there, calling the plays. Then, there's the "Delivery Team." That would be Chuck and the Fleet of Fex-Exers. And of course there's the "Receiving Team."  That would be me, Stella the barking Retriever, and my stampede of boys who look for any opportunity to get out of their seat during school.

I have to admit as organized as I am try to be, I do tend to forget a few things, here and there, that I have ordered, even though my desk area is covered in sticky neon reminders, coded in confounding language such as "Two Barrel Brother Blaster" (Nerf Gun) or "800 Moon Peace pieces" (800 piece Star Wars Legos).  

I know, it's tricky, but kids are so smart, and when you live in a wittle twaiwer howse you have to outsmart and out-twick 'em.  I have tried to hide my list, but that's risky, because I'm a good hider.  So good, I often cannot find the things I have hidden.  Therefore, coded sticky-notes reign.

Anyway, when Chuck rolled in and handed me one small package yesterday, I couldn't for the life of me remember what it could be.  

Ah, yes (cue the bells here)! Every year I add a few books to our Advent and Christmas story collection. They often stagger in in odd shipments, and this was the one I had been most eagerly awaiting:

As I sat and listened to Andrew reading it to George and Henry, I was struck by this one thought:  How can something so simple and so small (the book) change the course of something so big (Advent)??
Sometimes the smallest things can, in their subtlety, have great power....

A raindrop waking up an earth lulled to sleep by a dusty drought has the power to change an entire growing season for farmers.  The sound of a baby's heartbeat in the womb reaching his mother's ears, changing her heart and her life forever.  Such little things, such profound changes....

Ok, so this book isn't rain or a heartbeat, but I am at the helm of this family's ship and the story was like a slight shift in the wind's direction, setting our ship back on course...

...a course that had slipped into preparing for Santa, not a Savior.

I was doing what most of us do - keeping the traditions of Christmas alive, traditions that center around Santa's arrival on Christmas morning.  Trim the tree, bake the cookies, sing the songs, buy the gifts, you know the routine. We work wonders to ensure that the mystery and magic of Santa is kept alive, all the while the real meaning of Advent takes a back seat in the sleigh.

Sure, we have an Advent wreath up, and our Nativity set too, but what the kids see from me isn't Advent, Adventus - preparations for the arrival of something or someone extremely important, they see all signs pointing to the North Pole.  
I want to feel just a glimmer of the anticipation felt by the Jews as they awaited the arrival of their Savior.  Anticipation is rooted in need.  I need Him, my children need Him - if we didn't, we wouldn't call ourselves Christian and I wouldn't be writing this post.

To build anticipation, in addition to our normal Advent traditions, this year we have added a special activity of preparing the nativity for Jesus.  Like the animals in the story, we are aware that someone extremely important is coming to our house, to our hearts.  For every good deed, or virtuous act offered each day by a child, he places a piece of straw in the nativity, preparing a soft place for Our Lord.

See, great things do come in small packages! A little story with a little voice that says, "Don't forget Him."

If you would like to share this story with your family, it's not too late! You can find it here.

Happy Advent, Everyone! O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday to Our "Someone"

Happy  Birthday,  Papa!
Every year, when your birthday draws near, the boys and I get a little giddy with excitement thinking of what wonderfully creative and surprising joys we can craft for you.  Usually, this requires a trip to Sonic and some driving around with our fruity, frosty over-flowing "think-tanks."  Or, we might hold a truly official meeting at our local office (kitchen) with official snacks (chocolate chip cookies), and follow official procedure (dunk in milk and imbibe freely to keep good ideas flowing).  

Every idea is freely expressed, considered, and debated (these were our recent inspirations): a homing device for your sunglasses, cell phone and billfold? A scope for your guns? A dune buggy (I coughed up a cookie on that one)? A football signed by Colin Klein? 

How wonderful for us all, your little tribe, to have someone to throw our arms and our hearts around every day, someone we treasure so dearly, so deeply that we get to experience the delight of the yearning to speak with clearest thoughts and to show with most sincere affection just how much that someone is loved.  You are our someone.

The pace of our life seems to be quickening, doesn't it? The birthdays come around and we are first to ask, "Where has the time gone?"  I have a deep desire for time to slow down, for our footsteps to be firmly anchored in moments, every moment, really, be it ordinary or extraordinary, so that I can absorb all of the goodness of you, you with our children, you with me, you on your own, not noticing how terribly much I admire you, from the strength of your arms to the tenderness of your soul and the courage of your faith.

Sometimes you are very hard on yourself.  I think that this is because you understand with great clarity the enormity of the mission of raising a family, leading us and loving us all the way to heaven.  And, we follow you, placing our little trusting feet in your giant footsteps, happy to feel so secure and so loved along the way.

Today, we wish you everything we cannot give - sweet peace, abundant health and deep-down joy, and we give you the best of what we can - our love, affection, affirmation and gratitude for being our "someone".  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sporting Clays - A New Thanksgiving Tradition

You know what they say, "The family that aims together, stays together."

Okay, so they actually happens to be my sister-in-law, but nonetheless, I think she might just be right.

It's traditions, actually, that have a magical way of bringing families together.  Traditions provide a common goal, a common experience and quality time together. For some, Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without a competitive football game in the backyard or a poker showdown after dinner.  This year for us, the holiday went something like this:

In celebration of our religious freedom, we prayed together.

In remembrance of the first Thanksgiving feast, we ate together.

In honor of all the other fine firearm families (the Remingtons and Rugers of course) we aimed together...

And, I have to admit, it was a blast.  (Just me and my girls!)
Now rewind a good two months before Thanksgiving, and just try to imagine what our dinner-time table talk has been. Being outnumbered 6 to 1 by males, the chance of it being about anything relatively feminine is slim to none.
All the buzz has been about pheasant season, deer season, gun lingo (which is totally a foreign language to me), camouflage and taxidermy (I know, it's just too much, the whole taxidermy thing. Just what I need is a bunch of creepy beasts on my trailer house walls staring at me while I fold the laundry. Eeeww.)

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Steve bought a clay thrower.  I always knew that the time would come when guns and ammo and testosterone driven activities would take over our lives, but really can any mother ever be truly prepared?
What could I do?
A.  Wear a set of ear plugs so I can't hear a dang thang thay say?
B.  Spend an equal amount of money on a machine of my choice for the house? I think a Hobart dishwasher would look splendid in my wittle kitchen!
C.  Put them in piano, chess, fencing and art lessons so there's simply no time for weapon mastery?
D.  Try all of the above, and if they fail, get out there and get my Annie Oakly groove on? (I was gonna say Sara Palin, but the only reason I would hunt an animal is if my family's survival depended on it. So, that pretty much means never, ever, ever, ever.)

Ya'll know by now that I chose D. Minus the lessons and the Hobart, but I'm still thinkin' about buying the Hobart.

When my dad was in Vietnam, he was awarded a sharpshooter medal.  It is given to those who earn high marks in weapons mastery.  I wish some of those sharpshooter genes found their way to my DNA, but alas they did not.

Almost all of the shooting I've done in my life took place during my youth when I went to 4-H camp at Rock Springs Ranch.  And, it wasn't pretty then either.  It takes me about a good five minutes just to load the gun, because I have to check every few seconds to make sure that it's still on safety and pointing away from humans or windows.  These things just take time.

The boys are so much faster and better than I am, but despite my lack of natural talent, they still smiled and acted happy that I was there.  And, in the end that's what counts.
I've always imagined that when my boys grow up, the things they will remember most about me will be our time homeschooling, great meals and laughter around the table, reading and singing to them, and cheering them on at all their activities. Now they can add our new tradition of sporting clays to the list.


"Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful day, for my new clay thrower and for my wife who can shoot the turkey and cook it too.  I'm a lucky man."
"Take some notes, boys, take some notes."
"I'm so good I can shoot from the hip. They don't call me Bulls-Eye Bob for nuthin'!"
"Another shell please, Mr. Ammo Assistant!"
Like mother like son??
Lock 'n load.
Just so ya'll know, she's the one who put up the "No Trespassing" sign in the front yard.
Charlie is the reason Steve's Browning Citori 525 over and under wasn't too heavy for me to hold.  I've had the little guy in my arms non-stop for the past 8 months.  It's all about the training, folks.