Two Quotations As Reminders to Me Today

I heard this first one as part of a church talk yesterday.

“Stay with your own life; don’t get distracted by trying to be somebody else. Learn to enjoy and be open to the beauty of any moment, even though there may be enormous pain, ugliness and injustice. Secondly, learn how to be in a relationship to fear and terror, because fear and terror drop us down to a less harmonious and less integrated form of behavior. Thirdly, cultivate a garden of daily delights that allows you to be you without demanding recognition or praise or any of those things. Also, find what you’re consecrated to, because we’re all consecrated to something. Finally, risk opening your heart and loving and allowing the beauty of love into your life as much of the time as possible.”
-From Interview with Annie, a cancer patient near death.

I find the sections on addressing fear and cultivating a garden of daily delights particularly relevant to my life lately. Her words reaffirm things I’ve been thinking.
And quotation #2 is probably much more familiar:

Every who down in who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was signing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling; “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without Tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
-From How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I was reminded of this by the lovely Catherine Schaffer, who added the thought that those of us who are still scrambling to arrange all those ribbons, tags, packages, and boxes can…perhaps…relax a little, as Christmas will arrive just fine without them.

Approaching Christmas

“Are you ready for Christmas?” the clerk asked as he passed my assorted groceries over the scanner. It was a perfunctory question, asked merely to fill the quiet of these few minutes while we stood facing each other over a transaction. He had no time to be interested in my answer; the line behind me stretched long. It was okay. I had not time to give a full answer. My To-Do list pulled me forward into the rest of the day.
“No.” I said with a brief smile as I swiped my card. Papers exchanged, I pushed my full cart from the store.

I used to be the person who bought all her Christmas presents before Thanksgiving. The tree was up and gifts under it during the first week of December. I planned it all carefully, balancing to make sure each child would be delighted. I made sure that Christmas came to a perfectly orchestrated climax on the appointed day. The day itself was a work of art with times of excitement punctuated by good meals and pauses. I loved doing it and the process made me happy. Mostly. I stopped being that uber-organized Christmas planner because of a spectacular Christmas Day emotional crash. I’d created the perfect day and in the process completely obliterated my own experience of it. I arrived at five pm so exhausted that I could not believe it had been a good day for anyone. The Christmas process which had functioned so well when I was the mother of toddlers with lots of hands-busy-brain-free time fell apart when applied by a working mother with a mix of teenage and grade school kids. I had to change my approach to the holiday.

To approach, as a verb, means to draw near to something. An approach, as a noun, is the entryway into something else; like the front walk to a house. I had been hitting the holiday season with a huge list of things to get done before Christmas. When they were done, I could enjoy the holiday. When I switched it around in my head, I realized that all of my preparations needed to be treated as a noun, not a verb. Any architect or real estate agent can tell you that the approach to a building has a huge effect upon the people who enter it. It sets expectations for everything which will come after. All of December is an approach to Christmas. The tree decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, and concert attending are not just the overture, they are a part of the performance. When I pause to savor the doing of these things, I discover which ones I enjoy doing for their own sake, and which should probably be evicted from my holiday traditions. When Christmas day arrives, it becomes part of a larger event rather than the sole receptacle of all our expectations.

So, no, I am not ready for Christmas. I’m in the middle of it, still with a huge list of things To-Do. I am harried and hurried. I’m often overwhelmed by the things which I need to accomplish in order to not disappoint people around me. I ship packages to worried customers who need the contents for Christmas gifts. I attend school concerts and make treats for class parties. I realize that in all my shipping, I still need to acquire and send gifts to my own friends and relatives. It is a crazy, awkward approach to the holiday. And yet sometimes I watch my fingers as they carefully tape down wrapping paper. Then I know that this small act is part of the gift. I (finally) open the box containing our nativity set and look closely at the porcelain baby Jesus’ face. I light the advent candle and pause a moment to watch smoke curl off the match after I shake it out. These are all pieces of the holiday. I get half a dozen tiny moments like that in a day and I know that Christmas is all it should be.

Hello Holiday To Do Lists

Every day has shipping in it. This will continue through the 20th. This makes me happy because sales are good. Sales mean that we’ll continue to be able to pay our colorist and pay our bills. However the heavy shipping load is wearing. I always feel like I have to ship everything as fast as possible because this package could be someone’s Christmas present.

Today featured me running to the store and picking up 14 spiral cut hams. I then drove through our neighborhood handing them over to the people who volunteered to help cook ham for the church Christmas party tonight. I have three hams to cook and later I’ll need to head over to the church to help set up. I’m also part of the clean up crew. Fortunately this party represents the last non-immediate-family holiday obligation.

I remember vividly the year when I looked at the presents under the Christmas tree and felt depressed because I knew exactly what was in every single one. The entire holiday was my orchestration. I planned it all while simultaneously making sure that my young children felt like they’d picked and planned the gifts they were giving. On that night I realized that I had to let go of some of it, that I couldn’t make the perfect Christmas, and that flawed Christmases are actually a good thing. This year I haven’t a clue what is in half of the packages. Both Link and Gleek planned and purchased presents before we even got out the tree. Patch and Kiki were not far behind. I’ve no clue whether the gifts are balanced for fairness between siblings. I’m not entirely sure if the top wishlist items have been hit because I haven’t been tracking wishlists. It all feels like I’ve abdicated my holiday responsibilities. Simultaneously it feels like I’m giving my children the chance to help create the holiday instead of just being an audience for my command performance. One way or another, all will be well. Mostly I’m trying to focus not on getting ready for Christmas day, but on enjoying the holidays as an ongoing experience. The most important things will get done. The rest don’t matter as much. (Either that or it will all be an utter disaster and we can try for better another year.)


Most days my life trundles along feeling normal. Sometimes there are shifts which I notice, like the beginning of school, but I don’t always notice the trends in the various shifts. But life also has checkpoints, days like Halloween when I can look back through the years and see how all the little pattern shifts have carried us to a new position relative to the holiday. Time was that carving pumpkins was an all-absorbing family event where kids issued orders and I did most of the work. Today I pried lids off of pumpkins, handed over little plastic carving tools and paid no attention until Gleek and Patch summoned me to look at their finished work. Some part of me wonders if these younger two kids of mine feel the lack of a mother who is creatively engaged in the pumpkin carving process. Yet the way we handled it is perfectly in keeping with the current tenor of our lives. They made good pumpkins and all is well.

Halloween was a big deal for Howard and I when we first married. He liked playing with stage make-up and I enjoyed sewing. We had friends with similar inclinations and so there were several years of elaborate costumes. It was fun. I can flip through the scrapbooks of pictures with my handwritten notes on how the costumes were made. My enthusiasm can be read in every word. It has been years since I bothered to dress up for Halloween. The thought of dressing up still appeals, but not enough to sacrifice the time and energy necessary. Instead my creative energies are offered up on the altars of my children’s costumes…or they were. That too is shifting. Two of my kids have entered that teenage realm where the thrown together costume is often more socially acceptable than the carefully constructed one. My younger two are following suit. Halloween will change yet again. I don’t know whether we’ll circle back around to having creative energy to spend on costuming or if we’ll move onward into some new iteration of the holiday.

Later this evening I’ll accompany Patch and Gleek out into the neighborhood. I’ll be the tag along mother following behind their racing feet. As we move from house to house I will pass other parents pulling wagons, toting toddlers, or walking slowly holding a small hand. In these parents I can see my Halloweens past. Tagging along suits me right now. In the not too far future the only interaction I’ll have with trick or treat is answering the door. This middle place is a good one, but I won’t stay here long.

Creating a Chalk Festival

A few months ago I heard about a chalk festival in Salt Lake City. It was a big public event where folks were invited to create chalk art on the various pavements of downtown. I loved the idea of it, but attending simply didn’t fit into my schedule. Rather than live with regret, I determined that one day this summer I would buy a bunch of chalk and declare my very own chalk festival for the kids. I mentioned this plan to my next door neighbor (a good idea since children with chalk are not particularly discriminating about whose pavement upon which they draw) and she loved the idea too. We decided to host the event jointly and spread the word among neighbors and friends. Fitting it right at the end of the Fourth of July celebrations, when everyone was feeling festive, seemed like an excellent choice.

Really, this is all you need for a chalk festival. Chalk and pavement are mandatory. The cup of water is optional, but very useful for blending colors. I just ran to Walmart that morning and grabbed half a dozen boxes of chalk. I tried to find boxes that had a variety of colors, particularly bright colors. I made sure that there were duplicates. I figured it was better to have 5 each of 10 colors than to have 50 colors with all the kids fighting over the one color that everyone decided they couldn’t live without.

When the appointed hour arrived, I dumped all the chalk out of the boxes so they were loose for kids to grab. At first we attempted to partition one square per person, but that quickly became unnecessary. Everyone was having too much fun to argue and it was more fun to let the drawings flow around each other organically. We kept acquiring people as neighbors came by invitation or just wandered by.

The artwork came in all varieties and each had its own beauty.

One of the truly wonderful things about chalk art is that it is all-ages friendly. The smallest people could participate just as easily as the older ones.

I loved hearing the chatter as kids excitedly proclaimed about their dragon, or flower, or princess, or design. The adults chatted as well. The activity sparked conversations and gave all of us an excuse to be outdoors. It helped that the weather cooperated by cooling down with an overcast sky. The air temperature was perfect and the sidewalks were pleasantly warm without being too hot. We planned it in the evening on purpose to help make that possible.

Howard came out and joined the fun. At first he said he would only observe since he’d been drawing stuff all day, but finally sketched out a Schlock when the neighbors claimed the festival couldn’t be complete without it.

The cups of water were for painting on the chalk after it was drawn on the pavement or for dipping the chalk before drawing to help it spread more evenly. We used our fingers to wet the chalk and blend it. Next time I’ll find some sturdy craft paintbrushes to use as well.

Blending the colors with water created some fun results.

After and hour or so, most of the kids had moved on to playing tag and we broke out the ice cream bars. This gave everyone snacks as the surveyed the completed artwork. Being the Fourth of July, we finished off with some fireworks in the street. The evening ended when the gray clouds burst open and began to rain. By morning the chalk drawings were gone. This was fine, it cleared the pavement for another round of artwork on a different day. Chalk art is never meant to be permanent, which is why it is a wonderful medium for those who think they aren’t artistic to learn that they can be. Most of the adults started out by saying that they weren’t good at drawing, but every single one who picked up chalk drew something worth admiring.

We’ll be doing this again sometime. It was too fun to be a singular event.

Putting Away Christmas

Some years I am so eager to be done with the holiday season that I take down the tree on boxing day. Those years I am in a hurry to reclaim my front room and normality from the clutter of tree, nativity, and seasonal books. Other years I want to savor the holiday feeling for a more extended period of time. This year the need to un-decorate sneaked up on me. It dawned on me slowly that today is New Year’s Day and that my front room is still full of Christmas. Some time before Monday morning I need my front room to not be full of Christmas anymore. I need to hit the ground running on Monday because the first of the year accounting is looming and I’ve got a list of business contacts to refresh.

Knowing the job needed to be done, I decided that the sooner it was done the better. So I rallied my reluctant forces and we began to un-decorate. In this case the forces were my kids. They are always enthusiastic about decorating and completely uninterested in putting things away. (This is also true with most of their toys, but that is a problem for a different day.) I started by requiring them each to remove 50 ornaments from the tree. Thus I discovered that we own approximately 150 ornaments. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this little factoid, but there it is. Mostly I was pleased to have all the ornaments transferred from tree to box in less than 10 minutes. The tree itself was carted downstairs and shoved into the giant duffel bag we use as storage.

At that point I released my minions from bondage and they fled back to their games. The rest was up to me. The tree is our big Christmas effort. Everything else fits into three boxes. This year I decided to organize and sort as I put things away. It is a small gift that I am giving to my next-December self. She will discover less chaos in the Christmas boxes, which is a good thing.

The boxes are all stowed. The various debris have been swept. The furniture is put back in the regular locations. My front room feels light and spacious. Over the next few weeks various Christmas items will surface from odd corners of the house and I will shove them into the tops of the Christmas boxes. We’re ready for what comes next.

Outside the Routine

Christmas is a Holiday, but it is not a vacation day for me. I enjoy Christmas, but it is a day for focused energy rather than relaxation. I do this to myself. I plan the day around the traditional schedule and emotional arcs of my family members. Each hour is carefully planned to make the entire Christmas experience lives up to the heavy expectations that it must carry. The day is satisfying and happy, but I am tired at the end.

Yesterday was a vacation day for me. I dodged all responsibility for most of the day. It started by bouncing out of bed to run off with Howard and watch Sherlock Holmes in the theaters. This left the kids to eat Christmas cereal for breakfast. I came home and then, rather than fixing lunch or answering email, I played a card game with Kiki and Link. Dinner was left overs pulled from the fridge and given a pass through the microwave. The day also contained reading, and eating treat food, and sitting around doing nothing in particular.

Both Christmas and the day after represent a step outside my regular routine. I enjoyed both, but I will be glad to reassert some normality into our schedule on Monday. We can’t be completely routine, the kids are out of school and my parents are coming for New Year’s, but I can certainly put work back into the schedule. And the kids will discover that there are chores to do. I don’t expect this to please them, but it will be good for all of us to have a little more structure in our day.

The quiet of Christmas Evening

I was going to write a post called “The Art of Christmas Day” in which I detailed all the planning, pacing, and managing that Howard and I do to make sure that Christmas Day runs smoothly. I even wrote out all the notes, complete with the psychology behind our choices. I may write that post tomorrow, just now I’m too tired. And I’m feeling wistful/thoughtful after watching UP rather than amusing or logical, which are the moods required for the other post.

Still love that movie. It makes me cry every time. It also makes me want to write a list of Stuff I’m Going To Do. For now I’m going to go hug all my kids a couple of times each.

I hope you all had a marvelous day. And remember sometimes the boring stuff is the stuff you remember best.

On Christmas Eve

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house resounded the thumping of young children bouncing in bed, winding themselves up into a frenzy of excitement instead of calming down to go to sleep. Exhortations to lay still produce about 10 seconds of silence. It is hard to be six years old and fall asleep on Christmas eve. Patch has already been out of bed three times in the last ten minutes. Gleek, at 8, does better. She is laying still, or at least quietly. I’m standing guard. Guard duty may be a long haul this year.

It was a squabblish evening, despite the effort at orchestrating happy family memories around the making of pizza and the lighting of candles. This is fine. Family is about loving despite squabbling. And in between the minor upsets we had laughter and reverence. It was a good mix I think.

Merry Christmas to all.

Winter Break is Nigh

On one hand, I am glad I have two more days to get work and writing done before the kids are home all day. On the other hand, I really don’t want to get up early tomorrow. I want to make the kids get up early even less than I want to get up early myself. Most mornings I have to physically wrest the covers from them before they’ll get out of bed. And then there is the problem of breakfast. The kids have an array of dietary preferences. I can either fix multiple meals in order to save on arguing, or I can fix a single meal and weather the complaining. Neither one sounds like much fun at o-dark-thirty in the morning.

BUT, the holidays are near. I will get to sleep in. They will get to sleep in. We will all have a break from homework and routine. It will be good right up until we all start feeling cabin fever and are ready to take on a new year. Then we will be back to schedules and checklists. I will be newly happy because I will remember what chaos ensues when the routine is AWOL.

For tonight, I need to sit in the light of the softly glowing tree and feel glad for a quiet hour.