Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wrapping Up Gratitude

Now that Christmas is past and the new year begins tomorrow, I guess it's about time for me to finish up this Thanksgiving post!! :)

For most of the years since we moved back to the States, we have made the trek to my brother's house in Pennsylvania for our Thanksgiving celebration. The year that I was heavily pregnant with Tobin, we did not; but if my memory serves me well, all the other years, we have. This year, not being pregnant at all, I was eager to make the trip.

Because Jeff had to work on the day after Thanksgiving (like always), we went up and back in a day, rather than spending the night. Six hours on the road is a long time, but it's worth it for a chance to be with family.

This year, we were fortunate enough to borrow a wonderful large van from some friends (thank you, friends!). Jeff grew very fond of it and didn't want to give it back, I think. :) It was so nice to be able to fit all eight of us (my parents included) easily into the van and have plenty of room for everything we needed to take along. That is the way to travel. :)

The way up passed fairly smoothly, especially since I had come prepared with various books, games, snacks, etc. for the boys. Shav got a kick out of looking out the window at the passing scenery...and occasionally batting at the frog hanging from the handle of his car seat...

Even though it was a cold, drizzly day, that didn't stop the kids from playing outside. My brother's three kids are older than my boys (and older than my sister-in-law's sister's kids who were also there), but they are so good at playing with the younger ones: asking them what they want to do, including them, being patient and kind with them, etc. No wonder my boys adore their cousins!

Jacob is a very good soccer player and plays on various teams throughout the year...

Isaac and Josiah were on the same team...

Isaac plays soccer on a team (teams?), too. They're such a "soccer family" that I can't quite keep up with which kid plays on what teams!


This was the first day of Tobin's life that he didn't have a nap. How could he sleep on this day? There were too many exciting things to do! Like walk and walk and walk and walk around the "circle" in my brother's house...and play with the dogs...

Oh, the dogs! Josiah got lots of affectionate kisses from Belle, my brother's pug, and Buddy, their new white poodle...not a toy poodle either...nothing miniature about this dog...

Buddy was bigger than Tobin and just as full of excitement...

Sometimes Buddy would gallop past Tobin, wagging his tail, and Tobin would get whacked in the head with his tail...Tobin didn't seem to mind; he just loved being with the dogs...
There was another dog, too; he belongs to the sister of my sister-in-law Lori, but I don't have a picture of him.

The guys did their fair share of lounging on the couch and watching football. It's an American tradition, after all!

Lori's dad showed us all up by being the first to work at clearing up the table; what a servant's heart. We love my sister-in-law's family and are always glad for this opportunity to visit with them...

Shav got some cuddles from Jean, Lori's mom...

...and from Lisa, Lori's sister...

This picture is what it's all about: the chance for our kids to spend time with their much-loved cousins (and cousins-in-law--is that a word?). :) And, of course, we didn't just make the trip for the kids' sake. We adults had a great time, too!
No doubt about it, family is precious.

When we set out in the van to drive home, I fully expected Tobin and Shav to quickly fall asleep. Instead, Josiah and David were the ones to drift off almost immediately; and it took the younger ones longer to finally go to sleep. After the others had gone off to dreamland, Shav was still awake and fussy so I put my little finger in his mouth for him to suck on and be soothed to sleep. But then I quickly took it out. Something hard and sharp had just bit me!! I inspected further; and sure enough, there was his first tooth: the right front bottom tooth. A day or so before this, David had told me that he thought Shav had a tooth; but I downplayed his comment, telling him that "no, Shav's too young to have a tooth." Boy, was I wrong; and the next day, I sheepishly told David that he was right: even though Shav was only four months old, he indeed had a tooth! That little discovery was a memorable way to end Thanksgiving 2009. :)

Prior to that, I had not noticed that Shav had been unusually fussy so I never once suspected that he might be teething. It wasn't too long after this that his other front bottom tooth came through the gum, so now he's got a beautiful shiny pair of teeth gleaming in his mouth. For once, one of my boys was actually EARLY in something! :)

Days 26, 27, 28, 29, & 30 - When I began the month of November by focusing on being grateful for various parts of my childhood, I was flooded with happy memories that I wanted to write about, many more than I actually had time to mention.

In November, I wanted to write about...

~ visiting Uncle Dan and Aunt Rosa Lee (actually, my great-uncle and great-aunt)...sitting quietly in their fancy living room while the adults visited, looking around at all the pretty fragile things in that room, glancing occasionally at the glass candy dish on the coffee table and eagerly waiting for Aunt Rosa Lee to encourage my brother David and I to have a piece

~ planning a family church service for the Sunday when we were at the beach on vacation...a time or two, we found a local congregation to join on that day; but most of the time, my parents let us have our own little service together...my brother David and I would be in charge of it, and we worked hard and thoughtfully to prepare the various parts of the service...we even made a handwritten program for it, decorated by David's colored pencil drawings of beach umbrellas and seagulls and such things

~ ways that I "helped" around the house when I was very young: handing Mother clothespins when she was hanging laundry on the line, standing on a kitchen chair by the sink to rinse the dishes, etc...rinsing the dishes was certainly a favorite job, MUCH better than the task of being the one to wash the dishes or dry them

~ playing Chinese checkers with my maternal grandparents...they were farmers and didn't take a whole lot of time for leisure, but this was one game that we played with them...such fun!

~ listening to the radio while we stayed at their house...they had a radio in their kitchen, and it was always tuned into WCRH...we listened to the news, weather, and various Christian programs...my favorites were the kids' programs, of course...Grandma knew when they would come on the air, and she would make sure we got to hear them if we were around

~ Grandma made a wonderful kind of homemade sausage, and I devoured it when we went to visit...she would bring out a little dish--white with blue flowers--full of thin slices of this sausage, and I would try to restrain myself from eating the whole bowl, but oh, I wanted it all!...it was good by itself or on bread with butter...I don't have any idea in the world how to make it, but thinking about this reminds me that I want to ask Mother about it...if she knows, I am definitely going to have to try it!

~ spending time at my paternal grandparents' home...they had a basement that was always a little (or a lot) scary to me, but there was some fun stuff down there, too--like a ping-pong table and some games...the most fun thing though was playing card games with Granddad...after his retirement from practicing medicine, he spent quite a bit of time playing card games: lots of Solitaire, but also Rummy when he could find someone to play with...he was glad to teach us how to play, and we had a lot of fun doing that

~ teachers that I have had that positively influenced me...here's just one silly memory connected with my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Warner...she had these cookies that she called Scream Cookies...whether that was really the name of the cookie or just her invention, I'm not sure...but every once in a while, she would take us to the back exit of the school building, we would stand outside, scream as loud as we could, and eat these cookies...now that I'm a homeschooling mother, I can understand why she needed to allow us to let off steam in this way! :)

~ times when I was sick...I'm not sure these really qualify as happy memories, but tonight I am inspired to write about these times because today, my own sweet Tobin got sick, awaking from his nap with vomit all over the place...he's vomited a number of times since then, and the diarrhea has set in, too...that means lots of mess, lots of laundry, a couple of baths, and the best part: lots of cuddles...anyway, my memories of being sick include waking up one night, feeling nauseated in my bed, trying to run as fast as I could so I could make it to the bathroom in time, and NOT succeeding...I spewed vomit all over the place near the doorway of my room...I particularly remember the light switch and the decorations I had nearby being covered in vomit...ugh...another time, one of my older siblings drove us to school (in our old burgundy and silver Suburban, I think); and just as I was climbing out of the back seat when we arrived at school, I couldn't hold it in any longer, but threw up in the car much to the chagrin of my grossed-out siblings...I think my mom was hastily called and had to drive over to pick me up and deal with the mess!...I distinctly remember having had eggs (scrambled, I think) and some kind of black bread for breakfast...to this day, I still don't like black bread!...another time, when I was a little older, I was having some kind of cough/breathing problem/respiratory issue...I remember Mother laying down in bed beside me, not a usual thing for her at all!, and I knew it was because she was worried about me and wanted to make sure I didn't stop breathing :)

~ my parents' waterbed...once in a great while, when my dad was gone overnight to a medical conference or a men's retreat, my mother would let me sleep in the waterbed with her...I thought waterbeds were the coolest thing ever and could hardly wait until I was old enough to have my own (which I never have had--does anyone have waterbeds anymore?)

~ speaking of medical conferences, I remember my parents returning from one that they went to together...they had saved the packages of peanuts (back in the days when airlines actually gave out peanuts) from their flights so they could give them to us...I was thrilled...it didn't take much to make me happy :)

~ my dad braiding my hair...I had long, long hair until I was eight years old; my sister cut it off one time when my parents were away...as a mom, I cannot imagine how my parents must have felt when they returned home to that!...but anyway, before that untimely haircut, my mother always parted my hair in the middle and braided it in two long braids...when she was away from home, my dad had to do it which I'm sure was not his favorite task...I'm also sure that my teacher at school could tell instantly when Mother was gone, just by one look at my braids :) ...oh, well, Dad knew a long time ago that he'd never have a career in hairdressing...my Uncle Jay helped him figure that one out :)

Oh, so many memories! So much love in my childhood! How blessed I am to have been born in the time and place and situation in which God placed me! How blessed I am, in turn, to have the opportunity of pouring out my love and affection on the four precious souls God has given to me!

Gratitude is a good way to end a year, so even though Tobin's sickness cancelled our plans to have dear friends over to see in the new year and even though I'll likely have interrupted sleep tonight and even though I might not get to go to the Harmonia Sacra sing tomorrow evening if Tobin's not feeling better and even though the sickness might spread to one of the other boys (or to myself or Jeff), still I remain conscious of the depth of the blessings that surround me. God has lavished me with His love; and this past year brought new evidence of that, particularly the indescribable gift of my son Shav.

Goodbye, 2009. Thanks for the many sweet memories!

Hello, 2010!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hungry for Something...

...quick?
...easy?
...cheap?
...nutritious?
AND
...delicious?

Have I got a recipe for you!

Curried Lentils fits all five of those descriptors; how can you go wrong with that? Plus, it uses ingredients I keep on hand, so no need for last-minute runs to the grocery store when I want to prepare this. This recipe comes from my mother's old copy of More-with-Less Cookbook, a true Mennonite classic.
Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes:
1 c. lentils
2 and 1/2 c. water
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt

Saute together:
1/4 c. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Add:
1-2 tbsp. curry powder

Fry briefly. Add to lentil mixture, along with:
2 tbsp. lemon juice
chopped parsley (I used a generous shake of dried)

Serve over rice. (I used jasmine rice, my new favorite kind of rice.)

I first made this recipe back in July, when we were waiting for Shav's birth; at the time, I was looking for simple recipes to make since I didn't have a lot of energy! Whether or not the cook feels energetic, this recipe will be a winner (if you like curry). :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As the Seasons Turn

Sunday a week ago, the day after our big snowfall, we bundled up after afternoon naps and went for a family drive. We went on back roads to see how much they had been cleared and to enjoy the scenery, and to me it almost felt like Christmas even though it was 5 days before the big day. It was just so relaxed and peaceful! We discovered that Bridgewater does better than other towns with clearing their roads, and we also learned that we would often drive past something and then think, "We should have taken a picture of that!" Walking would really have been better as far as capturing the photographs I wanted. It would have been a cold walk though. :)

Regardless, these are some of the photos that I liked best from all we took that day:

A farm not too far from here...
The sun was going down fairly early in our drive, and we were fighting against fading light the whole time...
Our beloved landmark, Mole Hill...
Dry River (not dry on this day though!)...
The moon above trees on a hillside; this was taken at Wildwood Park...
While we were there, a flock of geese happened to fly over. It was spectacular. During my first glance through the pictures I took that day, when I got to this photo, I thought, "This is The One. I was hoping to get at least one good picture during our drive, and this is it." The darkening sky, the geese, the sliver of moon, the tree branches - I love it in color...
And I love it in black and white... :)
I must be getting old because I get such a kick out of just driving around and looking at people's Christmas decorations. This pavilion by the river caught my eye...
As did the bit of snow on top of the fence post in front of the pavilion...
I really love the snow. I really, really, really love it!

********

As fall has given way to winter, I have pondered the unstoppable passing of time and the inescapable turning of the earth. In the past, I have sometimes dreaded winter; but not this year. I think now I'm more at peace with winter than I've been for quite a while, and I know one of the reasons for that: Josiah has the job of feeding the animals this year. It's silly, but knowing that I don't have to go outside in the cold to feed them makes me a much happier person. I can stay inside by the woodstove, nice and toasty warm; plus, I don't have to use my precious time when the little ones are napping to go outside to care for the animals. With Tobin and Shav awake and out of bed, I wouldn't be able to do the outside chores during that time; and it's a relief that I don't have to use "my" time for the animals. So I'm very grateful for Josiah. :)

Recently I came across a picture of Tobin that I never posted; this was taken this past summer when he got to play in the sandbox wearing his pajamas. :) He looks so young to me in this picture! It never ceases to amaze me how much temperature difference there is in this part of the world as we go from summer to winter and back again. Although I am thoroughly enjoying this season, I am also looking forward to the "sandbox days" when summer comes again!

Here are some other memories from this past summer:

~ during late spring and early summer, when we kept our windows open day and night, we would often be awakened in the early morning by birds singing...it was a beautiful noise, even though it was quite loud and perky for being so early!...it made me smile one morning when Jeff said, "We live in a bird's nest!"...it sure sounded like it :)

~ seeing wild rabbits became an everyday thing for us...there was a black one that we often spotted which may have been the black one that escaped from our pen a while back, or may have been the offspring of that black one...we also saw the native cottontail rabbits quite often; and sometimes the little ones would freeze as we approached and blend into the ground so much that we would get very close to them before we could even see them...then they would run off to safety...I'm not sure if there were several rabbit families sharing our property or if there was only one family...if it was one, it tended to move around a lot because we would see them under the lilac bushes behind the house, near the pine trees beside the neighbor's lane, under the blue spruce in the front of the house, etc...I know in some places, rabbits are pests; but here, I was glad to see them :)

~ another interesting thing we saw this past summer was deer...we were looking east from our porch across the Beery's pasture and saw three or so deer by the edge of the forest...I had heard that deer were in that forest but was skeptical because of how small the wood lot is...now I'm a believer :)

~ as far as domestic animals go, we had five sheep, which dwindled to three sheep when the babies died (not at the same time...our farmer friend wasn't surprised since they were weak to begin with...I guess some kind of infection killed them)...that number further dwindled when Jeff and our friend Jim butchered one of the sheep...later, Jim took one of the sheep to his farm...now we're down to one sheep in our pasture...but it's not alone: our dogs Molly and Jasper keep it company, and we also have two goats in the pasture now...we were very grateful for our four-legged lawnmowers this past summer!

~ Jeff got us some new chickens...a few died after a while (maybe the old ones, but I didn't keep track)...I think we now have nine hens (more or less) and one beautiful rooster whose crowing delights Tobin who responds with a hearty "Cock-a-ooooo!"

On to the less attractive animals:

~ once when Jeff was cleaning out the chicken coop, he lifted it up and discovered mice underneath...there were lots and lots of mice burrows and lots and lots of baby mice...as interesting as it was to see that, I wasn't thrilled!...I guess the mice weren't bothered in the least by the stinky smell of chicken poop in the hot summer sun

~ neither were the flies bothered by that smell...we had flies in abundance this past year, but not only us...I heard from numerous people around here that this was one of the worst years for flies in recent memory

~ of course, we had ants...they certainly are good incentive for me to completely clean up my kitchen before bedtime because if I don't, they march in and take over the place...we haven't had any for months--one of the true advantages of living in a place that gets cold weather--but I know they'll be back next summer

~ besides the snake encounter that I wrote about back in September, we also had a few instances of finding snakeskins...once when he was grilling, Jeff discovered one on the bottom part of the grill...and in the woodshed, my mom found one there...those things give me the heebie-jeebies!...I know it's just a skin, but it still makes my heart race

As I sit here on this cold winter's night, I'll say a prayer of thanks that it's been months since I've seen a mouse, fly, ant, or snake...and it likely will be months until I'll see one again. That is cause for rejoicing! :)

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Baby's First Christmas...

...is not a big deal to a baby.

...IS a big deal to that baby's mommy. Especially when she pauses to consider the fact that a year ago, that baby was still a tiny (so tiny!) being inside her. Last Christmas, she rejoiced in the closeness she shared with that baby as he (but she didn't know it was a "he"!) nestled inside her womb; this Christmas, she rejoiced in the view of his beautiful smiling face and the knowledge of who he is.

On this baby's first Christmas, he happily hung out with Grandpa while the gifts were exchanged.
He didn't really need anything and couldn't have cared less if anybody gave him a gift or not, but he smiled anyway when Mommy gave him a little gift bag with two new bibs inside. Who can resist the appeal of a monkey-face bib that says "Dinner's on Me"? Or the one (not pictured) that says, "I love my daddy"?
And who can resist the special joy that comes from celebrating Christmas with a child? Especially this particular child...who, I might add, seems to have decided that sleeping through the night is acceptable once again. Waking up this morning to the sound of him fussing and seeing 6:45 AM on the clock, rather than 2:00 or 3:00 AM, was delightful. :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas, Honestly

Sally, who is a dear, encouraging friend, commented on my last post about how my Christmas has been "relaxed and wonderful." By her remark, she unknowingly pushed me to write this post that I've been mulling over for quite a few days: the other side of my Christmas, so to speak.

But first, a quick run-down of our celebration, and then a few pictures...

Christmas Eve - we went to a candlelight service at our church, came home, let the older boys open one gift each, then finally settled them down for their "camp-out" that I've already mentioned

Christmas Day - my parents came up the hill, Jeff read the last chapter of Jotham's Journey (this book was a huge hit this year; we'll definitely get one of the other books in this series for next year's Advent season), we opened gifts, then got busy preparing for our guests...we broke with tradition and had an Italian feast...our friend Kevin, the painter, joined us for lunch, as did Misty & family...eight kids in the house made for a lively, joyous, loud celebration and quite a full house...I wouldn't have wanted it any other way

Misty came with her camera and blessed us by emailing us last night with a few pictures that she took; I was thrilled! :)

Josiah looks so grown-up to me...

David waiting for lunch...if Tobin's classic pose is left thumb in mouth, right hand at bellybutton, David's classic pose is left thumb in mouth, right hand holding the cuff of his left sleeve...he used to do this as a young toddler, and it takes me back in time to see him still doing it...this boy loves to feel things, and soft materials are very appealing to him...

I adore this picture of Tobin...boys in sweaters are the cutest things...

Shav thought napping in his cradle was for the birds...with all these people around, surely someone could hold him, right?...well, yes, of course, someone could...even though you can't tell, Shav is being held by Chris, Misty's husband, in this picture...Shav got passed around a lot, but no one seemed to mind...

Shav also was entertained by watching all the other children...here, Houston, the second child of Chris and Misty, gets big grins from Shav...

And my favorite picture of all... :)
Thank you, Misty, for these; they are treasures!!

Now, back to Sally's comment... In my blog, I try to paint a fairly honest picture of life in the Fisher household. I don't want to be guilty of sugar-coating everything and pretending like everything is always great and our boys get along so well all the time and I never have huge piles of laundry or rampant dust bunnies under the couches and I'm always so sweet and patient and grateful for my current life situation. But neither do I want to focus on the negative things in life and allow this blog to turn into an emotional landfill--just a place to dump the mental garbage that accumulates as I go through my days. Finding the balance is tough, and I've admitted that before. In each day, there are joys and hardships; and what I choose to focus on is what determines the overall flavor of that day in particular and my life in general. Philippians 4:8 often comes to mind when I try to figure out how to approach the blog.

Nine days ago, I revealed in a post that I was going through a time of deep thoughts and difficult decisions; and as I continued in that mode, I chose to keep the blog light: posting about the snow, a recipe, some videos, pictures of the boys, a story I found on someone else's site, etc. Nothing too heavy, nothing too raw. I needed to do that at the time; but on this night, I can write more freely about what has been going on behind the scenes.

This has been a very difficult Christmas for me, and tears have often been close to the surface. Three factors--grief, stress, and fatigue--have combined to form a very ugly trio that has been hounding me incessantly for the past week and a half--actually, a little longer. The fatigue is easy to understand: with Shav's recent inability to sleep through the night, and with extra time pressures on me having to do with Christmas obligations, I haven't been getting a whole lot of sleep. Staying up until midnight or 1:00 AM every night, only to be awakened an hour or two later by a baby in need of soothing, doesn't do much to make a woman feel well-rested! So fatigue was a factor.

Stress was also high, as it is for so many people during this season of the year. Even though I consciously tried to simplify my activities and reduce the expectations I placed upon myself, I still managed to place myself in a position of attempting to juggle more balls than I successfully could. Besides regular household and family obligations (which often feel like more than enough to keep in the air at one time), there were two additional things that I felt very stressed by. One is silly: it was wrapping the gifts for the boys. Even though I knew better, I ended up procrastinating in that area; and by Christmas Eve I had not wrapped ANY of our gifts for the boys. So while the boys were having a calm, bright, joyful, memory-making time in the living room, I was sequestered in my room, pulling gifts out of my closet, figuring out what was for who, stuffing them in gift bags (more than ever, I LOVE gift bags! they saved me so much time), covering them with tissue paper, and labeling them--all the while, knowing that in less than 12 hours, the gifts would be opened and no one would care how the wrapping looked. It actually only took an hour and half to wrap everything, but still--that wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my time from 11:00 PM on Christmas Eve until 12:30 AM on Christmas Day. Oh well, you do what you have to. In any case, in the days leading up to Christmas, I felt this pressure on me, knowing that in the abyss of my closet were gifts that would need to be brought out and wrapped to contribute to the joy of my boys on Christmas.

The other thing that added stress to my life--and this is undoubtedly more important than wrapping gifts--was planning our church's Christmas Eve service. I still remember volunteering during a Worship Committee meeting...sure, I could plan the service! I actually really enjoy doing things like that; I get inspired as ideas for music and stories and ways to weave it together and people to involve start flowing through my mind. But even as I volunteered, I thought, "Davene, what are you doing? Are you sure you should take this on?" I always forget that the hard, time-consuming part is not the initial planning--that is usually a time of fun, energizing brain-storming--but the hard part comes with the myriad of details that need to be attended to, many of them at the last minute. Even the morning of Christmas Eve itself was spent dealing with various tasks for the service: communicating with someone about the PowerPoint that was acting up in strange ways, making sure the candlelighter knew his role, sending an email to someone to let them know that someone else was playing a song in the prelude, checking about who was dimming the lights at a certain point in the service, etc. None of these by itself are huge time-consuming things. Put them together, however, and it all adds up to STRESS.

The third part of this triumvirate that was seeking to rule my mind and destroy my peace was grief. Why grief? Because during this time, Jeff and I came to the very hard decision to leave our church and look for another fellowship. This isn't the proper forum for going into all the details; but in short, it became obvious that our convictions, values, and priorities on a number of issues were significantly different than those of the leadership, and it seemed extremely ineffective to keep pounding square pegs (ourselves) into round holes (the church). I've heard from several people who have left churches in the past, and they say, "It feels like a divorce." Although I thankfully don't know what a divorce feels like from personal experience, I can definitely relate to the sense of tearing and ripping that is happening as we separate and go our own way. It is hard. Very, very hard. We have made beloved friends at our church, we have loved and been loved, we have created beautiful memories, our boys have enjoyed so much their time there, we have dedicated two of our sons there, we have been supported and encouraged in so many ways by various members of the congregation, we have been healed of some scars inflicted by another church situation there, we have learned and grown in areas in which we needed to be spurred on...and we are grateful. But we believe that God is making it very clear that the time has come to move on. But ouch! My heart aches, not only for myself, but for those we are hurting in the process. I hate to inflict pain on others; I hate for others to suffer or be inconvenienced by the decisions we make.

When I think about these three factors--grief, stress, and fatigue--I think that the only one that is big and important is the grief about leaving our church. But during these past weeks, I could see very clearly that these three were ganging up on me, and each one contributed to the others seeming HUGE. By itself, a bit of temporary sleep deprivation shouldn't drive me to tears. Combine it with stress and grief, and it did. By itself, the thought of wrapping Christmas gifts shouldn't feel like a gigantic, insurmountable task. Combine it with fatigue and grief, and it did. By itself, the plans for a Christmas Eve service shouldn't be so daunting. Combine it with the grief of knowing that this would be one of our last times with this congregation and that I would need to stand in the circle at the end of the service, holding my candle, having lit it from the candle of a congregation member to my left and passing it on to someone on my right, looking around at the precious faces of people I truly love, remembering moments of connection with them, and all the while trying to lead some Christmas carols with tears pushing at my eyelids and a huge lump in my throat... No wonder the service felt daunting.

During this time, I coped in several ways:
~ I had a few people who were sounding boards for me.
~ I reminded myself that there was a definite end point for all of this. The stress, in particular, would come to an end once the Christmas Eve service was over, the gifts were wrapped, and night fell on Christmas Day. I knew I could relax then.
~ In my family, we tend to have our big family Christmas on a day other than Christmas itself; and in fact, this year, we won't have that gathering until January 3. That takes a lot of stress off Christmas Day; and it also frees us up to host a variety of other people on that day, something we've done from the time we lived in California through our time in Israel and now here. I really love this part of our Christmas celebration. The combination of guests is always unique, and it brings a different flavor to the day. In recent years, we've only had small gatherings; but in both California and Israel, we hosted some groups that were quite large. I could do a whole post on that, but not tonight...
~ As I was kicking myself for being so stupid as to procrastinate on gift-wrapping and as I was wishing that my Christmas Eve was filled with relaxation and serenity instead of last-minute hustle and bustle, the thought came to my mind that on the first Christmas, Mary worked. I can't imagine how her labor and delivery was, but even if she was blessed with a pain-free delivery, I'm sure she had to work at it. Maybe the whole idea of "silent night...all is calm and bright" is a fallacy. :)
~ And on the blog, I kept it light, thus leading to Sally's impression that my Christmas was "relaxed and wonderful." :)

Looking back, I can firmly say that there have been some very wonderful aspects of this Christmas; but much of it has not been easy. I hope to grow from this...but I also hope to never have another Christmas quite like this one!! :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Eve Camp-out...

...was a success. I think it just might be the start of a new family tradition; and next year, I hope to be sleeping on one of the couches by the Christmas tree, rather than in my bed listening for Shav to wake and cry in the night (which he did at 5:44 AM last night--not that I'm keeping track or anything).

After Josiah and David settled down and fell asleep, I couldn't resist tiptoeing downstairs and snapping a picture. These precious sleeping faces...sigh...I love them.
This morning, Tobin (who slept in his own crib last night) had to check out the sleeping bags in the living room. Cutie pie. Maybe next year he'll be old enough to be "camping out" on Christmas Eve, too. :)
It's been a good day. A very good day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

All Is Calm, All Is Bright...

...and two happy little boys who each got to open one gift tonight are enjoying the chance to have a camp-out in the living room by the Christmas tree, complete with sleeping bags, a cozy fire in the woodstove, and a snoring daddy on the couch.
Christmas Eve is beautiful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tobin at (Almost) Two

In just a few weeks, Tobin will celebrate his second birthday, so, in honor of the occasion, here are some things about him which I've taken particular notice of recently.

These days you might find Tobin...

...trying on someone's--anyone's!--socks or shoes that were left lying around...or tugging at Grandma's feet in her bright pink wool slippers that she carries up to our house to wear after she takes off her boots; he pulls at them until she takes them off and lets him slip them on his feet.

...opening the cereal cupboard, getting out a box of cereal, then plopping down to have a snack of Cracklin' Oat Bran until he's discovered and chided with a "Tobin, it's not time to eat cereal; we're going to eat supper when Daddy gets home, and you need to wait until then."

...walking around and around in a circle on the braided rug in our living room, making engine (I guess) noises all the while, until he plops down, looks up at us, and grins, waiting for our reaction.

...trying to push the buttons on the cell phone that Grandpa always wears at his waist.

...leaving a trail of scattered things behind him as he moves around the house, exploring various areas and playing briefly with the things he encounters. If we're on the main level, his trail might include a metal colander from the pan cupboard, two plastic bowls that he's gotten from the plastics cupboard and set on the table, a stack of blue lids from that same cupboard that he's inexplicably decided to place on the little couch in the living room, our big Texas cup and lid from another cupboard, a book about castles and one about dinosaurs from the bookshelf in the kitchen, some mittens that were drying on the hearth by the woodstove, a warm cap from the basket on the floor of the closet, a McDonald's toy that he got from the toy "junk" drawer that he can just barely reach into when he stretches as high as he can go, and an empty butter box that he saw me put into the trashcan for kindling but he decided it would be more fun to pull it out and play with it instead. If we're upstairs, you might find in his wake some socks from David's dresser that Tobin got out and tried on, a stethoscope from the toy medical kit in the little
cabinet between Josiah and David's beds, a sleeping bag that Tobin pulled off the little rocking chair in the hallway, a Winnie the Pooh book in Hebrew from the shelves in the hall, 50 puzzle pieces from a Golden Retriever puzzle that he found and was successful in opening the box to scatter everywhere, two packs of tissues with Snoopy on them from the bottom drawer in the bathroom cabinet, a Q-Tip (partially used) that he found in the second drawer and used to clean his own ears, the trains James and Molly from the train table in his room, a stuffed black bear and a stuffed turquoise unicorn and a stuffed caterpillar from on top of the antique trunk in his room, a few diapers from Shav's room, and on his feet, Daddy's brown shoes. Tobin doesn't cover his tracks very well--not at all, in fact. It's obvious when he's swept through a room--all the stuff on the floor! I sometimes feel like I could have a full-time job just going behind him and putting away the things that he pulls out.

...getting close to his baby brother while Shav is in the bouncy seat, pointing to Shav's nose and then to his own nose and then to the nose of everyone else who happens to be in close proximity. Repeat with eyes. Repeat with ears, etc. Sometimes you might catch Tobin trying to get into the bouncy seat while Shav is in it.

...walking as fast as he can when he hears a wrestle/tickle fest beginning in the living room between Jeff and the older boys. Tobin doesn't want to be left out.

...doing EXACTLY what he sees David doing, especially while seated at the table, since they face each other there.

...sneaking into the downstairs bathroom if someone leaves the door open, pulling out the bottom drawer, and playing with various band-aids, bandages, knee and ankle braces, etc. that he finds there.

...tilting his head to the side at an endearing angle, looking up, and saying his trademark "eh?" (or "enh?" or "ehn?" or something like that...it's a noise that I find difficult to transcribe, but it's definitely his everything sound...Josiah's was "doe" and David's was "adda")

...taking dust jackets off any books he can get his hands on.

...coming to me, holding his arms up, grabbing my legs at knee-level, and whimpering to be picked up. This usually happens when I'm hurrying to get supper ready and think that I don't have time to pick him up. Tobin is not easily deterred, and he helps me realize that I really do have time to hold him (especially when the alternative is listening to him screech).

...pointing excitedly towards the pasture when he hears one of our dogs, and echoing them with his own version of "ruff ruff." Saying this involves his whole body, as he tenses all his muscles, sways a little, and pushes the sound out of his mouth as if it takes a great deal of effort to produce it.

...seizing the opportunity when Josiah is lying on the floor to go over to him, lift his shirt, find his bellybutton, and poke it. Or if Josiah is sitting down, Tobin goes to him and plops down--unannounced, uninvited, but laughingly tolerated--on Josiah's lap.

...coming over to us when we're sitting on the couch, trying to get up on it to join us, and grunting for help. He really can get up by himself, but acts like he can't and needs help. My "help" usually consists of grabbing hold of his pants at the back of the waist and swinging the lower half of his body up onto the couch by his britches!

...getting excited when someone mentions the word "vitamins." He rushes into the kitchen, begins to gesture wildly, and isn't satisfied until I give him a gummy multi-vitamin and a hard, orange-flavored vitamin C. One day recently he "stole" an extra vitamin C off David's plate which led to David getting a "huffy" attitude and me reassuring him that it really wasn't a big deal and we had plenty more.

...trying to feed himself with a spoon, which often leads to a big mess, but will someday lead to him actually being an independent eater.

...happily, carefully, and successfully climbing the steps when someone is behind him and gives him permission to do so.

...resisting all attempts at helping him back down the steps on foot. He must be carried.

...pausing in his busy toddler activities to sit on the bottom step of the steps that lead upstairs, sucking his thumb and watching what's going on around him.

...hurrying to the gate at the top of the stairs as soon as he hears Jeff's Jeep and waiting there for his daddy.

...saying new words almost every day. Some recent ones: spoon, stuck, cockadoodledoo, cheek. Some not-so-recent ones: milk, bath, nose, Grandma/Grandpa (I haven't differentiated his sounds yet for these).

...shaking or nodding his head when questions asked of him can be answered with a simple yes or no.

...surprising us with his comprehension. Though his vocabulary is still quite limited, he seems to understand everything. Everything!

...wanting to do what his big brothers do. He is a skillful copycat.

...letting out a scream that could rouse the unconscious when he doesn't get his way.

...putting his head down on a pillow pulled off the couch onto the floor, sucking his thumb, and revealing his tiredness.

...waving bye-bye when prompted--and sometimes without being prompted. He does this not only to people, but also to the book beside the place on the bed where I change him and to his toothbrush in the bathroom.

...reluctantly allowing me to brush his teeth.

...hunching up his shoulders, sort of squishing his face, and laughing in a "aren't I adorable?" pose.

Why, yes, my boy, you are. You are absolutely adorable!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Even Though...

...Shav apparently thinks that sleeping through the night is so...so...so like a four month old--and not appropriate now that he's five months!

Even though he's been waking multiple times in the night...

Even though I feel like I just brought a newborn home from the hospital as I try to help him lengthen the time between wakings...

Even though I grow more and more exhausted...

Even though I had really gotten spoiled by how good a sleeper he was and am now feeling with extra intensity the punishing effects of sleep deprivation...

Still I love him dearly and cherish the incredible gift that he is to our family.
My littlest snowman, I'm crazy about you!!

And now I'm going to go lie down and try to catch a few winks before he wakes up. Doesn't that sound like something I would have written just a few months ago??

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Was Craving...

...my mom's Pineapple-Cherry Crisp. So I borrowed her recipe and made it today; and boy, is it yummy! Just the thing for a cold Sunday evening in (almost) winter!

Here is the recipe:

1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple
2 pints frozen sour cherries (or canned)
5 tbsp. tapioca
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. sugar

Cook all five ingredients until clear, stirring constantly. Cool.

1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 c. oats
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. melted butter

Sift flour and baking soda. Mix in oats, brown sugar, and butter. Place half of oats mixture in a greased 9x13 dish; pour pineapple-cherry mixture over it; top with rest of oats mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Pineapple-Cherry Crisp wasn't the only treat enjoyed by us today. Some of the younger members of our tribe thought it was great fun to suck on icicles while they were outside playing this morning. I don't know about their logic: you're out in the snow, freezing a little bit to begin with, and then you choose to put something frozen in your mouth?? Doesn't make much sense to me. :)
Obviously, they enjoyed it; and David was kind enough to share his icicle with our little red snowman, Tobin Bear.
It's hard to see in this picture, but the sunshine reflecting off the snow makes Josiah's freckles pop out. I love them.
The icicles came from the roof of my dad's office, the whole edge of which was lined with these menacing-looking things. Dad had to duck to go into the door, or he might have been pierced by one of them. Talk about a workplace hazard! It was a dangerous commute for him, that's for sure. :)
Dad said when I took this photo, "You don't really have to put this picture on the blog." Oh, yes, I do, dear Dad! After all, I'm sure your sister in Chicago will be glad to catch a glimpse of you here, especially since you're modeling your new boots--the ones you had to go to Walmart in the middle of a snowstorm to get. So much for "always be prepared!" Your old pair will likely turn up someday, probably in the middle of a heatwave next July. ;)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Invisible

While nursing Shav today, I was skipping around various blogs, clicking on links that looked interesting, seeing where they would take me. I discovered the following story; and as I read it, I realized that it was no accident that I found this today. It was exactly what I needed to renew my sense of purpose as a mom and to remind me to continue to pour myself out--with a sweet, cheerful attitude (isn't that the hard part?)--for my children.

I got this story from Creative Bible Study; and on that site, there is a link to an interview with Nicole Johnson, the author of the story.

********

It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him, 'Who is that with you, young fella?' 'Nobody,' he shrugged. Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we crossed the street I thought, 'Oh my goodness, nobody?'

I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to my family - like 'Turn the TV down, please' - and nothing would happen. Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, 'Would someone turn the TV down?' Nothing.

Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We'd been there for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the conversation, I whispered, 'I'm ready to go when you are.' He just kept right on talking.

That's when I started to put all the pieces together. I don't think he can see me. I don't think anyone can see me.

I'm invisible. It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.' I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She's going... she's going... she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.'

That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'You're gonna love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

********

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

~ Colossians 3:23-24

May I embrace invisibility!

Friday, December 18, 2009

We've Waited Years for This

Ever since we knew we would be moving back to my home area, we looked forward to snow; and each year we've gotten a little and have enjoyed it...but The Big Snow has been elusive for the past five years despite the wishes of the little boys who live here and hope desperately for it every winter.

But now, right now, outside my window, it's snowing; and this--unbelievably--might be The Big Snow for which we've been waiting.

I hope, when we wake up tomorrow, it's still snowing.
I hope it snows all day.
I hope it meets the expectations of my two oldest children who went to bed tonight dreaming of the fun they'll have in the morning.
I hope the neighbor girls are around to play with my boys.
I hope I get to go outside and play in it, too.
I hope Jeff makes it to work and back safely tomorrow.
I hope he gets to come home early.
I hope I treasure every bit of this fleeting beauty.
I hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next Big Snow.
God's voice thunders in marvelous ways;
He does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, "Fall on the earth"...
~ Job 37:5-6a

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Super(ficial)

How do you deal with your blog when you're in the middle of a very "weighty" time: pondering deep thoughts, feeling torn, making difficult decisions, etc.? Do you clam up and ignore the fact that you even have a blog, while all your extra brain power goes toward the dilemma at hand? Do you pour forth your heart on the blog? Or do you just get shallow?

I'm choosing option C.

There's a lot going on right now, and my heart is heavy. But I'm going to push all that aside and just post these short videos tonight. These are videos of things that have made me smile recently; and even though compared to what's really on my mind these days, these are superficial, they are also just super in my eyes.

This was Josiah's first ever violin performance (this past Saturday at our children's museum). He is so serious and careful with his playing, and I'm so proud of him...

video

This afternoon, Shav was watching David play a baseball game and swing the bat around, and Shav laughed and laughed at him. Absolutely delightful to hear his laughter...
video

Tobin "helped" me set up the nativity set this evening. I told Josiah and David that on other days, they could rearrange the figures how they wanted; but for tonight, Tobin would be in charge of them. I love how enthusiastic Tobin was about it. I also love how effectively he communicates through nodding yes and shaking his head no; I can't remember that either Josiah or David used that method of communication quite as much as Tobin does. Right at the beginning of this video, Tobin nods his head in answer to my first question; and it's just such a Tobin thing to do that it makes me smile...
video

While Josiah was practicing violin tonight, David got out these attachments to our "new" vacuum and started copying his big brother. All Suzuki violin students and parents will recognize what "Mississippi Hotdog" is... :)
video

I am so blessed to be the mama in this family, and I could never thank God enough for the dear ones He's placed around me!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Curious?

Did you figure them all out yet? :)

Here are the answers to the Name That Christmas-Time Tune game I posted a few days ago.

1. 12 Days of Christmas

2. Joy to the World

3. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

4. O Little Town of Bethlehem

5. Little Drummer Boy

6. O Come, All Ye Faithful

7. I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

8. Away in a Manger

9. What Child Is This

10. The First Noel

11. Walking in a Winter Wonderland

12. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

13. Silent Night, Holy Night

14. I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In

15. All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

16. Go, Tell It on the Mountain

17. Once in Royal David's City

18. Do You Hear What I Hear?

19. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

20. Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

21. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

22. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

23. Angels We Have Heard on High

24. Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock

25. The Nutcracker Suite

I eat up this kind of stuff, and wish there had been twice as many questions. :) The night we first played this at a dinner, I got all but two questions right. #11 and #25 both stumped me - the answer to the former felt like it was right on the tip of my tongue but I couldn't get it out, but I didn't have a clue about the latter! Jeff actually came up with "Nutcracker," and after that, it wasn't hard for me to chime in with "Suite," but without his help, I'd probably still be scratching my head about that one. My favorites are #13 (knight/night - I love that twist) and #21 (Rude Dolf - how funny!).

OK, enough frivolity. I'd better go wrap a Christmas gift or something...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jolly

Tis the season to be jolly! Thus says the carol, and so shall we be!

In the spirit of jolliness, we played a game at a recent church dinner. The game, provided by our pastor Gordon Zook, was just the sort of thing I relish, particularly since it concerns two of the things I love: music and words. I want to keep a copy of this game, but do NOT want another piece of paper lying around. The solution? Put it on the blog. :)

Name That Christmas-Time Tune

1. Two hundred eighty-eight Yuletide hours.

2. Proclamation of ecstatic emotion for this planet.

3. Thrice I implore, don't impede the crystallized precipitation.

4. Minuscule hamlet south of Jerusalem, known as "House of Bread."

5. The lad, the diminutive percussionist.

6. Assemble, everyone who is loyal.

7. Fantasia of a colorless Dec. 25.

8. Far back in the hay feeder.

9. Identify the juvenile present here.

10. #1 ABCDEFGHIJK_MNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.

11. Perambulating through magical realms of the December solstice.

12. Listen, the winged heavenly messengers are proclaiming tunefully.

13. Speechless Sir Lancelot, sanctified Sir Reginald.

14. I envisioned a triad of nautical vessels arriving.

15. Present me naught but dual incisors for this Yuletide festival.

16. Depart and broadcast from an elevated peak.

17. At a particular time in blue-blooded Davy's capitol.

18. Dost thou perceive the same stimulus that excites my auditory organs?

19. As the guardians of woolly animals protected their charges after dusk.

20. Behold, the aspects of tightly gathered petals as they open continuously.

21. Unmannerly Dolf, crimson beaked draft critter.

22. The arrival was a smogless event, twixt evening and morning.

23. Our audio sensors detected top level celestial messengers.

24. Boulder featuring rhythmic tintinnabulating hollow metallic sounding instruments in triplicate.

25. Psychiatrist's office or apartment.

Answers to be revealed in a few days... ;)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Firsts

For the first time, I have consciously decided not to send out Christmas cards this year. This is HUGE for me! I invariably have grand intentions, starting in July or so, to be super organized and start the Christmas letter/family photo process extremely early so that they'll be done and sent well before Christmas arrives. I invariably end up sending them late, sometimes in January, sometimes several months later. I invariably start with the beginning of my alphabetical list, resulting in our friends with "A" last names hearing from us every year, but our "Z" friends rarely receiving anything from us. I invariably feel the stress of reality not meeting up to my expectations, and it eats away at me.

But not this year. I've come to the conclusion that it's not worth it--that simplifying my life, especially in this prone-to-crazy-stress month of December, is far more important than sending Christmas greetings. Besides, so many people have access to our lives through this blog and Facebook (Jeff's, not mine, because I'm apparently one of the few people left on the planet who doesn't do Facebook) that it's not as if a Christmas picture and family update is the only way they ever find out what's going on with us.

I had reached this decision some time ago; but now my resolve is being tested because as I sort through our mail and open envelopes with beautiful family pictures and wonderfully newsy Christmas letters, I wish that somehow I had been able to do that this year. I miss it: NOT the stress of it all, but the finished product. Sigh.

Maybe I'll have my act together in time to send Easter letters. ;)

********

For the first time, a stranger asked me as I walked down the sidewalk with my boys, "Are they all yours?" Getting comments about the size of our family is nothing new, but I don't remember that particular question ever being asked of me before. Of course they're all mine! Is it really such a surprise that I would have four children? I'm sure the person asking it wasn't intending to be mean or rude, and I wasn't offended--just surprised, I guess, that with only four children, I would be asked that. I wonder how the mothers of truly large families manage to stay gracious when asked all sorts of questions by curious strangers!