Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Write for a magazine
Design and present a workshop
Make scones from scratch

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My resolutions for 2009 were 1) practice reading with Lucy 15 minutes a day and 2) try one new recipe every week. Lucy really took off on reading at her own pace, though we did practice quite a bit together last winter. I gave up on the one new recipe a week idea early on and wrote about it here. We like our old recipes. Though I occasionally try something new…

My resolutions for 2010 are: 1) keep a log of every book I read, 2) organize the closet in our little library. It’s a total dumping ground right now, but it has built-in shelves that will be great to store more books. 3) I'm going to start gardening.

3. What places did you visit?

We went to Mackinac Island in June, Door County in both July and October, and Memphis in September.

4. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

More organization (consistently) and more ministry opportunities

5. What days from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Certainly some sad days—discovering my mom’s diagnosis and being with her in the hospital. But also some really happy days—one day in May when she felt great and was able to walk all around her neighborhood: there were violets everywhere, and their perfume filled the air. Seder night. Lucy’s kindergarten graduation. My cousin Joseph coming to visit and celebrating our 40th birthdays together. Pool party with the girls at Aunt Julie’s. Hanging out in Door County with our best friends. Having Julie Kittredge take our pictures. Having lunch with Barbara and Julie and my mom. Elaine finally turning 4 after she’d waited for so long.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Discovering joy in (almost) all circumstances. Doing the assessment workshops with Jennie.

7. What was your biggest failure?

Worrying too much. Wasting time.

8. What was your biggest wake-up call?

Darren and I went through the parenting series by Ted Tripp, "Shepherding a Child's Heart." Upfront I will say, there were a number of things with which I disagreed in the series. But there were also many great lessons to learn. The one that was most convicting to me was when he talked about the verse from Proverbs "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." He said the verse is a word picture of an out-of-control person, swinging a sword around a crowded room. There are so many times in my family life, at home, that I'm stressed or worried or grouchy--and I just let my words fly. Now I've got that picture of a madman, waving a sword: at the very people I love the most. A huge wake-up call for me.

9. What was the best thing you bought?

We bought some new chairs for our living room at the end of the year. Our old ones had lived a good, long life and survived two children’s wear and tear as well as being chewed on by dogs. Time for something new.

10. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Harriet Riesen wrote a great new biography of Louisa May Alcott. And Hugh Jackman stopped a performance of a play to snark on some guy for not turning off his cell phone. That’s behavior I celebrate.

11. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Some people on facebook (I won’t elaborate). Customers in stores at Christmas time. Pretty much every single person in politics. Anyone who sends me chain emails.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Taxes. Tuition.

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Writing about Beth Moore. The deluxe version of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Buying $155 jeans for $2. Those answers seem really shallow. Hmmm. I get really excited about hearing my girls play together and giggle non-stop (except when they're fighting). They have such a great friendship that I hope will last them their whole lives.

14. What song will always remind you of 2009?

I have to pick a whole album—Chris Botti in Boston. Darren and I listened to it so many times we’ll probably need a new copy in 2010.

15. What do you wish you’d done more of?


16. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Wasting time on my computer.

17. What was your favorite TV program?

Masterpiece—Classic/Mystery/Contemporary. The Mentalist. Castle.

18. What was your favorite film of this year?

2009 was a banner year for me and movies. I saw two! In the theater! I liked both of them, but my favorite was the newest Harry Potter one.

19. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

This year was the big 4-0. I had a low-key celebration with my family on the actual day. I celebrated quite a few times with other friends who also turned 40.

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

Jeans. Chinese clothes. More jewelry. Flip-flops.

21. What kept you sane?

Music, more than anything else. In the past several years, I’ve listened to a lot of sermons online and have really grown that way. Somehow though, when you feel really broken like I have this year, music is the only thing that gets through.

Laughing and friends have also kept me sane, especially Tuesday mornings at Meg's Daily Grind with Sarah.

22. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Charlie Sheen. JUST KIDDING. How that man gets women to marry him, I’ll never know. I can’t think of anybody, really. I sort of view celebrities as monkeys: entertain me, please.

23. What is a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009?

I learned to take some big risks—to try and work around my introverted personality, which has been even more introverted this year. But by getting out of my comfort areas, meeting new people and talking to them, I’ve gotten some great opportunities I never would have had before.

24. What is a valuable spiritual lesson you learned in 2009?

Off and on this year I’ve been working through the life of John. I’ve learned so much about him that I completely relate to. I finally understood why he always referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved”—because he, more than anyone else, was given Divine understanding of how much he is truly loved by God. Then he communicated it to the rest of us in his gospel, his letters, and his revelations. You can get lost in God’s love, just by studying John’s writings. I hope to do more of that this year.

25. What are you most proud of from 2009?

Well, I can't really take credit and be proud of this, but basically: that we survived. It was a really difficult year--with losing my job, starting my own freelance business, finding out my mom has terminal cancer, Darren's had some health issues, and a lot more I haven't blogged about. It seems like we were hit on every front, but we didn't go under. Friends everywhere have prayed for us. The girls are happy and normal, we're planning to celebrate our 15th anniversary in 2010, and we grew closer to God and each other. We have a lot of hope for the future--even though we already know this year will be difficult as well.

I'm also proud that so far I've avoided all things having to do with Twilight.

26. What are your goals for 2010?

I want to find more opportunities for ministry. My friend Alysa inspires me in that way. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by my own life that I miss chances to reach out to others. I want to do more reaching out this year.

27. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

This pretty much says it for me:

But in my mind's eye I can see a place
Where Your glory fills every empty space
All the cancer is gone
Every mouth is fed
And there's no one left in the orphans' bed
Every lonely heart finds their one true love
And there's no more goodbye
And no more not enough
And there's no more enemy
No more

From “Heaven is the Face” by Steven Curtis Chapman

Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Programs 2009

Last Thursday was Christmas program day. First was Elaine's pre-school program at 10 a.m. My mom and dad came and stayed for the day.

Here's Elaine and her class coming in with their jingle bells. Next to her is her best buddy, Aubrey (who has great hair).

The class did poems and songs and ended with "This Little Light of Mine."

Afterward, each child gave his or her family a card made in class and an ornament. Then we shared a piece of cake and some punch.

When we came home, my mom went to bed for the rest of the day because she was completely wiped out.

Then Lucy's program started at 6:30. Grades K-5 did Celeste Clydesdale's "The Best Christmas Present Ever."

Those kids did an awesome job. I wish Darren had gotten a shot of the whole stage because it was filled with several hundred kids, singing their hearts out. I teared up right away for a number of reasons: 1) It's no secret that I love me a good evangelical children's musical. I have so many fond memories of being in church programs with my brother. He usually got the lead or some other great part, while, being astute judges of my stage abilities, the program directors usually had me in the back, playing the kazoo or something. Didn't matter. I loved every minute of it. For weeks before and after, we would sing all the songs to "It's Cool in the Furnace," or "The Enchanted Journey" or whatever we were doing. In fact, we still have the cassette tape of Cool in the Furnace--my brother played the part of Daniel, before his voice had changed--and Lucy and Elaine listen to it all the time. It makes me happy to think my kids will have great memories of musicals like I do. 2) There's just something about seeing your children in a program. My mom always says, "After everything we do, that's our REWARD!" And 3) having my mom there, making such a heroic effort to be there for her girls, meant so much to me.

By the time the kids got to the finale--Carol Cymbala's/The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir's "Happy Birthday, Jesus," I had pretty much lost my chili. Maybe somebody should get me a Frank(y) Schaeffer book so I can rediscover my inner cynic, but for now--count me as a soggy mess.

Except then there's this picture, which totally cracks me up...Ex-CUSE me.

Now we're on Christmas break, getting ready for the big day, and the girls run to the kitchen to sing "Happy Birthday, Jesus" whenever they hear it on K-LOVE (and I get all teary again).

I don't know how much I'll be blogging before Christmas, so I hope yours is a happy and safe one. We'll be getting together with both sides of the family on various days. I'm sure I'll have tales to tell when we return.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

Tea Party Tuesday

Last Tuesday, Sarah and I pulled Isabella and Lucy out of school for the afternoon--despite their AP Calculus exams or whatever they have going on in the first and second grades--for Elaine's third and final birthday party. As I mentioned previously, first we went to the theater to see "The Princess and the Frog." Since then I've read all sorts of opinions and reviews and everything that's wrong with it. Apparently I've lost some of my depth (assuming I had any to lose), or maybe I was just blinded by the pretty! and the New Orleans jazz! gospel music! because like I said, I loved it. And when Princess Tiana said, "No way am I kissin' a frog AND eatin' a bug in the.same.day." I cracked up. I still think you should see it.

After the movie, we came back home for a tea party. Here are the three best friends...

A close-up of the refreshments...

Sarah had to go pick up the boys from school. They were quite put out that they had not been invited to the party. They love Elaine. "Why can't we come to the movie and tea party?" they asked. "Aren't you always saying you want us to be gentlemen?" Sarah told me later, then she added, "They're just mad that they have to go to school."

We saved them some food and tea, but the girls insisted that they dress accordingly. Andrew is willing to do whatever for a laugh. Stephen's the one hiding from the camera. He's 13.

That finally ended all of Elaine's birthday celebrations. I was relieved because we have discussed her birthday every single day since June. But then yesterday she started a conversation to me with, "Next time on my birthday, Mom, when I turn 5..."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Favorite Media of 2009

I was going to do this sometime in the near future anyway, but then I saw Kacie had done this on her blog so I'll go ahead and do it today.

Right upfront, I don't see many movies in the theater. We used to, pre-children, but now it's hard to get out on our own and when we do we'd rather talk uninterrupted than seeing a movie. And, to take the girls to a movie, I'm so picky about what they see--I don't find much out there for them. I will say that yesterday we went to see the new Disney princess movie, "The Princess & the Frog," and I loved it. The animation is beautiful, the music is soooo great, the story is cute, and the message is excellent. I'm not a big fan of the princess movies, other than Beauty & the Beast (hey, even I get a tear in my eye when Belle kisses the Beast as he's dying and tells him she loves him; then he morphs into Michael Bolton. Good stuff.)

But for once, the new princess (Disney's first black princess by the way) isn't looking for a man. She's hard working and wants to open a restaurant. In fact, the main theme of movie is: don't sit around waiting for things to drop in your lap; get out there and work. It's also funny. So...thumbs up, for The Princess & the Frog.

Now, on to the small screen, which is where I catch most stuff. Here is what I really like:

This is actually not new, of course. Inspector Morse is a classic, but I just have to tell you about this boxed set, which we are working our way through. The DVD player in our bedroom finally crashed and burned, so, at my request, Darren bought a region-free DVD player (no more expensive than a regular one). He then started researching series on amazon.co.uk vs. amazon.com. We got this Region 2 (UK) boxed set for forty pounds, which I think is roughly about $60.00. The same set sells on amazon.com for, wait for it....$430.00!!

"Collision" is a new mini-series that aired in November on PBS. It's written by Anthony Horowitz, one of my favorite TV writers. He wrote the awesome Foyle's War series. "Collision" is about a massive car accident on a London highway and all the repercussions that follow during the investigation of the crash. It's about 3 1/2 hours long, and I don't think I looked away once the entire time.
"Place of Execution" is another PBS mini-series. It's an adaptation of the Val McDermid novel by the same name. Juliet Stevenson plays the lead role--an investigative reporter. She is producing a documentary on a missing person case from thirty years before that has still never been solved. The story is told in flashback form and is chilling, full of twists and turns.

This summer was the second season of Inspector Lewis. They shot a pilot of Inspector Lewis in 2003, just to see if audiences would be interested in a spin-off from Inspector Morse. They certainly were. The show is still shot in Oxford, but the chemisty between Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway is totally different from that of Lewis and Morse. It's a great show, and I look forward to new episodes in summer 2010.

"Castle" is our latest find, and I can't believe it escaped our notice for a year and a half. It's on ABC on Monday nights at 9 CST. Rick Castle is a pulp fiction novelist who shadows detective Kate Beckett and helps her solve cases. It's light and ever-so-funny, with a great supporting cast. I hope it picks up more notice so that it continues.

I take no end of ribbing on facebook for my fandom of this next show, The Mentalist, but so be it. Every time I mention it, I am accused of watching for, ahem, only shallow reasons. Believe me, there are plenty of shallow reasons to watch, but it's a great show. I guess who did the murder every week (Americans aren't as adept as British at plotting crime shows), but the dialogue and inter-play between the characters is great. Also, I haven't figured out the running plot-line of Red John yet, so there's still something (that apparently won't be revealed until the final episode ever).

Lastly, there's "The Good Wife." Law shows don't normally appeal to me, but I really like this. Juliana Margulies plays a lawyer, and the wife of a disgraced, imprisoned state's attorney. Her struggles as a lawyer and mom, while trying to come to terms with what her husband has done make an interesting show. And...it's set in Chicago (supposedly). It's on Tuesday nights on CBS (after the NCIS franchise).

Now, on to books. One of my new year's resolutions is going to be to keep a list of the books I read throughout the year. I've done that with books I've read with the girls but not what I've read myself, so I've had to cast back and remember books that really jumped out at me as being excellent.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee--a novel set in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. This covered an area/time in history that I didn't know much about. I inhale anything written during WWII, but I hadn't read much of anything about the Chinese at that time. This book is populated with characters whom you can't quite love or hate but rather watch in fascination at what desperation makes people do.

So Long, Insecurity: You've Been a Bad Friend to Us by Beth Moore. I normally devote my time to fiction, but, working on the magazine, I've read a lot more non-fiction this year. I started to write a whole post about this book but ran out of steam because I've got too much stuff going on. Suffice it to say, it's not coming out until February 2010, but it is excellent. I didn't have a lot of high hopes on the topic of insecurity, even though it is Beth Moore. This book blew me away; I couldn't put it down. Beth will be doing an online study via her blog of the book in February. I am so there (Cindy, are you with me?!).

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I picked this next book up on a whim and was delightfully surprised. It's Jamie Ford's first book, and I hope it's not his last. It's about Henry, a Chinese-American man, living in Seattle in the 1980s and his look back at the internment of the Japanese--one of whom was his childhood sweetheart. It's a compelling look at the father-son relationship as well as cultural assimilation between generations. I just loved it and gave it to my parents to read--who felt the same way about it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This next book I kept hearing about but never picked up until Thanksgiving. It is sooo popular, so I just knew I wouldn't care for it. Color me wrong, I loved it. It's written in letter format and is so gentle and witty and alternately heartbreaking and brimming with happiness. How's that for publisher copy. Loved it.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I saved my favorite for last. I think I wrote about this book more extensively right after I read it, but I'll write a little bit now too. This book is about a young writer who secretly interviews household help in the South in the 60s so she can publish their story. I can't really do this book justice, but not only was it the best book I read in 2009, it might be the best book I've read in the last five years. If you haven't picked it up yet, do yourself a favor and read it.

That's my wrap-up for 2009. Glancing back over this post, it looks like I watch a lot of TV. Hmmm. Well, it's been a bad weather year--that's my excuse. I still try to read 2-3 books a week, so that's OK. And it's quality TV! Did you see any reality programming on there? No, you did not.

Kacie included music in her post, but I always listen to the same old stuff and never discover anything new. I guess my top 2 favorite albums of this year are the new Selah CD "You Deliver Me," and Travis Cottrell's CD "Forever Amen." It wasn't released this year (2006 maybe?), but I play it non-stop and it has gotten me through some dark days.

So...what are some of your picks?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Birthday Weekend

Four years ago on Saturday (12/12), this little bundle arrived. She wasn't due until January, but we think she just didn't want to miss out on Christmas presents. She was born so fast, some of the blood vessels in her eyes burst (gross, but true). We had to leave her in the hospital for a week, and when Darren and I came home, our neighbor Jan had left a big tray of Christmas cookies on our back porch. That night Darren went to do some errands, and I watched TV. A Pampers commercial came on--the one with all the sleeping babies and "Silent Night" in the background--and I burst into tears and ate the entire tray of cookies. Post-partum good times.

And now here we are, four years later, and I have no more excuses to eat an entire tray of cookies. But it's still all good.

In our house, birthday people wake up to a special breakfast--muffins and hot chocolate--with candles in the muffins; a tradition passed down from my dear Grandma Garner.

We also spread the presents out throughout the day, because who doesn't want to open some gifts at breakfast? Elaine got a new doll named Sophie. This is actually the name the manufacturer put on the doll, which is great because it's the name she's obsessed with now anyway. Last year everything was named Anna. This year it's Sophie. She also got a little doll in a swing (thanks, Juliet!), and when I said, "What are you going to name the tiny dolly?" she said, "Little Sophie." Well OK, then.

I threw in this picture because I love the expression on her face. She got a Wishbone DVD. If you've never seen that show, it is great. It's about a little dog (named Wishbone) who inserts himself into all sorts of literary adventures. This particular one is "Paw Prints of Thieves."

Elaine and Lucy played and ran errands with Daddy the rest of the day, and in the afternoon Lucy helped me decorate the birthday cake. This design was by Elaine's request. Please understand that it is made with 100% love, rather than skill. Elaine is kind of obsessed with Ariel these days too. She knows I'm not crazy about Ariel because she disobeys her father and isn't content with what she has and runs around in her bra all the time. But...she has a tail, Mom. A glittery, sparkly tail! What are my objections in light of the TAIL?! So--this too, shall pass.

In the evening, our families came over for a pizza party, which was also Elaine's request. She got all sorts of gifts, of course, Tinkerbell-, Strawberry Shortcake-, Ariel- and cat-themed. She also got an awesome present from Lucy, which is a bathtub toy that adheres to the tile wall. It's a waterfall and swing and slide for their bath mermaids. They played and played and played with it that night.

On Sunday evening, we surprised both girls by going to Disney on Ice with Lucho & Sarah and their kids. Of course they liked the part about Belle and the Beast most of all. I loved Mulan because she is so smart and brave and SHE SAVED CHINA, people! to make it into the mass producer of lead-based paint goods that it is today.

So we finally brought home two tired, cranky but happy girls. Lucy is now at school, and Elaine is sitting on the living room floor still in her pajamas (and her snow boots), with her toys spread around her, and the Jesus Storybook Bible (a gift from Mommy and Daddy) in the CD player.

We have a four-year-old now!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Festival of Lights

Before I delve into this post, I have to comment on the fact that in the last post I wrote that we don't encourage the belief in Santa, while the post directly below it shows my kids sitting on Santa's lap. Oh, the irony. Their dad took them, I promise! Just kidding. We enjoy Santa as the good man he was and as a fun, fictional character, but he is definitely NOT the big deal about Christmas at our house.

OK, having dealt with that particular cultural phenomenon, we'll move on to another. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll remember that our family loves to celebrate Passover, the Seder, every spring. We don't think that it's mandatory or anything for Christians to celebrate Jewish holidays, but with certain ones we've found it a great way to introduce some neat traditions and key spiritual truths--particularly during times when the spiritual aspect can get lost in the shuffle of excitement and, well, candy. The Jewish holidays are full of symbolism and profound meaning, and there are a lot of opportunities for children to get involved, too.

It's for this reason that we decided to celebrate Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights for the first time this year. First, we read the Festival of Lights chapter from this book (which I just have to give another plug for this whole series. If you haven't read them yet, you have to. You just have to. Any Jewish friends I've had throughout my life always want to know, "How come you know so much about Judaism?" Because of the All-of-a-Kind Family books!)

I have some blue and silver and white table settings, and I put out eight candles. We had roast chicken and of course, latkes. Yum. These are traditionally served with sour cream or applesauce. If you're a Gentile redneck, ahem, they'd be good with ketchup too.

The key to family worship with kids, we've found, is a) to keep it short and sweet, and b) to make it participatory.

Here is what Darren read to us before dinner:

"The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates events that took place more than 2,300 years ago. A wicked king named Antiochus was cruel to the Jews—he killed them and tried to ruin their temple. A small group of Jews, led by a man named Mathias and his son, Judas Maccabeus (known as “The Hammer”!), fought against the wicked king and his army. Even though they were greatly outnumbered, God gave them the victory.

One of the first things the Jews did was to clean their temple. When it came time to burn their special lamps, there was only one tiny jar of oil. Miraculously, this jar of oil lasted for eight whole days, so the lamps could burn until they could make more oil! So, to this day, Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah for eight days—that is why we have eight candles on the table.

It was during Hanukkah, otherwise known as the “Festival of Lights,” that our own Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem. There were huge lights burning everywhere; you could see them over the whole city! The book of John tells us that Jesus walked in the temple, next to those huge lights, and called out, “I AM the Light of the world! He who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Lucy—your name means “light” in Latin. Elaine—your name means “light” in French. Jesus’ words to you in the book of Matthew say, “Let your light shine before everyone in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Tonight in our celebration of Hanukkah, we remember God’s miracle to the Jews—the oil that lasted 8 days; God’s miracle to us—Jesus, who is the Light of the world; and our mission to those around us—to be a light in this dark world."

Then each girl got to light four of the candles...

We all enjoyed it so much, that I want to get more elaborate for next year: I want to buy a menorah; get a dreidel so we can play the traditional Hanukkah gambling games (because really, holidays could do with some more gambling in them); and have a number of families over to celebrate with us. Even if you don't have kids, this celebration would be wonderful to do with a group of friends--you can get as simple or fancy as you want.

Oh, and technically, Hanukkah doesn't actually start until Friday night except we have an anniversary party to go to then, so we just celebrated Thursday night instead. Being goyim, we can be all loosy-goosy like that. So, if you want to celebrate Christian Hanukkah with your friends and family this year, you've still got eight nights left!

Happy Hanukkah!

Christmas Gift List

The other day, Elaine handed me a piece of paper she had written on. "This is my note to Santa, Mom," she said, "Will you please read it?" She persists in believing in Santa even though we've never encouraged it, and Lucy makes a point of continually telling her he's not real.

I took the note from her hand. "Dear Santa," I read. "I love my mom so much. She is the most awesome mom ever. Please bring her a region-free DVD player so she can order all those movies she likes from England."

She took the note back. "That's not what it says at ALL," she said reprovingly.

The other night she put her hand on my arm while we were doing our Advent devotions before bed. "Mama," she whispered, and I smiled at her, thinking she had some profound spiritual truth to share with us. "Yes, baby?" I answered. She continued, "Will you please remind Santa to put those Polly Pocket dolls in my stocking?"

I have also been looking at all the gift lists that pop up on the Internet this time of year--what to give the person who has everything, gifts under $30, Oprah's gift list, which by the way, I would love to do a sendup of, but another blogger does it so much better than I ever could, plus really all I can come up with to comment on that is, doesn't Oprah know you can get most of that stuff at TJMaxx for a fraction of the price?

I also love to look at this: the Neiman Marcus annual fantasy gift list. Look! You can buy a cupcake car that goes 7 miles per hour and comes with a matching hat, for only $25,000!! I truly love the sidebar that tells about the fantasy gifts of years past, and one is a Black Angus Steer for $1, 925, served in steaks or on the hoof. Now I'm not totally sure what "on the hoof" means, but I can pick up enough contextual clues to know that I don't want to delve into that too much. Or wait, Lucy and Elaine would absolutely love this: a custom mermaid tail and swimming lessons for $10,000. Is the mermaid tale gold-plated? Is the swimming instructor Michael Phelps?

My poor girls, what they're really getting for Christmas are this and this. Actually, we all saw those and squealed with glee, with glee I tell you, and not just them but me too, because they.just.look.like.so.much.fun.to.play.with.

All of the above rambling to say, yes, we believe in presents at this house--we enjoying giving and receiving them. But in all of the excitement, we daily keep in mind that Jesus was born in a stable and, other than the manger, never really had a place to lay down His head. The first people notified of his arrival were a bunch of raggedy shepherds. And all around the world, people are in desperate need of basic things with which to survive.

"Are we rich?" Lucy asked me the other day. "Or are we poor?"

"Well, among the people around us, we're in the middle," I told her. "But among the people of the world, we are disgustingly rich. And because God has given us so much, we have a responsibility to take every opportunity we can to help people who don't have things and are in need."

This morning, Jennie alerted me to this revolting Gap commercial with the comment, "The little Gap commercial girls who demand that their parents 'retire' their perfectly good clothes? Need to be sent to Bangladesh to learn some humility."

And on Chris's blog the other day I saw this, which everyone should take the time to really look at.

So, here are some Christmas gift lists from our family to yours. If you are wondering what to get for your child's teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a neighbor, the person in your family who has everything, here are some great places from which to order gifts that will make a world of difference to someone. We have ordered from these for Lucy and Elaine's teachers in the past (and will do so again this year), and they appreciate it so much (trust me--teachers have enough mugs and apple-themed merchandise to last them several lifetimes). I'm sure most of you know some great places too, but if not, feel free to use our suggestions--they are reputable organizations, which I am sure give the items directly to the people who need them.

We have also ordered personalized gifts for each member of our family--vaccinations for children in Haiti for Darren's brother who works for a pharmaceutical company, sewing materials for women in India to start their own business for my mom who loves to sew, building materials for a church for Darren's dad who owns his own roofing business, Bibles for my dad who is a chaplain, etc. etc. One of the nice things about doing this is that many of the gifts are so inexpensive, that children can earn the money to give the gifts themselves.

Like I said, we love to put presents under the tree and open them on Christmas morning, just like anyone else. But instead of retiring our perfectly serviceable (and overpriced) Gap sweaters
from 2008 or buying a cupcake car with matching hat (it goes too slowly anyway, and you might feel kind of silly driving it around) consider giving a gift that will not only help someone else but will honor the One whose birthday we celebrate!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Little Change

ETA: WHOA. I just clicked on one of the blogger profiles (I'd just been deleting the comments from my email previously.) Yup, it's porn. Thanks but no thanks for visiting this family-friendly blog Chinese Jenna Jamison, buh-bye.

I've had to make a minor change to the commenting on this blog--I enabled that thingy where you have to type a string of letters before you can comment. I also enabled comment moderation on posts that are 5 days old or older. I actually hate the random letter feature and find it annoying, but lately I have been getting comments every day on this post. Thing is, they're all in Chinese (I'm assuming. Could be Japanese.) Now as much as I'd love to believe my blog is sweeping Asia, I'm guessing it's not.

Sorry about that. The girls and I watch Ni Hao, Kai Lan in hopes that we'll learn some Mandarin, but I haven't gotten much farther than "hello," "my name is" and "noodles" so it's not helping me figure out these comments.

Carry on (in English) as before.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

December is Beginning

I always go on record for how much I hate winter, but I have to say that I do love December with all its lights and plans and fun and secrets. As I type this, it is late afternoon and we are gathered in the cozy living room. The girls are wearing pajamas and are bundled up in blankets, watching Kipper the Dog. (Oh, how we love Kipper, that cheerful little British dog!) I've been to the grocery store because they tell us a blizzard is coming in a matter of hours.

First I have to show you this from this weekend though...

Elaine came home and told me, "There was a girl who sat on Santa's lap and cried; it was SO rude. I sat on his lap and didn't cry. I told him I be'd a good girl, and I want a dolly and a dolly and a dolly and Polly Pockets and everything in the Bat Cave." Lucy said, "I didn't sit on his lap, but I stood by him and told him that I want doll clothes." "Oh yeah, me too, I want doll clothes," said Elaine.

Today it began snowing early, so they couldn't wait to get out this afternoon in this...

In a little while, we'll all sit around the table and have homemade vegetable beef soup, rosemary-olive oil bread, and Door County cherry crisp (with a dab of Cool Whip on it) for supper.

We always check on the girls a couple of hours after bedtime. Lately, we've been finding this:

Between now and Saturday we have about four different celebrations, so I feel a little like they do there, but in a good way...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Our Favorites

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a nut for tradition. And there's no better time of year for traditions than the month of December. Music plays a big part of that. Talk to just about anyone, and they've got a favorite Christmas album--something their parents played while they all decorated the tree or what they listened to in the car while driving around looking at the lights or what they sang while baking cookies.

I won't argue with anyone about what's the best album because musical preference is subjective, especially for Christmas, when it seems as though the very notes have the scent of pine or sugar cookies clinging to them. But here our some of our family's favorites, in no particular order.

The classic...

I don't know if this is available anymore, but it's an all-instrumental album by one of my all-time favorite musicians along with the London Festival Orchestra.

Well, obviously...
My brother brought this home from college in 1986. It remains not only one of my favorite Christmas albums but all-around favorite albums ever. I've also seen George Winston in concert twice. He plays the piano in his sock feet.

This is one of my nostalgia picks. We had this on vinyl LP at home that we played on our record player housed in a wooden cabinet with a lid that lifted up. I can taste cookies whenever I hear it.

Here's my other nostalgia pick. Amy Grant is practically synonymous with Christmas music. My personal favorite is her first one, released in 1983.

Here are three of our new favorites, especially now that we go in for the more mellow stuff. We keep feeling this need to relax. Not sure what that's about. This one is so good that I forgive it for having "The Christmas Song" on it even though I loathe that song. It's Chris Botti also, so I pretty much forgive him anything.

Of course you gotta have JT. I also forgive him for having "The Christmas Song" on this CD. I forgive him anything too. Just look at his cheerful, impish, JT face. It just makes you want to sing "Winter Wonderland," which, by the way, Chris Botti guest-plays on.

Here is my absolute favorite, which I covered at some length last summer. I love this album so much I could play it all the time. Oh wait, I do play it all the time. And it does NOT have "The Christmas Song" on it. Oh, and both James Taylor AND Chris Botti play on this. I guess they're all pals and swan around playing songs on each other's CDs. Everyone should really own this. In my opinion. Which I wasn't going to give.

And lastly, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if we didn't put this on and dance around at least once. Or seven or eight times. I dare you to play it and remain still. It's impossible. So...what are some of your favorites?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

We Went, We Saw, We Purchased

On this Tuesday morning, I am sitting here listening to soothing music while the girls are at school, just trying to catch my breath from the extended weekend. After our mad baking marathon on Wednesday night, we arrived at Chuck and Rome's on Saturday and of course proceeded to stuff ourselves, then fall asleep.

On Friday morning, my dad took all the guys out to breakfast. We ladies were all supposed to shop at fancy shops and eat lunch at a tea room. Now of course we love shopping at fancy shops and eating at tea rooms--it's our life's breath. However, something felt not quite right. We weren't getting enthused about shopping at fancy shops and eating in a tea room. And my mom didn't seem to be feeling up to it.

"Why don't I just stay home, and you three girls [Rome, my cousin Joy, and me] go?"

Of course we didn't want to do that either.

"I have a better idea," I said. "Why don't we hit St. Vincent DePaul resale and do real shopping?"

And the crowd went wild. My mom, Rome, and I live for bargain shopping. We love style but hate to pay for it. We love the hunt and the thrill of victory. Plus, there are always lots of couches where Mom can rest if she needs to. We didn't know about Joy, but she was along for the ride. We all piled in the car, Mom included, and headed out. All four of us were soon gleefully whipping through the racks. An hour later, we all left with full bags (even Joy) and headed back home to eat leftovers. A perfect day.

Behold, my glorious bargains:

One shirt, Ann Taylor, $3.99.

One shirt of unknown origin, $3.99:

One sweater, Express, $2.00:

One sweater, Ann Taylor, read it and weep, people, $0.99:

One top of unknown origin, $3.99:

Unpictured, one pair of adorable brown "cloppy" shoes that my daughters snatched up immediately upon arrival, $5.00.

And...the grand finale...one pair of jeans....originally marked at $3.99, but now with a half-price ticket, so $2.00:

Wait, do you see the label on these jeans?

If you are ignorant of 7 for All Mankind jeans, here is what this pair retails for. Yes, you read it correctly. And I got them for $2.00. (On an even more shallow note if there could possibly be one, I want that stomach for Christmas.) Now, I don't sit in judgment on anyone who pays full price for their clothes, even if you pay that kind of money for your jeans, which by the way are amazing and fit better than any other pair I own. However, I have a pre-schooler. One who has been known to blow her nose on my pants. I can't imagine having to worry about someone possibly blowing their nose on my $155.00 jeans.

Oh, St. Vincent DePaul, how I love you. First, for being my alma mater. Now for these incredible bargains. In fact, I might love you more for the bargains than for being my alma mater. That actually cost me a lot more. But I will be back. Soon and often.

OK, on to the next. Friday afternoon we left the girls with my family and headed back because we were invited out to dinner with friends, where we again stuffed ourselves, then came home and fell asleep.

Saturday we went back to the suburbs because Rome and Chuck had gotten us theater tickets to see Sleeping Beauty as a pre-Christmas present. It was a Noble Fool production at Pheasant Run Theatre in St. Charles. Those kids did a great job, and we will certainly come back again. Elaine decided that she would like to be a fairy on the stage, too.

When we got back Saturday afternoon, Darren and the girls headed out for their annual Christmas tree-buying excursion.

A little too small...

This one is just right...

When they got home, they discovered that their best friends, Andrew and Isabella, were here. Lucho was at a medical conference, and Sarah was staying with her sister in the hospital who was having a baby.

They spent the night and most of Sunday with us, and I got the unparalleled experience of getting four kids ready in the morning. All those kids are great, but it's double what I'm used to. Whoa.

So now you know why I'm sitting here listening to soft Christmas music and drinking tea. But my heart is racing because I just found out that I'll be doing a feature article on Beth Moore and her new book So Long, Insecurity: You've Been a Bad Friend to Us for the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine. Not to mention, I've got loads to blog about this week, including our family wishlist and our favorite holiday music, because you know you're interested.

Stay tuned.