Saturday, 28 December 2013

Home for the holidays

We've been sticking close to home this past week and loving it.

The boys closed out their school days with a Christmas concert.  I led the very first school choir our school has had.  35 kids joined, which was amazing.  The school only has 100 kids, and the 35 kindergarten kids were too young to join, so I actually had one out of two kids sign up.)  It was a tough job, because I had to find music in French without religious themes to sing, and which sheet music I could find.  Which left me with pretty much nothing.  I translated one song we sing in church about Christmas Bells, found a translation "My Favourite Things," and then taught them "Betelehemu" which was neither French nor secular, but was in an African language and so they let it slide.  The kids were amazing and had a great time.

We past our days building Lego (Colin), learning to cook (Caleb), colouring (Juliette) and building train tracks (Benjamin.)  I helped the boys make presents for each other.  Benjamin cut a slot in a pretty bucket and put stickers on the metal lids from frozen juice cans for Juliette, which she thought was the best gift she got.  The other boys made homemade juggling balls from balloons and split peas.

The great ice storm left us with a couple days of cancelled plans.  We danced a lot to "Deck the Rooftop" (a new favourite song) and sat around the piano and the guitar for at least one Christmas sing-a-long a day.  I pulled out my violin again and gave myself a few new lessons.

Yesterday the boys wanted to go outside, and once I tried to shovel a little path in the backyard, we discovered a thick layer of ice.  We pulled out the skates and they had a blast.  It was Benjamin's first year on skates.  I tried to put on the double bladed bob skates, but they would stay on.  He asked for a "real" pair of skates instead.  Once I laced them up, I asked if he wanted me to hold his hand while he got on the ice.  "Don't worry mom, I got this," he assured me.  And he did.  The boy was born to be on skates.  Oh yeah - and he couldn't start skating around until he had sung the national anthem (in French), just like in hockey games.  Juliette was not to be left out either, eager to get into her winter gear every time the boys did.

We still have a few more get togethers in the next week, including Christmas with my sisters on New Years Day.  I'm still hoping that in the next year or two we can start a tradition of renting a winter cottage over New Years and all hang out together, the kids with their cousins, to ring in the new Year.  but for now, we fill our days and call in early nights, with time for James and I to cuddle up and read or watch something together in the evenings.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pacing life

Yesterday I was asked "So, how is the holiday chaos going?"

I paused, only a moment.  "It's not," I replied.  "There really isn't any chaos."

My answer made me reflect on that.  I have seen many articles written in the last month about how to simplify the holidays, make things easier, faster, and how to make time for family.  Whether you call it chaos, craziness, busyness or stress, there seem to be so many negative emotions associated with these celebratory times.

That's not to say that having a packed schedule is a bad thing; for some people it's exactly what they love about the holidays.  They love hosting and attending parties, baking boxes of homemade treats, lingering in the stores, listening to concerts, and driving through winter scenes to visit friends and family.

For me, that would be chaos, and it would leave me stressed.  And it appears that this is the case for so many others also, given the many articles out there on how to de-stress your holiday.  So what have I done this year?  What tips or secrets to getting to all those parties without children melting down, or without melting myself in an over-heating kitchen from an oven running 24/7?  It's all about pacing.

What is your pace?  Mine is a slow one.  I noticed this year that I have an aversion to writing more than one thing per day on my calendar.  No matter the length of the appointment (15 minutes or 2 hours), I don't schedule more than one.  There's a temptation that if the first meeting is a short one, then I could conceivably add two or three more.  But I don't.  There's a lot to getting out the door in my life right now, and so I leave it at one.

Baking?  I might do it, I might not.  If I was invited by a friend or family member to bake for an evening, I would probably go.  If the mood struck me one night to make a couple of batches of cookies, I would.  If Christmas Day came and went without Christmas baking, that would be alright, too.  Just like the Grinch realized, Christmas will come without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags (or Christmas baking, or dinner parties, or concerts, or big presents.)

This year we didn't get our Christmas lights up outside.  That's okay.  We're going to take a drive and look at everyone else's displays.  (Christmas will come without lights.)

We do love music at this time of year, and so our commitments were made to choirs and bands and solos and other performances.  Which meant less time for other things.  Christmas gifts for teachers were not homemade this year.  (Christmas will come without those also.)

I wanted the boys to make gifts for each other.  I had some more elaborate ideas, but because most of them will need assistance (or supervision) for the entire gift, I had to scale it back.  (Christmas will come.)

Christmas will come.  The days and nights will pass and Christmas day will come.  This year, I have chosen a pace that will bring peace and joy.  It will bring books read by the tree and the carols on the violin and guitar.  It will bring time with friends, and time at home.  It will be exactly the pace I need to be calm and happy, setting the same tone in my house and for my family.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Christmas List

I heard this list the other day.  I want to make it a yearly list of Christmas wishes, goals for me to cross off one by one to celebrate the Advent.  My own little Advent calendar.

Mend a quarrel.
Seek out a forgotten friend.
Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust.
Write a letter.
Give a soft answer.
Encourage youth.
Manifest your loyalty in word and deed.
Keep a promise.
Forgo a grudge.
Forgive an enemy.
Try to understand.
Examine your demands on others.
Think first of someone else.
Be kind.
Be gentle.
Laugh a little more.
Express your gratitude.
Welcome a stranger.
Gladden the heart of a child.
Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love and then speak it again.

- Howard W Hunter

Each could be a moment in a day, or a long and laboured spiritual journey.  I see a small notebook with a story, a word, a thought, or a heart poured out to capture the experience of each of the 22 acts.  I see it added to year after year, until the pages are filled and spill onto a second, third, fourth book.  I see old, crinkled eyes caressing the words of days gone by, witnessing a transformation that was too subtle to notice in the time they were actually lived.  I hear a heart speaking from the dust to generations that follow, of a name on an ancestry chart that tried to be a little better as the years rolled on.  I cling to the meaning of Christmas that, each year, falls a little further and further away from the world and entwines my heart with Emmanuel.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Preparing your sons for the "other woman"

I listened to a fantastic broadcast on Focus on the Family yesterday that has been sitting with me ever since.  It was all about a mother who raised her son with the constant thought that she was raising him to be someone else's husband.

I have my sons for 18 years.  For that length of time, they are mine.  I have their whole heart.  I am the woman they will run to with their joys, pains, loves, hurts, successes, failures, dreams and heartaches.  My arms will enfold them in refuge.

But then these arms must let them go.

Somewhere there is a girl who will one day become the most important woman in my son's life.  He will have 18 years with me, but hopefully he will have 50 or more years with her.  What am I doing now to prepare my son to love and respect the most important woman in his life?

Do my sons see themselves as heroes?  Do they have the confidence to stand for something or someone?  Am I helping them become self-sufficient, capable to care for themselves and for others?  Are they learning charity, a love for others outside of themselves?  Are they developing an understanding of the world in which they live?  Do they know the value of hard work, perseverance?  Can they read and ponder ideas, form thoughts and opinions, and then lead out in boldness?  And do they know that falling is not failing, but a chance to practice repentance, forgiveness, and moving on?

I am raising up husbands for noble women, and fathers for the next generation.  I must keep that in mind, and while I love them with my whole heart, I must also one day graciously be sure that my sons transfer their love to this new woman.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


I was in a reading slump for a month there, but no more!

A desperate turn-the-house-inside-out search (for something never found) last week yielded a treasure trove full of books.  I opened up boxes and bins of books that were packed up a few years ago in order to help maximize the small space in which we live.

Now, instead of nothing to read, I have two new piles in each of the kids' rooms, a stack on my night table, and four books I actually carry around the house to read through the day.

What I'm reading:

The Family Idea Book - this is a nifty little collection of small ideas.  Really small - each idea is about three or four sentences.  The thoughts are organized on the page like little bubbles, with only about 5 or 6 on each page.  You can literally open up the book and read for 10 seconds, if you want.  I flew through the whole thing in a day.  Topic headings are Sabbath Day, Family Home Evening, Discipline, Individual Attention, Family Traditions, Organization, Creative Play, and "What shall we do now, Mom?"  What I love most is that it is written by two moms with a whole boat-load of kids (one has 8, the other doesn't mention how many.  But the picture on the front of the book is a mom with 8 kids climbing on all the letters!)  These are real life solutions of things they've done in their homes that actually work.

The New Strong-Willed Child - One day Benjamin will have bloomed into a strong man with bold leadership skills.  Until then, he just might be the end of me.  I bought this book when I thought I was dealing with a strong-willed child.  Then I had Ben.  Now I have this book, again, and I'm seeing things in a whole new light.

Teachings and Commentaries on the Old Testament - I've been falling in love with the ancient lives, rituals, rites, and practices of the Jewish people in Old Testament times.  In our day we are so caught up in making our faith and spiritual worship "real" that we have a hard time understanding the religious rites in ancient times.  But I caught a glimpse of the beauty of it, just a flash in something someone said, and it was like a mystery unlocked.  Now as I read I'm trying to look past the restrictions of it and to see the conduit between God and our spirits.

God's Word (NIV) - Because reading the Old Testament in the King James version can be really tough sometimes.  I love the poetry of the KJV, and I love that it's the most accurately translated, but sometimes I just need to know what the heck they are trying to say.  The NIV is great for that.

Little Women - When the snows falls and covers the ground and all I want to do is curl up with a book and a blanket, the book must be Little Women.  I couldn't count how many times I've read it, but I can add one more to the tally.

(These are in addition to the two book clubs to which I belong, one of which is reading Cutting for Stone and the other Raising up a Family to the Lord.)

Monday, 9 December 2013


Juliette is learning her body parts:

"Nose" (nose)
"Eyes" (eyes)
"Bite" (mouth)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Peace and joy

Peace and joy.

These are two words often associated with this time of year.  I've been reflecting on the epic ideas that lie behind the tiny doors of these little words.  I cling to these words because I yearn for an aura about myself and my home that reflects peace and joy.

There is a beautiful image in my mind (that I often associate with Little Women) of my peaceful, joyful home.  There is joy in laughter and gathering and family and friends and food and stories and song.  There is peace in quiet reading beside a fire and snuggling up in blankets and writing and prayer and contemplation.

While my house filled with three young boys and a toddler might not exude peace and joy in every moment, there are certainly enough glimpses of it that I have hope for the future (and common sense enough to know it will be fleeting right now with these young children.)  But I do have peace and joy within me.  And that is a blessing I have taken for granted far too often.

This year I have seen much sadness.  Glimpses into other people, families, and situations.  I'm not talking about great catastrophes or tragedies set upon people's lives that are out of their control (although there has been more than one heart can take of those also.)  This year I have witnessed the turmoil and depression of wrong choices.  I have seen the prison of addiction.  I have seen the hurtfulness of selfishness.  I have seen the rolling stone of greed.  I have seen the suffocation of lies.  I have seen good judgment come down against people who have made poor choices, and I have seen them suffer the consequences.

I have seen what it looks like to live without peace and joy, and only in that contrast have I recognized how blessed I truly am.  For me, this freedom has come because of direction I received from the church in which I was raised.  While developing a spiritual relationship with God, I was also taught how to avoid certain behaviours and habits that might lead down dark roads.  As a teen, these rules seemed restrictive, especially in light of my many peers who did not adhere to such.  In my twenties, they became rules that were rooted in good common sense.  But now, just now, am I coming to realize the great blessing of peace and joy allotted to me because I have avoided decisions that might end in heartache.

Over this Christmas season, I am pondering a little more on peace and joy.  My heart is full of gratitude for these beautiful gifts in my life.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Make Something

My friend posted today about production/consumption.  But it wasn't about the incessant product consuming culture in which we live today.  At Christmastime, we are often more aware that we surround ourselves with things.  We have two coats where one would do.  We have a shelf full of shoes.  We have toys overflowing from the shelves and still we get more gifts.  There is always a rancid piece of food left forgotten in the back of the refrigerator or the endless piles of "food scraps" that are dumped into the compost.

I had a wonderful moment last week when I confronted myself about how much stuff fills my house.  A parent from the kids' school was raised in the Philippines and is preparing to ship a large container of any donations she can collect.  We received a letter home from school encouraging anything we could spare.  I keep a tight ship on extra clothing, since we don't have a lot of space in our home.  What we have is what we wear, or what one child will grow into in a couple of years.  What doesn't fit goes out in bi-monthly purges.  I found a shirt here, a sweater there.  Then I thought about some of the clothing that fits but aren't favourites, and I tossed them into the bag.  Then I opened my summer bins and saw two skirts on top, in different colours.  And the thought hit me hard:

Do I have two where one would do?

Yes, yes I did.  And so I tossed one in.  And then I tossed one of the summer dresses.  Then I tossed in some things that I love but never seem to find a place to wear them to.  Then I threw in some of James' shirts that he hasn't worn in years.  Then I went through the boys' bins and tossed in one out of every two items.  Then I tossed in half of the towels we have, and half of the sheets.  It was wonderful.

So I had a moment this season when I battled the consumer trap in which I find myself.  Then my friend wrote about consuming creations.  We read, we listen to music, we watch TV, we play games - we consume items other people have created.  But do we take the time to make something ourselves?  Do I write what I have to say?  Do I play the music within me?  Do I tinkle the ivories and strum the guitar?  Do I encourage creating in my home?  Not as much as I should, not as much as I would like to.

Thank you, dear friend, for pumping me full of excitement.  There is a creative dream in me, one that has been neglected far too long.  By simple virtue of the fact that I am an individual, unlike no other person who has ever been or will ever be, I have a unique view of life and its experiences.  Only I can create something that conveys the unique collection of ideas that have formed within me. It doesn't have to be for public consumption or even for close friends and family.  It can be just a way to pour out my own personality into something tangible (for posterity?) It's time to find my voice and make something.

Monday, 2 December 2013


Caleb turned six last month, and he grew up a whole bunch overnight.

A couple weeks back he announced to me, early one morning, that he was going to be much more serious about life now.  He wants to try harder, work harder, read more, learn more.  "I don't have as much time for fooling around," he stated.

This morning, when I woke up, he told me not to worry, that he had already had breakfast (including a piece of fruit) and made his lunch for school.  What did he make?  Exactly what I might have put in: his half sandwich of ham and butter, an apple, and a yogurt, with a spoon.  It was all packed up in containers and ready to go.  He told me that a friend from school was in charge of making his own lunch, and if the friend didn't make a lunch, he didn't have one for the day.  "It's time I started making my own lunch, too," Caleb insisted.  "And if I don't make it, then I don't have one."

So grown up, just like that.