Happy New Year??

Seems like everyone I know went to New Year’s Eve parties a few nights ago. We stayed home. In fact most of the family was asleep long before midnight arrived. I’ve been pondering why I tend to skip this holiday, why it is no big deal, why I don’t get excited like others around me.

Some might say it’s because I’m getting old. But, I didn’t make a big deal out of New Year’s Eve/Day even when we were in our twenties. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink anymore. But, I’ve never enjoyed being surrounded by people getting drunk—even during college days. And our lack of celebration is not because we don’t have opportunities to go to special activities or invitations to parties.

So why is December 31 moving into January 1 not a big deal for me?

I realized it’s because this just doesn’t feel like the beginning of anything new. Yes, the calendar changes. But the dictates of tradition and calendar don’t change the feeling that this is still the middle of winter. It is a time to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea; a time to slog through bad weather and gray days. It is not yet a time for new beginnings.

I realized I DO celebrate each new year. I just celebrate it at a different time:

I love the beginning of new life surrounding Easter. It’s spring – moving from the dead of winter to hints and whispers of new greenery and baby critters. The sky and land are washed fresh and shining brightly. It is a time for family photos with every one dressed up in new outfits. It is also a time to celebrate the new life that is possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR starting at Easter.

Then comes my birthday at the end of May. Each year I like to look back at the previous year, then look ahead to the coming year. As you know, I have declared this year “my personal year of jubilee” as I move toward a new decade and a new half century of life. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR that starts on my birthday.

One more new beginning is significant to me each year. Each fall is the start of a new year of school. For the past 20 years that has included getting organized, finding materials, and homeschooling at least some of our kids. I love the new school supplies, the fresh backpacks, and the excitement of new-to-us books and clothes. I love to celebrate the NEW YEAR that follows the school year schedule.

So…I will follow traditions today and wish each of you a happy new year in 2012, one filled with blessings from God and a clear sense of His presence as you walk through good times and difficult places.

If you want to see me excited, however, check back at Easter…and my birthday…and even when school starts in the fall. Then I will truly

CELEBRATE the coming of a new year!

Happy New Year!

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Storytelling…Christmas Style!

Sometime soon, I will write a blog post about being a story-teller and about collecting stories. For today I just had to share a little fun with you. Hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we have enjoyed the story-telling!

I have a huge Fontanini Nativity Set that we put up each Christmas. The kids usually decide on a setting and make the appropriate scene. Many years we set up the Wisemen in a different location, then add them as visitors to the Christ-child on Three Kings Day (January 6th).

nativity set

Our Nativity Set -- 2011

This year, we put the wise men plus three other “Christmas Visitor” figures around a candle on the table. The extra figures are: the Krist-Kindl (Christ-Child) who brings gifts in Germany, St. Nicholas who was a real person in history who cared for others, and Santa worshipping Baby Jesus. Our wise men follow a Hispanic tradition of including an elephant along with camels. Some day I will find a horse for the traditional third wiseman…

wisemen scene

our story-telling wisemen

With such a fancy tablecloth on the table for the month, we occasionally pushed it back to have a bare table for crafts or to eat messy foods. When we did, the figures apparently decided to entertain us after we slid the tablecloth and figures back into place…

One evening, we found one of the wisemen facedown in the pool of “water.” “Look, Mom,” Jakob called me over. “He must REALLY be thirsty after walking through the desert.”

thirsty wiseman

the thirsty wiseman...

Another time we found the elephant laying down next to the “water.” Can you imagine how thirsty an ELEPHANT would get if he had to walk through a desert day after day after day??

elephant...

the poor tired elephant...

And then there was the tipsy wiseman… We never did decide if he was dehydrated and weak…or if he was hungry and weak…or if he was at high altitude and weak…(we avoided suggesting he was drunk…) Or maybe, he was leaning in to help St. Nick? Whatever the story, we laughed and laughed and laughed.

tipsy wiseman

the tipsy wiseman...

These little stories were fun to hear and fun to discuss…but I took even greater enjoyment in realizing that Jakob and Anna are becoming story-tellers. I love to see creativity and silliness and enjoyment of the little things in life coming out in my kids!

santa jakob

santa Jakob

silly anna

Silly Anna

May each of us see the world through the eyes of a child this coming year…

Last Christmas of My Forties…

A friend recently pointed out that this would be the last Christmas of my forties. She suggested that I contemplate the season from that perspective, then write about it. So, here goes…

snowman angel

an unexpected Christmas Angel...

Looking back, I realize the most important thing about the holidays to me, is time spent with people. I enjoy gathering my own kids and doing special activities. I like spending time with friends in holiday settings—having coffee, window-shopping, attending a party together, worshipping and singing carols together in church. This year, with “only” two kids home with us, some of this togetherness had to be done via email and phone conversations. A trip back east for Thanksgiving also provided opportunities for spending time with family and friends.

okc light display

Traditional family outing to a wonderland of lights...

Our family has a zillion “traditions.” I’m not sure how many of these are significant to my kids, and I know my husband doesn’t much enjoy the holiday season (although he just might miss some of these activities if we didn’t do them…), but I know that I find comfort and pleasure in some things staying the same, even while so many things change from year to year.

sleeping anna

children tucked all snug in their beds...

Jakob and Anna found little treats in their (wicker) shoes (a gift from my sister from when she lived in Croatia) on St. Nicholas Day. Jakob was sad that we were in a hotel this year so he couldn’t set a trap for Santa Claus (a tradition started by his older brother Rob). Oh well, there’s always next year! I baked a zillion cookies, and I sewed at least some of the gifts for the kids.

mamas gifts

Sewing on Christmas Eve...a long-standing tradition!

Jakob and Anna made gifts for each other, for their cousins, and for their Dad. They opened one package on Christmas Eve – pajamas, of course! And then I forced them to stand beside their trees and have their picture taken. We didn’t have a family tree and it was only two of them this year…but the basic tradition of photo-of-kids-by-the-tree-in-their-new-pjs-on-Christmas-Eve was still upheld.

photo by the tree

Kids in pjs by the christmas tree--another tradition!

So that we could keep the traditions that have developed within our family for Christmas Day, we chose to celebrate on December 24th this year. (We spent the day at a church activity on the 25th.) Kids have to stay in bed until 9 am – but they find a wrapped book-on-the-bed when they wake up, to hopefully keep them occupied until they are allowed to come out of their rooms. We have stocking time, and breakfast, and gift opening. Then everyone enjoys their new toys and books and other gifts throughout the afternoon. Randy usually takes a nap. At some point, the older kids get bored and a card game is eventually started. Jakob and Anna used that boredom-buster technique on Christmas Eve this year.

dealing cards

card game among kids--traditional boredom buster!

And the food, the lovely Christmas spread… No, we don’t have a formal dinner, with dressy clothes, and seven courses. We go the other direction—total informality, day-long snacking, and “fancy” finger foods I don’t fix other times of year: crackers and cream cheese/shrimp/cocktail sauce spread, veggies and dip, broccoli salad, a shrimp ring, and lots and lots of cookies. And don’t forget all the candy in the stockings! There was an advantage to having only four of us celebrating together this year—I bought an entire pint of eggnog for EACH of us! What luxury!

christmas dinner

Christmas dinner---all day snacking!

Decorations change from year to year. I think I would get bored if they looked the same every year! And yet, some things are “always” part of the decorating: we string lights in individual windows. If teens feel up to it, we have outdoor lights on the house as well. (Thanks, Jakob, for this year’s glow!)

christmas lights

house all aglow...

Garland drapes over doors or windows. Stockings are hung early as decoration. And we always set up the nativity set I bought years ago. Kids build the scene, so the specific setting changes each year. This year, we added a Navajo hogan and weaving frame to our set. The little “Celia” spinner and a shepherd looked great in that corner.

nativity set

Our Nativity Set...in navajoland this year!

There have been some significant changes to our celebrations since our son James died 3 ½ years ago. We haven’t yet put up a full Christmas tree with everyone’s ornaments on it—what would we do with James’ collection of ornaments? The first year without him there was comfort in being scattered across the world (Ohio, Colorado, and Africa) for the holidays—it felt as if he just might be celebrating with one of the other family groups. We have had two years back together again. This year was the first time of making an effort to gather each summer rather than at Christmas. There are job-related reasons for this decision and hopes to make it easier to deal with (eventual) in-laws. But it also makes it a little less painful to celebrate the holidays without a gaping James-sized-hole in what “should” be a family centered Christmas.

stockings were hung

stockings were hung...with a bright bouquet in James' stocking...

This year was also different because it was the first time in many years that I hadn’t planned a full calendar of activities, studies, projects, and crafts as we home-schooled our way up to Christmas. On the one hand, there was less running and less stress. On the other hand, I confess I was a little bored. I guess next year I will try to find a balance between the two extremes.

The last Christmas of my forties? It was a good one. And I’m looking forward to many more enjoyable holiday seasons in the years to come…

Magical Christmas Memories

Do you remember magical Christmas window displays from your childhood? The ones with moving characters set in scenes, filling window after window in the big downtown department store?lazarus christmas tree

A few weeks ago, we stopped at the Precious Moments chapel near Joplin Missouri on our way home from our trip east. Walking through the store/café building brought back wonderful memories from childhood of enjoying special Christmas displays. The “village” was filled with a variety of moving characters—an artist in his studio, a carpenter on a roof, a chandelier-lit ball seen through a tower window and more. My kids were amused by the scenes. I was taken back to childish excitement.

precious moments village“Look!”

precious moments artist“What fun!”

precious moments dancers“Oh, Oh…look up there! They are dancing!”

My kids, as usual, humored me. Some times they just don’t really understand…

These moments took me back, way back to my childhood. To the long drive in the dark, all the way to down town Columbus, filled with overwhelmingly tall buildings. We got out of the warm car and walked, all bundled up against the nipping cold, looking into each display window along the sidewalk at the Lazarus department store. We walked from window to window, all the way around three sides of a city block, oohing and aahing over the scenes, each more wondrous that the last: elves in Santa’s workshop, classic stories (such as Alice in Wonderland) come to life, winter forest scenes, or scenes of polar bears and seals. (Were there penguins mistakenly in the same scenes? Or is that just a faulty imagination?) Tinny Christmas music was playing from speakers. Other families enjoyed the spectacle in front of and behind us. It felt like Christmas, looked like Christmas, and sounded like it, too. lazarus christmas window

Eventually, it was over. We had seen all the windows. We had oohed and aahhed until we were sated with wonder. We piled back in the car, then dozed in the warmth until we finally got back home and tumbled out of the car to head to our beds, with visions of window-scenes dancing in our heads.

Memories of “we always…” (Did we really? How many times did we actually make that pilgrimage??) Memories of wonder, and color, and movement. Memories of special family times at Christmas.

A few weeks ago, it was nice to be taken back, to be reminded, of the simple things that become magical when seen through the eyes of a child…

Christmas Carols Come to Life

My husband is not so sure he likes the Christmas season. He prefers to delay decorations and carols for as long as possible. Some years that causes conflict between us. This year everything worked out beautifully…

Our younger two kids and I left before Thanksgiving to head east for three weeks of visiting with family and friends. We gleefully grabbed all of our Christmas CDs to enjoy on the trip. It was great fun to crank the volume and sing-a-long, mile after mile after mile.

We enjoyed the silly (Muppets, Veggietales, and Dr. Demento), the serious (Amy Grant and Sarah McLaughlin), and country (John Denver, Alan Jackson, and Reba McIntire…sadly our Kenny Chesney CD is too scratched to play).

At one point, as we were driving north out of Denver, toward Ft. Laramie National Park in the corner of Wyoming near Nebraska, I was enjoying every glimpse of the majestic Rocky Mountains that we could see.

plains and mountains

...mountains echoing the angels' sweet singing...

And then…Angels We Have Heard on High came on. Looking out the window, the carol came to life. There was the plain stretching all the way to the mountains filling the horizon.

“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain. And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strain…”

Gloria! What a wonderful gift! And after three weeks of traveling and enjoying our Christmas music, our hearts are full. We are ready for Christmas…

Don’t Write in the Book!

I’ve had a disagreement with my husband for years. His view is that no one should write in a Bible—or any other book for that matter. I favor underlining any passages that jump out at me. I even add comments (and sometimes the date I’m commenting) in the margins. With library books, I mark the pages and type out quotes and passages to be saved and savored again later.

For a few years now, I have enjoyed reading books and articles about “altered books” – the craft of turning books into a place for journaling and art. I love the playfulness of such projects. I enjoy seeing places where the artist lets printed word(s) show through and incorporates that into the art. It looks like such fun…and yet…I’ve never actually tried it. Oh, I have a few books sitting on my shelves, ready to be painted over and re-purposed. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually obliterate the words of the books. I hear echoes in my mind: “Don’t write in the book!”

altered book materials

getting ready to alter a book...

My daughter Celia has worked off and on for years on a really cool cardboard book in which she is illustrating a poem. I love what she is doing. But…still haven’t managed to start an altered book project for myself.

And then, I signed up to try something different this year for the Christmas season. In the past, I made extensive lists, also called “curriculum plans,” of activities, outings, and crafts that the kids and I would (hopefully) finish in December. This year, with Anna in public school and Jakob in those teen do-I-have-to years, I’m trying something new. No lists, no “curriculum plans,” no outings, no crafts… I’ve signed up to participate in an on-line group that will complete an art journal entry a day from December 1st through January 6th.

Participants will be scrapbooking, journaling, sketching, photographing, and otherwise artfully responding to journal prompts each day. Some will focus on this particular year’s celebration. Others, including me, will make this a general reflection on our family celebration of Christmas over the years. Each day participants will scan that day’s entry and post it on-line for everyone else to enjoy. Sounds fun to me!

In pondering what I want to do with this, I’ve decided to break the barrier. I found a small (5”x5”) Christmas gift book in the clearance rack at the Christian bookstore. I’ve been busily at work getting ready for the project to start next week…organizing which topics fit best with which photos or words already in the book, and PAINTING THE BOOK!

painting in the book

I'm not just writing in a book...I'm PAINTING IT!

Yes, it’s true…I’m not just WRITING in the book, commenting on and leaving words intact. I’m covering over the words, obliterating what is already there, “destroying” the book as-it-is!

Ahhh…I’m finally on my way to trying my hand at making an “altered book” art journal. Now that I’m ignoring the voice in my head that’s telling me how “bad” I am to destroy a book…wish me luck with the fun this month!

Christmas Journal_sample page

Painted page...ready to be journaled on in December.