Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting it right this year?

"Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right."

This quote was at the top of a grocery store ad.  I was just looking for meat bargains and instead found this little snippet of wisdom, or inspiration, or something, attributed to Oprah Winfrey. 

I have no idea what Ms. Winfrey means by this, if she even said it.   What is the "it" we should be trying to get right? 

Maybe I'm a slacker but I am not setting myself a goal to "get it right."  If I can't even decide what "it" is, how can I ever hope to get it right?   If "it" is life, that's a big thing to try to get right.  It can't be done, till Jesus comes back.  May as well give up.

Or maybe I'll try to get one thing right this year.  My life of prayer and serving God?   I would like to do that, but can I get it right?  Marriage?  I'd like to get that right, but... doubtful.  Parenting?  Um, no.  I'm sure to  make a parenting mistake or two... every day.   Homeschooling?  Not likely.  I'm sure to mess something up in that area.  Housekeeping?  Laughable idea.

Can we get anything right?    Maybe we're talking about learning to make flan or grilling a steak.  Building a table that won't wobble or sewing a skirt with a straight hem.  Those are doable. So is remembering to be thankful more often.  Making the effort to say something kind to someone, whether a stranger or my own child.  Taking a little more care to think of ways  - and execute them! - to please my husband.  Praying for someone at the moment I say that I will, rather than waiting for later (and forgetting).  Those are a little harder than mastering cooking or carpentry skills, but they can be done.

Maybe if people started trying to get the small things in their lives right, the bigger things would take care of themselves.

What will you try to get right this year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

5th Anniversary Carnival of Homeschooling coming up

Henry Cate at Why Homeschool posted an alert that the Carnival of  Homeschooling will mark its 5-year anniversary with next week's edition.  He is encouraging all homeschooling bloggers to submit a post. 

Seems like I go through cycles with the Carnival.  I'll submit a lot of posts, then run out of things to say.  So I stop submitting posts but will still go read it.  Then, suddenly it seems I stop that too.  Then, I get interested again.

At one time I think I set myself a goal to post in the Carnival every week.  Or maybe once a month.  If I don't even remember the goal, you can be sure I didn't accomplish it.  But no matter; I'm going to try to come up with something for the anniversary edition.  And you should too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Is your church open this morning?

Last week I was surprised to read that someone's church is  not "open" today - not having services on Sunday because it's the day after Christmas.  A little googling showed me that that church is not unique.  I found many church websites that had a variation on "Enjoy your Christmas holiday; no church on December 26."  

The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday there was some controversy about churches opting not to have services on that day.  My church was open and we had several visitors, some of whom were really angry that their churches were closed.  At the time it didn't seem so odd to me.  I thought that so many people go to church on Christmas Eve, so... what's the difference?  A little reflection on that changed my mind.  For a church to be closed on Sunday now seems ludicrous to me.

Now, it seems even stranger to have church closed a Sunday just because Christmas was yesterday.

There seem to be two reasons put out for the closure:  1, so that people can spend time with their families, and 2, to give workers and volunteers a break.

The first reason doesn't really deserve consideration.  Worshiping together as a family during the Christmas season should not be a burden or something to be avoided.  If people feel that way, maybe they need to find a new church.  Of course people sometimes skip church; traveling or having family and friends in might be good reasons for that.  But the church shouldn't close down.

But the second reason given is really telling. Why do the workers and volunteers need a break on the day after Christmas?  Are people so burdened they need a Sunday off?  Maybe those churches have too many things going on for their congregations to support.  Maybe there aren't enough volunteers so the work is not spread around enough.  Maybe the church leadership should consider their programs and cut back so people are not overworked.  Or maybe they should be encouraging more people to step up and get to work rather than expecting someone else to do everything. 

So we are off to church this morning.  Our pastor is on vacation so someone else is filling in on the preaching. There will be volunteers for the nursery and someone will still bring food for the fellowship time after the service.  Someone will be there to play music.  We will probably have a small crowd as people are traveling and some may choose to stay home. But our church will be open on Sunday, as it should be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning

It's 8 am here and I'm still the only one up.  Do I miss those days of overeager kiddies up before dawn to open their presents?   Not really.  I like the leisurely Christmas mornings.  I never enjoyed those frenzied giftwrap-ripping sessions.  Well, I guess as a kid I did.  But now a little restraint is nice.

So I've been reading the blogs this morning and am wondering how I missed the boat on stressing out over having the perfect Christmas.  I don't guess there will be a perfect Christmas till Jesus comes again.  (Hmm, will we even celebrate Christmas then?)

This morning I'm going to attempt to modify a nice breakfast pastry recipe to see if I can make it even more delicious for my family.  It might work.  Or it might not.  It probably won't be perfect, though I suppose it could be. 

What does the perfect Christmas look like?  I guess for me it looks like my family all around me.  And so since we're all together, it'll be a perfect Christmas, even if the breakfast pastry doesn't work out.

If something doesn't work out perfectly at your house today, don't let it wreck your Christmas.  Remember the one perfect person we are celebrating today.  If He came to your Christmas celebration, would He care if the breakfast pastry wasn't perfectly delicious?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

I'm not supposed to be here right now.  This morning my family was supposed to wake up in a house high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  We were to have rolled in late last night, kissed my mother- and father-in-law hello, and tumbled into bed, tired after our 12- or 14-hour drive.

But we're home instead.  As always before we travel in snowy areas in winter, we watched the weather forecast.   And it just got worse and worse.  Yesterday we decided we'd better stay home.

It's disappointing to us all.  Christmas is a family time, and we have no family where we live.  During our married life, we've rarely lived near family.  We don't know the pleasure (or the pain) of frequent contact with parents, in-laws, siblings.  Christmas is a nice time to be together.  But not in snowy mountains in winter.  Maybe we should all move to Arizona.  Or New Zealand!

So it's a quiet Christmas Eve here. My shopping is done. I even managed to mail the little gifts my kids chose for their grandparents yesterday, so they won't be too late.  Wrapping is mostly done.   Today I will bake flan for tomorrow's dessert, and some sugar cookies - my kids like flan, but it's not a very traditional Christmas dessert and they like their traditions.

Some friends invited us to bring our lonely selves to them for Christmas dinner, but we really don't feel all that lonely and will have dinner at home.  The grocery store wasn't too bad yesterday, and there were still plenty of rib roasts, potatoes, and broccoli for our Christmas menu.  We might join our friends for dessert, taking our flan and cookies with us. 

Here is the broccoli casserole I'm trying this year.  It's quite different from my usual, which my mother-in-law gave me years ago. We'll see if we embrace this new one or stick with the standard.  Or trade off.

There are lots of posts in my brain and in my draft folder.  I always seem to have a blogging slump this time of year.  Of course I was busy preparing for travel and doing the usual Christmas preparations.  I hope to reconnect with old blogging friends and acquaintances in the new year.

But now it's time to bake, cook, watch a movie, and listen to some music!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best Christmas Books: The Story of Holly and Ivy

I keep meaning to get to that favorite Christmas books post, but can't seem to.  So finally I had the brilliant idea to post on just one book at a time.  Less overwhelming.

Our favorite book for the past few years has been The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden and illustrated by  Barbara Cooney.  It is a sweet, sweet story of family and longing and wishes fulfilled.  It is not written from a Christian perspective, at least not explicitly, but if you read this and don't see God's hand, you are trying to avoid seeing it.

Eleanor and I love this book and always read it together. James used to like it too, but he is too much of a young man now to read a book about a girl and her doll.   But sometimes I will still catch him listening in...

Barbara Cooney is one of my favorite illustrators; her picture books are ones we never give away.  I don't know that we've read other books by Rumer Godden.    I should look for some!

I could not get a better picture up than this tacky-looking ad.  Yes, if you click this link and buy the book I think I get a nickel or something.  Where ever you acquire it, this is a book every family should have.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Simplifying Christmas? Really?

Everywhere I turn on the internet right now, I see articles and blog posts about simplifying Christmas.  They are filled with lots of advice for keeping this crazy season calm, organized, and less crazy.  The writers talk about remembering the true meaning of Christmas and taking the focus off the externals... and then suggest organizational methods like making a gift inventory and stashing gifts all year long.  There are daily to-do lists that include decorating and shopping and cooking. All these things point to more work, more craziness, more complication.  It's not simpler. At least, not for me.

I like decorating and shopping and cooking too.  OK, I don't really like the decorating; I like having the house decorated.  There is a big difference.  But that's why God blessed me with a girl who loves to decorate and will nudge me just enough to get the boxes out, get cracking on that tree, get those vases full of greens!   I haven't gotten around to the battery-operated tea lights yet, though.

Here is my way to have a simple Christmas:

I don't think about Christmas every time I walk into a store.  If I see something that screams out the name of a person, I'll buy it.  But I don't actively seek gift-buying opportunities all the time.  I don't want to think about Christmas all year long.  If I'm thinking about Christmas, I'm not thinking of something that needs my attention now.  And if I buy a Christmas gift in March, I will have lost it and/or forgotten all about it by the time I need it.  In fact, right now I'm wondering where that box of Christmas cards that I bought last month got to.  I always find the gifts I need and want, even when starting my shopping "late" (after Thanksgiving).  We also keep our gift list small:  family and close friends.  Not everyone we know. 

I never bought my kids the hard-to-find, popular toy of the moment.  I trained my kids not to want the popular toy of the moment, so I didn't even set myself up for resentment by doing that.  I do ask my kids if there is something they hope to receive, and I am never surprised by their answers because I know what they like. I set their expectations:  when my boy half-jokingly mentioned an iphone or itouch, I told him not to expect either of those. He knew that, but I wanted to  make it explicit.  I focus on useful but desirable gifts for my kids:   books, of course, an xbox game that they've borrowed many times from the library so we know is a keeper, kits (electronics, crafts, root beer), and a little cash.  When they were little the gifts leaned toward Legos, more craft stuff, crayons, paper, Playmobil.  Some clothing, usually.  I order as much as I can online so I'm not being driven crazy in the stores.  

I don't decorate like crazy.  We have a tree and put some things up on the walls and on the mantel, but we don't change out every photo on the wall and every objet d'art  (ha ha) on the shelves.  I do feel a touch of envy when I see the gorgeous tablescapes and such on blogs, but... I get over it.

We don't cram lots of activities into our season.  We have church events and friend events, and we try to go to a seasonal event in the community.  This year we're going to check out the Christmas Village in downtown Philadelphia for the first time.  We don't try to see everything that's available.  We tend not to go places where there are long lines and crowds, because we don't like that anyway, but who wants to spend time standing in line?

We bake, and sometimes give some away, but honestly most people have enough of their own baked things and don't want more.  We skipped a cookie exchange this year because we didn't feel like we could make 8 dozen more cookies, and weren't sure we wanted 8 dozen more coming our way.  We had baked cookies for a church event so had sampled most of our favorites anyway.  We have a couple more things we want to make, but we don't go crazy.

We read together, see friends and family, enjoy exchanging gifts, and don't go crazy.  And I don't need to plan ahead all year for it.  I don't need a strategy.  That just complicates things.

(At least for me.  Your mileage may vary.  If you find plans and lists and strategies helpful, go for it.)


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What we want, what we need... and deciding between the two

A few weeks ago I touched a Kindle for the first time.  A friend had brought his to a gathering and the seminarian and I got to fondle it for a few minutes.  We both wanted one immediately.   But we knew we don't need one, and it's out of our budget anyway, so we kind of forgot about it.

Then we heard that Amazon was going to be selling them for an unbelievably low price a few days after Thanksgiving. . (As it happened, it was truly unbelievable; the offer never appeared on Amazon.)  For a few minutes we were excited about the prospect of getting one.

But as we talked about it some more we came to the conclusion that neither of us have any use for one. Really, we don't.  We aren't traveling right now - haven't been on a plane since 2007 - and have access to all the "real" books we need, and more.  I found myself trying really hard to justify the purchase of something I wanted but truly have no use for.

I still want a smartphone.  I want to have access to the internet while I'm out and about.  I want to use some of those cool aps I hear people talking about all the time.  It doesn't matter that my - what do I call it, a dumbphone? - works fine for its purpose.  I just want one.

Last month before Thanksgiving break, my kids' art teacher gave them a homework assignment:  draw a picture of a gift you'd like to give, and one you'd like to get.  My son, bless him, couldn't think of a gift he'd like to give. Finally he drew a book.  But the gift he'd like to get?  He wanted to draw an iphone but thought he shouldn't.  I told him to go ahead and draw a really good picture, because that was as close as he'd be getting to one anytime soon.  And so he did.  Did a great job, too.

He has a cellphone to carry when he's out and about without us. Usually he's around other people who have phones but I don't like bumming phone minutes.  And, I'd like to be able to call him.  His phone is rather plain and dull - a dumbphone like mine.  But it works for its intended purpose.

He understands that he doesn't need anything more, but he wants one, just like I want a smartphone and a really nice ipod instead of the little shuffle I won 3+ years ago.  Oh, and maybe the Kindle for... oh, I don't know.

I would like us all to get to a place where we didn't want things we don't need.  Where we recognize that these things are fun and useful and, for some people, even necessary.   But not for us.  I want us to be content with our dumbphones and our little ipod and remember that there are people in the world who couldn't even imagine those things existing - forget about wanting them or acquiring them.

What don't you need this Christmas?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How can this be?

Sandy at Pencil on Paper posted a list of titles in her Christmas book basket.  It made me think of our Christmas books, which are not out of storage yet, but will be this weekend.  I decided to look for my previous post(s) about our Christmas books, and couldn't find one.  I can hardly believe I have never done a Christmas book post! 

So I have to get through the church Christmas party on Saturday, and the food prep for same tomorrow, and then I'll bring out the books. Till then you can read about Sandy's books, and tell me about your favorites! 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Post NaNoWriMo: Back to normal?


No, we're not back to normal yet.  We should be, but, not quite yet.

NaNoWriMo took a lot out of me.  I loved it and hope to do it again next year and for many years to come.   But, it was a hard month.   I'm tired.  I want to read - I barely have time to read anyway, but even less during the month of writing. Right now there are 5 or 6 books with bookmarks in them.  I've read a few pages here and there, mostly as unfinished research for the story.  What I really want to read is some fluffy novel with no challenge whatsoever.

But the house is still showing the month of neglect.  I am not a good housekeeper any month of the year; less so when I'm really distracted by something more fun than housework.  My little house reflects my family's interests:   A table covered with parts of a model plane James has been building;  a bin overflowing with fabric Eleanor and I want to make something out of; a half-finished Christmas wall-hanging ready to be sewn together; books everywhere; balls of yarn connected to partially-completed knitting and crochet projects.  That's just the normal stuff of our lives!  Then there is the good china that needs to be put back in its box and moved into the dungeon (yes, I know that Thanksgiving was almost a week ago), the stack of papers that needs to be filed, and the artwork that's piled up and needs a permanent home.  (I love the art class my kids take but I wonder why everything has to be on huge paper.)  

The kids are not feeling normal yet either.  James is still working on his book a little.  He's not ready to start editing - or maybe he's continuing to write to avoid the editing.  Eleanor is restless.   She can't settle on anything right now.  I know that feeling.

Oh, and there's the Christmas Gala at church on Saturday for which I need to cook.  We're doing appetizers and desserts this year instead of our typical catered dinner.  Our little church can't afford the caterer this time around, so people are pitching in to help.  I was assigned to make cookies.  So there are the cookie recipe books and magazines on the table as Eleanor and I look for the perfect cookies.  They must taste good, which I can do. They must also be pretty, which I'm not so good at. 

So it's another unschoolish week.  We're getting our basics in, and home ec, and lots of composition.   This is when I love having graded test prep books around, like these by Spectrum. It gives the kids some work to do that isn't too burdensome, doesn't take a lot of my time, and helps me to see how they're coming along in certain areas.  I can see today, for example, that James needs a little refresher on linking verbs.

Maybe next week we'll get back to normal.  Whatever that is now!