Friday, December 23, 2011

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

"You would think of the Herdsmans as very naughty kids and your parents really nice, but when you come to think of it, we all sin."

"I think the Herdsmans should be able to participate. They could all get Jesus in their hearts from learning the Christmas story. They could receive a Bible and come to church every Sunday." 

"Think of Zacchaeus. He used to be a tax collector who stole extra money. Then Jesus came and forgave him and he became a Christian!"  

This was Hannah's response to the first two chapters of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

To have her eyes, her heart and her hope. 

This silly story - with incredibly naughty, dirty and obnoxious characters. I pray that I resist editing such souls right out of my life. 

May I never forget that I too possess a messy, unpredictable, broken, in-need-of-a-Savior soul just like the Herdmans. I've only just manged to tame its exterior a bit. 

Thank you Blackbird and Company for leading us well through this redemptive tale.     


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merriment's Agenda

I finally had enough. 

Somewhere between untangling the brand new battery operated car out of my daughter’s hair and consuming one too many cookies baked by my diabetic second cousin, I knew much of what I’d come to accept about Christmas Day needed to change.

Amidst the merriment I’d forgotten a key piece of our family’s rhythm – the invaluable practice of establishing expectations.

Head over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Halfs"

She's 2 1/2

In our house, half-birthdays are always noted. It is a subtle noting but a noting nonetheless.We've found that in the case of our kids, the halfs tend to arrive like an exclamation point. 

Our girls morph dramatically during the back half of each year. These developmental surges are remarkable - and remarkably flabbergasting to parent through at moments. 

There's an insightful collection of books by author Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. I first came across this series out of sheer desperation. Hannah was three and a half and I was in tears more days than not trying to figure out what on earth had happened to my sweet daughter. 

Her personality and behavior had shifted so dramatically (for the worse) I was nearly convinced that I'd managed to mess the whole parenting thing up in less time than it takes to get a Bachelors degree. 

Then I found Ames' book titled Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy. Relieved by what I read, I was finally able to exhale. Her words assured me that I wasn't a complete failure after all. She spoke to the surges that occur on the halfs in particular and gave tremendous perspective as to how to manage these changes effectively.

There's a title for each of the younger years. I grab a used copy around their birthdays. Of course, they don't paint the entire picture. There are plenty of other factors to include in the mix. Still, my parental palette would be lacking without these colorful reads.

So, now when our girls start doing things like: 

randomly stuttering, 
standing on their heads for hours on end, 
sticking their entire hands in their mouths as if their grimy fists are a delicacy, 
picking their noses, 
becoming unusually clingy and emotionally tender, 
sleeping more, 
sleeping less,
 having headaches, tummy aches or severe aches in their second toe on the left,
 eating everything in sight and then asking for additional snacks,
 eating nothing and insisting that those two Cheerios really were enough

...I take a deep breathe, check my calendar and more often than not realize that we're making our way through the back half of their year. Of course this doesn't explain away every bad or weird behavior. It simply offers an added dimension of understanding and insight to this incredibly complicated job we call parenting. 

As for the two and a half year-old of the hour - what a gift. She'd like you to think that she's shy. She'll even declare before we head out somewhere or invite guests in whether or not she's planning on being shy for that particular encounter. 

She's got a great sense of humor. She's funny. She makes me laugh - not because I'm her mom and that's part of my job description, but because she really is funny.

From the day she was born, she's longed to be close to her Mama. She's cozy and snugly and this makes me melt daily. 

She thinks the world of her big sister. She also consistently displays that she's entirely capable of holding her own (think ear-piercing screams of frustration at least ten times a day).

Littlest is giving Hannah the daily "gift" of learning what it means to relate to the more passionate, less predictable members of society. Most two year-old's are well equipped in this department.

She loves her Daddy (how could she not). He sniffs her often and she likes it. He puts her to work most days too. She helps him sweep, bake bread, set the dinner table and pick up all her high heels. She has definite sheep dog tendencies - the girl needs a job!

This one is naughty in the quietest most unexpected of ways. She thinks nothing of pulling on her tutu and high heels, throwing her purse over her shoulder and literally walking out the front door (we've since changed the locks). She loves to pick things off the ground and eat them. She's a magnet for all things dangerously off limits (knives, shattered glass, garage door openers). 

She loves nursery rhymes, worship songs, drawing on herself, twirling, pretending to be baby Jesus, licking any available measuring cup, reading, pretzels and turning any and all objects into swaddled babies (sippy cups, forks, stuffed animals, pencils and hairbrushes). 

What a blessed addition the littlest has been. She has captured (and exhausted) my heart. 

Happy half birthday Hailey Elizabeth. 

Many thanks to Raya Carlisle for taking these fabulous photos

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Revised

Christmas is indeed coming. While there's no goose getting fat at this address, I've had this season on the brain for quite some time.

Early on in my adult Christmas career I was accused of being a bit of a Scrooge; our house was even "decorated" for us one year with the worst the holiday has to offer (think glittered candy canes and windsock Santas). 

My girls are both summer babies. What this also means is that I was completely ill with both of them at Christmastime. Evergreen has yet to be fully redeemed on the olfactory level. 

I have had the opportunity to write four separate magazine and online articles on simplifying and extracting meaning throughout this season. Those who know me well find it ironic that I spent several hours of my summer and fall (much favored seasons) writing about the one I struggle through the most. 

The struggle for me is complicated. It is part practicality, part painful memories and part earnest desire to do right by my children in this area of life. Essentially we are working to keep things simple, memorable and on message. 

This as our guide we've revised things fairly dramatically over the past few years. It took time to do this - most thing do. We'll probably revise again in the future. I'm okay with that.  

Here's more or less what we've settled in to doing this time of year.

1. We forgo a tree and Santa 
This is not because we think they are inherently bad. Please don't apologize when I come into your house that has a beautiful tree on display. Also rest assured that our girls won't spill the beans on Mr. Claus (we've let them know that lots of kids believe in Santa and it is not for us to say otherwise). 

Evergreens and Santa can both find their place within the holiday season in my mind. Still, in our house we are working to keep things simple, memorable and on message. Omitting these two helped us do this.

2. We enjoy our Christmas library
I love books. I know you know this. Christmas is no exception. We've begun to build a nice library over the past few years that I hope to grow. The girls love reading these special books that magically appear on December 1st. A few of our favorite titles include:

3. We open our Advent Calendar
My mom bought this wooden calendar for us when Hannah was three. She has loved it ever since. Each day you get to open a door and find a magnetic piece of the nativity. By the season's end you've created (and rearranged fifty-eight times) the entire scene.

4. We get creative 
Today we spent the afternoon creating a salt dough nativity scene. I'm guessing these little figures will be baking for the next twenty four hours. Still, it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my big girl.  

5. We look forward to giving and receiving Christmas Cards
This is one tradition that has survived all other revisions. Phil and I have made a picture
card each year of our marriage. We save one and put it in a book. Sometimes we write a letter, other years we don't. Regardless, overtime this has turned into a really great keepsake.

We display the cards we receive on our backdoor throughout the season. Come January we collect them into a bowl and place them on on our dining room table. Most winter and spring evenings we pull one out at the beginning of dinner and talk a bit about that person or family. We then say a prayer (and if the truth be known, we toss the card at that point embracing the notion that all good things must come to an end). 

6. We hang stockings
I have no great reason behind this decision. It somehow felt a bit more humane to big H to keep these knitted treasures as I was carting the rest of our snowmen and Christmas ornaments off to the Rescue Mission  several years ago.

I like loading the toe with a fresh orange. We've enjoyed picking several small, inexpensive yet meaningful gifts for each other each year. Without Santa in the mix it has evolved into a fun group-think in which Hannah gets to team with each of us as we work to fill our respective socks with bits of wonder. This year Hannah's will contain left-handed scissors, a roll of twine and a simple sewing kit. 

I share this mostly to say that of course we too are still in process. Revision takes time. It is far from perfect. Be assured that I have and continue to be entirely human throughout this process.

7. We are trying out the Jesse Tree Tradition
Over the past few years I've heard about these trees. This year I decided to take a closer look. I printed Ann Vaskomp's free Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional. Those of you who are familiar with her work One Thousand Gifts will feel right at home with her artful prose. 

Ann's writing requires thought on the part of the receiver; it is entirely worth it in my opinion. Most days Hannah seems to track just fine. Each day closes with the visual ornament to hang and a tangible take away. 

Yesterday's account centered on the story of Isaac and God's ultimate and perfect provision through Christ. The application involved writing down a list of 10 different ways that God has provided for us today. Here's what Hannah and Hailey came up with over their morning oatmeal.  

Daddy's job
Mommy and Daddy
Safe water to drink
A church to go to
That Jesus died on the cross for us

For the monkey (not sure which monkey she's thinking of)
The Slettens (friends we had dinner with a few nights ago)
A pen, a bowl and some soy milk
Olivia and Sophia (kids from family mentioned above)
May this Christmas season be one in which you experience simplicity's beauty and God's grace in new and unexpected ways.