Sunday, December 30, 2012

Homemade Gifts

As Jeff so aptly put it, "We rocked the homemade gifts this year!"  Indeed, there were some fine and lovely gifts, lovingly crafted for one another - always my favorite kind of gifts.  As in past years, it's hard to decide which I enjoyed more - the making of the crafts, or the giving of the gift.  I loved the time I got to spend, too, with the kids and with Jeff as we made these gifts. 
Leo made "no sew" fleece blankets for his brothers - this one was for Aidan; Pax's had monsters on once side and orange fleece on the other.  

The 5 of us each designed a plate with Sharpie markers, then made it foodsafe by baking it in the oven.

Initial "C" covered in bottle caps for beer-lovin' Jeff
Initial "R" out of corks - for friends
Bunch of Grapes made out of corks for my wine enthusiast father
All things Harry Potter for Aidan:  Golden Snitch; Quill pen; hollowed out secret hideaway book; faux glasses
I used iron transfer paper to make Leo's favorite drawings into pillows for his bed.  On left:  his amazing robot; on right: his beloved Flat Cat portrait.
This is my mother's favorite Christmas quote that I turned into a decorative canvas

Ornaments for teachers

A slew of sweet ornaments for each brother's tree (in each of their rooms)

The completed Pax gift to brothers

For Chef Pax - a personalized apron and cookbook of favorite recipes, plus photos

Aidan made these AMAZING coffee mugs for each brother, with my mom's guidance and instruction.  Leo's mug has a snail inside; Pax's has a turtle.  And they are BIG, because, as Aidan said, "They drink a LOT of coffee."

The kids made these hand-some bowls out of clay (again, with my mom's amazing guidance!)

Jeff's gift to me:  an new kind of family portrait for our walls.  He painted them, freehand. 
"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving."  -Mother Teresa

(If you haven't read this blog in awhile, you may want to start here to catch up on the 
previous-yet-related posts...)

Best Traditions

Tradition:  the handing down of ...customs... from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.  (

Like most people, the traditions we hold truest and dearest to our hearts are ones we practiced as children; Jeff and I are passing on to our own children the same customs we enjoyed ourselves.  However, there are a few, brand new traditions that we started with our little family, and our Picnic Dinner in front of the Tree is my all-time favorite new tradition.

Early in December, after our tree has been trimmed, we choose a weekend night for our annual dinner.  This year, the seasoned picnickers were able to help me plan the menu, though it always includes one important component:  it is what we call a "dippin' dinner."  Thus, no forks or spoons are allowed for the eating of the meal; instead, in order to be included, it must be something easily dipped and/or eaten without utensils. 

 This year's spread:  crudites and dressing; cheese and crackers; oven baked crispy chicken strips; mini turkey hot dogs, wrapped in cresent rolls; mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce; sweet potato fries with ketchup; chips and salsa; edamame.
 We move the glass top table out and spread a festive tablecloth on the floor; the kids love to picnic in their pajamas, which buys them more time at the end of the night, too....
 The requisite family photo! 
 In keeping with dinner's theme, dessert is always fondue.  Or as Leo insists, "It's FUNdue." 
 After fundue (when we fundid) we read stories aloud in front of the tree.
I hope this is a December tradition that lasts for decades...and for generations. 

Christmas Eve Tea

 Last year, I wrote about a beloved, cherished Christmas Eve tradition - tea and cookies shared with my mother and my grandmother.  (Please, take one moment to re-read Infusion)  As I described, this tradition has morphed and changed in the years since my own grandmother passed away, and while it is still one of my favorite customs, it has not felt quite right.

Until this year. 

Dressed in their finest; ready for tea
The table, so beautifully set and ready for young tea-goers

Nibbles and sweets
Pouring tea...
(Er, that would be cocoa....) in the very same Santa teapot that my own grandmother and I were served from...

The first of many Christmas Eve teas!
 ...and finally, there is, what we call, The Reading.

I have never missed a Reading.  On Christmas Eve, regardless of my age, my father has read "T'was the Night Before Christmas" to me.  Years that my brother could not join us, our dad called and read to him over the phone.  One time, he even called Adam when he was driving a taxi cab; Adam pulled over to hear the reading.  I do not know how it could possibly be Christmas without it, because it is my father's voice that seems to make the Magic of Santa all the more real, as if his intonation of the story is the summons for Santa to come.

But the most beloved and endearing part of The Reading is that my father becomes so verklempt every single time he reads it.  I don't even know why, exactly, but I do know that the catch in his voice, the quiet, higher pitched voice he uses, is beautiful and sweet and overflowing with his love for us.

And this is just one of one million other reasons why we love him so.

"...and laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod..."
"On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen!..."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Funny Things

One of the (few) gifts of service we managed this month was to join others from our church in caroling at two assisted living communities where members of our congregation live.  What our group (numbering just over 30 in all) lacked in on-tune singing, we made up for in holiday cheer and goodwill.  The age range of carolers included 2 year olds to septuagenarians.  We sang a multitude of songs, ranging from "Silent Night" to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."  At times, it was heart-wrenching, to see how frail and sickly and hard life is for so many residents in these communities.  Other times, it was poignant and tender, seeing how much joy our simple gift of song seemed to bring to them.  And yet the memory of this day that I'll never forget is when our Pastor announced it was time to go.  We were in the Alzheimer's wing of one of the residence halls, and naturally, the collective kids in the group heard the call to leave, turned toward the nearest doors leading to the outside courtyard, shoved open the doors -- and set off all sorts of alarms in the building.  The nurses quickly realized what had happened, and encouraged us to exit through the same doors we'd come in - but those required a special code, which none of us knew, and the nurses were busy trying to silence the alarms.  There we all stood, making a valiant effort in covering our mistake by singing another rousing chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" atop the blaring alarms and our uncontrollable giggles.
The weather has been chilly but sunny, so I sent the boys outside to play.  Aidan returned some time later, presenting himself to me:

 "Do you like my Nutcracker costume?"

He proceeded to open and close his mouth just like a true Nutcracker, and march around the yard in all his glory and elegance.

On Christmas Eve, we received quite a surprise:  a light dusting of snow! There was none in the forecast, and although it was barely enough to get excited about, it was still enough.  I spent much of Christmas Eve morning scurrying around, taking care of last-minute gifts, and so I was rather confused (and disoriented) when Pax came to me, looking like this, and announced, "Mama!  It's snowing!  Come see!!"
(I was really confused by this, because he was warm and dry, yet his hair was oddly convincing that he had, indeed, been in the snow.....)

"What do you mean it is snowing, Pax?"
"In the basement!" he replied.  "Come see!"
"Is Daddy with you?"  I asked, hoping beyond all hope that he had somehow orchestrated this realistic-yet-clearly-styrofoam "snow" covering our youngest.
"Yes!"  he replied.  He took me by the hand and led me to the basement where I discovered this......

and this......

and this.  Because the kids found a huge shipping box full of packing peanuts.

On Christmas Eve

And what did I do?  This not-stressed mama laughed.  And laughed.  And handed Jeff the Shop-Vac, which he proceeded to use on each of the kids, and their hair. 

*Bonus Styling Tip:  Shop-Vacs can do wonders for adding volume to flat, straight hair.... 

Favorite Things

This is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose - perhaps "Favorite Things" is actually the umbrella term for all of the December highlights.  Here are a select few:

As an early birthday present, my mother treated me to tea at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.  The Jefferson is quite fancy, and the tea was both delicious and fun.  I'll never forget how much our server delighted in the suggestion we made to add a Santa hat to Jefferson's statue, so that he would look a little more festive..... I'm not sure the Queen would approve of our behavior at tea (maybe the Queen should start drinking bubbly at tea, like we do?), but it certainly was a wonderful time.

The Christmas Pageant is always a favorite.  The story of Jesus' birth, told by the children of our church, never fails to be one of my favorite parts of December.  This year, Pax was a sheep in wolf's clothing who was errant, wandering, and a tiny bit belligerent, demanding that his father wear the sheep ears and tail.  Leo was, of course, the Angel Gabriel (I don't think he'll ever give that up!) and Aidan was a King.  I had more of an investment in this pageant, too, beyond my own three children; the 5 middle schoolers in my Sunday School class participated in it as well, and for all of their harrumphing and pseudo-complaining, they made me so proud!

King; Angel Gabriel; Errant & Somewhat Belligerent, Naked Sheep

Two traditions from my early days of being a mom were resurrected this year, all thanks, of course, to the other moms who made it so.  One friend hosted a cookie exchange, which I have not done for many years - yay for so many new kinds of cookies!  Another night, I hosted an ornament exchange (complete with mulled wine, jello shooters, baked brie, and delicious sweets). It was a great night with a very diverse group of women, some whom I've known for 9 years and others whose friendships are brand new to me this year.

Ready for my guests!

And finally, my last "Favorite Thing" happened on the first afternoon and evening of winter break. The day was chilly, damp, and brisk.  The kids got home from school early, and everyone was in a happy mood.  We built a big roaring fire, sipped hot cocoa and read Christmas books in front of the fire, all afternoon.  That night, we decided to have a spontaneous movie night. All five of us piled on the couch in our pajamas, snuggling under blankets.  We watched the movie "Elf," a sweet and funny film that infected us all with holiday cheer.... what a happy, cozy start to what continues to be an incredibly good winter break.

...but the fire inside is delightful!

Merry and Bright

I am still in a little bit of disbelief, and in a whole lot of gratitude, over the number of days, celebrations, occasions, and events that felt so merry and bright this year.  I am so grateful.  I will not ever say that there is any good that comes from tragedies like what happened in Sandy Hook, yet I will say that I was acutely aware, even more than usual, for how fortunate we are in our health and in the happiness we share as a whole, complete family.  I did not take for granted, for one minute, the joy our family felt this Christmas, the Light we enjoyed; my heart carried with it the awareness of how many suffer in Darkness.     

I was not stressed this year.  Say what?  Anne Carter, not stressed?  I know, it's so hard to believe...  I was determined from the very start to enjoy as much of the process as I could;  I decided that the best gift I could give my children, above all else, was a mom who was not stressed, not crabby, not short-tempered and annoyed by petty things.  I wanted to be sure to do things that they wanted to do, to help create amazing Christmas memories, for them.

Admittedly, there was a bit of a learning curve on the no-stress policy.  I had a rough start in early December.  I still shudder to think about the tears that were shed over the tree we selected - mine and theirs - and I am disappointed in our failure to follow through to completion the service projects we started.  Tree trimming was a lonely chore this year - after last year's ornament hurtling and coming to blows over which ornament belonged to whom, I banned the kids from helping.  I decorated the tree one night by myself, and it was joyless.  I feel truly guilty, disappointed, and discouraged by our half-hearted service projects this year, yet making mistakes is usually how I figure out a better way, a better fit for us.  (More on gifts of service to come... )

But then, things started to change.  I remembered my commitment to being stress-less, and joy-filled, and I moved forward.  In the interest of documenting Merry and Bright (and perhaps because I haven't written any kind of term paper or other such organized bit of writing in months) I've decided to recap the events of December into 4 separate posts:  Favorite Things; Funny Things; Best Traditions; and Homemade Gifts.

...and so, without further adieu.....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Help for the Beloved Sons

I expect many people disagree with my extreme stance on gun control.  I don't mind.  Bans on guns in my home is what I can control, what I know, what I can limit and protect and shield and unconditionally forbid. It's not even hard to do.

But I don't know much at all about mental health, and how to help people who are mentally unhealthy.  I know little about what to say, how to help, what to do.  But I agree that what happened in Connecticut - at Virginia Tech - in Columbine - and so many more places - has less to do with guns and gun control and more to do with how we treat and help those who are mentally ill.

"I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am Jason Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness." -Liza Long

Read the full article here by Long, please.  This is an important article.  This is eye-opening, and upsetting, and moving.  It's eye-opening because of how much this mom struggles with her son, that she has developed a "safety plan" to protect her other children from their brother.  It's upsetting because of how frightening the scenarios she paints are, how real, how vivid.  How they start from such trivial matters.  And it's moving because of the love that oozes from this mother for her son, for this son who is impossible and dangerous to live with.  Beloved son.  

How do we answer this call for help?  How do we help these boys, these beloved sons, these mentally ill human beings?  How do we remove stigma and create a culture of acceptance and support?  How do we embrace these individuals when they are at their worst, seemingly impossible to love and help and support?  

And what are we waiting for?

Saturday, December 15, 2012


(I started this post in September but it remained unfinished until today.  How I wish it could have remained unfinished, because in September, it lacked the passion and the importance that it does today.)

Early one morning when we were camping, Aidan and I were walking back from the wash house, holding hands and drinking in the peaceful, beautiful dawn.  We'd been up only a short time; I hadn't even had a cup of coffee yet.  Suddenly, we heard gunshots in the distance, shattering the silence and the moment.  Neither one of us said anything until finally Aidan asked, "Was that a gun?"  I answered yes, it was.  Aidan's face was a mix of curiosity and confusion, possibly a little bit of wonder.  And so I added, "You know, the first thing that went through my mind when I heard those gunshots was how could anyone take a life so early in the morning, on such a beautiful day?" His face fell and his eyes grew big with compassion, understanding that a death had occurred, that we'd heard the silencing of a life.

In our house, we have a play kitchen set filled with miniature pots and pans, plastic peppers and cucumbers, wooden shakers filled with spices.  On the porch sits a doll's stroller, awaiting a time when it will safely transport a babydoll on an adventure.  In the basement we have a trunk full of dress up clothes, including nurse's scrubs, a firefighter's jacket, and a king's cape and crown.  In other words, our home is filled with toys and accessories that inspire imaginative and creative play, much of which emulates real life.  In the kitchen set, my kids cook up elaborate meals and serve them to us, delighting when we pretend it is too hot, or too spicy, or just plain gross.  Watching Pax lovingly stroll his babydoll down the street to meet his brothers at the bus stop, my heart swells in watching him care for his doll the way that I care for him - tucking the blanket snug; offering a snack.

 What is entirely absent from our home is any trace of a gun or lethal weapon, real or otherwise. We do not own toy pistols or cap guns or even squirt guns; we have just one lone Nerf sword that sits high on top of the refrigerator following its mysterious "disappearance" on the same day it was acquired.   

We do not own guns of any sort because guns are deadly.  Because the only thing you can do with a gun is kill someone or something, and nothing else.  We do not own toy guns, because it must be quite confusing if every other toy in this house is designed to encourage and create real-life play, except for this strange "toy," the one made to look like and be played with like the lethal weapon it is.

Yesterday, on December 14, a most horrific tragedy occurred in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT.  20 children and 6 adults were gunned down, at school, by a 20 year old who carried with him three different types of guns. I have not even begun to process this horror beyond the tears I've shed, the articles I've alternately obsessed over and avoided, and the tight and desperate hug I gave each of my children as they were delivered to me safely off the school bus yesterday.  I will not launch into an argument on gun control, because my views are extreme, and unwavering.  I am closed-minded when it comes to gun control; I am not willing to discuss or debate. I hate guns and I think extreme bans should be placed on the right to own weapons - and in particular, handguns.

But I'll tell you what has changed for me since this most recent school shooting.  I will no longer be apologetic about my "no toy guns" stance.  I will no longer feel embarrassed about my position during the rare encounters I'm asked to defend myself on why my kids can't play with the toy guns at someone else's house.  I'll be more vigilant about asking if guns are kept in the home of a friend whom my children will be visiting, and if so, what precautions have been taken to ensure that they are not loaded; that they are locked up and made unavailable to children.  I'll review more often with my children what they are to do if they ever find or see a gun, or hear about one being at school:  Do not touch the gun.  Run away.  Run and find a trusted adult.  Tell them.  In one of the articles I read this morning about how to talk to your children about senseless tragedies like this one, I read about how violence is cumulative.  Violence is cumulative, ergo exposure to violent toys increases the cumulative effect on children.  The mere fact that I had to have the conversation with them, to tell them about the unthinkable act of terror committed in an elementary school against students and teachers, solidified my stance on toy guns: 

 I will apologize no more. 

 How could anyone take a life so early in the morning, on such a beautiful day?

How could anyone take 26 lives?

And what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Little Light

"All it takes is a little light, a little hope to get started. Every year, Hanukkah comes around the winter solstice, at the darkest point of the year, when we are often feeling most tired and most hopeless. But it is also at this point that things begin to change, and the light begins to increase, little-by-little, like the candles in the menorah. There is a very deep teaching from the Jewish mystical tradition that we need to remember in our darkest hours: just as the Jews who cleaned the Temple found one little cruse of oil to burn amid all the wreckage, all of us have a yehidah, a tiny point in our souls that is always pure and in contact with God, no matter how much the rest of us feels broken-down and destroyed. There is always something -- a little spark of divinity, a little oil to make a ray of light to shine in the darkness -- something we can take hold of and use to re-build our lives.  
This Hanukkah, let's all remember that holy point within us, that little light that is always pure, that gives us a hope that we can share with everyone around us. Let's practice the miracle of re-dedicating ourselves to a purpose, whether it be to helping others re-build their lives, or to starting again in our own lives; because that's where the happiness of Hanukkah comes from."
-Madisyahu and Netanel Miles-YĆ©pez; read the full article here.
(Also watch Madisyahu's awesome video here, or if you prefer a live version, here on Jay Leno.)
This article, and this excerpt in particular, spoke to me in so many ways.  While I am still deeply rooted in Christian faith, I cannot help but love and identify with this Jewish perspective - for, in fact, we are not so different.  Without knowing how quite to name it, I've been collecting little bits of light these past few weeks, seeking out the bright shine of Christmas amidst the troubles and worries and irritations and frustrations.....

Taking a whole new approach to decking the halls this year, I unpacked all of our decorations but ran out of time the first day to actually get them in place.  The low countertop in the kitchen simply overflowed with Santas and snowmen and nutcrackers and nativity sets, a visual chaos of Christmas.

The next morning, I discovered this, lovingly and tenderly arranged by Aidan:
(I just love how all of the figures are oriented toward the Baby J. - even the donkey and sheep!)
It was a bright light that harried, frustrating morning.
Leaving the craft store one morning after a particularly trying time with Pax and an equally difficult time locating supplies I needed, Pax insisted on taking the elevator and I obliged.  When the doors opened to let us in, I quickly realized the need to step back and make way for the elderly couple exiting the elevator.  The passageway was crowded with merchandise in a tight little corner of the store.  The man, wearing a bright red, festive scarf, looked at me and said, not unkindly, "Could you give us a little room here?"  I think it was the red scarf that made me notice the twinkle in his eyes, for when I looked at him and replied "Of course!" with a smile that hid the frustrations I'd felt during shopping, he returned my smile with a cheerful grin.  He turned slightly to address his wife behind him.  "Young Lady," he began.  She beamed at him, amusement and love exuding for her beloved.  "Would you hold the elevator for these fine folks?"  They shuffled past us and we boarded the elevator, each of us calling to the other,
"Merry Christmas to you!" 
"Have a wonderful day!"
It was an ordinary exchange that felt wonderfully extraordinary in that moment.  I don't even know how to describe it better, or more fully, except to say that it was a shining light that filled me with warmth for the remainder of the day.  Perhaps the bright, cheerful, festive, happy scarf the man wore that day mirrored his inner self, and my mood became a reflection of his own light.  I sat in the car and did nothing but drink in the warmth and the light of that moment before eventually driving home.
Of the many joys of finally having a very verbal three year old, one that thrills me the most right now is the interactive storytelling we both enjoy.  For days and days, I've told and retold the story of the Baby Jesus, using a small, chunky, child's nativity set for the telling.  Pax loves to swoop in the Angel Gabriel and tell Mary, "You not be afraid."  He does not like, however, that there is no innkeeper in the nativity set.  So he improvised, found his own stand-in for the innkeeper.  Can you spot it?

(...and the Great Knight, playing the part of the Innkeeper...)

Shining His Bright Light on beautiful mornings.
We visited Santa Claus yesterday.  It was possibly the most fun visit we've had (playing hooky from school and lunch with Grandma certainly helped), with shining light on both ends.  When we first arrived, Santa had taken a short break to feed the reindeer, so we slowly cruised the mall until he returned. It didn't take long until we spotted him, however, so we went over to say hello.  Santa was kindly and sweet to the boys, inviting them back to his chair and leading us in a bit of a parade.  As we started walking, I noticed a boy in a motorized wheelchair that had come up from behind, and it was clear he was trying to reach Santa.  Too many obstacles kept him from catching up, so I called out to him, "Santa!  I think there is a boy here who would like to say hello to you."  Santa stopped, turned, and gave the boy a high-five and a cheerful greeting.  The boy beamed with joy as a classmate of his rushed up and gave Santa a big hug.  Their excitement was infectious, and their joy was so pure.  None of us among the small gathering of people - not even the 5 grownups - doubted that Santa was Magic, and that the moment was filled with light.

My heart swelled as my giddy boy Pax climbed into Santa's lap and chatted him right up.  He told him all about wanting a robot, and that he was there with his brothers Aidan and Leo, and that he had pizza for lunch.

On our way out, all three boys wanted to ride on the 3-horse carousel near the exit.  They mounted their steeds as I fished out a dollar bill, but suddenly a small boy rushed up to the carousel. It was clear he wanted a ride. Without hesitation, Aidan jumped off his horse and said, "Here, you can go ahead and have my horse!"  I was stunned by his kindness, by his selflessness, by his generosity.  Stunned. Aidan has struggled recently, finding difficulty in expressing the kindness and loving spirit that is in his heart.  We have struggled, trying hard to guide him and nurture him to express his love and kindness, often feeling like we're failing.

Aidan's favorite song from church is "This Little Light of Mine."  That day, boy did he let his little light shine.

"...let's all remember that holy point within us, that little light that is always pure, that gives us a hope that we can share with everyone around us."

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I don't have writer's block.  I have total writer's paralysis.  I have so much to say - I've sat down three times this weekend alone to commit my thoughts to print - and yet I still struggle to sort out what I am trying to say.

It is driving me crazy, this need to write paired with the inability to say what's on my mind.  Perhaps it's unwillingness.  Anyway.  Until then - tomorrow?  Tuesday?  Friday?  I need to get the ball rolling. 

Some favorite kid quotes:

Pax loves loves LOVES for me to tell and retell the story of the Baby Jesus's birth.  We have several kid-friendly nativity sets which we use to reenact the story.  Most of the characters in the scene are the same size - the creators paid no attention to accurate dimensions; everything is pretty much small fist-sized.  They are beloved nonetheless. 

One morning, after several re-tellings of the Christmas Story, I left Pax to his own devices and wandered off to unload the dishwasher.  Stealthily eavesdropping, I was lucky enough to hear the following exchange between Mary and the Baby Jesus, as interpreted by Pax:

Pax, holding Mary and speaking to the Baby J: "You come out my body."
Baby J: "I am too big!!"
Mary: "Oh. Yeah."

Heaven's knows that child can speak the truth about some things!!
Last night, we had our annual Picnic Dinner in front of the tree. Leo was ecstatic about the meal, and in particular, about dessert.  He kept saying to Aidan, to Jeff, and to Pax, 
"You know what we're having for dessert?  Fundue!  We're having fundue!"

Once, I corrected him.  "You know, Leo, it's called Fondue.  Not Fundue."  

Leo responded, "Yeah. [indignantly]  That's what I said.  Fundue."

Either that kid wasn't joking, or he has deadpan delivery down pat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Half the World and Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving Eve, a friend described a childhood tradition she'd bridged into her own family, one that was striking and humbling in its nature.  Each year on the Eve of turkey day, she and her family would have only rice and tea for dinner, since half the world's population subsists on a variation of this simple meal, most days.  It was too late for our 2011 meal, but I knew for certain what I'd be serving on Thanksgiving Eve 2012.

We talked to the kids about our meal a week or so in advance, and then again at dinner that night.  I shared with them the information I had googled before the meal - that 2.8 billion people, half the world's population, lived on less than $2 per day, and that rice was the staple crop that many people relied on for 2 or 3 meals every day.  I shared with Jeff that 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day.  As our grocery bill routinely tops the $200 mark each week, I find those numbers staggering.  And appalling.  And humbling.

We said grace and dinner began.  I'd already made a concession for the kids, since they are not big rice eaters and I didn't think they'd care much for tea, either (despite copious amounts of sugar).  Instead, I made available buttered noodles and apple juice.  Aidan was slightly wary about dinner - last week, at a restaurant, he'd ordered buttered noodles for lunch, then found himself still quite hungry after he'd polished off the plate.  He cajoled his brothers into sharing their leftovers, and told me later, "I really regretted not ordering something with more protein in it."  But Aidan is a very good sport about dinner and food in general, and helped himself to noodles and rice, then asked for a taste of our tea.  Leo stared grumpily at his plate and asked what else he was getting for dinner.  "Nothing, honey, remember?"  I tried to talk through the point of the meal again, but Leo couldn't hear me above his howls of protest.  Meanwhile, Pax whined that he wanted an apple, wanted an apple, where was his apple? and refused to touch the noodles he usually gobbles right up when served as a side.  Defeated, I quietly sipped my tea and gave Jeff a long look that said "What was I thinking?"  I muttered, "This is a disaster."   Dinner ended early, and quickly.  I felt a pang of guilt when I realized how little clean up there was, and how easy the dinner prep had been.  Was I really supposed to be enjoying that part so much?

Oh, and then of course there was all the cheating.   I'd loaded the kids up on lots of fruit and some protein-rich granola bars in the afternoon, in preparation for the austere dinner.  In general,  I'm pretty disciplined.  But a gin-and-tonic proved irresistible to us at 4:00 in the afternoon, and I reasoned with Jeff that possibly 1/8th of the world's population enjoys gin and tonics before dinner.  By 9:00 at night, I was really, really, really hungry.  (And wasn't that the whole point?) But then Jeff reasoned that if we let the apple pie we'd made that weekend sit any longer in the fridge, it would have to be pitched in the trash.  So we would actually not be wasteful of food if we were to consume the leftover pie....

I felt like we'd failed.  But with a few day's worth of perspective, I suppose I've come to appreciate that the take-away message from the meal was perhaps more important than the discipline required to fully embrace it.  We didn't eat only rice and tea, we didn't forego indulgences like mixed drinks and pie, we didn't feel a particularly deep connection to half the world's population.  But we did experience that it was hard.  And staggering.  And humbling.  And important.  It was important, to be uncomfortable and hungry and feel guilty for our indulgences.  While I don't think we did a good job sticking to tradition, I think we each learned from the experience.  I walked away with an even deeper sense of compassion, and gratitude.  I'm really grateful that my kids love fruit and expect it to be served at every meal.  I'm really grateful that rice is a choice in this house, in addition to pasta and grains and bread and dairy and veggies and lean meats.  I'm really grateful that each of us struggled in our own ways through the meal, because if it had been easy, how could we grow?

I'm glad we did it.  I'm glad we failed.  It will give us something to work toward next year, and in the meantime, it will make us think more deeply about half the world.

Aidan wrote this recipe at school, two days before our meal.  Perhaps he knows exactly how to serve the whole world, after all....

A Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving, by Aidan Carter

Ingrients:  famly, food, prayers, freinds, brotherhood.
First you stir a family, food, freinds.
Add brotherhood beat for 360 seconds.
Servers the whole world.
Full of Thanks giving

Pax and his "Hold onto"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eggs like fish

I absolutely love what comes out of the mouths of babes!

Last night, at dinner, Leo was telling us about his day.  A classmate of his had gotten in trouble earlier in the week when there was a substitute teacher, and she was facing the consequences of her bad behavior.  Leo announced, "Sasha* had to go see the advice principal today because she was so bad when we had the substitute."  (*not her real name)

Me:  She had to go where?

Leo:  The Advice Principal (with a look that said, are you deaf?  I said advice principal!)

(...I sure do hope that the vice principal had some good advice to offer Sasha.....)


Today, Pax and I were making brownies, his all-time favorite treat to bake.  After I helped him crack open the egg, he watched as the yolk slowly slid out of the shell.  Grinning and giggling, he said with glee - -

"Oh!  The egg just came out like a fish!" 

"Like a fish?"  I asked.

"Yes!  Like a clean goldfish!"

And indeed, the golden yolk bore an uncanny resemblance to Cookie, the goldfish Pax had helped return to her newly cleaned bowl, just last week.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Filled to overflow

I fear that my posts have been rather thin these days, lacking substance.  I hope to remedy that soon enough.  In the meantime -

For many years now, our family has created a Tree of Thanks each November.  But this year, the idea of the tree felt old and stale. I wanted something new.  Inspired by the Trick or Treat banner and influenced by the letter-centric world in which both Leo and Pax exist, I thought of an alternative. 

I cut out 26 different colored leaves from cardstock, and labeled each one with a fancy gold letter at the top - A through Z.  For a week and a half during dinner conversation, we went though each letter and named the things for which we were most grateful, letter by letter.  Some were amusing, others, poignant, others still, tender and true. 

I hot glued each leaf to a long satin brown ribbon and hung the banner low enough in the dining room to both read and to add to as the month goes on and our gratitude grows.

P.S. May I just add.... this idea did NOT come from Pinterest, thankyouverymuch.  While I probably saw something like it, months ago, resulting in a simmering-on-the-back-burner effect, this came from my brain.  It felt refreshing and encouraging to have figured something creative out all by myself, for a change....

Highlights of the letters include many adventures and appreciations we've shared this year, including corn mazes and baking brownies and keyboarding lessons and gymnastics and speech therapists and ice cream.
Predictably, A included many names - Adam; Anne; Aunts; Aidan.  However, when Leo added "Apple Baby" to our A-list gratitudes, I was undone.  Apple Baby is the nickname he gave to the baby we lost before we had our Leo.  Perhaps, in some very deep and unconscious part of his mind, Leo will always hold appreciation for our Apple Baby, because without her, there would be no Leo Gabriel - our Leo "Good News."  His willingness to bear witness, out loud, to her life in utero always makes me take a deep breath, filled to overflowing with gratitude and love.

Filled to overflowing with gratitude and love - that pretty much sums it up.  For even when I am exhausted, annoyed, angry, upset - even then - I am grateful.  For them. 

For Aidan:  This morning, he snuck down the stairs before Jeff and I were up, fed the cats (even though it makes him gag), and fixed breakfast for himself and his brothers.  He cut Pax's toaster waffle just how he likes it - some in strips, some in pieces - and added syrup carefully as a Sunday treat.  He carefully spiked his hair for church and asked Jeff for another lesson in tying a tie, loving how much he looked like Dad today in pinstripe shirts and blue ties. 

For Leo:  Who, when asked at dinner what his favorite animal was, responded, "I love ants, because they always work together as a team and help each other out."  Who showers his affection and tender care on his friends and his family, who has transitioned more beautifully to kindergarten than I could have ever hoped or dreamed.  

For Pax:  Who never stops talking.  Who never. stops. talking!!!!  We're in the process of rearranging pictures and photos all over the house, rehanging and reframing right and left.  I brought down a huge framed Matisse print from our bedroom and stashed it in the kitchen, hoping to coax Jeff into swapping the five naked dancers for a proud, tall rooster poster we'd stored behind the Matisse.  When Pax asked why the frame was in the kitchen, I answered, "There's a rooster in here that Daddy is going to frame."  Later, when my mom visited, Pax took her by the hand, led her to the frame and announced, "There is a rooster in here." Furrowing his brow, he added, "But I do not hear him inside here....?" 

And of course, for Jeff.  Without whom none of this would be possible, or funny, or fun.