Tag Archives: Holidays

Mother’s Day: The Everyday Moments Are the Greatest Gift

Mother’s Day—underneath it all, it’s just an ordinary day. This one, though, is wrapped up with a pretty bow. Get up, ooh and ahh over the effort of pancakes for breakfast that I know husband really put forth; ten minutes in, tell someone to stop saying stupid; decide that going to a park for the day would be the greatest way to spend a beautiful day because that’s what we normally do. Hugs from my kids, now those are the moments I really cherish.

Gush over the cards the kids made, the ones husband gently urged, then nagged, and then threatened them about for weeks. Daughter made hers with plenty of time to spare. Someone else slapped six words to paper and called it done. After a week of battles, who can blame him? I forced him to practice the dreaded recorder. I made him go to bed at a decent hour. I told him to please for the tenth time put his dirty underwear in the laundry room. He called me lazy and that didn’t go well, followed by a very long reminder of who washes his underwear and makes his dinner every night.

A dozen questions this week started with, “I know you’re going to say no, but…” And then I did.

The kids still give me presents, ones that teachers made them do at school but they are proud of nonetheless. Things my kids took care to hide from me, to surprise me with. I love every drawing, every bit of glue and string and paper. After, their part done, my kids run off to play Legos or get ready for the park.

Mother’s Day is just a day. For me, it’s more about the moments that aren’t forced. The times when one of the kids buries a head in my soft gut and reminds me he isn’t too old for me just yet. When I sing “You Are My Sunshine” to my daughter and her eyes fill with tears every single time. When I walk into my room and find a note that says, “Mommy you’re the best!” When the child who would never hold my hand now grabs it and doesn’t let go. When in the quiet of a new day, a sleepy boy snuggles up to me and doesn’t need to say a word.Mother's Day

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Gifts That Fill You Up

I remember my husband, boyfriend at the time, opening the package shipped from his grandmother. Inside sat neatly packed metal tins decorated with winter scenes and holly. My husband knew the gloriousness hiding within the cold round boxes. I had no idea. I stood next to him, craning my neck to get a good peek at his special gifts. He opened them one by one and offered me something unexpected: a Christmas cookie. Each tin held goodies more delectable than the last: butter cookies sprinkled with colored jimmies, almond crescents dusted with powdered sugar, and something called springerle, a German anise-flavored cookie imprinted with flowers and like nothing I’d ever tasted. The flavor still makes me swoon.

Baked springerle, showing typical "foot&q...

Springerle with typical foot after baking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia, Andreas Bauerle)

I immediately knew two things: I had to stay in that relationship long enough to get the recipes, and I had to get him out of the room so I could have more of those cookies that he had quickly put aside.

Every year while my husband was a bachelor, Grandma sent him tins of Christmas cookies. When she died, we got the recipes and the tradition was up to us. The springerle were a bit of a legend in the family. As a child, his grandfather used to spend 30 minutes of vigorous beating by hand to get the eggs to just the right pale yellow. I’m a bit spoiled with my kitchen gadgetry now. I make my stand mixer do all the work, mainly because my arms resemble vermicelli more than an anatomical structure.

Every Christmas, we make at least one of Grandma’s cookies and we’ve added our own through the years. The cookies don’t come from Grandma anymore, but they’re her legacy, still her gift.

springerle board

Grandma’s springerle board, a well-loved heirloom.

When my husband set out on his own, his mother gave him copies of the recipes she made when he was young, along with some of the basics. During the rest of the year, we use those recipes too: Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Barbecue Meat Loaf, cinnamon toast. “I don’t know why she thought I didn’t know how to make that,” he said. But two duplicate cards sit in his recipe box. I guess she worried.

Some recipes have been a bit more elusive, but still a gift nonetheless. When I was a kid, everyone spent a day at my grandparents’ house making tamales. No one knew the recipe when my grandmother died so my grandfather tried to replicate it. I spent a day with him mixing masa and filling corn husks. Though it was trial and error, I wrote it down. When he died months later, I was so grateful to have that recipe.

Recipes tell the timeline of your life. When my husband and I first married, we had a repertoire of entrees we liked to cook together. We eventually grew tired of them. We reminisce about them now, but we still don’t cook them. Our tastes have changed. I’ll never throw those recipes away because when I see them, they remind me of less chaotic evenings cooking with him in our first house, talking about our day without the interruption of squawking children.

Those recipes are all gifts to me. They have provided more memories and more smiles than any store-bought present. You know the saying: The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. I can tell you, my heart is always full.

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Santa Is Real If You Know Where to Look

I’ll never forget it. I was in fourth grade, December, cheerleading practice after school in a room full of bubbly girls. One minute I jumped with excitement, innocence. The world was a good place. The next minute, Anna walked up to me, got in my face, and stared hard at me with her enormous eyes. I wondered what I had done to tick her off.

“Did you hear?” she asked.

“What?” I cowered.

“Santa isn’t real,” she said. With those three words, my childhood was crushed. I never doubted her. She was a fifth grader after all. I was stinkin’ mad. “Why did you tell me that?” I growled back. The magic, the possibility, the awe—she yanked it away like my favorite baby doll and ripped its head off. And I’ve always kind of hated her for that.

I never mentioned to my parents what Anna said. I played the charade, spent several Christmases pretending I believed because I didn’t know whether I would still get presents, but Christmas morning just wasn’t as fun anymore. (Turns out, you do still get presents.)santapic

And it turns out the magic didn’t really go away either. It just took me a long time to find it again. I never got it as a kid, that whole thing about giving is better than receiving. I’ve found in my older age that if I can do a little something extra every year for at least one person, that’s what the season is about. It’s about giving to someone in need, giving to someone you love, giving to someone you don’t know, making or doing something a little extra special for even one person. In a world where there’s never enough time to stop, this is the time of year when I try to go out of my way anyway.

That’s what I try to teach my kids, but it’s hard when I’m also trying to get them to pare down their Christmas lists. I don’t know if they get that, but one day they will. And I don’t mind them wanting some Christmas magic too. I know how important it was to me as a child, daring to dream of bigger things.

So when my fourth-grade son asked me yesterday, “Is Santa real? I think it’s you. Please tell me,” it was hard for me. I thought about Anna and how I didn’t want to be that person for him. But I told him the truth because one thing I’ve learned after all these years: Santa exists, in all of us.

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A Mother’s Thanksgiving

As a mother, every day is Thanksgiving to me. I am grateful when my family walks out the door at their varying times every morning and we all come back together for the mad scramble that is dinner each night. Amidst the kids’ taunting, the whining about science fair projects, and me on the very brink of falling apart myself, I stop to take note that everyone came home in one piece. That alone makes it a good day.

As much as I nag about my son’s socks on the floor, I’m thankful they’re still size 2 and even more so that they’re still here, in my home. He’s only on my watch for so long.

I can’t stand to see the teeny, tiny trinkets that cover my daughter’s dresser, a housekeeping nightmare. So often I skip right over the menagerie and save the dusting for another week. Still I smile when I examine each one closely and remember how I would have wanted a half-inch glass turtle as a seven-year-old girl. One day curling irons and pictures of boys will replace them.

When my nine-year-old son asked when I planned to stop reading to him at bedtime, my heart dropped to my knees. It’s the time of day when we can still snuggle like we’ve done since he was young. We talk and giggle and for a few minutes, he has no show to put on for anyone. Toughness and independence left at the door, he enjoys our time together. I’m not ready for it to end, but that day will come soon. For now, I’m ever so grateful for each night that he doesn’t announce our ritual is over.

I’m grateful for a daughter who puts her brother in his place. She’ll be a tough girl who doesn’t take it from anybody. And he’ll be a better man for it.

I love starting my day with a chaotic send-off to school. And just when I think everyone is too busy for good-byes, my son always turns back, buries his head in my gut, and hugs me tight. Then my daughter squeezes me with the strength of a python and bolts out the door, skipping and jumping.

They’re not too old for me, not yet.

For every meal I silently bless and sprinkle with a bit of hope that everyone will eat it, for every afternoon that I am grateful I held myself together when both kids pulled my emotions in every direction, for every odd and scary health mystery that turns out to be gas or eczema, for every tear wiped, for every hug, for every kiss, for every loud howl of laughter, for every moment of quiet broken by shouts for me, I am so grateful every day of my life.

turkey

I have a feeling my thankful thoughts are different from this guy’s.

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How Our Family Is Saving a Tree

So we don’t know when it will happen or the specific tree and we’re not chaining ourselves to it, but four years ago my family made a decision that will eventually save a tree.

A few years ago, it bothered me that our family of four made a big impact on the environment—in a bad way. We produced a lot of unnecessary trash. I needed to change our habits at home to help the environment, teach our kids responsibility for the Earth and its life, and surprisingly cut costs.

What we did is nothing you haven’t heard of, but the outcome surprised me, the transition was easy, and we’ve never looked back.

1. Switch to cloth napkins. In one day during meals and snacks alone, we were using about 20 paper napkins. That’s 140 napkins a week, 560 a month, and 6,720 a year. Sometimes the napkins were barely used, it’s just that no one could remember who wiped their mouth on the corner.

Instead of sets, I use a mix of napkins I made in different fabrics so each child will remember their napkin for the day. (This was important when the kids were younger.) I used fabric remnants to put them together. I don’t have tons of extra laundry to do. The napkins don’t stain. And I buy maybe two packs of paper napkins a year instead of one a month.

These cloth napkins have held up to lots of gooey hands and messy mouths during four years of use.

The National Resources Defense Council says, “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.” Imagine if more people started using cloth napkins or replaced more than one package.

2. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels. To dry produce or clean up spills and messes, I use bar towels. I probably use eight rolls of paper towels a year, reserving them only for meat juices and really icky stuff. This switch to cloth doesn’t really add to my laundry pile either.

3. Use reusable water bottles. I almost never used bottled water, but I think it’s important to say this. Those plastic water bottles do so much damage to the environment. They harm animals. They fill up landfills. Your great-great-grandchildren will probably be around when those bottles are still sitting in landfills, leaching chemicals. We use reusable stainless steel water bottles and refill them with tap water.

4. Reuse your shopping bags. One of the best purchases I have made is reusable shopping bags. They hold an unbelievable amount of stuff and I can still lift it all. Plastic grocery bags kill marine animals that think they are food, and those bags won’t degrade in your lifetime.

5. Keep recyclables for crafting.I keep a designated bin for recyclables and non-recyclables in my kids’ craft area. Imagination can transform cardboard, caps, lids, mesh produce bags, Styrofoam trays, and greeting cards into a treehouse for toy people, robots, sculpture, or whatever else my kids and I think up. Give trash a new life.

Who says you can't make something cute out of junk?

6. Pack a trash-free lunch. We pack lunches and snacks in reusable BPA-free containers instead of plastic baggies. (I sometimes still use these bags for freezing meat, but I buy and use a lot less than I used to.) Washing dishes is better on the environment than throwing away trash.

I think about how much trash we save in a year and how much we have saved since we started this: more than 26,000 napkins in four years. That doesn’t take into account the plastic baggies we haven’t used, paper towels, or all of the paper we have been recycling.

Though it’s impossible to know just how many napkins can be made from one tree because of the use of wood pulp and recycled content, I know we’re making an impact and we’re going to save that tree. And I know we can make a dent in the landfills however small.

You learn something new every day:

http://www.wireandtwine.com/green/50/

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The Temptation of Chocolate Easter Bunnies

Every Easter morning of my childhood I awoke to a basket brimming with gooey marshmallow eggs, rainbow-colored jellybeans, speckled malted eggs, and other glorious pastel confections. The prize in the basket, though, was always the big chocolate bunny.

Having the sweet tooth, or teeth, that I did, it didn’t take long for me to plow through those springtime delights. By dark, I had eaten all of the good stuff and struggled with my failing elementary schooler’s willpower.

Throughout the week, I’d nibble the lame remaining candies and eye my older sister’s basket, still overflowing with goodies just like Easter morning. It tortured me like a pair of Sunday tights with a sagging crotch.

Every year, I gave in to my temptation. Daily I snuck into her bedroom, grabbed her chocolate bunny, and raced back to the safe haven behind my bed. Kneeling on my pink shag carpet, I fumbled with the packaging, trying to quiet the crackle of plastic and peeking over my bed to make sure my sister hadn’t heard. I took one bite of the bunny’s ear, savoring its creamy goodness, and sent it back to its package. Knowing I was safe for a while because the front of the box covered the bitten ear, I put it back in my sister’s room. I repeated this many times a day for several days until my sister noticed something had nibbled away her bunny’s ears and was headed toward its face. Sitting in my room, a shriek would break the silence. “KAAA-REN!”

Bunny ears I can't bite. He only looks chocolate. Bummer.

The jig was up. I may as well have had chocolate on my face. My story? You can’t leave something so good sitting there, in plain sight, and not eat it. Easter was over. Eat the candy already. She never learned her lesson. And I don’t think she ever caught on about her trick-or-treat bag either. She really could have tried to hide her loot better.

As an adult, I made up for the many bunny ears I ate as a kid. One year I gave my sister a chocolate bunny with super-duper bunny ears. I think we’re even.

My kids don’t know how to haggle over holiday candy. They simply don’t know what they’re missing. They politely ask to eat a few pieces of candy on Easter. By Halloween, we realize we still have Easter candy lying around. Poor kids don’t know how to work the system. Good thing they have me to eat whatever good stuff is hanging around.

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Ghosts of Valentine’s Past

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. There have been years when I awaited with starry anticipation, only to have two sticky toddlers put a crimp in the romance. My husband and I have never bothered with sitters, learning long ago that the area restaurants jack up their prices and fancy up their menus and all we really want is something fresh and fun and jeans-appropriate.

When the kids were young, I tried cooking a nice meal after the kids went to bed. Those turned out to be the nights the kids would not go to sleep at 7:30, and they’d come out of their rooms a dozen times. Curly Bear fell on the floor. Water needed refilling. Someone suddenly needed a tissue instead of a sleeve. Plans for dinner went out the window with the screams of “Mom” from my daughter’s bedroom, and we’d end up scarfing down food in a manic hunger.

This candy didn't end up on the floor or in any drinks.

We’ve tried including the kids in a special dinner at home only to find our daughter had a trick napkin that just wouldn’t stay in her lap. Oh, it’s on the floor again. Better climb down to get it. She burned all the calories from her meal while she constantly retrieved that flyaway napkin. Meanwhile, the ploop! of each pea my son plunked in his milk attracted the other half of our attention. Boy, we couldn’t have asked for a more romantic evening.

I get a bit weepy about the kids growing up sometimes, but it has plenty of advantages. Like dates and Valentine’s Day. Last night, I made a meal we could all enjoy and everyone sat around the table like civilized people and ate it. No one crawled on the floor or stuck food in their milk, though I caught my son red-handed earlier in the week. We enjoyed our evening together. I gave the kids homemade candy that took more time than I care to admit to make. But including my children in Valentine’s Day is what having a family is about. I love them too, every cute, painful, annoying, sweet thing about them. And they put up with me.

And the husband and I can finally have our dates. We met for lunch while the kids were at school, and neither of us put peas in our drinks.

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Filed under Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

The Lost Note

For three years a note hung on the mirror in my room, bringing a smile to my face every time I saw it. My son wrote the words “I lave you! Mommy,” cut it into the shape of a heart, folded it, and tucked it into my hand one day when I came into his kindergarten class. Now it’s lost. My kids have given me a lot of little notes, but only a few hold special places in my heart. This was the first one I remember getting from my son that choked me up a little. Simple words. But a mom notices the effort put forth to cut it out. At school no less. In kindergarten. When I missed him achingly every single day.

I volunteered in his classroom every week, and when I came in, looking forward to seeing my little boy, he gave me not so much as a nod, a glance, any sort of acknowledgement. It’s a far cry from the tactics I use to remove my daughter from my leg every week in her class and the twenty kisses I must give her before I shuffle out the door. So when he tucked that tiny folded note in my hand that day and I opened it, not only did the words mean a lot, the action spoke volumes.

A small act that meant a lot to this mom.

I came home and promptly displayed the note, where it has been until recently, when I decided to write a blog post about my kids’ writing. I took it down to take a picture. That picture is all I have left. I can’t find the note anywhere. I’ve searched in every stack of papers all over the house—and there are many. I’m afraid it’s gone for good.

I have other notes. My kids’ first writings and first thoughts mean a lot to me. I keep notes and schoolwork from my children tucked away because I love the primitive spelling and the crooked writing and the things they felt important enough to put to paper.

Nothing so perfectly captures the innocence or the way a child speaks than the way she first spells her own thoughts. When I read my daughter’s words, I can hear her talking in that same sweet way.

“My brudr likes pink.” I laugh because my daughter must have felt feisty to write that on her schoolwork, knowing how her brother despises the color. While cleaning my kids’ rooms one day, I came across this neatly spelled note that my son wrote to my daughter: “Would you like to watch Star Wars with me? Love, Han Solo.” I loved that he wouldn’t sign his own name.

A sign on my daughter’s door reads “Club Howse.” An old list of months on her walls says, “Januwiwy, Febuwiwy…” I can’t help but chuckle when I read it.

There will come a time when my children outgrow that cuteness, and as much as I appreciate it now, I look forward to reading what comes from the heart when they’re older. I won’t want it riddled with misspellings then.

But for now, I keep a drawer stuffed with scraps of paper that say “I love you” (a mom can never have enough) and schoolwork containing funny sentences, things they write that mark this moment and this time. And I’m going to keep looking for that heart, even though my son offered to make a new one for me.

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Filed under Boy Stories, Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

The Best Plans

When my husband announced he’d be off for the kids’ winter break, I had mixed feelings. The four of us together for eleven days with no real plans sounded like the perfect recipe for a bubbling disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But there are many weekends I don’t think I’ll survive, when I think we all can’t wait for Monday to come. The kids fight over who gets which vitamin at breakfast, who gets to brush their teeth first, and the grumpiness escalates from there.

I can handle them fine on my own for a week. They run off in their pajamas and play while I have a little “work” to do. But throw another adult in the mix and they suddenly need to be supervised. They need someone to play with them. This usually translates to my son begging my husband to be with him 24/7 and my husband not getting any peace.

I needed a plan. Eleven days together couldn’t possibly go well if we didn’t have a schedule of fantastic places to go. Our usual winter break of the kids and me lying around the house in our pj’s, playing games, crafting, watching movies, and playing the day by ear would drive my husband crazy, I thought. He would be bored in the house, the kids wouldn’t leave him alone, and I wouldn’t be able to stand the tension.

Or so I thought.

I never did make that plan. And we did lie around the house playing games, watching movies, reading books, and just doing whatever we wanted. The kids played with friends a couple of times. Save for one meltdown and a few minor fusses, our vacation went smoothly. We snow-tubed our way down a mountain one day, toasted in the new year together, and discussed every Star Wars character we could think of. We broke in my son’s new basketball goal, learned a new domino game, and broke household records and slept in every day. We drove dolls around in their new pink jeep, made the best chocolate-chocolate chip cookies ever, built the city of Atlantis, and made Lego starships take flight.

The night before my husband had to go back to work, I could tell something was wrong. He was sad. Since our son was a baby, that’s the longest time we’ve had at home together as a family to just be. To just enjoy each other, to have nowhere to be, and to go where the days took us.

We didn’t do anything fancy. We didn’t go far. But we defied all expectations and proved that sometimes the best times are those that are unplanned.

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Filed under Everyday Life, Mom vs. Dad

A New Year for Mom

My husband and I watched some home movies recently. My daughter was 2 and my son 4. Thirty seconds in, tears spilled from my eyes at the sound of my daughter’s voice. I hadn’t heard that baby voice in four years. I say I don’t miss all that, life when the kids were younger, but I realize now it’s just a coping mechanism.

What did I learn from watching those old movies? My kids haven’t changed much. Minus the baby fat, they look exactly the same. Between bursts of laughter, my husband and I agreed they still act the same too. They still do the same jerky roll-and-dance routine with ferocious concentration. The neighborhood dogs still howl when my daughter sings. My son still has a smart mouth.

“What did you do in kindergarten today?” I cooed into the video camera, waiting for a precious response I’m sure.

My son stared at me and sweetly grinned. “Sat on the pot all day.”

“Let’s be nice. What did you do?”

“Sat on the pot all day,” he said, erupting in giggles. This conversation could have happened yesterday. Even now I still haven’t learned when to quit.

As I sat watching through blurry eyes, I thought of how busy our life has become. Our days are governed by a schedule filled with school, homework, and shuttling to and from sports or Scouts or some Lego activity. And it’s up to me to make sure we fit everything in. Add in family time, meltdowns, confiding, and playing outside, and there isn’t much room to just be. The structured days make for a mom who needs to let loose more often and craves downtime with her kids.

I simply need to step back and enjoy my kids more. They may look the same, but life has gotten complicated. The kids’ problems go far beyond cookies and milk.

When my son revealed one day he’d been pushed around and punched in the gut at school, it was tough to be the adult, but I found myself having a very adult conversation with him about bullies, surprised at the parental mumbo jumbo spewing from my mouth. And then I had to sit back and let him take charge. Sometimes this parenting stuff is for the birds, all this letting go and letting them run their own lives.

When my daughter gets teased for sounding like a baby, I can’t promise her it will never happen again. I can only pretend I’m good at this mom thing and help her see that she’s a beautiful person and words hurt and she should never do the same.

Parenting is always about rules, guidance, and right and wrong. It wears a mom down. Some days now, there’s hardly ever room for the good stuff. I get enough of the aches. Why should I wait for grandchildren to have all my fun? I’m making room for it now.

I don’t usually set resolutions for the new year, but this year because the timing is right, I resolve to take a breath each afternoon and enjoy my kids more.

Some things never change, and some things should.

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