Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hazards of Overindulgence

Christmas was wonderful! Having been at church Christmas Eve, we didn't get everyone in bed until around 11. Christmas morning, we came downstairs at around 9, and I let the kids open their stockings and check out the goodies. I held them off on opening the rest of the gifts until Beth arrived to join in. I know it may seem mean, but not only does the little bit of wait time in between gifts help them learn self-control and patience, it also gives them unfettered time to enjoy each gift a little more thoroughly before rushing on to the next "prize." Beth arrived just before 11, so they didn't really have to wait all that long, if you factor in time for breakfast.

We enjoyed fellowship time while cooking dinner, and the boys played pleasantly with their new goodies.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Keeping a Stocked Larder

Christmas is here and so too are the weather reports of our first major winter storm on the way! They're currently predicting 6 to 10 inches, but last time we had one along these lines, we ended up with four feet! More predictable than the weather in this type of situation, are the long lines and the empty shelves at the grocery store. I often hear comments about people wanting milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Along those lines, I have seen several posts on a networking site called "CafeMom" asking what sorts of things do you like to keep handy in the event of a storm. Having answered this post a number of times now, and in much the same way, I thought I'd post my basic answers here as well; for some of the more obscure items, I'll post what I might use it to make...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

... And Blessing Others (Traditions of the Past)

My mom called me this morning. She was talking about Christmas (of course) and happened to mention in the course of the conversation that they are really trying to use this season to bless others, instead of just blessing themselves. She was using the collective we that is her house, which includes 6 or 7 adults and 7 kids.

She mentioned that she had a regular customer who could not afford the $5 to cover the cost of the print for the santa photo taken at the shop where Mom works. (Mom told her to come pick up the pictures of her children with Santa.) She then talked to an uncle, who is a member of the Elks lodge out there and he hooked the woman up for a Breakfast With Santa event that the Elks put on for the needy each year. And my mom managed to find a way to get her children a few gifts and the Mom a gift card for groceries. My mom is a wizard with helping others.

Anyway... She also mentioned a tradition they had recently re-enacted to help another family with children, no job, and that are - essentially - losing their house before long. (There are so very many out there in this position this year.) They did a "Pounding" for the family last month, Mom said.

A pounding?

Silly visions of my family beating this other family up with stuffed socks flitted through my head.

"What is a 'pounding'?" I asked.

"Why has no one heard of this any more?!" was her rather exasperated reply. It turns out a Pounding was done for families with new babies, in new homes, or who were under extreme hardship to help them out. Other families - neighbors, friends, church families - got together to bring pounds of food for the family to help them out. Sometimes they brought food, sometimes other things to help out - but essentially, communities got together to help those in need.

Mom talked about my sister-in-law going to get a name from the giving tree, and finding them all taken. Blessings. They are all around us - being given and received. But that is a question that stuck with me.

Why has no one heard of this any more? Well, my guess is that we haven't heard of it because we don't do it as much any more. I think part of that stems from so many government groups who have stepped in where churches and communities used to help out. I suspect that as we move further into government debt, these sorts of community outreach ideas will see a resurgence - and, frankly, I am hopeful that it will. I would love to see communities draw back together in times of hardship and support one another - I think it will help us all to remember/realize that we all need help sometimes and that needing help, asking for help and receiving help are not shameful. Giving help is a blessing to all as well.

God bless us - and help us to bless others - as we are on our final few days before Christmas Day of 2010!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ending 2010 Feeling Blessed

I saw a friend's post on Facebook the other day and she was (seemingly) stunned, excited, and feeling blessed all in one shot. She and her hard-working husband had found out that one of their bigger bills had been paid in full by an anonymous benefactor as a "Secret Santa" gift. I am totally thrilled for them!

Their family and ours have been concurrently working through the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover system this past year and I can think of no better gift to give than to help someone come one step closer to Freedom. Freedom from being indebted to "someone" (whether a large corporation or an individual person) else. Freedom from worrying at night over what bills might not be paid; Freedom from having to delay vacations, get-togethers, and nights out because the money is needed for something else.

Along those lines, I also am excited for our family! We started 2010 with about $17,000 in debts, not including our house, but including my student loan from years back. My goal is to have everything paid off in the next two years so that when Jeff retires in four years we have about two years of savings built up and don't have to worry while we move on to "what's next." I have been working towards this goal all through the year, and will continue to for the next two years as planned.

The bill I received in the mail today is for a now-cancelled credit card that I used when starting up my business. At the beginning of 2010, I owed $3,000 on the card. It is now down to $345 - something I can even conceive of paying off in one month! Jeff is sleeping, after pulling an all-nighter as he completed a final paper for a class he's in, so I get to share the news here first.

In looking back over the events of any given year, I am always amazed at how much we've achieved in spite of spending so much time feeling like I am trudging from day to day to day, spinning my wheels, getting "no where." Our three biggest this year are:
  • This year, I completed my Bachelor's Degree in Social Science - something I started eighteen years ago before I was even out of high school!
  • Jeff is finally re-enrolled in college classes and working toward his degree. He has been planning, hoping, and wanting this for sixteen years, but has been thwarted for many reasons over the years. Again, I am thrilled for him!
  • We are closer to being debt-free than we were at the beginning of the year.
So often it is easy to feel like we have let ourselves down in not achieving every single "New Year's Resolution" that we set at the beginning of each year. I don't put goals like weight loss, etc. in stone, but I do write them down, along with my intended path for getting there. I always end the year closer than I was when the year started, even if I didn't achieve the exact goal. In that, I am able to feel continually blessed as I come to Christmas and to the New Year. I hope, as you look at your achievements - not the ones you feel like you missed (the "should have's") but the ones you really managed to ring the bell on - that you feel as much confidence and blessing as I do entering into 2011. If you're not quite there yet, you have two weeks left to really look at what you've done, and realize it's always more than you thought!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Buttercup's Birthday Story

December 6 is not only the day St. Nicholas is commemorated in the Orthodox Church (see the previous post for more about him) but also our young Buttercup's birthday. Last night as I watched her sleeping, it occurred to me that there are things that I did for the first three, in some fashion, but never did for her. One was to create a "Dear You" book. For each of the first three - to lesser and lesser degrees - I began journals in which I wrote down thoughts and notes and memories for them to carry with them in the future. This blog has largely taken the place of those books. Keeping up with four was just too difficult because I had so much to say!

So here is a bit of her "birth story" - for it's good, bad and funny - mostly, just for her.

Happy Birth-Day! Maybe 15 or 20 minutes old here (? Someone will have to correct me in the comments!)

My water broke unexpectedly - and at home. After four children, this is a first for me. It also is not a good sign because events go quickly for me once that happens. I have the greatly appreciated fortune of a long early labor (the non-painful part!) but it can make gauging when to take the kids to friends' houses difficult at times. In the case of Buttercup, we had taken the boys to our priest's house the weekend before so they could spend time with his family while I faced the possibility of going to the birthing center. After "imposing" on them for three days, we went back to pick the boys up - at that point it seemed clear, we were still in the earliest "hurry up and wait" part. How very military of my children!

When my water finally did break, the priest's wife had to leave town that weekend and so they couldn't take the boys. The next nearest family that I could think of on the spur of the moment lived thirty minutes to the west of us - the birthing center was around 45 minutes to the southeast of us - if there was no traffic (thank goodness it was a weekend, otherwise driving into Annapolis can cause quite a bit of trouble!)

So as I got the kids ready, made a phone call to see if this family could come out to get the boys at the last minute, unannounced, and tried to decide if this was really the time to go (or should I wait??), Jeffery worked to help me and convince me that he really did know me "that well" and that I needed to make moves to get to the birthing center - bless his heart. I finally agreed as the contractions got stronger and I was in increasing amounts of discomfort. I was putting my coat on a short fifteen minutes later, when he came over to give me a string of names "if it's a girl." Some of the names I'd heard before, but at the time it sure seemed like they were all new and out of the blue! In the end, she has three middle names and without the third middle name, her initials would spell "MACE." God has a sense of humor - ha!

We called the family taking the boys to tell them that we were on the way - but decided with them that it would be better if they met us at our church half-way in between to pick them up. Normally, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the church building - this time it took about 18, I think. Either way, as we pulled up, they were not yet there so I called them on the cell phone. They were almost to the exit to the church but told us to go on ahead and they would follow us there. Bless them - they were willing to take on a mad-dash to Annapolis on the spur-of-the-minute. It's good to have caring friends!

Here she is about 1 year old

I called the midwife to tell her we were coming - shoot! Answering service. Once she called back, she asked me all the standard questions: what's going on? What has happened? etc. probing to see if perhaps we didn't need to come in just yet. I told her that I was already on the way because once my water is broken, I have less than an hour (usually) before delivery. She agreed at that point!

I had also gotten in touch with our great friend Beth (the one who has the Spinster Beth blog) and she was on the way from her house to meet us at the birthing center. We have been friends with her for many years and she has been to all but one of my four deliveries - she is of immense help and is a wonderful friend to have at all times of the year! As we continued down the freeway, I believe I worried out boys a bit more as each moment passed. I alternately froze them out by opening the window and then warmed them up on closing it (it was early December, of course!) Labor is hard work.

After a point, I did not feel like I was going to make it as far as the Center so I called Beth and told her... then that "I have to go!" before hanging up on her. Poor girl spent the rest of the drive in fear that she would see our car pulled to the side of the road at any moment. She also said later that she had never been on the phone with me and heard such silence in the background! The boys were, as I said, a little unnerved, I think.

This past July 4th at about 18 months

I called the midwife and told her the same thing and she asked where we were at. As I looked up, I was greatly relieved to see that we were actually only about two or three exits away. Jeffery had cut a 40 minute drive down to about 20! Poor Beth, I did not have it in me to call her back to say we were okay. We pulled into the parking lot and the boys were hustled out by our friends and whisked away for a day of fun, Beth pulled in just behind them as I shuffled my way into the building. The birthing center only has three rooms, so I was relieved to see that (unlike the weekend before) two of the rooms were empty and I could go right in. Our lovely Buttercup was born a scant 40 minutes later.

In each of my four labors I have had some little thing stand out in my head even while in the hardest parts of labor. With Buttercup, as she was emerging, she was half-way into the world and I was sure that the midwife would do as other OB's do and help her shoulders so we moved along. This midwife just looked at me when I asked about it and said, "You're doing a great job!" with this nice smile. Hmmm... perhaps things were going well, but really? Well, okay thanks for the encouragement, I think. Either way, welcome to the world!

And our Buttercup at two years old. She'll make a lovely - if a bit forceful - lady someday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Santa Clause - A Lingering Belief in a Real Man

I've mentioned once before that I occasionally post answers to questions on a site called "CafeMom," and draw inspiration for blog posts from those answers. Today's post is one of those times. The CafeMom question was what to do about children who attend her daughter's school and "enlighten" her by telling her that Santa Clause (the Tooth Fairy, etc) are not real. She wondered what others think of that and whether others are as bothered by it as she is. There were the typical mix of answers, including those that said that endorsing a belief in Santa is a lie, even if only a "white" lie. My answer, roughly, follows.

Santa Clause was a real man. Saint Nicholas comes from a combination of two languages, Santa being "Saint" in Spanish, and Clause comes from either German or Yiddish, I think. He is still actively remembered in the Christian Orthodox Church for his kind deeds while he was alive. He was a bishop/leader in the Orthodox Church in his town and so heard the stories and aches of each of the families he served, as well as knew the families well.

We get the gift-giving from a story in which he helped three maiden women to avoid a life of prostitution by giving them bags of gold coins. It is said that he secretly threw the bags into their window while they slept - giving us a Santa who comes down the chimney.

In many traditionally Orthodox countries (i.e.: Greece, etc.) he is remembered by putting the children's shoes out by the door on the eve of December 6th and in the morning the children find goodies and chocolate "coins" in their shoes (therein lies our tradition of putting socks on the mantle.)

Here is a Wikki link for him

And another link to a page that is all about St. Nicholas

We let our kids know about the real man (there are several really good kids books out there about him that are not necessarily "pushing" the Orthodoxy) but we also allow for the innocence of Santa Clause on Christmas morning. As an adult, I know that there is no one who drops down my chimney at night and puts things under the tree, but I don't see the harm in letting children believe in the magic of Christmas. They'll learn soon enough, and I never felt like my parents lied to me by encouraging a belief in something I can't see.

Is that not what Christianity - or most other religious beliefs in God - are? A belief in something we cannot physically see and cannot necessarily "empirically prove" is there? I remember feeling so special when I was old enough to get to wake up, late in the night, to help be Santa for my younger siblings. Those quiet nights with my parents are special memories for me - I got to have cocoa with them, and help wrap and place gifts... I cherish those times and enjoy passing them on to my own boys.

I get highly annoyed when other kids/adults/scrooges! try to burst my kids' bubbles. Leave them alone, Codger! They'll grow up in their time. When someone tries to do that to them, I explain that some people don't believe what we do and that faith is an important thing to have in life. The Tooth Fairy, for which I have no historical basis (fairies in the old Norse and Celtic stories were NOT the kind, cutesy types that we tell stories about today!) also comes to visit our home. I'm pretty sure that Maestro, now 11, "knows," but he does it still - there is money involved, after all! But I personally don't see the harm in it.


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