Sunday, December 19, 2010

In line to see Santa

Since I'm a procrastinator, we just now made some time to go see the mall....on the last Sunday before Christmas...with over 100 families AHEAD OF US IN LINE!!  So there was my Christmas "cheer" along with the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

During the course of this adventure, I slipped Molly out of line to go sit in a dressing room to nurse her.  I paraded Anna Cate down the mall to grab a mess free lunch.  I anxiously anticipated BJ's patience running out that this just wasn't worth it, which thankfully never happened.  It was a family adventure, and what I will remember most is not this, although I'll bring it out with joy every year...


As we were in line, I hear this man talking about children.  He said, "Mom, here is a sweet baby in a green dress, oh and there is her beautiful little sister in the same dress." I look around and say hi to the pair on the opposite side of the rope.  A man is pushing a very old lady in a wheelchair, and he explains to me that his mother will soon be 101 and he brought her out to see the children in line.  I squatted down to talk to her, Cora so she could shake Molly's hands and get a smile from Anna Cate.  Her son said that this gives her so much joy to just see the children, and after I told her how beautiful she was and oohed and awed with Anna Cate over the fact that she was 100, Cora looked directly into Anna Cate's eyes and said, "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

Merry Christmas is right.  And in a moment of hassle, I caught the christmas spirit, not from Santa Claus, but from a dear little lady and her son.  The long line of children that was my hassle was the treat for her day.  She's been on this earth for 100 years and this world had not lost its newness to her in the joy of my children's faces, as she delighted in them for one of those moments. Her sweet greeting and smile warmed my heart. That and the fact that I've gotten "picture with Santa" checked off my list....but I really wish I would have thought to grab my camera and get a pic of Cora because her Merry Christmas was as good as St. Nick's!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

substantial Christmas gifts

Last night as I started this post, Anna Cate and BJ were in the living room wrapping my Christmas presents with a big sign in the hallway in Anna Cate's handwriting saying NO as my signal to not enter. Tonight, Anna Cate is laying on the couch after a day of wrapping presents and rum cake baking with me on a snow day watching Charlie Brown Christmas.

 I've got a lot to catch up on here, so I'll start by saying we are enjoying the first snow of winter...Molly's first ever.  Anna Cate went out with BJ as soon as he got home.

My mom grew up in New York, and loves the does her namesake. Molly went down the slide with BJ, and giggled as she played with it afterwards.

So on to catching up...we've been busy making holiday memories.  

A few weekends ago, the big event in our household was AC's first sleep over. It was all together fitting that the guest of honor was Leana.

(Leana and Molly at Jackson's 3rd birthday celebration)

Leana is 4 weeks younger than AC and thankfully, her best friend. Not only is her mom Norah my dear friend as well, Leana is a very easy child...the type child I admire from afar. ha!  My children are in the grand scheme of things easy, I know, but they are not calm like sweet Leana.

So we had a little get together for the VT game with Norah and our friends Erin and Mike with some crafts for the children to make Christmas presents.  I was inspired by this blog about how easy it is to be crafty.  Not so much but it was fun.  Luckily we are giving the gifts to people I think REALLY love Anna Cate.  Anna Cate said to me a few days ago, "Mommy, you could TRY to be a crafty mother?"

And, the girls actually slept...

Anna Cate goes to children's choir on Wednesday nights, and has performed these songs under the direction of her beloved "Miss Dawn." They performed twice...

Each time beforehand, I've tried to catch the perfect Christmas picture to send out. The girls have adorable matching outfits, their hair is clean, brushed and adorned with bows, but  I guess 9 months is not the right age for that "sit under the christmas tree" look I was going for.

My big girl knows how to pose and smile, but Molly is displeased about the stronghold...

Or on the move...

A few weeks ago, I tried to get a babysitter so BJ and I could go hear the Community Chorus presentation of The Messiah. I failed and was ready to go by myself but asked a friend, Kelly (who made the adorable skirts and bows you see in the pics above) went with me.

It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. (click here to go to their Facebook page and see them on youtube) The music stirred me in exactly the way I remember it when my Dad took me for the first time about 20 years ago to hear it in Nashville.  I was moved to tears through the whole performance, and I was even more in awe of the fact that these were volunteers. Many educators who hadn't given up their personal talent because they weren't professional musicians; One soloist was a retired electrical engineer.  All of them wore the robe of their home church choir.  The minister who introduced them told the story of King George standing during the Hallelujah chorus, so the crowd stood as it was custom to stand when the king stood. The minister then added that he believed that King George rose because he knew that in fact King George was in the presence of the King. 

It was during this rather spiritual experience I enjoyed in the presence of such talent -- of the performers who sang and played their instrument as well as of the composer 250 years ago or the prophet who wrote thousands of years ago -- I felt wrapped up in Christmas, connected to humanity in the true magic of this season.  I am thankful for my father introducing me to the love of this piece, for  culture transcends circumstances; it is available to all.  What a gift we can give our children by introducing them to lasting treasures.  I dare say I can remember very few material Christmas gifts from childhood, and certainly none give me the joy of a lifetime like hearing Handel's Messiah.

My mother also introduced me to lasting gifts by taking me often to the Nutcracker as a child.  I distinctly remember the first time I saw it with my dear friend, Melanie.  I also remember with fondness seeing in December of 1999 at the Bolshoi in Moscow, Russia with Nicole. I remember taking my brother to see it when he was a Senior in college and his line of... "wow, they steal a lot of music from Christmas commercials."

So last Saturday, Anna Cate and I went on our annual (since last year) date to the Nutcracker. This year our friends, Megan and Isabel, met us there for the little girl wonder.    

On Sunday, Larry's sermon encouraged us to think about the advent week theme of joy, he excitedly called it "pink candle Sunday."  To think of joy as substantial and happiness as temporary, circumstantial.  I had been mulling around in my head, searching for the perfect words to describe my sentiments about the Nutcracker and the Messiah in contrast to all the presents we buy at stores.  And substantial fits.  A new watch makes me happy; listening to the words of the Messiah or watching Anna Cate's eyes shine with the same wonder I see as the girls on tip-toes dance to the beauty of Tchaikovsky bring me joy.

Hearing the music or watching the ballerinas (or watching the children perform or appreciating the talent and generosity of those that lead them) provides seasonal joy of substance, of human talent available for all.  And therein lies the message of the King in whose honor we rise for the Halelujah chorus. A gift is available to all of us, regardless of circumstances. I believe it is indeed a spiritual experience of substance.  So in this spirit of making memories for my girls, I hope I let them know that the meaningful gifts of Christmas we value is of our human condition to love and cherish each other, to share and/or appreciate human talents. 

Although the baking for friends and gift giving and receiving is a lot of fun...

it isn't the substance of who we are or of the lasting gladness this season provides. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life changing encounters

Over ten years ago, I had an experience and met a man who changed my life.(all pictures are taken from my scrapbook, pictures I forgot I had)

  I was living in Moscow, Russia working the American Embassy in Moscow as I was flailing through my party life, not focused on what I wanted out of life or who I really wanted to be. In many ways, I was lost to myself as well as to my future.  BUT the only anchor I really had was that I was doing this with my best friend, Nicole.

 One cold day, we were invited to meet Patch Adams, who was on a trip to visit orphanages as clowns.  (By the way, I had NOT seen the movie or heard of him at the time, although the movie was out. I've always been sort of a nerd when it comes to pop culture).

I sat next to him on the bus to and from the far-flung institution and I will never forget his spirit, his wisdom or his passion for life.  He spoke of the founding ideals of our country, how living up to Jefferson would be a more equitable society. The way he lived his life completely for others moved me in a way I had not ever or since been inspired.  Two days after that I truly felt the call to teach and have not turned back since. I really, really wish I made more money, had more things that money buys, but at the end of the day, I love what I do and the fact that I get to work with children fulfills me.

At the orphanage we visited, I was appalled at the conditions.  In Russia, standard practice when delivering a special needs child is to give them up.  I remember holding and playing with one little boy with two thumbs and thought that was probably the reason he was there. He seemed perfectly fine otherwise.  We were there holding and playing with these children, when somehow Nicole discovered another room with completely neglected children, mostly babies in cribs who were completely ignored.  I will never forget the way she swooped in and took care of them, changed the babies who were severely neglected, kissed their cheeks. I was almost afraid of the whole situation, but her humanity shined.  

Fast forward ten years, I have started reading Kelle Hampton's blog, whose youngest daughter has Down Syndrome.  The way she has inspired me to soak up life and experience the raw beauty of humanity almost rivals Patch Adams.
 And through her blog, I've met other mothers on the similar paths, raising special-needs children.
A Perfect Lily
A couple weeks ago, a few of these mothers started talking about Reese's Rainbow, an international organization helping families adopt children with Down Syndrome from these orphanages in Eastern Europe. I can NOT. QUIT. THINKING. about these children.  The children I see on the website, and the children I had forgotten. Selfishly, I remembered how Patch Adams changed me but I had not thought of the children he was there to make smile.

I haven't thought about that day in so long, which makes me feel so guilty. How can I not think about those children who were tossed away because of their special needs?  I wanted to talk to Nicole about it because I don't even remember if we have talked about it ever since then. So we texted Saturday night (the life of a busy motherhood doesn't leave us much time for quality conversation). She said she thinks about the day all the time, and that it changed her life too.  (See, she is more compassionate than I am as I had sort of forgotten them, whereas before I was sort of afraid of them.)

Today, I learned about a little girl who is 4, Anna Cate's age, who has Down Syndrome, and is turning 5 next month. If someone does not adopt her by age 5, she will go to an institution.  In all honesty, I''m not sure I would adopt a child. Two is really hard for me right now, but there are families out there who want to adopt these children, but they need the funding.  Consider giving.

Please read my friend Patti's appeal to help Olga. She is giving away an Ipod Touch to anyone who gives and helps her spread the word. I hope you can tell that I'm not doing this for the Ipod Touch, but because my heart strings have been pulled, but pass the word if you know someone who does want an ipod touch. 
Wouldn't it be grand if this little girl could have her life changed?
If you can donate, click here

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that she is someone today.  ~Stacia Tauscher

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bringing grateful into December

Layers of love and memories here.  The bib lays on a tablecloth that once was draped upon my Granny's table. On this day, it set for the table Mom, BJ and I prepared for this year's Thanksgiving, Molly's first.

Crafting personalized place settings, cooking with each other, setting our table using a mix of my wedding China and the crystal from my Granny's table, a husband and Dad who "took care" of the turkey, food, fellowship, and spirits with some whipped cream in the face of a friend combined with many more moments to savor, toasts to share and memories that were etched in all of our minds (well, all of us save Molly Mae) leaves me grateful for our Thanksgiving in 2010.  

I know it is a tad late to be blogging about Thanksgiving, but maybe that is the story here for me. Sure, everyone is in the mood to be thankful during the month of November.  You know we all do it; we recount our blessings, verbalize our gratitudes.  But as Thanksgiving winds down, black Friday slashes not only prices in the marketplace, but also our perspective.  Instead of focusing on what I have, I think about what I have to do.  In flipping a calendar page, my gratitude turns to desires for accomplishments.  My focus we hold so dear for celebrating the harvest with our family, for me at least, is replaced with seeking perfection, beauty and that Norman Rockwell portrait.  I start thinking about the gifts money can buy or finding enough time to get it all done.   

I love the Christmas season, I adore seeing the decorations, planning the activities that are the experiences Anna Cate will remember, but I have to admit that it is stressful.  I can feel myself losing focus.

 My heart should be filled with the sentiments of advent, not the stress of the status quo for the season. Unfortunately, that nasty little thing called the ego wants it all to be beautiful and perfect. I want to send a Christmas card that wow my friends in a timely manner; I want the lights on my house to turn heads.  We're filling our weekends in December with activities for Anna Cate, for these holiday memories in the infant stages are precious to me.    But, I want to challenge myself to cling to the season of Thanksgiving, let the spirit of gratitude linger, for thankfulness to shine a bit brighter than my quest for beauty and perfection in this season.     

I'm answering that challenge by lingering a bit in the recounting of our Thanksgiving holiday together.

Nana and Daddy Doug came up on Tuesday so Mom could help me cook, and Daddy could play with the girls. He and Anna Cate had a date to the movie "Tangled," and even got to see it in 3D.  Daniel came down Wednesday; he and I got up Thursday morning to run the Turkey Trot (not together since he is pretty much lightening fast).  He finished in the top group, and I think it was my fastest 5k ever:

....ok, maybe since I've been out of college.  I'm still pretty damn grateful to this body. It isn't a thin or as fast (beautiful and perfect) as I'd probably order from a menu if I were choosing, but I'm finding myself more and more at peace with this vessel for my full life.  I'm finding ways to love it, appreciating what it does for me and my family.   I am praying I don't overindulge this Christmas, which would leave be less than grateful!

My mom's time here was spent taking care of everyone, something she does well.  Juggling cuddling time with Molly, playing with Anna Cate, taking care of Daddy, and cooking with me seemed to fulfill her wishes for this visit.

Mom commented that Molly Mae smiles a lot more often that I'm able to catch in pictures, so here are some tonight after bath:

My parents stayed through church on Sunday.  

On Saturday night, they babysat so BJ and I could have a date to watch the VT game with friends.  

They were fantastic babysitters, hosting a tea party, of course, and I came home to a clean kitchen.

(Nana lets Anna Cate wear make-up for the tea parties)
Thank you Mom and Daddy for coming up for celebrating Thanksgiving in our home with our family.

I'm reminded of what BJ said our first Thanksgiving when my parents came up to spend it in our house in 2007, when it was still quite new to us (the home, not the holiday).  He said before the prayer, "times like this make a house a home."  That is the perspective I want for all my days, not just my holiday with the formal table setting, but all the moments that make this place our home.   For the family and the times, I'm grateful. I'm trying to celebrate all that I have in light of all that I want this Christmas.  Indeed, what I have in my life is actually not a "that" but a "who."   

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.
-- Cicero