Advent: A Little Goes a Long Way.

These past few months with my Religious Education students has really been great.  They’ve reminded me how much I love interacting with 7th graders, how exhausting teaching can be and how much we discount the pre-teens in our society.  They are in the perfect cusp of age where they still see learning as possibly cool, yet they’re starting to actually make observations about their world and challenge what they’ve been taught.  It’s a pretty amazing age when you get past the smartphone addiction and the tendency to talk back.

Though one of the best things they’ve taught me so far is about how I’m teaching and creating my faith in my home.

Let me put it gently:  Anything counts.

You do not need special decor or a million feast days or piles of crafts.  You do not need to do what everyone else is doing or follow their rules.

These kids, your kids, my future seventh graders just desperately need you to do something.  They need families with no Advent traditions just to buy a wreath and remember to put candles in it.  They need families who remember the wreath and the candles to remember to light them once in a while.  They need someone to sit with them at least once a year and make sure they know the Christmas story.

They don’t need a lot, they just need something.  Something to remind them that our Christmas is different than what they see in the stores or on T.V.  Something that will give them even the smallest building block to start from as they get older and start their own families.

Something, anything goes a long way.  Just remembering to bring your faith home goes a long way.  Just trying goes a long way.

My house doesn’t get super decked out for the holidays (about 1.5 rooms get the treatment).  We don’t have lots of crafts or traditions – we do chocolate coins and simple Advent Calendars.  We don’t do a lot of feast days or activities – we do books and movies and little lessons along the way.  It often seems like we don’t do enough, but if my 7th graders have taught me something it’s that a little faith in the home goes a long way.

Keeping It Simple: What Works for the Holidays

Oh, the holidays are almost here.  This year we’ll be traveling for five days this week and then, boom, it’s Advent.

I think this is the first year I’ve felt a little on top of things and that might be because there isn’t a lot to feel on top of.  There are a few things I’ve worked out over the last few years that really seem to work for us:

  1. Christmas Shop Early:  This is the second year I’ve done this – other than putting a few treat baskets together and brainstorming a gift for one set of family members I’m done.  Stockings are shopped for, presents are shopped for, Advent Calendar and Candles are in the closet, etc.  Come December 1st there are 3 items left to go on my list and they’re items that have a limit shelf life.  I’ve come to realize I *hate* spending my three weeks of December shopping non-stop.  I do feel silly Christmas shopping in September, but it works.
  2. Budget:  I set aside a set amount slowly all year and spend from there.  It keeps me on track and makes me to put a lot of thought into things that I want to get use out of over junk.
  3. Set Limits and Have Reasons:  Since Henry was little I’ve set us up on the “three gift rule” for our main gift giving.  It makes sense to me, works for our family and I’ve seen the results so it’s definitely a keeper.  I’ve also learned that it has to make sense within my “family culture” or no one will stick with it.
  4. Budget for Giving:  I also set aside a larger chunk for charity and giving in December.  So I’m going into this year feeling like I get to give, give, give (I haven’t decided where the money is going yet) instead of spend, spend, spend.  We have some charities in mind, plus extra to give at church and the rest I want on hand just to tip extra if we go out to eat, say yes to any friends who are fundraising or need a hand this coming month.
  5. Know Where the Decorations Are:  Organization is not my middle name, but this year I have a pretty good idea of where things are and don’t feel the need to get things set up on day one.
  6. Love the Consumables:  I don’t need to fill my house with more permanent stuff so during the holidays I prefer to focus on things like food and crafts that I don’t feel I need to hang on to forever.  So we make lots of hot chocolate and popcorn, “ninja” bread cookies and decorate our windows – it’s all stuff that’s fun to do and make and eat, but doesn’t require keeping anything around very long.
  7. Know My Strengths:  Master Decorator?  No.  Master Baker?  Nope.  Master Liturgical Day Planner?  Not at all.  That’s just not who I am and if I spend the next month running around trying to make my house, food or days look like someone else’s it’s not worth.  Instead, I have a few keep parts of my house that get decorated, I don’t bake a lot of things that are photograph worthy and we don’t have a long list of liturgical celebrations.  But what we do have finally feels doable, they make sense with our family strengths and size and personalities.  All in all, it probably balances out to one or two special things a week during Advent and Christmastide – that feels attainable for the stage we’re in and manageable as we grow and want to add and delete.
My house might not be the most inspiring for the holidays, but we have fun together and have our own traditions.  There’s little that goes on here that’s worthy of a photo spread, but it’s ours and while I love seeing glimpses into other people’s lives – the people who rock decorations or baking or extra special things or handmade everything I’ve definitely come to learn that sometimes it’s just okay to window shop or admire someone’s skills or talents and not feel like my life needs to have all of that to be special.  Occasionally I gleam something that would work with our home, but most times I just like to appreciate.
We decorate windows and make ninja-breadmen.  We celebrate St. Nicholas Day and try to keep up with our Advent Calendar and wreath.  We try to attend a concert or something similar.  We spend a lot of time not doing anything fancy and just being together around our fireplace.  We do Santa and Epiphany and giving and receiving.  We do music and decorations – all in a way that fits us and that’s starting to feel just right.

Of Leaves and Legos

Not much to say here.  I’ve been fighting the bronchitis that just won’t quit for over two weeks now.  I’m sore, sick and exhausted.  I’ve also, in my typical style, bitten off more that I can chew in terms of extra projects and feel like I’m just treading water right now – there just aren’t enough hours in the day to work, recover, teach, plan and still see my family.

We’ve had our fun – time outside enjoy this incredibly warm November and time inside building some epic Lego spaceships with Dad.

Just taking it one day at a time.

5 Red Cup Alternatives to Stem the "Rage"

Apparently people are outraged that Starbucks cups are red.  If it was a question on a game show I’d have to use a lifeline in order to tell you that the Starbucks cups even change for the holidays, let alone what it usually is.  Personally, I feel that this is a carefully crafted marketing ploy as most “outrage” (of which there seems to be little of actually) seems to have come after the reports of outrage.  Well done Starbucks, well done.

So to any of those among us who are so filled with the Christian holiday spirit that this is actually the most serious issue in your mind – ignoring trivial things like Syrian refugees, Ebola sufferers or even the now homeless family who normally sits next to you at Church one Sudnay – I’ve come up with the perfect underrepresented Christmas figures to adorn your Starbucks cups.

1. Zwarte Piet
Lovingly described by satarist David Sedaris as “8 to 10 black men” who assist Scandinavian Santa Claus’ do their work. Unless you grew up in a country where Piet was a common sight in your holiday gatherings, this is the perfect symbol for a complete lack of knowledge of modern day stereotypes or anything else that may be going on in the world.
2. Kallikantzaros
How about a traditional half-person/half-goat hybrid who is said to run rampant during the 12 days of Christmas.  Nothing friendly than a Kallinkantzaros could possibly adorned my $27 latte.  Luckily the term “kallinkantzaros” is used to describe a wide range of ugly creatures only bent on making trouble and detracting from the meaning of the season…. so Starbucks, save a few for Easter too.
3.  The Krampus
Since nothing says “Celebrate the Birth of the Savior” quite like people turning away from you in fear and disgust, let’s go big or go home and put the Krampus on our favorite hyper caffinated pretend-its-real-coffee.  All commemorative Krampus cups will be given out with a traditional birch switch with which to swat non-believers between the eyes and really share that holiday spirit.
For the fourth and fifth suggestions we must go to the mythical land of Catalonia, which I know little about, but based on their very special Christmas traditions – these people know how to have a good time.
4. The Caganer
Let’s just get the point, this is would be a perfect holiday design on a Starbucks Red Cup for every person who feels the needs to “dump” on social media with their absolutely idiotic opinions about Starbucks and their vicious war on religion.  Thank you Catalonia, thank you.
5. Tio de Nadal
But nothing screams “Perfect Red Cup Design” than another Catalonian tradition, the Tio de Nadal.  The aptly named “Caga Tio” (check out what that means here) combines all our well placed righteous anger and allows us to focus on the “pile” of consumerism we really think is important during the holidays.  It celebrates both our needs for a little holiday violence and rediculous demands to be catered to.  Really, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate image for Red Cup Ragers.
*no offense meant of course if any of these are actually part of your beloved holiday traditions; it’s all in good fun here*

This is Halloween.

I’m ready for a long winter’s nap.  Another Halloween has come and gone.  A successful homemade costume if I say so myself, a little fun sewing for myself and the decorating all came together.  The pumpkins were carved in the traditional “Shark, Skeleton Fish, and Squid Fight a Sperm Whale” motifs, along with some scary faces.

There were “mummy hotdogs” for dinner and hot chocolate for a treat and a nice warm fire to top everything off.  Plus our black cat was appropriately annoyed by all the goings on for the entire day.

My son brought back enough candy to last us till the New Year, including multiple regular sized bag of M&M’s and Skittles, a few glow in the dark things and one book (yep, some lady down the street was giving out books!  How great is that?)

And I’m just hoping he’s tired enough to sleep the whole night through and let me enjoy that extra hour tonight.