Friday, December 30, 2011




I'm coming to the end of a two week "Staycation" that I took from work. Working for a church, it was a bit crazy for me to take the Christmas weeks off, but there were volunteers and the minister to do the holiday services, and I hadn't used any of my vacation time this year. Use it or lose it, and there is no cashing it out option.

So I've been cozied into home for two weeks, which has proved fantastic. I tackled some reorganization tasks that were fun to do and will feel really nice to have done. Since I enjoy that sort of task, it was a "fun" way for me to spend my down time. The pantry, filing cabinets, and book shelves are all fabulous now.

There's lots of different ways to get some R&R. This time at home didn't cost anything extra, gave me time to tackle projects that had been bothering me, and it's been restful too. Now I'm chomping at the bit to get back to work. :)

StoryBook Art

We are using the book StoryBook Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl as our art study, and I LOVE how much more accessible for my kids the art of picture book illustrators is than say, the work of Da Vinci. Each lesson is based around a picture book, and then there is an art activity that uses a similar technique or imitates the style of the illustrations.

We started with Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry, which StoryBook Art tells us the author painted using "gouache". We were just using tempera paint, but the kids were delighted to notice that actually some of our Crayola-brand paints said "gouache" on the labels. So we had "the real stuff!".




A bit of planned activity is very helpful in getting past the post-Christmas cranky days, I'm finding.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011, in retrospect

This has been quite the year, and it was not at all what I set out to make it. At the beginning of the year I picked a guiding word: Less. It's interesting to look through my blog entries from this year, because the word lasted as a focus for about three months, and then I just couldn't keep it anymore.

This wasn't the year of Less. It was the year of "push Sara to the burn out point".

I got heavily involved in fundraising for Carbon's school (and ended up feeling burned out as a volunteer).

We fell in love with the idea of some land again, and went through a home search and then found our dream home - and got it! This was all wonderful stuff, but also stressful. We had to put in our savings, and a lot of our time getting the garage fixed up, and all the uncertainty and stress around a major home purchase pushed both me and my husband to our burn-out points. Moving in the Fall, during the busy start-up season at church, was another time for burn-out and stress.

And my husband got laid-off work this year, right as we were buying the house. He landed on his feet with another job, but it still added to our stress load.

I spent the year fundraising for a youth mission trip to Transylvania, and went on the trip as one of the chaperones. It was a huge project to take on, and it definitely burned me out as well.

I hit the new church year running with an ambitious plan for lots of activities and a big program, and also really jumped in to the credentialing program at the same time.

And we returned to homeschooling again this year.

It wasn't the year of Less.

In some ways it was the year of More, More, More. Do More. Buy More. Stress More.

It was a year of anxiety. Of pushing myself just for the sake of pushing myself. I wanted to prove that I could do it. I felt a huge anxiety to perform at 110% at all times, to be SuperMom, SuperDRE, SuperWoman.

And I'm realizing that in all that rush, bustle, stress, and anxiety, somewhere along the line I lost track of WHY to do anything. I became anxiety driven rather than values-focused. It was really just about doing a lot of stuff, being busy, and constantly in motion.

It may not have been a year of Less, but it was a year of Big Learning for me. And now I want to take that insight into 2012 not with a Guiding Word or a list of resolutions, but with just this one simple thing I've learned: keep what is most important to you, your deepest values, the ideal vision statement for your life and the world - keep all of that close to your heart always and don't forget it in the scramble of daily life and the buffeting of our society and its pressure to consume and be busy. If you are living a life that is in harmony with your values, there are no further goals you have to achieve. It's not a rush to finish, after all. It's a life to live, moment by moment. And I don't want my obituary to read "she was a very busy woman".

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas, unwrapped

It's been two days of Christmas here, as we had my in-law's over for Christmas dinner and my family over for the day after Christmas. Hosting two festive dinners and gift exchanges in a row was a bit ambitious of me, and meant that I had to completely clean my house, cook a meal, have folks make a mess, then completely clean my house again, cook a big meal, and have folks make a mess. But it actually was accomplished without too much fatigue or stress, and very little marital fighting, so it's our very own Christmas Miracle!



We've had some Santa drama this year, but in the end all was well and the kids found their stockings well stocked on Christmas morning with some simple toys, etc, and he even signed the autograph slip that Carbon left out for him the night before.


The big gift from us to the kids this year was a pair of swings, which we managed to set up without them figuring out what we were doing. Christmas eve in the dark, we went out with the ladder and actually put the swings up, and then Mother Nature added a gift, and it stopped raining on Christmas morning just long enough for the kids to run outside and test out the new set up.


It's been delightful this year how much the kids have enjoyed all their gifts, no matter if it was a toy or a book or art supplies. Grandma adopted wolves who live in a nearby sanctuary for them, and they were both very happy about that and sat and had us read them the whole information packet about the wolf.


My husband and I received some really thoughtful and useful gifts as well.


And just when we had that all cleaned up and put away, another whole family's worth of food and people and gifts arrived!


This action shot is blurry, but there were 17 people in my living room exchanging gifts and enjoying the visit! My grandmother came up from California, and all my siblings (plus one sister-in-law) were here, and my father and step-mother, my mother, and my cousin and her husband.


After all that, today we clean (again), catch back up on laundry, rest, and maybe I'll get the kids out of the house for a while since we haven't set foot off our property in 4 days.

And so, Christmas 2011 is all unwrapped.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bear Noel


This charming book casts a polar bear as the Santa of the animals of the north woods, and he brings edible treats and decorates a tree for all the animals to enjoy.

We did our own version for the wildlife that lives in our back acres: deer, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, birds, and field mice.




A new tradition for our new home. We're thinking of planting a baby Christmas tree for next year though, as all the evergreens back there are already pretty tall and it was hard to reach!

When Christmas Gets Crazy


Zoolights, which we drove up to see along with what seemed like 1000 other people. Lovely, right?

But a bit much: too much traffic, a crowded parking lot, long lines to stand in in the cold, crowds of people everywhere.

I made the mistake of leaving my shopping for Christmas dinner until Dec. 23rd. Wow - that's when Christmas gets crazy. And the domino effect of people getting frustrated and then cranky and then not being nice to someone else, who then gets cranky ....

This isn't the Christmas spirit at all. How did it get so intense?

Friday, December 23, 2011

something a bit sillier ....


Our poor, super-tolerant cat, Choo Choo Train Socks and Shoes (Choo Choo for short). Guess how old Carbon was when he named her.

I don't know what it is about animal videos that is so endlessly funny, but my kids really do love this one:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

each night a child is born

carbon and hypatia

What I respond to the most in the Christian story of Christmas is the birth story itself. That everyone would drop what they were doing (tending their flocks and all that) and rush to acknowledge this baby and recognize the hope that he brought to the world.

Each and every child is a miracle in their own way, and a birth is so incredibly powerful to witness. The possibilities for their life are open, but they also show us that the possibilities for our lives are still open too. Children can bring out the best in us all, calling us to be the kind of adults that they deserve. When we truly open our hearts to the power of their presence in this world, we open ourselves to the calling to build a better world for them and to grow ourselves into the kind of person we would have wanted to love us when we were children.

Reading #616 from Singing the Living Tradition

For so the children come, and so they have been coming.

Always in the same way they come, born of the seed of man and woman.

No angels herald their beginnings. No prophets predict their future courses.

No wisemen see a star to show where to find the babe that will save humankind.

Yet each night a child is born is a holy night,

Fathers and mothers - sitting beside their children's cribs, feel the glory in the sight of a new life beginning.

They ask, "Where and how will this new life end?" "Or will it ever end?"

Each night a child is born is a holy night -

A time for singing.

A time for wondering.

A time for worshipping.

Sophia Lyon Fahs

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"I sure do like those Christmas Cookies, Sugar"




Light a Candle in the darkness


A simple family ritual. Cover and turn off all the lights, sit in the darkness holding hands, and then light candles and sit in that light. Happy turning of the year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the shortest day of the year


Reading #551 from Singing the Living Tradition

Earth Teach Me

Earth teach me stillness as the grasses are stilled with light.

Earth teach me suffering as old stones suffer with memory.

Earth teach me caring as parents who secure their young.

Earth teach me courage as the tree which stands all alone.

Earth teach me limitation as the ant which crawls on the ground.

Earth teach me freedom as the eagle which soars in the sky.

Earth teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall.

Earth teach me regeneration as the leaves which die in the fall.

Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.

Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.

Earth teach me to remember kindness as dry fields weep with rain.

From the Ute Indians of North America

Monday, December 19, 2011

A week until Christmas


The Legend of the Christmas Spider

One Christmas eve, a long time ago, there was an old woman busily preparing her home for the holidays. She had a lot to do – cooking, baking, cleaning. This year things were also a bit tighter than usual, and she didn’t have much money for the holiday extras. Her Christmas tree stood in the corner and she often looked at it and thought, “the tree! The tree! I need to decorate the tree!” But she had so much to do!

Late that evening, all the work was done – the cookies were baked, the house was clean, the windows sparkled in the candlelight. The old woman thought, “the tree! The tree!, I need to decorate the tree!”. She poured a cup of tea from the kettle, carried her cup to her favorite rocking chair, and sat down to rest – just for a minute. Looking up, she saw a spider web that she had missed in her cleaning. “I’ll get that web with my broom as soon as I drink my tea”, she thought. But as she sipped her tea, she watched the spider busy at its work.

“That spider is working as hard as I am”, she thought. And then, looking outside at the cold, she thought “it would be cruel to cast the little creature out in the cold on Christmas eve.”

She stared into the fire thinking about how wonderful it would be on Christmas Day with all her grandchildren coming to visit. As she sat and sipped and rocked, she grew sleepier and sleepier. She looked at the tree and thought, “the tree! The tree! I need to decorate the tree!”. But her eyes drooped, closed … and soon she was fast asleep.

Up in the web, the spiders were curious. Every year the old woman had run them out with their cleaning, but this year was different. “Why did she bring a tree into her house?” asked a little spider. “I’m not sure,” answered an older, wider spider. “Let’s go down and see.”

The spiders crept out of their hiding place. They swung on their webs down to the tree, and when they landed on the branches, they all crawled all over it, leaving bright silver strings of webbing behind them. When they had examined every part of the tree, they still were not sure why the old woman had brought it in, and they returned to their web on the ceiling.

In the morning, when the old woman woke up, she was so surprised! Her tree was covered with spider webs. But as she looked, the sun came through the window and caught the webs in its rays. The spider webs started to sparkle and shine! They had all turned into sparkling, shimmering silver and gold.

At that moment, the door burst open and in came her grandchildren. “Grandmother! Your tree is so beautiful! Look how it shines! This is even better than the decorations you usually use!” The old woman smiled, and looked up at the spider web. “I had help from many friends,” she said. “I hope they come back every year to decorate my tree.”

Every year after that, when the old woman cleaned her house for Christmas, she always made sure to leave one web for the spiders, and they always came to help decorate her tree on Christmas eve.

According to legend, this is why people hang tinsel on their Christmas trees today. In many places, it is also the custom to include a spider among the decorations on the tree. The tinsel and the spiders are reminders of that long-ago Christmas and those busy, busy spiders.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back to the fun bits


Things were getting pretty grim here in our home school. We didn't have much time, it seemed, so the time we did have went to math workbooks and phonics work, and blah blah blah.

It happens, when we get stressed out. We get anxiety-driven, and worried about results, and we lose sight of values and the picture that is bigger than results. The qualitative data gets lost in the quantitative data, in other words.

I realized we needed to be re-inspired, and what better place to go for inspiration than to the classics that have served us well in the past. We are going back to Stories, to Art, to Experiential Learning, and to Exploring the World. I created a weekly schedule: nothing too tight and strict, but just an easy block schedule with a couple subjects a day.

Picture books are the new core of Hypatia's work. Picture books and art. It's Kindergarten, for goodness sake. It should be about story and song and art and learning to love learning. I ordered volume two of Five in a Row, and StoryBook Art, and I let her pick out a Jumbo Kindergarten Workbook with stickers and colorful pages that appealed to her. She is so happy to have fun picture books and it just feels perfect to make this the center of her schooling.

The things both kids will still do together are nature study, science, and geography. I've bought Drawn to Nature, and the Nature Connection, and I bought a nice tin with drawing pencils and little journals for the kids at the local art store. That has all been a huge hit.

Science is easy, and is just a matter of doing experiments. The kids LOVE doing experiments. I just have to make time for it.

Geography is also pretty easy, mostly involving library books, a globe, and imaginary travels around the world.

For Carbon I'm returning to The Story of the World. He's also still doing Math U See, and Explode the Code, and we're adding in some creative writing. As an early Christmas gift, his grandpa sent us a set of Rory's Story Cubes. Those are fun!

This has been a good turn of events for me and the kids. The kids are responding really well to this, and it's more fun for me too.

What is important to me? What is important to them? Focusing on our values and the life we really hope to have, and not letting anxiety drive our lives, is what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Birthday to him


It's my husband's birthday today, and I want to take a minute to reflect on my appreciation for him.

He's a good, reliable provider, a silly funny guy, and plenty smart. He makes a mean martini, gives a good back massage, and always beats me at card games. He always eats what I cook without complaint, and he builds a good fire and grills meat we all love to eat. Our strengths compliment each other, and we mostly put up with each others' weaknesses with compassion and understanding.

And, most of all, he is a wonderful father. Really, truly, he is a great father.

So, I'm glad you were born on this day all those years ago (you're not anywhere near as old as your children think you are). Happy Birthday, my dear.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the little Santa's elves






Fabric paint, painted pottery, dried flowers, sewing, handwritten cards, pictures, homemade jam, and the packages are off in the mail.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Children's Chapel


The first Children's Chapel I ever did, four years ago, was in a circle. ONE circle, in one classroom, and it was all the kids in attendance that Sunday. Then we go a bit bigger, and we "graduated" from a circle to a more formal set up with rows all facing forward, to the "stage" where I put on the "show".

That was working fairly well, and the kids vied for the opportunity to be helpers and come up to light the chalice, read the opening words, and so forth. I walked around and read picture books, showing the illustrations to everyone, letting them make comments and participate as they felt moved to do so. But then we grew yet again, and our first Chapel this year we had 45 kids show up and squeeze in to the room, and it was TOO MUCH. They can't share and participate without it taking two hours, and children are pretty squirmy when they are asked to be a passive audience.

Luckily, inspiration is always close at hand in the form of my fabulous colleagues in this work, and a trip as a chaperone to a Middle School CON showed me yet another way to do Worship, with many small circles all doing the same thing at the same time. Due to the foresight of the planning committee that built the RE wing of our church two years ago, I can open up the walls and turn my three large classrooms into one really big classroom, and that is perfect for circle worship.

Each circle includes children of preschool-6th grade ages, and adults. Each circle has its own Chalice to light, but we all say the words together. We all sing together, then each circle can do Joys and Sorrows and there is actually enough time for every single person to share something. We did a meditation yesterday where we passed an (electric) candle around the circle and each child made a wish for someone else while they held the candle. We did it in silence, but everyone could watch it go around the circle and stay active during the process.

For now, this is working! It does mean no more stories during chapel, but I tell plenty of stories at other times.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shop till you Drop

We are shopped out! Other than some internet shopping, we have saved all our Christmas shopping for one marathon day, and that day was today.

There was some method to this madness. We figured, rather than tucking it in everywhere and struggling through traffic multiple times, we would just set aside a day, make it an Event, and drive downtown and park ONCE.

It was a whole family affair, which is how I ended up walking up to the counter in our local toy store with two toys stuffed up my sweater. No, I'm not a shoplifter, folks - I'm just trying to keep both of my kids from seeing what the other one wants to buy them for Christmas!

There were a couple other hiccups to the day, like when my husband took the kids off to the herbal/beauty/massage/yoga-type shop to buy my gifts, and then when they met up with me again a few shops later, Hypatia was crying and upset because daddy "Wouldn't Let me Buy You Two Presents! It's not FAIR."

But the plus side was that we supported the local businesses like crazy, and it was good to see them really packed and busy with other folks also shopping there. We shopped at small toy stores, novelty stores, boutiques, jewelry stores, and more. We stopped for a break at the local coffee shop before continuing on.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that our family is going to be opening a lot of games, art supplies, jewelry, art, and hand-knit goods for Christmas.

I only really have two, maybe three things left to do for Christmas shopping. One is a trip to the big box toy store, because I just have to get some Legos for Christmas. Carbon's letter to Santa this year only asked for ONE thing, and that was Legos. And although our local independent toy store has started carrying Legos, the selection is still really limited. If I don't get the Legos, the current Stocking Selection (for each child: an Audiobook CD, a DS game (used), an art supply, and a couple pieces of candy) will be tragically lacking.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Say, Cheese!





Yet another fabulous event organized by someone in the homeschool meet-up group we've joined - this time with a local cheesemaker teaching the kids how to make mozzarella. I'm so glad I joined this group, even if everyone in it is so spread out geographically that we are unlikely to make friends to hang out with outside these events. The events themselves are plenty fun.

And as for making cheese, it's a great activity with this age group. The hands-on mushing up of the cheese balls was super fun, and then they got to eat the results.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shoes he loved


First, the front door mat looks awful in this picture. Of course, it's purpose in life is to catch dirt. And it does that pretty well - that's why all the dirt is on the mat. :)

Yes, my son likes to wear pink socks. He's happy, and it's all good.

And, yes, he tried to fix his own shoes with duct tape. He loved these shoes (purchased used in a lot box of boys' shoes from ebay), and he especially loved that they are pull-ons with no need to tie them. He CAN tie his shoes, but he really doesn't like to bother. So when the toes wore through and his sock was sticking out of the top of the shoe, he didn't want to just throw them away. He was sure the duct tape would work (hey, they apparently mended a leaky boat with the stuff on Mythbusters, his favorite show).

But the weather has been pretty wet, and from the picture above you probably get an idea of how much fun it is to wear these shoes now. He FINALLY let me throw them away, and he picked out a new pair of sneakers at the store. Goodness, keeping the whole family just decently clad is such a chore. (Not Little House on the Prairie size chore, but still.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

museum day


Our homeschool meet-up group had a field trip to the art museum today, with the museum staff doing their school field-trip package for us. That meant a guided discussion and walk through the folk-art of Mexico gallery and then another discussion around a picture book they read to the group, and then a hands-on art project in the style of the folk art the kids had seen - over all it was a pretty good plan, and the kids had fun.

I'd never done an art museum with a guide and a large group of kids though, and it was pretty funny seeing the anxiety level around them touching things. The museum staff were very cautious and concerned about any sort of touching. I can understand that, of course, but it's pretty hard to enjoy the art and be that anxious and stressed out at the same time. I wonder if they get that anxious over bigger school groups (we were only 14 kids) or if it was the youngness of our group (all under 8 years old down to toddlers)? Or maybe they are just always worried.

Carbon was disappointed that we only saw the one gallery, but thrilled with the hands-on project. Hypatia was just tired (she woke up at 4 am this morning and never went back to sleep, so she and I had plenty of excuse to be less than our best today).

After the museum, I treated them to a lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory. The gluten-free menu there is a nice treat for us, and the kids love the atmosphere and the fact that we can sit in an antique streetcar while we eat.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Caroling



On Saturday we had a Christmas party with my family, and in addition to sampling the baking that everyone brought, we also sang some carols. There was the old, old-fashioned way of doing carols, with my mother pumping away at the old organ that was her great-grandmother's. You have to pump the foot pedals to push the air through it, so her stamina didn't last that long.

Then we switched over to what seems the exact opposite: karaoke carols on youtube. Carbon's favorite carol is "three ships", and Hypatia likes "deck the halls" this year, which she calls the "holly and jolly song".

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Trim the Tree, and Why We Won't be Starting Chalica Tomorrow


We had to hack the top off the tree and then just twist-tie the angel to the top - so much for my husband thinking the tree would fit with our new tall ceilings! Next year, we measure BEFORE we set it up in the stand!





It's a UU tree: there's a solstice sun on it, some angels, lots of homemade stuff, peace doves, a felt chalice, lots of fair-trade multicultural stuff. It's also our family tree, so there are lego ornaments and family heirloom ornaments.

But as much as I enjoy hanging my homemade chalice ornament on my Christmas tree, I won't be starting Chalica tomorrow with my family. I'm not anti-Chalica (we did try it last year), it's just that I'm a bit busy with other holidays. Really - based on family history, tradition, and custom we already celebrate both Solstice and Christmas. And then at church we throw in Hanukkah and Rohatsu as well. There are multiple parties to go to, plays and ballets to see, special baking to do, packages and cards to mail, shopping and gift-making to do, 24 days of Advent, 12 Days of Yule candles, greening of our home and church, charity-giving and doing, special music to listen to and sing, cookies to be carried to neighbors, bird-seed hanging, and more that I'm probably forgetting right now. With all that leading up to the darkest day of the year, why do I need yet another candle-lighting tradition, this time involving 7 days of lighting our chalice?

Chalica is a fine idea - a great way to emphasize the 7 Principles and our family's UU identity with my kids. I have no visceral or philosophical dislike of the idea - just no room to fit it in where the holiday-creators are trying to make it go. How much better it seems to me to put in January. It's still just as dark and dreary in January, so some family ritual around a candle lighting will be most welcome. But in January, there's no real competition for the holiday spotlight and it will fit into our lives. We will actually be able to focus on Chalica in January, no longer distracted by Christmas and Solstice.

That's why we aren't going to start it tomorrow, with the rest of the crowd. I'm saving it for January, and you'll probably hear all about it then.

What about you? Any UU's out there going to try Chalica this year?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

We got our tree





This farm is in our neighborhood, and we've been going there for years to pick out our tree. This year, with the tall ceilings in the new house, my husband was picturing a tall tree. But then he had to drag that heavy thing all the way back to the truck!

Tomorrow, if we have time with church and all, we'll decorate the tree.