That Christmas when hangers were the best gift

I was looking through some old pictures yesterday and came across one that made me laugh out loud:

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He’s three years old in that picture. For a reason that will forever baffle (and amuse) me, he decided that day to call hangers (as in clothes hangers) hookers. He opened a gift of clothes and said loudly “Oh man there are hookers in this box.” Which of course made all the adults in the room laugh. When you’re three and you make people laugh, you keep it going. Every gift that had hangers would be shown to J, who would grab them and excitedly wave them around “YAY!!! MORE HOOKERS!!!”

I can’t wait until he’s old enough for me to explain why that’s so funny.

It was good for me to find something that made me laugh because I’ve felt very affected by sad news all around me lately – both close to home and far away in a world I can’t really even picture. It seems that everywhere I turn, I hear something angry or violent or sad. I’ve been doing some Advent reflections (not as often as I’d like) and the image I’ve been focusing on is that of a single candle. It’s flickering flame is that of Emmanuel – Christ with us. My job is to shield that flame, to tend its fire, to help it shine in my little corner of the world. This week it shone on me when I found that picture and laughed all over again. It’s also shone on…

  • the laughter of my kids
  • a surprise breakfast with my son
  • a faith sharing group that has been an oasis of calm this month
  • crossing things off a list that is slowly but surely dwindling
  • receiving Christmas cards (I love Christmas cards)
  • listening to my daughter play the clarinet
  • watching my oldest swim – and goof around with her friends on deck
  • a 10yo who lets me read Christmas stories to him (sometimes)

By the way, my second favorite Christmas story is when my oldest was three years old (three is a great age). She had the lyrics to Santa Claus is Coming to Town slightly off and we spent as much time as possible asking her to march or dance around the room singing it over & over:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not poop
I’m telling you why…

To this day, my brother teaches his kids to sing the song that way as a joke. Kids are so fun.

An exhausted list of thanks

Internet friends… I’m tired. Tired to my core – fall asleep before my head hits the pillow – not even energized by a workout TIRED. It hit me this morning on my run that it’s been a whirlwind lately. Five months of training leading up to a marathon. A vacation just a few days after that. A family vacation two weeks after that. All of which I planned & packed & cooked for. Don’t get me wrong – November 2014 has been a blast, but it has also worn me out.

That’s not a good way to go into the busiest time of the year. I mean on top of all that extra stuff.. and the extra stuff that Christmas brings… I’ve still got a family to feed and hustle to & from practices and events. The errand running alone sometimes kills me. But something happened this week that gave me a boost of perspective even through my foggy, tired, befuddled mind. A special person whom I had the privilege of knowing unexpectedly passed away. I bet she’d give anything to be here exhausted while juggling the demands of a family. So, with her and her family in mind, I’m looking for blessings and grace:

  • In hugging an old friend and realizing that even with the passage of time, that friendship is still there
  • In warm soup and fresh bread with my entire family around the table
  • In digging out the Advent wreath and praying as a family
  • In twinkling lights that welcome my family home each day

‘Tis the season of watching and preparing. I’m hoping to step back next week – remembering something that popped up in a reflection I read yesterday: “People need time, time alone to open their hearts by letting go of everything else.” I’m hoping for some quiet time, some time to let go (of a few things at least) and time to be truly present.

(And I wouldn’t pass up the chance for some extra hours of sleep either.)

to tell or not to tell, that is the question

I have a 10yo who still believes in Santa. That’s a year longer than either of his sisters believed which I have to say surprises me. I always figured the youngest would find out the earliest. He seemed suspicious about the whole big man coming down the chimney last year but I pulled a couple tricks out of my sleeve and they worked. This year I sometimes sense suspicion in his conversation but I also sense a pretty strong belief that this magical man is going to bring him whatever his little heart desires.

I have a pretty firm stance that I won’t let a child of mine out of 5th grade without making sure they know the truth about Santa (and the basics about sex because let’s face it, who wants to learn about that for the first time from some outdated movie & visiting teacher??). But I’m questioning moving that timeline up a year.

See, he’s asking for some things with ridiculously high price tags. So one way or the other there’s likely to be some disappointment. Also, I’m getting a little tired of the Santa gig. In our house Santa brings you one special gift and stuffs your stocking. As the kids get older that special gift gets more expensive or they feel some pressure to come up with a big special gift even when their desires are simple. My kids don’t need a lot of stuff. I’d rather fulfill their simple but wonderful desires and have some money left over to create some holiday memories. When Santa doesn’t have to bring that one big gift anymore, we can all go to dinner & a show in Chicago… or take a surprise trip… there are so many possibilities!

I’m wrestling with this one. Do I pull him aside and have a heart to heart? Is that fair to him? Do I let him keep believing as long as he can because he’s the baby of the family? It was much easier when they were all this age:

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A quick story about a drive up a mountain

While in the Smoky Mountains, visiting the top of Clingman’s Dome (the highest peak this side of the Mississippi at 6600 feet) was at the top of our list. The weather wasn’t terribly cooperative the first few days with ice and snow keeping the roads closed. However on our last day in the park – and just two days before the road to the Dome closes for the season – the road was open by late morning. We headed up in the afternoon with thoughts of watching the sun set from the mountain top.

The drive up was amazing.

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And then about a half mile from the top a thick cloud rolled in. Visibility was less than .10 of a mile. This was our view from the top:

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They’re obviously impressed with the view.

From the bottom of the mountain to the top, the temp dropped nearly 20 degrees, the wind picked up and the cloud descended. It wasn’t the sunset view we had in mind but it was a pretty cool experience. When we got back down the mountain, the snow was gone and we actually ate dinner outside.

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Oh what a difference a few miles can make when you’re in the mountains.

Another adventure achieved

It’s appropriate that I took my kids on a new adventure over Thanksgiving because I am so very, very thankful that I’ve been able to take them…

  • hiking in the Colorado mountains
  • scrambling around the cave dwellings of Mesa Verde
  • driving through the Painted Desert
  • exploring the Grand Canyon
  • viewing the vistas of the Pacific Ocean
  • experiencing L.A. traffic
  • enjoying the wonders of the Hoover Dam
  • sightseeing along the Vegas strip at night
  • climbing Bryce Canyon
  • scrambling the rocks at Arches National Park
  • wandering along the trails and dunes of Lake Michigan
  • walking across the Mackinac Bridge
  • biking around Mackinac Island
  • to the top of the Arch in St. Louis
  • learning in Chicago’s great museums and parks and zoos
  • splashing at the top and bottom of Niagara Falls
  • exploring countless battlefields from both the Revolutionary & Civil Wars including Yorktown & Gettysburg
  • back in time at Williamsburg
  • living in a beach house on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean
  • climbing the rocks of the Badlands
  • underground in amazing caves like Mammoth Cave & Cave of the Winds
  • viewing Mount Rushmore
  • exploring Devil’s Tower
  • hiking the trails and canyons and geyser paths of Yellowstone
  • tramping up and down the trails of Glacier National Park and driving along the one-of-a-kind Going to the Sun Road
  • rafting down the Snake River in the shadow of the Tetons
  • scrambling up to the top of a lava cone from a long ago volcano at Craters of the Moon National Park
  • whitewater rafting in West Virginia
  • canoeing, kayaking, hiking & exploring in countless parks
  • and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting…

And now I can add living on top of a mountain in the Smoky Mountains; exploring the valleys of Smoky Mountain National Park and its highest peaks.

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We’ve been on some amazing adventures and we’d probably like to revisit many of them again. However, the beautiful trails of Smoky Mountain National Park will always be towards the top of the list. I was worried about the logistics of our mountain Thanksgiving. It turned out to be awesome. Our families of 10 crowded around the table to eat our favorite holiday dishes. We played lots of games. Took a few adventures. And created memories we’ll have forever.

That’s a lot for which to be thankful.