Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
while fields and floods,
rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"It was not a silent night..."

God was made man. He was born. Of a woman.

I wanted to post a picture of it, but they were all too serene. Every year, as I approach Christmas Eve, this amazes me more and more. Our portrayals of it are so inadequate, as anyone who has gone through childbirth can tell you. But others have said it so much more beautifully than I. If you want some good material for meditating on Christ's birth, go and read this post by Catherine, which is in my top ten blog posts ever list. And then listen to Andrew Peterson's Labor of Love, as sung by Jill Phillips. I am posting the lyrics below.

God was made man. He was born. Of a woman. I can only sit in silence and gratitude. There is no other story like it.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

Entering Adulthood

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. It was so busy, with seven hours in the car for four hours of "Christmas" dinner with my husband's grandmother and fam, that I hardly even thought about it. We had celebrated on Friday when my mom was in town. But I did tell my father-in-law on Saturday night that 30 is the new adult. Doesn't it feel like that, like our culture tells us we don't really have to get serious until we hit our thirties. Prolonged adolescence gets longer and longer. So...although I already have a husband of 5 1/2 years, two children, a master's degree, and a home, yesterday I became an adult. Time to get serious.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Way to Bethlehem...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Patience and Peace in Advent

This has been an exceptionally good Advent, and I am not even sure why. We didn't do anything particularly different than last year, other than adding the Jesse Tree. In fact, I probably spent even less time in scripture and prayer, in intentional heart waiting, for His coming. So I am sitting here trying to figure out what is different. I think this is the culmination of my journey this year and the beginning of something new.

I am a control freak by nature. Since I am a homemaker, that controlling nature comes out in how I keep my home. I have spent the last five and a half years of marriage trying to keep a perfectly clean home, stay on top of all of the office work, take extra good care of the boys, and, in general, be in control of my environment. This year I have been learning to let go, to find peace in the chaos and stop living in a state of constant stress. Strangely, the house runs about the same, and when it doesn't, I don't get completely depressed.

This outward letting go is slowly leading to an inner letting go. So many bad things have happened to me and to people I love over the past few years, and I have spent a lot of time angry at God for not managing things better. Obviously, I could do a better job! But as these difficult things have played out and the fruits of suffering and waiting and enduring have begun to reveal themselves, I am seeing how very in control God really is. I am finding patience to wait on His plans and peace to rest in the waiting. This may seem like a little thing for you, but it is HUGE for me.

And so I came into Advent this year with a relaxed and peaceful and joyful attitude. There have been moments of stress, but overall I have just enjoyed the time. I haven't rushed to shop or prepare gifts or decorate, but those things have slowly happened. The pace of preparation has picked up in these last days, but I have not been stressed. Last year I would have freaked out that my Christmas decorations weren't out by now. But this year I just waited.

I took Calvin to see The Nutcracker today. (He loved it, by the way, and he was even more impressed that his mommy had once danced in it.) Somehow, that put me in the mood to finish up. And so tonight I set out the Nutcrackers, the creches, the other decorations. I trimmed the house with greenery and lights and candles. Now all we have left is wrapping gifts, hanging stockings, and putting the babe in the manger on Christmas Eve. It has happened, and I am not even sure how. I sure didn't have a plan, but I enjoyed the time.

Now if only I could prepare for my 30th birthday as peacefully and joyfully. Is it really only two more days...less than that. Yikes!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Coming of the Light

I just talked to a dear friend today who has some sobering news. I want so badly for it to turn out well and end in joy, not sorrow. There seems to be so much sorrow and brokenness in so many places. The older I get, the more I realize that this world is broken. And the more brokenness I see, the more I must learn to rest in the quiet hope of Advent. While I want all of the problems fixed now, I must sit with the voice that says "Just wait. One day all will be made right. Just wait. One day all the sick will be healed, the dead will rise, the tears will be wiped away. Just wait. One day, the darkness will flee in the Presence of the Light. He will come..."

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV)

Sometimes in my busy, self-focused life I lose sight of this amazing truth..the dwelling place of God is with man. He came to live among us. He will come back and set things right. God with us. Emmanuel. And so, for my friend, and for all of you, I offer the words of this very ancient Advent hymn. It's language may be a bit difficult to take, but it offers such a hopeful picture of a powerful God who willingly comes to live with us, to feed us, and, eventually, to vanquish the darkness. Let us keep hoping.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wing├Ęd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's My Name?

I have never really liked my first name, and I would love to change it. The only thing that stops me is my love for my parents. I wouldn't really want my children to change the names we so carefully chose for them, and I wouldn't do that to my mom. Still, it really is a cheerleader name, and I am so very much not a cheerleader. (Nothing against you if you are one. I'm just too much of a klutz.)

I love my maiden name, though. I think it must be something about the Scottish in me that I identify so much with my family name. It was hard to give it up when I got married, even though it's a sort of boring name and my husband's family has a really great last name. I have always been a "Smith." (Nope, not giving out my real name.) I still am. I am learning to be a member of my husband's family, but I will always be a member of my clan, my father's people. It is just part of my culture. I will never be as at home with my in-laws as I am with my family.

Perhaps that is why this conversation with Calvin from this morning has stuck with me all day.

"Mommy, what name did you get?"

"Do you mean what did Nana name me when I was born? (Insert full maiden name here.) But when I married your daddy my name became (insert married name here)."

"And when you married me your name became Mommy?"

Well, sort of. He almost got it right, except for the marrying part. But it made me think. Who am I these days? I do often feel like my whole identity is wrapped up in being "Mommy." Even when it isn't, we are so close to my in-laws that it is wrapped up in being a part of that family. I love my boys. I love my in-laws. But part of me misses being a "Smith." I need to get home more often to remember who I am. My identity is not lost in that mountain landscape. I am my own person, but my identity is anchored there. Will you help me to save it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men

So...this is a difficult movie review to write, but I really want to write it. My husband and I watched Joyeux Noel last night. We had seen it before, I think around Christmastime last year. This isn't a Christmas movie in the tradition of It's a Wonderful Life. No, it is a war movie about what was certainly the most sane moment in what may have been the most horrible of wars. If you have never heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914 on the Western Front of World War I, then you should definitely read up on it or watch this film. It is a story of what can happen when men stop treating one another like the enemy and start to see their common humanity. I am going to try to stay away from politics in this post, though Lord knows it is easy enough to go there when you are talking about a war movie. But I think there are serious enough differences between World War I and the war(s) that we are in now to make it difficult to relate this film to our current situation. That said, there are definitely still lessons to be learned from this film. Now, on to my "review."

First off, this is a brilliantly filmed movie. The colors, the framing of the scenes, the acting and the directing are all excellent. My only complaint on the aesthetic side was that dubbing of voices for the two actors who play opera singers. While I hate it when the real actor doesn't sing anyway, I especially hate it when the dubbing is poor. The voices of the singers were beautiful, but I got distracted by the off-time dubbing. This was especially bad because the power of music to unite people in the midst of war was an important element to the film.

Even with the poor dubbing, however, I give this film a strong recommendation. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is also not a typical war movie. I don't like war movies because they so often glorify the violence. Even World War II movies, in which I strongly identify with the moral right of the Allies, are difficult for me to watch. Even if our side was in the right and their's was in the wrong, the soldiers on both sides were people. They were men with wives and children and mothers and homes. Men who may not have believed in what their country was fighting for but who wanted to protect the people they loved. It is easy to take the moral high road when we talk about war between governments but hard to do so when we bring it down to the level of individual soldiers.

This film does just that. It takes the viewer to a specific place on the Front, to three units of soldiers, to German men, Scottish men, and French men, who have families that they miss, children they have not seen, and brothers who have died fighting in an ugly war. It begins as most war movies do, with a bloody scene of Scots and Frenchmen in a failed attempt to take a few hundred yards of ground by entering the recently shelled German trenches and pushing the enemy back. It was just before Christmas. People elsewhere were lighting trees, singing carols, wrapping gifts, and preparing feasts while these men were shooting machine guns and fighting a pointless war to preserve their "freedom."

I won't give a full summary of the plot, but as things unfold, an opera singer who is enlisted in the German army manages to get back to the trenches from a concert for his superiors and to bring along his opera singer girlfriend. In the calm of Christmas Eve, he begins to sing carols in response to a Scottish priest's bagpipes from the opposing trenches. Slowly, the singer and piper emerge from the trenches to face one another, the enlisted men begin crawling out of their holes to witness the miracle, and the befuddled lieutenants hold a meeting in the middle of no man's land and decide on a Christmas Eve truce.

The ensuing story is sad and humorous and profoundly moving. The men begin connecting, showing pictures of wives and girlfriends, sharing chocolate and liquor, realizing that they live on the same street that another stayed for his honeymoon. These men are Europeans, and they share so much good history. They have traveled in one another's countries. They know each other's people intimately enough to make jokes about their nationalities. The story plays to the funny stereotypes of each group, the rowdiness of the Scots, the snootiness of the French, and the seriousness of the Germans.

As the men crack jokes about one another and share stories, the ridiculousness of the war becomes clear. The truce extends for several days, and at one point the men play football (European style). This most light-hearted of scenes was disturbing to me. I recognized the scene, Europeans heckling and fighting a battle of serious proportions on the playing field. But this time it was in no man's land. It seems so ridiculous that the argument could have been settled by a football match. I know that is not true. I know that a lot of things led up to this war. But it makes me wonder what could have been done to prevent it. By the end of the film, the director makes it clear that the leaders of the war had to do some serious work of propaganda to continue convincing these people to kill one another.

Why did this truce come about so easily? What made this war seem pointless? I think the film shows three important elements that could have easily united these men. The first is music (or art). The truce begins with the sharing of music, and the opera singers play a significant role in uniting the men. The second is the presence of the feminine. As soon as Anna, the female singer, shows up in the trenches, the men begin thinking about things other than war. They talk of their wives and mothers and of the comforts of home. When the men enter no man's land and begin sharing, a significant portion of the conversation involves these things, the sharing of photos of wives and children, talk of home and the places they love. Anna sees the pointlessness of all of the lost lives, the widowed women and fatherless children. She stands as a voice of reason against the leaders of the army, whom we occasionally see feasting and partying, while remaining in ignorance of the mess in the trenches.

The final and most pronounced element that unites the men is a shared faith. One of the main characters in the film is a Scottish priest who goes to war to be with the young men of his parish. On the first night of the truce, he holds a mass which the majority of the men attend. This is the most powerful scene of the film. In the midst of the frozen, snowy battlefield where the dead still lie unburied, men who had been killing one another only a day before unite in a common language, the Latin Mass. "The Lord be with you. And also with you." With artillery shells going off in the background, these men unite under a God who loves them all. The ridiculousness of their fighting one another, believing God is on their side only, is revealed. As the priest later tells his lieutenant, “Tonight, those boys were drawn to the altar like to a fire in winter. Even those who weren’t devout came to warm themselves. Maybe to be together. Maybe just to forget the war.” Even the German lieutenant, who is Jewish, says that he will never forget that night.

But the portrayal of Christianity is not all positive. How can it be when the war was fought by people on all sides who claimed to be Christians and assumed God was on their side? In the end of the film, the priest is accused by his bishop of leading the boys astray. He is dismissed from the army and sent home. But before he leaves, he tells his bishop, “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important mass of my life." As he leaves the scene, he removes his cross, leaving behind a bishop and his church, while we hear the bishop in the background preaching a gospel of war.

While some would say this confirms the falsity of the Christian message, I did not see it that way at all. The scene of the Christmas Eve mass was so powerful. The message of the Nativity and the Cross has power to unite, even when people seek to distort it for their own means. And the following day, as the men decide to extend the truce and bury their dead, they say, "That makes sense, burying the dead on the day Christ was born. It makes sense." There is some understanding that the holiness of that day is more important than the war that they are supposed to be fighting. As the Scottish priest answered requests from Scots, Frenchmen and Germans to say prayers over their dead, I couldn't help but think of the promise of Christmas, a promise that has continued, that will prevail, despite all of our attempts to undermine it. A promise of "peace on earth and goodwill to men on whom his favor rests." Who are those on whom his favor rests? The Christmas Truce of 1914 made it clear that they are our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share a common humanity. Far be it from us to assume that some are more worthy than others.

And lest you think the makers of this film are total pacifists who think that all war is unnecessary and all people are inherently good, watch the end of the film and tell me what you think. You may not want to add this to your feel-good, happy, fuzzy Christmas movie collection, but I think I may make it part of my regular Advent viewing. It is a great reminder of the need for a Prince of Peace and of the power of hope and love and joy in the midst of suffering. Go watch it. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

End of the Week Links

I am busy re-watching a movie with my husband and in-laws which I may post about soon. In the meantime, I wanted to link to a few great posts of this week.

My friend, Catherine, wrote a great book review that delved into the bigotry on both sides of the Christian and atheist debate. And then Emily, at Wheels on the Bus, wrote this post in response. Both of them are must reads if you are tired of being put in a box for your beliefs, whatever they are. A big "thank you" goes out to these women for writing nuanced posts that I hope will inspire good discussion.

Em at Merry's Cloister doesn't post often, but when she does, you shouldn't miss it, especially her poetry.

Journey Mama has some great posts and beautiful photos of her recent trip to West Africa and the lessons that she brought home.

My dear friend, Elizabeth, is posting photos of her life in Montenegro. If you've never been there (and how many of us have) it looks beautiful.

There you go. I hope you'll enjoy these as much as I have.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Update

I hope that my readers who are not Christians will feel free to read this and share their own holiday traditions. I would love to know what you do to make this time of year special or to read posts on your blogs around the time of your holidays.

It seems that my frequency of posting will directly correlate with the amount of attention and energy my children need. This week that amount has been huge. Calvin is going through a tough phase. Do the rest of you moms of little ones have this cycle of six or so weeks of great behavior followed by a couple of horrendous weeks? I think it gets slightly less horrendous each time, which must mean we are making progress overall. I don't believe in the "terrible twos" anymore, and I sometimes wonder where that phrase came from. I think it is more like a rollercoaster from eighteen months on. Hobbes managed to hit his first tough disciplining phase at the same time as his brother's most recent one.

Anyway, this is not meant to be a post about child development. Despite the difficult week, we have been having a lot of fun with Advent. Without meaning to, we have stumbled across traditions that are perfect for each child. Calvin is really enjoying the Jesse Tree ornaments and stories. Hobbes is too young to understand it, and I was afraid I had jumped the gun with Calvin, too. I don't think he is old enough to understand the idea of how all of these stories are leading up to the story of Jesus, but he loves stories. Even when I think he isn't listening, he is. I often see him hanging out by the Jesse Tree banner going over what each of the symbols mean.

Last week, when he was looking at the symbols, he pointed to the fruit tree, symbol of the Fall of man. We had talked about how Adam and Eve got to be with God every day in the Garden of Eden and how that changed when they disobeyed God and ate from the tree. I could see his mind working as he looked at the symbol, and he turned to me and asked, "Mommy, how did they get to be with God again?" What a great way to tie in the story of Jesus, and even of Israel and the tabernacle and temple.

(I am not brave enough to post pictures of the banner, though you can see it in the background of the opening photo. It serves its purpose, but I am pretty sure no one is getting embroidered gifts from me this Christmas! I am just not that crafty.)

Even though Hobbes doesn't get the Jesse Tree or remember the stories, he is definitely excited about the Advent Book. He LOVES evening prayer these days. He will point out the colors of the candles in our Advent wreath, and as soon as we start singing, he keeps saying "Abent book! Abent book!" We let him and Calvin take turns opening doors, and we reread the story from the beginning every night. I really love this book. It is so beautifully illustrated, and it is a great way to teach little ones the Christmas story through repetition. It is worth the money.

We are slowly beginning the process of decorating. My brother-in-law brought us a freshly cut Christmas tree from the mountains a couple of days ago, and it is sitting undecorated in our living room. I am going to use the extra greenery to decorate the outside of the house and prepare the places for our nativity scenes this weekend. We will put out the stables and shepherds and animals and will probably let Mary and Joseph begin a trek through our house the week before Christmas. We may even get the lights on the tree this weekend. Over the next eleven days, we will hang stockings, get out the nutcracker collection, put up more lights, and prepare the rest of our gifts and baking. We'll save the tree decorating for Christmas Eve.

I love the slow pace of this. In fact, I am loving it so much that I may write another post on it later this week. I will save the rest of my more meditative thoughts on Advent for that. In the meantime, here are three albums we are listening to to get us in the spirit of Christmas. We save the pure Christmas carols for the Twelve Days of Christmas (the 25th to Epiphany), but these three albums focus on the whole story of God's redemptive work through Jesus. Playing this music while I do daily chores has helped keep me in a meditative mood, making this time special and set apart. Suddenly, cleaning the kitchen is a way to prepare for the Christ child, not just my usual Thursday routine.

Handel's Messiah

The Birth of Jesus by John Michael Talbot

Behold the Lamb by Andrew Peterson

What about you? How are your holidays shaping up? What music do you listen to this time of year? We are always looking for really good Christmas carol CD's, so I would love to hear your recommendations.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your Christmas Present to Me

I'm not asking for much this year. If you enjoy reading my blog, please read this post by a fellow blogger, follow her links, and take action to help protect the mountains I love. And leave a comment to let me know you did it (lurkers, too). Really, it only takes a few minutes of your time to send some e-mails to congressmen and your power company, and it could save some of the most beautiful land in our country. Feel free to leave a link in the comments for me to return the favor or to link this to your own site.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Taking Care of You"

Being a mom of preschool aged children is exhausting. It just is. There is no getting around it. I have an amazing husband and amazing family of in-laws who help me a lot, and I am still exhausted a good portion of the time.

Yesterday was a full day. I spent the morning raking the yard while the boys played outside and the husband studied. I had planned to go get a haircut (peace at last) while the boys napped, but my husband had a group project at school that meant he had to drop the boys off at my hairdressers' while he went to campus. It was a recipe for disaster that called for only one thing, a bribe. It worked, but after I was done, I had to take two very tired boys to Chick-fil-A to get a milkshake. We got home late, Calvin never napped, and Hobbes screamed himself to sleep in my arms. I was done by dinner time. We all were.

So we had our first ever family movie night. We pulled out the sofa bed, grabbed some blankets and pillows, popped some corn, and watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. I'm not sure Hobbes watched much of the film, but it didn't matter. We had the most amazing hour and a half of being together without interruptions. After the film, the boys were completely content to cuddle with me on the sofa bed. They never go to sleep that easily. I lay there with Hobbes curled up on one side and Calvin on the other, both leaning over to kiss me occasionally until they fell asleep. Today was fun, too. We spent most of the afternoon traipsing around my in-laws' property, jumping on the trampoline, cracking pecans on the bridge near the waterfall, just enjoying the beautiful and unseasonably warm day.

But even in the fun times there are diapers to change and owies to kiss and tired children to carry. There are words of caution to utter and words of love to whisper. There are shoes to tie and spilled drinks to clean up and rocks to take out of mouths. There are popcorn kernels to clean out of the couch and stained clothes to spray and throw in the hamper for one more load of laundry. There are bites to count at dinner and small bodies to scrub clean. So much of my life is taking care of others, and even on a great weekend like this one, I enter the new week tired.

This is what was going through my head when we came back to my in-laws' for dinner this evening. I sat for a moment of peace while the boys dumped out the treasure chest of Duplos. It wasn't long before I heard Hobbes' little voice, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" I looked over to see what he wanted. He had turned on my mother-in-law's foot massager and was pointing to her chair. "Mama, chair. Mama, chair." He wanted me to sit down at her chair and put my feet in the massager. I was happy to oblige. As soon as I sat down, Calvin ran over. (Oh, no! what did he want? Just a minute of peace, please.) "Mommy, I just want you to relax right now." And it gets better. At bedtime, Calvin kept leaning over to give me kisses. At one point, he put his little arms around my neck, gave me as big a hug as his undersized three-year-old body could muster, and said, "I'm just taking care of you." Sometimes, just sometimes, the world turns upside down in the most wonderful of ways.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Coming Up Empty

This has been a busy (sometimes difficult and sometimes fun) week around our house, and I haven't had time for much deep thought. I have some potential posts floating around in my head, but none have come to fruition.

I did, however, just read the most amazing article on barrenness and adoption in Christianity Today. CT and I have an on-again, off-again relationship, but this article was one of the best pieces of writing I have read in a long time. If you are a woman and a Christian, you should definitely read this. I don't care if you are single, a biological mother, an adoptive mother, or something else. This really is one of the most profound theological pieces on motherhood that I have read in a long time. Right up there with my favorite pregnancy book. And I don't think just women or just Christians should read it. It is really that good.

Read it already! And let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Army

After my post on Advent, some of you asked what our family does about Santa Claus. Since today is Saint Nicholas' Day, I think I'll tackle the subject. I know there are debates out there about whether or not parents should "lie" to their children and make them believe in someone who doesn't really exist, and I have no intention of getting involved in those debates. I grew up believing in the jolly fellow with a red hat. He was an important part of my Christmas experience until my loving older brother pointed out that Santa's handwriting looked a lot like Mom's on a piece of paper from Dad's desk. (He got in trouble for that one.) My husband's family did not do the Santa Claus thing, and we both seemed to turn out just fine. At least I think we are fine; we don't need therapy for any lingering Christmas issues.

With that out of the way, I will say that we have chosen not to do Santa Claus in our family. As we have become more interested in church liturgy and celebrating the seasons of the church calendar, we find that there are already plenty of people and things to celebrate. We have an Advent wreath and Jesse Tree Banner for Advent, a special breakfast on Santa Lucia Day, slow decorating throughout December, putting the ornaments on the tree and Mary and Joseph in the stable on Christmas Eve, waking up to one present under the tree and Baby Jesus in the creche on Christmas morning, small gifts every day for the twelve days of Christmas, and a galette des Rois to eat and the wise men joining the nativity scene on Epiphany. With a list like that, we don't have room for Santa Claus.

Today is Saint Nicholas day, however, and I decided to teach Calvin a little about the man that inspired the Santa Claus legend. On Tuesday, I made gingerbread dough and refrigerated it overnight. Yesterday afternoon, the boys and I rolled it out and cut and baked gingerbread men. (The actual tradition is spice cookies baked in a Saint Nicholas mold. Too hard for me!) Much to my surprise, the dough recipe made an army of gingerbread men. We had a ton of fun decorating them with icing and M&M's this morning and delivering them as gifts to friends, in the spirit of St. Nicholas. We also read a book about the real man's life. I even had the boys leave out boots last night, and they found a clementine and a Cars car for each of them this morning. (For more about the Cars obsession, read this post.) If you want to know more about Saint Nicholas and ways to teach your children about him, go here.

So that is how we do Santa Claus in our house. So far, Calvin and Hobbes really have no idea who the guy in the mall is, and they greet questions of "What is Santa bringing you this year?" with a blank stare. I am hoping we can keep it that way for a while, lest we become those parents, whose kids send classmates home weeping because they insist that Santa isn't real.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Saint Nick. Did you have him in your home growing up? What traditions do you have surrounding Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas' Day? What do you plan to do with your own children? If you don't do Santa Claus, how do you handle that around other children who do believe in him? I'm looking forward to reading your ideas. In the meantime, I'm going to take down that gingerbread army, one cookie man at a time. Run, run, as fast as you can, little man. I'll still get you.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Which Came First....?

I've only been away from this blog five days, but after trying to post every day in November, it feels like an eternity. I had a wonderful Advent Retreat with the ladies from my church this weekend and may write more about that later. I also finished my Jesse Tree banner and may get brave enough to post pictures. In the meantime and in lieu of anything witty or intelligent to offer, I give you some of the latest Calvinisms.

My husband got to step into my shoes while I was away this weekend. He rarely has the boys on his own, so I'm sure there are many stories from that 24 hours that I won't ever hear. But this exchange was good for a chuckle:

Daddy: "Calvin, I asked you to pick up the toys. Why didn't you pick them up? "
Calvin: "Well, Daddy, life is just like that sometimes." (Oops! Wonder where he heard that one?)

And today in the grocery store, Calvin solved one of the greatest questions of all time. In way of background you should know that we try to buy meat and eggs only from animals that have been treated well. The boys and I call our whole chickens "happy chickens." In this case, I was looking for the eggs from cage free chickens.

Me: "There they are, happy eggs. Happy chickens make happy eggs."
Calvin: "No, mommy, happy eggs make happy chickens."

There you have it. The egg came first.