/> Raising Angels: December 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Lessons

Well, I made it through Christmas. I don't like to think of it this way, but that's kind of what I did. I made it through to the other side and learned a few lessons along the way.

Because I love you, I am going to share with you the little gems I've gained. Hopefully they will help you too.

1. Last year we followed the advice of a good friend and put a limit on the excess that had become Christmas. One year we had some good friends from Africa share Christmas with us. They come from a very, very poor place and when they saw the kids buried under the wrappings and boxes at my folks' house, I heard one say, "Oh my God, so much stuff!" That statement stayed with me.

My friend's kids get four presents - something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

What? Seriously, this is what she did and after some thought, I decided to give it a whirl. Truthfully, I expected anarchy. Instead, something amazing happened. The kids sat around the table and discussed the difference between a want and a need. They sat and pondered what was really important to them. They came up with short lists. They opened gifts Christmas day and didn't ask, "Aren't there more presents to open?" I didn't find myself in the stores the week of Christmas looking for more "stuff" to put under the tree.

To be honest they each get 5 or 6 because Santa brings some surprises. I found myself sharing this method with many a desperate shopper this year. It made me sad to see them in such a frantic mode. "They have to have things to open," I would hear them say. "They need more stuff."

After spending the last few months purging stuff, I felt no guilt at all about not getting them more of it. We had a simple, happy Christmas and every gift had a place to call home. I highly recommend this method.

2. Wrapping gifts with friends and drinks is a super fun December activity. It's the motivation I needed to get the shopping finished and the wrapping done way ahead of time.

3. The egg casserole that was the end of me last Christmas? That works like a charm if I make it into a casserole and a half. Crisis averted this year and forever more. Hooray!

4. I will never, ever, ever, ever again agree to host more than three events over the holidays. The dinner party one weekend, the baby shower the next, Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and a family reunion still to come have not made for a relaxing holiday.

Nelson and I like to host big events on a regular basis because it makes for good motivation to get a project done. However, when you offer to host your husband's family, it means that dear hubby has a "honey do" list for me like you've never seen.

My list was something like: get the house clean, organize the closets, put clean sheets on all beds, and cook, cook and cook. Nelson's list included: put up shelves in the bedroom, redo the backyard, touch up paint upstairs, build mantel for master bedroom, etc.

His entire list sounded wonderful to me back in late October when we discussed it. Little did I know that his to do's wouldn't be started until the week before Christmas. "Will you be home on the 24th?" he asked. "X is coming over to start work on the shelves, mantel, etc."

"Hon, that's Christmas Eve."

"I know. So, are you going to be home?"

So I was home with a clean house and a dinner to prepare and the very last thing I needed was for someone to come in and start drilling. Seriously.

Consequently, the day after Christmas, the day I wanted nothing more than to hang around in my pajamas, drink hot chocolate and read the kids their new books, that day was filled with a man in my bedroom drilling away and a crew in my backyard cutting down a tree.

The removal of said tree means now I have a veritable mud pit in place of my yard. Sweet.

5. I realize that my resolution not to host holiday events will last precisely until next December. I'm crazy that way. Besides, we'll need some motivation to put some grass in the mud pit.

6. We're leaving town tomorrow for a few days. This is untimely considering all the things we need to get done before the reunion. However, some great friends invited us and it's the opportunity I've been looking for the whole holiday season - time with my family, with nothing else to do other than to be together. It's going to be glorious and fun and relaxing. I can't wait.

7. If you've been following me this holiday, you've probably gathered that December somehow triggers this peppermint addiction in me. The rest of the year I can take it or leave it, but for some reason Christmas calls for peppermint.

I stumbled onto the hot chocolate with peppermint Schnapps a few years ago. I also grab the first gallon of peppermint ice cream when it hits the stores. I also, occasionally, grab some peppermint bark in the expensive chocolate aisle. This year, however, as I was checking out with my ice cream, I spotted some cookies in the check out line that called to me. There were rows and rows of them and they were all throwing their "limited edition" banners in my face. I had no choice. Really.

And let me tell you, Santa was very, VERY happy with my choice. Go grab some before they disappear. Eat them with your spiked hot chocolate and send me a thank you note.

Here's to a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
 Buddy the Elf

 Oh! You better watch out,
There’s no need to pry,
We’ll tell you all about it,
We’ve never been shy:
In fact you can see most of it online!

 We’ve made our lists,
We’ve checked them twice,
We won’t disclose who’s been naughty or nice.
We’re just too full of good Christmas cheer.

 Mackenzie has been sporting,
Playing volleyball and basketball.
She won a part in the musical Aladdin this year,
She likes singing best of all!

So. . . Aiden is smart,
He makes good grades
Plays piano with heart,
In football many good passes were made.
His mind is always spinning around.

Dawson quarterbacks too, and he’s decided to run.
Has his sights set on 13.1.
If anyone can do it, he can.

Max is doing great, and soon he’ll be five.
That means in the fall to Kindergarten he’ll arrive.
Amazing how our baby has grown.

 The kids in the Parris household
Often have a big melee.
But the truth is that they love each other
Though at times it’s hard to see.

 Oh. . . We’ve had a good year,
And we are so blessed.
Friends and family so dear,
It’s hard to express.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Mix

To say it's been busy is the understatement of the year. I'd love to sit and chat with moms who manage to move through this busy season in perfect peace and simplicity. How is that possible?

We've had several huge events this month - like hosting a dinner/Christmas party for 17 here one weekend, hosting a couples' baby shower for 45 the following weekend, with some football, Social Christmas formal, and client Christmas parties thrown into the mix.

Last week we had our family Christmas party with our support group. We decided to Christmas carol at the local V.A. Hospital and have our party with the vets. How great is that? Fun and service all at the same time.

As we drove to the hospital, I went over the rules with the kids. "These people are soldiers who have served our county and they deserve our utmost respect and honor. You are to speak clearly and look them in the eye when you talk to them. Shake their hands firmly. Thank them for their service."

Our little group gathered with the patients (who I am not allowed to show you) and sang to them. Actually, we sang with them because they happily joined us in the songs.

 Max happily accompanied us on the maraca...right up until the time where he marched across the room to where I was standing and asked where all the soldiers were. He had no idea they wore civilian clothing when they are in the hospital.
When we finished singing, and it was time for snacks, I was so very proud of my boys. Without any prompting at all, they chose to have their treats at the table of the man who was sitting alone. Once they asked him the first question, it was like the Inquisition for the poor guy. "Which war did you fight in? Who won? Did you shoot anyone? Did anyone shoot at you? What happened when the bombs went off? Who started that war? Why? Who won? How did it end?"
And that was only the beginning. I think they wore the poor man out, but they engaged him, looked him the eye and had a meaningful conversation. Mission accomplished.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, some friends invited us over for a fiesta. This was not a feast day I celebrated growing up. I guess Irish-Italians don't know much about this culture. I did find it slightly ironic that I was asked to bring the main dish to a Mexican fiesta.
Guess who played Juan Diego in the play?
A small group of friends and I have been texting back and forth for weeks about how we needed a girls' night out. Alas, they are just as busy as me and dates were few and far between. Then I was inspired. "Hey gals, why don't you join me Tuesday night? Bring your presents and paper. I'll provide the spiked cocoa, cookies and a movie."
Let me tell you, wrapping with friends accompanied by peppermint schnapps and chocolate is oh so much better than taking on that mammoth task alone. Time together with drinks? Check. Sleepless in Seattle in the background? Check (with some "magic" thrown in). One big thing crossed off the gigantic "To Do" list? Check!
Try it sometime.
There are still a multitude of things on the list, but that's okay. The cards may not get out by Christmas, which is not okay by me but may be unavoidable so I'm not going to sweat it...much. Ravioli will be made tomorrow and all will be right with the culinary Christmas list.
Today I reminded myself that Advent is about preparation and that's just what I'm doing. But the Christmas season? That ladies and gentlemen, is for a bit of basking in the glory of the sweet baby who was born to save me. There will be some quiet time. There will be some rest. There will be time with family and friends.
It's going to be great.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is my dad's birthday. I told him that we couldn't celebrate with him this evening because we were involved in a rehearsal dinner, so the kids and I wanted to take him to lunch. We picked Chick-Fil-A because we had coupons and I thought that would make him proud as he is the king of coupons and sales.

However, when we arrived at the packed out restaurant, he was greeted by a giant, "Surprise!" from the people he works with and their families. While he was still reeling from the total shock of seeing everyone there for him, he turned to find the cow headed straight towards him.

The marketing manager let him know that while they wished him a very happy birthday, the reason they were there was to honor him for his outstanding service in the community. He was chosen as one of only ten recipients of the award.

You can check it out here.

I can't think of a better way to honor you Dad than to see you honored by others. What fun we had! Happy Birthday! I love you!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Too Chill

Just in case you were worried about me and to prove I am a woman of my word, look what I did today.
I put on Pandora's Linus and Lucy Christmas station (totally great mellow music) and pulled up Amazon to do a little Christmas shopping while I sipped away. It was 9:15 a.m. so I skipped the schnapps; I reserve that for evenings only.
In fact I was so chilled I forgot to pick my son up from his Catechism class. "Hello, Amy? Are you supposed to be picking up Max today?", came the call from his sweet teacher. I glanced at my watch and wondered why she would be calling me at 11:20 to tell me to pick him up for a class that ended at 11:30...except then I remembered it doesn't end at 11:30 but 11.
Perhaps there is a thing such as too chilled out.
Tomorrow I will seek the balance. But today, other than the whole forgetting my son thing, was much better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chilling Holiday Style

It's been such a relaxing week. I've put my feet up, watched movies, stared at the lights on my tree and breathed deeply on every occasion I could find, which was a lot. Now I'm taking in some Christmas music while I'm sipping on hot cocoa and listening to the rain fall outside.

In my perfect world this would all be true but honestly, the only truth to any of the above is that I can hear the rain outside. I am typing beneath the lack-luster glow of the beautiful tree pictured above. Several strands have gone out and try as he may, Nelson can't seem to get them to work. It makes me sad to stare at it but my back is aching so much I had to lay the computer on the floor to type.

I'm noticing that my hands look like those of a 90 year old woman...or one slightly younger who hasn’t been drinking much because I don't have time to pee. Seriously. My mind is in overdrive and every time I check something off the "to do" list, I have to add three more things in its place.

I'd tell you about my last few weeks, but I don't have the time or the energy. If you're a mom, I'm betting you know exactly what I'm talking about. Try as I may to have a simple, peaceful Christmas, December seems to laugh in my face.

I did a pretty good job last year of pushing the stress out and just going with it. At least I thought I was pushing it out...until Christmas morning when I awoke to my egg casserole that had overflowed over every shelf in my refrigerator and then continued to gush as I set it on the counter. By the time the doorbell rang signaling that family had arrived, I was in the middle of the kitchen sobbing...over eggs.

It was pathetic and I knew it but there was no stopping it. Seems I had really just repressed all the stress and it had finally found its escape.

This year I'm allowing myself random moments of hyperventilating in hopes that Christmas morning will not undo me again. I'm doing okay on the random rants and moments of sheer panic. I'll let you know if I can relax when the big day comes.

Here's what I learned last year. What I can get done will be great and what I can't, well, that will be fine too. So the Christmas letter is going to be down to the last minute. It always is, no matter what I do. That's okay. Is everyone going to think less of me when they receive their cards on December 24th? If you are, please don't tell me.

We got our first card November, 30th! And though my first thoughts were, "Holy cow! It's not even December, give me a break,” I was a little jealous they were done with this mammoth holiday task. We got out family photo taken back in October, maybe September, and I was all like, "I've got this! I'm so ahead of the game this year."

Today when I purchased the stationary from the store, the clerk remarked, "Yes it's on sale. I mean you only have like a week to get it done now right?" I wanted to slug her, but in the spirit of Christmas cheer I smiled and laughed like I was getting this for next Christmas like everyone else.

Today was just one of those let it all hang out and be stressed and nervous days. In retrospect, I accomplished a tremendous amount of work. Tomorrow, when and if I finally get to enjoy that cup of cocoa, you can bet your bottom dollar it's going to be half peppermint schnapps. I will consider it my chill pill.

Tomorrow I'm going to be busy, but chill. Got it? I had the stress today so I'm good for the next few. Remind me of that if you see me. Tell me, "Today is your day to chill out sister."

And just for the record, I am not kidding about the hot chocolate (I only call it cocoa in the dream world) and schnapps. It has been my favorite holiday treat for the last few years. Trust me on this one. Chocolate and peppermint is the perfect holiday combination. Try it! Better yet, come have one with me. We can chill together.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Clean-Out Continued

This is the room my husband affectionately calls the game closet. It includes all our technical aides, like the DVD, cable box, and surround sound. It also includes the Wii and all its accompanying stuff, as well as all our puzzles, crafts, games, school supplies, and toys that never made it back up the stairs.
In short, I cleaned the thing on a weekly basis with no success. No matter how I organized it, or how many sessions I gave the family on how to keep in that way, it never...EVER...stayed that way.
In short, I discovered that the problem was that there was just too much STUFF.
 When I finished with a few rooms upstairs, I decided to take a break and tackle this mess. After all, when we have parties (and we had two in the last two weeks) this closet gets opened (GASP) in front of our guests so we can turn on the party music.  Also, Nelson likes to show this room off to random people so he can gush about all that there technology on the left.
To me this was comparable to showing off the contents you keep under your bathroom sink - you just don't do it...EVER...under ANY circumstance. Can I get an amen?
 Well folks, I started by taking every single toy out of that closet. This solved the problem of Max and his buddies creating a gigantic mess when they popped in. I ditched the DVDs we had outgrown (think Barney and Barbie and the Princesses). I got rid of half of our games (this part I did when I was alone so I didn't hear the moans of every single family member about how we can't live without any of them. The crafts went out of reach so I can control when and where they are used. I counted every card in every deck and went through every game for every piece. Anything incomplete went bye-bye.
As you can see, we still have plenty of everything. The difference is that I can now walk into that closet without tripping over pencils and toys.  I can put stray pencils I find around the house right where they belong. The kids can reach the games they like to play. And, here's the kicker...two weeks later it still looks just like this!
Now I took on this project the week I was also hosting a dinner party for 17 at my house. That was kind of insane, but the purge bug has bitten and I didn't want to lose momentum. 
The result? It takes my breath away every time I open the door. It brings me peace and makes me happy. I guess it's my way of getting my inn ready for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

God Speaks in the Silence of Our Hearts (and the pit of my stomach)

This was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. My cousin was having a wedding in Denver the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which in theory is a wonderful time to have a celebration.
I bit the bullet and took one for the team in honor of family. Nelson said there was no way all of us could go but he gave me the go ahead to fly out. This was great, I thought, until the short weekend trip turned into a 5 day trip leaving the morning of Thanksgiving when I decided to fly with my folks.
I was uneasy about it from the get go but I've traveled without my family before so I figured I'd be fine with it. Except I wasn’t. I didn't shop for the wedding, plan what to bring or anything that had any semblance at all to taking that trip. I could not, no matter how hard I tried, get happy about going.
The thought of my little family sitting around the table at Thanksgiving without me broke my heart. There was something oddly off, deep down in the pit of my stomach, and I was not at peace. Instead of sharing these feelings with my folks or Nelson, I just thought I'd push through. In the grand scheme of things I would be fine, my family would be fine and I could do it.
Except...I couldn't. Two days before the scheduled departure, after I had stayed up long hours preparing the dishes for Nelson to bring to the meal, I started to shake. The kind of physical shaking that is so slight you almost can't see it. Then my stomach started to turn. Then the tears came and I could not turn them off.
I hit the pillow, grabbed Nelson and said, "I can't do it. I don't think I can go. I really, really don't want to go." This caught him totally off guard. He's not used to his can-do, self-sufficient wife having a total melt-down (ok maybe he is, but I'd like to pretend this like NEVER happens).
I knew instantly that he sensed the sheer panic in my voice because when I asked him about losing the money and the plane ticket, he said that none of that mattered if I wasn't peaceful. I needed to do what I thought was right. "Why don't you sleep on it? You're tired and maybe you'll feel better in the morning."
That was a descent plan; except that I was too busy crying to sleep. It was a choice between two families. I didn't want him to let me decide, I wanted him to tell me what to do and he would not do that.
The next day several things happened that added to the uneasy feelings. Very dear friends of our family were in a car accident that morning and the wife was killed and the husband was in the ICU. This only added to the dilemma of whether or not I could break the news to my folks who were looking forward to the trip. How could I abandon them while they were mourning?
 In the meantime, Nelson woke up feeling awful and was going downhill fast. He went to work and told me to let him know in an hour because he thought he might be able to work something out with the airline with 24 hours notice. I couldn't find peace. I couldn't decide.
I made a phone call to a dear friend and could hardly get out, "Do you have a minute to talk?" before bursting into tears. She asked if I was at home and said she'd be right over (don't you just love friends like that?). She sat and listened to me with a mother's heart. She would not decide for me either but she prayed with me and left saying she thought I probably knew what I was supposed to do.
I called Nelson and asked him to make the call." If they won't make a deal with us, I'll just go, but I really want to stay if possible." He texted me within 20 minutes to let me know I was off the hook and that the airline was very merciful. Honestly though, by that point, I don't think he would have told me if we lost everything. He sensed my unrest and wanted to ease it for me. I love that man!
And just like that, the burden was lifted. I knew right then and there that I made the right choice. I've learned through the years that God often speaks to me in my gut. That's a real (and kind of obnoxious) term for how I can feel the Spirit move. It often happens physically for me. Not in a see the writing on the wall kind of way (though I would totally take that God...anytime you want to give it a shot), but rather, in the pit of my stomach.
Other than that whole mess, it was probably the most peaceful Thanksgiving on the books for me. I didn't host it (Nelson said he was going to tell my sister-in-law that this was just my grandiose plan to have someone else host). All my contributions were done days before. I woke up that morning, made some pumpkin muffins (for everyone but Nelson who had been throwing the day before - thank God I stayed), went for a run, watched a bit of the Macy's parade and headed over to my brother's. The food was to die for, the table was beautiful and I was hap-hap-happy to be right where I belonged.
Lesson learned. As an added bonus I now have a round trip ticket to use within a year. Oh the places I could go. All I know is that I will not be going over a holiday!