As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.
1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.
2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children’s service on Christmas eve. I’d been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list–and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.
3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.
4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?
5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass … for hours. Couldn’t be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren’t at the end of the songbook.
6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.
8. Gifts. I don’t know. It’s so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren’t the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah’s Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).
9. Not drinking too much. I didn’t. And I felt better for it.
10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.
11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.
12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.
Things we didn’t do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).
I also have a list of things that didn’t work … but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, “Mommy where are you?”).
Yesterday, I did not go to my planned yoga class. Instead, I cooked a risotto that reminded me of an evening out last month, rich with reduced wine, garlic, butter, parmesan, and I stayed home over the supper hour and savoured the food with my family. In order to exercise more, I have to skip something: which ends up being supper, most often. And I miss supper with my family. When I’m home, more things happen. Good food is prepared. Homework gets completed. Musical instruments get practiced. Real talk is exchanged.
What is the mysterious balance? Everything I choose to do weighs against everything that therefore will not happen.
Yesterday afternoon, on the most beautiful fall day imaginable, I took the little ones to the little park and we played. I must have pushed them on the platter swing for half an hour, singing songs, and reminiscing: in the blink of an eye, my babies have grown. Only a minute ago, I was pushing the older two in the same swing, singing the same songs. It was so peaceful, I did not want to rush home and make supper so that I could rush out the door to do something by myself. I wanted to let them lie on their backs and look at the rare cloud passing by, and be soothed. I wanted to sing. Impossible, when in a rush. Impossible, when hewing to a pre-arranged schedule.
Still, I love my schedule. I love to get out by myself.
But here’s a toast to being flexible. To breaking plans. To changing my mind.
|Wish I were sleeping like that right now …|
Sunday. I don’t get on the computer with the new Sunday day of rest plan. Or not quite so much. In any case, certainly not enough to blog. Yesterday, we went to my mom’s church and I groused about being stuck in the nursery the entire time, though at least the service is piped in and CJ gets a kick out of the toys. That sums up my church-going experience for the past nine years. Everyone is very friendly and child-positive at the church, but, really, do you want your kids screaming at each other in the pew over a bag of crayons?
I also read at Word on the Street, and that was lovely. We didn’t get home till about 3:30. Then it was time to do homework with Albus in the office. Give him a piece of gum, and he’s good for an hour of hard work. I’ve been impressed by his dedication. It helped to offer computer time on the far end of the study session. Yesterday morning, he declared that this was “the worst day ever!” (He was especially peeved about having to go to my stupid “art” thing; though once there he was easily won over by all the free swag and treats). By yesterday evening, we heard him proclaiming it “the best day ever!” No kidding. Free candy, gum for study time, and computer play. We even practiced piano together. (Okay, that was fun for me, anyway).
Fooey cooked supper with Kevin, and she really stuck it out over the long haul. She chose from a Mexican cookbook, and the menu was completely her own. We dined on: roasted corn soup (with onions and red peppers, pureed); corn on the cob; potato/lima bean/cheese patties fried in oil (YUM!); lettuce salad with tropical fruit and lemon dressing; and for dessert, orange slices with cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles, and hot chocolate made with real chocolate. Not cooking on Sundays feels like a genuine rest for me.
And going to church changes the shape of the entire day, or perhaps more importantly changes my mental map of the day. It forces me not to plan or do much of anything. And if I were at home all morning, I would find plenty that needs doing and therefore need to do it.
Cooking with kids: AppleApple’s menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids’ cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey’s and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey’s up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus’s German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it’s impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is ‘re able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I’m sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something’s not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here’s what went onto my “fitting it all in … a little at a time” list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).
On the beet theme, for this week’s school lunches I’ve made secret chocolate muffins, which are made with 2 cups of cooked beet puree. That recipe can be found in Simply in Season (as Secret Chocolate Cake).
I am happy to report that we’ve started “cooking with kids” again: today’s child in charge is Albus, with Kevin in charge of him, and the menu features German fare: spaetzle (a boiled homemade egg noodle), sausage hotpot, with cinnamon apple pancakes for dessert. No beets involved.
I got tired yesterday. Or, woke tired. Saturday was productive: I made yogurt (4 litres of yogurt!), and baked a batch of bread. I also made almond milk from scratch. But yesterday I felt weary of kitchen work. So I baked a rhubarb crisp for supper (dessert) and left it at that. Our fridge is full of homemade. Our house is in disarray, and thank heavens for my crocs (which I wear as slippers) because the floor is crumb central. (“You don’t have to work all the time, you know,” Kevin told me yesterday, as I was confessing an overwhelming desire to do NOTHING AT ALL.) Yesterday evening, the whole family went into a fugue state: Fooey went off to sleep, CJ puttered with Little People, Albus played piano in order to figure out a song on the guitar with Kevin (and Kevin was amazed by everything Albus knew about music–his ear, his rhythm, his understanding of musical theory; I just knew putting in all those years of early childhood music, and this past year of piano lessons, would be worth it! yay! I truly believe in giving kids the rudiments, so they can take them and develop on them; I’m so excited by Albus’s new enthusiasm); and AppleApple and I worked on her school project (that child has an extremely organized mind!). Time passed. Soon, it was 9:30 and we were like … um, responsible parents, bedtime, sheesh. So, children all put to bed, Kevin and I collapsed in the living-room with a beer, and I said, you won’t believe this, but I swear I spent a lot of time tidying this room today. He said, you won’t believe this, but so did I. It was a puzzle/games disaster, and mixed-up puzzle/game pieces are just endlessly frustrating to sort. The things I found under the couch. But the kids had a fun morning playing restaurant (at least, it was fun till they called me to be their customer, and I showed up and went, AAAAAGHGHG! Mommy has to leave the restaurant right now or she will make you start cleaning all this up!). Anyway, by the time Kevin and I wandered to the kitchen, post-beer, it was past 11. I did not try very hard to set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. And my internal alarm did not go off. Here’s the thing about the early mornings: I love them. But I have to go to bed early. There is no compromising on this. My body makes darn sure of it. So, if I have to choose between quiet early morning and hanging out with my husband, I generally choose the latter. I’ll get a wee bit of exercise right about now (though hardly a zen moment) as I walk to school to pick up the kids.
PS That photo above is my boys this morning: my biggest and my littlest. One off to work, the other off to nursery school … leaving me alone in a quiet house for a couple of blissful hours.