Friday Five: Christmas Soon!

Margaret Fitch's nativity set

janintx writes:

This was the first Nativity scene I ever had. My cousin Margaret sent it to me from France when I was in first grade. I still put it out every year, a tradition I love. (Notice how Mary is holding baby Jesus!)

For today’s Friday Five, choose any five things about this upcoming Christmas that comes to mind, such as memories, traditions, plans, worries, whatever you wish. Add a favorite recipe, song, or tradition that you would like to share as the bonus category.

1. Christmas on Christmas Eve

So, we’re German-ish. And a lot of Eastern European. Mennonite, really. (see below). My mom always thought we did Christmas on Christmas Eve because my dad’s family doesn’t do delayed gratification but there is some cultural justification. My dad has a mental block against opening presents in daylight. True story. Our routine has become that we spend the day together, kids playing, making stuff, watching cartoons, etc. Then we all part ways and go to our respective churches and reconvene for dinner around 7. After dinner, it’s all presents all the time.

2. Food

As previously mentioned, we are ethnically Mennonite, which involves specific foods. We also have lived in the desert southwest for over 40 years. So, as you might imagine, there’s some overlap. For a long time, we were in the habit of having chili, tamales & Mexican Coke for Christmas Eve, but then the retail years came and I wasn’t home on Christmas Eve. My brother is not particularly fond of tamales (I know. Tragic.) so those years when I wasn’t home, he wrangled Mom into making vereneke, a Mennonite dumpling concoction that I absolutely loathe. It’s disgusting, but he’s all about it. Now that I’m local and here on the holiday, we’ve had to combine the two traditions into what I like to call a Mexonnite feast. It’s all really good and everyone is happy.

3. Buche de Noel

I know I just talked about food but this cake gets its own entry. The first year I was home (now 3 Christmases ago – eek!) I was reading through the local food blog and came across an entry for the best holiday desserts. I decided to order this Buche de Noel cake from a bakery in Scottsdale. Oh. My. Gosh. This thing is ridiculous. Just the most delicious dark chocolate, and there are dried cranberries inside. So freaking delicious. 133561_10151174980227201_1262346161_o

4. Movie on Xmas Day

Since we do Christmas on Christmas Eve, my brother is free to go to his in-laws for Christmas Day and it’s all good. This means, the rest of us have nothing to do. We’ve never had anything to do on Christmas Day, now there are just fewer of us with nothing to do. I personally like to sleep in, see a movie, and then join our Jewish brethren for Chinese food. Last year I went do a horrible movie with the parents, but since they created me, I acquiesced. This year, I may actually have a FRIEND with whom I can go to a movie. Alert the media. I’m getting a life.

5. The Children on winter break

I love this time of year because I get some extra time with the kids since they’re out of school. I can’t take a ton of time off this year, but the way the holidays naturally fall I get some good time. Hopefully we’ll work out a sleepover or something.

Happy Birthday, TEEEJ!

Today is my little brother’s birthday. I say “little” because although he’s a good 8 or so inches taller than me, he’s 5 years younger, therefore LITTLE. He’s 36. How did that happen? He’s all gray-haired, responsible and old.

I remember very clearly the night he was born. I remember my mom wearing a long satin nightgown that was an ivory color with short sleeves and it was striped with pastel shades of purple, pink, blue and green. I remember skipping church that day because “mommy doesn’t feel well.” Then I remember being shuttled off to SueEllen’s house to spend the night because the “baby was coming.” This was before the days of knowing the gender ahead of time, so we didn’t know what it was going to be. I really didn’t want a sister. I really didn’t want a sibling, actually. I was cool with the state of things. But the parents went and decided that I was becoming too “difficult” and needed a brother or sister to “calm her down.” Whatever.

My brother was born at 9:30pm that night and I’m figuring that after they did all the APGAR stuff and cleaned up the situation there it was close to midnight when they called to tell me I had a brother. I was sleeping on SueEllen’s couch and I was gently shaken awake to receive a phone call from my dad. He said in a very excited voice, “Hi Tiffy! (they called me that then. if anyone tries it now, I get very stabby) You have a little brother! His name is Todd!” One thing to note here is that a family trait, inherited from my father and passed on to both me and my brother is that we do not wake up well under any circumstance. It takes us a while to warm to the fact that we’re no longer asleep and when we’re suddenly awakened by loud noises it’s the stuff of Three Stooges films. So dad makes this exciting announcement to very groggy 5-year-old me and I mumble an “ok” and hang up the phone and stumble back to SueEllen’s couch. That’s pretty much it.

After he was born there was the phase of insensitive visitors breezing past me to hold the baby and me with my little hurt feelings crying that no one wanted to talk to me anymore. This is why my mother and I ALWAYS take a gift to the older sibling and play with them first and then ask THEM to introduce us to their new baby. Simple new baby etiquette, people!

The fact that he was a boy and that there was a 5-year age difference was really quite perfect. We never had to share anything and I SUPER hate sharing. Ask my bestie from 6th grade. She’s been trying to get me to share for 30 years. No go. We didn’t have to share rooms, bathrooms, teachers, friends, and even schools for very long. It worked out pretty well.

Today I’d have to say we get along pretty well. Naturally I prefer his children to him, but that’s to be expected. They are way more pleasant. He’s an excellent husband, father, musician, designer, and a pretty good guy. Here’s to 36 more, Little Bro!

A Life Well Lived

My maternal grandfather, my last remaining grandparent, is in the process of transitioning out of this life and into the next. He’s 97, tired and ready to go, but at the same time, really afraid. When you think about it, I’m 40 (next month) and my mom is 68 (in June) so to have him around this long is kind of miraculous. All my other grandparents have lived well into their 90s, one great-grandparent to 101, so I have longevity in the genes, which is good, I guess. Not as good if no one around you does.

I didn’t really get to know Grandpa when I was a kid because we lived in Arizona and he lived in Oklahoma and when we went to Oklahoma, we really stuck around my dad’s family. My grandmother, (Liz, we called her, with as much contempt as you could muster) you see, was horrible. Not, “she won’t give me another cookie” horrible, but actually abusive, crazy, mean, violent horrible. My mom has all the signs of PTSD and her siblings are mostly looney, but any sanity and stability at all comes from my grandfather. When I was about 5 years old, we were visiting Oklahoma over the holidays and we went over to see my mom’s parents for the second time. The first time my grandmother was in a good mood. Not so much the second time. I was attempting to play with her as we had done the DAY BEFORE (what was I thinking?) and she apparently worked her way over to me in her wheelchair, grabbed me between her knees and started smacking me. My mom grabbed me and we didn’t see them for about a decade. I have no memory of this, thankfully.

I spent more time getting to know Grandpa starting when I was in high school and then in my 20s and 30s. My mom and I (and my brother a couple of times) started taking trips to Texas, where he now lives, every couple of years and she spent a lot of time talking to him on the phone. I got to know my Grandpa, hear his stories and see where I come from.

He and his family were kept alive during the depression because of the New Deal. He only had an eighth-grade education but took the civil service exam and got the top score. He and his family took a two-week road trip to Portland, OR from Oklahoma, in 1936. They had 2 cars, 8 people, and $400 and that got them through with gas, food & lodging. When my mom was 6 he lost his vision. At the time there were 4 kids in the house and they had 2 more before they were done. Plus, have I mentioned the horrible grandmother? They were on welfare, grew lots of their own food, sold some, and grandpa went from working as an engineer to selling newspapers and candy bars at the post office. He was one of the most popular guys in town. Everyone loved him. Most impressive, he still to this day has his checkbook balanced in his head at all times. Knows exactly how much he has and in what account. He dealt with all his candy & paper vendors by memory and tallied everything in his head. Never had debt.  He kept more than one social worker from splitting up the kids and putting them in foster care because of my grandmother. And divorcing her was not something that even occurred to him because he knew he had to keep the kids together and that he had made a promise he intended to keep.

When he moved to Texas about 30 years ago, he did so because several of his kids went down there to work for Dow Chemical in Houston. He quickly established a community down there and had someone who came by to cut his hair, bring his meds, clean his house, and help him with his groceries. He loves old, old school country music and he even had one of the local djs giving him periodic on-air shout outs.

Grandpa kept his mind sharp by listening to audio books, particularly Louis L’Amour books and the Bible. He also “watched” movies by getting his face up close to the screen (he could see light, dark and shapes). His preferences was the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic movies of the 50s and 60s. He also loved music but preferred the old country music and standards. He said the stuff out there now just sounds like “something some guy wrote.” I really didn’t want to bother with that conversation, so I just nodded and sang Stardust for him again, one of his favorites.

Mom and I have gone out there by ourselves a couple of times and spent weekends with him. We would take him on errands, cook for him and sit around singing and reminiscing. I believe we have him telling some stories on video, which become more priceless as he slips away.

Just about 6 or so years ago, my grandfather told my mom something that he’d lived with his whole life. When he lost his vision, he went to a specialist who told him that the doctor he’d been seeing was, for all intents and purposes, a quack, and had Grandpa seen him 6 months earlier, he’d still have his sight. He lived with that knowledge for 57 years and not once did he complain about it, or even mention it. He accepted the hand that was dealt him and he made the best of it.

Now he’s nearing the end. It has not escaped my notice that I shifted from present to past while writing this. He is not long for this world. He is afraid. I have prayed for a very long time that he will pass quietly, painlessly, in his sleep and not suffer. I still hope that is the case. My parents are visiting him this weekend, and I hope he passes while with my mother. She wants to be there to comfort him so he knows he’s not alone.

A Slow Dawning

Me: So, are you guys going to get your picture with Santa?

Chloe: We’re going on Tuesday, but I’m not having my picture taken with him because he’s not real. It’s just a guy dressed up as an imaginary character.

Me: But you can still have your picture taken with him.

Chloe: No. He’s not real.

Me. Is the Easter Bunny real?

Chloe: No.

Me: What about the Tooth Fairy?

Chloe: Of course the Tooth Fairy is real. Who else would take my tooth and put money under my pillow?

Me: So you do believe the Tooth Fairy is real?

Chloe: Well…I do know that fairies aren’t real…

“It’s My Gift!”

I cannot tell you how much I love the Face Time on the iphone. Amazing. It makes the distance and time between visits with the babies so much more bearable. On Sunday I was cooking dinner for church and video chatting with Chloe while I was working and she was drawing and chatting. She was telling me a little about the new church that her family is attending and I asked her if she already knew some people there, and she said that she knew a few. Then I said, “That’s ok, because you’re really good at making new friends.” And she replied. “It’s my gift!” Of course I laughed and she looked at me like I was the crazy one and said, “What? IT’S MY GIFT!”

I absolutely love how she’s able to state that with such confidence and certainty and doesn’t feel the need to feign humility or qualify it in any way. She is herself. Making friends is her gift. She is so loved, supported and well-parented that she can have all the confidence in the world because she knows she is safe.  She hasn’t been beaten down by life and I hope she never is. If someone even looks at her sideways, I’m coming after them.

As adults we have experienced all kinds of loss and rejection and it changes us, not always for the better. We lose our sense of safety as we move away from a stable household or if we never had one and then must somehow establish our own. If you have had a stable, loving up-bringing, you come to adulthood with an infrastructure on which to hang your own household. If you didn’t, you’re starting from scratch. Both have their advantages.

Regardless of your background you are loved and supported by God and God’s people. You have to learn to create a stable, healthy family if a biological one doesn’t exist. You cannot spend your life attaching all your choices to past experiences. They influence, yes, but they can’t be allowed to control. Only when you are able to find a calm center in the midst of life’s chaos can you look at someone who is laughing at you and state with unequivocal certainty


Quotable Babies

I went home a couple of weeks ago to do Christmas w/ the family. I’m told that Ian was counting down every day to January 8th because when I got there he was vibrating with excitement & declaring that, “It’s January 8th already!” I suppose I shouldn’t call them babies because Ian is 4 and Chloe is incredibly turning seven (SEVEN) in February. I keep asking them to stop growing but they flatly refuse and respond impatiently that the can’t control it. Whatever.

Their little personalities are so fun & so different. It’s easy to project what I remember about myself & my brother on them, but I don’t know what Lisa & her brothers were like when they were little & I’m sure there’s a lot of them in there as well. Chloe is really asserting her independence & it’s coming out as a lot of snottiness toward her mom which I TOTALLY did. She’s really sweet at her core, though, so I’m sure this is a phase, because she doesn’t get away with it and when she’s away from her mom all she can do is talk about how much she misses her mom. She’s in a Girl Scout troupe & last year she played soccer. She has very strong opinions about things, which she always has. Very specific, this child. Par example:

Chloe: My friend likes Justin Bieber. I have no idea why. He sings like a girl. My Poppy said he has won awards. For what? Singing like a girl? (this was expressed with great exasperation)

Chloe: I like tattoos. I want to get one. I think they’re cool.

Me: What kind of tattoo do you want?

Chloe: I want a flower on my ankle.

Me: I doubt your dad would be ok with that. My dad still won’t let me get a tattoo & I’m 38.

Chloe: Why do they hate tattoos? What is wrong with them? (the dads, not tattoos)

Chloe: When I turn 8 I can get my ears pierced. I want flower earrings with gold petals and a silver center.

See what I mean? Specific.

Another thing she has mastered is the quick wit of the “your mom” come-back. For example:

Chloe: That’s weird

Me: You’re weird.

Chloe: Your mom’s weird.

When my mom was around she would switch to “your brother.”

Ian is coming into a more social awareness & is less pushy with other kids & learning how to behave with strangers. He’s super cuddly & so smart it freaks me out. He’s basically figured out how to read & can easily add & subtract numbers in his head, up to & over 100. He’s four.

Me: Ok, our number is 83. They just called 75. How many until our number is called?

Ian: 8. (with maybe a 5 second pause)

In a discussion of old v. grown up:

Me: How do you know if someone is old?

Ian: Because they have to hold a stick.

He loves to say “Seriously?” and “Really?” in very sarcastic tones. One day after hitting his head a number of times, he said, “Seriously? Not my favorite,” which is a quote from some cartoon, but he clearly knew when to use it, which is brilliant.

My favorite thing was when we were opening presents & he would gasp in wonder at a gift before he opened it, like the very idea of having a gift with his name on it was so amazing that he might faint when the actual gift is revealed. So super cute.

Baby Pics

Just wanted to put up a couple of my favorite photos of the babies from Chloe’s birthday. She turned six on Tuesday and it was quite the extravaganza. Home Slice had FOUR different parties, because she’s so popular, you know. When I asked her what she was doing for her party she told me, “I’m having a Hello Kitty party and I have a wish list on Toys ‘r’ Us dot com.” I see.

Here she and my mom are making cupcakes for her party. Doesn’t she look so grown up?

One night at bedtime she told my mom that she wanted a grown up Bible with the Old Testament and the New Testament, so my mom got that as one of her gifts. Here she’s expressing her excitement over the fact that there are no pictures. She’s a big girl now.

I love this one of Ian because he’s making such a ridiculous face. Totally cracks me up. Also, please take note of how stretched out the collar of his shirt is. That’s because, let’s face it, the boy has a huge head. It’s not super disproportionate to the rest of his body, and he’ll grow into it, but seriously. It’s a big head.

This is my favorite photo of my mom & Chloe because they’re sharing a moment in the midst of a lot of birthday party chaos. Chloe & Gee have a special bond that is really important to both of them. They’re best friends and love to spend time together. I didn’t have that type of relationship with either grandma because one was far away and the other was crazy. I’m glad Chloe gets that with my mom and I thought this photo represented that well.