Monday, December 31, 2012

Choo choo and Achoo.

Unusual things have been happening in the last 24 hours.  My husband and I went out for dinner last night to the Keg.  We saw Les Miserables.  In the theatre.  I rolled out of bed at ten in the morning.  I drank a cup of tea the first time that I boiled water today instead of the sixth.  I ate a cookie before lunch without sneaking it.  That's right, we are sans enfants for a few days!  Both sets of grandparents eagerly agreed to watch our boys for two nights each, and we are staying at my parents' beach house.  The only glitch is that I came down with a cold or flu yesterday, so I'm feeling pretty lousy.  But, it sure if nice to be able to rest and relax while I'm under the weather, because moms don't usually get sick days!  I do miss those little guys though.

We had a nice Christmas, even with all our colds and flus and toothaches.  The boys had fun and were cute as baby elephants (probably the cutest baby animal, by the way) opening gifts and playing with cousins.  The big hit of O's gifts was a "Woody" doll from Toy Story that I picked up at Value Village.  I didn't realize until I was stuffing it into his stocking that the hat was missing, and sure enough that was the first thing he said when he opened it.  I managed to think on the spot and said that Santa thought it would be fun for us to craft a hat for Woody together.  So we spent some good crafting time together later and made a little felt cowboy hat.  

The big gift that we bought for the two of them to share was the Imaginarium Spiral wooden train track set: 

I spent a rather long time setting it up, and before long T had broken it all apart, stepped on it, and pushed it over several times with a big grin on his face.  I sent him to time out because I wanted to play trains I want to teach him to not wreck toys, but he is quite a determined little fellow.  In recent months, O has pretty much given up on setting up train tracks when playing with his trains because T always destroys the layouts.  One solution would be to have tracks permanently set up so that they can't be taken apart.  I've always wanted to have a train table for the kids, but we just didn't have enough space in our last house, and it seemed like an extravagant purchase.  When my husband suggested that we get rid of an old TV cabinet in the basement and make a train table for the kids, I was on board.

Here is the piece of inspiration that he found on Suburban Homestead.  Basically, she took a white Ikea Lack coffee table, and glued the train tracks and accessories right on the table top.  I like the clean, uncluttered look of the train table, and the fact that the Ikea table only costs $39.99.  I perused craigslist like a crazy stalker for the next few days, trying to track down a free or cheap Lack coffee table.  Finally, I found one, but when hubby went to buy it, it was definitely not the size or the condition that the person had advertised.  And he was selling it out of the back of his van.  We figured he was one of those people who picks up free things on craigslist and then sells them.  Luckily, I remembered that we had an Ikea gift card kicking around for almost the same price as the coffee table, so we took a trip there and bought a brand new one (gasp).  We waffled between the white and black/brown, and decided to go with black/brown.  The white display model was pretty marked-up, and we figured this table was going to take much toy-abuse.  We had also decided to build a plywood topper to glue the tracks to, so that we will have a useable coffee table when the kids are done with trains.  All the cool kids have white furniture though.  

My next piece of inspiration was this amazing train table made with a plywood topper sitting on two Ikea Trofast units.  The hole in the middle is genius, and I love the details.  This train table artist had the fabulous idea of using blue glitter for the water, which I am definitely going to copy.  In a house full of boys, you have to grab every legitimate opportunity to use glitter.  Finally, this artist painted a very impressive scene onto their train table.  I will probably not attempt this level of artistry, but cool nonetheless.  I love Made By Joel's paper city illustrations, so I was thinking of incorporating some some of his ideas into our train table setup too.  Stay tuned for current project obsession updates!

Happy New Year to you all!  I'm coughing and sneezing up a storm here, so I likely will not stay up to ring in the New Year.  Actually, I haven't done that in years, but at least I've got a good excuse.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Because nothing says "Christmas" like an emergency root canal, and stomach flu.

I have an awesome husband.  He looked after the boys all day yesterday while I hole up in the bedroom, recovering from another emergency root canal treatment, and a bout of stomach flu or food poisoning.  He did this after being awake most of the night listening to me perform in the Opera a la toilette.  Being so nauseous was a good reminder for me to think long and hard before contemplating another pregnancy in the future.  But hubs and I make such sweet children.  Hmmm.

Actually, nothing says "Christmas" like "Merry Christmas."  But am I the only one who feels a little awkward about the tendency of some folks to become rather...militaristic about saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings"?  A few years ago, at a Christmas gathering, I squirmed and bit my tongue while a youtube video was presented on a big screen featuring a band that usually plays children's music.  Here is the chorus of the song:

Why It's called Christmas, what more can I say? 
It's about the birth of Christ 
and you can't take that away. 
You can call it something else, 
but that's not what it will be. 
It's called Christmas with a capital "C." 

And a few more choice lines:

 I say you gotta say merry Christmas cuz it is! if you don't believe in it fine, but i got a flash for you, Christianity happens to be the religious heritage of my country whether you like it or not.

so if you're not Christian or you don't like it, and you don't want Christmas to be celebrated, well then God Bless You, but if you're think you're gonna stop me from sayin it because it offends you, i gotta flash for you, Put a helmet on, cuz it's my country too

Gulp.  Is this our call, as Christians, to defend the religious heritage of our country, be it America or Canada?  To insist that our neighbours of different faiths say "Merry Christmas"?

Inevitably, during this time of year, somebody posts on Facebook (forgive me if that was you) or emails the blurb erroneously attributed to Ben Stein called "Confessions for the Holidays".  You can read Stein's actual commentary and the altered version of it here, on Snopes.  His original commentary is actually a brief, interesting read about the secularization of Christmas from the perspective of a Jewish man, and a contemplation of  the acceptance of celebrity-worship in our society.  The adulterated version, however, adds several points not actually written by Stein, all of which are embarrassingly offensive.  To summarize the blurb without giving another platform to the author, whoever he or she may be, the gist is that we "reap what we sow" in regards to terrorist attacks, school shootings, murders, suicides, children who don't know right from wrong, all because we have forced God out of our institutions: our schools, and our government.  And because we aren't spanking our children enough.  The blurb ends with the usual guilt-mongering common to these type of posts (only people who really care will share, or, share this or you will grow

In the days following the Connecticut shooting, I noticed a few people on my facebook feed (forgive me again if that was you) posting their thoughts, connecting the shooting with the fact that school-sponsored prayer is no longer allowed, and that the ten commandments are no longer taught in school.  Several links started popping up to politicians and pundits who echoed these sentiments, that somehow we have shimmied God out of our institutions.  Some comments liken God to a gentleman, excusing himself where he's not wanted.  And, thusly, we "reap what we sow".  A separation of state and church somehow leads to school shootings.

I beg to differ.

Enter the Christmas story: Instead of abandoning us, God "put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood" as the Message so aptly puts it.  God has not abandoned us; he became Emmanuel, God with us.  I think it's important to note that Jesus came, not in a flash of power to take over the political and educational institutions of his day, but as a baby.  He was a Jew during Roman occupation, narrowly missed being killed as an infant by that regime, and was even rejected by his own people.  Jesus came to transform our hearts, not to legislate faith in him, whether by school-led prayer, or requiring the gas jockey to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Season's Greetings".  God is not some demure gentleman, whom we can usher out of a room.  God has never needed the government's endorsement or permission to be present.

So, let's keep saying "Merry Christmas"!  Let us seize opportunities to share why we are celebrating Christmas.  Let us be different in how we celebrate Christmas, let us wrestle with our frenzied holiday consumption in the face of world-wide poverty.   Let us keep saying "Merry Christmas", but, let us remember the humble birth of Christ, and say it with a mark of humility instead of a spirit of defensiveness and entitlement.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

I'll leave you with a link to a beautiful song on this Christmas Eve, called "Winter Snow" by Audrey Assad.  Lyrics are below, but do have a listen.  She sings this song with Chris Tomlin on his Christmas album, and it's truly lovely.

Could've come like a mighty storm
With all the strength of a hurricane
You could've come like a forest fire
With the power of heaven in Your flame

But You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

You could've swept in like a tidal wave
Or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
To wipe away the things we've scarred

But You came like a winter snow
(Yes, You did)
You were quiet
You were soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

Oh, no, Your voice wasn't in a bush burning
No, Your voice wasn't in a rushing wind
It was still
It was small
It was hidden

You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

(Oh, yeah)
To the earth below
You came falling
From the sky in the night
To the earth below

An Elf to Help...With the Laundry

Better late than never, I finished making my own version of the "Elf on a Shelf" elf.  If you haven't heard of it yet, the real elf is sold along with a book that tells his or her (if you buy the girl elf version) story.  The elf magically flies back to the North Pole every night to tell Santa whether the kids in his house have been naughty or nice.  I initially thought it was kind of creepy - having an elf supposedly watching your kids every day, but then I discovered the fun part.  Every morning, when the kids wake up, they have to search through the house to find the elf, who has been up to some kind of mischief.  He might do snow angels in a pile of flour on the kitchen counter, or toilet paper the christmas tree, or draw moustaches on the faces in the pictures on the wall (with a dry-erase pen).  I thought it would be fun, so I showed O some pictures of the mischievous elves online because I wanted to see his reaction.  I thought he might be distressed by an elf doing naughty things to his house, and I was right.  O was quite upset by the toilet papered Christmas tree and made it quite clear that he did NOT want a naughty elf in the house.  He did, however, suggest that I make a good elf to help me with my chores.  Specifically, he mentioned, an elf to help me with the laundry at night after he is asleep.  Wouldn't that be nice!  And so, here he is:

And here is a photo of my chandelier, all decked out for Christmas.  Just because.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Shortest Day of the Year

I love Christmas.  I love experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my children, remembering the wonder and the seeming magic of this time of year when you are small.  My thoughts lately are never far from the heartache of those families in Newtown though, and how Christmas will never seem the same to them again.

Even if you are choosing to avoid news coverage of the Connecticut school shooting (is that even possible, those of you who are trying?), please read this article by Rev. Emily C. Heath "Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT To Say And Five Things To Say In A Trauma Involving Children".  These guidelines transcend traumas involving children; they are  applicable to so many other situations.

When my husband had cancer, or when we experienced two miscarriages, people who loved us and had nothing but the best of intentions sometimes unwittingly said very unhelpful, and, at worst, hurtful things.  Being the recipient of such words necessitates grace and humility, because nobody really knows what to say in those situations.  Failed attempts to bring comfort in tragic circumstances are still attempts; the perception that you are being avoided in those situations only adds loneliness to grief.  To mourn with those who mourn can be an intimidating, uncomfortable experience, and the fear of saying "the wrong thing" only adds to the awkwardness.  If you can't find any words, your physical presence, and certainly a listening ear can bring comfort.

In my experience, those who are grieving need space, even permission, to grieve, and not to be forced to searching for a silver lining in the situation.  Platitudes might feel like the right thing to offer up to someone in grief, but they are of little comfort, and usually not even true.  I've experienced difficult things in my own life and yet I find myself saying some of these things to others.  I can't help but wonder if it is a protective instinct to say something that is supposed to make the grieving person feel better, because it distances me from their pain.  How much easier it is to offer up a silver lining than to acknowledge and enter into the pain of grief with that person, to say "I don't understand why this happened.  I'm so sorry."

And, truly, who can understand such things?  Try as we might to determine all the reasons for this tragedy in Connecticut, reasons which have validity, and need to be explored and acted upon: access to guns, access to mental health resources, the cult of celebrity in (North) America, we are still left without understanding.  American President Obama was right in saying of Newtown "Evil has visited this community."  Like many before me have concluded, evil escapes all explanations, and defies our attempts at understanding it.  It is a fruitless, hopeless endeavour to chase after a satisfactory answer to the gnawing question "Why?".

Today, on the shortest day of the year, when we celebrate that there will be more light in each day from now until the summer solstice, I can only hope and pray for the families in Newtown, and others who are experiencing grief, that they will somehow experience healing.  That as each day brings a few more minutes of light, they might experience even a glimpse more of comfort, of hope for a future, of strength, from the true Light of the world.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On such a day.

I have few words of my own on such a day.  My feelings of self-pity this morning for yet another dental abscess were put into perspective when I opened facebook and read the sudden rash of reactions to another school shooting in the United States.  While Canada certainly isn't immune to school shootings, the incidence of these shootings in America is astounding.  Astounding.  And the number of shooting deaths per capita in the USA in general is mind-boggling.

I just don't understand why it is so easy for average citizens to legally own firearms.  Other than law enforcement, I've only met three, perhaps four people in my life who own a firearm.  Two of them were antique hunting rifles that probably don't even work.  I don't think that is the case in the USA, and I'm not sure why Americans en masse aren't rising up for better gun control.  Another horrific attack on elementary schoolchildren happened today in China [link], the difference being that the attacker had a knife, not a two handguns with a third rifle in the car.  Zero fatalities in China, twenty-seven in Newtown, Connecticut.  This article [link]is worth a read about why now, even as the country grieves, is the time to get political about gun control.

Another article [link] that resonated with me today makes a note of the fact that Jesus himself was almost the victim of a horrific massacre of young children.  I can't help but asking that same question I alluded to in my last post in regards to when my husband had cancer: why?  Why did this happen?  To children?  And grown-up children?  There are no words, no answers that can satisfy.  But, the author of this article also clings to the same hope that we are not alone, and advent is a present reminder of this truth.  God has not abandoned us to our own evils.  On a day like today, sometimes hope is the only thing left.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eight Years

Yesterday, O popped open the number nine door on his advent calendar and found a star-shaped chocolate.  He savoured the waxy chocolate; I savoured the moment.  In the midst of the frenetic bustle that is Sunday morning in our house, I paused for just a moment to hold my four year old, my arm around my one year old on the couch beside me; the children we thought we'd never have.  I could hear my husband preparing his coffee in the kitchen.  We used to be the "no-coffee duo" but he took a sudden liking to coffee a couple of years ago.  Things can change in a  matter of years, or in a matter of seconds.

Yesterday, eight years ago was the worst day of my life.  For a long while, every day after that was the worst day of my life.  I used to mentally run through the events of that time in my life habitually, like a recording in my mind jammed onto repeat mode.  Last night, while brushing my teeth before bed, I let the recollections of those days bounce around in my mind again.  A torrent of emotions formed one sentence on my lips: "I was so scared."  I was overcome with emotion when I remembered how utterly scared I was.  Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma was my husband's diagnosis that day, a very large diffuse large b-cell primary mediastinal tumour.  I slept at my parents' house that night, while he waited to be transferred from Langley to Vancouver General Hospital.  The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling were still there from when I stuck them up there in my teens.  I think I stared at them all night long, numb.

I remember making phone calls, frantic phone calls that first night, and agonizing phone calls throughout the next day.  I remember the ER doctor in Langley hugging us, and saying "This is shitty."  Thank you, Lord, for people who break protocol and reach out to the broken.  I remember waiting for my husband to get out of surgery, and wanting to be there for any bit of news that the doctors would give him.  The guilt of not being with him the first time cancer was mentioned earlier that day still visits me regularly.  I remember walking through the drugstore a few streets away on a quick break from the hospital later that week and feeling angry, though I knew it wasn't justified, that people were just going about their regular lives, and Christmas music was blaring in every store.  Didn't they know?  I remember agonizing about the news that awaited my in-laws upon their return from a cruise.  I thought about our second wedding anniversary, just a few weeks away, about the life with children we had imagined.  About life together.  I thought that it was more than we could bear.  This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.

It was a desperate time of seeking answers, but not wanting to hear them at the same time.  I asked for numbers, and chances, and statistics, and wanted to un-know the answers as soon as I heard them.  I pored over scripture and stories of hearings, and prayed more than I had ever prayed before.  I wanted to know what the outcome was going to be, and I wanted to know why this was happening.  After eight years, I know that the 'why' isn't always the point.  I would have hated to hear that at the time, but it's starting to make sense to me now.  Is there any answer that would satisfy the need to understand intense suffering in this life?

One thing I do know is compassion.  Our God is full of compassion for us.  I wrote in a previous post about when our friend/pastor at the time came and visited us that first week in the hospital:  He prayed for us and reminded us of this story of Jesus weeping.  Here is a saviour who wept, all too acquainted with the immeasurable sorrow of death in this world.  When I imagine Christ weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus, I imagine him weeping not only for his personal loss of a dear friend, but at the greater sense of loss.  I think he wept knowing, more than any of us, that this is not the way things are supposed to be.

We experienced such compassion from other people during that terrible time.  There were people who were truly the hands and feet of Jesus to us in those days.  Doctors and nurses cared for us with genuine care and selfless dedication in their time and efforts.  We were incredibly blessed to have friends who became as family to us, and to have family who managed to hold us together despite their own grief, stress, and fragility.  People, many of whom I'm sure I'll never even meet, who heard our story and prayed for us, bringing us before the One who heals.  I'm so thankful for all of these people who cared for us; it was like they placed us in the intersecting portion of a Venn diagram of how to care for two very broken people.

Most of all, I'm thankful to God for healing my husband.  For giving us two beautiful, sweet baby boys after we were told that we likely wouldn't be able to conceive.  For continuing to teach me that God is good, God can be trusted, and teaching me to give up the burden of worry and anxiety.  I'm reminded in this season of advent that God has compassion on us, and our brokenness in this world, compassion that brought the King of Kings to enter into our world.

German paper nativity scene, 1885 (Wikipedia)

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