Monday, December 14, 2015

The Fun of Making

Many of my friends know that I make many of my Christmas gifts. They ask me how in the world I have time to do it. After all, I have six kids and a very busy life. My reply: I don't have time not to do it. Last year, I was really struggling. Caring for six children--three of whom have significant special needs as a result of the abuse and neglect they received at the hands of their birth parents--is a full-time job, plus some. One of my children acts out on the big feelings she doesn't have the framework to process. 98% of her aggression is directed at me. Not a huge surprise, as her mother was her primary abuser. Even though I know this, it doesn't take all the sting out of the venom she spits (and punches and kicks) at me. Years of being the target wears a mommy down. Last year at this time, I had expended all the energy and emotion I had, and I was sinking fast. Frayed, frazzled, battered were the best words to describe me. Then I talked about it with my friend Erin, who also has a child like mine, but is a few years ahead of me in the process. She encouraged me to do some things to take care of myself, even if it means putting some other things on the back burner.

I heeded her advice and sat down with Matt to discuss how I could better care for myself. I stepped back from most of my church responsibilities. I stopped volunteering at the kids' school. I started taking a twice-per-week karate class (which I am madly in love with). I also moved crafting to high on my priority list. That was the biggest factor in caring for myself. Why?
1. I love to make things. Since I was very little, I've loved to make things. When I was two, my mom and another mom with a daughter my age got together weekly for Annette and Emily Day. They cooked with us and did crafts. I can remember sitting in Auntie Leslie's lap sewing a tiny apron for my doll. We made felt Christmas banners. When I was 6, my Granny started sewing lessons with me. I learned to cross stitch at age 8. Throughout the years, I learned many other crafty things, such as making my own stencils, flower arranging, crocheting, and decoupage. As an adult, my love of crafting has grown. I can sew or crochet just about anything. I taught myself quilting. I draw and paint. I make cards and scrapbook. This Christmas I decided to learn wood burning and metal stamping.
2. Crafting is my therapy. When I sit down and make pretty things, it calms and quiets me. The creative process is so important to me.
3. I am a giver. Nothing makes me happier than making something to give away. I love to give, and when I give something handmade, it satisfies and fulfills me. It's my way of expressing love and appreciation for the person to whom I'm giving.

So I make time to craft. It's honestly what keeps me sane some days. Today I have a lot to do. I need to ship boxes of Christmas gifts to my family in California and Washington, and Wednesday is my deadline to do so. The dishes in my kitchen sink will have to wait. I'm going to throw some chicken in the crock pot, put on Mickey Mouse for Sweet Pea, and get working. I'm very excited, and it promises to be a very fun day for me. And when the kids get home from school, they will be greeted by a mommy whose emotional tank is fully loaded and ready to go.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Balanced Christmas

Christmas has become such a commercialized holiday. There's so much focus on what we're going to get for Christmas. Of course, every kid anticipates receiving gifts. But there's so much more to Christmas than that! In our home, Matt and I work hard on helping our kids keep a balanced mindset. I thought it would be fun to share how we do that.

1. We observe advent. On December 1st, we start a special family devotional in the evenings. We try for every night, but usually manage to get in about five nights per week. This year we're doing Ann Voskamp's book "The Greatest Gift." I spent a few hours making a Jesse Tree from an old pallet, and ornaments from a sliced tree branch. I used this blog post as a jumping-off point for ornament design, and then did a bunch of my own design. The pallet tree is my own original design. The kids love this time together, and I love the glimpses I get of their hearts.

2. I keep decorations simple. Each decoration in our home has a special story behind it. There are beautiful wood camels that my grandparents brought home from Israel when I was little. I inherited them, and they have a place of honor on my piano. I have four nativity sets: my Willow Tree nativity, the little set my grandparents brought me from Portugal when I was 9, my mom's childhood set, and the Little People set that my kids adore. We have our stockings. I put lighted garland everywhere. The kids have a tree with all our special family ornaments. Our new house is big enough to accommodate a second tree, so last year my Christmas gift was decorations for a beautiful "grown up" tree. White lights, crystals, and silver. It's beautiful. I also have the decorations the kids have made for me throughout the years. I love each precious item.

3. I hand craft ornaments for each of my 20 nieces and nephews and my cousins' kids (there are 11 of them). The kids love to watch my progress, and they see the love that goes into the ornaments.

4. We bake and give all throughout the month. Cookies for neighbors. Caramel popcorn for the disabled lady who lived next door to us at our last house (because she LOVES my caramel corn). Fudge for the school office staff. Gingerbread for Nana. Banana bread for the neighbor who loves banana bread. The kids are closely involved in the baking.

5. We look for events that foster family togetherness and memory making. We love to attend local festivals, concerts, and plays. 

6. We have established strong traditions. Pajama ride to look at Christmas lights. Baking. Building gingerbread houses with our friends Demetri and Calista. Making teacher gifts. Mailing packages of love to our family in California and Washington. Drinking hot chocolate. Eating certain meals on certain days. Having a birthday party for my mom who died of cancer 12 years ago. Reading all our Christmas books together.

7. Keeping gifts for the kids simple. Because we have six kids and a limited income, we have to keep it simple. We do something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I limit stockings to $10 per child (which still adds up fast). They know what to expect--not specific gifts, but categories--and it removes anxiety from Christmas.

8. The Big One, however, is keeping our focus more on the giving than the getting. On the last Saturday in November as we get ready to decorate, we deep clean the house. I assign the kids all sorts of chores. The deal is that if they work hard with cheerful hearts, I will take each of them on a shopping trip. We go to the dollar store and they can pick a gift for Daddy and a gift for each sibling. Then we go out to lunch at the food court restaurant of their choice. We get the bonus of one-on-one time, which is a hot commodity in a big family! Daddy takes them all out together to shop for dollar store gifts for me. I absolutely love seeing what they come up with. I took Snapper for her shopping trip on Saturday, and she agonized over her decisions. She ended up picking gifts that are absolutely perfect for each sibling. She is so excited to give her gifts! Shopping this way takes the focus off of stuff and money, and focuses on the heart. Christmas morning is pure delight, because the kids really are more excited to give their gifts than they are to receive.

9. On Christmas morning, we set the table for 9 instead of 8. The ninth seat is for the birthday boy, Jesus. We put out the You are Special plate, give Jesus the first cinnamon roll with a candle on it, and sing Happy Birthday. We read the Christmas story before we eat. 

That's how our family celebrates. I think this is all of our favorite month of the year!