My Aunt’s Nativity: An Advent Reflection

This afternoon while the toddler was sleeping, my eldest daughter set up our nativity set. It is a beautiful porcelain one given to us by my sweet Auntie Shirley, who is a retired interior decorator with an eye for beauty. We are very honoured to have her nativity.

Going to her home as a child and having Christmas dinner with all the cousins was for me the essence of cozy family closeness. Being there laughing and singing with everyone gave me a warmth that stays with me today, and makes me want my home to be such an open, welcoming place as my Auntie Shirley and Uncle Bill’s was.

I hope everyone has a joyful place to be this Christmas, and that they know how loved they are, just as they are, by the God who became small enough to put his tiny hand in ours, even though his heart contains the entire universe. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend that we are loved unconditionally. We feel it’s impossible–that nothing in life is free–but in this case we are wrong. We don’t have to earn the love that preceded our existence.

“I’ve been alive forever,” my little son told me the other day with conviction. “Always and always.” “Well, you’ve always existed in God’s heart; he always had the plan to make you.”

It is hard for us to comprehend this kind of generosity…only as parents can we imagine it a little, knowing how much we love our kids, even before they are born. I think it’s partly why God came to us as a poor, tiny baby, smelling of hay and breathed on by donkeys–so we wouldn’t be afraid of loving him, and even harder, wouldn’t be afraid of letting him love us, just as we are.

Rather than a call to apathy, this love is a call to greatness, for can anything inspire us more to want to grow better, than the firm conviction that we are already loved, exactly as we are? It is mercy and not harshness that helps us live and love well. It takes great strength to love others while also helping them to grow. May we finish this year living with mercy, strength and love, and may we be helped to do so by the sweet God who loves us even when we fail.

Kid Clutter: Experiments in Decluttering Toy Tornadoes

The floor: for many of us parents, the sight of a bare floor is an amazing and rare spectacle, rather like the sighting of a double rainbow or a shooting star–beautiful and hauntingly brief–before it is submerged under a deluge of toys again.

I’ve tried many things to deal with this problem, like buying more toy bins from ikea and sorting the toys into them…repeatedly! Storage is not the solution, when everything is just going to be dumped out again. I’m also constantly decluttering and making give away bags of clothes and toys for Big Brothers Charity to pick up from my doorstep. I’ve even tried my sister’s method of toy jail, except sticking a box or bag of toys out in the garage temporarily. She told me:

I grabbed a garbage bag every night and a laundry basket. Set the timer. If things weren’t put back where they belonged they went in the garbage or into the “toy jail”. Then the jail went up on the fridge till they earned their toy’s freedom.

She was much more disciplined about doing this every night to establish a habit of tidying up. By the time I hit evening, I’m often too done in to do this. Or I’m just as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer amount of tiny things to be responsible for. Hundreds and hundreds of little things to pick up, sort, organize, and put away. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with all this stuff.

So I finally hit a wall of frustration last weekend and decided to be a little more drastic. I brought in huge rubbermade bins from the garbage and dumped all the toy bins in them. I gathered up all the toys from the floor, everything but the toy food from in the toy kitchen, and a stuffie or two on each bed, and I put it ALL in the garage.

I waited for an explosion of outrage. For complaints. For tears. For…anything! But nothing came. The kids barely seemed to notice. My three year old Eddie turned all the empty toy bins into a toy train.

In his bed he has his Spider-Man doll and his Star Wars book. He’s perfectly happy. He has his siblings and his imagination. He has space to run and jump and play, instead of living in a toy tornado. We might bring some toys back in after a while, but not until they are specifically requested. So far, in a whole week, only one toy has been asked for, so I’ll go fetch that one thing.

I share this anecdote to demonstrate that sometimes we put too much stock in material things, thinking our happiness depends on them. It is a greater happiness to live the adventure of participating in making the world a better place. Life has much more savour and zest when we are not trapped in the tunnel of thinking mainly of ourselves. I read a great comment by a woman named Lauren in comments in We Are That Family blog:

My pastor said that we expect our children to be grateful when we shower them with gifts, but the only way to be really grateful is to live without.

I think the sheer amount of gifts children receive really cheapens everything. It’s so hard to really care about that many things. Especially when an empty box is just as fun to play with– or more!

We are still a fair way away from Christmas, the season in which loving relatives attempt to drive mothers insane by dumping down the chimney a sparkling deluge of tiny toys, to be picked up and sorted and lost and cried over and fought over approximately 2946393 times.

May I suggest, for those who may be thinking ahead, to consider experience gifts instead? Like taking the kids to a play or paying for an art class? Kids will love it! Nothing has brought my 6 and 7 year olds greater joy than their art class at 4 Cats art studio this fall. They are growing in confidence and learning new skills. Mothers all around the world will thank you for not bringing a million more tiny collectible toys to their house, especially every night when they go upstairs to read their kids a bedtime story, and can actually see that much coveted and beloved object: a clear floor!

As an added bonus, buying less toys is better for the environment, and helps preserve a more beautiful world for our kids to grow up in. Win-win!!

Humble Audacity

A single flame in the darkness,

a single note in the silence,

a single child in a stable–

only God would have

the humble audacity to appear this way

when He wanted to reach everyone in the world.

He could have come with crashes of lighting

flashing across the entire sky.

He could have come with legions of angels,

fast and furious,

but He came instead in the quiet–

His little cries

barely heard above the donkey’s breath.

He came with a love as warm as hot chocolate

that spreads slowly through your whole body

and makes everything right.

He came small enough to fit himself

–the creator of the universe–

into each human heart,

affirming that each person

is a universe unto themselves–

infinitely precious and loved.

Tiny note, little light, set the world aflame with joy!

Merry Christmas at last!

Merry Christmas finally from all of us here at Crazyland! My friend Leah gave me a funny note today that said, “Better late than later!” So while I drink my coffee and ponder whether to say I’m sick of being too tired to blog, or tired of being too sick to blog, I’ll begin.

We finished a busy month of redoing the basement suite just in time to decorate for Christmas. I tried really hard to fight my scatterbrained last-minute ways and do stuff ahead of time, so my tip of the season is this: pre-stuff the stockings a few days ahead and put them in a giant Tupperware tub so no tiny visitors (children move or other) will get into them.

It sure was awesome to not be filling the stockings in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve! Instead, I could just lay them on the kids’ beds (which we do to buy a little time in the morning) and head off to midnight Mass with my husband and the baby, while the kids slept with Grandma and Auntie Karen.

It was beautiful. Our parish florist always does an amazing job, and our choir is phenomenal. All the light and warmth in the darkness of night brings home the beauty of the Christmas message. Happily on the incense didn’t set off the fire alarms–until Christmas-day Mass the next day that is! Needless to say my 3 year old son was in his glory at the back of the church when the firemen came to check it out. He was still wearing his red fireman costume (to avoid a pre-Mass meltdown…plus…it’s red! Super Christmassy!).

Nice costume, buddy! Fist pump!

Best. Christmas. Ever.

But back to midnight Mass. When we got home around 3am (there was a celebration with treats after the Mass) we found out that the kids had already woken up, opened, partially consumed, and played with the contents of their stockings, and had gone back to sleep! Rascals! And they look so innocent…

Christmas Day was lovely. We had James’ mom and sister as well as my brother spending the day with us. “Gezellig” (cozy), as they say in Dutch, and everyone enjoyed spoiling each other a bit. My big surprise was opera tickets for La Boheme from my husband! 🙂 Date night, here we come!

I discovered that it’s really easy to cook a whole chicken in my Instant Pot (just add a cup of water or sauce and your flavourings…we put lemon, herbs, garlic and butter), and we made potatoes, yams with cinnamon and maple syrup, and Brussels sprouts, which apparently contain excellent health benefits, even if you only look at them! 😉 I can’t quite remember where I read that…

All was good until after pumpkin pie, when I totally crashed and fell asleep early. My Christmas duties were complete…so my body figured it was the perfect time to get the stomach flu that night! 😦 No fun. Thank goodness our relatives and James were still home the next day to hold the fort, because I could not move. All I really wanted for Christmas was a nap and a massage, but this was quite the price to pay…watch what you wish for!

As I lay there with a churning stomach, headache and sore muscles, I contemplated the Incarnation…how incredibly generous it was of God to enter our world as a tiny, vulnerable baby, unable to move or protect Himself from suffering. He could have remained aloof in the golden warmth of Heaven, safe from our sufferings, not subject to weakness, but chose instead to enter into our frail human existence to show us His love.

I will never comprehend the depths of His generosity!

Well, that’s about it for now! Normal life sure feels good after you’ve been sick. A breath of cold air when you can stand upright again is a real treat.

God bless you all, and best wishes for a beautiful 2019!!

Christmas Sing-Along

For all the parents out there getting ready for Christmas despite being sick or having sick kids…know you’re not alone! 🙂

‘Tis the season to be slimy

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Pass the Kleenex and quit whining

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Don we now our striped pyjamas

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Blow your nose and snort like llamas

Fa la la la la, la la la la

See the baby drool before us

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Say it’s bedtime–they’ll ignore us

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Children will not sleep with pleasure

Fa la la la la, la la la la

But it’s quiet time I treasure

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Fast away, the evening passes

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Mom and dad, find the wine glasses

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Not too late for midnight shopping

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Amazon–there is no stopping

Fa la la la la, la la la la


Fa la la la la, la la la la

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Christmas and the fragile gift of life

It’s easy at Christmas to feel as though you should write something joyful and sparkly…like a glimmering Christmas ball…round, perfect and whole. We yearn for such happiness, particularly at Christmas, when it seems possible to snatch down a little piece of a Heaven and bask in its glow in our very homes…but for how many is this image a real reflection of Christmas?

For many people, their Christmas balls have been cracked, chipped, or even shattered. Somehow the imperfections of this life, of our particular family or health situations, stand out more strongly when we compare them with the cosy images on Christmas cards. The innocence of a child, face glowing with anticipation of the ‘perfect’ happiness to be found in the toy shop window trimmed with sparkling snow, has been robbed from many of us as life’s tougher trials have set in.

For myself and many friends, one of these trials is the suffering of seeing aging parents struggling with their health. The ones who have meant our stability and safety in the world are now often clinging to life as to a very fragile gift, one we can’t guarantee won’t break. As we grow, we realize just how many things are out of our control. Like how major surgery will go for a beloved parent on Christmas Eve. And -thank goodness!-it went well, which was the best Christmas present by far this year.

In this age of instant gratification and micromanaging, Christmas is a powerful reminder that the things that matter most–life, love, family and friends–are beyond our control–in fact are complete and utter gifts. Ones we should give thanks for every day. Ones we should never take for granted. Life is vulnerable and precious, and it is made sweeter by those who are willing to experience it with us, suffering and all.

One of them is a baby, one who chose to leave the perfect safely and joy of Heaven to lay down on straw with us, to experience cold, hunger, loneliness and fear with us. The “I am Who am” became the “I am Who am with you.” Emmanuel. God with us, every step of the way.

Comforted by this divine tenderness, let’s stir up our hearts to look forward to the new year with trust and joy, because despite all our struggles, we are always loved, and never really alone. These are my thoughts as I anticipate meeting my new baby daughter next week, 3 weeks early because my pregnancy liver condition means that sooner is safer. Little one, you are a precious, fragile gift, and I can’t wait to hold you with great joy!

Merry Christmas, everyone, and peace be with you and yours in 2018.

Snow Scent 


Last night it smelled like snow–

when I stepped outside 

the air was crisp and icy–

pregnant with promise.  

In my garden 

the late blooming sunflowers

with their damp, cold petals

looked crestfallen and forlorn

as if thinking:

“I wasn’t expecting this!”

In the early morning half-light

I see the rooftops are powdered with icing sugar.

The kids wake up with excitement

and begin dreaming of gingerbread. 

My seven year old starts spouting:

“Snow says Christmastime…stuff has to stop growing sometime. 

If flowers never stopped growing there would be vines everywhere

Even in the road, and the cars could hardly go.”

Well, there you go. The seasons explained!

Messy, vulnerable perfection…

I heard a story of a baby conceived in difficult circumstances…a troubled teenage mom, the father not involved, the family in distress and full of uncertainty. And I thought about Christmas—the Holy Family…young, poor, without a place to stay, rejected…a bad scene—from the outside. And inside, for the eyes of faith: warmth, love, light, God’s graceful providence. And hope. Hope because God in His great mercy was willing to share in our fragile human life…in the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

Do we reject Him? Do we run away from the source of all goodness because He has the smell of a stable? Because He is okay with a bed of straw? Do we keep seeking Him in the silken sheets of palaces, because we want a God made in our image? And this is the image we want: riches, comfort, power, control. Not the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

These are not new ideas, but I think they are worth revisiting. Because embracing new life, no matter what the circumstances, is a way to embrace God. Trusting that He is with us in everything, and is able to bring good out of everything, even when we mess up, even when things don’t go according to our plans—made with our small human minds and our limited vision. Even when our plans don’t include the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

But maybe it’s precisely that baby who will be our salvation, who will bring untold goodness to the world, who will change our lives and our hearts for the better. This Christmas season, which is still going on, let’s try to remember that in embracing our human reality, with all its difficulties, we are also embracing God, who has entered into it…Who has raised it up to touch the Divine. When we eventually caress the face of that baby, born unplanned and unexpected, let us realize we are also touching the face of God, who enters our lives with His unexpected plans, and changes them forever.