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!!

Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Selfishness, Responsibilty and a Blue Couch 


Selfishness is so easy. It’s so easy to focus on yourself and blame all your troubles on others. Doing so allows us to stay in a state of inaction: there is “nothing” we can do about our problems because they are “not our fault.” Someone else is to blame. But this attitude dooms us to shadow-boxing all our lives–flailing out our arms uselessly to hit the imaginary causers of our own difficulties. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we discover that the source of our brokenness is within. Even if we were isolated from all others in a tiny hermitage, we would still struggle. This is a sobering thought. It means we have to rise from our stupor and take responsibility for our lives. Only we can change them for the better. 

But while we can take positive steps towards small changes for the better, healing our brokenness is not something we can do alone. We can’t make ourselves never grumpy, annoyed, snappy, imprudent, lazy or selfish etc by our willpower alone. We are like broken light bulbs whose wires are not connected, so the electricity can’t flow through them. We need to reconnect those wires by joining our hands in prayer, so the grace of God can flow through us and help us to shine. 

In the bustle of daily life, it can be easy to forget this. We get wrapped up in our troubles and forget to ask for help. We forget to pray for our needs, and for the grace to bear hardships cheerfully. But God is just waiting to show us signs of His affection, if we open our hearts to receive it. Sometimes His generosity is very concrete. Recently my Dad and I went on a wild goose chase search for a second-hand dresser for my eldest daughter. We drove all over, even out of town, and checked three stores with no luck.  We saw a couch I liked which could replace our old beat-up red one, but I couldn’t get a-hold of my husband at work to ask his opinion. It was a hot, tiring day and nothing seemed to be quite working. 

But the next day, the reason for our fruitless search was made clear: there was something  better waiting for us. A block from our house, my Dad spotted an estate sale with gorgeous furniture. There was a beautiful maple dressed in perfect condition for $45. And even more lovely, an antique Coombs couch and matching armchair, with wooden finish and lovely blue upholstery for $250 together. I don’t know what their original price would have been, but the reupholstering alone would have cost $2000 in the ’80’s! Talk about score. Furthermore, they were willing to deliver the furniture to our house, which was another godsend, because some things are just too darn big for my double stroller (we don’t have a car). 


So this is just a little reminder, to myself as much as to anyone else, to take time to join my hands in prayer, reconnect with God and let His love flow through me. If we could all shine our little lights, instead of staying in the darkness of anger and blame, how gorgeous the world would be. Like a glowing Christmas tree, every little light sharing its warmth with the others. In a time of uncertainty and violence, I think the peacefulness of this image is one worth focusing on, hoping and praying for. God bless you all. 

Every “No” is also a “Yes”

Many people struggle with saying “no.” It is so hard to disappoint people, to imagine letting them down. It feels easier to take on added stress than to refuse someone and upset them. But this attitude can lead to burnout and resentment, and endanger the peace and well-being of the person giving. Boundaries are necessary to protect these things, and having healthy boundaries means being able to say “no” without excessive guilt or worry. 

Perhaps reframing things would be helpful to those who struggle with saying “no.” Within each situation where something is refused, another positive thing is chosen. Saying “no” to taking on an extra work project over the weekend means saying “yes” to quality time with your family. Saying “no” to joining an extra committee means saying “yes” to being able to take care of your own work and family, without getting so frazzled and stressed. Saying “no” to that late night movie means saying “yes” to gettting the rest you need. Every decision involves discerning and affirming your priorities. Decisions are a way to say “yes” to the life you wish to live…and that life requires the boundary of various “no’s” to maintain it. 

I think the key, which I am trying to learn myself, is to allow yourself to say “no” calmly, without the guilt or worry that can lead to harshness or sarcasm in order to protect the fragile boundaries around yourself. It is ok, and even necessary and good to take care of yourself and make sure that whatever you do give is given freely, with a cheerful and generous heart. We need to give this good example to our children and those around us. Love can only be given freely, and that means also having the freedom to say “no.”


Many of these helpful ideas are found in the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No, to take Control of your Life by psychologists Dr.’s Cloud and Townsend. I believe I have written about this book before because I found it so eye-opening and transformative. After discussing boundaries with various people– family, spouses, children, co-workers, etc– the book ends with various tips and questions to see how you are growing in your ability to maintain your boundaries. The best quick check for responding to a request was this: if you hesitate to say “yes,” the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t have to force yourself into things because of fear of disappointing others or appearing badly. 

Remember, every “no” is also a “yes”…a “yes” to what you are able to do, what you desire to do, what makes your life better, what helps you feel free. Of course we should practice generosity and strive to live affectionately with those around us, but in the security of knowing that their love for us doesn’t depend on our unconditional “yes” to every request. And hopefully by learning to say “no” with confidence, we will also greatly respect the “no’s” of others, and never receive them with bitterness or resentment. 

Summer squabbles and the need for goals

It’s funny; you’d think as a homeschool mom I’d be relieved it’s summer time…time to kick back and take a break from teaching, have long lazy days of relaxing at the beach or park…but actually, it’s been more of me doing household projects neglected during the year while planning camping trips and outings, and the kids spinning their wheels and counting the days till special events.

So I’ve found it’s more challenging to be home with the kids without the structure of homeschool, than with it. Not that we are super regimented, but each day has its basic routine and learning goals and projects. Without this…we’ve had some fun play for a few weeks, but once we were home sick with a summer cold, a lot of squabbling, pettiness, imaginary insults and hurt feelings. 

So today I decided that we needed to make some summer goals… something to focus on and feel good about achieving. Because I think we feel better when we achieve something tangible, than when we simply try to amuse ourselves. Summer boredom is not so much due to a lack of entertainment, as a lack of purpose. 

Here’s what we came up with over morning snack today: 

  
We’ve stuck it on the fridge with giant magnets from my recently visiting brother, so we can see it any time we need something to do. Rather than the kids destroying one corner of the house while I clean another, they can do something fun, useful and cooperative. Right now as I nurse the baby my 10 year old is playing art teacher and helping the younger ones make imaginary planets on big pieces of paper where she traced circles from plates. I haven’t had a ‘police report’ of fighting, name calling, or hurt feelings for over 20 minutes! 😊🎉🎈 For a while I thought I’d have to set up a desk and stay there all day to record filed complaints…

         

Of course, as I write this sentence I hear a fight brewing in the dining room over a secret being kept or something…but hey, we will keep trying! One thing is certain, that seeking personal pleasure and comfort above all is a sure path to misery, because when life is centred on yourself, nothing is good enough and everything displeases. When we instead focus on bringing joy to others, life is an adventure without time for boredom, because there is always someone whose day you can brighten. 

What things do you do as a family to bring joy to others? What summer goals do you have to take advantage of your extra free time? How will you re-create yourself this summer?

The Million Dollar Question 

The most important question each day

is not so much how much we received

but how lovingly we gave all we could.

If we see things this way, 

then each day hands us a blank cheque

on which to write the amount of our generosity,

the value of our loving work

offered as a gift to God

and to our fellow man.  

How rich life is when we live to give!

  

It’s you, Dad

If there’s a reason 

I can understand

unconditional love,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I feel 

that anything is possible

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know

that understanding and compassion

matter far more than 

position or wealth,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know 

that gentleness and self-sacrifice

are the signs of true strength

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I can understand

that God is our merciful Father

who delights in being with us

it’s you, Dad.

Thank you for a life of tenderness.

Thank you for always cheering me on

and protecting my heart.

You will always be my father,

and I’m so glad it’s you, Dad.
  

Into Eternity

For you I would enter the dark waters 

Extinguish myself

For you

Give all

So said the Voice to the tiny speck

Floating the the vastness of the universe

And the little speck

Overcome with sheer joy

Burst into flame

And lit up the entire universe 

With a flash of love

Uncontainable

Entering by this exchange of love

The realm of eternity 

Do we live with reverence for creation?

What strikes me when I listen to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” (find it recorded here) is an attitude of reverence…both for nature as created by God, and for every human person as part of that same creation. The poor, the humble, the sorrowful sinner, the bird with the broken wing, the glorious sunset…are all beautiful manifestations of God’s infinite creativity. As such, all can be approached with a gentle reverence that inspires respect and care, rather than judgment and selfish dominion.

So what resonates deeply with me, is the Pope’s assertion that the way we treat nature is a sign of, and even affects, how we treat people. If we take all created things for granted, as items to be used for our own pleasure and financial benefit, it leads us to also objectify our fellow  human beings…to use and abuse them as well. We become disconnected from creation, and unable to relate to those who suffer because of our selfish actions; our vision becomes microscopic, and we only see things as they affect us. 

We forget that everything we receive is gift…air to breathe, the sunrise, fresh food to eat, laughter, joy. When we see such things as rights instead of blessings, we fail to appreciate them. We get caught up in trying to cram our souls full of new gadgets, acquisitions to fill the emptiness that should be filled with gratitude for all we already have. 

  
But what if we tried to live with more simplicity? What if we tried to make our money stretch a little further, so we could have more to share with those who really need it, for whom every dollar counts? We had a Lenten meal at our parish in Sunday, and ate a simple meal of soup and homemade pretzels. All the donations for the meal were given to help build a school for poor children in South America. We watched a little video of these beautiful kids with great big brown eyes, smiling and full of hope as they shared their ambitions. “Yo quiero soy un professor,” (I want to be a teacher) said one little girl. (Forgive me if I spell the Spanish wrong!)

That soup tasted like a million bucks. I wish I had a million to send to those kids. They are the little ones whose world we must take care of. The ones for whom we need to lift our eyes behind the screen of our iPhones to look into the future. Let’s tread gently, and live generously, so that as many of them as possible can grow up to fulfill those dreams, and in turn also make the world a better place. 

Two Pounds Richer

  

Have you ever wondered what the best gift for a mom with a new baby is? How you could best help her feel supported while she recovers from birth and gets into the swing of nursing? Well here is a simple way to be a hero, and the best of friends: organize a meal train for her! 

There is a simple website called Meal Train which will help you do just that. Simply invite all her friends and family by email to sign up for a date on your meal train page and you’re done. The site will lets the mom know when someone signs up to help out and even send reminder emails to people the day before their meal drop off day. 

There is a place to put favourite meals or let people know about allergies or any other preferences so that the food can be the most helpful. You can suggest fruit and veggie trays, muffins and other snacks as well as meals. I recommend scheduling the meals every two days, rather than every day, as the help lasts longer then, and leftovers can be used up on alternate days. 

I have been the very lucky recipient of meal trains since I had my second baby and it is always such a help. The nicest thing for a mom with a new baby is to be mothered a bit! I want to send a big thank you to all who have spoiled me in this delicious way! You are really a special part of making my baby’s first days more smooth and peaceful.

 
 I am very moved by the fact that some ladies who helped me only know me because I smile at them when we are both tending to our little noisy ones at the back of the church during Mass. You never know what a friendly smile will bring your way!

And best of all, thanks to your yummy spanakopita, Greek salad, cake, roasted butternut squash soup, homemade lasagna, chicken and potatoes, chilli, muffins, cookies, fruit, chocolate and so much more, my little three week early baby has gained 2 lbs! Thanks for making his milk, and my life, so much richer by your generous love!