Almost, if not more, important than the gift giving is the eating that goes on around here during the holiday celebrations. Mia has been baking truffles, fudge, cookies and more! Appetizers for dinner while opening gifts! We had ham and cheese stromboli bites, artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, bbq chicken sliders, crescent dogs, chili dip and sweets! Kid wine for everyone! I pray my home is always such a bustle of loud laughter, good times, sweet eating, loving siblings and sweet babes.
We usually have to celebrate Christmas almost a week early because we travel over the holiday. It’s puts me in a bit of a tizzy, because I am a last minute shopper and there are only so many days in December. This year was one of the most fun, relaxing, memorable celebration we’ve ever had. Just a few stories for the memory banks. Susie made Ruthie a Sofia the first doll and amulet out of clay. Ruthie swears she is Sofia when she wears the amulet and sadly tells me she’s not Sofia when she’s not. Susie and Charlotte have made Jeremie and I stockings and they delight to fill them with goodies for us on our Christmas eve. Favorite candies, soda pop and handmade ornaments, my favorite. Stocking are always my favorite part of the day, so it’s special that they have made and stuffed one for me. Jeremie gave me very special gift this year. He and Charlotte walked the local creeks and woods and collected all manner of mosses, mushrooms, lichens and ferns. They planted them in a bed of humus in a glass jar. My very own terrarium. It was shocking to me to know that Jeremie realized that I love mosses, ferns, and woodsy stuff. And I was so touched that he put that together. Thinking of him, walking and hunting for treasures with Charlotte, thinking of pleasing me, brings tears to my eyes. He’s a special man. Earlier in the year I had found a display case of LEGO friends at a Bargain Hunt. It was a fraction of the cost of new LEGOs so I purchased it for Ruthie. All the sets were already put together, but since she is too little to put them together herself, it worked out perfectly. But when she unwrapped the gift and we opened it, we discovered all the pieces were super glued together! Jeremie and Tommy had to spend a lot of time breaking the pieces apart, without completely breaking the pieces. Well, live and learn. Do not by the displays of LEGO.
One of our favorite traditions. Decorating gingerbread/graham cracker houses with friends. Yes, it’s a mess. Yes, it’s a little expensive..all that candy! Yes, it’s very unhealthy. But we love doing it! We’ve got a great recipe for icing/glue. Tastes terrible, but it’s super strong. This year we had a tank, birdhouse, Rapunzel’s tower, and some very creative houses. All these things, that we do every year, are building such sweet memories for me and the kids. I know I will look back on these days as the best times ever.
Every year I take the kids and we go pick strawberries at a local farm. Lots and lots of strawberries. Hundreds of dollars worth of strawberries. And that only gets me to January. We have strawberries in our kefir smoothies every morning. And depending on whose making those smoothies, we use quite a few berries. But growing strawberries in the garden? Whoa, that’s way to labor intensive. Until Back to Eden. Yes, wood chips are the answer again. Paul Gautchi, and many others, grow his strawberries in wood chips. Every year, after they are done fruiting, he buries them with 2 inches of chips. In the spring time, only the hearty plants emerge. The older weak ones cannot make it through the mulch. So no more cutting off runners. No more transplanting new plants. No more keeping track of which plants are one year, two year, or three years old. No more trying to keep the notoriously riotous vining plants in nice neat rows. The mulch keeps the ground springy enough you can walk on the plants themselves with relatively no harm done. So finally, I’m ready to grow my own berries. And just in time, for my MIL just thinned her berries and brought over 100s of plants! While Jeremie was tilling the hillside, I was spreading the last of my wood chips over the existing garden area, just praying that the Lord would provide more chips for my berries. If none came, I planned to mulch them with chopped leaves, straw and bark mulch, for weed control. Not ideal, but I had no more wood chips. I finished up in the garden, headed in to make lunch and one of my boys came running inside to tell me the “wood chip guys are here!” I thought he was joking. But, no, the Lord is just that good to me. And we got another load the next day. So now this hillside is covered in 6 inches of wood chips and hundreds of berry plants. Can’t wait til spring!
Now that Roo is almost three we have been slowly phasing out her pacifier. Otherwise known as a bippie. Not just any bippie, either. Her “good bippie”. Not to be confused with her “bad bippie” or her “new bippie”. She only gets to have it during sleep time. But occasionally I have found her hidden behind a door or behind the bed sneaking a few sucks. While I watch her unnoticed, she sucks it a couple seconds then puts it back up on my dresser. Crack baby.
I’ve seen those beautiful trees on Pinterest. The ones with burlap wrapped artfully around a 12 foot tall tree. Ones all sparkly with silver and teal. Ones aglow with thousands of lights and beads. Or the ones that appeal most to me. Rustic ones. Real pines. But rather than kick my kids out of the living room while I decorate the tree to my liking, we make it a whole family affair. Homemade ornaments. Minion ornaments. Gaudy ornaments. Ornaments that are falling apart that they just can’t bear to part with this year, maybe next year, or not. I hear squeals as ornaments are unpacked, and we relive the memories that come with each one. Everyone claimed a territory on the tree for hanging their personal ornaments. They tried to defend and outline their borders with strands of gold beads. However, when my tree began to resemble the board game, Axis and Allies, I drew the line. But there are still branches bending under the weight of 14 ornaments because children will insist they all hang together. And to be honest, I can relate. The first thing I do when I go to my parent’s house around the holidays, is find my ballerina ornament and make sure it is hanging in the “right spot”. Right next to my sister’s ballerina ornament. Then I check to make sure our angel ornaments are also hanging together. We have spent warm, cozy evenings singing carols by the light of the tree. And everyone is assured that their ornaments are just as cozy on the tree, hanging right where they should be.
This year we celebrated our Thanksgiving feast at a friend’s house surrounded by warm candlelight, loud laughter, tantalizing scents, secret smiles, nursing babies, steaming foods. It was such a blessed year, one day of thanks seems so trivial. Health. How often we take it for granted. Our children are so healthy and strong and happy. Money. How often we complain we don’t have enough. But the abundance in our home is almost grotesque. We have so much we forget what we have. Food. Irritated at the chore of making dinner each night? Um, how fortunate we are to have a stocked pantry and freezers. Friends. We are all flawed. We are all on a journey. But how sweet to travel this road of life with beloved friends by our side. Thank you, Jesus, for your abundant Goodness in our life.
We’ve had some big prayers answered around here lately. How assuring to know that there’s no need to worry, no need to fret. We do need to plan. We need to be faithful. But, ultimately, our days are in His hands. I don’t know about you. But that makes me sleep soundly at night. Well, at least for an hour at a time between nursing sessions. But that’s another post for another day. And no, wood chips are not the only thing I pray about!
This last week we were visiting my parents in Northern Illinois and we decided to take the kids downtown. It turned out to be a beautiful fall day in the city. We visited the Shedd aquarium and saw dolphins, whales, penguins, sharks, rays, and more. I love how everyone was totally into it. I didn’t spot one rolled eye, bored expression or sigh the entire day. This is where real learning happens. Watching. Witnessing. Observing. Questioning. Feeling. Listening. The kids got to pet a 40-year-old sturgeon. We saw huge white whales swim by gracefully. And the manta rays and sting rays! How cool are they??!! We saw the aquatic equivalent to the big city. A coral reef, teeming with life and activity. A hustling, bustling traffic jam of living things right in the middle of a huge “countryside” of virtually empty ocean space. One of my favorites was seeing little eels poking their heads out of the sand. It looked almost cartoonish. After the aquarium, we took advantage of the beautiful warm weather and walked to Millenium park. Pictures at the “bean” are always fun. The kids got to see Buckingham Fountain for the first time, although it was not filled with water so late in the year. Then we walked across the highway to the Maggie Daly park. What a treasure! This beautiful park, filled with fun slides, swings, towers, and bridges, right in the middle of the city! My kids can never get enough of climbing, jumping, running, racing, yes, falling. Many of the cautious city-dwellers cast an anxious eye as my kids climbed up the bridge supports and scaled the tower walls. Many of my kids had never been to Chicago before and it was a fantastic day filled with new experiences!