Browsing Tag

gratitude

Ice Cream and Nostalgia

Top 5 Reasons 2016 Was One of Our Top 5 Years (of the Past 5 Years)

1.Oodles more readers. Yes, I’m talking to YOU. In case you missed ‘em, here are five of our most-read posts from 2016:

Our Kids Put the Fun in Dysfunctional

Operation: Airborne Lizzie

Be a Cul-de-sac

Swimming in the Rain

Finding My Voice

2. Family adventures. 2016 was an epic travel year. We kayaked with whales. We visited Iceland. We flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter I felt certain would kill us all. Most of all, we scampered hither and yon with our kiddos and actually, kind of, enjoyed being together [even though 3/5 of the family yacked all over Frankfurt, Germany . . . ugh, some things you just can’t unsee].

3. We published our first book. Which we have yapped about incessantly and ad nauseum, but which if you have somehow missed all of that you should still totally check out HERE. [Also, if you read it and liked it and have not yet rated it on Goodreads or Amazon, we’d love it if you could do us a solid.]

Here are 5 more awesome books we read this year:

Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple

Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Somme, by Peter Hart

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

4. Everybody is finally out of diapers and pull-ups – hooray! And 2016 was the first year when all of the children finally learned to sleep in their own beds and leave Mom and Dad alone – double hooray! For those keeping track at home, it has been 12 years of interrupted sleep. No wonder we look so old. Of course, as soon as everyone here was sleep trained, we decided to adopt a dog who is not.  Grrr….

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5. 2016 was the year we discovered podcasts – these awesome radio shows you can download and listen to on your phone when you scrub the bathroom or shovel snow. Podcasts take the menial labor of family life and make it transcendent. Do yourself a huge favor and subscribe to a few today. You’ll never look at dirty dishes the same way again.

Reply All – A show about the Internet, trained rats, and so much more. Ever wonder who invented the pop-up ad? Or why some websites make it almost impossible to reach an actual live person? Or what some of those weird Twitter hashtags actually mean? These guys decode the e-world for the rest of us. Try “Exit & Return,” Parts I and II, or “The Writing on the Wall” episode if you are looking for a place to start.

Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell looks back at ideas, events, and people in history and reinterprets them. I’m not doing the show justice in this description. The trilogy about higher education in this country is particularly terrific (“Carlos Doesn’t Remember,” “Food Fight,” and “My Little Hundred Million”).

Radiolab – We’ve been listening to Radiolab on NPR because it makes us smarter, but now we can get every episode and revisit them whenever we want. Don’t take our word for it. Go listen to them. “Patient Zero,” “Colors,” “The Cathedral,” “Birthstory,” or any of the dozens of other terrific episodes.

Heavyweight – Jonathon Goldstein takes people back to revisit a moment in their lives when everything went wrong, and whether it was being bullied at school or loaning CDs that you never got back, he tries to help folks fix what is broken, or at least make peace with it. Try episode #2 “Gregor” for a way in.

This American Life – Still going strong. Still the best in the business when it comes to storytelling. They are 600 episodes in. If you have not started listening yet, I am giddy just thinking about all the great stories just waiting for you.

*There are so many more we could have included here: We Turned Out Okay, Invisibilia, First Timers, 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop, The Writer’s Panel, StartUp, More Perfect, Science Vs, and, of course, Serial.

 

Where did you travel? What did you read? What are you looking forward to in 2017? We love hearing from you. Drop us a line at info@dadvmom.com or on any of our social media platforms.

Twitter – @dadvmom

Facebook – @dadvmomblog

Instagram – dadvmom

DadvMom.com

Talk to Strangers

Listening to Strangers

2016 was a tumultuous year outside of this blog, but it was also a pretty amazing year inside of DadvMom.com. We published our first book, put up more content than ever before, and connected with thousands of new readers. It was so great to hear from folks we know who enjoyed our book. But our friends are also totally biased. They even said nice things about the weirdly dry potato soup that Annmarie made last Wednesday. (How can soup be dry? I dunno, but it was. It really was.) So even more fun than the encouraging words from friends were the cool words from total strangers, folks we met on this writing journey who read the book, dug the book, and happily spread the good vibrations and glad tidings across the Interwebs. To them, we say a big merry thank you! And we encourage you to check out some good work via the links below.

Army Amy is a super lovely random stranger I found via an article she wrote about moving in the military. I so related to watching television and eating snacks with cardboard boxes judging me in all directions. Army Amy’s writing is simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt, and totally worth checking out, and she was kind enough to review our book:

The book bills itself as a parent’s guide but I think it’s so much more universal than that. Annmarie and Ken narrate alternating chapters as they recount their journey from college co-eds to a family of five in the span of 17 years with 11 (yes, 11!) moves in the middle of it all. Annmarie worked as a teacher with challenging students and her husband was in the Navy. They both eventually moved on from those careers, but you can tell that they answered a calling to forge a difficult path. I really loved that! Hat tip to people who choose the tough road. They shared their wisdom through all of life’s changes and challenges, and that’s what I was needing to hear right now. (Not to mention, the writing is beautifully lyrical; you don’t need to be going through a tough time to appreciate it.)

. . . You will love this book if you are in the military or a family member, if you live a topsy-turvy life, or if you appreciate a well-told tale. . . . This was a can’t-put-down book for me, and I can always use more of those on my nightstand.

 Read the full review, and check out Amy’s site here.

 

Another lovely review came from a writer at Queen of My Fairy Tale. (I know her name, but since she is sweetly anonymous on her site, I am not sharing it here.) I stumbled across her thoughtful blog late one night, and I immediately connected to the battle of raising three children and trying to keep your cool. About Here Be Dragons, she says:

Hands down one of the best books I have ever read. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you go buy it now….I mean right now! It should be given out to newly weds, new parents, 2nd 3rd 4th time parents, grandparents and everyone in between. There is something within these pages for everyone.

. . . It made me laugh, cry, shake my head yes (so many times!) that I felt like I knew these people. I related and it was a breath of fresh air, knowing that I am not alone in the crazy cyclone of a parenting world.

Read the full review and check out the fairy tale queen here.

 

There is still time to have this book in your hot little hands – or in the hands of someone you love – in time for Hanukkah, Christmas, or Festivus. Order yours today.

And thanks for hanging in there with us during 2016. Such a difficult year in lots of ways, but it felt great to have this safe space to call home.  Happy holidays, everyone.

 

Health & Fitness & Oreos

An Apology to the Other Parents on the Team

My son is the worst player on this team.

He seldom kicks or throws. Mostly, he skips. When the ball rolls his way, he falls on it, like a grenade, or picks it up and runs, which is frowned upon in soccer. Unless you’re the goalie. Which he isn’t. Because they don’t have those in his league. But that does not stop him from lurking in the box. Not in an effort to deflect scoring, but rather to hang from the goal post and entangle himself in the net. Last week, he started a game of tag during the second quarter. He swatted an opponent and yelled, “You’re it,” before running away down the sideline.

On the way to today’s game, we talked about hugging, and how we weren’t going to embrace our teammates so hard they fell over. “Purple Penguins don’t hug,” I reprimanded, but he has the memory of a goldfish. Just now, I watched my son ninja kick a child who was trying to pass him the ball, and I wonder if we shouldn’t have stuck with the embrace. Afterwards, he ran over to the bleachers to offer onlookers high fives.

Since we only play four on four, everyone rotates out frequently. But even on the sideline my kid is trouble. He karate chops the water bottles, kicks the practice balls into the woods, and sometimes leaves the field entirely to come lay on my blanket and ask me for his post-game apple juice.

He is prone to lollygagging, even during play. When he gets tired or bored or a hankering to cloud watch, he simply lays down in the middle of the field. The other kids dribble around him, or leap over, like cheetahs to his sleeping gazelle. But today, the warm-up seems to have made an impression on him. He’s been doing arm circles for most of the third quarter.

I am embarrassed every time we come here. For the first few practices, I apologized to the other parents. “He’s small for his age,” I said. Or, “He’s never like this at home.” But an apology is only as good as the mitigation of the offending behavior, and it is obvious that my influence over sport decorum is limited at best.

In fact, the only card I really have to play is to pull him from the team. It is likely that the other children would have a better experience if my kid was not there. Every chain has its weak link, every ladder its bottom rung, and every litter has its runt. When it comes to this soccer team, my child is all of the above. Of course, I remember studying group behavior in a college psych class. Even when the “problem child” was removed, someone else just stepped in to take his place. I tell myself that if it was not my son somersaulting in midfield, it would simply be someone else’s.

The one thing we have going for us is that Coach Fox is obviously short-listed for canonization. At the close of every game, he and Henry exchange fist pumps, and he says, “Great job today, buddy!” As though he really means it. As though he has utterly forgotten that Henry spent the bulk of the first quarter grabbing him in the ass.

And so week after week, we don shin guards and bright purple socks, and my son, the runt, the problem, the slacker, happily reports for duty on field 5, much to the dismay of parents and caregivers. Because despite Henry’s skill-less-ness, this is his favorite sport. He wakes up every morning asking, “Is today a soccer day?” And let’s out a squeal when it is, it is, it is.

He is the worst player on the team. There is no doubt about it. But what separates us from the animals, I think, is that we let all the children play together. Cheetahs and penguins, goldfish and gazelles all have their time in the sun. It is a game, after all. And they are children. Ninja kicks and all.

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Babies

How The Worst Typhoon In History Taught Me To Appreciate Crying Babies

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Adapted from Our New Book, Here Be Dragons

 

I never really liked babies. I love my own, of course. But that’s a genetic imperative. Other people’s babies? For most of my adult life, my feelings ranged from mild disinterest to barely concealed annoyance. I never found their outfits particularly cute or their peek-a-boo games terribly entertaining. And travelling with them on airplanes? I always said I would rather be stuck in the back-row-middle seat next to the toilet, than be sitting anywhere near someone else’s baby in flight. Until, that is, I went to the Philippines. In November of 2013, forty minutes after sunrise, in the wake of the worst typhoon in recorded human history, I changed my mind about kids.

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8, 2013, it brought sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, and gusts topping 250. Had it hit the United States, its outer bands would have stretched from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. I flew into the disaster zone with a medical relief team, on one of the first Marine Corps C-130s carrying aid workers. We landed on a pitch-black runway in a city with no lights. Amidst the rubble of a military barracks, we established our forward operating base.

The next morning, at first light, we boarded a Philippine Air Force Huey and headed south. What we saw confirmed our worst fears. Nothing was left intact. Even the sturdiest buildings had their roofs ripped away. The storm surge had rushed for miles, reducing houses to matchsticks. Ships lay hundreds of yards inland, like toys dropped amid the debris. I have been in warzones. But nothing compared to the devastation I saw flying along the Philippine coastline.

We circled the village of Tanauan and identified what we assumed was the clinic. Between the scattered rubble and crowds of people, there was no way to land. So we diverted to a strip of empty beach a few miles away. As we approached, people sprinted towards the descending helicopter. The pilot hovered a few feet off the ground, and we leapt. As our ride lifted away, a crowd of villagers gathered. We had been warned that they might try to take our supplies. The opposite was true. They were hungry and scared, but grateful, and they helped us make our way to the clinic.

The makeshift hospital was set up inside the former city hall, one of the only buildings left with walls still standing. Hundreds were already gathered, seeking medical help. Most had walked miles. Wounds were starting to fester, and the air stank of gangrene. I made my way to the second floor where a surgery was underway.

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All day and all night, patients arrived in a steady stream, bearing gaping, jagged gashes, many of them showing signs of gangrene. For a rookie like me, those injuries were at least straightforward. Open, clean, disinfect, pack, and bandage. That I could handle.

The “injury” that knocked me off balance, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the typhoon. Late one evening, a pregnant woman arrived on the back of a moped. She was in labor, but struggling. The clinic was blacked out, lit only by the occasional flashlight and our headlamps bobbing up and down as we worked. Patients lay huddled in groups on the floor. Our OBGYN led the expectant mother to the “operating table,” and immediately determined a normal delivery was out of the question. Because of how the baby was positioned, a C-section would be necessary to save the lives of both mother and child.

The surgeons decided to begin the operation at dawn. When the first ray of sun split the horizon, I said a prayer. Please help this mother. Please save this baby. As the surgery began, a few of us huddled on the floor around a camp stove. Someone brewed a pot of tea, and we sat in silence, sipping from tin mugs, straining to hear the doctors talking softly to each other as they worked. Then, a sound I will never forget. A baby’s cry, healthy, strong, and defiant.

I felt the sun warming my neck, looked down into my cup, and wept. I tried to make my tears less obvious. My team in the Philippines included some of the toughest people I have ever known: combat medics, Special Forces operators, a paratrooper from the French Foreign Legion. When I looked up, I could see we all felt the same thing—our faces wore identical expressions of exhaustion and relief, but above all—joy. That baby may have been crying the loudest, but we all joined in varying degrees.

Six hours after that sunrise, we called in a Philippine Air Force helicopter to evacuate our most critical patients. A cardiac case, an amputee, a new mother, and a six-hour-old baby girl were airlifted to Manila. Miracles do happen. Even in the wake of tragedy. To this day, whenever I hear a baby cry, I smile inside.

Even on airplanes.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fatherly.com.

Awesomeness

We Have Some News. . .

No, I’m not pregnant.

Whenever a woman reaches a certain reproductive age, this is the only “news” that truly lives up to the announcement of NEWS. Sorry to disappoint.

And, no, Ken and I are not getting divorced.

I always find it odd when people think I might be going there. As though it was only a matter of time before I got tired of his shenanigans and he had his fill of my crazy. No splitsville yet. Though he is on notice for the broken sailboat he brought home from West Virginia three weeks ago Tuesday.

The real news is that we have written a book. Together. Without getting divorced. And without anybody getting pregnant. And largely because of friends/readers/wacky people like YOU, a publishing house bought it, and our book will be available on October 11th, 2016. Bonkers.

Here Be Dragons is about how we – you, all of us, actually – were pretty awesome before we became parents. We sailed oceans. We tried skydiving. And then the kids came along and peed on everything. And they made us sad and tired and angry. And we needed to sneak ice cream when they weren’t looking and hide drinks in the garage just to survive the days with those adorable little monsters who took over our marriage and kind of ruined our lives. And then, just when we thought we were never going to make it – never going to drink an entire cup of coffee uninterruptedly again, never going to drive from point A to point B without 19 arguments and 4 bathroom stops, never going to become the grown-ups we’d always planned to be – we figured out something even better: how to be a family. We found joy and purpose and laughter and adventure. Sure, our days are still hard sometimes. But they also got awesome again. Here Be Dragons is the story of that journey.

And we are really excited (and nervous and shy and terrified, actually) to share it with you.

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“So, HOW CAN I HELP?”

It’s funny you should ask. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways you can help:

  1. Order a copy. Or eight. Buy one for your Mom’s birthday, your Dad’s retirement, your sister’s housewarming party, or for that cousin you don’t even really know who is having a baby shower and you don’t want to go, but you at least want to send her something that isn’t a rattle or a blanket.
  1. Help us spread the word. Tweet, Post, Pin, Snap, or Instagram us. Walk around your neighborhood whacking a frying pan with a wooden spoon and shouting our names. Whether you are high-tech or low-, we welcome the vibes.
  1. Write a review. If you have a blog or a typewriter, if you write for your school newspaper or the Chicago Tribune, we would be honored if you would give us – our work, our stories, our fashion sense – a little shout-out. And, on October 11th, Amazon reviews will be open for business. We would really love it if some of you guys would write us a review. It only takes like 3 minutes and those ratings really help.
  1. Drive around with Here Be Dragons in your car. (To sign up, send us a message with “Junk in Your Trunk” or “Dragons in My Wagon” in the subject line — info@dadvmom.com). We are looking for a few good missionaries. You never know when you might wish you had a copy to share with a friend or stranger. Plus, we would love to get this book on shelves in independent bookstores and libraries.
  • If there is an independent bookstore you frequent, go in and ask them if they will sell our book. If they say yes, hand them a copy.
  • Ask your local library if they will stock it. Sometimes, there is a lady behind the desk who does the ordering. Sometimes, it is a guy in a hat. For our library, there was a form.
  • Ask your book club if they will give it a whirl. There are discussion questions for reading groups already in the back of the book.
  1. Invite us over. We already have book events scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Cleveland, and we are scheduling more. We are equally at home in auditoriums or living rooms. We can talk at libraries and bookstores, pancake breakfasts, church luncheons, or supper clubs. We’ll come to your PTA meeting or your military spouses’ tea. We’ll bring books. We’ll make people laugh. We’ll serve pie. (<–Okay, Ken wants a disclaimer here. We only serve pie sometimes. But that’s just because some places have weird rules about pie and other places are way more cookie or brownie friendly, but come and see what dessert appears in your area.) We love to talk to folks about the horror/wonder of raising children.
  1. Send us warm thoughts. Even if you can’t buy the book, tweet, or meet us, we still love knowing you are out there. Post a comment here or on one of our social media sites. Let us know how you are doing. Let us know when DadvMom.com makes you laugh or cry or throw things.

My mom has priest friend, Father Bob, who has an expression: “So, is it yes or yes?” When he has a couple of projects that need doing – tree limbs that should be trimmed near the parking lot, a committee that wants staffing after Christmas – he goes before the church congregation and says, “So, is it yes or yes?” Are you going to help me in this way or are you going to help me in that way? The expression makes me laugh, but man, he gets things done.

It can be tricky to ask for help. We don’t want to bother you guys. We know you are busy. But we are literally a mom and pop outfit over here, and we can’t do this without you. Check the list above, check it twice, and let us know if it is YES or YES. Let us know how you can help.

As always, thanks for reading,

Annmarie and Ken

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For Love of Country

Why it is OK to Say “Happy Memorial Day”

I am the son, grandson and brother of combat veterans. As a former Navy pilot myself, Memorial Day has special significance. But lately it has become difficult to wish others a “Happy Memorial Day” without drawing fire. Last year, PBS incited an online riot when it posted a Happy Memorial Day banner on its Facebook page. Among the litany of criticisms from readers were comments like “HUGE faux pas,” “Delete this stupid image” and “Totally insensitive.” I have experienced this on a personal level. My usual Happy Memorial Day greeting has increasingly been met with disapproving headshakes. Last year, one especially sullen cashier told me to “Get a clue.”

I understand. This is a day set aside to honor those who died serving in uniform. Memorial Day is among our oldest holidays, originally conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War. But for many Americans, it has become little more than a three-day weekend, filled with backyard barbecues and door-buster sales. For those who see this day of remembrance being trivialized, it is easy to take offense at the suggestion that there is anything happy about it.

I do not recall my father or grandfather giving much thought to how they would greet neighbors at our own backyard picnics—it was always “Happy Memorial Day.” Perhaps that is because prior generations needed no reminders about what the holiday signified. My grandfather’s war, WWII, was a national effort, in which everybody sacrificed something. My father’s war, Vietnam, was deeply divisive, but at least everyone knew it was happening. The draft ensured a lot more families had skin in the game.

Today it is different. Less than 1 percent of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The vast majority of civilians do not know anyone who died there. The farther into our national memory these wars recede, the more important it is to maintain reminders of the price paid. That, I suspect, is the underlying reason behind excising the “Happy” out of Memorial Day. But however well intentioned, this attitude does nothing to preserve the memory of those who died defending our way of life. In fact, it does the opposite.

I do not know a single veteran who expects the country to mark this holiday with 24 hours of uninterrupted sadness. A few years ago, I spent Memorial Day at a military cemetery visiting my grandfather’s grave. Though I was there to grieve, I could not help but recall stories that made me laugh—like when his plane’s emergency raft deployed in flight, and his machine gunner nearly shot off the tail trying to deflate it. Smiling at that memory, I realized I was not alone. All around me was the sound of quiet laughter, as families gathered before simple white headstones to remember loved ones lost. These days, when I reminisce with my buddies about friends who did not come home from war, the stories we most often tell are ones that bring us joy.

That is how they would want it. When I think about those who have died serving in the military, I remember why they joined in the first place. They did it to defend a way of life, one that includes the pursuit of happiness as a founding ideal.

To be sure, we could use a bit more reverence on this day. A moment of silence before we dig into our brats. Fewer shopping sprees. But unrelenting grief? None of my buddies would want that. Mattress discounts and pie-eating contests and the freedom to be happy are all part of what they fought and died for.

This Memorial Day, I will head to the ocean as the sun is coming up. I will spend some time alone, and think about those who never made it back. Then I will return to my wife and kids and be grateful for my life. I will fire up the grill and invite friends over. And I will wish each of them a Happy Memorial Day, knowing full well that this day and the joy it brings are gifts I can never repay. Except, perhaps, by living a life full of happiness as my fallen friends would have wanted.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Observer.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Other Mother’s Day

Let me begin by saying I love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all these years of unconditional love, laughter, and great cooking. Your guidance and care echo in my heart every day.

Now let me continue for everybody else.

We are all mothers today.

We all mother.

Even if you are a childless man, you mother.

If you are a moody teenager, you mother.

All of us nurse, protect, cherish, and tend to the people we love in this world. At least, we should. And THAT is what this weekend is reminding us. To mother.

Sure, take your mom to brunch if that’s what she really wants. But the day is not about seafood omelets or exclusivity. Mother’s Day is about celebrating mothering. Let’s minister to the sick, defend the weak, nurture the young, the old, the rich, the poor.

In recent years, I have seen women crying on Mother’s Day, weeping openly during the “Ave Maria,” or muffling sobs in contemplative prayer. Last year, a friend told me Mother’s Day was when she missed her mom the most. Of course, it is a day to remember, reflect, and pay homage to the women who birthed us. But we need not leave it there.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to check ourselves. Do we mother our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough? Do we nourish, tend, and enrich others on this planet the way we should? The way all our mothers taught us to?

That’s right…mothers. Those who birthed us AND all those Other Mothers–the many women and men, both young and old, who held our hands and guided us along the way.

I am blessed to have many Other Mothers. I have auntie-mothers, and boss-mothers, and sister- and brother-mothers. I have a father-mother, and a grandma-mother, and a former-next-door-neighbor-mother. I have had teacher-mothers and student-mothers. I even have a husband-mother. And, of course, a mother-mother.

Let’s all be mothers today. Definitely call your mom. Give her your love. Chances are if you are close, you do this all the time anyway. But call one of your Other Mothers today, too. Don’t weep because you have lost someone. Well, you can do that, but don’t let it be the only thing you do today. Thank an Other Mother. Let that person know he/she loved you, led you, nourished you, and mothered you. And that you are always there to mother right back. Pay it forward and backward today. Let Mother’s Day heal.

Be the mother all your mothers taught you to be.

 

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Originally posted May 9, 2015

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Be One Another’s Cul-de-sac

A friend and I spent the evening at church tonight. We broke bread with families who needed some. We listened, laughed, and prayed.

After the dishes had been washed and the food put away, we lounged together in a basement rumpus room. The kids invented a new game — ping-pong dodge ball — and the adults daydreamed about a cul-de-sac community where we could let our children play safely all day. Some nights, we all mused, we could wheel our barbecue grills out to the curb for a neighborhood buffet instead of cooking and eating dinner alone.

I drove home feeling both thankful and dispirited. So many of us have so much. We build our homes up and out and bigger and more. We have dishes for twenty, but only ever use five. We build fences where we could plant flowers. We schedule ourselves so tightly that there is no room for generosity, magnanimity, or an impromptu dinner with the people next door.

We make it easy to forget to share.

But we can be better. I can be better. In a world of gated communities, security passcodes, and election seasons that divide rather than unite, summon your kindness, and unleash your love. Be one another’s cul-de-sac.

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Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

The Party Is Just Getting Started

 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music from the heart.

Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

One of my least favorite jobs of the year is taking down our Christmas tree. For weeks, it holds a place of honor in our living room, regal and pine-scented in all its branched and baubled loveliness. Then, we undecorate it and toss it on the curb. I’m told the city recycles it, mulches it into something that will breed life again. But I can’t help but feel a little emptiness as we put the lights and angels back into their boxes, and tuck Christmas on the shelf in our garage, to sit and wait another year.

The Christmas season is like a movie trailer – all breathless anticipation and excitement. My kids and I can hardly wait for the big day to arrive. We are so utterly beside ourselves – baking, wrapping, decorating, frolicking. It is easy to wish such easy joy could last. That our friends and family would always open their homes to us so eagerly. That we would always have this much candy lying around to nosh. That we would always feel this warm and wonderful and good and golden about all of humankind.

But if I am being totally honest, the Christmas season is almost too much for me. There is so much fullness, so much chatter, so many crowds. I consume so many cookies. The gifts are torn open with such rapidity. And as much as I love a good party, I find myself limping a little around the new year, craving salad, yoga, and stillness. After so much Christmas-ing, I need to regroup.

Today, with the end of Christmas heavy in our hearts, our family visited a church on a hill in search of a new vista and maybe a new message to begin a new year.

We found it in an a cappella hymn. “The Work of Christmas Begins” burned right through this dim day, and warmed my heart. Because it turns out that the day when we place our lifeless tree on the curb, well, that’s the moment when the real ministry of Christmas starts. In these quiet days after the hullabaloo, now is when we compose ourselves and live the words that we ate, drank, and celebrated only a few days ago. With the tree gone, we have more room to feed the hungry and welcome strangers. With the travel completed, now is the time for our real Christmas journey to begin. To minister to new parents, and offer gifts to the poor. To set aside judgment of faiths and families different from our own. To offer thanks for shelter, warmth, comfort, and love. Now is the time to follow bright stars and dwell in the goodness of all that is possible.

Yes, the parties are over.
But the celebration is just beginning.
And this healing real work of Christmas lasts all year long.

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Holidaze

Oh, Hole-y Night

Ours was a Christmas Eve full of wardrobe malfunctions:

  • Katie wore the same red dress she has worn for the past three Christmases. “It’s okay, Mom. If I cover it with this sweater, no one can see where it’s pinching my arms.”
  • Lizzie selected her blue dress from our costume dress-up box. Since the back zipper was broken, she went to church with a row of five safety pins holding it up.  When those irritated her, she changed into an Ohio State t-shirt she found in the car.
  • Henry took off his Christmas vest midway through the service, threw it at his sister, and cried when I said he could not have a granola bar.
  • I wore my drab, black funeral dress, since my cheerful, red holiday frock no longer buckles or zips.
  • Dad realized the white shirt he found on the closet floor was not as clean as he originally thought.  Though the largest stain turned out to be white wine and not pee.

I was surprised no one turned to us during the homily to inquire whether we, too, had been born in a barn.

Lizzie requested pancakes for dinner. Katie begged for Indian food. Henry lobbied for macaroni and cheese.

We chose a Japanese restaurant where nobody got what they wanted – except for mom, who did not have to cook – and somehow everyone was happy.

 

Here’s to noodles and soup, shirts without buttons, and clothes that don’t zip.

Whether your holidays thus far have been good, bad, or nutty, don’t forget we all have it pretty darn good.

Happy sushi to all and to all a good night.