My cheeky request

One of the highlights of my December is the Christmas photos that find their way to our mailbox. I have no font big and bold enough to say how much I LOVE these warm-hearted gifts. I pore over them, checking how much all the kiddos grew since last year, making sure I know everybody’s name, loving the sweet newborns, admiring the seasoned faces of the women over sixty. Then I hang the photos on my wall for months.

If one of the givers is you – thank you! You brighten my world, both in this space and in the real world, where I live and love and know you.

And to the rest of you – I had a little idea, and the idea that I had was this. I offer you all these words and images on my blog, and through them you kind of know me. Not really but kind of.

Some of you have been reading and commenting for weeks or months or years, and through your words I’ve built up an impression of you in my mind – but I don’t really know you at all, not even what you look like. Others of you I’ve met, but it’s been a while. (You know where this is going, right? I told you it was a cheeky request.)

If you end up with an extra Christmas picture, would you tuck it in the mail for me? It would make my day.

I have some extra Christmas cards myself, because of “If you buy this many you get a reduced rate” but also “You can only buy in multiples of this” – and so for the first ten people who send me an unexpected photo, I will respond with a family photo of us. I think it will be fun.

Our address is:

21205 Hunter Rd
Meadville, PA 16335

And yes, I will remove that info after a week in case any bad people too stupid to find us on the internet have been waiting for this chance to locate our house; so please don’t worry… 

Do you want to? No obligation is laid on you to do this; you don’t owe me anything. But thank you for letting me ask.

Advent activities 2017

Most years at Christmastime, I enjoy putting together an Advent calendar for my family.

The calendar varies from year to year – sometimes I focus on quiet reflection and sometimes on lively activity; sometimes I hang the activities in a long paper chain, or make a poster with flaps that open. I try to create a mix of inward-focused and outward focused ideas (bringing our family joy and bringing joy to others), and I customize it to include the holiday activities already in our plans – like a whole heap of music, as you will see.

Sometimes I try too hard and it stresses me out. But the kiddos and I love having something special to do each day, to build our joy in the coming of Christmas.

Here’s our family’s Advent list for 2017:

  1. Go ice skating as a family.
  2. Cut paper snowflakes.
  3. Attend a candlelit hymn sing.
  4. Prepare a baked item to give to a pastor or teacher.
  5. Create a Nativity scene from an unusual material (marshmallows, snow, metal, paper mache).
  6. Invite guests into our home to sing carols and share a snack.
  7. Make a handprint wreath.*
  8. Make music on stage.
  9. Spend the day with people we love.
  10. Listen to live Christmas music.
  11. Prepare a hot cocoa bar (chocolate spoons, various toppings and dippers).
  12. Make Christmas cards for people who will never give back to us.
  13. Write letters to Jesus.
  14. Play Handel’s Messiah on CD, in its entirety.
  15. Celebrate the birth of a human child.
  16. Drive to look at Christmas lights, with snacks, in our PJ’s.**
  17. Go Christmas caroling.
  18. Spend time praying for needs around the world.
  19. Invite one guest to dinner.
  20. Plan a family cozy night: popcorn, spiced cider, books.
  21. Eat a snowman / gingerbread man lunch.
  22. Watch a Christmas movie.
  23. Read holiday books from the library aloud.
  24. Draw names and give a “certificate of service” to one member of our family.
  25. Give what we have: Gather a basket of household items to share with a neighbor or friend.***

Additional ideas that might still fit into Christmas vacation after the 25th:

  • Care for someone else’s baby.
  • Send mail to cousins and friends.
  • Sing in the streets.
  • Draw names; give each family member $1.06 and take a jaunt to the dollar store for an impromptu mini-gift exchange. (This is my mom’s idea and I think it’s wonderful.)

Do you use an Advent calendar for your family? What simple activities bring you joy in December?


* Trace a handprint from each person in our family, cut out multiples on pretty paper, glue into a wreath with the fingertips facing out.

** The Christmas lights will not be eating our snacks, and our snacks will not be inside our PJ’s. I hope a few well-placed commas made that clear. Also I hope we are not in an accident that night.

*** We plan to gather items we’d like to give away: new soaps, some tea or hot drink mixes, homemade goodies, any household items that come to hand, maybe the piano – I don’t know – and show up at someone’s door with it all in a basket. This will be nicer than it sounds, I promise. If any of you mock me I may show up with it at YOUR door, so there.

The moral of Thanksgiving

Once upon a time, the Pilgrims and Native Americans got together for a big fiesta. They ate venison and corn, pumpkins and nuts and delicacies until they were full, giving thanks for a great year together. And that’s how it all started.

But this week my daughter was reading a children’s book about what happened before the beginning of that story. She read about the long winter, the freezing temperatures, the illness, the death. She read that the Pilgrims would slip out into the deep night to bury their dead. They didn’t want the Americans to know how few of them were left.

In the spring, when Samoset and Squanto appeared and scared them half to death (half of them had already died, so I’m telling it to you straight), the Pilgrim’s fears turned out to be unfounded. Instead of bringing terror and destruction, the Native Americans brought vegetable seeds, earth knowledge, sturdy friendship.

Everyone says the moral of Thanksgiving is to be thankful. And it is. The Pilgrims took a deep breath and said, “We made it. Look at this harvest, we’ve stored up what we need for next winter, and we give thanks to God.” But I can’t help thinking about that first dark winter, and the poverty of isolation, the shivering widows standing at the graves of their babies under a chilly moon. God forbid that someone finds out we’re not doing okay. Please, God, don’t let them see us. I’ll just put another shovelful of dirt on top. I’ll wrap my tatters around a weakened body and slip back to my ship in the darkness.

That breaks me.

The Native Americans probably had a hard winter too – I’m not saying they were over there in the wigwams lolling in salted deer meat and corn flour. But they had the wisdom the Pilgrims needed, if the Pilgrims hadn’t been trying so hard not to need it.

Another moral of Thanksgiving, the one we don’t talk about, is this: Stop hiding in the darkness.

Take steps of faith through the night to the wigwam next door and sit down by the fire. We can spend so much time planning our militia that we forget the neighbors are not planning an attack. Incredibly, miraculously, friends are out there waiting: not to pounce and scalp, but to teach, to assist, to care. To help.

That is cause for the best Thanksgiving.


If you’re game, tell me three things you’re thankful for today, including one friend you know you can go to when the venison runs out. This has two purposes: it grows your gratitude, and as a bonus, it helps me to know if the bugs are worked out of my comment section before I offer you another gift on Friday. For this, I am grateful to you. We have every reason for joy: Happy Thanksgiving, dear people.

Giveaway results

Thanks for joining our giveaway for the Boredom Jar! I’m happy to say that Dorcas S is the winner – the “mean mom” who doesn’t allow her children to use a lot of devices. And no, I did not pick her for that reason. Random.org picked her, for its own inscrutable reasons.

If you’re interested in buying the Boredom Buster set, please contact Linette Horst by sending an email to randyandlinette@aol.com. Put “Boredom Jar” or something similar in the subject line. The price is $10 for a package that includes everything but the glass jar itself:

  • Thirteen colorful pages with over 300 activities
  • A supplies list for items you might not have on hand
  • An adorable vinyl decal to put on your own jar (“Mom I’m Bored” as pictured)
  • Free shipping to anywhere in the United States

Again, thanks for joining the fun.

Happy Thursday!
Shari

Our Passover 2017

Confession: Even though the month of April is history, I still want to share pictures of our Passover supper with you.

For the past two years, we’ve chosen to celebrate a Passover feast with our children on the Thursday night before Easter, as part of remembering Jesus’ last days before death. My giant disclaimer fits here: This is an American Anabaptist Passover. The main event is the food, and we don’t go kosher – we shamelessly pick which pieces to observe, and then fill in the rest with foods we like to eat together.

But our children love it, and we leave an empty place setting and a glass of grape juice for Jesus.

We eat lamb, because that follows the original story of when God’s people left Egypt. It’s a costly meat, special for our family – I know we could roast a chicken instead, but there’s something so perfect about the Lamb. We buy a small roast, already seasoned delightfully with garlic and lots of rosemary.

Last year I roasted potatoes and carrots, which is more traditional. This year, having served roast veggies a couple of nights before, I whipped creamy mashed potatoes.

We picked bitter herbs from the yard – dandelion, yarrow, and parsley (does parsley count?) – and dipped them in salt water. The herbs symbolize the bitterness of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, and the salty water is their tears.

For unleavened bread, I tried homemade matzo this year – thin crackers with salt. That was a hit, especially when we dipped them in the haroset.

Haroset is an apple salad, made in a food processor to look like the mortar the Israelites used. I can’t for the life of me find the site from which I originally borrowed this particular recipe, though I tried hard. It was from a private blog and I really liked how he wrote about Passover. We love this recipe well enough to eat it any time of year. Its spices and honey add a curiously delicious twist. So thank you, Mr. American Haroset, wherever you are…

American Haroset

3 red apples
3 green apples
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans
To taste: honey, cloves, and ginger

Process all together in food processor.

Of course we ate hard-boiled eggs, though when I turned them into mice with cheese Ryan said “Do you know how horrified a Jewish person would be to think of a mouse on the table?” I just laughed and said “Okay, well, yeah. Good thing we’re not Jewish?”

We lit candles and poured our homemade sparkling grape juice, and served everything up.

Each year I think, “This time we will do some of the readings and questions.” I even found Elisabeth Adam’s beautiful Haggada and printed it off, trying hard to include it. But then…

Do Jewish babies not fuss?

Are Jewish mothers more long-suffering when they do?

We skipped the readings for another year, and just ate a lamb cake for dessert. I told you the food was our main event, and hey.

It made Jenny happy again.


What ideas will you give me for next year’s feast?