Quotes of Christmas

Here are a few quotes that may tell you something about our Christmas (or not):

Christmas Eve:
Tim: “Kathy, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to generously let you have the beloved Green Stocking.”
(Much laughter as we looked to see Tim’s NEW stocking (three times the size of all the rest)!

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Sarah: “Purple pajamas! JUST what I wanted!”

Sarah: “Mommy, do you see my purple pajamas? They are JUST what I wanted!”

Joshua:”Look, my new pajamas are camouflage. No, wait, those are skulls! Ewww.”

Christmas Morning

Kathy (spooning extra frosting onto David’s sweet roll): “I hope all this sugar won’t go to your head!”

David (eyes greedily devouring his sweet roll, ready to promise whatever it takes): “It won’t!”

Joshua (who spent at least 10 minutes trying to get Daniel’s new G. I. Joe out of the box): “This is ridiculous! They’ve got this guy tied down like he’s a prisoner of war!”

Sarah (handing Kathy a small 2-inch by 4-inch present: “Mama, this is your big one!”

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This was one of those days… (by Kathy)

Of great holiday relaxation! It was delightful. I’m trying to think what made it such a nice day. The weather is lousy here in western WA–has been raining for days–so it’s not the bright sunshine that is making me cheerful. We didn’t do anything elaborate or exotic. We didn’t bake Christmas cookies or make gingerbread (although we have a beautifully decorated gingerbread). It was just one of those peaceful, ‘holiday spirit’ days. We don’t get many of the peaceful type around here with 3 boys and 2 girls ranging in ages from 12 to 3 running around with no outside play readily available.

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Our gingerbread house–made by G’ma and decorated by the kiddos.

Yesterday we went to see The Chronicles of Narnia (it was great!!). Joshua is so excited because he gets to see it again next week with his R.O.C.K. group (Really Outstanding Christian Kids) from church. I got a sitter for the two little ones and took the older three to a morning matinee. I’m always fascinated to see how little boys are so definitely ‘men.’ Rachel hid her head for most of the climatic battle scenes whereas Joshua and Daniel came out of the theater saying, “The battle was AWESOME!” I was glad to see that Rachel knew her limits and went into the back (actually through the first set of exit doors) during the stone table scene.

Today we didn’t have anything exciting planned so I told the older three children to be prepared for a half day of school (with absolutely no fussing allowed). This week so far, we’ve been on vacation. When I got up this morning they were all downstairs working on their math. I told them the computer would be off limits today. For some reason all five of the children, yes, including the 3 and 4 year old, have been begging to play computer games all week, and it’s been driving me crazy! The behavior, in general, has been less than exemplary and we needed to make some changes.

After some morning school, the rest of the day was spent so pleasantly. The big kids played several games of Payday, a round of Jenga, and entertained themselves in their rooms. The little two played for a long time with their Playmobil toys. At one point David, Sarah and I had the Lincoln Logs out and were building houses on the floor in the living room. Joshua had to come in and teach me how to put the doors into our building (can’t believe I’ve forgotten how to use Lincoln Logs). We ran out of pieces, and I had one of the other kids go out in the garage and find us another bin of logs. Who would think it would be so engrossing?

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The kids gather to open one of our many Advent calendars.

Late in the afternoon I let the children watch a movie in the garage while I wrapped presents in the kitchen. I put on a movie for myself and we all spent the next two hours happily entertained. Rachel went to play at a friend’s house for part of the time. I got ALL of the stocking presents wrapped. Yay!! My mom always wrapped our stocking gifts (down to the toothpaste and gum) and I can’t resist continuing that part of the Christmas fun. I wrapped Tim’s presents (found all sorts of odds and ends treasures at Lowe’s this week) and even got his stocking things wrapped and labeled.

We added a twist to our gift tag names this year (started it last year and went all-out this year). Several years ago we came up with the idea to assign each child a secret reindeer or Christmas name at the beginning of the month and then use them for their presents. The names aren’t revealed until Christmas morning–it keeps everything extra special secret and fun for the children. It also prevents the kids from comparing their pile of presents to their sibling’s. Everything is terribly mysterious as the suspense (and the piles of presents) build up.

This year the children were Elf, Snowden, Dasher, Rudolph and Frosty. Tim was Mr. Incredible (I couldn’t resist) and I was Dancer (not indicative of anything, I’m afraid). I decided to mix up the names a little bit (usually we just stick to the 9 reindeer names) because I was worried the kids might use their powers of logical reasoning to narrow the possibilities down and figure out their secret identities. I can just hear Joshua, “Let’s see last year I was Blitzen and the year before I was Donner so that means I must be one of the following….” Really, some children have TOO much time on their hands. Shouldn’t that boy go write a book report or something?

I had even toyed with the idea of repeating a reindeer name from last year to throw them off the trail. Have to win the battle of wits whenever you can! Or at least put up a good fight.

This year we livened it up with fun character names as the gift giver. It gets a little tiring to write Mom and Dad on all the presents and we don’t really ‘do Santa’ in our home. So now the packages come from all sorts of interesting individuals. I think one present is To: Elf — From: Spiderman. Another one is To: Snowden — From: Buzz Lightyear. We added in King Peter and Queen Susan after seeing the Narnia movie. The kids get a huge kick out of seeing who all the presents are from and Tim and I are entertained in thinking up creative names. We try to throw the kids off the trail by occasionally giving the boys gifts from female characters like Snow White and Little Bo Peep while the girls receive presents from King Arthur and other assorted knights.

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Daniel and Sarah sledding in the Duckabush.

I overheard Rachel on the phone, the other day, telling her friend how much fun it was to look over the packages and see the different names written on them. Hee, hee. I think we’ve started another tradition. Of course, Tim wonders if we really need more traditions — I try to ignore those kind of comments. Joshua is old enough that he can enjoy some of the more unusual characters, when we can think of them. It’s been lots of fun. We do like celebrations here in this house.

I’m so pleased to have all the wrapping done (as far as I know). We usually sleep downstairs in the living room on Christmas Eve (another tradition from my childhood). One year we had to hang up a curtain separating the kitchen/family room from the living room so we could wrap presents in one room and have the kids in the other. It was busy and festive but certainly not quality family time. This year we can enjoy Christmas Eve together because we’ve done most of the work ahead of time. We’ll spend Christmas morning relaxing and opening presents — the kids have requested quiche and sweet rolls for brunch. Yum! We’ll have dinner with Tim’s parents.

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See what happens when the kids play inside.

All in all it was a good day of vacation. I think one of the key factors was keeping the children OFF the computer and the complaining/fussing OUT-LAWED! I would like the kids to spend more time playing board games together, reading and just generally engaging in creative play. I don’t mind a little bit of computer time but when all five children want to play at the same time and fight over computers it gets a little crazy. I need to be more proactive about the recreational choices myself and bring out some of our board games during free time. Often it just takes a little time and instruction and the children run off to play the games themselves. It’s truly a wonderful thing to see the kids enjoy each other–a lovely benefit of a big family.

Just wanted to give you a little glimpse of our day on this eve of Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!


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An Embarrassment of Whitespace

Now that I no longer ride the train, I find that I do not write very many blog entries. Tonight I posted two blogs from November that had never quite made it past my editor, and was dismayed to see the empty home page of our blog. I guess after 30 days or so of silence, the blog software stops trying to cover for me. How we’ve fallen from those heady early days when I posted two and even three times a week.

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Rachel working with her kind of whitespace.

I guess I have less angst these days … I’m comfortable in my new job, and enjoying a time of prosperity. My commute is not particularly conducive to writing, and once away from the habit of writing, it is easy to make excuses. But I worry about my faithful readers (both of them), pining away for lack of my pithy wisdom. Or something like that.

When I’m at a loss for something to say, one of my favorite conversation-starter questions (for Christians) is, “What is God teaching you, these days?” So let me ask myself that question.

Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I don’t have much to say in the blog … I don’t have a sense that God is particularly dealing with me on any one thing. I seem to be enjoying a time of peace, which is itself somewhat remarkable. Sometimes I wonder if this job and house and contentment is (in some sense) God’s restoration of the things that were taken from me (my job at AT&T Wireless, friends and fellowship, living in the Duckabush) over the past several years.

As Christmas approaches, my thoughts turn toward the King who gave up everything to come to live among us, and who is Himself restored to His full glory, seated at the right hand of the Father.

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A 91st Birthday

Now it is a Monday, and I’m writing from my desk during my lunch break. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to go to Pennsylvania to visit my Grandma (and sundry other relatives) in celebration of her 91st birthday. My Uncle wrote a general invitation for the party, and when I saw it I couldn’t resist the impulse to go. I found a cheap flight and flew out on Friday night to Dulles. Arriving Saturday morning I rented a car and drove up to Mechanicsburg, enjoying the birthday party in unseasonably warm weather. I was able to spend a good bit of time with my Grandma and also had the chance to visit with four of my cousins and one uncle (and assorted spouses and children). I then drove back down to Virginia and caught a flight home early Sunday morning. I think it was a very worthwhile trip … not much chance to sleep (center seats on the plane both directions), but otherwise full of joy and good memories. I realized that I haven’t been to that part of the country for five years — it was particularly fun to re-connect with my cousins and to see how fast their children are growing.

Driving up route 15 from Virginia in the early morning sunshine I had the opportunity to see some beautiful foliage … I didn’t realize how much I had missed those reds and oranges here in the Northwest. Deciduous trees here tend to stick to a rather sickly and apologetic yellow when they change their leaves … as if they didn’t dare to call attention to themselves among the surrounding conifers. Some time I would like to live in Virginia again, although I hear that the housing prices are fierce anywhere near DC.

One of the things I liked about growing up as an Army brat was having lived a lot of different places. I remember having a hard time adjusting to life in the ‘States’ when we moved back from Germany, but I still don’t think I would trade my childhood for one in which I lived in the same town throughout my school years. Mark was less fortunate than I, perhaps … moving from Germany in the middle of high school must have been hard. Truth is, we didn’t really move around that much, most of the time staying 3 or 4 years at a given assignment.

My children seem to be of a different temperament, though; I know it was hard for all of them to move from the Duckabush. When I think of their little lives and potentially uprooting them to live somewhere else, it seems unlikely the payoff would be enough to justify the disruption. Still, I wish they could experience some of the variety that I did when I was growing up. Thinking about it, I wonder how much of my experience was tied to the vacations we took, and less with where we actually lived. Kathy and I are such homebodies … we don’t usually take the kids anywhere out of town unless it is to visit family.

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Faces only a family would love. Knowing Kathy was taking a picture, Daniel stuffed his entire burger in his mouth. And we wonder why we’re not invited out, much.
One thing I would really like to do is to go to Europe with Kathy some time. While we have each traveled in various parts of Europe individually, we haven’t shared any of those experiences. It would be cool to take a week or ten days and see some of the places she has enjoyed and show her some of the places I like. I would like her to see Salzburg and the Interlaaken area and Venice and the Peleponesian coast of Greece, for starters. Of course, we’d have to parcel off the kids and find a way to pay for the trip, but it is something I’d really like to do … I’m tempted to make it one of my ‘official’ goals.

I’ve been attending this men’s Bible Study on Thursday mornings … the pastor has us reading The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz. Today I read a couple of chapters at lunchtime … seems like the author is stepping through the scriptural requirements to be an elder or deacon as a blueprint for what it means to be a man of God. One thing the pastor has been advocating has been the setting of measurable goals. I haven’t tended to be a very goal-oriented person … I tend to drift through life rather than charge at it with any particular agenda. It will be interesting to see if a) I can bring myself to set and pursue some goals, and b) if I like or embrace the whole goal process.

The other night Kathy and I were talking about what it would be like to travel together, as her folks did this summer during their sabbatical. So much of our life is tied up with our children … it makes me wonder what it would be like to have them grown and off on their own. I don’t resent them, and I’m in no hurry to have them out the door … but sometimes I worry that we won’t know what to say to each other when the kids are no longer so central to our world.

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My Beloved

The last two evenings the kids were staying with my folks … Kathy and I just snuggled down and watched movies. Last night we bought takeout Mexican food … it was very companionable to eat at our big table, just the two of us. Our fireplace stopped working the other day, but we’ve been watching movies in the other room anyway, sitting on our double recliner, ‘Big Blue’.

I’m starting to get used to this early schedule … it is much more cheerful if I can get into bed at a decent hour. Kathy and I started a point system to encourage ourselves to make good choices … I get a point if I can manage to get into bed by 9:30 pm. My productivity drops off pretty sharply if I am tired … there is enough of an impermanent feel to this job that I don’t feel I can really afford very many unproductive days. Come to think of it, being less than alert on a workday is a little like stealing office supplies … you’re not likely to be caught, but it is dishonest anyway. Maybe I should give myself two points for getting to bed early.

Kathy asked me, “What are you going to do with your points?” I told her, “Squander them, of course!” I suppose we should think of something to do that will encourage us to make the right choices … although maybe the mere acquisition of points will be enough of a motivation. From a competitive perspective, there is no way I’ll ever get enough points to match Kathy, since she is working so hard on the food plan she has adopted. I’m a little awed by the discipline she has shown in the last seven months.

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Half a Life

This is a blog that I wrote in early November, but never posted. I’ve found that once you get out of the habit of writing, it is hard to get started again. I’m trying for a fresh start.

It is a Thursday morning, and I’m riding in a carpool up I-5 a few minutes before 7 am. I’ve been working at my new job in Factoria for six weeks or so, now … I seem to be settling in to a routine. To avoid the fierce traffic, I’ve been driving in early (leaving the house a few minutes after 5), but now that I’m carpooling three days a week, I can sleep in like a ‘normal’ person (for some very weird values of ‘normal’). [Note: Since I wrote this, I have abandoned that carpool and joined another more reliable one that gets to my place of work at 6:00 am. Sadly, this means no sleeping in for me ... back to the 4:40 am wakeup. ]

I like my new job, and I very much like the pay, but the location leaves something to be desired. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I miss riding the train quite a bit. Still, this carpool may be the answer … I pay less than what the train would cost me in gas fees and ride to work in comparative comfort and reasonable time.

Contract employment (like this new position) doesn’t scare me too terribly much … every job since I graduated from college has been initially a contract position except for my first job at Olin. Also, the only job I’ve ever lost was a full-time employment position at AT&T Wireless … so I have no illusions about the stability of full-time employment. Still, there is some fear about what will happen at the end of the contract … will I be asked to stay on, or will I be looking for another job in a volatile market?

Apart from starting this new job, a couple of other things have happened lately, as well. I turned 40, and Joshua turned 12. Strange to reach such a lofty age when I still think of myself as a ‘young’ man. I guess the words change their meanings to suit reality, rather than the other way around … I just never really thought that 40 equaled ‘young’ before. Going out on a limb, here, but I suspect that 50 will seem more like ‘reaching my prime’ than I ever imagined.

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It took nephew Timothy quite a while to light my two-score candles.

Joshua continues to grow in grace and stature … what a fine young man he is! Kathy and I decided that, now he is 12, he may set his own bedtime. This is, of course, on a probational basis … if he can’t handle it, we’ll probably revoke that privilege … still, I want to start handing responsibility over to him as we move into the ‘coaching’ phase of parenting. Rachel was green with envy … a good reminder that in a large family, nothing occurs in a vacuum. (I’m sure there is a joke I could make about large families and the need for a vacuum, but it doesn’t come to me at the moment.)

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Some people have breakfast in bed, while others (who sleep in a loft) have it on a couch. We move with the times.

I really like being part of a carpool … we zip along in the carpool lane while the peasantry sits fuming at a standstill … for some reason, carpooling isn’t very popular in Seattle, and the vast majority of cars cannot meet even the low HOV-2 (High Occupancy Vehicle — 2 persons) bar. Of course, it doesn’t take much to stop our lane, and then we sit in companionable misery, sharing the lot of the common man.

My folks scheduled a work-party at The Refuge on my birthday … call it a none-too-subtle hint if you will. While I usually evade those work days, this time I actually put in several hours of physical labor, which enhanced, rather than diminished, the enjoyment of my birthday. We gathered as an extended family the night before; this was possibly the largest number of family members I have ever had attend my birthday celebration. Mom and Dad were there, and Mark and Liz and their three children, and then Kathy and my horde. All we needed was Posie & Greg and their rascals to complete the event. It was very festive; Mom made a Black Forest cake that was big enough to hold all 40 candles and we feasted and partied into the evening.

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It is hard to believe that the Main Lodge is finally being built!

Several people have asked me, “Do you feel any different, now that you’re 40?” Truth be told, not really. I’ve been feeling rather introspective for the past year or so; this birthday has loomed large enough that it didn’t sneak up on me. But it does make you think … certainly by any reasonable measurement, half my life is over, possibly much more than half my life.

It makes you wonder what I’ll do with the time I have left, doesn’t it? I must admit, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, myself. Strange to live a life and feel so much like a passenger.

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