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World Peace, or Peace in Your World

2 Jan

Turning the page on the year can bring a mixture of feelings: relief, anxiety, a welcome sense of change, depending on the events of the past year and what events the upcoming year may hold.

Many people look back on the previous year with a sense of regret, resolving to do better in the new year.  Some look forward to turning the page on a year of unfortunate circumstances or bad decisions, welcoming a fresh start to begin anew.  Still others appreciate the year that just ended and are glad to begin another, excited to see what’s in store ahead.  Almost everyone makes a new year’s resolution, a promise to make themselves better, a plan to be more organized, more efficient, more in shape, more dedicated, or to quit a bad habit, such as smoking, nail biting, or drinking.

Self reflection is good for the soul and philosophical thinking helps us define the way we live and make decisions that shape our values.  And none of us are perfect; we can all use a little tweaking here or there to make some changes in our lives.  So a resolution for change is not a particularly bad idea.  The problem is, however, that many, if not most (all?) resolutions are broken, empty promises that we strive to fulfill but are never able to keep.  It’s like trying to achieve world peace when all we really need to achieve is a little peace in our world.

This New Year, I’m skipping the list of resolutions.  I’m not resolving to turn critical thoughts into more positive observations, to keep my house cleaner, stay off Facebook and Twitter to make my life more efficient, all of which would be positive changes in my life, my family would surely agree.  To be honest, I really can’t keep those promises to myself.  I’m critical by nature and, though it’s irritating at best, it also makes me a highly productive and conscientious person.  My house is clean but cluttered. I’ve never been a neat freak and that’s not likely to change.  The computer is where I keep all of my organization and if I drift off onto social networking, well, it’s welcome adult interaction as a small break from keeping my children throughout the day, no different from those at work taking coffee breaks from their desk jobs.  I’m not making excuses, I’m just being realistic here.   Making these changes would be about as easy as achieving world peace.  At least in my world.

Instead I think I will focus on just that: achieving peace in my world.  I’m going to evaluate my decisions a little more carefully.  I want to make my decisions based on Love–with a capital L–the kind derived from the Joy leftover from Christmas that resonates through all the way to Easter and carries me throughout the year.  I want to surround myself with people that matter and events that are important and effect change in my community.  More than anything I want to focus on relationships.  I want to nurture relationships within my nuclear family, with my husband and each of my children, and I want to strengthen relationships with some of the precious friends I have been blessed with. I’m going to look for ways to relax my commitments to things that don’t really matter so much and be a “yes” girl to things that do.  If there’s a way to volunteer I want to do it, especially if there’s not a way to be recognized for it.  If there’s a way to serve, I want to sign up, especially if I don’t have to attend a meeting or be in charge of the project.  I want to be the Indian and not the Chief, all year long.

Maybe I won’t be recognized for achieving world peace in 2012.  But maybe I’ll achieve a little peace in my world.

What about you?  Add your resolutions below!

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Where is Elfie? (Or Buddy? Or Al?): Random thoughts on that Elf on the Shelf

16 Dec

My friends are so creative, as are many Mrs. Clauses all over the Internets sharing their Elf escapades.

You know, like the one where the kids thought Buddy, the family Elf, had been making s’mores with candles the night before.

Or the one where Elfie was up all night playing cards with friends!

Elf with a pick up line!


Elf with a marker — whaaat?!

There are lists upon lists to inspire moms of all ranges of creativity.

Well, all of that is really cute and all, but I am just not getting the whole Elf thing.

I spend my entire day picking up after my family of five.  Why in the world would I make an even bigger mess in the name of Elfdom?

And why is that crazy Elf so mischievous, anyway?  I thought the elves were helpful to Santa.  When I grew up, the story went that you had to be good because Santa and his elves were watching…so they could spend all their non-watching time making toys for the good boys an girls.  Elves were helpers.  Not rabble-rousers!

And why, oh why, does the Elf have such mystery and magic surrounding him?  We spend the first three years of life logically explaining that there ARE no monsters, boogie men are not real and the dark is nothing to be afraid of because the things we imagine are just that: imaginary.  And then we expect them to believe in a tooth fairy, an Easter bunny, and a Santa Claus, all of which are home invaders in the middle of the night, benevolent as they may be.  And we want to ADD to that another layer of confusion with the whole elf thing?  I’ve got plenty on my hands with explaining the whole Santa-sleigh-and-reindeer-covering-the-surface-of-the-world-in-an-evening theory.

Besides, my kids are pretty realistic.  They are not going to believe even for a minute in that plastic face (wearing makeup!) with the permanent grin that he comes alive at night and sleeps during the day.  Besides I obviously got to bed after they do each night, they would spot on know that I am designated Elf-mover, without a doubt.  Whose kids are really falling for this, anyway?  And are these parents the ones that are *so shocked and sad* when their very own children don’t believe in Santa anymore?  I mean, they’ve been trying that theory on something obviously not real.  Trying to press it on something maybe not real but I am not sure is pretty much going to dial it down into the I’m pretty sure none of this is real category in a further, faster fashion.

And then there is the whole business about Christmas time. And what it really means.  Before I get all preachy, let me just point out that December is decidedly and unequivocally the busiest month of the year.  I checked my let twice early this year and I am still baking, wrapping, shopping, and scurrying; I am not sure how people do it who wait till the last minute.  I have absolutely enjoyed every moment of this Advent season this year.  But I can assure you it has NOT been because I have added that “one more thing” to my already long to-do list.  When I’m ready for bed, I’m getting in bed.  I am not rolling the kitchen with toilet paper and framing Paulie the Elf for my crime.  (Only to have to pick all that trash up in the morning…as I am in the school rush of packing lunches and backpacks and finding sweaters, gloves and coats…)

And let me point out that if the ulterior motive for the Elf is to make children behave in the “Elferella is watching!” fashion, then let me also suggest that perhaps these parents have a bit more work ahead of them in the behavior management category.  I need no Elf to raise my children.  And I need no Elf management to justify my Santa spending.  My children probably get more that what they deserve for Christmas, but I’m not so ashamed of it that I have to make them submissive to feel like it’s justified.  I’m not being self- righteous, just elf-righteous.  I’m certainly not perfect but I don’t need his help.

I know I’m not alone here.  I’m not the only one mystified by the Elf-loving mommies who seemingly spend hours upon hours creatively brewing up mischief and mayhem for Mortimer the Elf to make for the next morning.

We are not the perfect family and we don’t want to take the humbug out of Christmas fun.  We are, however, celebrating our saviour’s birth this month, and that is the reason for our season.  It isn’t about elves or mischief or naught/nice lists or even santa.  While we do not correct our children’s “beliefs” in these departments we do not celebrate Advent for this reason.  Santa does make a visit on Christmas Eve, and thankfully, he does it without any help from Elfie.  Or Buddy, Max, Sophie or Sammy.

He just stops here because the spirit of Christ-mas has filled him with such joy that he wishes to share it.  And for that, we are glad recipients.

 

 

 

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

8 Dec

Advent season is a time of waiting. We are preparing our hearts for Jesus’ birthday by pondering the many precious details of the first Christmas.  My children’s favorite question during this season is “Can we do our Advent calendars??”

As with a lot of prized possessions in our house, we have three Advent calendars (how else would I negotiate the passing-down of things later?!).  And then this year, we added a disposable fourth.  

My (former) favorite is our oldest calendar.  Below Joseph, circa 2006, demonstrates our use of this calendar and the story that goes along with it.

(Incidentally, here he is reciting the story several years later, in 2010. One of my proudest moments!)

Lest you think we are busy polishing our halos whilst you read our blog, however, I shall introduce you to the children’s favorite Advent calendar:

Photos from Dec 7, 2011

The LEGO STAR WARS Advent Calendar! I mean if it isn’t cool enough that it is made by LEGO, it achieves ultimate awesomeness with its STAR WARS theme.  Each day a new flap is opened to reveal 15-20 teeninsy pieces that they put together (instructions inside flap) to create a Lego creation.  Rumor has it that Santa Yoda will appear on Day 24.  We’ll see!  Totally sacrilegious  secular but still fun.  Although this is not a “keeper” calendar, we do get a LEGO calendar yearly.  LEGO has many styles of these calendars available each year, in City versions and, this year, Star Wars, as shown.

Our other Advent calendar was a gift to our family this year.  It has become my favorite!  This calendar by Kurt Adler is a magnetic style calendar which can be hung on the wall or can sit alone.  Each door reveals a wooden magnet that can be attached to the board.  It is beautiful!  And now, my favorite.
Photos from Dec 7, 2011

For gifts to share with friends this year we gave Usborne’s Advent Calendar to Color.  Sturdy hardback board books, they were a great price point at only $7.99 each and they are perfect for littler children too.  Each day my children take turns opening the flaps and then coloring the area around the flap they opened.  We will have a lovely masterpiece when we are finished!

Photos from Dec 7, 2011

Photos from Dec 7, 2011

Advent truly is a season of expectation.  When my children start annoying me each morning by asking WHEN they can do this tradition that we do each night before they go to bed, I remind myself that the most important part of the season is teaching them how to expect hope.  When we know in our hearts the assurance that Jesus is, indeed, coming, we can surely prepare room for him there, all day long, all season long.  And if the season is special enough, maybe it will even last throughout the coming year.

The Wisemen Brought Three Gifts, So Wisely

25 Nov

I don’t give my sister a gift for my neighbor’s birthday. Nor do I buy my husband a gift when it’s time to gather friends to celebrate my best friend’s day of birth.

So why do we give each other gifts for Jesus’ birthday?

In our family, we believe in the spirit of giving as a way to share the gratitude for the love Christ has given to us. In other words, we are so thankful for Christ’s birth that we want to share the joy by giving to others.  This includes our children.  However, it is hard for our children not to get hijacked by Santa Clause.  Of course we participate with Santa also, but we don’t deviate far from our values by asking our children to request only one gift from Santa.  And, we tell them, in return, Santa will leave three gifts for them.  There are gifts in the story of Jesus’ birth:  the three wisemen each brought a gift to the baby Jesus.  If three gifts were enough for our newborn savior king, then three gifts should leave us plenty thankful, too.

Here is a picture of Joseph’s first Christmas, and his sheer delight as he opened his gifts:

Photos from 2004 December

The next year he was old enough to make requests.  He asked for this “wee-do” (also called a weed eater to those of you who are picky about pronunciations) and he played with it all winter and spring.

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

Santa was very gracious to bring him a basketball goal as well.

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

As Joseph’s requests have always been quite simple, the next year all he wanted was a standard issue red fire truck.  Santa did deliver!  He also brought a Rheneas roller coaster train set as well as some cool building blocks.  The fire truck was the hit of the next eighteen months.  The kid knows what he wants.

Photos from 2006 December christmas

Belle, a new addition that Christmas, got a kitchen set (seen in above picture), a pink chair, and this outdoor wheelie toy (fire engine not included).

Photos from 2006 December christmas

In 2007 we had another addition to the family, but she was brand, brand new.  The big kids were surprised to find that Santa does, in fact, visit 5-day old children!  Anna Clare received an interactive blanket, a stacking ring toy, and a stuffed elephant.  Belle got two riding toys and an Elmo computer, none of which worked by spring. :/ Joseph, a big Toy Story fan that year, was shocked to find the actual Toy Story remote control car with Buzz Lightyear.  Plus he got a Leapster and a Chalktracker truck.  Buzz only recently was stowed in the toy trunk for safekeeping.

Photo from 2007 Belle December

The toys really changed in 2008.  All Joseph asked for was a real football!  He was also happy to find Lincoln Logs and Wall-E, the Kelly family movie of the year, surprised him as a “real robot.”

Photo from 2008 December J3

Belle gave this easel a full workout only minutes after seeing it.  The dollhouse was a marginal hit, and Eve (to go with Wall-E) was actually the only thing she wanted for Christmas.  Unseen are Anna Clare’s 2008 gifts:  a riding toy, a walker toy, and a musical instrument set.

Photos from 2009 December Belle

Anna Clare had not asked for anything in 2009 but is still absolutely crazy about Mickey and friends, and the Disney toys seen below are still her very favorite toys.  Amazing.

Photo from 2009 December AC

For Joseph 2009 was year of the Legos.  And Star Wars.  And cars.  And Santa brought a gift in each category.  These have all three proven to stand the test of time in this house as well.  Great classics.

Photos from 2009 December J3

In 2009 Belle wanted a Cinderella costume, deluxe set.  When she saw it, she nearly cried.  She barely played with her Polly Pocket fully outfitted Jet set or Disney listening discs.

Photo from 2009 December Belle

Last year, 2010, both girls got American Girl style dolls and Leaptag books. All Anna Clare had asked for was “a polar bear” so she got one, but is was sort of just an accessory to some other toys with more lasting power.  Since Belle was getting a doll, Anna Clare got a friend for her doll to play with.  The vanity was a fun addition as well.  Belle’s third gift was a Cinderella castle set.

Photos from 2010 December Christmas

Joseph’s gifts were Star Wars-themed.  He had asked for the X-wing fighter and Santa found it (barely). R2D2 was a great “real robot” and a genuine surprise.  The game table was a fun surprise also, and a great idea for when friends come to play.

Photos from 2010 December Christmas

Clearly, three gifts are plenty.  And when there are three children, three gifts per child make even more plentiful gifts.  Add to that a stocking per child, plus gifts between siblings, plus gifts from both sets of grandparents, parents, and friends, and you’ve got more gifts than the children can play with before next Christmas!

When the wisemen gave their gifts to Jesus, they gave sacrificial, large gifts, out of the generosity of their hearts, as a way to show their appreciation and love for the joy they felt about this newborn who would become their king and savior.  When we give gifts, we should give in the same spirit, and when we receive them, we should receive them graciously, without expectation, and with a sense of kindness and love, for we are sharing the same joy that beheld the wisemen so long ago.

Thank you, It’s Time for Christmas

24 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving night and that means it’s time to begin the Advent season in our house.

One of our favorite parts of the season is preparing the Christmas tree.  This is usually the very first thing we do the day after Thanksgiving.  Although we put up several trees for various rooms in our home, we carefully and thoughtfully select a live tree for our main tree.  It is usually a Fraser Fir and it fills our home with the aroma of winter.  Lovingly wrapped gifts are heaped beneath the tree for every person we can possibly remember during the season.  We decorate this tree with special ornaments, many of which have been given to us by special friends.  Choosing the tree is a main event to start the Advent season, and it starts the very minute we have cleaned the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers off our plates.

In 2004, Joseph’s first tree was in our rental house in Huntsville.  Since that time, we have tried to get a picture in front of the tree at some point during the season.

Photos from 2004 December

In 2005, I decided to combine the tree tradition with another of our favorite traditions, Christmas greeting cards.  I thought it would be a most fabulous idea to take the now-annual tree-shot and make it our Christmas greeting card.  We so look forward to getting Christmas cards during the Advent season, and we have always looked forward to the day when we could share similar joy with our friends and family near and far.  What better way than to put the tree photo as our Christmas card picture?

Oh my.

I hardly took into account that my almost-two-year old would not cooperate with looking at the camera…

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

…or would make extra special faces when he did…

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

…or would laugh with such gusto that his cherub face would blur…

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

…or would disassemble the tree, one ornament at a time.

Photos from 2005 December Christmas

*sigh*

The following year I gave him a chance to work out a little energy before we even started the photos:

Photos from 2006 December christmas

And, seeing that we had a little sister involved this year, he was pretty proud to show her off once we settled down and came inside.  Thank goodness for the year 2006.

Photos from 2006 December christmas

In 2007 things were not so easy.  We had to nix the tree shot.  Ornaments were flying.  I was pregnant with our third baby and I just really couldn’t fight the battles like I used to.  I gave them an activity and didn’t even care that they weren’t looking at the camera.  At least they weren’t crying, fighting, or dismantling the tree.

Photo from 2007 December Santa shirts

The next year was a total nightmare.  Anna Clare wasn’t old enough to sit up on her own, so she had to sit in the exersaucer to keep her upright.  I hired a photographer to get the annual tree-shot.  She came to take the picture but my children simply wouldn’t cooperate.  She didn’t get a single picture!  I was left to my own devices.  Just before we took this annual tree-shot, everyone was crying.  Belle really did unwrap the gift in her hand during the photo shoot.   My pre-printed card said “Joy! Joy! Joy!” on the bottom.  All I had was a card of three children screaming.  It just wasn’t going to do.  I took one last shot and–bingo–this is what I got:

Photos from 2009 December Belle

Not perfect, but it would have to suffice.

However, I learned a very important lesson:  Call a professional.

From that point forward, it’s no more tears.  We just call our favorite photographer and let her do the work.  She takes all of five minutes, and the kids love her.  We get a perfect shot every time.  She only takes outdoor, natural light photographs, but I’m willing to leave my tree out of the shot to achieve this:

Photo from 2009 December Cobb Christmas Pictures

I mean, we can always get the tree for our scrapbook, (and who really cares what we wear if it isn’t going on the Christmas card?!)

Photos from 2009 December J3

Here’s our “fun” tree the following year, 2010:

Photos from 2010 December Christmas

So our tradition has changed a little over time, but the ideas are still the same.  Here we are now on Thanksgiving night.  We have given thanks and counted our blessings and we are ready to prepare our hearts for Christ’s birthday.  We will begin tomorrow with our tree shopping.  As we are out selecting the perfect tree to decorate, many of our friends and family will find this in their mailboxes:

Photo from Nov 4, 2011

We hope it brings them — and you — much joy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Family Movie Night

23 Nov

Sunday is in four days and already I’m planning for 6:00.

I know what the snack will be: popcorn and juice.  Except my son prefers dry cereal instead of popcorn.

I know we will spread out the big pink blanket on our den floor and the kids will pick “one pillow and one animal each” to pile up and pick their spot.

I know we will turn out all the lights and close the blinds and make it “like the real movies.”

What is always a surprise to everyone is:  What movie are we watching?!

That, my friends, takes some real research.

Family movie night is a great family activity for everyone to enjoy together.  It is also a great way to relax and not have to spend a lot of energy enjoying the activity together.  It can be more than that, too, though.  Watching a movie as a family can make memories if the movie selection is thoughtful.  Movie can also create discussion among the family members that promotes healthy lifestyles.

Here are some tips for creating your own family movie night:

Set the stage. Turn out the lights, set up a pallet on the floor, and grab some snacks that everyone will think is a treat. Make everyone comfortable and cozy before you even start.

Make it an event. If your family calendar looks anything like mine, it’s hard to find everyone in one place at the same time.  We do this every Sunday night, two hours before bedtime.  It is just the best time that works for us.  There is an occasional Sunday that we are not able to schedule it, but for the most part, we look forward to this time each week.  Because we know this is the scheduled time, our whole family has come to view this as a major highlight to our week.  It has become a regular family tradition.

Do a little research. Choose a movie that will appeal to everyone.  This is a very personal decision from one family to the next, as parenting styles differ as far as how much violence, emotional content, or crude language should be introduced to children and at what ages.  Certain websites are devoted to helping with these specifics, such as Focus on the Family’s  Plugged In or Parent Previews.   These reviews can keep from any “surprises” showing up in the movie.  Sometimes I can read a movie review and I can discern whether or not my own children could handle the specific content in that particular movie.

Discuss thematic elements.  Movies are great teaching tools.  They can convey stories which evoke sympathy, compassion, a sense of justice, and moral conviction.  They can teach about nature and preservation or about expanding upon the gifts God has given us.  Looking for teachable moments in movies is a great way to get family discussion going.  It is also a great way to identify and verbalize your own family’s values and the ways you may differ from others.

Look at the classics.  Sometimes we watch a current hit, but more often we watch a throwback from my own childhood or a classic movie from even before that.  It can sometimes be challenging to find: if our local library doesn’t have it for lending, sometimes Redbox, Apple TV or OnDemand on Cable will come through for me.

So what are some good movies to watch?

The website Teach with Movies is a great place to look around for age-specific or theme based ideas.

And, while each family is different, here are some of the favorites from our family, with children ages 4, 6, and 8:

  • E. T.
  • My Side of the Mountain
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • In Search of Bobby Fisher
  • Free Willy
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • Everyone’s Hero

Enjoy your family movie night, and discuss it all week long!  Post back here and let me know if you have good movies to share!

Halloween

31 Oct

This year it was Disney themed costumes…for the girls…

IMG_5598

but because we have a little boy interested in Colonial history, we had a soldier on the loose…

IMG_5591

oh, wait.

Yes, do wait for it.

Make that TWO soldiers.

IMG_5602

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