Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas. We love it.

School's out! Christmas is around the corner! This is where, in a perfect world, my to-do list is almost done and I can read Christmas books, make and eat treats, and craft with my kids all the live-long day. I really am not a crafty person. But in my head, doing crafts with my kids with snacks and fun music on in the background--that is home. That is motherhood. Here's what we've been up to.

Christmas Cards 
I don't do Christmas cards. I'd blame it on my kids, but I never did do them. I have a tough time paying to develop photos and pay postage so someone can look at it and then chuck it. SO, we do homemade cards just for grandparents, who treasure them and keep them forever, I'm sure.

 This year, Edison was my most willing and enthusiastic participant in crafts.
Love him for that. I can't get enough of his handprints.
 (While painting, he had an itch. Or two.)
For part of our family service project this year, we wrote letters to all of the missionaries we know and sent them packages with treats. I was amazed at how much I felt the spirit as I put these packages together and addressed them to these awesome missionaries. Worth the effort. 

Popsicle Stick Snowflakes
 During the Santa Run downtown after Thanksgiving, we ate dinner at Rooster's on 25th and they had giant snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, made out of popsicle sticks. 
I told Hazel that we had to try it.
 We used hot glue, paint, glitter, gems. All very girly.

Hazel decided to spray paint hers two shades of blue. We ended up hanging these in our window.
 Edison brought some manliness to it all by mixing the red and green to make a nice dark brown, which he covered in glitter. His was a small snowflake for my tree.

Painting Pinecones
 I had a bag of cinnamon scented pinecones leftover from last year that I pulled out for the kids to paint.
 Paint + Glitter = Limitless possibilities.

 These turned out so cute that I had the girls use them for gifts for their teachers at school. Hazel made hers into an apple!
Warning: Glitter everywhere...always.

Gooey Snowmen
We did these just this morning! School is out and I was excited to have my two oldest girls join us for  a nice quality "Activity Time." We read a few Christmas books I picked up at the library. I love these books about snowmen by Caralyn Buehner:

Since we ended with these books, we decided to do a snowman craft and my oldest daughter, Hazel, had an idea she wanted us to try.

Basically, you cut out three circles, large to small, and stack them with a thick piece of cardboard in between each layer so there's space (we used foam stickers instead). I think they turned out cute and it was fun to let Hazel take the lead. I used to feel like activity time was a fail if the craft didn't turn out. Now it's a little easier to remember it's all about the time spent together folks. 
(I've had lots of failed crafts, lots of GREAT crafts with horrible unexpected 3 year old meltdowns--you never know how these things are going to turn out.)
 Hazel drew the circles for everyone and they set to work with their scissors.
 Because we actually had a half FULL bottle of Elmer's glue, I decided to mix my favorite concoction of glue + shaving cream for some SNOWMAN GOOP. Edison could hardly believe it.
 Added a little glitter for flare. I hope my son survives us.
 Once they cut out their circles, I had them add the goop onto the top, just to give the snowmen some life. It dries like puff paint. I love it.
 Plus it feels good in your fingers.

 Some of us took a lot longer with the scissors, but didn't give up.

 Like I said before, we glued a thick foam sticker in between each circle to give some depth.
 We bathed a bit in the goop.

 And then put handprints on the door. I told her to clean it up and then remembered that I have an irrational adoration of my kids' handprints, so they stayed. And more were added later, of course.
 We slipped in a scarf, nose and eyes and there you have it!

Once there was a snowman...
Here's a fun one to try. I cut out a paper spiral and glued it between my circles so that he could "grow" and "melt" while my kids sang "Once there was a snowman..."

A few years ago we started a tradition of allowing the kids to open their presents for one another on Christmas Eve, so they got the special attention they deserved. I love how excited they get when they see their sibling open a gift they paid for with their own money, or made with their own hands.
 I taught the girls how to "tie a quilt" for their dad. This is the closest I get to quilting.
(Hope he doesn't read this...)
 Eloise insisted on helping with the scissors, so she trimmed the edge, with support from Ed.
 Here they are, tired from tying.
 This year, they each had only saved about $8 to $10 (because they have NOT caught the vision of my system yet...) so we headed out to DI where they could afford some pretty great (used) toys for each other. Here Hazel is fixing up a Barbie that cost .50! Win win.
We definitely had moments where they really wanted to spend their money on what THEY wanted. I think good lessons are taught through this tradition.

Every year, we do a family service project. It has varied from taking dinner to a single mom every day for a week to delivering dolls to a local shelter. We always try to squeeze in some treat deliveries with our favorite: DOORBELL DITCHING. This was a huge success the first year we did it; because we only did it at one home. The next year, we expanded and delivered goodies to five families, but had to stop halfway because Eloise (barely three at the time) thought we were Trick-or-Treating and could not figure out why we were running away from the door! 

This year, we decided to throw out all logic and increase our deliveries to SIXTEEN houses. At house #2, Hazel was racing back to the van and slipped and ROLLED into the gutter, covering herself in mud. 

We decided to just knock and sing a Christmas carol to the rest of the homes after that.

This year the girls decided to pick out a few toys that they liked, but no longer needed, to give to a little girl that they love a lot in our ward. 
This is hands-down my favorite part of Christmas. I hope it's what they remember.

And THAT, is Phipps Christmas in a nutshell.
That, and THIS:

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pass, Fail, Complete.

Our oven is at least 15 years old. Just last year, the timer started randomly going off in the middle of the night, beeping continuously for hours. My painfully keen ear would hear it around 3 or 4 in the morning and I'd have to get out of bed, go downstairs, and angrily punch the "Clear" button. This went on for weeks, until it started happening even more frequently. It seemed to get worse right after we used the oven, going off two or three times during dinner. Then one day, when the timer had gone off for the third time during our meal, my husband reached back behind the oven, and unplugged it. We couldn't believe it had taken us this long to figure this out. Our cabinets had a gap just barely big enough for us to reach back and plug it in when we needed it. Now here we are one year later, doing just fine with our old lady oven.

I think my life as a mother is, sometimes, like my oven. I make a lot of mistakes, daily. No matter how many times I make a goal to stop yelling, I will succeed for a time, but inevitably I mess up. And I yell and act irrationally. And then I am flooded with guilt. I apologize. I repent. I journal and ask myself the same question: Why do I keep coming back to this point? That beeper keeps going off; sometimes it seems justified and I get why I feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere. But the beeping always returns, no matter how many times I reach out and push the "Clear/Restart" button.

Sometimes I think I'm just plain crazy and that I should just fill a prescription of some kind to numb my emotions. Sometimes I think I'm depressed, or have anxiety, or a severe hormonal imbalance (pretty sure all of those come with motherhood anyway...). But what to do? Where's my plug to STOP the blaring beeping mistakes I make on a daily basis?

When I was a missionary, I heard a quote that has stuck in my mind ever since: "Time will pass, will you?" Just writing it down tends to give me anxiety. But at the time, it was a good reminder that every day in the mission field was an opportunity to "pass"--to do my best and work hard to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. But now as a mom, I automatically sift my actions into a "pass" or "fail" column and believe that they somehow cancel each other out. Every time I fail, it cancels a previous success. (Timer goes off again).

I've been at war with a little emotion called "anger." I read in Five Love Languages for Children that "The greatest enemy towards encouraging our children is anger" and "Parents who have not learned to control their own anger can't teach their own children how to do so." [BEEP BEEP BEEP!]

How can I be a good mother to my children when I still have so much to learn? This morning I happened to read Matthew 5, the very end of which says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Of course I leaned in on the word, "perfect" (faint BEEP BEEP) and found that the word itself was translated from the Greek teleios, which means, "complete." The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means "to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish."

After speaking with some trusted friends about this, I started to see how both my mistakes AND my successes ADD to my progression. They don't cancel each other out at all! I have to "unplug" my natural tendency to feel shame when I "lose it" and to fall into the destructive cycle of beating myself up. I am human and I will always feel anger, because it is an emotion. And when I don't handle it well, it becomes an opportunity to learn how to handle it better NEXT TIME. My failures give weight and understanding to my successes.

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one." (2 Nephi 2:11)

Life is not a pass or fail. It is a process of falling, standing and waving out an apology, tuning out the beeps of shame and hopelessness, and trying again, knowing we'll fall, but we'll be stronger for it. Scraped knees never were anything to be ashamed of.

I've seen signs that say, "Sorry for the mess, but we live here." I want to put a sign on my forehead, and my kids' foreheads, that say, "Sorry for the mistakes, but I'm human." Every time I pause before reacting, think before judging, and hug before blaming, or talk softly instead of blowing up, I am gaining an ounce of trust from my children. And thus, our challenges and head-butts, failures and awful tear-filled "we're late for school and why on earth are your shoes in the backyard and your coat is missing and you never got socks on like I asked and what do you mean you don't want to eat your eggs??" kind of mornings are drops in the bucket. They mean something. They don't cancel out the good, they just make it mean so much more.

And. When my children see me apologize sincerely and try harder next time, hopefully, just hopefully, I am showing them that they too do not need to be perfect, just on the path to "complete."
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Family Home Evening on Service and Loving One Another

I do all I can to remind my kids the real reason we're celebrating Christmas. This year, I tried something new in an attempt to keep our focus on the Savior and His example of love and service. We did this on a Monday night, for our Family Night activity. We started out by watching this video on the Mormon Channel:

Then I read them the story of Jesus washing His disciples feet in John 13. I explained what He meant when he said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt 25:40). We talked a little bit about how doing kind things for others makes us feel happy, and how that's the kind of gift the Savior wants us to give to Him for Christmas.

Then I shared this poem, written by a dear friend, Debra Peterson:

I believe that God sends angels
to ease the burdens we must bare
and we rarely face affliction
without an angel there

but all angels aren't in Heaven
nor do they all have wings
and they seldom sound their trumpets
and not every angels sings

and they often remain anonymous
in the service that they give
and we rarely recognize them
or realize where they live

but if you'll pause for just a moment
when your neighbor's laundry is hung
you might just see a pair of wings
drying in the sun

© debra darrington peterson

We talked about how God sends angels to help others, and how often those angels are US! I referred back to The Coat and how that little boy was an angel to the boy who was cold, without a coat. I invited my kids to "PUT ON THEIR WINGS" this month, and be an angel for someone. The challenge was to ask this question, every day:
"Who needs me today?"
I told them about this famous movie quote, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." We decided that every time we "put on our angel wings" and did service for someone, we would get to hang a bell on our tree.
So far we have five bells on our tree. They are sweet reminders of how good it feels to do something kind for someone else. I love that there's no way to write our name on them either. We talked a bit about what "anonymous" means.
I look forward to the rest of this month as we continue to ask ourselves, "Who needs me today?" and I can ask my kids, "Did you put on your angel wings today?" 

How do you incorporate service into your Christmas traditions?

And lastly, here's a nice little reality shot for you, just in case you imagined this Family Night activity going smooth as buttuh.....

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