Having Fun is Exhausting

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It’s Saturday night and we just got back from a family outing to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN. It was a special treat, a reward to my younger kids who memorized 1 Corinthians 13 this fall semester. It was our first time visiting.

Let me tell you. Having fun is exhausting. At least this kind of fun. For those of you not from around here, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the Tourist Towns of the Smokies. Pigeon Forge (which we drove through to get to Gatlinburg) is one long strip of amusement attractions: minigolf, outlet malls, go-cart racetracks, ferris wheels, exotic museums, dinner-and-a-show places, buildings that are made to look upside down, a Titanic looking building, buildings with King Kong on top of them. It’s quite a sight. We have never taken our children to any of these attractions, but they were all quite delighted just to drive past all these crazy-looking places. My five year old exclaimed, “This is the funnest road ever!!” It was bumper-to-bumper traffic and by the time we got to Gatlinburg the traffic was barely crawling along. The sidewalks were overflowing with people, the parking lots and garages all had FULL signs on them and I felt a bit like I was at CARNIVAL or some such occasion, instead of a Saturday during Christmas break.

I am curious if it’s always like that, or was it just crazy because it’s Christmas and New Years? I wouldn’t know. Even though Gatlinburg is only an hour away (or so my GPS claims), I rarely go there. I haven’t driven down the main street in Gatlinburg in probably 8 years. Mostly because it’s just as I described it. Very touristy and full of people. (If you like touristy and lots of people, it is a very pretty little town, and everyone did seem to be having a lot of fun!)

So, after we finally found a parking place about a half mile away from the aquarium, we maneuvered our nine children through  large crowds (my oldest didn’t come….boo on her…yes I know you’re reading this sweetie…love you anyway!), and spent several hours at the aquarium. (When you fork out for 9 children to go to an aquarium, you figure they better look at every single exhibit and enjoy every single activity!) We split up, my oldest boy taking the next two oldest boys with him and my teen girls pairing up, but even then I still managed to lose the four year old once, got a bit snappy with my husband over who was watching which child, and ended up bribing all the kids with candy at the end, when we had to wait in line to pick up our family picture (conveniently taken for you when you first entered the building), (extra money, but we wanted photo evidence that we had had fun). Despite the hiccups, it was a successful trip.

We hiked the half mile back to the car, me holding tight to the four year old who hopped, skipped, and jumped as he careened down the sidewalk. We finally got to the car and I felt my shoulders lower about ten inches as I slowly relaxed from the stress of taking small children out in public. When we were leaving the parking garage, the traffic was so bad that we couldn’t turn left to go home the way we came, we had to turn right instead and just go with the flow. Which is why we ended up driving home a completely different way, through the Smoky Mountain Park to Wears Valley then Townsend then Marysville… The quiet side of the Smoky Mountains. My favorite side. Where we always end up when we go to the mountains. I needed that drive. The entire time we were in the park, the road ran right next to the river. There is something about flowing water that soothes the soul, calms the spirit, refreshes. There was mist on the mountaintops and the naked trees were gray and felt like winter. This was my idea of a nice time.

I am fortunate that I married someone with similar tastes to me. (Or maybe I just became so accustomed to my husband’s preferences, that I adopted them as my own). When we go out to have fun, we generally do something in nature. We’re not real keen on large crowds. I have never been to Dollywood, and I don’t really want to go. When there are big fairs or festivals, we skip. The Tennessee Valley Fair is held two blocks from our house every fall, and we have never gone. It’s just not our idea of a good time. But, we go to the river and splash around in the water. We go canoeing. We go biking. We take walks. We watch movies at home. We take long drives in the countryside. This is the kind of activity that I need to nourish my soul, refresh myself, relax.

As far as the kids are concerned, I don’t think it’s hurting them to miss out on all the “fun”. They do get opportunities every once in a while, like today, when we visited the aquarium. And having that kind of treat happen rarely makes it a lot more special.

So, hurray for trips to the aquarium, and Thank You Lord that they don’t happen often!

Fat Fridays: Week 1

I would very much like to start a blogging day devoted to weight loss. I think it would be cathartic (if you don’t know what that means, look it up). I think it would be encouraging and have a lot of potential for helping me understand some of my mental issues that revolve around food. I think there would be a lot of potential for encouragement from my readers. It would also likely give me a feeling of accountability to write about this journey, knowing that other people were expecting me to keep on and keep them informed about it. I can see a lot of good coming out if it.

And then I can see a lot of bad. Weight is such a sensitive subject. I mean Really Sensitive. I mean, I would rather talk to you about my sex life than to talk to you about my weight. In fact, knowing that my acquaintances were reading about my struggles with weight would make me embarrassed to show up in public. In fact, I start blushing even now, thinking about people at church reading about my weight loss issues. Especially men. I know that most women are familiar with the struggle to maintain a good weight, it’s something we joke about with each other because it seems that most of us understand. But, it seems to be a lot more of a foreign concept for men. I know my husband has grown a lot from when we first got married to now. He understands. Is understanding. Supportive. I trust him. But that was a hard-won trust. 19-years-of-marriage-worth of trust. I don’t particularly trust the random guy on the street to understand where I’m coming from or have any sympathy for my plight. In fact, I’m presuming that his attitude towards me, a stranger, would be rather uncomplimentary, in regards to my weight.

The question is, are all subjects really bloggable? Should all subjects be bloggable? The fact of the matter is, I know that if I was writing for a strictly female audience, I would have no problem being frank and open about my weight problems. But, this is a public blog, I have no control over who reads this. Which means I have to be resigned to writing to a co-ed audience. Weight loss is such a huge problem in our country these days. It really should be spoken about much more just because there are so many of us struggling with this, very real, health issue.

I was told by a trusted friend once, that she saw me as a fierce and bold person. This is rather surprising as I do not see myself this way at all. I would classify myself as mild-mannered, quiet, unassuming. Writing a blog about weight, to me, feels like a very bold undertaking. One where I would have to be vulnerable with the world and trust that God’s going to protect me, even as I make myself open to getting hurt. Can I be bold? I’m not sure. If me, writing about my weight issues somehow is going to help other people, then yes, I can be bold. I’m going to need a lot of hand-holding along the way though, as the very thought of being that honest rather terrifies me.

Well, here’s the plan. Fat Fridays. I will reserve Fridays to write about weight. Sundays and Wednesdays will be anything and everything, just not my weight journey. I’m not even sure I’m going to share my Friday posts regularly on my Facebook. At least not right away, not till I get a little more courage. I have a goal, a plan, a dream. I need to lose 100 pounds. Yikes. I want this coming year to be the year of victory. Maybe as I blog about it, I can overcome my mental hang-ups that always throw me off track and ultimately defeat me. Maybe I can encourage other people on their journey as well. We’ll see.

Post Christmas Blues

Holidays are strange things. The more you get hyped up about them, the lower you feel when they’re all over. Some article I read about emotional cycles said it was normal, if you have a big emotional high your emotions are going to swing low afterwards before they eventually even out again.

Christmas is a big high for me, an entire month of celebrating. Then Christmas night I feel that low feeling creeping in on me. What’s next? New Year. ugh. New Years for me is an odd mixture of disappointment as I look back at the past year and realize I didn’t accomplish half the goals I set out to accomplish, and then hope…maybe this next year will be better and I will finally make those positive changes to my life that I’ve been dreaming of for years.

Christmas night is also a good time to realize once again that: stuff doesn’t make us happy (as evidence, the kids still found something to fuss about); it’s really the people in our life that bring us joy (Christmas was fun because I was with my family); it’s more blessed to give than to receive (I think I had a lot more fun than my kids, just watching everyone open all the presents we got them); and in the end, we all need Jesus (as I felt the low encroaching on me, it was Jesus, not my new stuff or even my family that could calm my spirit and bring me peace again).

So, I”m going to end this with my cure for lowness. I’m going to be thankful. I am thankful that my husband and I had the resources to get our children gifts this year. I am thankful that my children put out effort on their own to get presents for each other. I am thankful my parents were able to come and spend time with us. I am thankful for my warm cozy house that has enough room for 10 kids. I am thankful for sparkly lights and candles and bright cheerful ornaments. I am thankful for my husband who worked alongside me Christmas Eve on all the last minute preparations even though he was burning up from a fever. And I am thankful for a grand big celebration of Jesus coming to earth. Thankful that he is Emmanuel, God with us. Thankful that Jesus is enough for my highs and my lows. Happy Post Christmas Everyone.

Not So Silent Night

It’s two days before Christmas and I am over-the-top busy getting ready for the big day. So, today I’m reposting something I put on Facebook last Christmas. Merry Christmas Everyone!

“Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright.” When I was a child this was my favorite Christmas Carol. I would always imagine a cold moonlit night, stars shining brightly, a big star shining down on a picturesque stable standing all alone on a beautiful hillside. Inside the stable were a couple adorable animals, all sleeping quietly, while Mary and Joseph sit on little stools, dressed impeccably, looking adoringly down on a beautiful infant who is glowing slightly and sleeping peacefully. You know the image I’m talking about, what we always see on Christmas cards.

Now, when I hear that song, I laugh quietly to myself.

“Silent night.” Hah. I doubt there was anything silent about that night. I have given birth 10 times. Yes, 10. I have had a labor that lasted over 24 hrs with 4 hrs of pushing, I’ve had induced labors with an epidural, I’ve had completely natural  births that lasted 4 hrs and completely natural births that lasted 90 minutes. It doesn’t matter how you go about it, the end result is the same. Lots of pain. Mess. Achiness. A feeling of being out-of-body. People around you are giving you instructions, you are doing everything you can to get through the pain, and your husband is trying to offer whatever support he can. And then when the baby is about to come out, the energy in the room suddenly increases and everyone is bustling, getting ready to welcome this newest addition to the world.

I imagine Mary, going through that birth experience in a stable. No sterile hospitals with running water. No ice-packs, no pain killers. No clean bedding. I don’t think Mary was alone during her birth. I am not an expert on the culture of Bethlehem at that time, but I have lived in cultures that were a lot more community oriented than what we have here in the US.  I’m pretty sure she had at least a midwife there, if not several other women who showed up just to help. And we all know that where two or more women are gathered there will be conversation. No. I don’t think it was very silent.

“All is Calm” No. Not really. The baby comes out and is handed to you and you are shaking so hard that you can hardly hold him. And then, there is that overwhelming panic as you look at this tiny bundle in your arms and you realize that it is up to you to keep this baby alive. It’s like a giant weight settles on your shoulders and your entire perspective on life shifts to this baby. From here on out, every decision you make will have to line up with the ultimate goal of providing for and protecting this little one.

But.. it was Holy. “Holy Night.” Yes. The birth of any child is enough to bring you to tears at the wonder of creation. To see this red-faced, wrinkly creature is a holy experience in itself. I remember tears streaming down my face, all pain forgotten for the moment, as I carefully cradled this little one. My child. This life came out of my body. I was in awe at the wonder of birth. I would think, for Mary, that experience was multiplied a hundred fold. Her child. God’s child. Hope born. A fulfillment of God’s promises. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Painful, messy, loud, chaotic, Holy Night.

Tradition!

Traditions. Most everyone’s got them. I love the Christmas traditions that my husband and I have created for our family. They’re very different from the ones I had as a child. Unlike my children, when I was a kid I did not have Christmas Stockings. I was vaguely aware that other kids did stockings, but never thought much about it. Our family tradition, passed down from my English mother, was that you laid an empty pillow case at the end of your bed and in the morning it would be full of presents. I remember the joy of waking up, realizing it’s Christmas, and then spotting the bulging pillow case.

We had a set routine for Christmas morning. The night before, my brother and I would barter with our parents on the earliest time that we could get up. They always won and we could never get them to agree to any earlier than 7 am. My brother would then set an alarm for 6:30, wake up and then tiptoe into my room, shaking me awake, whispering, “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!” My eyes would pop open and I would look and see my bulging pillowcase. My brother had his with him. We would then quietly walk out to the Christmas tree, dragging our pillowcases with us. Under the tree there were some other presents, mostly for my parents, but maybe a big present or two with our names on it that wouldn’t fit in our pillowcase. We would set down our pillowcases and check the time. 6:33. We had to wait till 7 to wake up our parents. That last half hour seemed to last for about 2 years. Simon would go in the kitchen and put the water on to boil. My mom had a requirement that we had to bring her a hot cup of tea when we woke her up. So we put the water on to boil and by 6:45 the tea was made. Fifteen more minutes. We went and stared at the presents. Squeezing some, looking to see whose names were on the big ones, looking into our pillowcases with longing…..WHEN WOULD IT BE 7?????

Finally at 6:59 we would figure we’d waited long enough. Rushing down the hall we would fling open their bedroom door yelling MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!! WAKE UP!!! HURRY UP!!! My dad would inevitably make some comment like, No, it’s not Christmas, you’ve got the wrong day, that’s tomorrow..NO!!!! GET UP, GET UP!!! My Mom would smile at our enthusiasm and tell us to wait for them in the living room. OK!! BUT HURRY!!

Several long minutes later my mom would come out in her robe and head straight to the kitchen to put the water on to boil again. I’m not sure why she asked us to bring her tea in bed because she was never satisfied with our luke-warm, weak, over-sugared tea and she would always discreetly pour it down the drain and make herself a fresh cup. More long minutes of waiting…AAAACKK!! Then my dad would make some comment like, I’m just going to shave and take a shower first.. And we would about fall over in a fit of impatience. NO DAD!!! JUST COME!!! Finally, a lifetime later, both our parents would be in the living room sitting on the couch and we could finally proceed. We would each take turns, my brother and I arguing over who got to go first. I would open my present, show everyone what it was, lots of exclamations from the family and then the next person would open one of their presents.

There were several traditions we did that were different from my other friends. My mom would always get a fruitcake or make a fruitcake. Fruitcakes, in my young opinion, were very disappointing things. They looked so pretty, so promising with all those bright colors, but every time I took a bite, it continued to taste like Yuck. My mom informed us that us not liking fruitcake just meant that she could have more. My mom would also make some kind of fancy fruit bread: yeast bread with nuts and raisins, shaped in some pretty way. One year she shaped the bread into a wreath and decorated it with hard candies which melted into sugar glass when she baked it.

The other tradition we did faithfully all through my growing up years was caroling. My dad would bring his guitar and my mom would have a hymn book or maybe photocopies of the most popular carols. We would usually try to invite other people along, but sometimes it was just our family. Usually we visited elderly people that my parents already knew. I loved climbing out of the car at night, feeling the strangeness of hearing the guitar strum out in someone’s yard or on their doorstep and the fun of singing. Usually we would end up going inside to say hello and we would end with a rousing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!” Then back to the car to head to the next destination.

You know, Christmas is about Jesus and I am all about keeping him in the center of the holiday, but it’s also a holiday. I think God is all for holidays. He certainly gave the ancient Jews plenty of celebrations and feasts to fill their year. I love the Christmas season. I love Christmas trees and stockings and presents. I love Christmas carols and the story of Jesus’ birth. Wise men, shepherds, angels. I love special food that only comes out once a year, and the feeling that everyone should be happy. I love how people reach out to be kind to others during this season. Angel tree gifts, filled stockings for children in need, Christmas parties. To me, it’s just all one big party, and I like to think that Jesus is sitting in the middle of all my blinking lights and tinsel and grinning at me while I happily write Christmas cards and wrap presents for my children.

Sacred Moments at the Annual Work Christmas Party

The Annual Work Christmas Party. Most people are familiar with this tradition. I do not actually have a “workplace”, but every year I dutifully trot out with my husband to his work party. For me, it is a foray into a strange world that I rarely interact with. Honestly, I’m usually a bit tense when I go. I am pretty sure that I am the only stay-at-home mom who attends these things and I admit to feeling a bit insecure. Especially the time, 2 years ago, when I attended and was 9 months pregnant. I endured all kinds of comments (because everyone knows that we have a large family). OH MY GOD! ….YOU ARE SO BIG!… I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GOT PREGNANT AGAIN!… WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP?? ..It was so much fun…Not. That, combined with the fact that they set up the party space with stand up tables and a dance floor and no chairs in sight, made it a rather long evening.

So, here we go again. It’s the one time of the year when I have to find something dressier than blue jeans and a sweater. I actually think I would enjoy the party a lot more if it was just my husband’s construction company. But, Andy’s boss, a well-to-do Englishman who develops property for the fun of it, as he is well past retirement age, is married to an equally successful business woman, Ms Patricia Nash, and the two of them decided some time back to combine their businesses Christmas Parties into one Big Party. So, we have a bunch of construction guys and then we have a bunch of fashion designers. It makes for an interesting party. Mostly the construction guys all hang out on one side of the room while the fashion designers hang out on the other side of the room and the bosses and managers try to circulate among everyone and break the ice.

The bosses are actually very nice people, very down to earth. Mr. Nash has no problem chatting it up  with Ronnie, a homeless guy my husband employed 5 years ago who has managed to keep his job and achieve some stability all this time, and Ms Patricia walks around dispensing hugs and air kisses to all and sundry. There is an open bar, a raffle, good food, and lots of dancing. Mr and Mrs Nash always make a point to get out on the dance floor, looking very cute together, and then try their best to entice the wallflowers to come join them. I try to make the wives and dates of the construction guys feel welcome and we stand and talk about kids, and teens, and work, and getting ready for Christmas.

So, last night proceeded as usual. Several people got amazingly drunk very early on in the party. As I watched the secretary being dragged out on the dance floor by her friends, and watched as the combination of drunkenness, spike heels, and attempting to dance, made her fall not once but twice, I couldn’t help thinking that she might do with some better friends. I watched as the young couples from the fashion design section got out and danced, some of them really good dancers, and then watched as the younger ones would video themselves dancing and then stand off to the side to watch a rerun of their dance, and then quickly upload it to social media. The music was so loud that the only way you could have a conversation was if you were speaking into someone’s ear.

Frankly I felt very out of place and wondered how long we had to stay. Andy and I had found one little bench pushed off to the side and we were sitting there watching the dancing when Ms. Nash came and sat down beside us. She started saying how much she admired me and the fact that I was raising 10 kids and how amazing it was that Andy and I were able to have a good marriage and work together in raising our family. And then she asked if we would share why we had decided to have so many kids. So I told her about how we had decided to let God be in charge of our family size and how, as we had more kids, we realized that we really enjoyed having a large family. It was a bizarre conversation to be having in this setting, shouting over the music. The Nashes finally took their leave of us, expressing genuine fondness for my husband and I. One of Andy’s coworkers finally persuaded us to take the dance floor for a while. We eventually checked the time and decided we had done our duty and could leave.

As we drove home I thought about the party. Definitely not my style. Not my comfort zone either. But it had been a good party. Even now, I am trying to pinpoint what made it good? A bunch of people who had very little in common all got together in one space and made an effort to be friendly to each other. People from a very wide range of social and economic statuses all joined together in one room to celebrate together. In this crazy world where we, as Christians, tend to compartmentalize our lives into “sacred” and “secular”, I can’t help thinking that sacred seems to have a way of showing up in the most secular settings. I think about my husband’s crew. Ronnie who got a second chance and has been succeeding. Then there’s the young man who somehow managed to get through a court-appointed rehab program and not only stuck it out, but has managed to stay clean for 3 plus years. He and his wife won the raffle and walked away with a nice Christmas bonus and I was so happy they won, knowing it was going to make their Christmas a lot more cheerful for them and their kids. Then there was the young couple who moved down to Knoxville together. She’s working, he’s in law school. They were talking about how they would be traveling around trying to see all their extended families for the holidays. There was my husband’s assistant showing pictures of his newest grandbaby on his phone. And the wife of one of the crew leaders telling me about her challenges with her teenage boy, same age as my boy. People. It was an evening of seeing people, getting glimpses into their lives. “Who is my neighbor?” These people. They are my neighbor. For some reason God said that loving him and then loving these people, that was the most important thing. And really, any time we have an opportunity to get a peek into someone’s life, it’s a sacred moment. Because as we peek into their lives, they become more real to us, less strangers, more neighbors, and it becomes easier to care about them, to feel an interest in their life. To pray for them, reach out to them. Share love. Yes. The Annual Work Christmas Party, a sacred moment.

Oh Christmas Stick, Oh Christmas Stick..

Christmas trees are one of my favorite parts of celebrating Christmas. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving sees our family going and getting a live Christmas Tree and putting it up in our house. My husband is in charge of putting up the tree, putting on the star on top and doing the lights. After that I’m in charge of handing ornaments to the kids and letting them put them wherever and however they want. Later, after they’ve all gone to bed, I go to the tree and try to spread the ornaments out a bit better so they’re not all clumped together in one spot. Not that the ornaments stay where I put them. What with toddlers, preschoolers, kids throwing frisbees at the tree (on accident!), and the general inability of children to not touch shiny sparkly things, the ornaments get moved, dropped, picked up, and moved again. Over and over again. It’s a continual work in progress. Every year we lose a good handful of ornaments that just break from all the mishandling. I have developed a philosophical attitude about the whole thing, and just buy new sets of plastic shiny balls every year and try to hang my favorites or the most breakable ones way at the top of the tree where no one can reach. (We do tall trees.) (We have high ceilings.) (Why not?).

When I was a kid my Christmas Tree experiences were a lot different from my kids. Probably the combination of both my parents growing up in the tropics, being missionaries, and moving around a lot, the Christmas tree was not a sacred thing. We always decorated something. Just not necessarily a Christmas Tree. I remember when I was very little, in Haiti, my parents chopping down some kind of tropical bush/tree thing that had lots of little round leaves. That was our Christmas tree. Another year we decorated one of my mom’s indoor plants/bushes. Another year, when we were living in a trailer and planning on having company over the holidays, my mom declared that we simply did not have room for a tree. Instead we decorated one of her tapestry wall hangings that happened to be in a triangular shape. Other years we had an old fake tree that always looked a bit scraggly. The important thing though, was that we decorated something! We made things look festive and cheerful.

I carried this loose expectations of a Christmas Tree with me when I left home. When I was in college and Christmas time came around, I decided on the Christmas Stick. Yeah, I was going home for Christmas, but I was going to be in my dorm for almost all of December, that was several weeks of Christmas Cheer that I didn’t want to miss out on. So, dragging my roommate with me, we went in search of the perfect Christmas Stick (basically you need something with lots of little twigs on it). We decorated it with lots of laughter and it’s happy blinking lights made me smile as I pushed through finals.

 

biolastick

When I was 20 I went back to Haiti for four months. I lived with my old piano teacher and helped out wherever I was needed. One of the places I was needed was at the mission school that was set up for the children of the missionaries. The small school had a couple teachers, but they were stretched thin and so I stepped in to teach math and science to the two sixth graders. We had fun. Christmas time came along and I determined that we must decorate our little classroom for Christmas. I did not have any stores available to buy shiny lights and pretty ornaments, so we got really basic. We made paper chains out of red and green construction paper. Then, I introduced them to the tradition of the Christmas Stick. We went out on an expedition to find the best stick ever and then worked out a way to keep it standing upright. We decorated the tree with paper chains and then used string to tie on our “ornaments” which were pencils and rulers and a nice shiny cd for the star. I admit, it was rather homely, but it made us happy and made the classroom feel cheerful.

jerichostick

 

After I got married I got to join in my husband’s tradition which was to get a live Christmas Tree every year. Yay! I kind of forgot about the Christmas Stick tradition. Then, this year we had cousins come to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. One of the young cousins asked if we could make a Thankful Tree. I said sure! She went out and found some nice sticks, set them up in a coffee can and then cut out leaves. Everyone wrote down things they were thankful for on the leaves and then we tied them to the tree with string. It looked very cheerful and was a great way to remind our kids about being thankful. We set the tree up in the center of our table for the big meal and just left it there.

After the cousins had left, we slowly got into the swing of decorating the house for Christmas. I was idly standing by the table, looking at the Thankful Tree and thinking I needed to take it down, when something suddenly clicked. Christmas Stick! I got excited! After a quick trip to the Dollar Store, I had everything I needed, the tradition had been revived!

christmasstick

 

I have no idea why silly things like Christmas sticks make me so happy. I’m just wired that way I guess. My kids roll their eyes at me, my husband smiles and shakes his head. But, deep down, I think everyone loves my Christmas Stick. 🙂