Lots of Stuff Happening

It’s been quite a week. I keep thinking, surely it’s Friday. Nope, still Wednesday. 

Yesterday we went to court and got custody of our foster daughter. 

I just learned today of the death from covid of a cousin in my father’s family. I did not know him, but I have become Facebook friends with his sister over the years, and my heart is grieving for them. His wife is still in the hospital with covid and another of their family just died of covid as well. Please keep them in your prayers. 

I just got news this afternoon that our schools will be going virtual for our final week before Christmas break. I’m very thankful that our elementary school has managed to stay open all semester, but I know this next week will be challenging. 

Two other things happened that I won’t go into, but which also caused me a lot of stress. 

And it’s only Wednesday. 

Today, I have been searching for rest. My brain is at that point where it is now shutting down different areas to conserve energy. My son brought me his math work today to get some help. It was percentages. Seventh grade math. I watched the video to relearn the concept and then struggled through a couple word problems with him. I felt like my brain was moving in slow motion while I tried to apply the formula to each problem, and I finally said, you know what, let’s do this tomorrow. We’re done. 

I had a DCS worker in my home today. She needed a private place to talk to one of the kids, so I showed her into my cluttered, kinda messy bedroom. Here. This is the only private place in the house. I threw my blankets onto my bed, told her, just pretend like this bed is made, and walked out. And I felt no shame or anxiety. Those parts of my brain had apparently already shut down. 

I’ve moved the tv back to the house. (We’ve been tv-free since July.) I wanted to be able to watch Christmas movies, and I was also trying to be kind to myself, anticipating needing some tv-babysitting over the Christmas break. So, today, I let my little boys watch some tv shows while I took a short nap. 

Tonight I am writing and then I’m going to watch silly videos on Facebook and maybe look for a new book to read. But, I’ll probably crash into bed by 9 pm since my inner clock has been waking me up at 5:30 am lately.

Despite all the stress, I am feeling peace. God is on his throne. My problems aren’t too big for him. He has given me small moments of grace, like the purple sunrise I got to snap a pic of this morning. It’s Christmas time, my house is cozy. And, as people always like to point out, my life certainly isn’t boring. 

In Memory of My Aunt

I just got news that my Aunt Rachel passed away a couple hours ago. She had been fighting a long hard battle with cancer and today was the end. 

 

And I sit here. Feeling numb. 

 

I haven’t been in touch with my aunt, besides the occasional FB message, in years. Lots of reasons. Family is complicated. My relationship with my aunt was complicated. 

 

But, there was a time when it wasn’t. 

 

When I was six and half, we moved back to Kentucky from Haiti. My mother was planning on returning to school to become a Physician’s Assistant and we were looking at being in the States for the next five years. We settled into a little trailer on my Grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky. My grandparents were still living in Haiti as missionaries, and my Aunt Rachel and her two children and husband were living in my grandparents house. 

 

We were now neighbors. 

 

This was the mid 80s. My aunt homeschooled at a time when it wasn’t popular. She had an opinion about everything, and taught me the art of discussing a broad array of subjects. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. 

 

She taught me how to play piano. She would sit down and start playing something really fun, and then if we kids showed any interest at all, she was quick to sit us down and show us how to do it ourselves. She taught all of us kids (my two cousins, my brother and I, my next-door best friend and her sister) all kinds of fun duets on the piano. When I showed even more interest, she taught me about chords and inversions, and then she taught me how to play Fur Elise and how to jazz up Silent Night. She would sit and play Chopin and I would sit next to her, watching her fingers fly over the keys, mesmerized. 

 

Every summer my aunt would get on a kick. One summer it was roller skating. She made sure we all had skates and then made a big space on her porch and we would skate and skate. She taught us how to skate backwards, and do twists and turns, tricks. We would limbo with skates on. Another summer it was jump rope. She got out a big rope and attached it to a post on her porch and showed us how to swing it and then taught us how to jump in the front door, and jump in the back door. We learned how to jump with the steady beat of my aunt turning, the rope at just the right height, and then we learned how to jump to the erratic turnings of my little cousin who could barely get the rope high enough for us to get under. We knew all kinds of jump rope rhymes and had so much fun. 

 

One summer my aunt put up a volleyball net in her yard and taught us all how to play volleyball. She was an avid nature person too, and she knew the names of all the animals and plants and birds. She was a wealth of knowledge.

 

My aunt also had ponies. Ponies that she trained herself. She trained them how to respond to word commands and very gentle nudges of the reins. Heaven help the child who pulled on the bit or was rough with the ponies in any way. She taught us how to saddle them up and how to ride and we would spend hours riding through the wood trails. 

 

One summer she got a buggy and taught one of the ponies how to pull the buggy, then we would ride up and down the holler road in the buggy singing folk songs. 

 

In the winter, if we got enough snow, she would hitch up an old sleigh of sorts to the pony and would let us ride behind, whooshing through the snow. 

 

Later, she got her kids into gymnastics and she persuaded me to take gymnastic lessons with her kids for a while. My cousins far out-paced me, they had natural talent that I was lacking. But I remember her willingness to help drive me to the gym so I could learn too. 

 

She loved animals. Especially birds. She always had a pet bird of some sort perched on her shoulder or her head. At various times she had ponies, dogs, cats, snakes, pet rats, ducks, hedgehogs, frogs in aquariums, and a whole host of different kinds of birds. And there are probably some other animals that I have forgotten about. It was a child’s paradise. 

 

When I moved away at the age of eleven, back to Haiti, she was a constant correspondent. Her letters and cards were always full of stories and words of encouragement. She was convinced that all of us kids were the smartest kids in the world and was sure that we would be amazingly successful as adults. 

 

When I think of my aunt, those are the years that I remember. 

 

For various, complicated reasons, we fell out of touch, only keeping a hazy eye on each other via FB. But, when I heard that she had cancer and was not doing well, I reached out to her. Thanked her for being such a wonderful aunt to me when I was a child. Thanked her for passing on her love of music. Told her how, when I teach piano, I always think of the way she taught me, and I try to emulate her. 

 

She wrote back, kind words. 

 

I am glad that we had that moment. 

 

And my heart is numb. 

 

Thank you Aunt Rachel for being An Aunt Extraordinaire and for investing in my childhood. I pray for peace for your children and everyone else that you have left behind. 

 

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. 🙂