Category Archives: holidays

Reflections on Advent

From a Facebook conversation I had with our priest this week…my reflections on the Advent Season:

The idea of treating Advent like an active waiting and preparing season makes me (of course!) liken it to the late stages of pregnancy. Pregnancy is one long waiting and preparing season. I think, too, of what it must have been like for Mary in those remaining days: full of excitement, trepidation, wonder…

In maternity care, we talk about the difference between “Expectant Management” of labor and “Active Management.” (Basically, it’s the difference between the more hands-off, gentle and expectant-presence approach midwives tend to take vs. active, interventive methods employed by most OBs.) When I think of the advent season, I can apply both of these ideas: waiting to celebrate Christ’s birthday, we ought to be expectant: watching, observing, contemplating, preparing. Is it fair to say this quiet, contemplative approach is better than the “active” approach of bustling around: shopping, wrapping gifts, stressing over holiday feast preparations and begrudged family obligations?

Another thought I had today is to contemplate what must have been going through Mary’s mind during the remaining month prior to Christ’s birth (the month which we now call “Advent.”) Can you imagine the anticipation of not only waiting to meet your child for the first time, but the Child King of the World? If only we could all approach the Advent Season with the same level of anticipation and wonder Mary likely felt.

Impatience is a common problem for women in the remaining weeks of pregnancy: physical exhaustion, poor sleep, stomach upset, joint aches and pains…these can all add to a woman’s excitement for pregnancy to be over. In terms of Christmas, these aches and pains are translated into those mentioned above: tired feet from long-winded shopping sprees, exasperated emotions over creating holiday plans, financial strain from too much gift buying, sleep disturbances due to the stress of trying to wrap up end-of-year work tasks and, again we see what ought to be a peaceful, contemplative time turned frazzled and pressured.

I don’t mean to entirely romanticize Mary’s journey, nor simplify the present-day Christmas season: Mary had to travel a great distance on a donkey’s back (or some other beast of burden; or on foot) while in the remaining days of pregnancy. Most women I know can hardly stand to ride in a car over a bumpy road during the last trimester of pregnancy. I can only imagine Mary’s exhaustion, paired with trepidation about the up-coming childbirth process–one that was extremely deadly for many women in that time period. Modern day women worry over how their babies will fair during the childbirth process; I can only imagine the burden Mary must have felt at the responsibility of bringing forth God’s Son into the world, safe and sound—and amidst significant travel and poor sleeping accommodations. And, yet, what a wonderful burden. What an honor: the chosen one to bring Emanuel into the world for the benefit of all humankind.

Perhaps the penitent part of Advent is our burden: preparing ourselves through complex thought and challenging core honesty, for the transformation that Advent has the ability to bring about in each one of us. Childbirth, too, has the power to bring about immense change in a woman’ life, psyche and self knowledge (not to mention the loving support person(s) present during the birth). As we prepare to celebrate the birth of The King, can we also celebrate our own birth (transformation) into Christianity…made possible by Emanuel, the Christ child, God Is With Us?

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Google Doodle: The Wizard of Oz

As a little girl, I loved watching the Wizard of Oz once a year when it was re-broadcast in our viewing area.  I seem to think it was around Halloween when it would come on.

This morning, I was greeted by the following Google doodle:

Seeing this artistic rendition and having recently come across a watered-down version of the story to read to my kids (the flying monkeys and bad witches still have the potential to scare my kids at their ages) reminded me of the wonder of just how easily children can slip into imaginary lands, simply by way of suggestion.  The imagery and storyline offered in the Wizard of Oz provide an awesome springboard for kids to learn some pretty darned valuable lessons, all while experiencing otherwise logically implausible creatures, Technicolor backdrops and some good ol’ magic:  perseverance pays off; loyalty trumps almost all other things when it comes to friendship; courage, love and intelligence are all more related than we might sometimes tend to believe.

Thank you Google, for this lovely reminder of a 71-year-old American icon.  I can’t wait to watch the movie with my own kids, some day.

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Star Struck: San Francisco Ballet Company’s Swan Lake

Nearly seven years later (we celebrate our oldest child’s seventh birthday this Wednesday), I continue to be surprised at how differently the world looks to me through mother eyes.  Remember the first time you experienced Christmas (or insert equally important holiday) with a child, rather than being a child?  It totally changed the holiday for you, right?

Being a complete Christmas fanatic, perhaps it’s no surprise then that I keep having Christmas with Children experiences all over the place.  (Right now, I’m leaving out the derogatory ones…Grocery Shopping with Children, Clothes Shopping with Children, Dining with Children…)

This past weekend, as a special San Francisco surprise to our eldest in anticipation of her special day, the five of us headed into the city to watch the San Francisco Ballet Company perform the famed Swan Lake.  While I’d like to claim all five of us made it through the whole thing, that would be a lie.  Andrew spent all but the first fifteen minutes of the ballet outside the War Memorial Opera House auditorium, climbing stairs, running laps and otherwise burning off energy with our antsy three-year-old son.  (I know, I know:  what were we thinking, bringing a three-year-old to the ballet?  Well, we tried, right?)
This, however, was not the Star Struck, Watching Professional Ballet with Children moment I aim to impart.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself totally transported, utterly transfixed and covered in goose bumps on multiple occasions.

As a mom, I am so focused on the day-to-day process of maintaining a household, rearing kids, and eeking out some semblance of professional pursuits, that it seems moments of utter transportation to another realm, as promised in reading books, watching movies, ballets, plays and the like, are rare for me.  In short, the Mommy Brain is always hard at work, even in times of relaxation.

So in those brief moments when, flanked on either side by my seven- and five-year-old kids, I was utterly consumed by the music and poetic performance of dancers on stage, the swelling orchestral accompaniment, the tragic romance of the storyline and the magnificent movement of the dancers’ bodies.  And, as conscious brain once again took over I realized:  I haven’t felt like that in years.

And now, for a taste of the magic:

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Filed under From One Mother to Another, holidays, Kids, Living, Mommy and Motherhood

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

This past weekend was a “barn burner,” as my native Montanan husband would say.

Our six-year-old daughter was in her first “professional” dance performance this weekend–The Big Sky Dance Ensemble’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Compiled from ballet, hip hop, modern, tap, African, Irish dancing and more, this show tells the story of Santa traveling the world to bring a series of special gifts to a little Montanan girl named Taylor and her family–stacking dolls from Russia, a four leaf clover from Ireland, a bottle of the Northern Lights from, well, you know…and more.

For two months, we’ve been taking Ellie to Saturday morning rehearsals–some of them upwards of four hours long.  This past Friday, following her last day of school (a series of emotional good-byes…we’re now less than two weeks away from moving to San Fran, baby!) she had dress rehearsal.  Then again on Saturday morning (after nearly spraining her ankle wearing a plastic pair of princess high-heeled shoes!).

At 1:30 our out-of-town family visitors arrived to watch their grand daughter/niece/cousin perform.

By 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon it was show time.  Minus a few scene change issues  (Santa couldn’t get his sleigh off the stage at the end of Act I), from the audience’s perspective the show went off without a hitch.

Despite our three-year-old son getting his foot caught in the folding auditorium seat and two painfully long all-women barber shop style singing pieces, fun was had by all…and then the Hull clan retired to our home for pre-Christmas dinner and drinks and chaotic gift opening.  (During the adult gift exchange, my dear husband, Andrew , ended up with a howling, robotic leg-humping stuffed chihuahua named Humphrey.  Ahhh, the holidays!)

Sunday afternoon brought with it the final ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas performance, and our little hip hop dancing, miniature Rockette kicking daughter danced her heart out one more time.  I’m fairly sure she enjoyed the pre-show hair fixing and make-up applying every bit as much as being on stage.  Nonetheless, always the drama queen, for now, she’s found her niche.

This morning, wondering what other renditions of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas exist out there, I searched YouTube for the very same title.  Anyone old enough to remember TV programming from the ’50s and ’60s might remember the little diddy.  Enjoy.

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All I Want For Christmas…Helping Kids Understand the True Meaning of Christmas

Initial disclaimer:  I don’t claim to know the extent of the true meaning of Christmas.  What I do know is that it has a lot to do with love, hope, grace, trust, an ultimate gift and yes, even receiving.

Yesterday, while going through the motions of final school pick-ups for our kids before the Christmas break and–more significantly–our approaching move away from Montana, one of our middle son’s preschool teachers pulled me aside to share with me the particulars of a conversation she had with him that morning.

“He is so unique,” she started.  (Automatic Paranoid Parental interpretation: “He’s a trouble maker.  He’s difficult.”)
She continued:  “I love talking with him!  He has such interesting things to say…and the expression on his face…just like this,”  (she modeled a head cocked to the side, thoughtful expression, eyebrows furrowed, lids blinking)

“He told me his dad is coming home from a trip today and that the art projects Landon has been making here in class are all for his dad.  That his dad’s return from traveling is the gift in and of itself–that he doesn’t even want his dad to bring him a toy.”

It is better to give than to receive.

Of course, less than a week ago, I also overheard this same cherubic boy under the tree counting presents, followed by the exclamation, “Hey! Gabe has five presents under here and I only have four!  That’s no fair!”  Anxious to jump in and teach a timely lesson, I inserted into the conversation, “We are not going to start counting presents!  It doesn’t matter how many gifts are under that tree!  You need to be thankful for whatever you receive for Christmas!” (insert a huff and a sigh)

Last week, our rector at church–winding up for the big Christmas sermon that, I imagine, many clergy quite nearly loathe for the weighty responsibility it carries–presented us with an interesting take on Christmas gift giving.

“I like to give gifts,” he proclaimed.  “But I’m not very good at receiving gifts.”

A lofty personality trait, for sure.

But, no–that’s not the point he was getting at.  Fr. Clark is the first person to proclaim his humility on any given day, and being a poor recipient of gifts is a trait that, truthfully, I think many of us can relate to.

When a friend or neighbor offers you a hand with something, how often do you hear yourself responding, “Thanks anyway, but I’m fine.  I can handle it,” ?

It is sometimes difficult to humble ourselves enough to accept the help of others.

Think about this from a toddler’s perspective:  with so much desire for independence and drive to carve out a place for himself in the world, simple tasks like putting on shoes and brushing teeth have the potential to make a nightmare out of a morning–all because one little stubborn being refuses to accept the willing help of his or her parent.

It is better to give than to receive?

Fr. Clark’s message last week in church was all about receiving–receiving the gift of Christmas each and every day.  His focus, of course, was on receiving the kind of love wrapped up in sending His Son to us to save the world.  Now that is lofty.

But what about us on a more microscopic level?  Are we to go around everyday feeling thankful for God’s love and salvation through Christ?  If you are Christian, the obvious answer is, “of course.” But like Fr. Clark, many of us have a hard time doing this on a regular basis.  Many of us forget on a regular basis that that’s something we ought to strive for.

Down another level:  if we can’t go through our days being thankful recipients of The Greatest Gift Ever, can we at least try to be good recipients of everyday gifts?  Of friends’ and neighbors’ offers of help?  As parents can we accept the gift of our childrens’ independence…trusting that that is, in fact, what will drive them toward becoming sentient beings and functional adults…rather than always trying to be the “giver” of help and expediency?  Can we receive actual wrapped gifts with openness and appreciation no matter what lies within that odd-shaped package of shiny paper tied with a bow (instead of criticising the gift-giver’s intentions or taste–I still recall a friend’s description of a snowman statuette which her sister-in-law had given her for Christmas…’it’s like a Thalidomide snowman…look at those weird little stick arms!’)?

Side note: Dad,  we actually do appreciate the shower heads you gave us last year!

The giving of Christmas gifts is inspired by a whole lot of things before tv advertising and corporate marketing come into play:  The Three Kings’ gifts to the baby Jesus,  St. Nicholas’ gifts to the poor…God’s gift to us all embodied in His Son…

The importance of receiving of gifts is inspired by an even higher source.

Blessings to you, dear readers, during this season of giving and receiving.  May you give whole heartedly and receive openly and accepting.  May you teach your children to do the same.

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Winnie the Pooh and Friends Get a New Lease on Life

Last Friday, on NPR’s Morning Edition, I was gifted with the chance to relive a tiny bit of my childhood.  I got to hear recordings from the original Hundred Acre Wood adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Writer David Benedictus has been granted the awesome task of writing a new chapter–or ten–to the Hundred Acre Wood series of stories.  The new series has been penned Return to the Hundred Acre Wood and is indicative of one of the series’ apparent common themes:  Christopher Robin’s return to his old childhood friends after he’s grown up a bit.

Originally crafted by A. A. Milne in 1926 and illustrated by E. H. Shepard, Benedictus has worked for years to research every little bit about Pooh and his friends–including visiting the stretch of forest that Milne apparently took refuge in as inspiration for his own writings.  In his interview with Lynn Neary, Benedictus states that he believes he’s done a great job in recreating the imaginary land of Pooh, Piglet and the others, and even added a new character for audiences to love:

“Benedictus says one decision that involved some wrangling was the creation of a new character; he was determined there should be one, though his first concept — a grass snake — was not well-received.

‘There were those who thought a grass snake would be too scary for children,” explains Benedictus. So instead, the new character became Lottie the Otter, whom the author describes as “a bit of a snob and … a bit catty, too.'”

The new series is available now for a bargain price of $10.99 soft/$13.99 hardcover.  I’m not generally in the business of promoting products on this blog but–what an awesome gift this would make for a family with kids at just the right age!

If you could request another one of your childhood favorites be recreated…what would it be?

For me–definitely Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

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Got the Post-Holiday Blues?

With Christmas now behind us (but the Christmas season still present…remember:  Epiphany–the day the wisemen reportedly visited the infant king in the stable–didn’t happen until the twelfth day after Christ’s birth, which we celebrate on January 6th) we, like many families, are navigating the post Christmas blow over.  With lost naps to catch up on and a plethora of sweet treats to recover from, it always takes a solid week for Andrew and me to help our kids recalibrate after Christmas.

In our ego-centric, over indulged, Western milieu of a society, post-celebration-let-down is a common occurrence.  In a similar application, I wrote about this in A Dozen Invisible Pieces; likening it to the post-childbirth crash, often called “The Baby Blues,” or the post-marriage let down that a new mother, or new bride  suffers:

“…after some time, [the glow of pregnancy] begins to wane. I distinctly remember how it sadly faded following the birth of each of my children.  As sleep deprivation took over, and each baby passed his or her one month mark, whatever reverence had come my way slowly disappeared.  Even as I imagined I could still feel the child’s distant kicks within my womb, I became “just another mom” with “just another baby”.  Perhaps this is what leads to the strange sense of mourning many postpartum women experience.

Similar to the emotional crash that occurs shortly after a bride’s wedding day, the conversion from regal to ordinary deals a hefty blow.  After being the honored guest at her own baby shower(s), the main attraction at her numerous doctor’s appointments, and the hero in the delivery room, the metamorphosis from having been pampered, coddled, and prioritized to assuming a twenty-four-seven on-call status, now on the other end of the pampering and coddling… even the most humble of women can end up feeling a little dejected.   It is no wonder a new mother experiences the retreat of her recent magnetism like the wind being knocked out of her.

And so, with family visitors now gone, the Christmas tree still standing in the corner of our living room like a nearly forgotten sentinel, and a barrage of new toys, books and craft supplies strewn about the house, I am determined to fight the post holiday blues that my family’s circumstances enable us to contemplate.  But if I hear so much as a syllable that rings of “I’m bored…” coming from my kids, I will have plenty of ammunition at the ready.

Here are some ideas that have been percolating in my head as the reality of two more weeks of Christmas vacation stretch before us:

* with plenty of snow around these parts, we will continue to work on the sledding hill/snow fort/series of snow tunnels that have begun to take shape in our front yard.

* with butcher paper and a combination of colored pens, pencils and crayons, we will trace outlines of each child and allow them to decorate themselves to their heart’s content

* with a couple squirt bottles and some water and food coloring, we might spray designs into the expanse of snow that makes up our back yard

* in recognition of the thoughtfulness bestowed upon us by family and friends this holiday season, we will make home-made thank you cards and, if organized and energized enough, include photos of the kids using the gift given by each loved one

* after printing off a series of photos of family/friends at our local 24 hour (or instant) print shop, we might make photo collages of the people each of our three children deems most precious to them.  These collages can go on the walls of their rooms; a constant reminder of the love that surrounds them.

*after all the fudge and Christmas cookies have disappeared, and once I’m ready to dust off the baking gear again, I might teach my children how to make home-made bread (what kid wouldn’t love the privileg of pounding on a ball of dough?)

*As a writer, it’s my job to help my children appreciate the joy of writing and story telling.  Again, using butcher paper or even computer printer paper or construction paper, I might work together with my kids to design a story book.  Using their imaginations as the guide, I could transcribe the story they come up with and we could jointly work on illustrations.

*we will enjoy the company of other families with children of like ages who are also looking for some post holiday fun

*Let us not forget to encourage some independent play within out family.  Whether a child was showered with Christmas (Hanukah, Diwali, Kwanza…) gifts this past month, or sprinkled with just a meaningful gift or two, they ought to be encouraged to cherish those items chosen for them by loved ones or otherwise invent their own creative games and activities during this post-holiday lull.

So, those are my ideas.  What are yours?  How do you keep your kids inspired, entertained and active during the cool-down from the busy holiday season?


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