Out with the Old

December 30, 2011

Albeit a few days late, the boys and I celebrated Boxing Day today. We dumped all the baskets and methodically sorted out toys to give away. Our entire home is a cluttered mess so this is only a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done, but it was a great start. The boys were, for the first time ever, able to separate themselves from their fond memories.  Yes, this toy has been a great toy with years of memories, but we don’t need it anymore.  I’m so proud of them because that is a very difficult sentiment and requires a lot of maturity.

We encountered a few difficulties along the way, however. There were many toys we’d have loved to pass on, beloved sets of stuff we no longer use, but because of the huge number of younger children in our home every week we have to hold on to them and try to not let them become part of the clutter.

All in all, I think we did well.  It was such a good feeling to be finally rid of these things forever underfoot and no longer loved.  Fortunately I was feeling good about our efforts, those good feelings helped to bolster me from the sharp sting of anguish I felt when Paul came in with the mail announcing that our rent has been increased.  I’m having a hard time convincing myself that waking up in a warm bedroom was worth an extra $50 every month until forever.  Maybe we shouldn’t have reported the broken heater, and just dealt with the pervasive chill (especially since our downstairs is so drafty that heater or not I’m always cold.)

But we’re taking bags of stuff to the thrift store, and that is a good feeling.  I need to keep thinking on the positive.



December 29, 2011
Breadcloth by Proud Mum
Breadcloth, a photo by Proud Mum on Flickr.

I started this project in July of 2009. Granted, I didn’t work on this project non-stop as we all know I’ve done other projects in the meantime. Nevertheless, I am happy to report that after two and a half years it is finally done!

This linen cloth will be used in lieu of plastic wrap to drape over the bread dough as it rises. I’m very pleased with the result and can’t wait to use it on next week’s batch of bread.

Happy Christmas to ME!

(pattern from Cross Stitchers Club)

Regarding the Man in Red

December 28, 2011

For Family Home Evening last week I sat the children down and told them that we would soon have a visitor to our home. I asked them to guess who they think it may be while I give clues, and then I’d ask them at the end to tell me who they guessed. This man has a beard, he is often pictured wearing red, he loves children, he knows if you are sleeping or awake, if you’ve been bad or good. He has special gifts for all of us. He can enter our homes even when the doors are locked. You can never see him, but you can feel him. He hopes you will be good so you are ready when he comes. He has special powers. He gives us a wonderful, warm feeling inside.

Before I unveiled the photos I had with the answer, I asked each boy who they thought was coming. Red said, “Santa” and Blue said, “Jesus.” The photos I unveilled were both photos of Jesus and we talked about the similarities of the two and how Santa is a modern symbol of Jesus.

My children do believe in Santa Claus, although before we reached this stage I was very torn on the subject. Ultimately I decided that Christ and Santa could coexist in my children’s lives, and that the one could help the other. For our family I made the right choice; my children are so determined to believe that it really adds to the magic of childhood. (Two weeks ago Red saw an elf in his room as he was dressing for school. We do not participate in Elf on the Shelf.)

In our family Santa fills stockings with fruit, candy, nuts, and sometimes small toys. My children ask him for only one beloved toy (after being carefully groomed by their parents to not be greedy and ask for something so big that it would compromise Satna’s resources and run the risk of another child in the world not getting something.) Santa does not wrap the toys for our family. He presents them unwrapped, unpackaged, preassembled (batteries installed), ready for immediate play. The children come downstairs and can instantly play with the toy they’ve been thinking about nonstop for the past six weeks. Not only does it create magical instant gratification but it gives them something to play with if the morning goes at a slower pace than they would like. (We open our presents methodically, one at a time, and only after the presents are opened do we begin to assemble the toys.)

This magical period of childhood is so short, and I intend to hold on to every sparkling moment of it. Fortunately, it isn’t interfering with my children’s spiritual development; they are still developing a relationship with God, despite the onslaught of materialism. In fact, Red even asked last week, “just how did Santa get involved in Christmas?” demonstrating his knowledge that Christmas is about Christmas, but over time we’ve added all these shiny trappings.

Homemade Christmas 2011

December 27, 2011

Last Christmas, when my mother-in-law saw the nativity set I made for my brother-in-law and his family, she called us several times to tell us how much she loved it and would I ever consider making another one? I told her flatly, “no” because getting that project done (and on time) nearly killed me.

In January I had a change of heart. I realized that she had given me the greatest gift, letting me know with plenty of advance notice what would be her perfect Christmas present. How often do you know that you can give your mother-in-law exactly what she wants? THAT was a gift to me. And by starting in January I’d have enough time to complete the project without going crazy.

Amigurumi Nativity

In fact, I finished with enough time to make a set for my own mother. (I said to Paul, “why is it that I always do the best stuff for your family, but not mine?” He replied with, “Good question. Why do you do that?” So I began Mum’s set, which I also finished in time.

Amigurumi Nativity

After a search made short because I have very helpful friends I found the perfect storage box for the sets.

Nestled Together in Gift Box

2012 will be the year I crochet my own family’s nativity. I’ve already purchased the box, just the same but a little bigger as I think I’ll add a shepherd to the set, and maybe another little lamby.

The other element of homemade Christmas was the snowflake, 2011 version:
2011 Snowflake

I did make my brother-in-law a scarf, but as it was black photos wouldn’t have done it justice.  The best part was that the yarn I used was a blend of bamboo and silk — it was the softest I’d ever felt!

And I am working on something for myself.  If I finish before the New Year I will call it my Christmas gift.  *fingers crossed*

Christmas 2011

December 26, 2011

It took every ounce of energy I had to keep my eyes open. Sometimes I failed, and was out for several minutes before someone woke me up — somehow it was my turn to open another gift. Speaking was out of the question, not only was that too costly, energy-wise, but it defied gravity by expelling air upward, and I was doing everything I could to fight peristaltism.

When Mum was about nine years old, she got the mumps for Christmas. She was miserable. She moved from her bed to the couch to be with the family, but was too sick to care about anything, least of all her presents. Every time she told me this story I thought she was certainly exagerating — how could a child be possibly sick enough to not care for her presents?

I had never been sick on Christmas, but yesterday morning when Red came into our room and said, “I threw up in my bed,” my first thought was, “well that explains why I haven’t felt well the past couple of hours!”

We moved downstairs for the requisite festivities. Red rallied a few times over his presents, I, in the end, had Paul open my gifts. We sent Paul and Blue to church and we missed the baptism I’d been so eagerly anticipating. (They came home with reports that several other people were conspicuously absent from church, confirming that we’re sharing these germs with several of friends.) Then we sent Paul and Blue up to Paul’s brother’s house for the rest of the day. They feasted and celebrated while Red and I slept, watched movies, and did the opposite of feasting.

Yet it didn’t feel like the worst Christmas ever. I enjoyed just being with my little guy, although it broke my heart to see him run to the bathroom every half an hour, whimpering. Getting him more water took all the energy I had and required me to nap after I returned to my corner on the couch, but being able to sleep as soon as I closed my eyes, and whenever I closed my eyes was downright luxurious. I don’t remember the last time I’d done that! (Maybe drugged up in the hospital after Red’s birth?)

Everyone has to get sick sometime, and it was our turn. We’ve been blessed to never be sick on Christmas before. We learned that it’s not the end of the world. So we missed out on a fun family dinner, so what? There will be more.

A happy Christmas to you all. Be ye healthy or not, I hope you can appreciate the beauty of the season, and the peace of Christ.

(summary of the homemade parts of Christmas to be posted later)

A Work in Progress

December 24, 2011

I don’t remember how often we had piano recitals when I was growing up, but every single one of those recitals from my early days are all smashed together in the same memory. I would sit on the stairs connecting the two living rooms, with Megan Salmon and which ever other friends were there. I spent a lot of time contemplating the two baby grand pianos placed so that they nearly interlocked; one black, one white. I couldn’t wait till I was good enough that my duets required two pianos. (And when it happened I was no longer in Vernon and didn’t play the Tollestrup’s duelling pianos, but I got to play the Steinways at the Yukon Arts Center, so don’t feel badly for me.) With all the people crammed into that room, it was always warm, be it winter or summer.

I didn’t like introducing myself or my piece, but I could rush through that quickly enough and get myself on the bench, turning away from all those eyes on me. I did feel nervous when I played, but I was never overcome by my nerves because there was something nice about absorbing myself in the music. I was always happy to be done and to return to my place in the back with my friends, but the worst was yet to come. The worst part of performing was when the whole thing was over and people would talk to me and tell me I did well.

I didn’t like hearing them compliment me because I had always made at least one error and I thought they were just trying to be nice. I also didn’t like hearing them compliment me because it meant their attention was currently on me, and that their attention had previously been on me. (Yet, under all that insecurity, I did like hearing that I had played well. I wanted and needed the validation that all my hard work had been worth something.)

Even now, when asked to play in church, I make every attempt to play collaboratively with someone else. I am very comfortable in my role as accompanist. I am comfortable knowing that the eyes and ears are not all on me, and that when someone compliments me later I can divert the focus and praise to my partner. (“Yes, she sings beautifully,” or “oh, don’t you just love the tone she made with her cello? I think it’s my favourite instrument.” or “we had so much fun rehearsing!”)  It is quite rare that I play a solo.

Yesterday morning at a lesson I gave my student the wrong answer to a question. At the recital I ammended my statement, and made sure the entire family heard me not only say that I was wrong, but hear what I really wanted to say. I didn’t want any misconceptions. I feel likewise compelled to restate my feelings here, as well.

I had been talking to one of my students about the upcoming recital. I knew she had decided not to participate although she had done beautifully in May. I wasn’t set on convincing her that she must participate, but I wanted to share with her some of the concerns I have had in the past about performing.

I shared with the children in that family how much I dislike attention being focused on me. I kept it lighthearted by saying things like, “why do you think I only cut my hair every two and a half years?” and “can you even remember the last time I played a solo in church?” I gave them anecdotes of how I convinced people to dust off instruments they hadn’t played in six years just so I wouldn’t have to play alone.

One of the children asked, “why don’t you just tell Sister Shanklin ‘no’?” Their mother and I both chuckled and said that you can’t tell Sister Shanklin no. She’s just too nice, too sweet, too …

The rest of the day I pondered my response and I knew I hadn’t been accurate. It doesn’t matter how much she flatters me or tells me that she needs me; that isn’t the reason I don’t tell her no. The reason I don’t tell her no is because I know that I need to go outside of my own comfort zone in order to grow.

I may not like playing by myself in church. I may worry that if I play poorly it will distract from the Spirit but if I play well people will think I’m showing off. I may hide when I’m done so people can’t tell me that I did well. But every time I do it a little piece of my shell comes off and I find that confidence is not self-absorption and that I am building myself to be untethered by my childhood angst.

I am a work in progress, and I always will be. I will always straddle between my self-imposed limitations and my desire to be the person I know I could be. I will continue to read, seeking more knowledge and ideas. I will continue to find quiet time for self-reflection because I know that most of what bothers me in other people are things that are also within myself.  I’m learning to not take things so personally and to worry less about what other people think and more about what I think.  I’m learning to say no and stand up for myself.  I’m learning that while everyone says they hate it when people only show their “good” side no one actually wants to see or hear from your “other” side. I will always view the proverbial tomorrow as another chance to get things right. I’m learning to give myself a bit of a break when I act in a way I wish I hadn’t, and to use the guilt I feel to propel me to a better place, more in control so I don’t make that mistake again. I hope I live a very long life because I have so much improving to do. I refuse to wallow in a state I do not like, because I know that I am so much more than what I appear to be now, and that I won’t get there by allowing myself to remain here.

Christmas Recital

December 23, 2011

As a grownup, when we look back on our childhood memories, many of them are snapshots of emotion and colour, the visible details a little bit blurred, and they represent either a really major event, or a summary of many events. This year we’ve had a couple things that I have stopped to hope that this moment will be remembered forever. One of them was last Saturday morning at the Gardners that started as a piano lesson and went all the way to lunch. Another one was tonight.

Last year we decided not to have a Christmas recital because it felt like packing too much into an already crowded month. Last month Amiee informed me after her daughter’s piano lesson that we would be having a Christmas recital, that it would be a her place. Before December rolled around we had a date on the calendar and each of my students was learning a holiday piece.

Each child chose a piece fitting with his or her own family’s holiday celebrations, ranging from “the Dreidle Song” to “With Wondering Awe” to “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and while not everyone was able to attend (it being the middle of Hannukah and two days before Christmas…) everyone had something festive prepared for the grandparents.

It was 5:30 when we all arrived. Of course I had planned on being there a few minutes early to help set up and to greet people as they arrived but of course that didn’t happen. No matter that I didn’t arrive early, Amiee had her home so beautifully prepared for us — she is such a gracious hostess — everything was perfect.

The children were their charming selves, the parents happy and supportive. For those children who had played at the May recital everyone was amazed to hear the progress in their playing. For those children who are new to the group everyone was impressed with how much those students could already play after such a short time.

We all pitched in for pizza and had a lovely time chatting and getting to know each other better. Children from different schools banded together as though they had always known each other.

When we were all satieted we bundled up, and with the song sheets we’d created earlier with the words to the songs the children had performed, we set out to carol around the neighbourhood. Many of the children had never done so before, and I honestly can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve gone carolling, either. We had such a wonderful time. The children were charming and enthusiastic, we were all surprisingly in tune. We brought surprised joy to many people. At the home of some friends of a couple of the mothers in the group we were not only invited in to sing to all the party-goers, but begged for more “after I get my camera” and a couple of children even sat at their piano to play their tunes as we sang along. Their house was perfectly adorned, they and their guests were such attentive audience members, and it was one of those moments I hope the children remember when they’re old. They may not remember that house, but if they don’t, they’ll probably remember the thank you cookies they received from another house, or they’ll remember playing chase from one brightly decorated house to the next. Either way, everyone went home happy, and many of us will remember this for years to come.

If I have my way this’ll be a concrete memory, because I hereby declare this to be my new tradition. Each year my piano students will learn to play a holiday song of their choice (but with my guidance so that there aren’t many duplicates) and following the recital we will carol those songs through the neighbourhood.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Flowers from the Recital

(flowers from some of the parents for me — I am so spoiled!)