What is Christmas about?

It’s a question I know the answer to but one I’m asking myself every day around this time of year.  As the kids are growing, my heart wants so much to keep the craziness out of the season and to welcome a sense of peace and awe instead.

The simple story of Christmas is so profound, so beautiful and so humbling.


And it’s often so absent from the holiday entirely.

Before I say ‘so’ again, I just wanted to share a few ways we are trying to be deliberate about keeping the focus on the Gift that was given and hope that you will share any ways you’ve done the same!

  1. Last year we hosted an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filling party.  It was last minute, thrown together and small.  But as we sat and watched the DVD they sent us of children in poverty around the world opening their Christmas boxes filled with the simplest things – it was precious.  We were all blessed and it was a poignant reminder that even though many in our country have less than we’re used to, we still live in great abundance.
  2. We participate in an Adopt-a-Family program where we have gift specifics for a family in our community who can’t manage the basics of Christmas gifts.  The last two years Rylee and I have delivered these gifts together.
  3. We do the bulk of gift opening on various nights with family before Christmas and keep Christmas day sacred and simple.  There is no gift opening frenzy but there are new toys around.  I’ll write another post about this day specifically.
  4. With no TV, our kids don’t really know what they want.  When I asked them to help me with a list for them, honestly they had trouble.  They aren’t saints, they simply play with what they have, don’t go to toy stores and don’t see commercials every day for the latest thing.  While you could argue they are deprived, we’d disagree and say that it works for us!
  5. To make room for new things and to maintain the ‘others mentality’, we have the kids choose one thing each (at least) to give away to someone who would enjoy it.  Something cool and in good shape, not something destined for the trash.

If you have time and want to participate, the Operation Christmas Child organization is wonderful.  With one click on their website you can order a ‘party pack’ (mailed to you for free!) with all sorts of fun supplies, including a very moving DVD, coloring sheets, stickers and pictures of kids with their boxes.

I also read this post on simplemom that had some great ideas on helping your kids focus outward during Christmas.

These are some favorite books that have helped us to focus and mold our own traditions for Christmas as we have established our family.

Any ideas or traditions or books you would be willing to share on this topic?

According to the dig

If hundreds of years passed and our house was buried under dirt and rocks and archaeologists came to discover about the ancient Strovas civilization by carefully roping off quadrants and sifting through the rubble piece by piece, then these are the findings they would report (according the our mock bean box dig and study of archaeology/history this afternoon!):

They knew how to can their food.

They played baseball.

They could build things with their toys.

They could buy stuff.

They could cut things.

They could keep themselves clean and clip their nails.

They could drive or play with cars.

They had a baby with hair that needed to be in clips.

They could write.

They had electricity and could call people.

They had garbage.

They could cook and eat.

They had tools.

They drank beer.


I love this.


Not me Monday

Thank the LORD for Mondays, for do-overs and fresh beginnings…in MckMama fashion, here is my Not Me! list for this week.

I did not put an apple spice cake in the oven and wonder why, 20 minutes later I wasn’t smelling any ‘apple spice’ only to find that the oven was not turned on.  And this morning, I certainly didn’t feed such a cake to my children-not for breakfast!  I’m sure the lack of heat in the oven couldn’t be the reason it came out of the bundt pan looking like this:

October 2009 251

I did not use the word ‘freakin’ in front of one of my children while having an adult conversation and expressing my not-too-under-control emotions about something.

I did not utter these words sternly – “Why are we playing football with apples in my family room?”

Then 5 minutes later I also did not more sternly say – “Why are you playing baseball with the mini-pumpkin on the carpet?”  (As if off the carpet would have been any better…)

I did not have the inevitable “maybe we should send the kids to public school” talk after having an oh-so-less-than-wonderful-in-everyway kind of week around here.

I did not spend two blissful hours cleaning my house instead of reading a book and drinking coffee when my hubby took the kids for an outing.  No, I know when to take care of myself and when to obsess about CLEAN.

I did not realize for the millionth time that lest I think I have mastered some aspect of life, I have not.  The past always comes around and bites you in the rear, just when you least expect it.

I did not let my nephew and Audrey take bits out of every apple in the box this morning and then make applesauce with the apples…gross!  They are both too cute for their own good!

isaac and audie apples

Carvin’ up some fun

Saturday morning we went to a local pumpkin patch with Stephanie, Danielle, Todd, and Isaac.  It had rained significantly on Friday, so by the time we got there, it was pretty muddy.  You will have to wait to see some of the pictures to come from that day, but for now we will show you the vegetable of our labor.  We let the kids pick some nice pumpkins (they had to be able to lift the pumpkin into the wheelbarrow on their own).  Daddy cut open the tops and then each  of the kids took out the guts.  They each then chose something to go on the pumpkin and then watched as Daddy tried to come up with something that resembled what they were hoping for.  Going right to left: Rylee, Caleb, Kyler.  Maybe next year Audie will be able to lift one into the wheelbarrow.

Kyler Carve
Caleb Carve
Rylee Carve
Group Carve

Hugs vs. Swats

The hugs should win every day right?


Even when mom is sick and feels like she is not possibly going to survive the day?

Even when everyone has been on their worst behavior ever…all at the same time?

Even when all you want is to go to the bathroom alone for once in your life?

Even when for the hundredth time you have asked someone to put their shoes away?

Yes, even then.

Because there is always going to be something in the way.  There is always something else that could capture your attention.  Something that competes for a mama’s embrace.  Something that steals your time and leaves you with not quite enough _______ (energy, patience, compassion) as a result.  Apparently in my home, the something else’s are winning.  This was the conversation that transpired today in the van:

Kyler:  “I not like it when you give fwats (swats) mama.  It makes me so sad.”

Caleb:  “I like hugs better.”

Mama:  “I like hugs too, do you like hugs Rylee?”

(pause) Rylee:  “You don’t hug us very much mama.  You could hug us a lot more.”

Mama (silent then quietly):  “Yes, I will work on that.”

How sobering to have the unabashed insight of my 6 year old.  How humbling to be reminded that I need to not forget the needs for plain old lovin’ in the midst of daily life that can so easily sweep me away with it.

When they are grown and gone I want them to remember what a soft, sweet mama hug that lasts longer than you expected feels like.  I don’t really care if they remember to put their shoes inside the shoe bench.  I want them to know my love for them is unwavering as they conquer the path that is before them.

As I type this-close to midnight-a sleepy and sad almost 40 pound three year old sits in my lap with his arms draped around my neck.  Just when I’d like 10 minutes to myself, he decided he needs a little more lovin’ tonight.  Of course I could take this chance to teach him boundaries and bedtime rules and such.  Or I could just enjoy the warmth of his breath on my neck and know that soon he won’t want to sit on my lap anymore.

I’ll go with the warm breath tonight in a heartbeat.

Tricks of the (mother) trade – part 1

One of my favorite things is to gleen insight from others about how they make their life work, so in that spirit here are some of the ways I make it through my days…

*When I’m feeling my frustration level rise and my patience is gone, I start singing all my words to the kids.  It is impossible for me to yell or be angry when I’m talking to them in song.  It is magic for me.  Raising my voice is one of my biggest struggles.  Sing-talking forces me not to do it.  Songs from our Kindermusik CD are usually the ones I end up singing to, they are catchy and fun and my kids love them!

*The “5-item-pick-up” game we play.  When disorder is creeping in, I ask everyone to pause and pick up AND put away 5 items that are on the floor.  Suddenly there are 15 less things (Audrey can’t do it just yet) on the floor and we resume play!

*If my blood pressure is high and I’m really upset about something (usually someone blond and blue eyed)-I go to the bathroom.  I lock the door, count to ten or twenty and come out.  The space and quiet help me refocus and calm down.

*I might rather not admit this but if I know Chris will be gone 12+ hours (which is often lately – 15 hours yesterday!) and if the day is off to a rough start and nobody is happy, we pack into the van, grab a fresh CD to listen to and go for a drive for 30 minutes or so.  Everyone is stuck in a carseat, no one can do damage to anyone/anything.  And I go to my favorite drive thru coffee shop to say hello to Amy who makes the best coffee and always makes me smile.  It is a win-win.  Kind of like a ‘start over’ for our day, works wonders!

We’re still getting over some serious sickies here so my coping mechanism yesterday while I felt really sick was borrowing my neighbors little TV so the kids could watch movies.  I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have made it through the day without it – it was the first day I really truly missed having a TV since we ditched it this summer!

A lesson in toilet purchasing


You get what you pay for.  This is virtually true in every aspect of life.  I know sometimes we aren’t able to pay for the better option.  But sometimes getting the cheaper version ends up not being worth it in the end.

For instance-last year we had a major bathroom problem and no money to do the repair.  I wrote here about the sweet college student who came to do all the (hard and disgusting) work for free.  The boy was a saint.   But we still had to buy the toilet.  So naturally, given that it wasn’t in the budget to do a bathroom overhaul, we bought the cheapest one.  Not giving any thought to the fact that many small children use our bathroom all day long.  That toilet had to be ready to work hard.

When my husband called home at dinner time to say he’d be later than expected, I believe my words were something like “Our toilet is not sufficient.  It is not up to the task at hand.  It cannot manage our children and what they give it.  I have to go now.”

After surviving the week with the flu, the kids missing out on all their fun activites, driving the kids in the car all morning waiting for a prescription to be filled, having someone clean the house, realizing that I would miss my best friends baby shower/a special dinner with friends/our last family dinner before my parents go on a month long trip all due to said ‘flu’….you can imagine my dismay and temptation to scream at the top of my lungs when

someone yelled  “FLOOD!”

I ran to the bathroom.

The inept, incompetent, insufficient toilet had plugged up for the hundredth time.

But this time was special.  It had flooded almost out to the carpet in the hall.  It was standing raw sewage nicely sealed in by my recent top-notch caulking job along the flooring.  The smell overwhelmed me.

The fact that hours before we’d actually paid someone to clean that bathroom and it had sparkled, forced me to count to 10 and take a deep, nose-plugged breath as my four little people watched from the doorway.

I grabbed towels.  Most of the towels we own.  The older kids kept Audrey out of the way as I mopped and filled towel after towel of absolute nastiness trying not to gag every step of the way.

I don’t clean with bleach based products, we try to be green with our cleaning.  But in the moments after I got all the *stuff* cleaned up I was more than tempted to pour a bottle of bleach on the floor.  I rummaged around till I found some Pine-Sol.  I scrubbed and scrubbed for 20 minutes.

There was poop water on my jeans, my arms and my bare feet.

This had to be one of my least glamorous moments ever.

I took a quick shower.  I sprayed (a lot) of my new favorite perfume.  I could smell again.  I smelled dinner and realized it was still waiting for us on the stove, thank goodness it hadn’t burned.  I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have survived that.

We ate chicken soup and pumpkin bread and all was well in the world again (as well as life with four kids and the flu is!)

Next time we buy a toilet, it will be a good one.

Fall craft time

With a house full of sick ones we are laying low this week but it’s nice already doing school at home because we can still plug along on books and some things as we snuggle on the couch and drink tea together.  If anything we read more because everyone is slow and droopy.   I don’t have to fret about who can go to school and who can’t, how to make up work and all that.  So thankful (again) we are in this journey of learning together.

Last fall we made these lovely window hangings inspired by our friend Kim when she made them with her boys  and this year we decided to make them again.  It was so neat to see the way things change in a year.  The oldest two have so much more attention to detail and beauty and picked such a wonderful mix of ‘fall items’ on our nature walk.  We pressed them for two days under heavy boxes then completed these:

October 2009 055
October 2009 059
October 2009 062

All you need is some clear contact paper, string, a stick, some hot glue and some nicely pressed fall nature items.  Each kid chose different items and placed them on the contact paper just where they wanted them and I punched holes in the top to thread yarn through, glued the yarn around the stick and that’s it!

I really love autumn.  And I love having little artists around who love to make things with me!

Just Heard Thursday


This will be brief this week, sick kids and a tired mama are what we’ve got around here!


Kyler:  “Can I sleep with you mama?”

Mama:  “No, you may sleep in your own bed.  Rylee only sleeps in there on the floor because she is sick.”

(5 minutes go by)

Daddy:  “Don’t stick your finger in Rylee’s mouth Kyler, that’s gross.”

Rylee:  “I have germs Kyler, you don’t want to get sick.”

Kyler (exhuberant):  “I stick my finger in Rylee’s mouth, I get sick.  I get sick then I sleep in Mommy’s bed!”

(He then happily sticks his fingers at Rylee again, she’s quicker this time and he misses out – but seriously, that’s some logical thinking for a 3 year old!)


Rylee (in bed talking with Mama about death and other very deep things):  “When I’m in bed at night, I always look out my window to make sure no one’s there.”

Mama (concerned, trying to ease her fears):   “Have you ever seen anyone there?  Why are you worried?”

Rylee:  “No I haven’t but I’m worried someone might come and break the window and steal Basil (our cat) out of my bed.  I try real hard to keep her head covered with my blankets so no one can see her.  She’s such a sweet kitty.”

That is so the phase she’s in right now-more worried about animals and someone taking her kitty than anything else!  As I write this, Basil is dressed in a pink tutu and a pink baby tank top and she is swaddled in a pink blanket.

Being real hurts

I have been thinking a great deal about the hard stuff of life lately. Instead of waiting for the next shoe to drop, I am trying to keep walking forward with my chin up. In my younger years (can I say that only being 30?) I did a fairly adequate job of protecting my heart. Not getting too attached to people, places, things-life definitely hurts less that way. It seemed like a good idea.

In the last three years I have felt more pain than all the rest of my life combined. Pain from all sides, all parts of life. Things far too deep to list out here, but great pain. Along with the feeling of my heart being split to pieces many times, interestingly, I have encountered a capacity to love and to feel that I did not know existed.

**I found this old post unfinished in my ‘drafts’ this week.  Above is what I’d written in January of this year.  We had just moved on from pastoring at the church that was our home (mine for 20 years, Chris’ for 12 years).

In January my pain and broken heart was more raw.  Now its October and I am able to see so much more of the good that has come out of changes that were beyond our control.  God has brought peace and healing and freedom that are indescribable.

On the flip side, I’m also able to see the jaded, cynical attitude that masks itself as pride.  It is ugly.  I also see sprouts of bitterness that though I tell myself they aren’t there-and really don’t want them to exist-their presence in the soil that is my life is undeniable.

This summer as we lugged our kids to church after church, I found myself wondering many things.

Because of where we’d been had I set some kind of ideal in my mind that would be impossible to find? (probably yes)

How would I know when we’d found a community of people we wanted to be a part of? (I might not…)

Why can’t our kids be part of our worship experience on Sundays?  Why do they have to be sent away to ‘kid time’-at one church there is even a sign posted explaining children are not allowed in the main room? (I haven’t figured this out, I’ve only got more questions about it)

How could we possibly start over after being connected so deeply with so many amazing people in one place for so long?

That last one is where my heart has struggled to answer and still has so far to go.  The process of dealing with change is so SLOW sometimes!  In the many months that have passed since January when I started this post, I can say for certain that it’s hard to stay open and vulnerable for a long time.  Maintaining that raw, authentic, open-to-anything state of existing is really difficult.

It was good to read those words and to be reminded of what I want to aim for.  Bitter and jaded with witty cynicism  isn’t my goal.  Grace and gratitude with words of love is much more the direction I want to head.

At least I’ve got one thing straight (lately, I think this may be the ONLY thing I’ve got figured out)…I may not be able to manage that tall order but I know Someone who can.

And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8