A Tree of Thankfulness

IMG_3951“What if all of the things you forgot to thank God for today were gone tomorrow?”

Wow. Whenever I see that quote, it really makes me think. It also reminds me that I should be thankful for so many of the things I take for granted. To give myself (and my kids) a visual to help remind us of all of the blessings we have, this year we made a Thankful Tree.

We used real tree branches that we found outside along with construction paper leaves that we cut out in autumn colors.

I didn’t have much trouble thinking of things to put on my leaves.

My parents. My grandparents. Healthy children. Pain-free days. A warm house to live in. America. Freedom. The ability to homeschool. A husband who loves me. Eyes to see. A voice to speak. Ears to hear. My friends. My family. My faith. My “motherhood support group.” Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Veterans. The ability to read. Talents. Second chances. Mercy and grace.

As I wrote on my orange, red and yellow leaves, I thought about not only the things that I have, but the things that I don’t have: loneliness. An empty place in my life because of a deceased loved one. Grief. Empty arms. Depression. Some deadly disease. A life with no hope. Days without meaning. An addiction to drugs or gambling.

Now, as I’m writing these things down, I’m thinking of other things that I do have that wouldn’t really be considered as blessings. Things that I normally would complain about… but maybe I shouldn’t.

Chronic pain – it keeps me up at night, but those nights give me time to think and time to pray. Pain means I’m still alive, and well, it could be worse. Laundry – I have mountains of laundry that never get finished, but that means I have a houseful of precious people to care for and kids that are physically able to play outside and get dirty. Sinks full of dirty dishes – we have food to eat while most of the world does not. How dare I complain that I have to clean up the kitchen? Dirty floors – the vast majority of people in the world only have dirt floors. So what if mine is covered in toast crumbs? A leaky faucet means we have running water. Hectic days – I have important things to accomplish.

Yes, if I let myself truly think about it, my list would go on and on.

I think I’m going to need some more construction paper.

Three Already?

“Are you Mommy’s little monkey?”

“No! I not,” my little Jedidiah answers.

“Well, are you a little stinker, then?”

“No! I not dat eider!” he yells, jumping up and down.

“Then what are you?” I ask.

He runs over to me, throws his little arms around my neck and says, “I Mommy’s baby boy!”

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I’ve been procrastinating about writing this down because it makes my heart hurt. Today my baby boy turns three years old. He’s my youngest and probably my last, and I love him so much that I almost can’t stand it.

When he’s asleep, I sneak into his room and hold his pudgy little hand that’s stained with green magic marker. I look at his angelic little face and his perfect nose and his chubby cheeks and little boy hair cut. He snuggles with his dinosaur and his “Mousie” that’s really a koala bear. His “fuzzy” (a tiny piece of blue-green yarn from his favorite blanket) is in between his thumb and index finger so he can roll it back and forth and put it next to his nose. His Farmer for a Day book and Animal Babies book are stacked on his nightstand next to his toy train engine, a matchbox car and a plastic tiger.

What is it about this little boy that is so amazingly wonderful? Is it his boundless energy? His rambunctious zest for life? His love for all things dirty and messy and fast and loud? His ability to tear up an anvil with a rubber hammer? The way he loves to watch football and play beanbags? The way he wants to do “work” with Dad and bring his little tool box and his backpack along?

Or maybe it’s how he always says, “I help you, Mom?” And “Good mo-nin’ Dad!” or the way he loves to snuggle first thing in the morning “under da covers.”

Or maybe it’s how he’s so amazed by the world, like the first time he saw the night sky unimpeded by any light pollution: “Ahh! Stars! Wook! Stars! Stars ever-where! Ohhhh. I want dose stars.”

Or the way he runs all over the place, because there’s so much to do! So much to see! So much life to live!

Or his innate funniness, like when I had both hands (and arms) full of library books, towels, lunchboxes, sand toys and a beach umbrella and I asked him if he could open the door for me. He pointed to the single tiny inflatable arm-floatie he was holding and said, “I can’t. I got dis.”

Or when I was helping him dry off after his bath and he wanted me to hold him “like a baby.” I wrapped him up in his towel and held him. With his hair covered up, his little face looked like it did two years ago and he DID look like a baby. I squeezed him and teared up. He said, “You cwyin’ Mom? Why you sad?” I said, “I just love you so much. Sometimes my heart fills up so full that the love comes out of my eyes.” He looked at me and said, “Huh. You weird, Mom.”

Whatever the reason, I have been beyond blessed for the past three years with this incredible little person. The name Jedidiah means “friend of God.” I pray that he will grow into that name. But no matter how big he gets, what he does, where he goes or how many birthdays he has, there’s something else that he will ALWAYS be:

Mommy’s baby boy.

Boxes of Love

I try to teach my children that it’s better to give than to receive.

Even if you aren’t a person of faith (which I am), this is not a bad rule to live by.

Since this is the month when we Americans usually take a step back and look at all the blessings in our lives, it’s only fitting that we also try to share some of those blessings with others.

One of the ways that my family does this is by sending shoebox gifts to poor children in under-developed countries around the world.

Usually we do one box per member of the family. The kids do one for a child the same age as them, and my husband and I each do one for an older child. This year, Sadie, who’s nine, decided she wanted to set a goal of ten boxes for our family instead of our usual six.

We collect things throughout the year to fill our boxes with: gloves and hats when they go on clearance in the spring; crayons and pencils and spiral notebooks when they’re on sale at back-to-school time; hard candy after Halloween. We have a drawer in the laundry room labeled “Shoebox Kids” that we throw things in for eleven months prior to the big day (the big day being our Shoebox Packing Party.)

Usually we spread everything out on the floor and fill our boxes together as a family. This year, we decided to invite some other family and friends over to join in the fun (and to share some cider, donuts and a giant bonfire with us.) If we were going to make ten boxes, why not shoot for twenty instead?

Friends and people from church donated hygiene items like soap and toothpaste, small toys, and school supplies to add to our supplies, so by the time the day of the party arrived, our house was overrun with stuff.

The girls and I sorted like crazy, filling bins and baskets with gum, candy, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bouncy balls, stuffed animals, pencils, crayons, markers, washcloths and all kinds of other things. By the time our fellow box packers arrived, we had a whole assembly line ready to go.
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My kids chose things carefully for their “new friends across the sea.” Josie made sure that the 8-year-old girl she was packing for got the special bride and groom doll set she loved. Sadie put in a necklace craft and a princess doll. Adelaide gave her 5-year-old counterpart a coloring book and lots of art supplies – along with a fuzzy dog. Jed didn’t care so much about the school supplies, but he wanted his friend to get a wind-up walking dinosaur, a ball and a toy tractor.

We made sure each child would also receive soap, a new washcloth, a toothbrush, toothpaste and markers, crayons, or colored pencils. We put little cups and collapsible water bottles in some boxes and sewing kits, rubber stamps, socks, and fuzzy blankets in others.

One thing that was new for us this year was the adding in of little LED flashlights to most of the boxes. I read an article that explained how many of the areas where shoeboxes are delivered are ravaged by war – many times there is absolutely no electricity and since some children are afraid of the dark, flashlights are most welcome.

We filled out All About Me pages, including photos of ourselves and a map showing our country and state, so each child would know where his or her gift originated. Last of all, we traced our hands on our box lids so we could “hold hands” with our new friends.

It’s a small thing – just a shoebox.

It contains things we take for granted. It’s filled with everyday necessities. It’s filled with little toys.

But when it comes from your heart – or from a child’s heart – it’s also filled with love.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

It was a dark and stormy night.

No, really. It was!

Halloween night turned out to be dark, rainy, windy and spooky. Just as it should be.

Grandma, a fellow Tolkien fan, came bearing green Frankenstein cupcakes as we were suiting up. She wanted to check out our pieced-together Lord of the Rings costumes (all thrift store finds) before we hit the road.

We had a hobbit (almost-3-year-old Jed), Lady Galadriel (5-year-old Adelaide), Arwen the elf princess (8-year-old Josie reminded us “I’m not the fancy one, I’m the one where she has a sword and she saves Frodo!”), and 9-year-old Sadie was a fairy. I know, I know, Lord of the Rings doesn’t have any fairies (that I know of, anyway), but hey, it kinda fit in with our theme.

(I’m hoping this isn’t the last year they’ll go along with my themes!)

My husband, aka Dad, was in the car first – Halloween has always been his favorite holiday, so he was ready to roll. Our first stop was at the library, where they had set up four little trick-or-treat stations throughout the building. In case you didn’t know, librarians love kids dressed as literary characters. The kids got candy, finger puppets, stickers, and creepy eyeball-shaped gum. “No thank you to that one!” Adelaide told the clown who was manning the eyeball-giving circulation desk.

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When we came out of the library, the rain was really coming down. Luckily, the kids all wore rain boots that sort of blended in with their costumes – and Jed brought along a floppy felt hat that looked sort of “hobbity.” My husband brought the car around and we buckled up (which is hard to do when you have on wings, a long blond wig, a long sword, and/or a hobbit hat) and set off for Grammie’s and Grampie’s house.

Judging from the weather situation, we thought that their house might be the only place we went to trick or treat, since all the other houses might be closed for business. But we were surprised to see that this particular neighborhood was creepy, foggy, Halloween Central.

There were kids in costumes everywhere, braving the fat raindrops that splashed us as we jumped in and out of the car. It was wet and muddy, but at least it wasn’t super cold.

The wind blew the smoke from the smoke machines across the slick black road. The flashing orange and purple lights strung throughout the trees reflected in the puddles on the sidewalks. It was creepy. And dark. It made me want to be a costume-wearing, loot-collecting kid again.

It was fun to watch our kids running, one after the other, with the girls in age order and their little brother always a few steps behind. “Hey! Guys! Wait for me!” The girls would remember to help him up and down porch steps whenever he held out his little hand to them.

We all liked looking for the cool designs people carved into their pumpkins. Sadie and I especially liked one jack-o-lantern that had the shape of a kid’s hands carved next to a heart for the light to shine through.

At one house, they had really outdone themselves. There were skulls, witches, giant spiderwebs, cauldrons, a zombie, freaky Halloween music, a live scarecrow, and a VERY creepy guy in a grotesque mask standing very still in the trees right next to the sidewalk.

Sadie, Josie, and Jed marched right up past the freakiness to the lady/witch of the house and said “Trick or treat!” “Tick or tweet!” and “Happy Halloween!” But Adelaide froze at the side of the driveway, with a deer-in-the-headlights look. She refused to budge and then started to cry. “Don’t worry Adelaide,” said Josie. “I’ll get some candy for you!” She asked the lady, “Um, excuse me… Could I get some candy for my scared sister? That’s her crying over there.”

Jed, who started out looking like a mini-hobbit, had gotten thoroughly damp from splashing in every puddle he could find. This caused somewhat of a metamorphosis involving his hat and his cloak. With his squished little hobbit hat, he looked more like the outlaw Josey Wales than Frodo. But he was still offended when a man giving out Kit-Kats said, “Hey, now, look at the little cowboy!”

Jed ceased putting his candy into his bag and looked up at the man and said, very slowly:

“I. a. HOBBIT.”

Once back inside the warm, dry car, we headed for home. “Wow! I didn’t think we’d get anything and we got a LOT!” said Sadie. “I can’t wait to get home and get this sorted out!”

Sure enough, once we got home and everyone had changed into dry clothes, piles of candy materialized from various pillow cases and the sorting and stacking began. Dad and I exacted our “candy tax” in the form of some Snickers and an Oh Henry! and enjoyed watching the rest of the bargaining and exchanging.

“Who has gummies? I’ll trade you these M&Ms for those Starburst! Like it. Don’t like it. Like it. Ew, what’s a Heath?”

Then I heard Adelaide ask, “Hey, what would you trade me for?”

Her dad, basking on the couch in his post-Halloween-with-little-kids glory, said through a mouthful of Swedish Fish:

“Oh, I wouldn’t trade you guys for anything.”