Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Christmas Eve has been a bit of a conundrum for me. Growing up my family knew the night before Christmas was spent at my grandparents’ house. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and family would gather at the family home and celebrate with gifts and good food. Pa would be standing at the stove all night cooking up the linguica. Nana would make sure there was a present for everyone under the tree, even just those who were passing through our lives, something for everyone. We would wait for Uncle Moneybags to show up before the gifts could be doled. He liked to make a grand entrance and have all of us wait on pins and needles for him to arrive before the wrapping paper could start flying. My brothers and I would take turns standing with our arm around Aunt Bobblehead to see if this was the year we would finally be taller than all 4ft. 7in. of her, without her catching on (she always did). Yes, it was a night of magic, a tradition grander than all others and one that I miss each and every year.

So, oh yeah, the conundrum. Well, I had sort of hoped that the tradition might live long enough for my children to experience it. But, alas, Pa is cooking linguica with the big guy upstairs, we don’t keep in touch much with the aunts, uncles and cousins, and we live (sometimes blissfully) 2400 miles away from the cast that made up those nights of infamy. What do we do when we have no family to spend December 24th with? What do we do to build up the excitement the night before the biggest day of the year? How can I make sure that my kids have a tradition, a grounding, that they will remember fondly for years to come? What’s a girl who misses her family to do?

We make our own party. We get party foods, we put on party clothes, we dance to party music, we make the night before Christmas as good a time as we can with only the 5 of us, two of whom are too little to really understand why Mommy is acting nuts. Sometime during the festivities the Honeybee will get a phone call from Santa (really Bub, his grandpa) that makes him shake with excitement. I really couldn’t say if I do it for them, or me. It is something that is a part of me, and a hole I feel in my heart now that those days from my childhood are over. Christmas Eve has to be more than just a regular night. It is supposed to be festive and loud and fancy. It is supposed to push your excitement level into overdrive so that little sleep will come as you lie anticipating the thrills to be had in the morning.

After our “party” the kids get new Christmas pajamas. We load them up in the car with a warm drink and a few cookies and we drive around the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas lights. When we get home everyone is mellow and ready for bed. We put out the cookies for Santa and hang his “magic key” on the doorknob, since we have no chimney. The kids go to bed and the magic begins. Playing Santa is my favorite thing in the world. I love setting up the stockings and the presents just so, to maximize wonderment on Christmas morning.

The last thing I do before falling into bed on December 24th is go out in the driveway with a set of sleigh bells and jingle them and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” under the children’s bedroom windows (yes, I realize you are probably laughing at me right about now). Then I make a bit of a racket coming in the front door, eat the cookies and eggnog that has been left and take one last look at the gifts under the tree and know that Santa did good this year.

What is your family tradition on Christmas Eve? Care to share, leave a comment!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Silent Night

When we lived in Michigan each holiday season we would wait for hours in a line of traffic to view the magnificent Wayne County Lightfest. HUGE blinking, animated, jaw- dropping light displays lined the long and winding road through a state park. (The picture at left is a snapshot of a part of the Santa's Flight School display). We would bundle the kids, bring Christmas cookies and a thermos of cocoa and would play our favorite Christmas songs on the radio. It was one of the highlights of the holiday season for us.

Last year we decided to attend New Mexico’s equivalent of our Michigan tradition. The big difference was that the light display here is held at the botanical gardens, which means leaving your warm car and being forced to walk around in the bitter cold along the Rio Grande, fighting crowds and dragging whining, cold children. Jude screamed for two hours straight. Not going to become our annual tradition any time soon.

This year we decided to try something new, a luminaria festival held at a park very close to our home. It is a much smaller affair and if the kids were fussy we were just a few minutes from home and it was free, so no worry about money lost if we needed to cut out early. Of course, I wasn’t expecting too much because really, how can paper bags weighted down with sand and a lit votive compare to the holiday lights we were used to?

Imagine my surprise that this will probably go down as one of my favorite holiday memories and I hope it becomes a family tradition for years to come. We walked into the park and there were thousands and thousands of luminaria lining the walkways. There were luminarias on the lawn spelling out “Happy Holidays” and “Feliz Navidad”; over 12,000 luminaria in all. We walked through the winding paths and heard choral groups signing carols and ran into friends. It was such a lovely night. But what I remember most was the peaceful, tranquil feeling of it all. Right off a major highway, hundreds of people and you could practically hear a pin drop. It was such a beautiful, mellow way of commemorating the season and we all left feeling awed and delighted.

I would love to hear what places you visit each year as part of your holiday traditions. These last few days leading up to Christmas will be all about our family traditions, and yours if you choose to share them with me. Leave a comment; I would love to hear how you mark the season.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

On the Other Side of the World

On the other side of the world lives an 11 year-old boy named Yehune Solomon. I have never met Yehune, but he lives in my heart and he is a connection to the world my daughter left behind.

We "met" Yehune 3 years ago through our adoption agency. We had just recently brought home our daughter from Ethiopia, and in our hearts we struggled with the fact that she was just one of millions and millions who needed a family. It was difficult to try and get through each day without feeling absolute sorrow for the children that we left behind, children who were 6 or 7 years old raising themselves as both parents and sometimes older siblings had vanished. Just a few months after our daughter made her American debut our agency began a sponsorship program in her birth country to support those little ones we thought about so often.

Without hesitation I told my husband we would be sponsoring a child. Our $400 American dollars would mean clothes, food, housing, a social worker and school for a child living in the Ethiopian countryside. Shortly after signing up we received a letter from Ethiopia and attached was the picture of a tiny 8 year-old boy, Yehune. Like more than 5 million other children in Ethiopia, Yehune has no parents. The reality is that an entire generation of people is missing from the Ethiopian population, most succumbed to AIDS, some to war and famine. There are children, and there are adults in their 40s and 50s with almost no other age groups in-between.

For the last 3 years our measly $400 has allowed Yehune to have a childhood. He does well in school, he plays football (soccer), he writes us letters and Christmas cards. He is living life and we are the better for it. Seeing Yehune grow and learn and play and thrive has given new meaning to the value of money. $400 is less than half our grocery bill for the month. I probably spend $400 a year at Starbucks. In Ethiopia all it takes is $400 to save a life, to preserve a future, to offer hope to a child who has seen everything he once had slip away.

I entered this amazing contest and the winner will receive too many HP goodies to name. In the spirit of giving and all that is good with the world if I won I would love to be able to donate a few of the computers and some of the other items to the foster home run by my adoption agency in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They have recently renovated and finally have an internet connection. With more than 30 children living there at one time I can only imagine how much use they would get out of it. They could learn English, they could have web cam chats with friends in America who have found forever families, they could have access to email to keep in touch, they could learn about the world around them, other than just what they see in their walled off backyard and the nannies and staff who cared for these children as their own could see how well they are growing. The possibilities are endless and makes my hair stand on end at the exciting prospect of it. The only thing we would keep would be a laptop, for my pilot husband who travels...a lot.

I hope this season you will find a way to share the spirit and do something, no matter how big or small, for someone who needs it. I have much to be thankful for and I find there is no better way to appreciate all I have then to share.

Wishing you peace and good tidings this holiday season. Merry Christmas to Yehune too, as always.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Sinner

I know it is a sin to covet and while I usually don’t care what kind of house you live in, what kind of care you drive, or what the label says in the waist of your jeans, I do care what kind of Christmas decorations you have, and often, I covet them.

This year, I am coveting an advent calendar. I remember an advent calendar as being one of those little cardboard things with a chocolate behind every window that you bought at the grocery store for $1.99. Because my kids are vegan they can’t have the kind of calendar I remember as a kid, so I had to come up with something else to do for them to carry on one of my favorite holiday traditions.

When the Honeybee was a year old I bought a wooden advent calendar. I found it on eBay and for $20 it was cute and would serve it’s purpose. It is pretty much the epitome of the three C’s (cheap Chinese crap) but the kids love it. It has an ornament to hang on the door for each day and enough room for me to stash three little treats for my three little beasts.

Being cheap Chinese crap this advent calendar hasn’t held up well to the test of time. Some of the doors are falling off, and some of them won’t stay closed under the weight of the tiny ornaments. I decided that after the holiday I would begin the search for a new calendar that might be worthy of being handed down to the grandkids I see celebrating Christmases with in the future.

Then, I found this:

I mean, COME ON! What are you trying to do here, kill me? I mean this…this makes me…drooooooollllll.

This is out of my price range at the moment, so I have been sitting at the computer each day checking on this little morsel of lovely and coveting until my jealous heart can covet no longer.

Santa, if you're listening, well ummm, please, pretty, pretty please. Love you! Also, I realize this seems very, very pathetic to those of you without a Christmas fetish, but I am fully aware of my problem and I don't need you to make me feel any worse, k?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eating Inside the Box

Recently my MOMS Club read the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, and while I had some issues with the book, the idea of eating locally and organically certainly appealed to my vegan sensibilities.

One of the moms in my chapter mentioned a local organic farm co-op that offered memberships to the public and each week of your membership you would receive a box of delicious, in-season, organic, locally grown veggies. We had a similar thing available to us in Michigan, but in order to participate you had to work 15 hours a month at the farm and it was difficult for us to fit it in with Buzzer’s work schedule. This though, this sounded perfect, we would definitely have to give it a try.

I went to their website and signed us up for a 10-week membership with a box to be delivered every other week. It just so happened that I got us signed up in time to receive our first box on the week of Thanksgiving.

I was so excited to head down to the local health food store where the boxes are delivered and to see just what luscious treats awaited us. I had to run to the grocery store to get the rest of the ingredients for our Thanksgiving feast, but I wanted to wait and see what was in the box first since it might save me a trip and some money.

I was so pleasantly surprised. We received 5 lbs. of organic russet potatoes, 2 lbs. of sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, apples, oranges, broccoli, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, a cheddar cauliflower, and a bag of mixed baby salad greens. I was in vegan heaven.

With our box o’goodness we made: mashed potatoes, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized apples, stir-fry, mac and cheese with cauliflower, salad and pasta sauce. We even have a few herbs and potatoes left.

We get our next box tomorrow. I might not be able to sleep tonight in anticipation of the treats that await us tomorrow morning.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Vegan Thanksgiving

Ok, so I am way late with this post, but after Thanksgiving I switch into Christmas mode full-throttle and I haven’t had much of a chance to sit butt in chair and put thoughts to paper.

Once people find out you are a vegan there are many, many questions (don’t you DARE ask where I get my protein or I may have to smack ya) and one of the most common is, “What do you eat on Thanksgiving?”

While everyone else is enjoying their turkey, we usually partake in TOFUrky (toe-fur-key) with all the usual fixings that you would find on any holiday spread, ours are just veganized.

This year we had company for Thanksgiving, Buzzer’s brother, we’ll call him Uncle Funzy. It is rare for us to have company for the holidays and even more rare to have company at Thanksgiving because the traditional foods are such a huge part of the day no one is really willing to come have a turkey-less Turkey Day. Because Uncle Funzy was coming to town I made the holiday roast I had planned on making and a Tofurky too since I thought he might prefer that.

Our menu:

No Turkey Holiday Roast
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramalized Apples
Maple Glazed Carrots
Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Cranberry and Wild Rice Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Tofurky Mushroom Giblet Gravy

Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Peanut Butter Pie

Ok, so it was way too much food for 3 adults and 3 little people, but it was really fun to make it all, and what are the holidays good for besides excess?

Anyway, I hope you had as nice a Thanksgiving as we did. I am glad it is over thought because it means the Christmas season is in full swing and for that I couldn’t be more thankful.