Tuesday, December 30, 2008

First Christmas Away from Home

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.”
-Carol Nelson

This year we spent Christmas at my in-laws’ house in Florida. This was my first Christmas spent away from my family, away from our traditions, away from our holiday spirit.

I always got the impression that Christmas wasn’t a big celebration in my husband’s family, so I was surprised when I saw a huge stack of presents under the tree. However, after experiencing Christmas morning with them, I can see why they might not make a big deal out of the day—it doesn’t seem like a day that you would eagerly look forward to.

Let’s compare...
Every gift is thoughtful and personalized for the recipient. It might be small, it might be handmade, it might have been on sale, but it was given because the recipient might really like it.
Every gift was purchased because it was on sale, and everybody received the exact same things: a coin sorter, a picture frame arrangement, a food vacuum sealer, a basket of lotions, plug-ins home fragrance, an Applebee’s giftcard, and a Wal-Mart gift card.
Unique and handmade items are admired and appreciated, if not sought after.
My mother-in-law waits and begs to hear you ooh and aah over the gifts from her, but she just brushes aside the personalized, creative gift that you worked for hours and hours on, as if she already had one just like it.
Every gift is appreciated, even if it’s odd, random, and would never be used. Gratitude is shown no matter what.
They make awful faces when they receive a gift that’s not quite their style. And then say, “I hope you have the receipt because I’m going to have to return it,” as soon as they’ve pulled the last of the wrapping off. Even if they sent their husbands on a crazy Christmas Eve shopping spree to supplement the gifts he already has wrapped and under the tree.
Gifts are an expression of love.
Gifts are often an opportunity to “fix” a person and to show them where they’ve gone “wrong.” Along with the gift, you receive verbal criticism and “advice” on how to fix it your “problem.” Cookbooks are given to fat people who are told to eat healthier, banks are given to poor people who are told to manage their money better, “drama queen” teddy bears are given to teenagers who are told that they are the biggest drama queen in the world.
Gifts are given with thoughts about how/when they might be used, but never any specific instructions.
Toys are given to 5-year-olds with 100 pieces and a warning that they better not leave any pieces anywhere. [Solution: Designate a gallon-size plastic bag for each playset. Decorate with Sharpies and empower the 5-year-old to return the toys to the appropriate bag! He’s capable if he has the resources!] Popcorn machines are given to daughters, but they are opened first by the giver herself so that we can use it that evening, and maybe, just maybe, the recipient will forget to bring it home, so the giver can have it all to herself.

There’s always a lot of drama in this family, and as you can imagine, this visit was no exception. And, although it really got me down a couple of times, we made the best of it, and were able to enjoy the time with family, despite their peculiarities.

Christmas Comes Early

“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”
-Janice Maeditere

We brought back quite a stack of presents from Shreveport after Thanksgiving. More presents than our little minds could imagine. More presents that our little car would hold.

So instead of waiting for the 25th and our trip to Florida, Christmas came early to our house. Rob declared Saturday December 20th as our officially observed holiday. But we couldn’t wait even that long. On Friday evening, we changed into our Christmas clothes and emptied our stockings to find lots of great goodies. We also unwrapped some great gifts from my mom, from each other, and from our Secret Santas…

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dreams do come true

“Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.”
-Anais Nin

Good-bye desk job!

I’ve cleaned out my desk. I’ve written detailed instructions on how to find files. I’ve been treated to a farewell lunch. My last days at my design job are numbered, and I’ve been given permission to “work” from home until the end of the year. (My boss added the quotes, not me!) My only commitment is to return to work laptop on the 30th.

My sister asked today if I was excited, sad, or both. In truth, I just don’t think that it has really sunk in yet. Two weeks from today I will be reporting to middle school, not to the design world. I’ll be a teacher, not a designer. I will manage students, not clients. I will work on lesson plans, not proposals.

My dreams are coming true.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boy, am I going to miss these conversations...

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
-Elizabeth Stone

Stop right there…go read Callie’s blog entry from yesterday. And then read my comment from this morning. [No offense to Mormons meant...it's just not for me]

Here is the Google chat conversation we had today regarding parenting:

2:22 PM callienclac: haha i just read your comment on my blog
i believe the answer is not to become mormon
but to become a Parker
and be like L and G :)
me: maybe so
2:23 PM callienclac: every time i was at the beach i just watched them in awe of their parenting skills
A and E [their husbands] too
me: yeah, they're pretty good at it
and Aunt S, too
if i could just be a combination of all of that
2:24 PM callienclac: you'll be that
me: and as ive been pondering this magic...ive wondered where mama fits into this range
some would probably think that she fits on there, too--but that's just to close to home for me to quantify
callienclac: i totally agree
2:25 PM and i think the circumstances in which we watched her "parent" were totally different
me: true
quite different to be the kid

Potluck party

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness."
-Bob Hope

Last night was our annual company Christmas party—my last one—pause to celebrate! In light of the economy, this year we decided to just have a potluck dinner at one of my coworkers’ loft, instead of the usual company-paid restaurant dinner and creative activity. Easier said than done when you’ve moved an hour away and the party doesn’t start until 7pm.

After I finally got away from work yesterday evening at 5:15 and finished up a last minute trip to the supermarket at 5:45, I gathered up all of my cooking supplies and ingredients and settled for the next best kitchen, other than my own—the church kitchen. I boiled my potatoes in a giant industrial-sized pot, heated the stovetop of two ovens, and ran around opening cabinets, thinking they’ve got to have some salt and pepper stored around here.

I planned to document my progress with photos, but mashing potatoes and sautéing green beans for twelve people in an hour leaves little time to snap photos. This is the only one that I captured.
I also brought fancy jewelry and different boots to morph my day outfit into my night outfit as they always demonstrate on makeover shows; however, those makeover experts never take into account the fact that you might have bits of mashed potatoes flung at your versatile clothing in between a day of work and an evening out. Just in case you’re wondering, I think I picked all of the food off of me before I entered the party.

And what a dinner party it was… I’m not usually a fan of potluck dinners—I’m just too picky (“Hi, I’m Jana, and I’m a picky eater.”) But this dinner, it just came together—it made a real meal, a real yummy meal. I work with some really good cooks--perhaps I'm figuring this out a little too late. There was mojito chicken (the juiciest, most melt-in-my-mouth chicken I’ve ever had), marinated pork loin, mashed potatoes (not the best I’ve ever made, but still complimented the rest of the meal), green beans (my best and favorite recipe ever—I mean, it’s got nutmeg in it, who doesn’t love nutmeg?), and corn pudding. And for dessert, pumpkin pie, chocolate flan, and thumbprint cookies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teach them, don't chase them

“Don't try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed.”
-Marva Collins

I’ve been skeptical about writing about my teaching gig for fear that it might evaporate into thin air. But here goes… in January I will begin a long-term substitute position for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade computer science classes. I’m guaranteed to be there for eight of the nine weeks period (and it’s only a 9-week curriculum!), and there’s a chance I might be needed even longer than that. I will be teaching middle-schoolers how to type, search the Internet, and use universal programs like Word and PowerPoint.

I’m gearing myself up to manage a classroom of often economically disadvantaged middle-schoolers who have a lot more on their minds than typing with their fingers on the home-row keys. I’ve been practicing scenarios in my head, trying to figure out how I would deal with an unruly student, a bratty student, or a student who just isn’t as challenged in the class as the rest of his peers.

And, the night before last I had my first nightmare about teaching. It was the first day of class, and when I arrived in my classroom, over half of the computers were gone. The bell rang immediately afterwards, before I could figure out where they went or how to rearrange the classroom. I tried to jump right into my agenda, but it took twice as long as I had planned, and I didn’t get to cover nearly half of what I had hoped—including the classroom rules.

As the end of the class neared, the students became increasingly disruptive. I was trying hard to remain strict with them—as the one piece of advice that I’ve received over and over again is to start off firm and make sure they know you mean business. One girl, in particular, was causing quite a commotion, and as I approached her to try to calm her down, she darted out of the classroom and into the hallway. With those words of wisdom echoing in my head, I made a split second decision to run after her. As I dashed out of the classroom, I knocked over and rumpled the hair of three other girls who had not been causing a problem. By the time I got to the hallway, the girl I was chasing was long gone, and all I could think about was, “I should have just let her run!”

So, come January 5th, if you see students running out of my classroom, know that I will not be chasing them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

O Tannebaum

“The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!"
-Charles N. Barnard

My favorite part of our new house… the front windows in our dining room. Which, without dining room furniture, makes the perfect place for our Christmas tree. Instead of unpacking boxes last weekend, this was on my to-do list.
Never mind, that this is what you see when you turn around.
And the best part… you can see the twinkling lights from the street as you drive by.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ornament Swap

“From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another
The warmth and joy of Christmas, brings us closer to each other.”
-Emily Matthews

Our first annual family handmade ornament swap is well under way. A small group participated for this inaugural year, but I think this is a tradition that is here to stay. This is the ornament that I sent out:
I went through several (I mean, like 10) iterations of the pocket, trying to get it just right. Sometimes I settle for imperfections, but this time I just wasn’t happy with “almost” and “really close.” But now I’m really pleased with my sewing success.

So what’s inside of the little pouch, you ask. The core of the idea came from the Stories in Hand class and the notion of recording even the mundane. Hidden in the pouch is a small Christmas journal for this year. It includes prompts, such as “with who,” “best gifts given,” and “taste of christmas.” I hope my swap partners are just as excited as I am about this Christmas memory keeper.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tidings of us

“A little smile, a word of cheer, A bit of love from someone near, A little gift from one held dear, Best wishes for the coming year… These make a Merry Christmas!”
-John Greenleaf Whittier
I caught an early penny per print sale at Snapfish back in October, took advantage, printed our untraditional Christmas cards with a lomo-like photo of the two of us at the Grand Canyon, and backed them with cardstock leftover from wedding projectes. Couldn’t resist the boast to tell everyone that we did indeed travel to the Grand Canyon this summer—I've told myself that that’s got to be less annoying than a three-page newsletter, detailing our super-awesome lifestyles. Although I have to admit those are always my favorite types of Christmas cards to receive, even though I could see how one might disagree with me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Good enough to eat

“Put on your yarmulke, Here comes Hanukkah! So much funukah, To celebrate Hanukkah! Hanukkah is the festival of lights. Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.”
-Adam Sandler
Going to the grocery store hungry last night = enjoying Hanukkah cookies for lunch today.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A handmade Christmas

“Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don't quite know how to put our love into words.”
-Harlan Miller

Mama and I were discussing the value of craft gifts yesterday. Each year she gave us a handmade gift from her, not from Santa. Terry cloth robes with bunny ears, new purses, smocked pjs, and corduroy coats. She’s good at craft gifts.

As much as I love crafts and crafting, I recently came to the conclusion that crafts are difficult for me to give as presents—the style has to fit the recipient, the object has to fit the recipient, and the recipient has to be ok with imperfections. And, men... what do you make for men?

A couple of years ago I went the DIY route, and I have a feeling that few of the gifts were ever used—skirts were too big, cute hats were too cute, bags just weren’t their style. Then last year, we went store bought—we were thoroughly taking advantage of our DINKs status (dual income, no kids). We spent a lot, visited a lot of malls, but I didn't worry my little head about whether they would appreciate my craft.

However, this year we’re DINKS with a mortgage, so it’s back to DIY (and raiding the gift drawer). But I’m trying hard to only do handmade where I know I will succeed. I know it’s the thought that counts, but my thought should be if the recipient would be pleased about it or not.

There are a couple of handmade gifts that can’t be shown due to my readership (thanks for reading!). But, I think my favorite gifts for this holiday season are for my niece and nephew.

The t-shirts with my iron-on designs for my 4.5-year old nephew:
Of course, he will probably like the light-up shirt that we bought at a Halloween clearance sale much more than these ones that were crafted with love :)

And, my absolute favorite, the onesies with my iron-on designs for my 2-month old niece (I think actually she’s my first cousin-in-law, once removed, if you want to get specific!). Match these up with some pink and white leg warmers, and she'll be the cutest baby on the block.One note to remember if you attempt such a project… most printable iron-on transfers don’t work well on dark colors, as you can see below. (Picture is even with the flash)
So, instead I ironed them on to white fabric and then used the magic Steam-a-Seam II Lite to attach the design to the shirt. Of course, I did it the wrong way first and then had to affix the remedied design on top. Live and learn…

In the hands of the Postman

“Christmas is a spirit that flows from one heart to another. It is more precious than rubies and better than gold.”
-Agnes M. Pharo

The Christmas cards have been sent. The Christmas ornaments have been swapped. They are traveling at full speed around the country. Expect photos soon!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ghost of Christmas Past

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”
-Agnes M. Pharo
Flipping back through my biography, Christmas has every right to be a sad, depressing, disgusting, bah-humbug time of year. Twice, in my teenage years, Christmas time became a time of loss, instead of joy and hope like it’s touted to be.

In 1997 when I was 13 years old and in 8th grade, my father ended his battle with bipolar disorder just days before Christmas. Instead of baking cookies and attending Christmas parties, that season was filled with braving funerals and wiping away tears. Needless to say, the Christmas celebrations were low-key—I missed the annual youth group Christmas party, we distracted ourselves at my grandparents’ house with my cousin T.R. instead of attending the Christmas Eve service, and Christmas morning was a quiet affair. That year it felt we were just going through the motions. But, looking back, I take great pride in the fact that we even attempted that much.

A few years later, in my senior year of high school, we celebrated Christmas morning as usual, but our annual Christmas dinner was cancelled because Momo was ill. She had fought several recurrences of ovarian cancer, but this time the disease was too strong. We were never able to reschedule that dinner because Momo was in the hospital and hospice care until she died in April 2002. The historically joyous occasion became the beginning of her end.

Currently, my Monday night Bible study group is discussing the Advent lectionary in the context of four words: Anticipation, Hope, Patience, and Obedience. As we discuss our memories of Advent and the Christmas season, I’m in awe about how I look forward to Christmas with just as much excitement as everyone else. These tragedies don’t cloud my view of the holiday much at all. Christmas is so much more than all of that.

There are enough wonderful memories from years before and years after that those sad memories don’t poison my Christmas season. They become jumbled up with all of the merry ones, making Christmastime that much more special to me. The Christmas spirit—the goodness, the love, the wishes, the peace, the promise—that’s what it’s all about.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Christmas is in the air

“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”
-W. T. Ellis

Photo from Flickr by David Zellaby

Well, I can say that I’ve almost completed my holiday shopping. The only people left are the two relatives that we drew in our family’s 21st century-style “Secret Santa” exchange.
I’ve even got almost all of the gifts wrapped. And about half were delivered when we traveled to Shreveport this past week.

But the house… when am I going to get around to decorating the house? I won’t officially move in until the 18th, and we leave for Florida on the 23rd. Somehow I get the feeling that Rob won’t be too thrilled when we need to unpack boxes and hang blinds this weekend, but all I want to do is decorate the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blessings from the week

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more.”
-Brother David Steindl-Rast

  • Being able to “work from home” Tuesday morning, so I could run some last minute errands and finish packing before we left for Louisiana.
  • Playing the “baby name game” (for imaginary babies!) all the way through Alabama and Mississippi. We could settle on several boys’ names, but girls’ names are another story.
  • Giggling with my youngest cousin, Laura, as she played with the puppy, as she snuck chocolates, as she played Mad Gabs with us… as she did basically anything.
  • Eating at all of my favorite dining establishments in town: TacoMania, Strawn’s, Raisin’ Canes, and Gatti’s Pizza.
  • Celebrating Thanksgiving dinner at the country club—not the best meal I’ve ever had, mostly because the mashed potatoes lacked my special touch and because there was no pecan pie. But there were also no dirty dishes, so I can’t complain too much.
  • Running (or jogging!) the whole Turkey Trot with Rob, with only one sub-one-minute stop right at the end.
  • Convincing my teenage cousin to emerge from the text-messaging world she lives in to watch a movie.
  • I was able to get 4 new pairs of “school” pants at New York and Company on Black Friday. Pants that fit, are comfortable, look professional, and could be hemmed by my mom before we left to go home.
  • Raiding my old bedroom for cute decorations and books that I had forgotten about.
  • Chatting and catching up with my dad’s side of the family.
  • Georgia Tech beat Georgia. Hasn’t happened in 7 years. Enough said.
  • There’s no better way to learn “why I am the way I am” (or for Rob to learn it) than attempting a big project with my family. This year for her birthday, we offered to help my mom paint her bedroom (and hallway). A big task, but we were able to get much of it complete. The best part… pushing all of the furniture back into place and bringing Mama in to view the final product.
  • Waking up from my road-nap to find that Rob had stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch because he knew it would be a special treat.

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