these ordinary things: saying yes

IMG_0710

IMG_0707

Throughout our days with four and a half year old Lucien, we are just as likely to be redirecting a storm of aggressive limbs and biting teeth as we are to be swept up by his expansive joy in life and heartfelt regard for everyone around him.   On the difficult days, it’s easy to fall into a kind of assembly-line-style-parenting: just get it done so we can start again tomorrow.

And then he tenderly asks if he can help (in the kitchen, always in the kitchen) and the word “No” flashes across the screen in my head.  When I take a deep breath and say yes, the connection I find heals all the moments of mutual frustration.  Not just yes to the spilled flour and egg shells in the batter, the pancake flipped halfway off the griddle, but yes to the path we are walking with him.  Aggression and tenderness.  Joy and teeth marks.  Heart force and restlessness.  Without judgement, only compassion, and saying yes to his little limitless life.

Saint Nicholas

DSC01006

DSC01005

Like most modern families, we’ve tried to create our celebrations around our needs.  From the buffet of inherited traditions, adopted moments and new creations, we have found our way.  But for some reason, Christmas has always held the biggest challenge.  Perhaps because it is festival that lives widely in the mainstream, and we live our lives paddling an undercurrent of society.  (In other words, Candlemas is not an issue since most of you are likely saying, Candle what?)  What Christmas is to us, is not what it is for many.  So we are left with the challenge of balancing the desire to hold Christmas in our own unique way while embracing the love that flows toward us from friends and family who have their own ways of celebrating.

When we started building our Christmas, we knew we wanted it to be simple, of course.  We knew we wanted there to be space for family, friends and delicious food.  We wanted to exchange simple gifts that were expressions of love and gratitude and brought genuine joy to the recipients.  And above all, we wanted to preserve the space for reverence of this turning point in the evolution of mankind: the birth of the Christ Child, bringing with Him all of His gifts.

What we weren’t so sure about was Santa.  We were a little turned off by the way excess seems to accompany him wherever he goes.  But more than that, we just couldn’t connect to his story.  We simply could not wade through the materialism surrounding him to get to the true picture of his origins.  Without this connection, we couldn’t imagine bringing it to the children.  And yet, rooted in the story of Santa is a very profound picture of grace: sometimes we don’t have to do any work at all, and the universe still sends us gifts to help us on our way.  In removing Santa from our lives, we did not want to forgo this picture of grace.

After some searchings of the heart, we settled on the origin of Santa: St Nicholas, a fourth century Greek Bishop.  His festival is still celebrated throughout Europe.  For the countless miracles attributed to him, he is sometimes called “The Wonderworker.”  He is said to have been particularly fond of delivering secret gifts to children, especially those in need.  There are also many stories of him providing food in times of famine.  For his qualities of generosity, love and charity, he was the perfect fit for us.  Only one question remained, “when should he arrive?”  In an effort to allow St Nicholas and the birth of the Christ Child their own rightful space for celebration, we opted to invite St Nicholas into our home on his feast day, December 6th.  It has the added benefit of bringing simplicity to the season by spreading out the gift giving.

St. Nicholas’ secret nighttime visit has become one of the children’s favorite moments of the year.  Our Advent calendar, made by a beloved godmother, happens to have St. Nicholas on it.  As the wheel turns a bit more everyday, we first glimpse his feet, then his staff becomes clear, his companion Rubricht, and finally his bishop’s hat.  This adds greatly to our anticipation of his arrival.  To get ready, we bake cookies for him and leave them out with carrots and hay for his donkey and a pot of tea used only once a year, in his honor.  In the past years we’ve made Lebkuchen, but it is quite an involved recipe, so we’re opting for a much simpler Pfeffernussen this time.  We leave our stockings out and he fills them with something to keep us warm, something to bring health, a sweet treat and a handful of nuts to crack.  Since we do little no gift giving in our immediate family on Christmas Day, St Nicholas often brings a few new toys for us all to share–this year a new collection of these beautiful blocks, toadstools and new friends for the elf house.  In the center of the table is a basket of pantry food items such as flour, raisins and dried beans.  And he would never stop by without leaving a basket of oranges.

Mystery solved.  That is until they’re old enough to wonder why Santa doesn’t know our address.  Mattheus has already started arguing that St. Nicholas does not have a donkey, but reindeer that pull his sled.  Oh, my.  So it starts.  But, we’ll wait to unravel that one until it fully arrives.

 

all tucked in: inside

DSC00845

Winters are fairly mild here in Denver.  We have our cold and snow, but frequent warm ups are common.  Even when it’s chilly, there is something about the warmth of the sun that makes 30 degrees feel much different from the 30 degrees I grew up with in New England.  When we first moved (for John back) here, we were both struck by the gentle shift in seasons.  We actually missed that feeling of really snuggling in to hibernate, and the relief of emerging in April.  But I’ve come to appreciate the ebb and flow of the seasons here, and at the moment, that ebb and flow is moving us inside a bit more.

DSC00731I’ve been enjoying watching how the kids’ play has changed since last winter.  They are quite the little pack, and Opal is running with the big dogs every chance she gets.  There are still many hurt feelings that accompany the under five year old lessons of getting along, but there are also magical moments of new found peace.  Sometimes there are even moments in which I offer a solution to a conflict, that is disregarded in light of their own solutions–something I would never had thought of.  Those are my favorite moments of all.

DSC00727

DSC00863DSC00852DSC00878For the times when unoccupied hands find themselves up to no good, I’ve been keeping this basket of felt squares close by. (The yellow striped sleeves in the basket picture are from a sweater John made in 7th grade!)   We’re stringing them together to make garlands to use in our wintry celebrations.  I got the idea from Amanda, although, I confess I can’t remember if it was from the blog or one of her wonderful books.  Up until now, the kids have not been ready to do much in the way of handwork.  They’ve shared in my own handwork by imitating my inner gesture of slow, steady, creativity–usually working alongside me on their own projects.  But Mattheus’ almost five years have awarded him the fine motor skills to make fast progress on these garlands and I love the marking of this little milestone.  He’s taking up the task with all of his usual careful determination.  Lucien is still concentrating pretty hard to string each piece of wooly color–fine motor skills in development.  (He’s bit camera shy these days, so there aren’t many pictures to post.)  Opal discovered Mattheus’s kid sized scissors in the process and tries to put them to use everywhere, while Mattheus tries to teach her the ropes.  “No, Opal!  Don’t cut Bunby!” (Her beautiful knit bunny from her dear godmother)  “No, Opal! Don’t cut the rocking horse’s tail!”  “No, Opal!  Don’t cut the piano!”  One can’t help but chuckle a bit, and perfect that Waldorf kindergarten teacher “walk-across-the-room-slowly-and-calmly-but-with-intention-and-pray-you-get-there-in-time-before-too-much-damage-is-done-without-moving-too-abrubtly-as-to-disrupt-the-carefully-cultivated-space-of the-room” walk.

One of the things I love about coming inside in November is delving into the food treasures we put up over the summer.  Preserves and frozen veggies and pumpkins and squash.  All those forces of the summer sun transformed into the warmth of winter. Enough said, I think.

Lucien, our epicurean of the moment, helped me with a Reinhart family tradition this year: First Snow/Snow Days from School Cookies.  He’s helping me tweak the recipe to meet our current special diets.  When we nail it I’ll try to remember to post.  But, it is essentially a healthier, wheat free, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie.  There’s just something about snowy days that call for these treats with warm milk, cocoa or tea.  They must be consumed while the chocolate is still melted of course!

DSC00675

DSC00682

DSC00684

Just about the only thing I approach with a bit of a heavy heart during the colder months, is the task of laundry without a drier.  When we bought our house, we consciously opted out of this energy hungry appliance.  Colorado is so dry that on a hot summer day, by the time I hang the last clothing item on the line, the first is dry!  With a bit of extra planning, creativity and new knowledge (stories of frozen laundry in The Long Winter are actually pretty accurate), it’s a manageable task.  There are occasional trips to Gramma and Granpa’s when we realize there are only three more diapers in the drawer and we need clean ones.  In the next three hours.  Really, for the most part it all works out.  But, I have from time to time during the winter, yearned for the easiness of a drier.  Of laundry being a weekly chore instead of something I have to hold in our daily rhythm.  Still, the benefits outweigh the costs, so I keep checking the weather report before the never ending piles go in the machine.  Laundry fluttering on the mild February wind is a benefit of gentler seasons I would not easily give up!

DSC00800

home days

DSC09943

We’re homeschoolers at heart. With two Waldorf teachers in the family, it seems natural. But, it is precisely because we’re teachers that we’ve come to value the education of a child that happens outside of the sphere of home. An education that allows the child’s spirit to work through his own individuality, outside the influence of all that we inherit from family.  (Of course, we are lucky enough to have access to Waldorf education; if that weren’t the case, we can well imagine our family on the homeschooling path.)  We’ve also come to know the gift that is a loving supportive community, especially its teachers. Most rewarding, we’ve witnessed firsthand the capacity that sets man apart from the rest of the universe: being able to love in freedom, not as a mother or a brother or an aunt or grandmother, just as another human being who chooses to love.

The tradeoff to a life lived out in the community, is never quite enough home days. With school and church, extended family and community activities, too often we find ourselves running off. The old Volvo wagon, three car seats across one bucket seat, three irritable kiddos and two harried parents, rolls onto the highway only to find itself stuck in standstill traffic. Forgot about game day again! Suffocating from concrete, noise, fossil fuel consumption and crazed blue and orange footballers, John and I stare at each other, knowing that that question, the one that has haunted us since we packed up our lives and made the pilgrimage to Denver, well, it’s racing through both of our minds again: what are we evening doing here in this city?!

We truly have found answers to this question (some of which you can read about here) and some answers we still wait on, trusting that they will come someday. In the meantime we do what we can to balance home and city.

DSC00050DSC00053

Surrounding by falling leaves and Halloween decorations and clear blue skies, we’re doing what we can over fall break from school to spend a little more time in this little red house and its quarter acre of land. We cherish the moments reserved for special meals (apple cake!), an impromptu (10 mile!) bike ride, a little extra knitting and that extra cup of coffee, another hour digging in the dirt, a few minutes to update the chalk board, a little more time for visits with friends and family and, just one extra measly–magical hour for Mama and Papa to be Coco and John again.

DSC09992

DSC00030

DSC00033

It’s good to be home.

DSC00055

summer supper

DSC09049I love that this time of the year supper starts with whatever is growing in the garden. Add to that a grain and perhaps a bit of cheese or nuts and, 30 minutes later, voila! We’ve really embraced the simple, out-of-the-garden approach this year, partially out of necessity. Like many others who’ve chosen the single income path, we go to the grocery store with a tight, almost unsustainable budget. More than that, however, I’ve been trying to strike a better balance when it comes to meal preparation. It’s a dangerous road out there for the home chef who wants to create beautiful nutritious meals for his or her family. Cooking shows, food magazines, 16-ingredient after school snack recipes with charming presentations on Pinterest (which, once produced, in this house, disappear in under 48 hours), and images of 1940’s moms pulling sheets of cookies out of the oven just as the children arrive home, all result in lots of pressure to produce gourmet food, three meals a day, 365 days a year.DSC09545

Admittedly, I still fall into this trap. But, as the family has grown, I’ve turned to all those cookbooks on the shelf less and less. I still get them out once a week or so, to try something new, learn a new technique, keep the meal rotation from getting stale. And I do love those moments when I have a little extra space to be a foodie, but more often than not I rely upon the basic techniques I’ve picked up along the way to create healthy, beautiful, fresh meals with staple ingredients. Through this, I’ve accepted that it’s okay to eat summer squash and zucchini several times a week. Let’s face it, sometimes several times a day! No one seems to mind, least of all the children who turn their noses up at those fancy cookbook creations anyways, opting instead for pasta, sautéed veggies and parmesan (“noodle”) cheese. As far as they are concerned: simple foods at their best.

DSC09163