"because it's my birthday"

Christmas lasted for 6 weeks. Avery’s birthday lasted for 6 days.

This was the first year I actually planned a location party. It wasn’t intentional. It just happened. Ice skating.

Pictured below are her favorite friends and cousins at the party. The boys are in the background somewhere. And, 2 gals from Bible study are not pictured. Girl A fell down, bummed her knee, but became distraught when Girl B, her sister, told her that the kind stranger who helped her when she fell was actually going to try to kidnap her. Every party has a pooper. This one had two. Girl A didn't want to get up for the picture (and rightly so...she had cried her eyes out over the fear of being kidnapped...poor thing), and I may have intentionally cut out Girl B.

Last year I was smart. I did family parties and piñatas. I mean, I bought a My Little Pony piñata and transformed him into a purple unicorn, pieced him back together and turned him into a black and white horse. I’ve got skills. Spray adhesive and hot glue are my new BFFs. Sorry, Megan.

It’s also the first year I’ve opened the door to a themed cake. I caved. Artificial food coloring. And a lot of it. I just didn’t care. I talked the bakery into attempting a unicorn. It was awesome. I mean after he scraped off the purple Great Dane mistake.

Avery’s birthday was last Sunday, so this post might seem late. However, we celebrate birthdays for about a week around here, which means I’m right on time. Correction, we celebrate kid birthdays for a week. Mine gets the whole month.

"Make this your motto," reads the inside of the card.

That girl and I. We are so much alike. Too much.

At first I was grateful that she likes things clean and organized. Put in its place. A child who cleans on her own. Praise the Lord! But I know that need for a clean and tidy space can be exhausting. Physically and mentally. It can be debilitating. I don’t want that for her. I don’t want it to keep her from enjoying life (and messy people) like it did me for so many years. Messy people have value too. I’m married to one. (I threatened to post a picture of his "sock trail" as proof.)

That girl. She squeaks when she walks. She had mentioned wanting a few things, but when I encouraged her to spend her birthday money, she no longer wanted those items. Oh, no. I took her to Target, and while in the aisle showed her the same item on Amazon. She’s smart and patient. I forced her to spend that money, hoping she won’t have the same stigma about spending money on herself as I do.

But that girl has got her daddy’s heart. His big mushy bleeding heart. While I would want the fun of putting Legos together myself, she invited her brothers to help her as she opened the new boxes, thinking in the end they would play with her because of it. But when it came time to play “shopping mall,” I watched the boys sit with Legos in front of them while their eyes intermittently shot a glance at the TV. Then I noticed they each had a finger on a nearby controller for a video game. Seriously, Boys!

I’ve got a couple weeks before I have to start planning for the their birthdays. And thinking about their cakes. With all that food coloring. And I shudder.


Traditions: Broken and New

This was the Christmas of firsts for our family. There was no new addition. No new location.

But many firsts. Which means new traditions.

As soon as we cleaned up the pumpkins from Halloween, I put up the Christmas tree. With Keith (and his certain arguments about a tree before Thanksgiving) out of town, I seized the moment. We usually begin reading Christmas stories in early November, so it was only fitting that the tree go up at the same time. And, it stayed until yesterday, the day after January 7th, Christmas in Ethiopia.

We had gotten rid of all non-essential items, which included all Christmas decor. So, while garage-saling in the spring, I snagged a fabulous tree. Fabulous meaning, it's pre-lit, and fully assembled. All I had to do was unzip it's handy bag/cover and plug it in. A new tree meant new fixings for it. But I'm too frugal to purchase anything at the before Christmas price. I was in luck. My sis-in-law had an extra box of ornaments in her attic, and I found 2 skeins of tinsel yarn in my closet from a prior clearance purchase. Perfect-O. The only item it lacked was a star. I sent Ivan out hunting for sticks which I hot glued together and wrapped with the remnants of that tinsel yarn. Viola! It was fabulous. Well, at least it was free.

What Christmas items we didn't give away we took to (and left in...sniff, sniff) Ethiopia: the stockings and stocking hangers. Again, I couldn't bring myself to splurge on stockings before the after-Christmas sales. I could have crocheted them, but instead took the easy way out and purchased gift bags. Stuffing gift bags is much easier than stuffing stockings, especially since we only do 3 gifts. All that other junk has to go in a something. Besides, we don't even have a mantel on which to hang them. Gift bags can stand on their own and are here to stay.

This was the first year the kids and I have made Christmas cookies together. What kind of mother am I? I know. We always do a gingerbread house, which comes in ready-to-assemble kit but is inedible. If it were at one time edible, it's not after being saved from last year's after-Christmas sale and surely expired. Starting this year, I'm not fighting that (food) battle. We only make what we can eat. I made the dough solo and refrigerated it according to the recipe instructions. Then, I borrowed cookie cutters and set my kids loose at the kitchen table, which is more their height than the counters. I dumped out flour for the rolling pin and realized I didn't have one of those either. (I mean, I used to. But setting up house again is a long process and kind of trial and error.) So, I gave them a large pot to share and smash the dough. Worked like a charm. Because we are a household free of artificial food coloring, our cookies were delicious but pretty boring. Santa didn't care though. Neither did Mrs. Claus, who ended up eating the majority of them anyway.

Avery made one cookie into the shape of Baby Jesus in the manger. She's a sweet one.

This was the first year I attempted making my maternal grandmother's dressing recipe. I slaved for days in the kitchen. For one dish. For one meal. It started with a cornish hen to make the broth. This is what my grandmother started with when I asked her for the recipe. (Kind of like when I asked my grandpa how to start a garden and he launched a compost-making lecture. A lengthy lecture. About compost. It was thrilling. And, exactly what I had asked for with my gardening inquiries apparently.) And it ended in an attempt to added black pepper, and seeing it was nutmeg I had just measured out. The containers are exactly the same.

Christmas morning we didn't start opening presents till nearly 10:00. The kids slept in, and then we all let Keith sleep in. They eventually remembered that the night before we had opened presents with extended family, and that they had new toys. I was in shock that a puzzle kept them busy while I leisurely enjoyed coffee on the couch, presents sorted into 3 piles in front of me. Clueless. They were clueless. Two new traditions for Christmas morning, besides the sleeping in: ice cream pints in the stockings (gift bags), and a handful of presents I buy and wrap all for myself. Just in case Keith follows my instructions for no gifts. Plus a few for him too.

As the kids ran in and out all day on Christmas going back and forth between new toys, I let them merely kick off their shoes at the front door...without putting them away. Gasp. I told myself, "It's Christmas." And I let it go.

Every year I look up how to celebrate Christmas Ethiopia style. I noticed a few things: 1) They wear the traditional white dress with a color band across the bottom, but I read "urban" Ethiopians wear Westerner's garb. Easy enough. We were all fully clothed in normal attire. 2) They don't exchange gifts. Awesome. My kids need a break from gifts with "birthday season" coming up. 3) They celebrate with feasting and games. My thought was Mexican food and an Uno Flash marathon. Keith's idea was far superior to mine: an "incredible" pizza place with arcade games, bowling, etc. Oh, and a buffet. However, the kids "feasted" on crackers from the salad bar and Goldfish, items I never purchase. Because I would eat them all the livelong day.

This is the first year our family has been together at home for Christmas. Not having to travel a day and living near family is a luxury we never thought possible. That is, until we tried to move to a different continent. But God had a plan in that. As He does in all things we may not understand.

So, at home for Christmas. In our own home. A first.