We had a little back-to-school display planned for our dining room but when back-to-school didn’t happen, we changed plans. Here are some small things bringing us joy in our house these days.
A true story we got to share this week for children’s time at church. Hope you enjoy!
As irksome as Donald Trump’s effort to defund the USPS is, we must keep in mind that it’s only the newest Republican-led assault on one of the most functional services that the US government (formerly) funded. They hate it because it proves that government works–and because it pretty much accessible to people of all types, including the poor. Oh, and because making mail delivery more difficult is a way to suppress voters who maybe don’t want to stand in clouds of coronavirus just to exercise their right to vote.
Anyway, all of that is to say that you should support your USPS. We do, all the time. I buy more than half the stamps that are released and delight in sending them to folks. Even if I’m just paying a bill, it’s more fun to send it with a stamp showcasing on of America’s rivers (my favorites of the last year) or Hot Wheels cars.
Do yourself and democracy a favor and pick some up today at checkout at Kroger (If you are a regular shopper, you’ve heard the lady on the radio say that lots of time) or order them online.
Above, some of the stamps I am using right now–leftover Christmas ones, state fairs, 3-D dinosaurs (which are AMAZING!), Hot Wheels, post office murals, winter berries, Halloween foils, American rivers, Sesame Street, and Sally Ride.
It was a weird end to Holy Week. No in-person services, no visiting friends in their churches (something we like to do this time of year), no new clothes or fresh haircuts. No Easter foods shared with friends. Instead, it was stormy and gray and windy and we stayed home all day, feeding the pellet stove, cooking, playing games, video calling with family, and watching a movie. I don’t think we’ll repeat in in 2021.
Still, there were highlights. They begin, of course, with dessert.
Carrot cake for dessert this year to go along with our usual cherry-and-pineapple topped ham and other dishes.
Homemade Easter baskets since I didn’t buy them before the stores closed. Follow me on Pinterest for more great crafts to make your kids feel loved and appreciated!
Far fewer eggs this year than usual, since we were dyeing them alone rather than with friends.
Some of my favorites. The first two were made by applying the food dye directly to the egg; the third resulted when the kiddo who made the first two picked up a white egg with fingers covered in dye. I’m especially proud of my little bunny and chick eggs. The last one is the interior of a fertilized egg. Yes, my youngest child goes to a farm-based school, so these are the kinds of things he thinks about.
Contenders for our annual egg pun contest: HENrietta Lacks, FRY-er Tuck, and Guy Mont-EGG, the protagonist from Fahrenheit 451, wearing his firefighter’s hat.
Waited for a break from the wind to hunt for eggs in the backyard.
The eggs all found.
We took down our Christmas decorations this weekend, the second in February. And while, in the past, the lingering decorations were mostly about dreading the task, this year we made the decision much earlier–at the start of Advent, when the tree went up–to leave everything in place until 40 days after Christmas.
That was two Sundays ago, and because we wanted to enjoy the full 40 days, we didn’t take the decorations down last Sunday.
This year, 40 days after Christmas was February 2. This represents the day when Mary would have been able to return to the temple after childbirth and thus Jesus’ first visit there.
While many of our ornaments are not explicitly about the nativity of Jesus, many of them engage us with themes of childhood and remind us of how loved we are. Here are the new additions to our Christmas decorations this year.
Each year we add a few owls to our collection. Honey made the brown one last year and the purple one this year.
Each year, each child gets a new ornament made by local artists or purchased through a fair trade organization like 10,000 Villages. This year, Lamb received this whimsical glass owl, so there are at least half a dozen owls nesting in our Christmas tree this year. Mr. Prickles’ new ornament this year was a gnome.
And Bananas’ was a grasshopper carefully created from local grass.
Most years we also make ornaments, so our tree is a record of their childhood arts and crafts skills. This year, we made jingle bell angels from wire ribbon. More than a dozen of them covered our tree.
Each year, we paint ceramic ornaments. Most years, Mr. Prickles’ chooses a new snowman to add to his collection, and Lamb adds an angel. This year, Bananas picked a llama.
A trip to Lindsborg, Kansas (“Little Sweden USA”) found us in a shop that sells locally-made art and crafts as well as pieces imported from Sweden. This little heart reminds us of how much we love Kansas.
This little clown decorated my tree growing up, and my sister recently found him and sent him to me. My great-grandmother was alive most of my life, and while we saw her infrequently (We lived in different states.), receiving a big box from her each Christmas was one of the best parts of the year. They always included handmade gifts–some that she worked on for years–quilts and baby dolls–and others simple ornaments like this one.
A few years ago, we took a vacation with my extended family to the Poconos, staying at a house on a lake. A family of swans patrolled the shoreline–and let us know that we were not welcome there. We eventually made an unsteady peace with them, but it took some effort. (Including, at one point, a sea battle. While it’s easy enough to drive off swans with a hose from the shore, it’s harder to fight them with a canoe paddle on the lake.) My sister sent us this glass swan this year to commemorate the event.
Of all the birds who joined our tree this year, this felted cardinal might be my favorite.
Do you have a Christmas pickle? This one is new for us this year, a gift from my mother. Each year, the child who finds the Christmas pickle gets to open the first present. And, this year, a miracle followed: the children quite easily fell into a pattern of opening one present at a time, rather than everyone opening presents at once, so they could see what each other had received. They didn’t discuss it or protest it, just happily showed interest in each other.
My friend A. gave us the littlest, tiniest baby Jesus, made from beeswax.
On Christmas Eve, we open new pajamas, a robe, or slippers (whichever we most need), play a game or music, watch a movie, read a Christmas book together, and bake cookies to put out on our Santa Plate (alone with carrots for the reindeer). This year, our tree was a housewarming gift from our dear Auntie K., who not only set it up for us but added the (absurd number–1200!) lights and helped us decorate.
This year, a new angel came to grace our tree! A gift from my friend M., her name is Marian Zsofia–after the singer Marian Anderson and with a tribute to Poland, where M. traces her family history. Lighting her each night, we were reminded of how loved we are from people far and near.
We love to host Flat Stanley (or Flat other people, too!), so we were glad that a friend of ours, second grader S., recently sent him our way for a visit. We live in northeastern Utah. The state is the ancestral home of the Ute, Dine (Navajo), Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone nations. Today, about 60,000 indigenous people live in Utah, about half of them on reservations in the southern part of the state. Outside of the reservations, our county has some of the most Native American people.
Here are some highlights of our time together in the Beehive State.
On the campus of Weber State University, home of the Wildcats. WSU has more than 27,111 students and just celebrated its 120th birthday while Flat Stanley was here.
Purple and white are the colors of Weber State. Since Stanley went to college for a day, we thought he might like a Weber State Wildcats sweatshirt–and a cup of hot cocoa. He like our dog Sonny so much we thought he might enjoy a pet or two of his own, so we helped him adopt a puppy and a kitten.
Enjoy chocolate-chip-peanut-butter-banana pancakes. I guess it makes sense that Flat Stanley’s favorite breakfast food would be something flat.
Out to dinner for Indian. He was very polite and didn’t pick out all the paneer for himself.
Stanley forgot his boots back in Maryland, so we made him a pair. On average, Utah gets 60 inches of snow per year at the capital, Salt Lake City, which is about 30 minutes away from us. That is about three times as much snow as Baltimore gets. But snowfall in Utah is very uneven. Our climate includes a wide range of ecosystems, including the Mojave Desert, the driest desert in north America, in the Southwest corner, and the high peaks of the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Our house is at 4,300 feet above sea level. (When you go to Ocean City, Maryland, you are at sea level–so we are more than 4,000 feet higher than you!) But other parts of our town are much higher since our town is built into a mountain. That also means some places get a lot of snow. One of our area mountains had more than 25 feet of snow this year so far–and it will get more before winter is over!
We took Stanley to Crystal Hot Springs in nearby Honeyville, Utah. These hot springs have a higher mineral content than any hot springs in the world–9,000 pounds every 24 hours! 450 generations of indigenous people used the area for their winter camping grounds. Very close to here, the Golden Spike joined the eastern and western parts of the transcontinental railroad, joining one end of the US to the other by rail. Many Chinese immigrants helped build the railroad. They build wooden tubs in Honeyville to capture the hot water so they could soak in them after a long day of hard work. Later, after World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent wounded soldiers by bus to the hot springs so that they could relax in the water. We took Flat Stanley swimming there in the middle of a snowstorm! You can’t see it in the photo, but snowflakes were falling all around us. No matter what the temperature outside, though, in the water, it is always 120-134 degrees F in the hot springs. And just a few feet away, there is a cold spring that is always 65-75 degrees F. If you get to warm in the swimming pool fed by the hot springs, you can jump in the cold water pool–or jump out and roll around in the snow, then jump back in!
Utah has “the greatest snow on Earth,” as our license plates say. (Get it? Like the greatest show on earth!). On cold and snowy nights, we like to settle down in front of the fireplace with a book. And when you are flat, you can be your own bookmark!
Thanks for joining us, Flat Stanley! We’d love to see you again!
Seriously, if there is a Flat Stanley in your life, send him our way! We love to send postcards, too, so if you or a child you know is in need of one, just ask.
Dear Family Foxhole,
My mom is a single mom, and she asks me to do a lot of babysitting of my younger brother. I am 12 and he is 8. I really don’t want to do this job, but I feel bad telling her that. She works four days each week until 5:30, which means I have to babysit for two hours after school, plus on Saturday mornings from when I wake up until noon.
How do I get out of this?
You probably can’t get out of helping your mom in some way, but maybe babysitting isn’t the only way to do it. Can you ask her if there is some other chore you can do that would get you out of this one? But beware: you could end up doing something you like even less!
Would you like babysitting more if it were a job? Ask your mom to pay you. After all, in just two years, you’ll be old enough to get a job as a dishwasher or bagger at a grocery store and that will take up your time and force your mom to pay someone else to do this job.
But it could be that she can’t pay you. If you ask her, she might feel embarrassed if her answer has to be “no.” Are you ready to hear that? If you suspect that is the case, ask her to pay you in something other than money, like pushing your bedtime back a bit or buying your favorite cereal or tea or something else that she’d already be buying.
There may not be much that either you or your mother can do to change the situation. If your mother has to work, she needs childcare. And if she doesn’t have the money to pay you, then she doesn’t.
But a family isn’t a business. We care for each other because we are family, not because it’s our job. Your mom cares for you for free, and I’ll bet that there are even ways that your younger brother contributes to your happiness and care, too. Try to reframe this from being a chore to being a responsibility that you take on as a contributing part of your family. It’s a lesson in maturity. Most of adulthood is doing stuff like this, and those adults who embrace these tasks as part of their life, rather than a disruption to it, are happier.
Experiment with ways to make this more fun. Can you take your brother out of the house to the library or playground? Can you work with him to set some homework goals that can help him improve his grades? Forget for a bit that you are 12 and go enjoy the things you did when you were 8–playing with action figures or playing imagination games. No one else is watching, so get silly, And pass along the things you like to him. Teach him wiffle ball or how to make a frosting rose or whatever it is you do. Give him time on his own, too, to play or read or watch some TV, but if you can see this time together as precious (You’ll be working an after school job before you know it!), you might just come to enjoy it!
Dear Family Foxhole,
I’ve been an only child for 12 years now but that will all end this summer when my mother has a baby. I’m excited for her because she and my stepdad have been wanting to have a child for a few years now but weren’t able to get pregnant. Now that my mom is pregnant, I’m worried that the baby will be sick or have some other health problem or that my mom will die during pregnancy or childbirth. I know that these aren’t realistic concerns in the modern day USA, but I’m still worried and now I feel guilty about being worried because I don’t want to make my mom worried.
Trust me, your mom is already thinking about how to make sure that she and your new sibling are healthy! She is eating healthy, taking prenatal vitamins, and seeing her doctor regularly to monitor her and the baby’s health.
But you are right to be concerned. Even with modern medicine, people get sick, and accidents happen that affect our bodies. I say this not to scare you but to affirm that it’s both common and reasonable to have some worries about pregnancy.
You might not get over your worries between now and the arrival of the baby, but you can minimize them. Some ideas:
Talk to your health teacher, tour the hospital, or interview a midwife (who delivers babies), doula (who assists in the delivery, focusing on the mother), or obstetric (baby-delivery) nurse. You probably have some school project that you could use as an excuse to do this.
Ask your mom and stepdad to sign you up for a babycare/babysitting/child first aid class. The Red Cross in many towns offers these classes, and if you take them, you can charge people more for your babysitting services in the future!
Spend some time with people who have disabilities and people who love people with disabilities. Often times our worry with pregnancy is that something will be “wrong” with the baby and the baby will be born with an unusual physical feature, like cleft palate or spina bifida. Even though some of these physical features make life more challenging, there is no “wrong” way to have a human body!
I’ll be blunt: If you are worried about what would happen in the worst case scenario, ask your mother and stepdad what their plan would be in that case. It is not “bad luck” to think about how our lives would change if our loved ones died. In fact, your mom and stepdad have probably already thought about it and maybe just didn’t tell you. Ask them directly:
- Who would you live with if your mother died?
- Would your biological father take custody of you, or would you keep living with your stepdad?
- If your biological father took custody, would you still be able to see your stepdad and his side of the family?
- If the plan is that you would stay with your stepdad, has your mother done the paperwork to make sure that would happen?
- Would you keep living in this house and going to the same school, or would your stepdad want to move you closer to other members of your family?
- Would a grandparent or aunt or uncle come to live in your house to help take care of the baby? If your stepfather remarried, would you still get to live with him?
- What kind of person would your mother want to your stepdad to remarry if she died?
Ask them if they have all this in writing (a will), who their lawyer is, where the will is located, and who is the executor (the person who makes sure it is being carried out). If they tell you that you are being nosy, tell them that you are just being responsible. Maybe find some horrible cases of child custody battles on the internet to prove that they need to be prepared.
I like to drive my worries away with crafting. When you are focusing on something fun and positive, it’s harder to worry. Here are some fun ones:
Get the baby’s room ready! Paint the walls, the ceilings, the trim. Make a stencil or a stamper and go to town!
Make a baby quilt or crochet a baby blanket.
Give one of your favorite stuffed animals a makeover (wash, brush, fluff, stuff, and repair any holes) for the baby.
Once you know the name of the baby, make a collage of items for each letter. (If his name is “Tiger,” you’d make a collage of items starting with T, one starting with I, one starting with G, etc.) THEN cut each collage into the shape of that letter and paste it to a canvas. Hang it on the baby’s door.
Keep a diary of your own feelings that you can share with the baby one day.
Write letters to the baby, each with a different focus. (“Our family history,” “The town where you were born,” “What I think life will be like when you are 12”). Seal them in envelopes and write a future date on them when you think the baby should open them.
Make the pages of a baby book. Make a page where you can record his birthday, weight, and length. Make a page where you mom and stepdad can write down the story of his birth (when she went into labor, how long it took, etc.), Make pages where you will stick pictures of the baby’s first bath, first haircut, first tooth, etc.
Eek! All of these ideas make me so excited for you! Crafting for babies is so fun!
Dear Family Foxhole,
There are three kids in our family: my brother (15), me (a girl, aged 8), and my other brother (age 5). I have to share a room with my little brother. He is so messy! How can I convince my mom and dad to give me my own room?
The Princess living in a Pigpen
I feel your pain. This is my reality, with some differences in ages.
Ask your parents for a solution. Make it the only thing you ask for for Christmas and your birthday. Stress that it is the numero uno thing you want in the entire world.
Can they turn a room into the basement into a Teen Cave for your older brother? (It will have to have a window he can use as an exit in case of a fire. And put in a radon detector.) Could they turn a room over the garage into a living space for him? Even if it’s just during the summer (since he might get cold out there otherwise)? He’d love to be a little farther away from you all anyway.
Is there a formal dining room that you don’t use anyway? Or an office that a parent is hogging?
Or can you share custody of the little brother? Even if you just didn’t have to have him over the summers, that would be an improvement.
Your share a room because you live in a three bedroom house, which means that two kids have to share a room. It can be you and Older Brother (OB), you and Little Brother (LB), or LB and OB. Those are the only options, mathematically speaking.
Your parents probably have some good reason for this decision. Your older brother probably stays up later and gets up earlier than your littler one. In three years, your older brother will likely be out of the house anyway, so it is nice for him to have his own space now. After he leaves, you’ll have your own room between ages 11 and 18. Freedom is coming!
This is hard! It sounds like you might not be able to get your own room. So how can you make this one more livable for yourself?
First, ask for help. Since you are graciously sharing space (and I do encourage you to stop complaining about having to share if there is no other option), ask the people who aren’t sharing space to help make it an easier situation for you. Maybe have a rotation of who will help keep your little brother’s mess to a minimum. It could be a daily rotation or a weekly one (like, this week your mother will be in charge, but next week your father will). Just because you share a room with your little brother doesn’t mean you have to clean up his messes–or have to live with them!
Second, find ways that you can make the space your own AND ways you can enjoy the space together. If you both like art, for example, you could set up an easel in one corner. Maybe you like the same color scheme for the paint and curtains, or maybe you like the same music on your alarm clock. Enjoy having those things in common. And make some space just for you–for example, with a special set of sheets or a bulletin board of your favorite photos. If you need some separate space, see if your parents will let you make a little “nest” in the bottom of your closet with some big floor pillows and a flashlight. Or make a canopy for your bed by throwing sheer curtains over a hulu hoop and suspending it horizontally from the ceiling. We did this for Lamb and Banana’s bedroom a few years ago, and it gave Lamb some daily privacy. If you want to “princess it up,” wind fake flowers and LED lights around the hoop, too, and hang it from a fancy plant hook using a few feet of tulle. Glue on some sparkles. Build a second one in your little brother’s favorite color so he leaves yours alone.
Third, remember that your little brother might not want this situation either. He probably has hopes and dreams for his bedroom that aren’t getting fulfilled because he shares it with you. Maybe he’s as disappointed to be living with a princess as you are to be living with a pig! Try to remember that your way of doing this might be as upsetting to him as his is to you.
Finally, focus on the good parts about sharing a room. Does this mean you get bunk beds? If so, you can work together to turn your bed into a fort or a submarine or an underground bunker. You have someone to snuggle with if you have a bad dream.
My grandparents give me lousy Christmas presents each year. They are either things I’m not interested in or presents that are for kids younger than me. (I’m 10.) I know it’s the thought that counts, but my grandparents don’t really seem to be thinking about me when they give me these gifts. Should I just pretend I like their presents or tell them how I really feel?
Don’t Call Me Ungrateful, Please
Dear Not Ungrateful,
In my opinion, the best option would be to either subtly imply that you would like something more to your liking, for next time, or simply return the presents to the store where they were purchased. If they were from a big box store, such as Walmart or Target, buy something you would prefer to the lackluster gifts. Your grandparents are far away and probably won’t notice that you don’t own their gifts anymore.
Dear Not Ungrateful,
First, let me say I LOVE the double negative in your pseudonym! But, graver topics are on the floor: Christmas presents.
If you feel like the fits aren’t a good fit for you, then it means that your grandparents are struggling to buy or make what you would like. Help them out by giving them ideas! Decide on one kind of thing that your grandparents could give you and ask for that year after year (or until you grow out of it).
For example, maybe there is a series of books you love (The Nathan Hale series is a good choice if you like history and graphic novels!) or a kind of book you like (like stories about World War II). Many schools participate in Scholastic Book Clubs. Create an account and a wishlist, then share it with your grandparents. They can buy the books online and have them shipped to your school, and when they order books this way, your classroom gets free books from Scholastic.
Or maybe there is a kind of art supply you like and could always use more of. Things that get used up (paints, crayons, sketchbooks, fancy teas, bubble bath) are things you can always use.
Communication is the key here. You can tell them what you want without sounding greedy. Try this: “One of my goals for next year is to get better at crocheting so I’m asking people who usually buy me presents to help stock my supply of yarn” or “This year, I’ve really gotten into history, especially the Civil Rights period. If you were thinking about buying me a present, I’d love to read more about this time period.”
Check in with us next year to let us know how this works out for you!
Dear Not Grateful,
You are kind to care about your grandparents’ feelings.
This isn’t a problem about Christmas, I think. It’s a problem about the rest of the year. Your grandparents don’t seem to know you well enough to give you a present based on your interests. Let them know what interests you far in advance of Christmas. Better yet, get them interested with you Even though they are far away, you can share some interests in common. For example:
- Play online chess or another online game together
- Make a craft together (like each of you piecing half of the squares of a quilt).
- Set aside time after your favorite football teams play to discuss the game over Skype or Facetime.
- If you perform in a concert or play, send your grandparents a video of it.
- Take photos of the artwork you make in school and ask your parents to post them online where your grandparents can see them.
- Ask your parents to buy you a set of 12 nice notecards and 12 stamps, then paperclip a stamped, addressed envelope with a blank card inside to each month of your calendar. Each time something exciting happens that month, write a short note inside the card (“Band concert today–We played music from Harry Potter!” or “Lost our basketball game tonight, but I scored more points in a single game than I ever have!” or “Earned an A+ on my Newberry Honor diarama!”) several times each week, then mail the card at the end of the month.
- As your grandparents get to know what you are good at and what you enjoy, they will become better gift-givers. Best of all, you will get to know each other better!