Friday, December 24, 2010

Fall On Your Knees...

This evening we attended our church Christmas Eve candelight service. We have gone to one other one, but typically we are involved in family activities and stay home. At first, I will admit, the idea of getting out and about seemed a bit overwhelming. But Mark reminded me that this was one way to remind our children what Christmas was all about. So after a few preparations for the evening, we headed down the road to our church.

One thing that was very different than a normal church service was that Joshua went to this service with us in the sanctuary. He normally stays in "extended care" in the nursery. Of course, another difference was that the lights were off, with only the lit Christmas trees.

As we sat there, all in a row, the youngest in my lap, I was suddenly overwhelmed. The music started ("Here I Am to Worship"), and I was too overcome with emotion to even sing. Suddenly all of the worries of the world faded away.

The church service was beautiful. We had several families read Scripture and light candles to signify different roles God/Jesus plays in our life. We sang several songs, including my very favorite "O Holy Night", and our pastor preached a short sermon about THE Light of the World.

A few thoughts that came to mind with the lighting of the candles...

Hope. God is a God of hope. I don't know about you, but I need hope. It seems like this has been a very difficult year. So many financial difficulties. Houses for sale. Lost jobs. Sickness. So much sickness. Cancer has affected two teachers at my school as well as the husband of one of our co-workers. So much sadness. But God is a God of hope. He IS our hope. The more I live on this earth and experience the pain of a human life, the more I long to be with Him. And ultimately, isn't that what He wants? To be with us? To know that we long to be with Him?

Love. That one was easy, or as easy as love gets. I just had to look down the pew to see my true love surrounded by our little loves. Then we came home for a baked potato soup with my parents and my grandmother. The room was full of love. I am so blessed. I forget sometimes, but it is true. So blessed.

Peace. This is the one that nearly had me in a heap of tears. Peace. I long for peace. It seems like recently that is my hope and dream for the new year. Peace. I have the peace of Jesus in my life. But lately I long for peace in our house. I don't want to go in many details, but the last few weeks have not been very peaceful. (Marriage is fine, referring to kiddos here) It seems like many nights I go to bed in tears, trying to figure out what we can do to fix things. Motherhood is not easy. I am hoping that once Christmas is over with, things will settle back down, tempers will calm, tensions will ease. And then maybe I really can have peace. Maybe. :)

So back to my favorite Christmas song.

O Holy Night.

The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.

Those words get to me every time.
Actually it just takes the opening note.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

That part always tears me up too. I can't help but think of Guatemala. I remember seeing the oppression, feeling it. And I know that it is not even close to the oppression other parts of the world (even our own country) has.

But the words that almost stop my heart:

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

Fall on your knees. Fall. Just seeing Him, hearing His voice and that of His angels, will cause me to fall on my knees. I think of that scenario often. Lately I have thought of falling to my knees in desperation, in prayer, in search of peace. But one day I will fall on my knees in awe and wonder at His glory.


Thank you, God. Thank you for the reminder of who I am, and more importantly, who you are. I needed that tonight.

More later,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why I Do What I Do

I knew as a child I wanted to be a teacher. I cannot explain it, it was just something in my heart from a very young age. I would line my dolls up and try to teach them. When I was in elementary school, my teachers would let me have their old textbook teacher manuals to play school with at home. And I did so, faithfully. I don't think anyone was surprised when I graduated and decided to major in elementary education. Now here it is, 18 years later, and I still can't imagine doing anything else.

I am not going to claim to be the world's greatest teacher. I don't have all of the answers and am not an expert at much of anything. In fact, I think I learn more every year than my students do. :) Having kids of my own, I can't and don't devote every second of my day to the classroom. Teaching does consume a lot of time and energy, but I do have a family that needs that time and energy too. I doubt many of my students will grow up and think, "Wow, my kindergarten teacher...she really changed my life." I do try to bring fun to learning but I am not a "stand out". I do not have an amazing voice, I am not wild and overly creative, I am not a stand up comedian. I am just one teacher out of many who loves what I do and who I do it for.

This time of year, it can be easy to be weary. We have all of the pushes and pulls of Christmas obligations, family obligations, social obligations, church obligations. And the students...well, they get a little on the energetic side as thoughts of Christmas wishes (and probably the sweet sugar of Christmas treats) consume their every thought. Meanwhile, my energy level goes down drastically as I stay up late trying to get something accomplished (often without much success). Yet even in the midst of all of that, I was reminded this past week just why I do what I are a few reasons (of many).
  • Where else but an elementary school could I have a pajama day (all day at school in my comfy and warm pj's and slippers) and a Christmas carol singalong assembly as we wind down the first semester?
  • The sparkling eyes of my students as they used a variety of sprinkles, candies, and frostings to decorate their own gingerbread men...priceless.
  • Assessing a student to find out that he/she had learned almost all letters and sounds in the last few weeks...took that child to the office to let the principal and office staff ooh and aah over him/her as tears rolled down my face. I wish I could take credit for the learning but all I provided were tools; the student did the rest!
  • The students eager faces as they presented me with gifts (some chocolate, an ornament, a scarf, a shawl, a Christmas platter), waiting for me to open them up.
  • Hearing from a student's mom that when asked what was going to happen that day, she didn't say "our Christmas party" but rather, "Yes, I get to eat lunch with my teacher!" (Purchased through a silent auction at our school fundraiser)
  • Seeing our hallways lined with food, clothing, and toys to go to our families in need...all donated by faculty, students/families, and partners in education.
  • Enjoying a faculty lunch provided by our wonderful PTA
  • Crying together over fellow workers dealing with tough issues (I HATE CANCER)
  • Visiting a co-worker who had surgery this week and watching her eyes light up as she opened cards and gifts from her students and co-workers
  • Merrily waving goodbye to my students as we departed for our two week holiday break only to have one sweet child throw her arms around me and say sadly and firmly, "I am going to miss you, Mrs. Cloud!"

That is why I do what I do...


Thursday, December 16, 2010

All I Want for Christmas Is...

Dear Santa,
I have been really good this year. Well, mostly. Okay, kind of. Just don't ask my kids. Or my husband. Or possibly my students depending on the day. Just take my word for it.

I am writing to you, Santa, with my wishlist. After all, you can do miraculous things. I realized that when one of my children asked for an i-Pad and assured me that Santa did not need money for that...his elves will simply make it. If you can do that (can doesn't mean "would"), then you can surely bring me a thing...or two...or six.

Oh, and dearest Santa, these are in no particular order. Of course, if you bring all of them, it won't be a problem. :)
1. One extra room in our house. Maybe two. A bedroom so those girls do not have to share a room (nor do we have to listen to the grumblings of how they share a room) and one more bathroom. Of coruse, some days I wonder why we have two bathrooms since somehow in the morning they all end up in ours...right in front of my mirror!
2. An extra hour or two a day.
3. One, just one, of our children to be quiet and self-sufficient. Just one.
4. An extra dishwasher. Seems like the one we have is always going while the dishes build up in the sink.
5. Three days to myself to re-organize my house.
6. Gift certificates to Blog to Print (I think that is the name) so I can get paper copies of what I have said in the past, more than likely words I will have to eat.
7. Peace on earth. I always have a word of the year. One year it was contentment. 2011's word is peace. I yearn for it.
8. To like vegetables. I know they are good for me. I know I will live longer if I eat more of them. And I know that almost all of them (other than a select few in the raw state) make me gag.
9. Our family beach vacation. We are downsizing our vacations this coming year to take care of some other expenses. But come February, when I am looking out at the dreary winter scene, I will want to plan that beach vacation. Not to mention, how do I do a family calendar every year without 700 beach pictures to choose from for the summer months?
10. NO snow. None. I know that others probably have that high on their list. Why don't you help them vacation in a snowy place? After the last two years, I am done with any frozen precipitation. None. I want none. I guess I really should take this one up with God...
11. A Mountain Dew (not diet) that is not fattening.
12. For scientists to discover that five minutes of exercise a day is all your body really needs
13. A lifetime supply of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate squares with caramel. Please don't bring milk chocolate. It is not the same as dark.
14. One child to become more independent, another to become more "yielding" to those in authority, one to become more responsible, and another to become a bit more humble. Is that asking too much? :)
15. A little more energy to keep up with my crew.

Santa, my list could go on and on, as you probably already know since you see me when I am sleeping, and you know when I am probably know that I would write more but I am falling asleep at the keyboard.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wrapped Up in Books

I know I have mentioned our Christmas book tradition before. However, I would say it is one of the topics we still get the most questions about...other than adoption maybe. :)

It all started when our firstborn was a baby. I read about the book tradition in a magazine and decided to start it. I gathered 25 children's books about Christmas, wrapped them up, and had him open one a night starting December 1. Then we would read the book.

It added a little excitement to the Christmas season plus hopefully inspired a love for reading. :) (Yes, he is still a huge reader.)

Then along came child 2. Now we were wrapping 50 books at the end of November. A bit much, but very "doable".

Of course, you can do the math. We now have four kids. Simple math...4 kids, 25 books each means 100 books in all.

So here are the questions we get asked (along with my answers :)...

Do you buy new books each year?

Oh, goodness no. We are not rich people by any means. Even if we did have that much extra money around, we wouldn't do it. We save them. I have two tubs of Christmas books. I have picked up many of them at bookstore sales or through school book orders. We keep the tubs in the garage or attic until late November. If I buy books throughout the year, I just stick them to the side until it is time to wrap. (Right now, I have a box of books that the kids have outgrown. Now I am saving them for grandchildren WAY down the road. :)

How do you wrap them?
Well, I use cheap wrapping paper (usually in the "dollar spot" at Target). Each child has their own paper; I try to match personality. Child 1 loves the color red (something about the Razorbacks), so his is always red. Child 2's is whimsical with pink somewhere on it. Child 3's favorite black. So this year her paper is black with pictures on it. And the youngest gets Santa Claus paper this year. Our wrapping is not precise. In fact, I make one cut for each book. That is it. Then I wrap from there. (One year my husband decided we should just use large gift bags for each child and let them "draw" out a book each night. It was NOT the wrapping it is!)

When do you wrap them?
Usually November 30. Did I mention we are procrastinators? Every year I think I will wrap earlier than last year, yet I never do. I have considered wrapping them in July when I have more time on my hands but the problem is that I am never quite sure which books I will use from year to year depending on the kids' ages and interests. Oh, this year, I got about a week's worth wrapped before December 1, then finished wrapping the rest this weekend.

What kind of books do you use?
I have a pretty good collection of Christmas books. Some focus on Christ's birth/the Nativity. Others are more "commercial", focusing on Santa Claus. I think there is a good mixture. As the kids get older, I have had to buy several Christmas chapter books for the "big kids". They all get some version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas". The oldest may have books about the Christmas Carol while the youngest's may involve popular characters like Clifford or Elmo. The funny thing is that each child (with the exception of child 4 who hasn't figured out the book patterns yet) has certain books that are "theirs" in their mind. Child 1 has one book he wants to open on his birthday every year. It is a tradition. I don't know why that book, but he counts on it. And already this year I have heard child 2 say (after child 3 opened a book), "Oh, I loved that book!"

Why do you do this (go to all of this work)?
I love reading. I also love gifts (giving and receiving). This tradition lets me "marry" the two. I love the look of surprise when the children open up their books, as well as the time we get to spend reading together (well, the younger ones anyway...the big kids take their books to read on their own :). It is a lot of work but it is a tradition I hold onto dearly. It is a special tradition for the kids; they anticipate this each year. So therefore, it is special for me!

At what age do you stop?
I have no idea. I have been pondering this as child 1 gets older. But he still enjoys this tradition, so obviously this isn't the time to stop. I guess we will just know when it is.
But for now, we are wrapped up in books!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Do List

Oh, the To Do List...

Will it ever end?

Create Christmas picture cards

Write a holiday letter

Address 125 or more cards

Write a personal note on each holiday letter

Fold letters, insert cards, seal envelopes

Stamp envelopes

Mail them (as opposed to last year when I gave up after our cards were stolen)

Double check the "Christmas gift database"

Shop, shop, shop

Finish wrapping 100 Christmas books (over halfway done at least :)

Make Christmas cookies with kids

Decorate said cookies

Clean up mess after decorating cookies with kids

Decorate tree (no, it is not decorated. It does have lights though)

Finish finding an "ornament of the year" for each of the kids

Decorate house

Visit the square

Finish up details for a child's birthday party (for family)

Wrap presents for birthday child's birthday

Make a birthday cake

Shop and cook a birthday meal

Get in the holiday spirit

Catch up on the blog.

Plus all of that other stuff, like cooking, cleaning, organizing, mothering, etc...

How about you?