merry crazy magical christmas

This week, the Christmas and the Crazy have taken over. We’re about to leave for a week with family in Colorado. I’m super looking forward to it, because I’m excited for everyone to see how much the girls have grown, and to watch them get loved on, and to see them finally able to play with their 2 year old cousin, and to spend time with people we don’t see often enough. But I’m also dreading a bit all the prep it takes to get us out the door and onto planes and through the plane ride, and sleep disruptions that come with traveling. Last year’s visit was amazing and also awful because the girls were both sick the whole time and did not sleep at all. This year, they’ve picked this week to cut their canines AND some molars, Etta’s started coughing in the last 24 hours, and Claire’s nose is running like a faucet.

Meanwhile, I realized yesterday, when Claire’s preschool teacher gave me a list of all the kids’ names, that I was meant to bring some sort of Christmas Thing for all the kids. I’d planned and prepared to gift her three teachers and three therapists, but the kids threw a wrench into my plans. A quick jaunt to the store (well, as quick as any jaunt can be with a toddler who wants everything she sees) and I had clearance jumbo crayons and holiday coloring books for all the preschoolers. I also dipped my toe into the Crazy Pinterest Mom deep end by using my phone to edit a pic of Claire in her Christmas jammies, send it to Walgreens through their app, and pick my prints up an hour later, ready to turn them into custom gift tags. I must say, it made all the gifts look super cute for less than $5.

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At the same time, yesterday was just a truly hellish day on the toddler front. Etta was teething and cranky and on a nap-strike all day, and then Claire came home ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I seriously fantasized about just running out the door and down the block and on and on and on.

But then, the magic started to happen. We went to our Happy Place, a local Mexican restaurant where they know and love us and give us our usual table. We drank margaritas and the girls ate cheese dip. We got them to bed. I got to attend a Christmas party with some of my dearest friends. The girls woke up happy, and we had a little mini-Christmas so we could do it just the four of us, before we head off on our trip. We all opened our stockings and sipped egg nog and just enjoyed a morning together. Etta napped (glory hallelujah)! Claire came home happy from preschool! Sesame Street-as-babysitter allowed me to finish sewing my last three gifts! I got Claire snuggled and to sleep, and then got a rare 20 minutes of holding my sweet Etta baby (who is usually go go go), just smelling her hair. By the time I had both babies in bed tonight, my world had turned a complete 360 from yesterday’s insanity.

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I’m starting to realize, early enough to have it matter, I hope (because, ha, seriously, I have it easy with toddlers, there’s no school programs or class parties or dance recitals or required outings yet), that Christmas is not about making the magic for my kids, even as I have to make magic happen in the form of last-minute gifts for bunches of preschoolers. Because my kids are the most magical thing I’ve ever seen, when I stop to see it. Christmas, really, is about a magic, miraculous, mundane thing: babies are born every day, but the Son of God is only born once. God picked the most normal thing in the world and used it to transform everything. And in the process, even the mundane becomes magical and miraculous. Christianity talks a lot about God giving us a new heart, a new life. But I think lately what I need the most is new eyes to see what’s already around me all the time.

Things like: the day before yesterday, I stopped at a light next to a man begging. The light turned green, and I drove away. But a verse popped right into my mind: Give to anyone who asks of you (Luke 6:30). Later, somehow, that same guy approached me in a parking lot a mile away. With my new eyes, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the verse that had popped into my mind and heart, and I gave him some money. I don’t know if I should have, I don’t want to debate giving money to strangers, and I don’t want to brag or let my left hand know what my right is doing. All I know is, in that moment, I truly felt I was being given another opportunity to do the right thing.

Later, irked in traffic, head and sinuses pounding, I looked up and saw a bumper sticker on the van in front of me: “Good Happens.” Message received. It does.

I want to be the good that happens. I want to see it. I want to hold it and smell its hair. And I can, all because of a baby that was born. Because of a new heart. Because of new eyes. That’s what this Christmas seems to be all about, for me. It’s my first to be acutely aware of the Crazy and the Busy. But it’s also my first with two magical little people who are old enough to be starting to see the magic. I want to see it too.

nativities and festivity

While I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving and staunchly oppose Christmas Creep, I am becoming more and more of a BIG GIANT CHRISTMAS CRAZY PERSON. A few years ago, I happened to be unemployed and childless at Christmas, so I went origami crazy and decorated our whole tree with handmade papercrafts. This year, I have toddlers, so when a kid-free day opened up during the week of Thanksgiving, I went ahead and put up the tree, BEFORE DECEMBER. Starting on December 1, our constant soundtrack has been my playlist of some 250 Christmas songs, much of which is hipsteriffic remakes of carols accompanied, I’m sure, by mustachioed dudes playing banjos, possibly while wearing vests, obtained free via Noisetrade. I’ve been working like an elf on homemade tree skirts, cinnamon ornaments, felt garlands, and lots of handmade presents.

Our tree, which was (gasp) up before Thanksgiving this year.
Our tree, which was (gasp) up before Thanksgiving this year.
I made this tree skirt, inspired by one I saw from The Land of Nod.
I made this tree skirt, inspired by one I saw from The Land of Nod.

But the surest sign that I’ve gone round the Christmas bend is the nativity.

Rachel Held Evans has a hilarious post today about the conundrum of a childless progressive couple trying to choose a nativity scene. Where to find a biblically accurate, fair trade, child safe nativity? It seems such a fraught decision. Pre-kids, the nativity I chose was a fair trade Peruvian one which features llamas. Perhaps not biblically accurate, but it makes me smile.

Post kids? Well… Enter the Little People. Here is our main nativity now:


Yep. That’s a plastic, light-up, noise-making nativity, in the home of the lady whose rules for her kids’ toys include avoiding plastic and things that make noise. And I don’t care. I love the Little People Nativity. My kids can’t break it, they love to play with it, and when you press the Baby Jesus and he lights up (?!) and the whole thing plays Away in a Manger and Silent Night, well, my kids dance and sway and clap their hands and the entire thing becomes more than worth the $20 I spent on it in the Fisher Price Labor Day sale.

And can you spot my favorite part? Yep. The purple hippo. Strangely not included in the original set, my children decided the purple hippo from their bath toys really needed to be present at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It kind of reminds me of the nativity scene lobsters from “Love Actually” and definitely reminds me of my sister, whose favorite Christmas song is “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” It makes me smile. How much has changed. How far I’ve come. But you know what, if they coulda, I’m sure the hippos would have followed a star all the way to Bethlehem too. They could have hung out with the lobsters.

Hours of fun with the plastic, noise-making, non-historically-accurate but much-beloved Little People Nativity.
Hours of fun with the plastic, noise-making, non-historically-accurate but much-beloved Little People Nativity.

holiday gift guides for toddlers

Are there small people in your life that you’re shopping for this holiday season? For ideas for infants, check out this post. For ideas for toddlers, here are some of the things the Bufflo Gals are into lately, and some of the things on their own wish lists. As always, these toys follow my “rules,” are wooden or metal instead of plastic when possible, don’t require batteries or make noise, and facilitate imaginative play that stimulates development. Also: this post is not sponsored or full of affiliate links or anything. It’s just stuff I think kids will like or stuff my own kids like.

One thing the girls are definitely getting for Christmas is an Ikea play kitchen that I bought while we were on vacation and shoved in the trunk with our luggage– it barely fit! But if you can’t access an Ikea, the other one in this set is available on Amazon, along with zillions of other options. Kitchens and play food are great for toddlers of all ages and genders.

Food Play Gift Ideas for Toddlers

Another great area of play for toddlers is babies and baby dolls. After I noticed the girls fighting over one random little dollar store baby doll, I got them a couple of real baby dolls, and they have LOVED them. They are getting these Land of Nod prams from one of their grandparents, but the one below is a great choice too. I really covet these Moover ones, but they’re twice the price. Along with baby dolls go cradles, high chairs, and doll carriers. Note: you may think baby dolls are for girls, but the baby dolls are by far the most popular toy with kids of all genders in Claire’s preschool classroom. They like to mimic their parents, and they want to care for the babies like their moms and dads care for them.

Baby Doll Toddler Gift Ideas

And finally, there are a few other great types of toddler toys you might consider: blocks and building toys, bath toys, active toys like slides and rockers, puzzles, cars/trucks, and creative toys like easels.

Toddler Gift Ideas

a december to remember

Yes, I’m cribbing Lexus’ slogan, because seriously, I don’t know ANYONE who gets cars as Christmas presents (though, Santa, if you’re reading, you know where my driveway is).

Last December was one of the worst months of our lives. I got the flu. Not the “flu” but the actual want to die, 8 days of 102 fever, entire month of sickness, influenza. The kind some people actually die from. (Side note: GET A FLU SHOT.) For weeks, I existed in a sweaty, shivery, coughing, bruised ribs, fluid in my lungs, drugged on codeine haze. Jon was working nights and spending his days dosing me, feeding me, helping me use the bathroom without fainting, and trying to catch some sleep in there too. It’s good to be married to an ER doc when you’re deathly ill, as he took great care of me. He admitted that a few times I looked so bad he thought about taking me to the hospital, but knew they’d pretty much just be doing for me what he was already doing– fluids, NSAIDs, cough meds, Mucinex. In retrospect, I might have needed a chest x-ray, but we survived. (My ribs were sore for a month afterward from all the coughing.)

Little did we know that Jon would be the one to wind up in the ER. One day, when I was finally starting to feel like I might be able to leave the house again, I got a text message from Jon saying that if I was up, he was now a patient in the ER where he had been working, and could I come there, please? He was having a weird heart beat and mentioned it to another doc he was working with, who checked him out, hooked him up to some monitors, and realized he was in atrial fibrillation. Basically, the top chambers of his heart were fluttering around instead of beating in a steady rhythm. Ultimately, it took an overnight stay in the ICU (where I tried desperately not to cough around any of the nurses, because I didn’t want to be kicked out of the unit), where he was the most lucid patient I think those nurses have ever treated, and some hardcore meds to get his heart back into a normal rhythm (they call this “converting” if you want to know some new medical speak). He was mere hours from being shocked with the paddles when the meds finally did their job. We got to look at his heart on the echo, which was pretty cool, to see the heart of the one I love, beating on a screen, but they didn’t establish what caused the a-fib episode. I have a feeling it was the exhaustion of working and taking care of a very sick wife. He hasn’t had an episode since.

Still, as a result, our December last year? While it was one to remember, it was also a pretty sucky one. I’m counting this year as a do-over. I got my flu shot, I’ve been washing my hands like a maniac, and if someone sniffles around me, I’m moving across the room. I’m pregnant, but I’m feeling good. My birthday and hopefully the Baby B gender reveal are coming up on the 16th. I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with my family and New Year’s in Colorado with Jon’s, and we’re determined to be healthy for all of it. Now I just have to figure how to decorate our house in a way that won’t immediately be destroyed by the wild and crazy Tinycat.

thanksgiving is better than christmas

Image by Gary Villet via the Google LIFE photo archive, under a Creative Commons license.

Every year Bill O’Reilly goes to war against those he believes are “at war against Christmas.” You know what I’m talking about– he, and a lot of others, get really irritated that greeters at WalMart and cashiers at the mall say things like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” preferably with the emphasis on CHRISTmas.  As if there aren’t other people in this country celebrating other holidays at that time.  But what really galls me is, O’Reilly is entirely missing the point. The problem isn’t WalMart greeters and mall cashiers, it’s WalMart and the mall.  Christmas has become a disgusting celebration of consumerism.

According to Advent Conspiracy, Americans spend around $450 BILLION on Christmas each year. According to Bread for the World, the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be solved for $13 billion per year. There’s just something stomach churning about using a holiday to celebrate the birth of a king who was born in poverty and preached about concern for the poor more than any other issue being used to fuel a $450 billion industry when a tiny fraction of that could feed and care for the world’s poorest people.

And of course, I sit here typing this as a total hypocrite.  I’ve tried to convince our families to do without gifts, in order to focus on time together and giving to charity, and yet so far, all I’ve been able to do is encourage caps on gift spending, hopefully leaving us with more money to give to charity.  So, in large part, most of the hoopla surrounding Christmas seems to me to be at war with the values of the man it celebrates, and yet I feel powerless to stop it.

So instead, I focus on Thanksgiving.  I think sharing meals was a pretty common theme in the life of Jesus, and I believe something special happens when we gather around a table with people, even our dysfunctional families.  I also think gratitude is a key component of a truly examined life.  In some ways, I think Thanksgiving is a more truly spiritual holiday than Christmas, in terms of how we celebrate it in this country– it’s about spending time with family, sharing a meal, and being thankful.  Sure, it can be taken to gluttonous extremes, but it can also be a beautiful celebration.  And maybe if we do it right, if we really take time to be thankful and realize we have all we need, that we are truly blessed, we will be able to keep our priorities in order when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  I can only hope.



Note: I am, of course, aware that Thanksgiving, like almost everything in the history of Western Civilization, has a backstory full of violence, bigotry, theft, and oppression.  I hope that by reclaiming that holiday as one of gratitude and love, and perhaps even sorrow for what happened in the past, we can try to make sure such things don’t happen in the future.

favored son

I’ve thought since the first time I brought him home that my family liked my husband more than they like me.  My mom is a feeder, loves to cook for people, and for the first time she had a BOY to feed and feed and feed.  He’s not picky, he has a ginormous appetite, and happily goes back for seconds.  And don’t even get me started on how he wowed all the women in the family by doing the dishes the first time we had him around for Thanksgiving.  And my dad? Well, much as he adores his three girls, it’s been adorable to see him with a son for the first time, geeking out about doctor stuff, playing ping pong for hours, working on projects around the house. Even my littlest sister thinks he rocks, because he’ll jump on the trampoline with her.  So you might see how I’d get the idea that he’s everyone’s favorite.  But now I have actual proof.

For Christmas this year, my Memaw gave everyone money and mittens.  My dad got $50. My mom got $50. My sister got $50. I got $50.

My husband?

He got $100.

The rest of us maintain that two $50 bills simply got stuck together, that it’s some sort of error. My husband maintains that Memaw simply likes him more than us.

i’m not a heathen or a pagan, but i’m for the rebel Jesus

I know I’ve been mostly absent from the blog, and that’s likely to continue, as we’re splitting our Christmas time in Arkansas and Colorado, and I don’t have much internet access beyond what I can get on my BlackBerry, provided it’s working properly (maybe Santa will bring RIM some better infrastructure).  Anyway, we were in a restaurant the other day and I caught the tail end of a Christmas song I’d never heard before. The only line I heard was something about “a heathen and a pagan on the side of the rebel Jesus.”  So, thanks to Google, I’ve now found and fallen in love with this song by Jackson Browne. Consider it my Christmas card to you, Internets.

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by ‘the Prince of Peace’
And they call him by ‘the Savior’
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

I wish you all joy and happiness, whatever you’re celebrating this time of year, from someone who is neither a heathen (well, that depends on who you ask, I guess) nor a pagan, but a fan of the rebel Jesus.