Christmas in July: The Question.

christmas2picmo

There was no way — NO WAY — I was expecting this question in the middle of summer. But I am happy to report that my son has decided to be a Magic Keeper too. He’ll be joining us this year in keeping Christmas magic alive for his little sister, and we’re all actually really excited. Merry Christmas, friends! Kara

I remember carefully filling my son’s stocking last year, piling the gifts under the tree, trying to make sure everything was set out the way it was supposed to be, that we hadn’t forgotten anything.

This might be his last year of believing, I thought, but then I had thought that the year before too.

He’s such a logical kid, but there’s so many things he wants to believe in — including an actual Middle Earth, where hairy-footed Hobbits eat too much and protect a real ring.

And so, I never said anything. I waited, and I guess I planned a little.

christmas1

But then yesterday, I overheard part of the conversation. My son wouldn’t let Neighbor Kid borrow his hammer to bust rocks.

We actually have a special rock-busting hammer, because rock-busting warps the hitty-part, so we have just one hammer reserved for that purpose and my daughter was using it.

“Can I use that one?” Neighbor Kid asked my daughter, “Because you’re brother is being a weenie.”

“I told you that I just don’t want this one damaged,” my son said, and I wondered from my eavesdropping spot in the kitchen if it was time to step in. Weenie? Really?

“Oh. That’s right,” said Neighbor Kid. “Because you got that one from ‘Saaaaaanta.’

Here we go, I thought.

But …

“Let’s go do something else,” my son said, and I thought the conversation was over.

 christmas6

But 15 minutes later he poked his head in the door and yelled for me.

With Neighbor Kid standing close he asked, “Mom? Is Santa real?”

In July.

Luckily, I had been getting into the shower when I heard my son call, so it bought me 15 minutes to draft a letter in my head.

I was kind of ticked at Neighbor Kid. I can’t figure out these little people who feel the need to ruin stuff for other kids, so I tried to find a way to include that into my conversation with my son.

He was already on top of it though. I emerged from the shower and told him we could talk in a few minutes.

“Mom? He gets bullied at school, and I think he’s trying to find a way to deal with that,” my son said.

Such a wise kid to know this hadn’t been about a hammer or Santa at all.

Still, I saw he was shaken.

That’s when I recalled Rachel’s post she shared at Easter about Magic Keepers.

So I sat down to organize my thoughts for a minute. The more I wrote, the more I decided that that’s exactly what we are — that we keep the magic going because we are Believers at heart. Believers in good, in bringing joy. We believe in generosity and giving, and that’s what makes the magic happen every year.

christmas5

I know this approach may not be right for every family, but as we sat on the picnic table together, I found that it was just what we needed, so I’m sharing my letter to my son:

Dear Owen,

From the time you were teeny tiny, you have always been a really smart kid. You are smart enough to know that many things that we can’t see, hear or touch are real. Faith. Hope. And definitely love.

Today, someone told you that Santa isn’t real, and so I wanted to write you this letter to tell you more.

A long time ago, a man named Saint Nicholas helped the poor families in his village by giving them coins and gifts. He did this because he was generous and kind, and he wanted to bring people joy. Today, many people continue in the spirit of St. Nicholas by celebrating the tradition of Santa Claus.

When you were little, we chose to continue this tradition in our family, because Daddy and I are something called Magic Keepers.

You see, from the time you have been very young, you’ve been a Believer. Believers are wonderful! They don’t question whether things exist, because they know in their heart that it feels right to Believe.

Daddy and I were Believers too when we were young. And then, when we got older, someone came to us and told us we shouldn’t believe anymore. And so we had a choice to make. We could stop believing, or we could keep believing and become Magic Keepers.

Magic Keepers help to carry on all the best traditions because at heart, they still believe in them. They believe that Santa is about giving and generosity. And they know those things are really important.

Magic Keepers take a quiet oath to never ruin the magic for anyone else, young or old. They promise to continue the tradition by giving to others whenever they can, even if it isn’t Christmas. They do this because in their heart it feels right.

And it’s fun! Dad and I have gotten to surprise you every year by putting presents under the tree, and treats in your stocking. We’ve gotten to see the joy on your face as you discovered your gifts Christmas morning. We get to nibble the cookies you set out, leaving just a few crumbs the way Santa would.

I hope that this year, you will become a Magic Keeper too. I hope you will help us surprise your sister, if she is still a Believer. (And I hope she will be for a little while longer.)

I know sometimes it can feel a little sad as you make the transition from Believer to Magic Keeper, so let me know if you want to talk about this, OK?

I love you so much, Owen. And I know that like me, you’ll always want to be a Believer just a little bit. That’s OK. There is so much wonderful stuff out there to believe in.

Love, Mom and Dad

Now here’s the thing. I didn’t just give him the letter and take off.

I asked Owen if he would like to decide this year whether to just be surprised Christmas morning, or if he wanted to help us surprise his sister.

He’s going to think about it, although he’s very excited to get to carry-on this tradition.

We talked for a long time. (We were late to a July 4th barbecue. We never got the biscuits made for the strawberry shortcake.)

And then finally:

“Mom? Where did this all come from? Has our family always done this?” he asked. “Did your grandma do it? It seems like something your Grandma would have liked.”

He’s right. She would have. And certainly she did. In her own way.

(Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her experience and ideas, and helping me to find the words that brought my son comfort when he needed it.)

A little holiday (homeschool) rhythm

holidayrhythm

Do you want to make yourself nuts?

Because if you do, I have a tested, proven way to make it happen.

It goes like this: Force it. Push the rope. Make it so.

Ignore feelings. Don’t listen.

Just keep going, until you literally collapse in bed crying.

I’m talking about instituting a homeschooling rhythm, but this works for everything (including holiday traditions.)

How can you be so sure? you ask.

I will tell you — it’s because I’ve done it so many times, always with the same result — a burned-out mama, frustrated children, a very confused dad:

“But I just got here …??”

IMG_4643

I think that in my heart, I’m a schedule girl. I love my planner. I like making lists.

Having kids shook me, because kids don’t do anything on schedule.

So when my kids were little, I read all about rhythm. And it sounded so good. It was like a schedule, but it flowed. There were allowances. You could let some parts go, and then pick up again.

We need that, I decided.

And so, I set about making it happen.

By basically creating a schedule and calling it a rhythm. And then I wondered why it didn’t work.

IMG_4659

I find that this is an ongoing theme in my life. Things start to feel off, and I pull out my planner and a notebook and my pens and start asking my kids weird questions like: “Around what time are you usually really actually-hungry for breakfast?”

It’s taken me a long time to learn that usually, when I am feeling that “off-ness” my family is feeling it too, and it just means that it’s time to adjust our rhythm.

It often happens at the change of seasons, but it can also happen when something in our life shifts.

So recently, when I noticed the “off-ness,” I tried to give everything a little time and space to work itself out.

And the most amazing thing happened: it did.

IMG_4670

My kids started asking to go outside first thing to enjoy the snow. That gave me lots of extra time to settle in each morning and start a big breakfast. (Because playing in the snow is hard work.)

After breakfast, we could begin math and the kids were calm and focused.

Chores were getting done; healthy meals getting made. Learning was happening, but then, it always kind of is, right?

I decided we had found our special holiday rhythm. But then I read Kris’s post about creating stress-free homeschool, and I scaled back a little on my “school” expectations so we could just enjoy this slow season together.

IMG_4695

So now, mornings look a lot like what I described above, with some education videos thrown in. (Have you heard about Word Up? So fun!)

It feels good and restorative right now, and I think we all kind of need that. I know I did, and sometimes what Mom needs is what everybody needs …

I know many of us can’t help but look ahead at January as a chance to begin again and have it all figured out. But when the holiday season wraps up, and it’s time to start a new year with vigor and intention, I hope I can remember not to force it.

It’s so much better when rhythm just kind of finds you …

Happy Monday friends!

Much Love, Kara

P.S. I’ve been sharing shorter stories about our days as well as books suggestions over at Facebook lately. So come by and say hi!

Lazy Advent.

lazy advent

I wrote this post last year, and I have to say that it was our best Advent season yet. Nothing felt as rushed or panicked as in years past.
But. BUT. We still did a lot. And some of it we enjoyed very much, while other stuff felt sort of forced. So I am taking yet another step back this year. My mom was generous enough to get us one of these before they jumped in price, which gives the kids a little something to look forward to each day.
And that might just be enough. There’s so much to do and enjoy this time of year — I feel better this year about just letting it unfold.
Wishing you a peaceful Advent! Kara

Three years ago. We’re trying to sell our house …

Someone gets the idea to create a super fancy Advent calendar.

And I promise I am not bragging when I say it was gorgeous.

All the control I did not have over the nonsense that goes along with house selling — showings, staging, a dog who pooped for attention — I put into making the most gorgeous advent calendar anyone has ever created. Ever.

(That might be a little bit of an exaggeration. It was paper and stuff. And I bought pretty much everything at Michaels. But I think you get the general idea.)

The best part was that I was LOCKED. IN.

I sealed all the little doors shut, and promptly forgot what I put in there.

No one was more surprised than me that fated morning when my son read the little card:

Today, we’ll begin making a gingerbread house from scratch!”

(It gets better.)

When I had written “begin” (oh, dear.) and  “from scratch,” what I meant was we were going to start a generations-old recipe from an out-of-print cookbook. Directions were in Swedish. And used the metric system.

Conservatively, the process was supposed to take 12-18 hours. The amount of allspice was terrifying.

But I was LOCKED. IN.

(Not sure if I mentioned that.)

And so, we pulled out the biggest bowl I have ever seen, and we set to work. The process of mixing up that much dough exhausted us all, and I fell into bed that night with flour in my hair, and cement-like dough caked under my fingernails.

And that’s exactly how I awoke the next morning, when our realtor called at 8 a.m.

“We have a showing!” she said cheerily.

My voice was a croak: “Where?”

“Ha!” she laughed the laugh of a grandmotherly realtor who had never imagined so much hassle for such a small commission. “We’ll be there at 9!”

The state of the kitchen … 

I can say this: it smelled lovely.

I shoved dirty dishes into the oven and piled two kids and a dog into the car.

But our Gingerbread Advent-ure was just starting.

I’ll give you the short version: All the windows baked shut. The icing, which required many, many, many raw egg whites, dried almost instantaneously in the pan.

And that was all still Saturday.

By Sunday, I had vacuumed up 80 percent of the flour and gotten two walls and part of the roof to stay together.

Until it all collapsed into sad, spicy rubble.

So after two and a half days of gingerbreading, I  handed each of the kids a butterknife and a bag of dye-free candy, and watched as they fruitlessly tried to frost the house together, and finally just ate all the candy.

Except one fish. They put one red fish on front of the door and propped it up with an icing mountain.

A for effort.

Of course, looking back, that house, that Advent, wasn’t Christmas magic. It didn’t feel good, or like we were preparing for anything, other than a four-person nervous breakdown.

I got a year to regroup when a friend gave us a Trader Joe’s calendar, and last year gave myself a second year off by ordering a super cute cardboard calendar off of Amazon.

But this year … well this year, I am ready to try again.

But I’m nervous. So I’ve declared it a Lazy Advent.

That sounds awful if you think about it, but let’s try not to. Let’s instead pretend Pinterest melted and join together for a stress-free holiday season.

What does a stress-free Advent look like? Good question:

1. Start with what you are going to do anyway

Every family has its traditions and favorite rituals. You are going to do those anyway. Plug them into your calendar and spread them out as best you can throughout the month. Don’t jam-pack your weekends. Leave time for the kind of peace that comes with just being OK with it, whatever it is.

2. Don’t lock yourself in

There are at least 88,000 different kind of Advent calendars invented every year. Pick any of them that works best for your time, budget and sanity. But DO NOT pick one where you can’t make a top-secret change-up the night before.

3. Keep a separate record

I don’t care if it’s a piece of paper folded up three times and stuck in your undie drawer — keep a record and check it every night. (I’m trying a Google calendar this year, but I’m a dork like that.)

4. Be OK with candy days

Buy some little treats — candy, small toys, etc., and be OK with using them throughout the month. Plan for a couple, but give yourself other “candy days,” when you just can’t cope with making ornaments or going to see Santa.

5. Factor in Elf Days

These are days when you work together or separately on Christmas prep — anything from making presents, to decorating,  to preparing the guest room. Be non-specific, because it’s about what you all need to get done. (See next.) Make it fun. Make this part of it. Put on some Christmas music and raid the cookie jar.

6. This is your Advent too

Because this is your Advent too. At its simplest, Advent is a time of waiting. It is meant to be slow. We are preparing. Give yourself the gift of time.

Oh! And maybe give yourself the gift of a few treats or a little pampering now and then too. Because I promise, what your kids really want most, is not a ridiculous, made-from-scratch, fancy-pants, possibly toxic gingerbread house.

They want you. Sane. And a chance to lick the butter knives.

Happy Advent.