82 posts categorized "Holiday"

Happy St. Patrick's Day, but: How do kids celebrate?

March 17, 2014

"What IS St. Patrick's Day?" questions have been coming fast and loose from the kids around me today. My best answer is "a celebration of Irish culture," but when I looked up the Wikipedia page on St. Paddy's Day I don't think I realized that the religious feast day in Ireland to celebrate the isle's patron saint includes a Lenten loophole -- restrictions on lush behavior are lifted. (Don't tell those people in kilts -- kilts? -- I saw already drunk on Friday night.) So I started describing how and why people drink like crazy on St. Patrick's Day.

"All people do is EAT and GET DRUNK?" came the angry rejoinder. I got a demand to "do something fun outside!" -- but other than hunt for four-leaf clovers or gold pots at the ends of rainbows, I can't think of a thing.

What do you do with the kids for St. Patrick's Day, other than wearing green and making (my favorite part) Irish food? Anything we can fit in before the end of the day?

Throwback Thursday: Valentines Up Next

February 06, 2014

Ideas from the archives on celebrating the patron saint of love:

What does your Valentine's Day hold for you & loved ones this year?

Adopt a Family 2013 - from mine to yours

December 08, 2013

The urbanMamas community has a long history of adopting a family, pooling resources to be able to offer another family the brightest of holidays.  This year, my own family decided to adopt a small family, and I cannot tell you how powerful it has been from the beginning.

Our school district serves hundreds of children who are homeless.  My kids and I went to the district office to adopt a small family - a mom, her 4-year old daughter and her 9-year old son.  They don't have a wish list, but there are some suggestions on what to get them.  Toiletries in a portable bag for mom including deodorant and bath gels.  Compact blankets or sleeping bags that fit into a backpack for the kids, as sometimes there aren't enough blankets at the shelters.  Speaking of backpacks: a pack or duffle bag that can easily fit all of these items for easy transport.  Warm pants, coat, gloves, as the wintery season is now upon us.

The kids are putting love into thinking practically and sensibly about what the kids might love most.  Toys with many pieces might be frivolous.  Paperbacks instead of hardbacks?  They are value shopping, thinking what can we get more for less?  3 pairs of socks for $3.99 versus 2 pairs of socks for $2.99.

As they write their own wish lists to send to family who ask for them, they start to think of how superfluous their requests might be.  We live charmed lives, even if we feel like we cannot have everything we want.  We do, basically, have everything we need.  For this, we are so grateful.

This year, urbanMamas isn't hosting a family as a community, but there are many other opportunities to join other groups in their adopt-a-family efforts and wrapping parties.  If you have a group looking for more participants, please post below!

For a glimpse on our adopt-a-family achievements in the past:

Simplicity Santa - FREE Simplicity Parenting Intro

December 03, 2013

Do you get overwhelmed by the stress of the holidays? Are you tired of adding more stuff to your already cluttered home? Do you want to start the New Year with less stress and more family joy?
Come to a FREE Simplicity Parenting Introduction:
Where: Milagros Boutique - 5433 NE 30th Ave (NE Killingsworth)
When: Thursday, December 12th, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
RSVP: darcysutopiapdx@gmail.com or just post a comment below
Learn about the growing parenting movement that helps you simplify your schedule, declutter and destress your life. Based on the book, Simplicity Parenting; Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, this free holiday-inspired workshop will be led by certified Simplicity Parenting Coach, Darcy Cronin. 
urbanMamas is partnering to host this essential holiday event, and will be providing yummy snacks and wine. uM is also excited to announce that Darcy will be a guest blogger @UM. Darcy has been blogging at Sustainable Family Finances for almost five years, and will add a new perspective to our community. Learn more at her new blog, Darcy's Utopia.
So, whether simplifying has been on your perpetual to-do list for a while now or you're just curious, this free intro session is your way to find out about this alternative parenting movement. 
Darcy Cronin is a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.

Throwback Thursday: Trick or Treating, Pumpkins, Candy

October 17, 2013

I am sure our Search for the Great Pumpkin could use some updating!  Old haunts, new faves, please share.  

See what else families around town do for Outdoor Autumn Fun: apples, salmon, and - of course - the pumpkins.

And, always so much to talk about as it relates to Halloween:

Finishing up the year, marking time, making plans

December 31, 2012

The year 2012 was truly a landmark for me; though I hadn't set out to start a literary magazine for parents on January 1, I'd accomplished that, and even more awesomely, I'd gotten all my three boys to school successfully. On many occasions, I went a whole six hours without having to worry about any of them a whit.  My husband started what will (we hope) be his final deployment overseas. I came up with some crazy ideas and made them happen! I won an honor for my writing! I wrote lots and lots.

When it came to marking the year, though, I felt a little lost. I've made lists and long essay-like wrap-ups in other years; I've made calendars and year-in-review letters to send to friends. But this year I've been feeling overwhelmed with all I have to do (something about this wild 2012 has been: overcommitment exploded); I've felt the regular holiday excitement, even, was more than I could manage. As usual, I had so many ideas I ended up standing in my dining room, spinning around, not knowing where to begin.

Then I saw a post from Mara on Facebook. She was doing interviews with each of her boys; audio interviews, requiring nothing but the voice memo app on her iDevice. She gave me a list of her questions, things like, "What was the best thing about 2012?" and "What are your favorite things?" and "What scares you?" I set about recording immediately.

Continue reading "Finishing up the year, marking time, making plans" »

Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt

November 22, 2012

I don't know if there is anything like Thanksgiving for bringing out Portlanders in all their Portland-ness. If the vivid argument in the comments in one of my recent posts is any indication, those of us who are not minorities, who are not lower-income, who are not struggling, feel a great deal of guilt about our relative status. We as a people (we Portlanders) are either pointing out our own wronged status, or we're identifying so much with other wronged peoples that we get in internet (or public) arguments in which we passionately assert the rights of minority groups to be angry about the wrongs inflicted upon them. And are we not all minorities, in some way? Surely all of us have some part of our experience that marks us, makes us different, would (if called out by someone else at, let's say, a Thanksgiving dinner table) give rise to judgments and widened eyes.

And Thanksgiving. With its focus on food and the fraught relationship between the caucasian immigrants and the dark-skinned natives. How some of our ancestors were grateful and others were slaughtered. How all this is caught up in religion and bigotry and intolerance. All of us come from people who were, at one point or another, viewed as The Other. All of us at some time in our lives have participated in the celebration of the corporate food-purveyor who, slowly and viciously, turned our regular commemoration of harvest into a week-long orgy of consumerism, from the branded stuffing mix to the branded turkey to the branded standing in line for Black Friday and all the black days after that. When we spend to show our gratitude, our patriotism, our love.

I asked my oldest son to research, to tell his brothers about the real story of Thanksgiving.

Continue reading "Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt" »

Today is my birthday

November 15, 2012

Yes, that's right!  And, Saturday will be another urbanMamas birthday.  SO: What do YOU, my dear mama friends, typically do for your birthday?  How do you celebrate?  What does your family do for you? 

Halloween: stay in your 'hood or commute to another?

October 15, 2012

On our neighborhood yahoo-group, I recently asked the question: "how many trick-or-treaters should we plan for?"  As I am one year new to this neighborhood, I didn't want to be left with a million bags of extra Twix (what will YOU give out this year?).  Goodness knows I still have a few baskets of candy from last year.

Schools might ban costumes, but many families will still head out into the night to enjoy the fright of the ghouls and gobblins begging for candy.  A neighborhood long-timer emailed: "do your kids a favor, take them to the other nearby neighborhoods to enjoy the decorations and sights!"  Last year, our first in our new neighborhood, indeed we went out-of-bounds.  We went to the neighborhood about a mile away (maybe less), which is well-known to be the place to go for any holiday.  Every single home on that street invests countless hours of planning and concocting the most elaborate displays.  Many, many families commute to that area to gawk.  Lines from the front door trail to the street, just to see first-hand the great work of those residents.  It was stressful.

To me?  The crowds are not worth it.  What's wrong with our own neighborhood?  So what if our houses aren't as big or decked out?  Residents who have been around for a few years say: "no one has come by in the past three years" or "a bowl of my jumbo Snickers were untouched all night".

There's still something to be said for staying in your own neighborhood, though, right?  In the name of getting to know others, in the name of community building, in the name of building momentum?

I just asked the kids, "Do you want to stay in our neighborhood to trick or treat this year?"  They didn't respond right away.  They thought hard about it, but they ended up saying: "No."

Your take?

Happy Father's Day! What are your family traditions?

June 17, 2012

Today was Father's Day, and we didn't much in the way of celebrating the father in *my* kids' life; they made cards and sent them off to Kuwait. I love the idea of celebrating other fathers, though, and we got to hang out with some of our favorite other-people's-dads at the Disaster Relief Trials. As we rode home and did our evening things, I noticed how many dads I saw with their kids, even doing errands. It struck me that, while many mothers choose to spend some time alone on Mother's Day (and the tradition is for mom not to have to cook anything on her day), it's more common for men to spend their day in non-stop daddy mode (and, if you're going to be like the dads on TV, cooking food on the grill).

As I'm temporarily without male partner, I can observe the Father's Day crush from a distance. While I was shaking my head at the display ads at Trader Joe's for hot dogs and beer for Dad, I have a feeling the cliche is just what my husband would love were he here. Next year, I thought, I'll buy a bunch of hot dogs and microbrews and a bag of charcoal and he'll be so happy!

How did you celebrate Father's Day? Do you have the traditions that fit the end-of-aisle displays? Or do you do something unique to your own family? If you're a blended family or you are separated from your children's other parent, how does that work out?

And May Day Flowers Bring...

May 03, 2012

"You made my day!" said the woman at the doctor's office, grinning. I'd brought Monroe with me, carrying a little jar of simple flowers from my garden, tied with twine. I needed a tetanus shot and it was May Day and I was overcome on April 30 with a sudden urge to Do It.

We started with the next-door neighbor and we went bonkers; several neighbors on our block, including a few we've never met. The receptionists at the doctor's office. Truman's teacher. A friend. Drunk on our gratuitous gifting, my two younger boys ran away from two of the houses in full giggle and victory. "This is the best May Day EVER!" said Monroe (and the only one we've ever celebrated, making it a low bar).

It was such a joy to me, even more than the recipients of our random secret gifting. It was so easy; picking a few of the volunteer flowers and tulips from our yard, fill in with mint and herbs, put in old canning jars, tie with kitchen twine and a little May Day greeting, deliver as quietly as possible. To see the faces light up -- not just of the recipients, but my boys in victory after our "missions" -- was a thrill. So much fun, in fact, that I might do it again before next May 1.

Have you celebrated May Day the old-fashioned way? If you haven't, have you found unexpected joy in some simple and secret act of small generosity? Any other ideas? I need another mission.

Happy Earth Day! Where do you dig?

April 22, 2012

It's Earth Day, and many local schools are celebrating by having work parties in their rain gardens or school vegetable gardens or compost bins. We're headed to Grout today, where the garden has been greatly expanded by a lot of work (and machinery) last weekend. We're so impressed! We'll probably do the smallest bit of work there -- planting things on this gorgeous day while the littles swing and run on the rocks.

It's a hard balance, though, as I'd rather spend the whole day in *my* yard uprooting the copious weeds and digging and figuring out where to get some free dirt (got extra? bring it over!). I want to plant peas, even though I'm a bit late, and lettuces and radishes and beets and kale. I can't wait to start harvesting more than I have this winter out of my garden -- just a bit of chard and green garlic and lots of herbs. So when we get back from Grout that's what I'll do, harvest nettles for quiche (this nettle quiche recipe, no pine nuts), slay a few blackberry vines and burdocks and uproot as much mint as possible.

How do you decide where to devote your gardening efforts on this and other gorgeous weekend days: your child's school garden, or your own? If you have two or more different school gardens competing for your energies, what will you do?

Happy Easter! What's In Your Basket?

April 08, 2012

My nine-year-old, the skeptic, and I had a long discussion about Easter last night, pondering the historical fact, faith, and pagan ritual origins of Easter -- and how odd it was that so much of America, excepting those of Jewish faith among us, celebrate it with a kind of crazy mashup of rebirth/fertility/crucifixion. The very name 'Easter' comes from a Germanic pagan goddess, 'Ostara,' and hares are a pagan and medieval fertility symbol. At least according to Wikipedia. (We also learned that rabbits and hares can conceive while already pregnant with a litter. Insane!)

So, it was with this jaded, somewhat secular, perspective that I began idly browsing through casual friends' Instagram photos late last night. Oh my: what was here made even my Christmas stockings and Santa rituals look impoverished. A basket for every kid, for starters, most of them stocked with actual bags of candy, 12"-high chocolate rabbits, toys, and (evidently) plastic eggs filled with more toys and cash. Whoa. I'd spent $6 on Easter candy at Trader Joe's, and I had a little box of Jelly Belly beans my husband bought when he was home on leave.

I knitted an Easter basket several years ago, and it's pretty and I use it once a year, so there won't be another two joining it. This is Easter: one basket, six bucks. I was so humbled by other mama's Easter offerings, I didn't even fill the basket until after I made my coffee and washed the dishes this morning. My kids seemed perfectly happy. (I felt especially anti-social after my husband left this time, so we won't have an opportunity to compare Easter hauls until Monday!)

This morning, last night's Easter basket filling photos were joined with photos of happy, bleary kids and thank-you notes from the Easter Bunny (next to a plate of baby carrots) and living rooms littered with empty eggs and candy wrappers. Somehow, I'd just forgotten that this happened, and it took me by surprise in my current emotional state of skepticism, social avoidance and cash-poverty. We made French toast. We finished our carrot garlands. I put on my clothes for a run. I felt -- guilty and crochety.

I wonder: what's in your Easter basket? I know there are lots of secular mamas and Jewish families in our audience, in addition to lots of faithful church-goers, and I'd love to hear what you think of this holiday, and what you had waiting for your kids this morning.

Valentines: Let's talk crafty

February 02, 2012

It's my favorite time of year to get all paper-y. Early February carries so much promise! I can't wait to come up with some combination of scissors, paints, hearts and paper that will perfectly demonstrate my kids' big, big hearts.

In 2010, for Truman, we cut up some of his old art work and made it into pretty little arrow/heart collages -- one of my all-time favorite combinations of a kid's art with a mama's execution. I was humming Jon Bon Jovi the whole time. Somehow this seemed festive!

Last year, for both Everett and Truman, I found a little envelope template and painstakingly (note: I find this pain fun -- endorphins? something!) printed out, cut and glued 40-some envelopes decorated with photos I'd taken. The boys got to pick between valentine heart candy and dragons, and then I had Everett draw some pictures of dragons with little funny sayings -- "I'm on fire for you, Valentine," and things like that -- and we scanned and printed a bunch of them.

Remembering at the last minute that children only love valentines if they're accompanied by candy, we ran to the store for mini chocolate bars to go alongside. This year, inspired by my Halloween epiphany, I'll be buying the organic lollipops. (I've done the math and, at less than 19 cents apiece, the organic lollipops are cheaper than the mini chocolate bars with the not-so-cruelty-free chocolate.)

Speaking of lollipops. If you too want a sweet homemade card that's not too difficult, you should check out Kristen Howerton's amazing idea. She calls it the "slacker mom" valentine, but really? She is no slacker! Four kids and valentines already done before January was out. And they're super sweet, with each kid posing with a closet rod (you could use a plastic pipe) in front of a chalkboard with the message, "Happy Valentine's Day, Love ___." The kid only has to write his or her name once -- and then the empty space above the closet rod is filled in with a real-life lollipop. Adorable.

I'd love to see your ideas about homemade valentines, or other heart-day crafts. What do you have planned?

(We've talked before about homemade vs. storebought valentines, if you want to add to that debate! And what do you do with your family for this day of love?)

Happy New Years, Resolutionaries!

January 01, 2012

I'm sure my friend Brandy didn't make up the word "resolutionaries," but I saw it first on her Facebook page and so we're going with that. "Resolutionaries: people who you see in the gym in January." It's not just in the gym, of course, but shopping for vegetables instead of candy bars and filling the coffee shops with their laptops, writing a screenplay, maybe, and taking walks with their kids.

As 2012 dawned beautifully today, I ran up to Mt. Tabor and it was like those gorgeous 80-degree Sundays in June -- you know the ones. The ones that happen every few years, when everyone has taken a walk with their spouses and their children and their friends -- generations of family with walking sticks and strollers, on foot and on bikes. People were everywhere, running and holding hands and laughing. New Seasons was entirely out of organic black-eyed peas. It will be an auspicious year. (Mine will have to be auspicious with white northern beans and chili beans -- thank goodness I'm only affectionately superstitious.)

 I'm a little woozy with resolutions. I make some, but often I don't make them right away, or just promise myself to commit a little better to things I'm already doing. Like running: I try to always run on New Year's Day, but often I've run on New Year's Eve as well, and (if things are looking up) a few times on Christmas week. My cycles of commitment don't so much follow the Roman calendar as they do the school calendar and my own personal cycles.

But still. I've committed to a few things that seem perfect for the new year, and so far so good. I won't promise to do these every day all year. But I'm trying to become more consistent, more present, more focused at:

  • Baking bread. I started a big batch of no-knead bread on Christmas Eve -- I'm doing another tonight.
  • Writing for myself first. Instead of starting each session of writing (and, if auspicion shines around me, each morning) with a piece of writing for pay or for a blog like this, I'll write something that pleases me, even if it's just a few sentences. (I did it tonight!)
  • Getting up before my kids. It was pretty easy today (there has been some major, major sleep deprivation in our house). But even if it's 20 minutes or so earlier, getting up first makes such a difference in my day and my ability to be present for the boys.
  • Doing things instead of waiting for someone else to __. I've been waiting for someone to help me with the living room painting. Someone to help me fix the front gate and the window. Someone to fix the ceiling so I could clean off those shelves. Etc. Etc. Today I cleaned off those shelves! And I'm almost done with the living room painting. And there will be more...
  • Asking for help. I'm never good at it. I've been trying...
  • Saying "yes" to friends. I say "maybe" a lot and know that means "no." I'm going to try to say "yes" more. Three so far in the past few weeks have warmed my heart!

Are you a resolutionary or a committed life-changer each new year or a more (umm?) creative cycle follower like me? What will this year bring, you hope, for you?

Escaping the post-holiday "I want"s

December 26, 2011

I'm feeling it as much as (or more than) my kids some years -- the post-holiday "I want"s. These come from such innocuous activities as talking to my friends, browsing Twitter, or looking at the Facebook photos of my community. So you got a Garmin, hmmm? I could have used one of those! A new iPad? Never mind that I already have an iPad (it's a work tool! I swear!). Somehow the fact that someone else got one for Christmas puts my own gifts in stark relief. Let's just say, regarding my Christmas take, that "modest" is an understatement; though yesterday I felt warm and happy and loved thanks to just those modest tokens of generosity.

And those photos of Christmas dinner! My parents us invited us to their house for my mom's longed-for new "tradition": cooking a lasagne for Christmas dinner. But we didn't have transportation and, well, Thanksgivingtime was oh-my-god-stressful. We had dinner at home (roast pork loin and apples from my tree -- which turned out fantastic, and easy to boot, and all out of the pantry or freezer so there was no new expense: frugal!). So when I opened Instagram to bountiful pics of rare roast beef and fancy wines and well-dressed families around a big (and, note: clean) dining room table, well. My heart twisted a little with the desire. I ate on (lovely) thrift store plates while watching Leverage with the boys who hadn't fallen asleep yet. I drank tea.

My kids want a Beyblade top, each. They want 2000 or 3000 Nintendo coins for new games. They want another remote control for the Wii (the big present my husband bought this year -- against my early best judgment). I wish I'd got them Legos -- not in the budget this year. They want more gummy bears and to go to Starbucks and to order pizza. I want new yarn and a new pair of running shoes and wouldn't it be nice if I had some new books to read?


I don't have the money for any of it (well, maybe the gummy bears, but I said "no" on principal of "too much sugar already"), so I'm having to take a deep breath and get away from the wants somehow. Here are a few ways I escape:

  • Going for a run. Even if I don't have the latest gear or running shoes without hundreds of miles on them, running clears my head and gets me wanting only more running.
  • Reading a book. I know, I'd like new books! But I have a bunch of old ones that could enchant me perfectly.
  • Organizing something. I have any number of corners and shelves and whole rooms which could benefit from a deep clean and organization. And I always discover things I (or the kids) have forgotten about -- satisfies the "I want" urge too!
  • Make something new out of something old. I have a pile of pants to patch or hem, and an equal pile of old clothes and thrifted bits of things ready to be used for something. I made a couple of pretty potholders out of some old quilt squares of my grandma's, and that was ridiculously satisfying -- and quelled my desire to buy some potholders with graphic (and brand-new) fabric.
  • Give something handmade or unneeded. It's amazing how giving something to someone else can reduce your wanting for things. Something about how generosity fills you up instead of shopping. Is that a real thing? Oh well. I like it.
  • Practice. What is your practice -- a musical instrument? Yoga? A foreign language? A craft? Meditation? Prayer? Calligraphy? Knitting? Or even, just seeing the world around you? Practice it. Become the person you want to be.
  • Asking yourself, what would I do with a gift of time? Remember when I had that day alone? Almost all of the things I wanted to do didn't involve any expense, and none of them were acquisitive. Your ideas were equally nonmaterialistic. Consider this time a gift, and use it accordingly. (And if you can get a spouse, family member or friend to give you a truly free, kid-free amount of time, do one of those amazing luxurious things!)

Now: to practice what I preach. Off to sew, run, and organize my kids' book nook!

Merry Christmas! How was your holiday?

December 25, 2011

And a very merry Christmas to you, too! We celebrated with all the normal traditions: the cookie decorating with cousins, opening a single present on Christmas Eve (we, in keeping with my family-of-origin's tradition, start with a reading of the Christmas story from the Bible -- not so much in keeping with my family's tradition, this year I read from bible.cc), the excited evening in preparation of many great presents, the early rising (mine not so bad as others!), the stockings, the presents ripped open more or less one at at time, the fancy breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls. The afternoon of quiet present-play.

Daddy bought a Wii for the kids for Christmas, and I arranged for my boys to "buy" me a game; Kirby's Epic Yarn. A game about knitting! What could be better! When we realized that Everett's much-anticipated game, Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, needed an extra device (the MobilePlus extension for the remote, in case you're also suffering with a Wii stuck on the screen that tells you to plug your nunchuk device into your remote and... and...), so instead the boys spent the afternoon playing that sweet textural game. I even got a long run while my sister-in-law hung out with the boys and the new toys.

We skipped the big family dinner -- Monroe even fell asleep while I was finishing up the (still fancy but not shared with my extended family) pork loin I'd bought last summer and had waiting in the freezer for just the right moment. We're going to have the most fantastic leftovers for Boxing Day!

How was your Christmas? Did you go traditional or break with the usual and do something special/unique/low-key? Did you get a pile of gifts for your kids or just a few things? What surprised you? What disappointed you? What will you remember always?

One remember-always memory for me: the gift Monroe opened Christmas Eve was a little Duplo cement truck I'd bought from Daisies and Dinos, the thrift store connected to my buying club (so we visit a lot). It cost $4. When he opened it, he told me "I wanted this SO MUCH! This is the BEST Christmas present ever! You are the BEST MOM EVER." I think I'm going to wrap *that* up with a bow and just let it sit there on my mantel, always.

What are your Winter Solstice traditions?

December 23, 2011

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, and I have read a few of your comments this month about your winter solstice traditions -- just enough for my appetite to be whetted, and not enough for any actual knowledge. You say they're simple and magical and lovely, but what are they?

At Hip Mountain Mama Blog, she talks of gifts and breakfast burritos (maybe I'll have those for day-after-solstice!). According to a great Chronicle post, gift-giving, bringing a tree indoors and decorating it, kissing under the mistletoe, jingle bells and reindeer are all connected to solstice traditions that only in the 18th or 19th centuries became adopted by Christianity. Helping those in need in the community does go back to the original St. Nicholas and early Christmas celebrations, but the concept surely didn't begin with him; in no time like the winter are the needy more in need. In pre-industrial societies, the poor would be the ones who hadn't stored up enough food for the winter. In that way, feeding others might be a very pagan thing to do. (Toy drives probably wouldn't have the same resonance.)

For all those who celebrated the season yesterday, either as an addition to or instead of a religious celebration, please let us know how you celebrated! I'd love to take a peak at your magical, simple ways.

Of the Great Santa Myth, and Faith

December 21, 2011

There surely was a real St. Nicholas, of course (who would have given very few of our children the things on their Christmas lists -- his assistance of the needy, the sick and the suffering probably wouldn't have included a Nerf Vortex Nitron or the Disney Fairies gift set), but what we have today is all myth. It's the myth that sits our children on his lap, telling him their deepest desires; it is the myth to whom they write letters and make lists; it's the myth that appears in 1,000 permutations on TV shows and movies this time of year. It's the myth that signs his name on packages under trees and fills the stockings (then turns with a jerk...). it's the myth that gives a darn whether or not your kids are "naughty."

I've always been non-committal about the myth of Santa. My parents, despite the religious background that would seem to conflict with the whole idea of an imaginary present-giver, still signed presents under the tree "from Santa" and perpetuated the idea of a guy sliding down the chimney with a big red bag. I remember, one year, writing a letter to Santa and burning it; the idea, that the ashes would float up to Santa in some sort of readable manner, sure didn't make any more sense to me at five than they do at 38. But, I believe it, willing to take a leap of faith if it meant good things like lacy dresses and baby dolls. By my third or fourth lost tooth, however, I was all skeptic; I asked my parents not to sneak in and leave money under my pillow, no matter what! When they acquiesced and, indeed, I woke up to a tooth still in its place, I remember a little disappointment but mostly relief that the world's logic was preserved. I don't remember it being cold or harsh or sad; just helpful. Now I know.

 With my kids, I offer the story like I do Zeus or Achilles or Noah: a story that no one can be 100% sure of. That some people believe, and others don't. The boys are welcome to believe if they like. Most of those guys dressed up on the street certainly aren't the real Santa. Might this one be? Perhaps. If they want to believe it.

Everett, who at eight renounced God, the tooth fairy, Santa and the Easter bunny as myths all (to my disappointment; I still believe in God), is a staunch non-believer, and not quiet about it. This does not affect his brothers' beliefs at all. On Peacock Lane, the boys confronted a Santa Claus together, and Everett informed the others this was a fake Santa. A little while later, with Everett's attention elsewhere, Monroe encountered another Santa. This? The real Santa, he decided, with no one to tell him incontrovertibly that it was not. Even later, as Monroe had not seen Everett evaluate the man (so as to gather evidence for his reality or lack thereof), he remained convinced the second Santa was the real one.

Tomorrow on Think Out Loud, a conversation about Santa and whether or not we tell our kids "the truth" will take place, and the intro to the post and an email about it had me shaking my head.  "Spoiler alert: If you're a Santa believer, you might want to stop reading right now." Really? If you're a Santa believer, even the presence of doubt in others has you disbelieving? This doesn't work for anything else -- take any religion, ever. Even climate change deniers find a way to discount all scientific evidence that works against their theory. Can a radio show shake a kid's faith?

Not in my opinion, especially if a beloved big brother can't even change your mind. The Santa secret is safe, and here's the thing: it was always safe in the minds and hearts of the true believers. Even, if for just a few more years.

Did you get your child's teachers and care providers gifts?

December 16, 2011

As today is the last day of PPS school before break, as usual, I stayed up late last night working on gifts. And... became mightily distracted by one thing, then another, and never really got around to finishing them. So I'll be scrambling for the next three hours to figure out, what? I have two teachers -- one first grade teacher whose outside-of-school interests are a mystery to me (I think she works 12 or 14 hours a day, so maybe there aren't many), and one early intervention specialist whose interests I think I have more of a handle on, but still -- and lots of stuff that's close to being a gift. But oh! I haven't decided.

This means my children's teachers will get jars of jam for holiday gifts. And I think I'm bringing the sweet school librarian some chocolate.

We've talked about gifts a lot in the past (and had a little interesting sidebar in our post about Halloween costumes; some parents feel, evidently, that the expectation of teacher holiday gifts creates more discomfort, even embarrassment, and shines a glaring light on cultural differences, than any costumery), and I know I have a lot of ideas. But I'm wondering: which came to fruition for you this year?

Crafty Wonderland: It's Portlandic!

December 13, 2011

Urbanmamas_crafty_pockets-cropOh, Portlandia. How you have pointed out in living ultracolor the adorable ridiculousness of Portland.

I was one of the people who (in my own parts imitative and parts mildly inventive way) Put A Bird On It before It was a slogan. I, along with my friend Larissa, was a vendor at an original early version of Crafty Wonderland, on Mother's Day years ago at the Doug Fir. Yes: I had birds on things (and, actually, birds). Now Crafty Wonderland is a full-on extravaganza, complete with thousands of customers (16,000, this year) and a convention center locale.

Walking into the convention center late on the second day of the extravaganza was eerie -- it was a souped-up, echo-ey, blinding version of the one at which I'd vended so many years earlier. Oh, yes, marginally better light. I watched the crafty, local-loving people wandering around, never looking at faces because there was so much stuff to look at instead. I watched the vendors, alternately yawning; staring hopefully at the eyes of passers-by for buy signals, ready to jump up and offer their hard-labored wares; and frantically making more.

At one booth I saw two or three people with quiet portable sewing machines, making more of whatever they were selling. At 4:30 on Sunday -- with less than two hours to go for the weekend -- it almost seemed sad. Not that I couldn't relate to the impulse.

I had forgotten my wallet (not that I had the money to spend, anyway), so I collected photographs and business cards of my favorite vendors. As I still can't afford to buy their beautiful things, I thought I'd share with you -- maybe you can buy some of this great stuff and assuage my guilt as (in some cases) I sew it myself.

Urbanmamas_crafty_biastapePolly Danger Notions. Folding scissors and fabric-covered buttons were sweet and lovely. But it was the handmade bias tape that had me falling over myself to grab a card. Such a great idea -- I've made my own bias tape before and it's a time-consuming process, hard to accept when you're already spending a bunch of time on some lovely project and just want to get on with it already.

lisa johnston-smith functional ceramics. Line-drawings of animals and insects and vegetables seems to be very much the fad this year (Portlandia, are you listening? Put a beetle on it? Put a beet on it?), and these lovely bowls and vases and mugs are supposed to be "made for everyday use." Awesome. I wish I could afford to drink out of one of those mosquito mugs every day!

Continue reading "Crafty Wonderland: It's Portlandic!" »

urbanMamas Adopt-a-Family 2011

December 05, 2011

UPDATED: 12/9! This effort is headed by a great uM volunteer -- we're so thrilled to have her help!

Last year, the urbanMama community adopted a family in need for the holidays. The response from so many urbanMama families was overwhelming - we managed to give our adopted family everything that they needed and wanted on their wish list! So this year, we're sponsoring another family for Christmas 2011 -the S. family.

The S. family has 5 children, ages 10, 7, and 4 months. (The father has two other children, 5 and 7 year old boys, who come to visit every other weekend. According to the caseworker, as the two boys won't be celebrating Christmas at their house, the primary focus will be on the other three children, although they would appreciate a few gifts for the two other boys as well. Currently, we don't have wish lists for these two boys, but we'll post that information when we find out.) They are supported solely by Shantae's part-time position as a breastfeeding peer counselor and unfortunately, budget cuts have reduced her hours. Arthur works in construction, but has been struggling to find work in this economy. The ability to provide Christmas gifts will be particularly difficult this year given the mom's reduced work hours and with the addition of a new baby. Also, Rico's 11th birthday is only 2 days after Christmas, so if possible, it would be a lovely surprise if we are able to provide him with a few birthday presents. The family's wish lists are listed below.

Continue reading "urbanMamas Adopt-a-Family 2011" »

An uM guide to holiday events for family: What are your favorites?

November 27, 2011

I woke up Friday morning with something of a mama hangover. I'd let the boys stay up too late with our impulsive Thanksgiving meal, and the winter really slows me down in the morning department. I got up, though, bound and determined to get the previous night's dishes washed before my all-important paper organizing date with a family friend.

I checked in on Instagram and Twitter and saw a bunch of friends posting about how they were getting good seats or hot chocolate with their kids to warm up before the Macy's Holiday Parade, held the day after Thanksgiving in downtown Portland every year since the landmark Meier & Frank was converted to Macy's. I kicked myself for not having remembered, and made time in my weekend for the event, one of the new Portland holiday traditions for many families. The annual Pioneer Square tree lighting ceremony that evening is another I've loved in the past but failed to make time for this year.

So this post that I'd been meaning to write became ever more pressing. There are a few events that I try to partake in every year, including the Oregon Zoolights, one or several crafty holiday bazaars, and a stroll or bike ride down Peacock Lane. There are some that I've always meant to, but never did, like the Santaland at Macy's or one of several amazing-sounding winter solstice events. There are some that I've attended and didn't particularly inspire my holiday fervor -- like the Christmas boats that parade down the Willamette (once was enough -- or even, for that matter, seeing someone else's photos of it is enough).

I'd like to make a list of the best things to do in the holiday season so I can organize my holiday around it -- and so our readers, new and loyal, can have a great place to turn to find the hidden jewels and don't-miss big events of the holiday season. What are your favorites -- and what do you think is over-hyped? Is there anything you must do for it to seem like the season to you? Is there anything you'll never do again? I really hope, too, that someone will post great solstice events, as a reader on a previous post had requested that specially.

I'll sort through your comments and post a list later this week.

Happy Thanksgiving 2011: Grateful, Despite Myself

November 24, 2011

It's been a hard Thanksgiving for me, but I think it's more attitude and expectations than actual comparative experience. This year, I have so many reasons to be grateful, from somewhat easier behavior from my oldest boy to an adorable turn my youngest has taken -- to regularly (several times a day starting the minute we wake up) tell his brothers that they're awesome, and tell me I'm pretty. "Guess what Truman? You're awesome!" -- I can't think of any better way to start a day, from any of our perspectives.

I, somewhat impulsively, cooked a large turkey today even though it was just going to be my and my three little boys; our large family Thanksgiving was last weekend, and my husband's overseas (where he got turkey dinner -- and jet skis! -- at a Kuwaiti beach resort). Due in large part to my impulsiveness and in equal parts to my odd mix of overachieverism and procrastination, the dinner wasn't really complete until almost 9; there was no starvation here, but also no lovely picturesque traditions. We did not talk about pilgrims and native peoples. We did not dress up and take family photos. We did not say what we are grateful for. I will have leftovers (this, well, this is good).

By 7 p.m. I felt mournful. By 10 p.m. I felt more like a failure. But every time I went back to look at my life and the state of my kitchen -- yes, a bit messy, but so much bounty! -- I knew that my attitude was wrong and this situation deserves a better perspective. I could sit down and force myself, grudgingly, to be grateful -- or I could wallow in my imperfect self and lack of all the things I was favoriting on Instagram. Even when reluctant, gratitude is better.

I'm grateful for the most incredible turkey recipe I found in my neatly-organized-this-summer Saveur magazine collection; for an unusually awesome collection of babysitters who really love my kids; for having really found myself in writing over the past year-and-a-half; for people who say they appreciate me; for a husband who has a job he loves, even if it takes him far away; for being blessed with children who are both beautiful and smart and who, despite everything, love me and tell me so.

And I'm incredibly grateful for you all, and especially the other mamas who founded the site. How lucky are we, really? To live here, in this great city, or to have lived here, even. It may be insane and hilarious but it's something else, isn't it? Portlandia, the great and the strange. Every day full of story.

What are you grateful for this year? Do you have to convince yourself to be grateful, or is it coming easily?

When family values collide

November 23, 2011

We spent several days this week with my parents, who I love dearly and who are terrifically loving and patient with my boys. Except for this one thing: Oh My God. My parents consider this "swearing." They are non-negotiable on this point. And my children have been raised in a house where "oh my god" is a far more acceptable phrase than, say, bleep bleep bleep mother bleeper. You get the picture.

My younger two are pretty good at accepting the will of the authority figure. At grandma & grandpa's, they follow the rules most of the time and -- if they were the sort of kids to slip now and again in an exclamation -- it would probably be something else (mama says "sh!t" sometimes. she always apologizes).

Not so my oldest. His faults tend toward the repetitive and the profane. When he's upset, he says "oh my God" and worse. (Note: he has also decided that he doesn't believe in God, which doesn't help his compliance any.) The more horrified the adults around him seem to be, the more he's likely to slip up. His obedience works in inverse proportion to the number and intensity of reminders and explanations.

My mother lost her patience entirely a few times, and there were several consequences meted out. I -- well, we'll say I didn't have the relaxing family togetherness time I'd hoped -- at least, until after the kids fell asleep each night. However I might prefer "OMG" to other things, my parents don't agree, and consider all his exclamations as equally unwanted.

Grateful as I am for a child who speaks his mind to power (he'll lead rebellions one day, I'm sure of it), it's not easy when such seemingly small differences in nuclear family values collide. As you (perhaps) prepare to spend some time with extended family this weekend, are there any particular conflicts between your kids, your partner, or even yourself, and your family members? I had to laugh, a little, when I heard on NPR someone saying that they wouldn't talk about weather patterns any more after a rather heated exchange at dinner with a large family (if we can't talk about the weather -- oh dear!). Is there any way you prepare for these inevitable differences of opinion? Are your families able to talk about it, or is it best to avoid certain toxic combos?

The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?

November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, as it's all focused on food. A traditionalist and a lover of everything about this holiday, from the concept of gratitude to cooking elaborate meals to Native Amerian tales to the artist's imagination of Pilgrim garb (knowing, of course, the inherent conflict of the romanticized tale of the first thanksgiving celebration -- well, I like a complex tale too), I've been cooking a full Thanksgiving meal almost every year since I was 19 years old. That year, I made a Kroger turkey and cranberry-and-orange sauce and mashed potatoes and turkey gravy and two kinds of pie.

At the time, I had no idea about the politics of turkeys. These I would learn later -- when I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the winter of 2007-2008. I was already a farmer's market junkie, but this opened my eyes to the crazy modern history of poultry raising. I know it's kind of a weird way to go about making judgments, but the part that had me convinced was the whole chapter on turkey sex. (Yes. There was a whole chapter, pretty much, on turkey sex.) The turkeys that are for sale at every grocery store in the country right now are 95%+ the broad-breasted white variety -- one that has been carefully selected and bred for enormous breasts and fast growth. This breeding has left us with a turkey that's pretty much unable to have regular turkey relations. Like chickens, our turkeys are brought to us through artificial insemination.

They're also grown in big turkey pens that look something like the videos of riots at soccer stadiums. You know the ones? You're always afraid someone will be trampled. That's what routinely happens to turkeys (I know this is a fairly alarmist link, but there isn't much controversy about the underlying conditions in turkey farms; they're mostly like this). And besides the obvious inhumanity concerns, there is the fact that stressed, unhealthy birds are not the best choices for our table.

Continue reading "The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?" »

November School Schedule: Love/Hate

November 09, 2011

Today is the last day of classes for the week for PPS schools, and many other area schools also have Friday and one other day off for Veteran's Day. Then, there's Thanksgiving week, which we have off entirely, but for a half-hour of parent-teacher conferences per child. Not counting Thanksgiving Day, which nearly all working parents have off, that's six days off school in one month.

I love it, in the mornings at least; I'm just not a morning person, and not having to bundle kids off to school seems like a great thing -- until it's noon and I can't organize the kids to go on whatever errands I have planned. I suspect that I get more done, writing- and housework-wise, on a typical day off school than on a regular schoolday. And my evenings are so much calmer -- no worrying that I get all the homework/paperwork/clean socks/breakfast food ready for the morning.

Lots of my friends, though, hate it -- both at-home and working parents, for different reasons. The at-home parents who crave schedules and something to keep their children engaged during the day are lost; the working parents have extra responsibilities juggling alternative care.

Which camp are you in -- the love or the hate? Ignoring politics for the moment (I know we have the shortest school year on the planet!), what would you do to make it better (if you could do anything)?

Merry Christmas! (The shopping version)

November 08, 2011

The Sunday after Halloween was the launch of the holiday shopping season; I found two "toy books" and several other circulars in the paper. I've also been getting a steady stream of holiday-themed catalogs, with a wealth of options from personalized stockings to adorable little-girl Christmas dresses to the always-popular gift for all adult women: fleece-lined slippers in reds and greens. Fancy holiday candies. A needlepoint iPad case? Just the thing!

In Friday's Oregonian was the a&e Holiday Event Guide, with photos of Christmas ships and the Pioneer Courthouse Square tree lighting and the Nutcracker and ads for the Northwest Children's Theater performance of 'Willy Wonka' and -- hilariously -- the 'Festival of the Last Minute' at Saturday Market (Dec. 17 - 24). "Procrastinators Rejoice!" says the ad copy. Procrastinators should be quaking in their boots if they're already reading about procrastination on November 4th.

I've barely finished canning tomatoes and am ready for a week -- just a week -- of not planning for anything before we start planning for Thanksgiving. I'm not ready for Christmas shopping yet, with the exception of having the great comeback to all requests for toy purchases made by my kids: "well, let's put that on your Christmas list, shall we?"

But all these ads and the beginnings of decorations in the stores has got me already stressing about Christmas shopping, even that gorgeous and fun idea from Martha Stewart Living's November issue: an Advent gift chain (for which I had better start shopping today if I'm going to make it happen). I'm not even much of a shopper, but I get bit by the bug about December 19th each year and want to go running around town with a wad of cash. (My cash wads being as they are, this is rarely much of a run.)


I was shaking my head derisively at all this precocious consumerism when I remembered -- I'd already bought one Christmas gift early (some cozy wool socks for my newest little nephew). And I asked my husband last night for the go-ahead to spend some of the family dime on the Icebreaker friends and family sale next week; for me and for Christmas gifts.

So yes, I do start shopping this early, probably because of all the glossy pretty pictures delivered to my mailbox and doorstep. Insidious! How about you: when do you start shopping for the holidays? How do you feel about the ubiquity of those happy smiling moms with cozy snowflake sweaters in your mailbox or email inbox? Does it make you happy or frantic? What would you rather be doing with your mental energies (if anything) other than worrying that you're already behind on your shopping?

Halloween costumes sans context

October 28, 2011

Forget the debates over costumes in schools: I adore Halloween costumes and I spent hours last night sewing -- and probably will sneak in a little today and tomorrow among my work. This is my big leagues, my fashion week, my favorite time of the year to be a parent. I love to make costumes!

Last year, the boys were, in order of age, a fighting prince (a prince inspired by "Prince Caspian" from the Narnia book illustrations), a ninja, and a knight. The ninja costume was mostly something we'd picked up at the Goodwill Bins; the mask had been shredded, so I made a new one out of some old black silk lining leftover from a longago project. But the knight and prince were my crowning costuming achievements in eight years of Halloweens. I spent $40 or $50 for organic cotton canvas at Cool Cottons. I finally used that fabric paint I'd bought in 2009. I made bias trim. It was overkill, but I loved every last-minute rushed bit of it.

The boys use their costumes -- at least parts of them -- for years afterward, so I get to enjoy the fruits of my intense labors all year. And this year, Monroe is re-using the best of my costumery from last year again -- he'll be a knight fighting under a dragon regalia. Truman loves to be a "mage," so I stayed up until all hours crafting a dramatic and textural mage cape. Everett wants to be a zombie survivor, and I contemplated for days before coming up with a way to (hopefully) evoke this: he'll be dressed as a runner, with torn spots on his sweat pants and t-shirt, maybe a "bloody" handprint on his pants, an old-fashioned sweat band, ripped tube socks. I didn't spend a penny this year, using all old fabric (bought for other projects or on a whim in my intemperate 20s) and old clothes, which makes the endeavor all the more satisfying.

For once, I'm mostly done with the costumes now and can just set about enjoying the weekend with my boys and their imaginations and hopefully not toxic amounts of sugar -- we are planning to go to a few farmer's market celebrations in addition to the school harvest party and the ordinary Halloween night trick-or-treating. What are your children dressing up as this year? How about you? Any siblings or parent-child costume complements?

The great costume debate: Is this really just a power struggle?

October 27, 2011

I got the chance to connect to my email after several hours offline at a cross country meet, alone with my nine-year-old son. I read the comment on the Halloween costume post that quoted a memo the Buckman principal sent to families:

"As you know, we have requested students not to wear costumes to school on Monday for Halloween. The reasons have been expressed in several ways, most recently in a letter sent out on October 20th. Since this issue was picked up by various “media sources” all over the country, we have received many disturbing emails, phone calls, and countless blog entries. Many of these were threatening in nature and completely inappropriate. I do believe that the majority, however not all, were from outside of our community.

"I wanted you to know I have met with the District and we will have our School Resource Officer here Friday and Monday to help in case we have problems with those outside of our school community. Our number one concern is the safety of our students, families, and staff. Please do not be alarmed if you see this extra security on these two days."

I said something incredulous aloud. (Probably: "oh, my GOD.") "What?" asked Everett. I gave a basic rundown of the issues: an administrator made a decision to ban costumes. His expressed aim was to reduce the pressure on the small number of students who didn't celebrate Halloween, and to remove distractions from school.

"So..." I said. "He didn't want kids distracted by wearing costumes. But now because people are so angry about his decision, the entire school community is going to be subjected to security in the halls because of threats from around the country. And there will be TV cameras and radio microphones outside school. A little distracting, don't you think?" [Update: there will be armed police officers at the school.]

"Why doesn't he just change his mind?" said Everett. Indeed.

Even though the pressure and criticism may be mostly external, it seems that the principles are now being largely obliterated by the stand the administration is taking. Is it worth it? In my opinion, no.

Talking it out with Everett made me see what I think the issue has become: not cultural sensitivity. Not the protection of childhood fun. This is about power. The principal who made the decision is not backing down, even though the debate now smacks more of circus than education. I don't think all our kids' best interests are preserved by protecting a few students who don't celebrate Halloween from awkwardness -- not now that it has become such a huge debate.

Keep Portland weird. Consequences be damned.

Continue reading "The great costume debate: Is this really just a power struggle?" »

Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?

October 17, 2011

However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!

This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).

I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)

Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.

Continue reading "Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?" »

Have a Safe Fourth Celebration

July 04, 2011

America's annual celebration of our independence is seemingly inextricable with "safety." As with so much else, we have become hyper-focused on the safety of our children (while, sometimes it seems, forgetting to worry about adults -- who drive drunk and make all sorts of ill-advised choices -- every year setting houses on fire with fireworks and hot dog grills), often to the exclusion of fun. There is virtually no exhortation of hope for children's pleasurable entertainment without an equal or greater-than concern for their bodily wholeness. After all, explosions and fire and the zoomy use of fossil fuels are what this holiday's about.

Not that we don't let the kids have fun. Here in Portland, on a Fourth-of-July weekend in which the fireworks are saved (officially) for the very tail end of the holiday period and warm weather has finally come our way, anarchy reigns. By late Monday, the parks with picnic tables had been so heavily used that the garbage cans were not only full; extra garbage bags were stacked up seven deep next to the cans. Illegal fireworks are so rote in neighborhoods -- and so little enforced -- that kids know where the best ones usually are.

Riding through Portland's streets late in the night and winding in and out of parks with my little boys aboard may seem like riding through a war zone, with sulphurous smoke weaving through the rose bushes and cherry trees, explosions going off in every direction, gangs teenagers, wearing halter tops and graffiti-style tees, whooping and hollering and utterly without adult supervision, and garbage slung all over our parks -- but it doesn't. I feel safe in this anarchic place, safe and enveloped in community.

On NPR, there was a story about how a political scientist found that the key determinant in how well we survive disasters (not fireworks so much, but earthquakes and tsunamis and such) is how well we know our neighbors, and how connected we are to our community. I'm thankful that I know my immediate neighbors, and many others through my involvement with community organizations (like urbanMamas and Portland Green Parenting and volunteering with the high school cross country team) -- so that, when I ride around in this anarchic time of celebration, I figure that I must know some of those teenagers, and that we will look out for each other, and I -- and my kids -- belong in this place.

Father's Day 2011

June 11, 2011

We've been getting a steady stream of solicitations in the past few weeks with suggestions for Father's Day gifts.  In the past, we've collected suggestions on what to gift, whether dads opt to spend Father's Day with or without the kids, and other ways to celebrate the father figures in our lives.  The occassion is but a week away and I am scratching my head.  Always popular in our family are personalized photo knick knacks: mugs, calendars, big framed photo collages, photo-on-canvas prints.  Maybe a token like that then a day spent together as he wishes?

Valentine's Day: What does it mean to you?

February 10, 2011

For me, as a child, it was a day when my mom got a dozen roses from my dad.  It was also a time when my mom would have to run out at the last minute and pick up a set of cards from the drug store, and I'd stay up late addressing them.  Maybe sometimes she would actually do some for me.

In our household, we craft homemade Valentine's Cards for every family member in the house, plus a few more for a handful of the kids' cousins and family friends afar.  Then, on the day itself, for the past three years, we have been going out to a special dinner, all of us.  We swap cards, wear all the red and pink we can fit onto our bodies, and we drink out of fancy stemware (the kids love that part).  Two years ago, we took the kids out and handed them a Valentine that told them that they'd each be big sisters ... a wonderful Valentine's Day memory.  I feel like we have successfully crafted Valentine's Day traditions for our family that we love, look forward to, and will remember forever.

Do you do anything special for Valentine's Day?  To be sure, there are lots of businesses out there that would love to know!  Our email box has been swamped since early January with suggestions of Valentine's Day eats, treats, gifts, and more.  Have plans?  Or maybe it will be just another manic Monday?

(blast from the past: "Oh Valentine" and "Happy heart day, mamas!")

Adopt-A-Family Recap: Thank You!

December 29, 2010

IMAG0266 Many thanks to the urbanMama who spearheaded and coordinated the adopt-a-family for us this year. It was a nice gesture to help make a difference for a family this holiday season.  We enjoyed gathering at Urban Grind to wrap presents and to meet a few more of you in person.  The picture is of all of the donated wrapped gifts in her living room; and the following is a note from her:

Hope that your holidays are going well!  Me, my daughter, another uM, and her son all delivered the gifts a few days before Xmas.  The family was so grateful and the 5 year old was very excited about all of the gifts!  :-)  I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to work with the uM community and am beyond touched regarding their generosity with offers of their time, transportation, and donations.  It would be great if you guys could give a little update thanking everyone for their support and let them know that we suceeded in providing everything on their humble wish list.  

We hope that you are enjoying your holidays as well! What you have done to make a small or big difference in someone's life? We'd love to hear your ideas to see what things we can do next year.

Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?

December 10, 2010

Forget Thanksgiving; it's Christmas specifically, and December and the beginning of the new year generally, where I find myself needing to focus most on my gratitude. How hard is it not to get caught up in all the wrong bits of the holiday spirit? Plenty, what with a list of cartoon-commercial gifts a mile long and twice as objectionable, sugar proferred by friends, family and strangers at every turn, always too little money compared to your needs and wants, the pressure to have a "simple" and "homemade" holiday which turns into a snafu of overcommitment, and the family togetherness-or-lack-thereof, both of which provide tearfulness and emotional extremes in equal measures.

I need to carve out pockets and tar-pits of gratitude in a time like this. I'm finding it easy, if I let it be, even though I'm finding it hard sometimes to draw in a deep breath the way I'm coaching my kids, my athletes.  Where can I find it? Here:

  • ~On the bus, on the bike~. The man in a wheelchair this morning seemed to be looking out of the corners of his eyes instead of straight ahead, but he could tell Monroe was in a funk. "Sick," I said, so he offered him a tiny Mounds bar. Monroe's eyes lit up, he smiled, he reached for the thing, he said "it's good," by way of thanks.

    And Wednesday, the sun broke through just as we reluctantly, half-sobbingly, helmet-ed and raincoat-ed up, we rode past other families offering us a smile, a wave, a hello; a grandfather and his grandson working in the yard, Truman asked if we could come back sometime, and play; a pregnant mama, surely due soon, carrying her recycling bin down the steps as we looked for surprise rainbows. Open your eyes, see, I told myself.
  • ~On Foster Boulevard, in the fifties~. It was raining hard, I was looking for the Decorette Shop, seeing signs like: 'gloves for hides,' and wondering if that was literal, could I bring in a hide? Once inside the shop near 54th, I uncovered a rich landscape of things for baking: cakes and cookies of every shape and season. I bought crystal sanding sugar, I bought cutters for reindeer, acorns, maple leafs, a train and a car, Christmas tree baubles, an unusual star. It was less than $12 for my cookie-baking riches.

Continue reading "Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?" »

Sunday blues worse during the holidays?

November 28, 2010

We've written before about the looming stress that comes with a Sunday afternoon. All that we'd intended to do, and didn't, seems to come smacking toward us with the weight of a still-frozen turkey. No matter what our smart strategies for planning the day, no matter how great our kids and our fun times together have been, oh! the things that are undone, the immense go-all-the-time expectations of the week ahead seem overwhelming.

Today it's worse than usual for me, and I was already feeling the stressful anticipation yesterday. I'd meant to finish an important essay over the "relaxing holiday weekend" -- I haven't even opened the file since I made my last changes over a week ago. I know I shouldn't expect so much of myself over a holiday; it's not really a vacation when I'm mama of three, and especially not as a military-enabled single mama; but I do it anyway. I finished one pair of those mittens I meant to knit, I mucked my chicken coop, I spread my compost, I sheet-mulched a bunch of my garden, I did a little work (so I'll have money for Christmas gifts! or at least Christmas-coincident bills!), but how did I make my list so long and near-unachievable?

Anyway, I've gotten myself into a serious funk, and almost started sobbing on the phone with my husband. He told me something about how he was making plans for Everett to take martial arts classes with one of his high school friends. His comment about "it takes a village" was right on the money, but the village isn't up to my dreams; my needs from the village are way bigger than that. I've been biting back the mama meltdown all day.

Does this happen to you too -- the Sunday stress seems worse as a holiday period comes to a close? Do you, too, pack too many things into your imaginary relaxing, productive times? Do you ever sit back and wonder, in the midst of enjoying this family time, when your vacation is going to be? Or have you developed some great strategies for dealing with these blues?

Away from our families of origin: What are your holiday traditions?

November 24, 2010

I grew up near a lot of extended family - aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins, grandparents, and more.  I loved it, it felt full always.  There were plenty of celebrations to choose from, and lots of opportunity for food and gift.

Many of us no longer live in the same vicinity as our families of origin.  What sorts of new traditions have you started with your own families?  An urbanMama recently emailed:

My husband and I both grew up celebrating the holidays with a large extended family, but we've both moved away from home and find ourselves with our little family of four.  We are both used to the loud, boisterous crowds, and it feels sort of weird with just our small crew.  We're looking for new traditions to start with our own family, but haven't found any that feel quite right.   Any thoughts?

Thanksgiving is a great time to play!

November 23, 2010

In our household, once the bird is in the oven, we like to head out of the house, bike around the neighborhood with no particular destination, maybe drop in on neighbors and say "hello!" or throw a football around in front of the house.  By the time dinnertime rolls around (around 5 or even 6 at our household), we've worked up a healthy appetite.

An urbanPapa recently emailed, seeking your suggestions for activities on Thursday:

As a dad, my main task on Thanksgiving is to get the kids out of the house for as long as possible.  That can be challenging on a day that always seems rainy where most things are closed.  Have you ever done a post specifically around kid-friendly things to do on Thanksgiving Day?

Some things I’ve done in the past:

    • Bowling (not all alleys are open, but some are)
    • Movies
    • A hike (weather permitting)


Laboring through Labor Day

September 06, 2010

[These are the words to start the post that buzzed through my brain that couldn't sit still that skipped through the weekend that ended the summer that Sarah built...]
In the ongoing debate between 'can't wait' and 'apprehensive about' school starting, I'm firmly in the latter camp. Much though I tempt the children with excitement in my voice and hope in my heart, I'd rather it just stay summer. I've done the Labor Day holiday many ways; camping trips and barbecues and (in the investment banking days) charity picnics where everyone wears big hats; but since I've had kids going back to school, it's been a buzz of preparation and me looking at a list as long as my arm of all the things I wanted to finish, but didn't quite, this summer.

There are peaches in a box in the floor and another one with 20 pounds of cucumbers for pickling; there is a pattern I printed out for preemie-size diapers -- my sister just had a four-pound, nine-ounce baby Friday, teeny and healthy as can be; the laundry with special new clothes is still hanging on the line; the snacks still need to be put into the backpack; I haven't washed dishes since yesterday night. On errands, we stopped to pick up dill from a friend's house for the pickles, and Suzanne was busy with tomato sauce while her son played in the backyard, having already done "all the pickles I need!" on Sunday. Other friends are tallying up their weekend like radical homemaking box scores, three loads laundry, three pints zucchini bread & butters, two apple upside down cakes, 32 pints tomatoes...

Though Labor Day is meant as a break from work, we mamas seem to be mostly laboring. It's nice labor, of course, but surely not what the Founding Holiday Declarers meant. How did you labor this Labor Day?

Happy, safe Fourth of July?

July 04, 2010

When I was little, our family would host a huge BBQ in our backyard that would last until dark so we could lie on the grass and watch fireworks.  Like a lot of holidays, the meaning of the holiday -- "Independence Day" --  was washed out by the food and drink that accompanied the generic celebration.  Still, it marked the start of the summer for us, and here in Portland it definitely marks the start of warmer weather.

Have you explained to the kids the meaning of the day?  How are you celebrating or recognizing?

Happy (belated) mamas day!

May 10, 2010

Our family had a wonderfully full day and the kids were so conscientious about making my day as easy for me as possible.  We hope you all had an amazing Mother's Day!  Don't you think it should be Mother's *Week*?  If you care to share how you celebrated, we'd love to hear.

Earth Day in Portland: an urbanMamas green thing

April 22, 2010

On one hand, I love the idea of Earth Day, because it gets people talking about how to reduce consumption, and cut down on waste, and it was lovely to see so many parents biking their kids to school/day care today. (I was unapologetic when I biked down Division with Monroe and Everett today: usually I feel bad getting in the way of traffic that wants to be moving faster than 15 miles an hour, but hey! It's Earth Day!) On the other hand, really? Just one day? And I worry that many with less of a feeling of weighty culpability than me (I'm not sure if guilt & fear is the answer, but I've surely got a lot of it) will bring their own cups to Starbucks for a free coffee, and plant a couple of lettuce seeds, and recycle something, and then forget about it until next spring.

I'm conflicted; I like the talk but but worry that's most of it. A scientist has written a book about alternatives to cutting carbon emissions -- because, he says, although everyone seems to agree cutting emissions is the only sensible solution, we all just keep driving cars and using, and mining, coal. The fact that few governmental officials made even the smallest commitment to reducing the number of coal plants in their countries and municipalities after the latest terrible mining accident says that nothing -- not the loss of human life, not the obvious destructive effects of carbon mining on the environment during and after the coal mines come in (really? mountain top removal??? how did that ever make sense in the first place?), not the clear connection between coal-burning and climate change -- will get us off this train, the end of which seems to be dead oceans, big swaths of the world becoming uninhabitable due to high temperatures and drained aquifers, drought, starvation, and the rise of Canada's watermelon-growing industry. More of us need to stop driving; we all need to stop burning fossil fuels to turn on our lights and pouring petroleum-based chemicals into our soil, our rivers, our bodies.

So, today is an everyday for me, and I know especially in Portland, many of us feel the same. (Sharon Astyk, a writer about sustainable living and environmentalism, wrote this about the topic, focused on the "greenwashing" of corporations in the celebration.) Many of you, like those who have joined the new Portland Radical Homemaking group on Facebook, are part of the choir, right? I will do this: plant a blueberry bush, eat my leftovers, take out the compost bucket, feed my chickens something yummy, buy organic food, in bulk, with my own containers, ride my bike, start another loaf of bread, keep the TV off, make instead of buy, write about what I believe in. I will do this, too: try to relax, not worry; it's kind of crushing.

How are you celebrating Earth Day: and how do you feel about the holiday? My neighbor sent me a link to this piece on Green My Parents, an advocacy group started by a 12-year-old that encourages children to use savvy marketing tactics (those that advertise on cartoons call it "the nag factor") to get their parents to wash in cold water, ride their bikes, and stop drinking bottled water. Writes Allison Arieff, "they've designed a program that makes behavior change easy and economically rewarding for participants." Is this the answer? Would you change your behavior if your children were advocating it? Or do you feel you already do all you can?

Valentine's Day (observed): what's in your child's valentine box?

February 12, 2010


What was Valentine's Day like when you were a kid? In my kindergarten at Sunnyside School, I distinctly recall a special paper bag we made for Valentine's Day and taped to our desks; every kid would circle the room dropping off the little cards in the bags. Later, I remember a shoebox I decorated with hearts and in which I invested so many hopes and dreams: for candy, for childhood true love.

This year, after a few messy hours pouring paint and glitter glue onto paper at CHAP with some of the awesome urbanMamas and children, we spent several days at home cutting out hearts, gluing, and for Everett, writing silly jokes in pencil all over construction paper (interspersed with hearts of course). His favorite: a sappy saying, which he finds hilarious, from a puppy valentine book we got from last year's Valentine's Day, or perhaps a re-telling of 'Jingle Bells,' complete with toilet humor. For Truman, I ended up making little Cupid's arrows from one of his great sponge paintings brought home from preschool. He wrote his name in the "from" section. Everett had to finish Truman's task: "it's too much work!" said he, although he painted one enormous valentine for his favorite friend, from scratch.

All but one of the valentines that came home in Truman's bag from preschool were storebought, and most of them had candy attached; it didn't surprise me, as this year I read a few blog posts and Twitter statuses that seemed to indicate a backlash to the craft-drudgery of creating valentines for kids (not that I've seen, in either of my boys' schools or even my own dining room table, a Martha Stewart-worthy alternative). So I was curious: how much work did you do this year? Did you do it all and resent it? Does your school opt out of Valentine's Day? Did your kids make their own and love every minute? Or were you (like me, to hear Truman's cries yesterday morning) a wicked taskmaster bent on forcing her child to write his name a good dozen-and-a-half times? Or did you feel that siren call of the Spiderman valentines and do the store-bought thing?


Heart-to-heart Valentine-making event, Saturday February 6

February 03, 2010

Is there any annual holiday whose crafts I more enjoy than Valentine's Day? It's definitely on my top three. But many years, I find myself cutting out hearts as the sun sets on the 13th, watching the missed opportunities for Valentine delight setting along with them.

Determined to not let this year be a missed opportunity, a few of us urbanMamas are gathering Saturday at 3 p.m. at CHAP (the Children's Healing Art Project), a nonprofit that provides in-hospital art experiences for sick children and a space in the Pearl District -- the Art Factory -- to host open art "play" during weekends and daily throughout the holiday season. We'll be making Valentines with our kids and hope you can come too!

1030 NW Marshall
Saturday, February 6
3 - 5 p.m.

Please let us know if you plan to come in the comments; we'll be picking up the $5/child tab for those urbanMama families who join in.

talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics

January 18, 2010

As with everything, I launched into it without much thought. "You see," I told the boys one night last week, "many people in this country used to think people who looked different than them -- with darker skin or different hair or different-shaped noses -- weren't as good as them. They even sometimes thought they weren't fully human, like animals or something! Isn't that awful?"

"That sounds pretty stupid to me," said Everett. He's the oldest, seven-and-a-half. Emboldened, I marched on, describing how people who needed to make decisions they weren't totally comfortable with -- like owning people, treating them horribly as slaves, making them do the worst work and endure terrible living conditions -- used this ethical trap to convince themselves it was o.k. "If they believed it, then they wouldn't think of themselves as so mean and awful," I said. "And it made them feel good, to think of themselves as better than these other people."

Lately, I've been referring to Hitler in a few different contexts, telling Everett the story of the man who put the heads on Pez (I had discovered he'd ended up working for the same Nazis who had sent his entire family to their deaths in concentration camps, after the war, and been stunned by this) and another story about the man who first put jigsaw puzzles on cardboard, making them available to the masses (his family, too, had needed escape from Nazis; we don't know if they made it).

It's context that I feel the kids need to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr's speech is so important -- why it is I still cry when I hear it, for the umpteenth time -- how our generous minds let us take cruel shortcuts, sometimes, without owning up to the cost. How we build up a whole infrastructure around this cruelty, laws and societal norms and unkind jokes, to protect our fragile consciences from the truth.

Continue reading "talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics" »

Post-holiday cleanup that brings joy: an urbanMama green thing

December 28, 2009

For two days, the pile sat in the middle of my living room. The Pile of Christmas (just) Past. Even though we'd done our best to have a holiday low on gratuitous buying -- no new ornaments or lights or wrapping paper, no dollar store toys, no gifts I didn't think would last and be enjoyed for a really long time -- we've still amassed quite a pile of mess. There was the wrapping paper and ribbons from the generous gifts from grandma and grandpa; there were clothes three sizes too big (with gift receipts, phew!); there was the huge box of dollar store toys purchased for us by a well-meaning girlfriend of one of my husband's fellow soldiers. And to top it all off, one of my (favorite) gifts was a full day of help from my mom and sister, cleaning my office/craft room, which had been absolutely destroyed while I worked full-time and Monroe was a baby, and I had never had the oomph to tackle the piles of junk on my own. This had yielded big bags of mixed trash and recycling and things-I-really-didn't-want-to-throw-away.

Last night, we tamed it, and I thought I'd share some of the strategies and info I found for cleaning up after the holidays (while still keeping it green):

  • Reuseables. Foil wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags (unless entirely made of paper -- most have plastic coating), and most packing materials (like block foam) can't be recycled. I have a system for wrapping paper I'd like to reuse; I cut off the ragged parts and roll it into tubes, then put it into a deep, wide basket in my craft room. It's part storage, part art piece. Ribbons get wound up and put in a quart jar. Gift bags go into a box in the basement. Some packing materials (bubble wrap) get stored downstairs for shipping jars of jam; others (soft foam) go into a bag in my craft room to stuff things like these wings I made for Truman. Packing peanuts can go to shipping stores for re-use; I rarely manage the patience to do this but I mean to one day. I save the prettiest cardboard boxes, especially gift boxes, for things like mailing photos and stickers and crafts.
  • Recyclables. The list of what can't be recycled always seems longer than what can. Metro has a very slow-loading form that tells you where to take a variety of recyclables, and has info on what can and can't. A few highlights: you can take your old Christmas lights to the Zoo through January 3rd for recycling (and get a free piece of fudge); plastic clamshell packaging isn't recyclable at the curb in Portland, but can be taken to a Metro station; plastic containers smaller than six ounces and lids can't be recycled curbside; no plastic bags of any sort can be recycled (and even those that stores will take back are often shipped to China where their fate is uncertain at best); no holiday beverage cups (I put my Starbucks cups in the compost heap where they decompose nicely and just leave a little filmy plastic carcass I remove in the spring); plant and nursery pots can be recycled curbside, as can any bigger-than-six-ounces plastic bottles or containers or buckets (no lids).
  • Trash or give away or compost? I have a cache of toys that are broken or will soon be. One gift in particular, six extremely flimsy plastic cars, will I am sure be broken within days. Should I toss it pre-emptively? I wonder. Another gift, a set of knock-off board games from the dollar store (we already have the far sturdier brand-name versions), I'd rather not keep. But is it worth giving them to Goodwill or am I just adding to their trash pile? I've decided to compost the lightweight wooden paddles for the paddleball games which, as I warned Everett it would, broke within an hour of opening (happened to me, too, when I was his age). If gifts are too flimsy to last, what do you do with them?
  • Return for good. We've decided to take back the enormous clothes a relative bought from J.C. Penney for the boys and get an ice cream maker. We'll buy the boys "new" clothes from a thrift store or the Goodwill Bins and I'll be able to make honey-sweetened ice cream for years. I'm satisfied the exchange will be good for us and will save lots of future ice cream cartons from the landfill.
  • Give up on old clothes. We need room for new clothes and that means giving up on some old clothes that are stained/holey/unloved/too little. My mom convinced me to throw a few things away, but others I saved, cutting up old t-shirts and sweater seams into tiny bits to serve as stuffing for a new toy; saving pretty fabric for handkerchiefs or other upcycling; and putting a pair of pants into the patch pile despite her better judgment (shhh!). Generally very few of the clothes we've finished with are suitable to give away. Three boys! After all.
  • Make room for new toys. I'd already started moving around toys in anticipation of Christmas gifts and as part of my office reorganization. The Legos got a whole new mega-sized jar; I didn't need the old "choking hazard" jar I made when Monroe was tiny, anymore, so the beads and other tiny delights got a new home in my craft room and their jar went to Legos. I'd chosen a few infrequently-used toys to give away, but after a delight-making gift of a new Hot Wheels supertrack, our "tiny transportation" bin isn't big enough to hold all the sorts of things that go into it. I don't know if I should give away a bunch of the toys in it (there will be strenuous objections), recategorize (this one isn't tiny enough, right?), or find a new storage place for the new toy (generally the wrong solution; that's how things get broken around here). What do you do when toys won't fit in your old, painstakingly-organized storage?
  • Green your tree (more). This was the first year we got a live tree, dug in the actual forest for us by my mom and dad. For an investment of one $5 permit (gifted by grandma & grandpa, no less), we have a beautiful big tree to plant in our yard. If you have a chopped-down tree, you can, of course, divest it of its tinsel and other non-compostable ornaments and leave it next to your yard debris bin on a yard debris pickup day on your street, or take it to a charity tree recycling drive (in our neighborhood, Cleveland High School has one). Even better, though, is to reuse your tree in your own garden. Get out your hatchet, chop off all but the biggest branches, and break or cut them up as best you can. Spread them as a top layer of compost, or distribute over the earth of your vegetable garden, or around blueberry bushes and other perennials. Save the trunk and big branches to stake pole beans, tomatoes, and other climbing vegetables this summer. In the garden, all natural material can be turned back into life, after all.

Family holiday celebrations on Think Out Loud

December 24, 2009

It's not Norman Rockwell any more, says the blog post introducing today's local radio hour, Think Out Loud. "In 2008 half as many people got divorced as got married in Oregon — leaving many children switching from mom's house to dad's at some point during their celebration. It means some families welcome their ex's new partner to dinner. It means family, and family scheduling, gets more complicated," it goes on.

Today's show is particularly appropriate for many of us, and dovetails nicely with some of our recent discussions. Topics of conversation included balancing Judaism and Christianity; relationships between adoptive parents and a birth family; Christmas for separated parents and divorced parents; and forging new traditions in non-traditional families. Comments from regular urbanMama contributor nopomama were included in the discussion, and single mama Jennie 7 joined the conversation with some thoughts on negotiating the holidays after her recent divorce.

"When does something you do, become a tradition?" asked the host, and this is sort of obvious (when you do it more than once, probably) but it's a nice way to open the conversation about our own traditions, new and old. What conventional and unconventional customs are your family, Rockwellian or no, doing this year? What would you like to do?

[Think Out Loud's "Family Time" show repeats tonight at 9 p.m. on OPB, 91.5 FM]

Christmas for mamas and papas

December 23, 2009

With a super-tight budget and plenty of holiday stress, I often leave the decision about what to get for daddy until the very last minute, and I've thus far been terrible about insisting the kids come up with gifts for their parents. I realize that, last year, my husband and I really didn't get each other anything. Now it's two days before Christmas, and though I really want to buy him the gift I know he needs: a new (to him) commuter bike, I really don't have the room in my budget. As I troll craigslist, beg for help on Twitter, and wheel and deal, I wonder: have your gifts for the other parent in your life fallen by the wayside since you had children? Who do you spend more money (or time) on? How about you? Do your children and partner get you plenty of gifts for Christmas, or do you end up watching your kids open their presents with a bittersweet mix of happiness (for them) and nostalgia (for the time when you had more to expect on Christmas morning)?

the last-minute mama: It's teacher gift time!

December 17, 2009

Thank goodness for Asha of Parenthacks, who tweeted about 45 minutes before I was due to pick Truman up from his last day of preschool before the break. She was making this chai concentrate from the Oregonian (lots of good homemade food gift ideas in this series, too) for her kids' teachers. Forty-one minutes later, I'd decided upon some of my fanciest jars of homemade preserves and decorative doohickeys to cover the lids, and off I went. But now I must get together gifts for Everett's teachers to avoid (I type only 16-some hours before his bus picks him up) the last minute.

Last year I had it really together, and purchased farmer's market tokens the Saturday prior to the last week of school. Smart hmm? I even made sweet little notes mentioning our favorite vendors and pointing out that the last farmer's market of the season would be the Saturday after school got out. Though I still think that this is a great idea (more on that later), not only did my gifts almost not get given due to snowed-out school, the last market day of the year was so cold Portland Farmer's Market canceled. Sure, the tokens were good in the spring, but who knows if the teachers remembered where they put them.

While most of we urbanMamas founders had little ones in daycare, we chatted about gifts for daycare providers. Among the comments there was a link to this post about teacher gifts; throughout all these I found many good ideas and themes. Here are some of the most commonly-mentioned ones:

  • Gift certificates are the best gift of all (though rarely, teachers find them impersonal). Not only did one daycare provider ask for "a certificate to either a toy store or a supply store. Why? Because, I swear, I lose at least one toy a day due to toddler destruction," but gift certificates can be regifted (I suspect my middle sister, a teacher, of having done this on more than one occasion). I thought my farmer's market token idea was brilliant at the time; but you may want to choose a year-round market.
  • Gift certificate ideas: coffee shop, New Seasons, craft store, toy store, restaurant you know is convenient to teacher's home/school, co-op (I saw Truman's preschool teacher at People's so I can give her a GC with confidence!), Fred Meyer, spas, massage therapists, Escential, Powell's, one of Portland's awesome chocolate shops (Alma or Sahagun), other ideas?  
  • Winter-themed or holiday-themed ornaments, either purchased or made by your children, are welcome for teachers if you know what holiday they celebrate. Warning: make sure you're certain they celebrate Christmas before giving them Jesus in a popsicle-stick manger.
  • Food gifts. The Oregonian, as I mentioned, had a nice roundup of gift ideas; hot cocoa mix spiced with something unusual (chile? cinnamon? star anise?), homemade preserves (especially ice cream toppings), homemade spice blends, dried chiles, and pickles seem good choices. Buy some fantastic finishing salt from the Meadow, if you really love your child's teacher (vanilla salt!). Homemade vanilla is the hot gift this year (so says my Twitter stream); I'm making one batch with a star of star anise in addition to vanilla (I tested this myself and it's delicious -- but if you make it tonight, be sure and add a best-by date on label). However. Please remember, this being the city it is, many many people have very strict food rules, either due to values or aversions or allergies or some other things altogether (fear of pesticides maybe!). It would be unfortunate to give homemade Tollhouse cookie dough to a locavore teacher who doesn't do sugar or gluten. If you don't know, skip the food. At the very least, list ingredients with as much specificity as possible.
  • Crafty mamas. I have faith in my ability to make something with my own hands that a teacher will like. Perhaps it's hubris, but I'm going with it. I am, I think, about to head upstairs to my sewing room to pull together some reusable market bags for Everett's teachers and such, into which if I am still in possession of calm children, I will put some sort of food gift. Other relatively quick-to-make ideas I've come across in the past several minutes: quilted list takers (sweet); recycled sweater hats; retro apron; handspun yarn or needle roll (if you know teacher is a knitter). I'd love to hear your ideas.
  • Lotions & bath things. This wouldn't float my boat, but according to many online sources and real actual teachers, these are sometimes appreciated. To be safe (again remembering the city in which we live) I'd choose a brand with as few harmful surfactants and parabens and such as possible. One really excellent local brand is Wild Carrot Herbals; I met Jody, mama in charge, when she was hugely pregnant with her little daughter and I appreciate her products and principles mightily. You can find them at New Seasons, Limbo and People's Co-op (and probably other places, too).
  • No mugs! (Although if I were a teacher I would love a mug made by a local potter; I'm not a teacher so don't assume ;).
  • A nice letter. I was surprised how many times a teacher mentioned he or she treasured a thoughtful letter of appreciation. Especially, a hand-written one.