The Reason for the Season

Thursday at 2:45 P.M. was officially the beginning of my winter break, but, before I left school, I decided to leave my kids with a little holiday cheer by using that most important of all teacher skillz, making a bulletin board.

Today, of course, is Valentines Day. I don’t know about you, but I remember Valentine’s Day being bit unpleasant for a lot of kids in high school. My old high school uses the days to raise money for prom by selling carnations to be delivered to (mostly) girls in homeroom. It was all in good fun, and the recipients were always happy, but there was also a bit of schadenfreude as they looked around the room at the girls who had received nothing.

That memory plus the knowledge that at a girls’ school where any romantic relationships, inside or outside, the school are frowned upon had me searching for a different take on the holiday.

Enter the Pinterest and the National Day Calendar. As luck would have it, we are on the cusp of National Random Acts of Kindness Day/Week.

Pinterest was rife with suggestions for RAKW bulletin boards, but the idea I liked the best was a wall of pick-me-ups they could be borrowed or shared or added to as the viewer’s mood struck them. I found one with the phrase “Throw kindness like confetti“ and on a site dedicated to corporate bulletin boards and ran with it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. putting a bunch of post it notes on our bulletin board with the words “throw“ and “confetti“ is just asking for serious pushback from the people who do maintenance (in our case, the girls at the school). but, over the last few weeks as I’ve been hobbling around on a boot and hands free crutch, I have seen dozen random acts of kindness from my girls.

These kids, many of whom have experienced very little kindness in their lives, go out of their way to help carry things or pick things up. They are solicitous, looking out for the person who is supposed to be looking out for them. To be sure, like every teenager, they still offer the eye-roll and sarcasm to kids and staff, butthey have embodied the spirit of caring and kindness.

I thought that was the most appropriate holiday to celebrate with them.

System Change

We were all reasonably crabby by the time we got the car packed and rolled up our icy driveway, hoping to get to my sister’s house in time for the Christmas Eve service. Thing2’s laundry hadn’t magically loaded, washed and folded itself over the weekend. The remaining presents on the Hoosier chest still needed to be wrapped, and we all had needed showers badly even before the packing chaos began.

Somehow, we managed to get out of the house only 30 minutes late (a road trip record for us) and (at the time of this telling) having forgotten only a few minor items. Thing1 was driving and, even though he’s skillful, his right foot, heavy with youth, makes me and the Big Guy happier to sit in the back seat.

We drove mostly in silence for the first 30 minutes. I did my makeup. Thing2 slept, and the Big Guy fidgeted with his wedding ring which he still wears on his right hand, as we both did when we lived in Europe.

“I’m thinking about switching it back,” he said innocently. In the front row, the kids had started chatting about something inappropriate. “I can’t get it off, though.”

The boys paused their conversation and then erupted.

Better parents would have reprimanded them for the quick trip to the gutter, but we both started laughing too. The humor on our ‘Group W’ bench got even more middle school for a little bit, and I didn’t even cringe inwardly.

We’re heading to see grandparents where the boys will need to be on their best behavior for several days, so I knew they needed to get it out of their system. But, after a hectic, crabby morning, the Big Guy and I also needed to get things out of our system and get in the mood to celebrate with family.

Presence

I mentally patted myself on the back as I got out of the driveway only 5 or 10 minutes late. The town was covered with a fresh 6” dusting of snow, and, as I made my way down the mountain and my favorite scene came into view, I had to stop and snap a photo and then remember to breathe again. The world looked – and, thanks also to my cargo, felt – a lot like Christmas, but something nagged at my spirit.

The backseat of my car was filled with orange drawstring knapsacks, each filled with art supplies (art kits) for kids in need. This delivery was different from others I had made in the past because I know the girls who will be receiving the kits. I teach them every day.

About three years ago, I started raising money to buy art kits for kids in foster care and for recently-arrived refugee children. When Thing1 got sick, I pushed pause on the project. This month seemed like a good time to hit play again, even if only for a few days.

Most of our girls are in the custody of child services because of myriad family issues. Some of them may go home for brief holiday visits. There are more than a few girls, however, who will wake up in their dormitories on Christmas morning.

The school works hard to make the season bright for the students, but, as we prepared activities for them, I became much more keenly aware of how many ways this season can be difficult for a lot of people. Almost every movie celebrates this as a season of family, but all of our students are at our school because of family issues. We can’t replace their families, but we can remind them that they are cared for, that they are precious to someone.

I’m giving the art kits anonymously, hoping they get some enjoyment out of them. I know, however, that what these kids need is for the adults in their lives – parents, teachers, caretakers — to be present, physically and emotionally.

They will have caring staff with them on Christmas Day, but, as I’ve heard so many other teachers say over the years, these kids are, in a way, my kids. There’s more than a small part of me that wants to spend some time with them on that day (a few other teachers at school do).

Our family will be out of town with extended family, keeping a biannual tradition, but as I took in Mother Nature’s holiday finery, I made a silent promise to make sure that my next Christmas will include these kids. It will be as much about being present as it is about giving presents.

Holiday with a Side Dish served Dark

It takes more than a perfect menu to make a great holiday. It takes at least one good tradition, and sometimes those come from the craziest sources.

Thing1 had graciously offered to spend his first afternoon home from college helping me with the big shopping trip for the big meal that was coming up on Thursday. The sentimental part of his brain (coincidentally attached directly to his stomach) had apparently suggested that any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without now just one or two of his favorite recipes, but all of them, and he had ideas about the shopping list.

The final list included ingredients for his favorite green beans, the boys’ favorite cranberry relish, enough stuffing ingredients to feed an entire village, and, finally, burnt bottoms.

Yep, you read that right. With Thing1’s help, I finally realized that our family’s signature recipe for every holiday meal includes a big basket of buttery, flaky, burnt bottoms.  Here’s how I make them:

I start with only the best ingredients:

  • Enough tubes of Crescent rolls to meet the real and imagined capacity of two average teenaged boys (I just get what’s left in the freezer case).
  • A functioning timer
  • One too many irons in the fire (or pots in the oven as the situation permits)
  • Optional ingredients (one, maybe two, glasses of wine or a good conversation)

I roll out the crescent roll dough from the tube and then re-roll the pre-cut dough from the fat end of the triangle to the skinny end (The boys and/or their cousins often volunteer).

We then put rolls on a cookie sheet after a good debate over whether eating rolls baked on a non-stick coating or a greased metal sheet will be worse for us 20 years from now. We set the oven to recommended temperature, put the sheet in and set the timer.  I used to be tempted to set the timer a little early to keep the bottoms nice and golden, but this strategy somehow always backfire.

Someone usually pours a glass of wine, and I go back to preparing the rest of the meal, often talking with a family member or other guest about food or some other non-distracting topic like politics.

When the timer goes off, I check the oven to confirm that rolls are almost but not quite done. I set the timer for another minute or two – or, actually, I don’t – I know I’ll remember to check them again before they get too well-done just like I’ve never done for the last 23 years.

This year I deviated from the routine, setting the old-fashioned timer with the bell along with the timer on my phone. It was Thing1’s first Thanksgiving as a college man, and I wanted the dinner to be perfect. But the bell rang, and the bottoms weren’t even done.

I set out the cranberry relish and the stuffing and completely missed the buzzer on the phone. It was only as I pulled out the green bean recipe that a distinctly smoky smell made it clear that I’d done it again.

“Oh man,” I moaned and then laughed as I pulled out the first cookie sheet. To be clear, I am not the only hostess in my family cursed with the inability to serve anything but burnt bottoms in the bread basket, but, I was sure this Thanksgiving would break the curse.

I hollered the bad, but expected, news to my oldest son who blurted out what he had asserted in the grocery store when I presented the option for an alternative starchy side dish just a few days earlier:

“It wouldn’t be the holidays without a burnt bottom, Mom! Now Thanksgiving can officially begin!”

And when I thought about it each time, it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one good inside joke.

What’s your signature dish?

 

P.S. The burnt bottoms get eaten every single year – every single one.

You Never Need To

I’ve said it to my kids. I’ll bet you say it to yours, and I’m pretty sure your mom has said it to you, but no matter how sappy it sounds each time, it’s true.

“You don’t need to get me (insert image of your mom talking here) anything for Mother’s Day (or any other day).”

But just in case you feel like getting your mom a little something, A is for All-Nighter is on sale on Amazon prime – to get there in time for next Sunday, or you can order a signed copy with 2-day shipping here by clicking the Pay Pal button below.

December Common Threads Give Away

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It’s that time of year, and a perfect way to kick off the month of giving is with the Common Threads Give-Away.

This month’s featured artist is Jane McMillan of Little House Home Arts, and she’s giving away this adorable tomato-red pin-cushion.  There’s a little ladybug accent on the top of the red felted wool fruit.


To enter the give-away just visit Jane’s blog and leave a comment and while your at it please check out the rest of us as well: Bedlam Farm, Full Moon Fiber Art,and Pugs & Pics.

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