Holiday Prep and Cheer

This is the first year we put our tree in the activity room.

December has been a whirlwind of activity, though I don’t think we experience the busy-ness that many families experience. We don’t spend a lot of time with extended family. Relatives either live too far away; or they have their own lives, commitments and interests; or both. The adults in my family don’t exchange presents either. But we still hustle and bustle to figure out what to buy for our own kids, each other, and a few others. So it’s never completely exempt from stress!

Although doing Christmas cards is not my favorite thing to do, I try to write out a few notes and letters because I much prefer getting real mail than an impersonal card without even a real signature on it. As such, I keep my card recipient list to a minimum, and sometimes I send out e-mails instead. Every year, I tend to do things a little differently, and this includes decorating too. (See below to see how we decorated this year.)

The 10-year-old sewed a Santa's hat for his little brother's favorite toy bird,
The 10-year-old sewed a Santa’s hat for his little brother’s favorite toy bird, “Chick.”

I’m grateful that the holidays for us mostly means the four of us relaxing at home, making ornaments and decorating leisurely. It means watching more documentaries and movies too. It means pulling out the Christmas storybooks, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bake something too.

Unfortunately, this week brought illness to our house. My husband and 10-year-old are feeling very poorly, but somehow my youngest son and I have stayed healthy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m sad for them because for my husband, it’s not how he wanted to spend his vacation, and my son was also sick on his birthday this year. I’m hopeful that he’ll be feeling much better on Christmas Day.

black-capped chickadee
black-capped chickadee

At least, we have the next week and a half without any appointments or any commitments, and that feels pretty awesome to me. Our busy time was the first half of this month, and it was pretty special too because the 10-year-old performed in two recitals. The first recital was here at our house — I invited my dad, step-mom, two aunts and uncle to hear him play his latest piano pieces. (He played 13 pieces of classical music.) I made two kinds of soup, three loaves of bread, homemade fudge and a homemade apple pie. It was all delicious, and everyone enjoyed themselves, and I was so very happy to do this. But my son was the star of the show, and he wowed my family with his piano playing. Better yet, we’re going to try to do a family recital twice a year, and this experience reminded me how music can really bring people together, and I’m so grateful to my son for bringing music into the house. It was a day to celebrate for sure.

One week later, my son performed in his new piano teacher’s performance group, which is basically a recital. She does this four times a year, and what a pleasure it was to hear her other students and give our son a chance to perform in a supportive, relaxing atmosphere. And he played his four pieces perfectly! He was so proud of himself, and we were on Cloud 9 all day.

The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.
The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.

My youngest son is still fond of birds, so together with his brother and I, we decided to do something different this year. We kept most of Christmas tree ornaments in storage except for the beautiful balls. Then we decided to make the rest of the ornaments — mostly birds! So our tree is full of birds this year, and it’s so pretty and delightful. My eldest son and I did most of the work. He is very good at drawing and painting, so he made some pretty ornaments. My younger son gets frustrated with his handiwork and gives up quickly, but I think he had fun trying.

Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
From left to right: cardinal sewed by 10-year-old, blue jay painted by me, starling painted by 10-year-old, and an American goldfinch I made last year for the 7-year-old.

And how can I forget — before we even came up with the bird ornament idea, the 7-year-old decided we needed more outdoor decorations. (All we have is a wreath on the door, but several of our neighbors have lots of lights and decorations outside.) He didn’t know the name for it, but he described it to me, and I realized he wanted to make an evergreen garland for our porch. He was determined to make it and not buy it, so I said that we could walk around our yard and see what we could find to use. I told him that we might have a problem though — we couldn’t cut too many evergreen branches from the trees or we might hurt the trees. So he was very conservative, and we picked just a few pretty pine needles, sprigs of cedar and a couple sprigs of holly too. This, of course, was not enough material to make a garland that would stretch across our porch.

I tried to work with his ideas as much as I could, but once he “got tired” and said he didn’t want to do it anymore, I made some big suggestions. (I have realized that when he gets “tired” that means he doesn’t know how to proceed and needs help.) My suggestions revived his enthusiasm for the activity, and he finished off the decorations with his very own ideas — to hang an ornament from them and to hang them from the hooks on the front porch. I think they turned out quite pretty, don’t you?


I hope wherever you are and whatever you celebrate (and even if you don’t celebrate this season), you are warm, healthy and at peace. I hope you’re with people you love, and I hope you’re engaged in activities that make your heart sing. I know many people struggle this time of year and throughout the year, but this is my wish for everyone. I would like for us all to live in peace with one another and share our unique gifts with each other. I hope everyone has someone else to support them in this.

Much love and thanks for reading. Happy New Year too!
Shelli

Merry Christmas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 24, 2013.

This is a magical time of year for my boys, who are four and seven-years-old. That seems to be the perfect age for all this Christmas stuff, and I’m happy to be a witness to their pure joy. Luckily, their excitement is contagious, although I’ve been feeling the urge to hibernate.

It’s cold outside, and I’d like to huddle under the covers and read a good book. I avoid the malls by doing most of my shopping online. I’d like to turn off the computer, but it seems my life is too intertwined with it to shut it down completely. At least I can curl up in my bed with my laptop and avoid social media.

I get sad doing our annual Christmas cards. It reminds me of all my loved ones who live far away, and my failings in trying to keep in touch with them. Christmas is about connecting with people, yet we live so much these days through Facebook. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel real to me.

I am warmed by the thought that I can make connecting with those closest to me meaningful, and I can reach out to those who seem to like reaching back. I’m grateful for the distant friends who return e-mails and write letters. I’m grateful for the new friends I have found recently who are becoming so important to my boys and me.

My boys had their first Christmas surprise when my husband suggested we buy a real tree for the first time this year. At first my seven-year-old was upset because putting together the artificial tree with his mom had become a ritual he looked forward to! I wasn’t looking forward to it, though, so I agreed.

After my son realized a real tree was just as big as our artificial tree, he was happy, and both boys were thrilled to pick their own tree out of the hundreds available at the store. At home, after I put on the lights, they did a great job hanging most of the ornaments. I don’t mind the places where the ornaments are squished together. It adds character to the tree.

The boys made me pull out all of our Christmas decorations this year. They weren’t going to let me skimp, so now our mantel has nothing but Christmas cheer on it. Extra lights are strung around the door of our activity room, which used to be the dining room. Another little tree sits by the window in there.

Cooking has never been my forte, but I was determined to do some baking with the boys. We’ve been making apple pies, apple turnovers and homemade animal crackers, which my boys will actually eat!

We’re also reading books and talking about the meaning of Christmas, and we’ve discussed giving instead of receiving.  This year, my boys bought a gift for each other with their own money, wrapped it and put it under the tree. But I know they are most excited about receiving their own presents, and what’s a Mama to do? I’m excited for them, and I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see their wishes fulfilled.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm, healthy and safe. I hope you’re able to connect with those around you in a meaningful way, and I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas and My Gift to You

the three-year-old's handiwork

Merry Christmas. Wherever you are, or whatever you are celebrating today, I hope you are warm, healthy, and well-loved.

And now is as good of a time as any to start what I hope will be a new tradition on this blog….my sharing stories with you.  I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and I don’t know if you will care to read the stories I tell my son in the evenings, but every once in a while I happen to tell a good one – not a perfect story or publishable story but a story that I like – and I’m hoping that by sharing a few with you, you might be encouraged to tell stories to your own children.  Unfortunately, it’s not the same when I write them down as when I tell them off the top of my head. Clearly I am editing and polishing as I write, adding a detail that makes more sense, or eliminating the pauses, the “oh wait…I forgot to say,” and the “uuuummmms.”  And I never remember it exactly as I told it even though I try to type it right after the telling.  

I told the story below to my six-year-old the night before Christmas Eve, and I surprised myself with it because it came so effortlessly, although I had no idea how it would end when I started it! That doesn’t always happen!

You don’t have to tell a perfect story to your children. You are not trying to get published. Anything you have to say, anything you make up that is for them and only them will be treasured by your children. And the more you tell, the better you’ll get at it. I hope you’ll start a ritual tonight. If you want, borrow my story or part of it. Whatever you do, trust yourself that you know how to tell stories.

A Christmas Story by Shelli Bond Pabis

Once upon a time there were some children who lived with an old man and woman. The children weren’t siblings, and they didn’t have any parents, which is why the old man and woman were taking care of them.

Christmas was coming, and the old man and woman didn’t have much money.  The children each had something they were wishing for though.

The first little girl wanted a doll she had seen in a store window.  It was a fabulous doll with shiny, blond hair, blue eyes and a beautiful dress.  She wanted it more than anything in the world.

The little boy was hoping to get a book he had seen in a shop.  It was a book of adventure stories!  He loved adventure stories, and he wanted to read all the stories in this big book.

The last little girl wanted a puppy more than anything else. Unfortunately, the old man and woman didn’t have enough money to buy a puppy, and they had even less time to take care of one!

When Christmas arrived, the children were excited and had great hopes that morning!  The first little girl found one package under the tree, but when she opened it, she didn’t find a doll.  Instead, there was some pretty cloth and blue yarn. Blue was her favorite color.  She was very disappointed, but she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The little boy noticed there was something in his stocking!  It felt like a book! But when he reached inside, he found a crisp new notebook, and nice new pen.  He was very disappointed, but he was a good little boy, so all he said was “thank you.”

The last little girl found her present under the tree.  It was a little box, so she knew a puppy wasn’t inside.  She very disappointed, and when she opened it, she found it was full of seeds!  Seeds?!  But she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The boy took his pen and notebook to his room and stashed them under his bed, and then he forgot about them and went outside to play.  The little girl with the seeds took them to her room and placed them on her dresser because there wasn’t much she could do with seeds in the winter.

The old woman told the first little girl that they would make her a new dress with the pretty cloth because the little girl really needed a new dress.  Together they worked on it in the evenings, and girl learned a lot about sewing.  When it was finished, she did love the new dress, especially since her old one was looking very drab. There was some cloth left over, and the old woman said perhaps they could also make something else.

“There’s not enough cloth here for another dress,” the little girl said.

“But there’s enough for a doll’s dress,” the old woman said.

The little girl’s eyes brightened, and together the old woman and she worked on making a doll!  They used the leftover cloth and yarn and some scraps from the old’s woman’s sewing basket.  When they were finished, the little girl thought this doll was even better than the one she had seen in the store window!  She was very happy!

Meanwhile, the little boy had been playing and pretending outside in the snow!  He came up with all kinds of adventures, and sometimes he played with some neighbor boys down the road.  One night after a full day and some grand adventures, he went to his room to rest, and he saw something poking out from under his bed.  It was the notebook and pen. 

‘I should write down what I did today,’ he thought.  So he did.  He wrote all about the adventure, and it was fun!  Then he began to write down all the adventure stories that he came up with in his head.  By the time spring came, he had filled his notebook, and when he read it over, he thought his stories were quite good!  He let his friends read the stories, and they laughed and had fun remembering their adventures that winter.  The boy was very happy, and he continued to write stories and share them for the rest of his life!

Finally when the frost had past, the last little girl took her seeds to the back of the yard and found a sunny place to plant them.  She didn’t know what they were, and she wondered what they would grow into, so she took good care of them.  She watered them, weeded the bed and fertilized them.  They grew into tall bright pink and red flowers!  They were quite beautiful, and she was proud that she had managed to grow them!

There was a farm next door with some animals, and that spring, the farm dog had a litter of puppies.  When they got big enough, one of the puppies started to explore the yard, and he saw something bright red and pink that he wanted to investigate!  When he found the flowers, he also found the little girl, and she was delighted with the puppy.  He licked her face, and she carried him to the old man and woman.

“I think our neighbor’s dog just had some puppies.  Let’s go see if this puppy belongs to him.”  They put the puppy in a little cart and walked over to the next farm.

Sure enough, the puppy belonged to the farmer who could clearly see that the little girl was already in love the dog. 

“I was going to take this litter of puppies to town to see if I could sell them, but it looks like this one has already found a home.”

“Really?” the little girl asked.

“If you can prove to me that you can take good care of him, I’ll let you have him.”

“I’ll take good care of him!  I promise,” she said.

The old man agreed.  He told the farmer how the little girl had planted her seeds, watered and tended them and helped them grow.  “I think she’ll make a good mother to this little puppy.”

“In that case, he’s yours,” said the farmer.

The little girl was very happy!

Tell me some of your favorite Christmas tales!