I originally started this blog a few years ago to chronicle Noah's daily struggles with autism. It was a dark time in my life - a time when I felt that things would never get better. It was a time when I felt that all my hopes and dreams for my son and for our family had died. In my efforts to help Noah recover from autism, I began a journey that inadvertently led me to rediscover myself. I learned how to laugh again. How to dream again. How to live again. How to love again.

Autism Schmaustism. He's still our son.

This is a blog celebrating our family. Our kids. Our life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the 9th, 10th, and 11th Days of Giving...

First of all, thank you so much for the sweet comments after my last post. They really meant a lot. I know that I am absolutely terrible about responding to comments, but please know that I read each one and that I love getting them. I always have the best intentions of responding, but unless I do it right away then I forget. So I just wanted to thank everyone who's been commenting on the Days of Giving posts. Thank you!

Secondly, wow! Here I thought the Days of Giving were going to be a big life lesson for the kids... had no idea I was the one who was going to learn the lesson.

I think in a lot of ways I feel so out of control with what's going on with the kids. We've tried so many different therapies and all and have seen very little progress in most areas. And I guess I just thought that maybe I could at least teach them to be caring. I have no control over most of their special needs and issues going on, but I wanted to at least "leave my mark" and have them grow into caring people.

But I was just trying too hard and had way too many expectations. I mean, they're just kids and I was expecting them to turn into Mother Theresa overnight. And it was really stressing me out. I mean, the irony is that this was going to be our most simple Christmas ever. The kids are getting one present each from Santa (plus a stocking filled some old fashioned sweets from the Mennonite store) and one present from us. 95% of our gifts for Christmas were bought ages ago - and we bought online. The atmosphere was so laid back this year and then I go and put this enormous amount of pressure on myself and the kids.

I'm such a schlump.

The thing is, looking back on my childhood, my parents never had a 12 Days of Giving. They didn't sponsor orphans from abroad. We didn't go to soup kitchens on Christmas Day. We didn't even do the Angel Tree at the mall. They didn't shove serving others down our throats.

BUT.... what I do remember is that my dad always gave money whenever he saw a homeless person on the side of the road. And he always gave gas money if someone approached him at the gas station. And my mom was a caregiver for every single elderly person she met. She was always dragging us here and there to drop off homemade treats and baskets and such. And you know what? They never gave us a lecture on it - on how important it is to give. They certainly didn't scrapbook about it or journal it or write down every good deed in a diary. They just quietly did it because that's what you do. And my brother and I watched them do it over the years and it just became normal.

It became something you just do because it's just normal to help others.

And my kids will probably learn to become givers because that's what they'll see their parents do.

(I hope they also don't become grammatically incompetent because that's what how their mom is - yikes!).

I'm not a scrapbooker. I love the idea of it, but I don't have the supplies. I don't have the tools. I don't have the money. And I was putting so much pressure on myself to capture each giving day on a scrapbook page and it was ridiculous. I'm a perfectionist and it was killing me that I didn't know what I was doing. And I was in a bad mood and I dreaded taking photos and I dreaded blogging and I was just a grumpy, grumpy person to be around.

So I took the last few days off (from blogging, not giving) and it has been wonderful! We still gave, but the pressure was off and I just spent a lot of time hanging out with the kids. Eli said, "Wow, Mom, you're becoming strong! Your good mood is getting strong and you're becoming fun to play with. Hey, you're almost as fun as Daddy!".

That says it all, doesn't it? That my kids need ME, not a saint. (Oh, and to you RAD parents, did you notice the wording Eli used? How Nancy Thomas is that?! lol)

Anyway, regarding the Days of Giving....

On the 9th Day, Monday, we went to our local library and donated the children's book Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson. He's the same guy who wrote Three Cups of Tea and this is the children's version. We also bought paper towels and copier paper to give them. The librarians were shocked. One lady said, "Did you know that we're plumb out of copy paper?!" It was a great moment....

And then Nandi leaned over, grabbed herself, and started screaming, "I have to poopoo! I have to poopoo! Mommy, I have to poop!"

It was... uh.... nasty. Turns out little Miss N has come down with a stomach virus. In the library.

Next on the library giving list.... toilet paper.

(Never a dull moment, eh?)

For the 10th day of giving, we gave fruit and nut baskets to our neighbors. I saw similar baskets for $16.00 at Walmart and they only had a couple of pieces of fruit in them. So, we bought some baskets at Dollar Tree (oh how I love you, Dollar Tree), along with basket bags and ribbon and then comped some fruit at Walmart.

Do you know about comping? That Walmart will match any competitor's price on the same item? We get tons of cheap things that way - ex: 8 avocados for a $1!! Anyway, we comped fruit and then CVS has Planter's mixed nuts on sale 2/$5 and then the kids made some more white chocolate peppermint bark and we put a bag of that in, too. It ended up costing about $7 per basket, but they turned out much fuller and nicer ( and cheaper!) than the ones in the store.

And today, for the 11th Day of Giving, we're driving to Dallas for a doctor's appt, but making a stop off at a friend's house and delivering a basket of wine, cheeses, fruit, and chocolates for a family that recently moved to the U.S.

Several years ago, when I was working in International Education, we had a 18 year old student from Uzbekistan live with us. She stayed for almost 3 years and then found a place of her own. Eventually, she graduated and went on to a really nice job in the Dallas area. Her sister came over and did her undergrad and graduate degrees, and now, a few months ago, her parents came over. Even though Liza was our "adopted daughter" for many years, we rarely get to see her anymore. We're all so busy now. So, the kids and I are bringing a basket over to her house this afternoon. She'll be at work, but her parents will be there and my kids will get to practice a few words in Russian and gets lots of hugs and pats on the heads. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

I have no idea what's planned for tomorrow. But I'm realizing that maybe the best gifts aren't really planned at all. Like when Eli noticed that someone waved at us when we let them pass us on the highway. Or how he commented on the fact that I let an elderly women in front of me at Walmart.

I certainly didn't scrapbook about it or even comment on it at all. He just happened to notice.... much in the same way that I used to notice my mom and dad when they did things like that when I was a kid.

Funny how that works....

Happy 11th Day of Giving!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the 8th Day of Giving...

I haven't done a scrapbook yet for today's Gift of Giving because it hasn't happened yet. All day - and I mean, literally all day , I've been working on some stupid craft project for this family that moved into our neighborhood last month. I was going to make a plate of felt gingerbread men play food and put them on a baking tray and give it to the neighbor's children along with a cute Christmas apron and oven mitt and spatula from Dollar Tree. I thought the little kids would love it.

But the problem is... while working hours and hours on end cutting out felt and spending an hour and a half trying to thread embroidry floss through the wrong needle and all that nonsense, I was neglecting my own children.

Today has been horrible. I've wasted hours on a craft that didn't pan out. My children have been fighting all day long. Noah has been neglected. And for what? So that I can look all good with my cute little craft and blog about it?

Why? What's the point? I'm learning that giving is GREAT when it's from the heart. But giving out of obligation - like saying that I'll blog about 12 straight days of it - that's a pain in the butt. It takes the fun out of giving.

I know there are blogs out there where the mom is the most crafty person in the world. You know, the ones who make slipper socks out of old wool sweaters that they felted themselves. And they seem to take the most beautiful photos ever. And they manage to blog 6 times a day while taking care of countless children. And their house is always spotless and they manage to make gourmet organic foods on a budget of $35 a month. And their kids are perfect. And their kids are healthy. And they don't have to deal with issues like autism, and RAD, and anxiety. And somehow, they manage to homeschool their kids, too.

But I'm not like that.

And for some reason, it just boiled over today. It's OKAY that I'm not like that. It's OKAY that I burn my eggs and it is OKAY that I can't sew and it is OKAY that my photos are dark and blurry. I'm me. And I'm OKAY.

But what's not okay is ignoring my kids for the sake of making a good presentation. Maybe other moms can manage it all, but I can't.

And that's OKAY.

So, today, for the 8th Day of Giving, I'm putting down the felt and I'm going to give my kids
the gift of time.

I'm going to round them up and we're going to swing by Nonna & Papa's and we're going to see the Prairie Lights in Grand Prairie. It's spectacular and I know they'll love it. And maybe we'll even drive through McDonald's. And maybe we'll turn the radio up really loud and sing off-key. And maybe, just maybe, we'll create a memory that no scrapbook page can ever match.

And that will be OKAY with me.

I'll be back tomorrow with a new Day of Giving (it's an easy one tomorrow). I'm not going to give up because we're almost through... but it does give new meaning to charity begins at home.

On the 7th Day of Giving...

Sorry for the late post. I had to interrupt yesterday's regularly scheduled program for an emotional breakdown. But I'm better now.

Yesterday, the kids woke up at 5:30 in the morning and we spent the next three hours making homemade dog treats for the neighborhood dogs.

We used this recipe HERE. I don't use bouillon cubes, so we kept that out and substituted chicken broth for the boiling water. We also used applesauce instead of margarine. And we used Christmas Tree and Gingerbread Man cookie cutters to cut them out.

Oh my! They were adorable.

Oh, and we brushed some chicken broth on top of the cutouts before we put them in the oven and then turned them over after 15 minutes and brushed chicken broth on the other side for 15 minutes.

Can I tell you a secret? My kids loved them.

That's right. My kids devoured them. One of them actually threw a little temper tantrum because he wanted more.

Our family is so jacked up.

Now, the truth is, there's nothing in there that people can't eat. Some flour, some rolled oats, some milk, some cheese, a little bit of broth, 1/3 cup of applesauce, and one egg.

But just the thought that my kids were eating the treats we were making for the neighborhood dogs, well, it did make me roll my eyes and shudder a bit.

We ended up making four bags. One for our dog, Ginger, who, along with my children, served as the official doggy treat tester. Then we made a bag for my mom's dog, Shiloh. Shiloh's BFF and sister just had to be put down a few weeks ago. This is the first time that Shiloh's been alone in 9 years, so she's still grieving quite a bit.

We also made a bag for the adorable golden lab who lives across the street. Her owner passed away from cancer last month and she's so sad. She's the sweetest thing ever and my heart breaks for her. She gets so excited everytime a white pick-up drives by...

And then we made a bag for our resident guard dog, Buster. I'm not sure what kind of dog he is, but he's big and huge and scary looking. He roams the neighborhood and frightens all the burglars and UPS men away. The truth is, though, that's he's a real pussycat and a big teddybear.

Susie and Buster's owners weren't home, so we had to leave the treat bags in their mailbox. But we were able to go to my mom's yesterday and Shiloh wolfed her treats down in about 5 seconds flat.


And, then, for breakfast this morning, Eli polished off the leftovers with a nice glass of milk.

Come to think of it, we often did have to get him out of the dog food bowl when he was a toddler.....

Happy 7th Day of Giving! I'll be back tonight with the 8th Day of Giving.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Be Back In The Morning

It's been a pretty rough day today. The kids have been at it all day (and afternoon AND evening). I've been feeling queasy the last two days. Noah's been sick since last Sunday. And to top it off, we went to my mom's today where we found some old VHS tapes of Noah before he had autism. Haven't seen the videos in 7 years. Oh my, they messed me up pretty bad. He was so healthy and so alert and so on target with everything. The memories just came flooding back. I'm pretty much an emotional wreck right now.

I'll be back in the morning to blog about our 7th Day of Giving and then back tomorrow afternoon or evening to blog about the 8th Day... .although I don't even know what we're doing yet for tomorrow's day.

Off to console myself with chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, a hot water bottle, and a Vicar of Dibley marathon.

See you in the morning.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On the 6th Day of Giving...

First of all - before I get to the 6th Day of Giving - I have to address the white elephant that is in the room.... otherwise known as that sad, sad scrapbook page looming just above.

I could blame it all on the kids and say they did it, but really it's nothing more than a thirtysomething mother forgetting how much fun it is to mix glitter with glue. That huge silvery, shiny blob thing is meant to read "DAY 6" and the little white thingies floating around are supposed to be whimsical little snowflakes.

It all looked so pretty and perfect in my head.

Sadly, it seems that the decorating techniques employed in Miss Shoemaker's Kindergarten Class of 1978 - 79 don't really hold up in modern times.

Unless you're 5. Then you can get away with it.

But I'm not.

However, this would've been hot stuff 30 years ago.

If you can tear yourself away from the glitterama, you'll see that two of my little cherubs are holding baskets brimmed with lots of goodies. Those are the Teacher Gifts we're giving this year.

The baskets were a dollar from Dollar Tree and the stuff inside... well, it was free!

What? You don't shop at CVS with Extra-Care Bucks?? Shame on you! You're wasting money.

Actually, I've slacked off on my CVS'ing this year, so my wonderful friend, Tristan, let me shop in her CVS closet. She got all these things for free with her Extra Bucks. Thank you, Tristan!

Here's what we put in the baskets:

Soaftsoap Body Butter Coconut Scrub

Cinnamint Listerine

Schick Quattro for Women Razor

Garnier Fructis Humidty Hairspray

Herbal Essence Color Me Happy Shampoo & Conditioner

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste

Olay Daily Facials Cleansing Cloths

Secret Deodorant with Olay

Reach Dental Floss

Neutrogena Mascara

Covergirl Outlook Double Lipshine

Sally Hansen Clear Nail Polish

Then we wrapped it up in one of those clear basket sacks from Dollar Tree and tied a pretty ribbon and bow around it and attached a little poem that read:

Dear Mrs. XXXXX,

My mom is a couponer
through and through

That's why I have
this gift for you

I hope you don't mind
that it was nearly free

Because it was chosen with love

For you - from me!

At first, I was nervous about putting that they were nearly free, but I had read an online teacher site that said teachers feel bad when kids spend a lot of money on their gifts, so I thought it'd be okay.

We did this for Nandi's teacher last year and she has the same one this year.... and she "hinted" last week how much she loved last year's gift. LOL. And Eli's teacher... oh my, she LOVED it! She kept saying, "Oooh! I've always wanted to try this! Ohh! We use that! Ooooh! I LOVE it!", so I think it was a hit. :-)

And... drum roll.... Eli was actually enthusiastic about today's Day of Giving... mainly because it put him in the spotlight, but I don't care. I'm just glad he got involved.

Happy 6th Day of Giving!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the 5th Day of Giving...

"On the 5th Day of Giving, my true love gave to me.....One extra book, bought from Kohl's Cares for Kids, For Nandi's Pre-K Christmas parteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"

Do ya'll know about the Kohl's Cares for Kids books? I love them!! About every 3 or 4 months, Kohl's picks 4 hardback children's books and sells them for $5.00 a piece. AND each book comes with an optional matching stuffed animal. AND all the profits go to supporting health and education opportunities for children across the nation.

They pick some really great books. Books that would normally cost about $16.99 for a hardback... and they sell them for a fiver. Love it!

We usually give these books for Christmas or birthday presents - and one year even donated some to our local library. Sim even brought some with him to Wales when he visited his family last February.

I guess you could say I'm slightly obsessed with them.

Anyway, Nandi's teacher sent out a letter asking us to bring one book ($5 and under) for the annual Pre-K Christmas party.

And then she asked if we could bring an extra one just in case someone forgot one or couldn't afford to buy one. Come one... like I need an excuse to buy an extra Kohl's Cares for Kids book! Of course we jumped on it.

This season, the books are those cute little "If you gave a cat a cupcake" and "If you gave a moose a muffin" books. In fact, you can see what's for offer RIGHT HERE .

(Isn't that plush mouse adorable??!!)

So, Nandi decided that she wanted to give If You Take a Mouse to the Movies. So we gave Nonna & Papa the money (they were doing some shopping in Mesquite that day) and two days ago, we got the book and Nandi wrapped it up all by herself.

They had the party today and she was so proud of herself. She kept telling everyone, "Look! That's my extra book! That's my extra book!"

She's really taking to all this giving stuff. Out of all three kids, she's the one who really seems to be enjoying it. It's been a pretty rough year for us and so it's been really wonderful to see Nandi so happy right now. She's really does have a sweet, sweet heart.

Happy 5th Day of Giving!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the 4th Day of Giving...

For the 4th Day of Giving, our family is sponsoring one of the Heartline Runners - my friend, Corey - for the 2010 Disney World Marathon.

Some of you may be familiar with Corey from that rather embarrassing, and certainly deluded, Jillian Michaels reference from a few weeks back.

And if you recall, Corey and an equally crazy team of runners have all signed up to compete in a marathon next month to raise money for an emergency vehicle for Heartline Ministries, which operates in Haiti.

They have an amazing BLOG that lets you meet all the runners (did I mention they're crazy?) and the blog does a great job on updating on what Heartline is doing in Haiti.

Have you had your daily cry or your daily dose of inspiration yet? Well, then just stop on by!

Anyway, we had budgeted to sponsor Corey for the race (and you can help sponsor her by visiting her blog. You'll also be entered in her raffle, but you'd better hurry because she's drawing names on Friday!) but I forgot to send her the money. Whoops!

And now Corey's our 4th Day of Giving person and I get to scrapbook it. Pretty cool.

Now, this is our 4th day of giving. Would you like to know if it's making any kind of impact on the kids? Well, listen in to an actual conversation that we had before school this morning:

Me: Hey! Guess what? It's the 4th Day of Giving!! Do you want to know what we're going to do today?

Eli: Can I watch cartoons?

Me: No, not before school. (Eli interrupts with a "Oh, great" - his word du jour). So, listen, we're going to send some money for Mommy's friend who is running a race...."

Eli: (Interrupts). What's so special about a race?

Me: (Wondering how on earth my sweet little boy morphed into a disrespectful teenager overnight).... Well, the runners are going to raise money for an ambulance for a country called Haiti!!

Eli: (Looking dead serious). Mom, I'm not very interested in this giving stuff.

Me: (Wanting to smack him upside the head) Why not? Giving is fun!

Eli: No, it's not. It's boring.

Me: (Who IS this child?) No it's not.... and besides, guess where they're doing the race? Disney World!

Eli and Nandi: Disney World? Whooo! Whoooo! Disney World! Disney World! Disney World! We wanna go! We wanna go! Can we go, Mommy? Can we go? We wanna run! We can run!

(Crap. Why did I have to go and bring up Disney World????)

Me: Hold on, calm down. No, my friend Corey is going to Disney World and we're giving her some money for the race.

Eli: (Crestfallen) Why are we paying for COREY to go to the race? Why don't you pay for US to go to the race?

Me: Because we DON'T run. And besides, that's not the point. The point is that this is the 4th Day of Giving and we're going to help Corey out so that she can raise lots and lots of money to help buy an ambulance for all the sick people in Haiti. That's really good, right?

Eli: It's BORING! I want to go to Disney World! Whhhhaaaaaa! Whhhhaaaa! Whaaaa!

Nandi: (Who copies everything Eli does). I wanngo Disney Whirl! Whaaa! Whaaaa!


Eli: Haiti is BORING!

Me: It is NOT!

Eli: Yes it is!

Me: Well... well... you know what? (Oh no. Don't say it, Leslie. Stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Don't say it.... don't say it) Well, you know what? Maybe Santa Claus isn't going to come this year because he's too BORED. Maybe giving Christmas presents to little boys and girls is too BORING. Because giving is soooooooo BORING!!!!! Maybe he'll just save all the money he was going to spend on giving out Christmas presents and go on a nice vacation instead! You know what? Maybe he'll go to DISNEY WORLD instead.

(Ah, good. They stopped crying. Wait. No, no, no, no, no. Don't look like that. Don't cry. Oh crap. What have I done? I've damaged them. Oh man. I suck. I suck at parenting. I just told them Santa wasn't coming. I just told him he was going to Disney WORLD. Crap. Crap. Crap. What do I do? What do I do???)

Me: No, no, no. It's okay. It's okay. Santa's still coming. Mommy got a bit confused. Come here, it's okay. It's okay. Santa's coming. I promise. Santa never gets bored of giving out presents. Mommy was just being silly. It's okay.

Sigh. I have to remember that the kids are really young. And that when I started this whole thing that I knew this would happen and they might not be interested in it. And that the whole point was to start a tradition that we could do each year that might mean something to them when they are older.
And, hopefully the memory of Mommy going mental in 2009 will be firmly wiped from their brain.

I don't want them to hate the 12 Days of Giving and think it's just one big chore, so I have to rethink some of the things we're doing and see if we can make it more fun for them. Eli doesn't know it yet, but he's going to help me with a special task tonight. Just the two of us. And I have a really fun activity that I think they'll like planned for either Saturday or Sunday. It's all a big learning curve.

In the meantime, though, the important thing is that the Heartline Runners are $40 closer to their goal. My kids will probably never ever forget that giving to Haiti was what we did on the 4th Day of Giving. And Santa is NOT going to skip out on Christmas and go to Disney World. He will be making a very anticipated stop at our little house, leaving a super nice present for the kids, a new CD and book for Daddy, and a huge lump of coal for Mommy.

Because she's been very naughty this year. And not in the way Daddy would've liked.

Happy 4th Day of Giving!

P.S. We were the recipients of two days of giving!!! The Holt family left us farm fresh organic eggs on our doorstep that they'd gathered from their hens. The cool thing is that we had actually run out of eggs and had already spent our grocery money for this week.

And then today, I scrounged up $2 of change and ran through the donut shop drive-in to get the kids some donut holes this morning (to, you know, make up for the trauma I caused them) and the lady waiting on us saw our dog, Ginger, in the car (Ginger goes on the school run with us every morning) and she gave Ginger a pig in a blanket, which Ginger promptly scarfed down.

'Tis the Season of Giving!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the 3rd Day of Giving...

On the 3rd Day of Giving, the kids decided to help make Christmas candy to give to the Neurology Department at Scottish Rite Hospital.

Well, let me rephrase that. Nandi wanted to make candy. Eli wanted to eat it. And we had to keep swatting Noah (aka: Candy Cane Stealer) away from the kitchen.

In the end, Nandi made a wonderful, but small, batch of White Chocolate Peppermint Bark Christmas Trees. Actually, it was a rather large batch, but, you know, we had to taste it, right?

And let me just tell you. Nandi is getting really good at making desserts. I swear she's just like Betty Crocker.

Well, you know, if Betty Crocker had RAD.

I'm sure Betty Crocker had full kitchen privileges which allowed her to handle knives, can openers, and rolling pins.

Anyway, this is the recipe we used. PEPPERMINT BARK Oooh! Oooh! And Dollar Tree has the Christmas tree molds in stock. Grab 'em up! (We also had enough leftover chocolate to make chocolate dipped candy canes to give to a friend's kids. That's why Nandi and Eli are holding candy canes in the bottom pic).

So, let me tell you why we chose Scottish Rite for the 3rd Day of Giving. Well, it just so happened that we had an appointment there today. BUT.... they are also the most fantastic group of people we've ever had the privilege to know. The hospital is amazing. The staff is amazing. The doctors and nurses are amazing.

It's all just so.... wonderful.

(Come on, you thought I'd say amazing, right?)

And, the best part is that it's all free. Nandi has had botox injections twice. Been casted about 6 times. Her eyes have been checked. She had an EEG. An overnight stay. Countless follow-ups. And it's all free. Oh, and they give the kids toys. And the food in the cafeteria rocks. And there's practically zero staff turn-over.

That says a lot right there.

They have completely taken Nandi in and treated her with the utmost care. I cannot say enough about Scottish Rite. AND... fingers crossed.... they think they might be able to accept Noah as a patient, too, because of his CP. They gave us the paperwork today.

Really good White Chocolate Peppermint Bark = Really good favors.


We actually asked while we were leaving if they could recommend a good neurologist for Noah, as he didn't qualify for Scottish Rite, but then they talked it over and said to submit the paperwork because he toe walks and does have CP.

I swear we did not try to bribe them with White Chocolate Peppermint Bark. Honest to goodness.

And I'm not whipping up a huge batch for Simeon to take to his boss so that he can get two weeks off to watch the kids while I'm in India. Nope, not me.

But, no, seriously, we chose the Neurology Department at Scottish Rite because they give 110% of themselves to working with children with special needs. And they do it for free, which means every child with an orthopedic problem is able to get the best care in the field - regardless of how much money their parents make.

They are angels on earth. They really are.

Okay, regarding the scrapbook page. Ahhhh, I'm a lazy duck. Two pictures on wrapping paper background with gift tags telling us who the gifts were for... heee heeee.

You know you're a redneck scrapbooker if....

Happy 3rd Day of Giving! 9 more to go and then it's Christmas!

P.S. I want to buy one of those metallic or gel pens so that I can write "On the 3rd Day of Giving..." on the page. Any suggestions?

P.P.S. If you click on the picture you get a really good close-up of Nandi's face covered in chocolate bark and Eli's lips have about 6 candy canes' worth of red dye #40 on them. And Nandi's got a sad little dirty tear streaking down her face in the bottom picture because she broke a candy cane and thought she was in big trouble. Never a dull moment!

A Family Needing Help

I know I haven't mentioned much about one of the charities we support, Mayan Families, but I just couldn't read about this family and not pass on the information.

Mayan Families is a WONDERFUL organization in Guatemala that is doing great work with, well, Mayan families in Guatemala. Our little Eli is Mayan, so this is a charity that is very close to our heart.

There are two ways to learn about Mayan Families. You can go straight to their WEBSITE and get all the information you to need to know. It's also the place where you make your donations. But the best source, in my opinion, is straight from their BLOG. That's how I found out about Josefa and her family.

For $35, you can give them a traditional tamale basket for Christmas. It comes loaded with food. Also, for $35, you can give them a basket of food that will last for about 2 weeks. This is not some piddly little basket. We just sent some money for our sponsor student's family and they gave us a picture of the family with their food. It's a huge amount. Huge bags of corn and beans and rice. Three dozen eggs. Powdered drink. Breakfast cereal. A whole chicken. $35 goes a long way in Guatemala.

Also, for $150 a year you can sponsor Josefa or one of the hundreds of children like her to go to school for a year. They'll get new shoes, a uniform, supplies, and a hot meal at least once a day.

You can't do anything better for a child than provide an education.
I hope you'll check out the website and blog. I think you'll be really amazed at how even the smallest amount helps.

P.S. I'll be back late this afternoon with the 3rd Day of Giving post. We're headed to Dallas to Scottish Rite Hospital today for Nandi's neurology appointment and will be gone all day. They'll be checking her leg now that's it been braced for a few weeks and they're running an EEG to see if she's been having absence seizures. Wish us luck!

Monday, December 14, 2009

On the 2nd Day of Giving...

I have to tell you something. I love old people. I'm not sure if that's politically correct or not. Maybe I'm supposed to say elderly. Or aged. Or pensioners. But, basically, I love anyone over the age of 70.

And I chose 70 and up b/c my dad entered his 60's this year and I can't bear to put anyone in their 60's in the old/elderly/aged/pensioners category.

The day my dad is officially classified as "old" is the day I'll cry myself to sleep. I can't bear the thought of my parents aging.

But that's besides the point. The point is that I heart old people. I think they're fascinating. I think you can learn a lot from them. I think they're smart, educated, and super wise and that it would do us all a bit of good to sit at an older person's feet once in a while.

I am utterly fascinated by the early 1900's up to 1949. I think it's amazing how differently my in-laws lived during WWII in England vs my grandparent's in rural Tennessee. (Sim's parents are the same age as my grandparents.) I am amazed at how strong and resilient people were back then. I'm in awe of how people lived without washing machines and cars (at least my grandparents did) and indoor plumbing.

Speaking of which... did you know that my generation - those in their 30's- is the last generation to experience what it's like to grow up without computers and CD's and DVD's and cell phones? We didn't have any of that until I was about 19 or 20. Can you imagine what our grandchildren and great-children are going to think about us?

I guess they're going to be as fascinated by us as we are our grandparents generation...

Okay, anyway, my love for old/elderly/aged/pensioners is what led us to our 2nd Day of Giving. We decided to have flowers delivered to a resident at our local nursing home.

I called them up on Friday and told them our plan. They were so nice and super excited about it. They said a new resident was moving in that very day and although they didn't know much about her, they said she was very aware of what was going on and they gathered she didn't have much of anything.

Sniff. Sniff.

So they said she would be the perfect recipient for our 2nd Day of Giving.

Then, I got online and found a local florist. Good grief. Do you know how much flowers cost? Honestly? The cheapest we found were $49.99!!! I ended up picking a gorgeous bouquet in a clear lavender vase... but with tax and delivery fee, they cost $71!!! My heart sunk when I saw the total. We hadn't budgeted for that at all. That's almost our grocery budget for a week. That's the same amount we spent on Christmas presents (including Santa presents) for each of our kids. But I'd already promised that we'd have flowers delivered.

My dad later asked why I didn't just buy flowers from Walmart and leave them at the front desk of the nursing home. Now, why didn't I think of that? I guess it's because he's old, aged, elderly and a heck of a lot wiser than me.

And fortunately, Sim didn't flip out... too much. He's used to me jumping into things with both feet.

Anyhow, what's done is done and the kids and I are so excited to think that Miss Barbara is going to get a surprise visit from the florist sometime today.

We drove by the nursing home on the way to school this morning and imagined what the residents were doing. Where they just waking up? Eating breakfast? Watching TV? We also talked about things we'd miss when we got older.

And then we prayed for Miss Barbara on the way to school. Prayed that she'd have a smooth adjustment to the nursing home. That she wouldn't be too sad. And that the flowers would cheer her up.

Now, on the scrapbook page.

Can you tell that it's only Day 2 and I've already lost my vision? We glued a Dollar Tree ornament (4 to a pack) to the top and a holly shaped gift tag to the bottom. The gift card opens up to show the flowers we bought, along with Miss Barbara's name, and a quote about how opening our hearts is better than opening our presents.

It's pathetically sad, isn't it?

But the one for tomorrow is a lot cuter. Or so I think.

Happy 2nd Day of Giving everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the 1st Day of Giving...

Welcome to the 1st Day of Christmas Giving!

In all fairness, we actually did this yesterday and scrapbooked it today. We went to Dollar Tree and sitting outside in the cold, rainy weather was a woman with two children who were huddled under a blanket. They had a made a few pies and were trying to sell them to raise money for a single mother that they know.

Having done bake sales before, and knowing how crushing it is when no one wants to buy anything, I'm now a certified sucker for any bake sale that I come across. This was a tiny little one, and honestly, it looked horrible. I completely judged the lady at first. (I'm very ashamed of it). She was chain smoking, had make-up smudged all over face, and was missing her front teeth. My immediate reaction was that there was no way I was going to eat anything from that bake sale.

My next reaction was that no one else would buy anything either, and that broke my heart.

So, we forked over $2.00 for a sack of four mini muffins and gave her an extra dollar that I had in my pocket.

Well, we got to talking and the lady was the nicest lady. Oh my word. She also has a grandson who has autism. And she knew everything about autism. I mean, everything. All the treatments, you name it. She was super educated on it. It blew me away. And I felt so terrible for judging her. What was I thinking??

Hmmm... you think maybe God intended for the real lesson of the day to be aimed at me and not the kids??

So, I got the kids in the car, and before I could think about what I was doing, I went back up and gave her a $20 bill. It actually came out of our grocery money for the week (along with the $3 I paid for the cupcakes and $21 I spent in Dollar Tree buying scrapbook supplies. Sorry, Simeon!). Which has left us with $36 for groceries for this week. Ouch.

But you know what? $36 for a week of food may not sound like a lot, but it's so more much than the majority of the world has, isn't it? I can't really complain. And Sim made a delicious breakfast this morning out of milk, cabbage, eggs, and pepper (all fried up). Delicious and very cheap.

We are really blessed.

Anyway, the kids woke up this morning and Eli said, "You know what today is? It's the first day of Giving!" And Nandi said, "Yeah, we helped that lady!", so it was really nice knowing that it made a little impression on them.

Then we made a scrapbook page to remember it. Okay, my disclaimer is that I'm not a scrapbooker, don't have any scrapbook supplies, and couldn't even tell you what acid-free paper is all about. So, I just bought some wrapping paper at Dollar Tree, some Christmas cards, gift tags, stickers, and gift card holders and that's what I'll be using this year.

The $20 above was scanned on our printer (oops, didn't know that was illegal until Sim pointed it out.), and the reindeer holder is actually a gift card holder. The border is a border on some wrapping paper that I printed out. And voila! A super cheap scrapbook page to kick off the 12 Days of Giving.

Stay tuned for tomorrow to see what happens next...

P.S. Please don't think that our family is some really giving, super amazing family with perfect kids. (Okay, did those of you who know us just burst into laughter just then??) Look, we still do Santa and, in fact, the kids have been counting down Santa since last Christmas. As for me... just walking into Target this time of year gives me the super-wants. And Sim? Well, Sim truly is actually a saint. He could live in the wilderness with a backpack and a walking stick and never be happier. The point is... we're trying. That's all. We're just trying and hoping and praying that it soaks in and the kids grow wanting to help others. And sometimes we want to beat our heads against the wall - like this morning when our middle child raged for 2 1/2 hours - but we keep truckin' along.

I just wanted to point that out b/c I didn't want anyone to think that I think that everyone else thinks that I think (boy, that's a lot of thinking!) that we're just so incredibly awesome and perfect and never make mistakes and my kids freely give their spending money to buy shoes for orphans and would rather visit a national park instead of Disney World. Haaah! Are you kidding? If that was the case, we wouldn't need to be actively pursuing 12 Days of Giving, would we? It'd be something that we just did normally.

But, having said that, I have to give a big shout-out to three kids who truly are self-sacrificing: Emily, Laurel, and Abby Holt. They've given up their Christmas presents this year in order to have the money that'd be spent on presents go towards buying a trampoline for the kids at Sarah's Covenant Homes.

Now, THAT, is truly wonderful.

Merry Christmas, Holt kids.

Friday, December 11, 2009

12 Days of Christmas Giving

Well, in the spirit of "Christmas Shoes" (ah, I couldn't resist.... you all know how I feel about that song), our family is celebrating 12 Days of Christmas Giving. The kids will be doing a good deed for each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas starting this Sunday, Dec 13 and ending on Christmas Eve, with a big celebration in honor Christ's birthday on Christmas Day.

Okay, well, before I tell you a bit more, my lovely British husband would like to interrupt for a minute and inform everyone that the real 12 days of Christmas are celebrated after Christmas in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany.

Which is true, but, we're going to spend the 12 days before Christmas doing our 12 Days of Giving.

So, here's the deal. We have a very spoiled child in our midst. I won't go into all the details, but will say that we've decided to really tackle the issue this year.
We really do believe that the best thing you can do for your child is teach them to have a servant's heart.

I mean, really. You can have the best education, the fanciest car, the highest salary... but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have a good heart, right? So this past year we've really been heavily introducing the kids to giving back.

For their birthdays this year, each child received $25 dollars to give to a charity of their choice. Eli chose Mayan Families. Nandi sponsored her "auntie" in Northern Ireland who completed a fundraising walk for Dogs Trust, and Noah, through RPM, chose to donate his $25 to the Eve Carson Memorial Scholarship at UNC Chapel Hill - in honor of his good friend, Mr. Anoop Desai.

Sniff, sniff. A mama couldn't be prouder.

And the kids have been phenomenal about helping me gather supplies for my trip to India next month. Eli donated his tooth fairy money to help buy a tamale basket for our sponsor child's family for Christmas. (We sponsor a little boy named Delvin through Mayan Families) and Nandi has collected pennies from under the couch to go to Sarah's kids in India.

I mean, they are really doing great.

But here's comes Christmas. Commercial Christmas. And, man oh man, the greed monster has hit big time.
Enter.... Operation Twelve Days of Christmas Giving.

So this year, in lieu of throwing our hands up in the air in frustration and shouting "I give up! Christmas is cancelled!", we've decided to counteract all the commericalism of the Christmas Season by encouraging (okay, we're forcing them) to give back by doing 12 Days of Christmas Giving, where they will do one good deed for someone each day leading up to Christmas.

We'll scrapbook each day (on the cheap b/c I'm not a scrapbooker, plus we're broke) and put it in an album for them to look back on each year. If we do this each year until they reach 18, we'll have 10 or more albums for them to look back on each year and remind them of everyone they've helped.

And in the end, when they're adults, they'll probably not remember the dinosaur they got that one year or the train set or the remote control puppy. But when they tell their own children about their Christmas memories, I guarantee they'll remember all the years of their childhood and youth spend doing the 12 Days of Christmas Giving.

And then they'll pass it on their children, who will pass on their children, and soon there will be generations and generations of our family showing what it means to have a servant's heart.

Or so I hope. They could really just hate it.

Gosh, I hope not.

So, here's the thing. We didn't budget for this and we don't have a lot of money. So it will be done very cheaply this year. We're thinking of doing small things:

1. Dipping candy canes in chocolate, rolling them in sprinkles and passing them out to the kids at church

2. Donating canned food to the local food pantry (bought with coupons)

3. Buying some dog and cat food and donating it to the local Humane Society (bought with coupons)

4. Having flowers delivered to a lonely resident at our local nursing home (our big splurge)

5. Donating one of our books (used, but in excellent shape) to the local library. (We're donating Greg Mortenson's "Listen to the Wind". Excellent book for kids on giving!!)

6. Driving through McDonald's and paying for the person's meal behind us. (Praying they've only ordered a Diet Dr. Pepper - heehee)

7. Buying a small $10 gift certificate at Walmart and asking the cashier to give it to the next person in line. (We live in a small town where we know all the WM cashiers)

8. Making a diabetic friendly pie for our elderly neighbors next door

9. Making goodies for our other neighbors

10. Have the kids help make a crockpot roast, potatoes, and carrots and take them to their great grandparents, Pa Lester and MawMaw Ruby. Plus, Nandi makes a mean blackberry pie. That little 5 year old can cook! (My parents have a freezer full of roast that we can use)

11. Donating toys from our "Gift Closet" (we buy clearanced items year round) to Toys for Tots

12. Buying presents for our sponsor child (a 38 year old cognitively disabled man who we've locally sponsored for Christmas for the last 2 years)

These are 12 suggestions, but they're not necessarily the 12 we'll do. We may change it up while we go, but I will definitely blog about it, scrapbook it, put it an album and feel good knowing that my kids did something Christlike this year.

Now.... if anyone knows of a little boy who wants to buy his mama some Christmas Shoes this year, let me know. Seriously, that would be perfect for one of the days of the 12 Days of Christmas Giving...and would serve me right for hatin' on such a Christmas classic. lol

P.S. Feel free to join us!! The first day of Christmas starts this Sunday!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Calling All Christmas Card Senders Near and Far....

One of my Facebook friends from high school just posted this on her status update:

(From her SIL).... I work with special needs 1st-5th graders. The kids would love to get Christmas cards from all around the United States. This will teach them about geography, friendship as well as, how awesome it feels to get a piece of mail. You can mail ...cards to: T.E. Baxter 1050 Park Place Blvd. Midlothian, TX 76065 C/O CBI Class. THANK YOU !!!

If any of you have a moment, would you please send a Christmas card to these special little kids? Wouldn't it be awesome to flood the school with cards that are specifically addressed to the CBI class? You know... the class that probably always gets left out. Let's let everyone know that kids with special needs are precisely that... SPECIAL!

Thank you so much!!!

Oh, and if you do send a card, can you let me know so that I can get all emotional and weepy? Because as you all know, I love nothing better than a good ol' cry brought on by a good deed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

That blasted Christmas Shoes song

Okay, call me a Scrooge. Call me the Grinch. Call me heartless. In fact, call me any name you like... but I cannot stand that annoying Christmas Shoes song. And, along the same lines, I absolutely detest that whole Butterfly Kisses song, too.

I know. I know. Someone take away my Mom Card.

Here's the thing. They are sappy, overly sentimental, and designed specifically to tug at your heartstrings. You know, like things that I normally love. Like Hallmark Card commericals and puppies and KLTY's "Christmas Wishes" that give me rivers of running mascara every morning.

But Christmas Shoes? To me, I just imagine a bunch of songwriters sitting around thinking,

"Hey! Let's write a song about a little boy whose mommy is dying and how he wants to buy her some special shoes before she goes to meet Jesus. Yeah, yeah! And we'll have this scrooge guy get really touched by the little boy and buy the shoes for him. Oooooh, we'll heavily market it and make millions!"

And, then, of course, they go out and do a made for TV movie about it... which I only watched because it had Rob Lowe in it and, you know, he had me at Outsiders. (Back when he was with Melissa Gilbert and way before the whole nanny controversy).

So, anyway, to make a long story even longer, I've always dreaded that song coming on the radio. I knew that without fail, I would hear it at least 3 times a day for an entire month. So, I'd hurriedly switch the radio station to anything else.... which is kinda jarring when you go from listening to Christmas songs all day and suddenly something like, "Drop it low to the flo" comes on.

But I digress.

The point is... I can't stand the song. Being in the perhaps .01% of the population who recognizes it for the smarm it is actually made me proud. I can see through your marketing ploy, you songwriters!

So we get into the car this morning, turn on the radio, and I don't even have to tell you what song they were playing.

Christmas Shoes.

And right when I reached to turn the station, I noticed a familiar emotion welling up inside me. And my eyes started to smart. And a little, tiny lump formed in my throat. And despite everything in me that said, "Stop! Don't cross to the dark side!" I actually listened to the song.... and cried.


Now, I'm already a blubbering fool about literally everything, but now I have officially lost the last shread of diginity that I have.... there's no turning back. I am officially, 100% a crybaby.

Hello. My name is Leslie. I have no dignity. I have no shame. I am also currently available for any recordings, commericals, TV shows, or movies that require crying on demand.

So, there you have it. Through clenched teeth, but wet cheeks, I sat and listened to the entire Christmas Shoes song. This is not the first time I've listened to it completely, but it's the first time I cried at it and didn't go into a monologue about all that's wrong with it.

And don't you know that ticked me off.

So, I listened. I cried. And that's the story.

I can't do anything about it, so I'm just going to embrace it.

But I absolutely, positively, 100% will NOT download it.