Tuesday, December 6

My 12 Days of Christmas

Growing up, my family sometimes did a Secret Santa 12 Days of Christmas to another family. I've had the itch to do it every year but this year was it. I was going to do it to my two visiting teaching families. I collected my ideas and made a plan -- I even had all the daily poems written with fallback ideas ahead of time! Ryan was a bit skeptical about fitting nightly outings into our bustling evenings so I found my happy medium even though it goes against the grain -- I grouped our deliveries into three nights plus the final reveal. Simple enough right? Well, they weren't next door and we had to drive 10 minutes to one family and then another 10 minutes to the other. It was partly this distance that killed me in the end.

Anyhow . . . We made the first bundle drop with the first "four days" of gifts. One of the recipients posted on Facebook two days later that she'd just discovered the gifts on their doorstep. She thought we'd been coming for four days already and hoped that we hadn't been discouraged. Their actual door is around the back of their house while the front of their house is lined with 8 bays of french window doors that they typically use. But there's no doorbell in front to ding dong ditch so we used the door that did, only it must not have rung when we rang and ran! Oops! But it sure was fun running like heck with my boys' in nervous fits of giggles!

The second bundle went off without a hitch. I wish I'd included my kids in preparing the gifts but I just kept telling myself I was teaching myself first and next year I can work on that aspect. One thing at a time! Wrapping the gifts gave me grief because finding materials here has not been easy and I simply haven't found a good system of storing an ounce of anything else in our small apartment. But I was feeling good about doing something special for these ladies and their families.

Then Saturday before Christmas our kitchen sink drain began to be really slow. By Sunday it was painfully slow. By Monday it stopped draining completely. Tuesday we got a good snow fall. It was Easton's 8th birthday and we changed our birthday plan at the last minute to allow the kids and Easton's guest to play in the snow, have cake and presents at the house rather than go to Sensapolis. Suddenly I had to feed my crew rather than being fed at the birthday destination. It all went well in the end, but with the kitchen drain not functioning things were starting to pile up. While the kids were in the snow, Ryan and I were using a 5 meter snake down the drain since Drano and checking the pipes under the sink hadn't worked. The third bundled gift drop was supposed to be the next day.

It never happened. The kids had a Christmas market at school in the afternoon and we had tennis lessons, dinner, bedtime and another attempt at the drain. There's always tomorrow right?

Thursday the kids were out of school, McKay was coming down with the flu and I was losing my mind as the stack of dishes and what we wanted to do for Christmas weekend was overwhelming me. We just kept thinking we'd find a solution on our own. By now I'm desperate and put out a Facebook plea for help to take Morgan and Easton off my hands for the afternoon. I was rescued, but the 15 meter snake did nothing for the drain issue. The handful of plumbers I'd called didn't have availability until JANUARY 9th! By now I've given up on getting the batch of gifts out. I was shutting down.

Friday was more of the same although our German neighbor was able to help us find an emergency plumber. Turns out the 5 meter pipe cleaning we'd had done a few weeks prior didn't go far enough. The plumbers cleaned down 20 meters (65 feet) into our building's pipes in order to get us a functioning drain but said they'd have to come back after the holidays to go further. We had been getting the backup water, no one else in the building was so blessed. So by Friday afternoon, I had a functioning kitchen again! Just in time for Christmas Eve. PHEW!

My plan was to bake and deliver our favorite cinnamon rolls and apologize for dropping the ball on our 12 Days of Christmas. Who would complain about cinnamon rolls?! We had a nice quiet day at home other than that I was baking all day. McKay and Morgan were under the weather. As I finished up and had everything wrapped, I called the two families to see that they were home and only caught one of them home. We bundled everyone up, delivered to two of our neighbors and then a family arrived to carol us! Then it was suddenly 7pm and the kids were falling apart. We needed to act out the Nativity and send them to bed. I shelved my outing in favor of preserving my family's Christmas Eve. And then I got hit with the flu just hours later.

Distance. Wrapping. Life. Those three foiled my perfect plan. As I confessed to my visiting teachees weeks later, they totally understood. I wish I'd been able to finish with a flourish, but it would have been at too a high cost to my family. My original purpose was met - I wanted to serve these two great families and show them I care and they felt special.

I know this is long, but I have to include these other snippets I wrote the same week I started the 12 Days of Christmas. If I don't include it here it will get posted in January all out of place and that will drive me crazy. Recently a friend posted little snippets of her mother's journal. Her mother died of breast cancer young and this friend has entered motherhood without her mentor but the journal entries help her feel connected to her. Breaks my heart! But it makes this journaling all the more important to me.

On Wednesday night my visiting teachers brought a plate of baked goodies. I am ashamed to admit that I ate 90% of it by 3pm Thursday afternoon. Best sugar cookies (hello coconut extract!) and chocolate caramel oat cookie layer bars I have EVER tasted! I needed to bake cookies for the Relief Socity meeting cookie exchange this evening but due to my sugar overload, I felt good about simplifying my afternoon/evening by not baking. Should I bother going to the meeting if I wasn’t participating in the exchange? Hmmm. Instead, I took the chance to make extra chicken noodle soup and have my kids help me take it to a couple sick neighbors' homes. And then we sat on the couch all snuggled together trying out some new free math and science apps on the iPad that my homeschooling friend told me about. I really enjoyed my time with them before heading to the RS activity. I was reminded that this is the season of my life where it's all about these little ones. Man, that's hard to remember!

. . .

I've just returned from our ward's simple but fabulous Relief Society Christmas meeting. I've been in wards where it's a complete extravaganza of the senses - the food, the table settings, the music and program, just beautiful all around. This ward's monthly meetings are more low key yet no less deliberate in their goal to edify the sisters who attend. I love it all and always feel I've missed out if I haven't made the effort to get out the door. This time they had a nice simple message that touched me followed by a great assortment of pound cakes shared by the sisters. And of course the cookie exchange for those that wanted to participate. I'm so glad I didn't let that keep me from going anyway. I tried my first cake pop tonight and now understand the craze! Yum! And another friend made a flan cake - half flan, half cake in a bundt pan drenched in caramel. Serious YUM and purdy to boot! I don't even like flan much, but this was amazing! I got to chat with some of the sisters I don’t usually get to and I always love that.

. . .

The other night I had left our apartment door open in the echo-y shared stairwell to run some things down to our storage room. I'm always nervous to leave our door open because of our noisy little people. But as I came back up the stairs, what I heard touched me and it was like a light bulb going on. I heard my family but wasn't with my family. Easton was at the table counting out his multiplication tables. McKay and Morgan were using the couch as a trampoline. And Ryan was trying to juggle conversations with all three from his digs in his Man Chair. There wasn't any screaming, it was just my busy little family doing their thing. And I wanted to be back in there with them. I actually wanted to enter that world that had me running this way and that 24/7 because I love them all so much!

. . .

I finally got Morgan started in German kindergarten last week so now we are leaving the house by 9 each morning. And while she's adjusting, I never know how long the drop-off will take and therefore how presentable I need to be. The first few days she loved it but now that the newness is starting to wear off, she's worn out after two hours. No one in her class speaks English, although one 4 yr old girl can but doesn’t want to. It's stretching me to use what little German I've acquired to communicate with the teachers who barely understand any English. It’s rough. In all, I'm just excited for Morgan to have this opportunity and feel it's worth the sacrifice to put myself out there and get out the door each morning.

. . .

Just this morning, I had to load up Morgan and Jake for a dental appointment for Morgan. I was running on time and pretty happy about that - I'd even showered and had done my hair and even had makeup on today by 8:30! But the van was dead and I had to call my busy neighbor over to give me a jump. Yesterday, I got winter tires on the van (600 euro) only to find that one of the sliding doors refused to open. We just fixed the other side door last Friday for 200 euro. Does it ever end?!

Those days of December were rough but in the midst of it I felt guided. There seemed to be a purpose and lesson for me in it all. It was all about that dreaded "getting out the door" which let's be honest, can be so overwhelming especially in December! But as I got out the door I was thinking about why. Was the effort worth it? Turns out it was, but it was never pretty and perfect.The themes and filters I viewed it through was to make time to serve others, to take time to re-center myself, and to stretch myself.