Peace in the ordinary days

A "special day" several years ago!

This time of the year is FULL of special days, isn’t it? Class parties, Christmas pageants, visits from far-flung relatives and neighborhood gatherings are just a few of the “special events” that punctuate December. In addition, we have special responsibilities at this time of the year as we purchase gifts, decorate our homes and attend year-end committee meetings. All of this is wonderful, but after a while, it can be a bit overwhelming. I will admit that I love Christmastime more than any other time of the year…but even I sometimes crave  peaceful, quiet, ordinary days during this festive month.

There’s something about an ordinary day, isn’t there?  It’s the little routines of daily life that provide a rhythm for our household and keep us connected…eating breakfast by the fireplace in the wintertime, hearing the kids come in the door after school, praying together at dinnertime, listening to the kids chat in Bill’s room at night. As much as I adore the “special,” the ordinary day can give me extraordinary joy…when I remember to slow down enough to pay attention.

An ordinary day in our house: Annie and Bill studying while Mitzie supervises.

The other day, I was busy running errands and had exactly 728 things on my mind…I waited in line to pay for my wrapping paper and ribbon, but was informed that the computer was down and it would take a while to ring up my purchase. I took a deep breath, grateful to have a moment to stand still.

 I glanced behind me and saw a young mom with two sons: one about 4 years old and the other about 2. I could tell from his gait and some subtleties in his language that the 4 year-old probably had some developmental issues. But, that was clearly not stopping him from enjoying his experience at the store. As the little group approached the checkout line, this child gave his mom a “tour” of everything he saw. “Look, Mom…they have everything here! See the football stuff? And do you see the bows? Look at the candy, Mom!” He continued his narrative until they arrived behind me in line. The little boy sighed, looked up at his mother and said, “Oh, Mom, aren’t we just going to have a great day?”

I asked the lady if something special was happening later that day. She chuckled and said softly, “Well…we’re going to finish our errands and then go home for lunch…it’s just an ordinary day…”

And special.

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ life when he was the same age as this young fellow. I’m sure that there were plenty of special days when he had to dress up or help prepare the house or do a few extra chores. He probably enjoyed family celebrations and participated in events at the Temple.

Still, I’d like to think that He looked at His mom now and then and said, “Oh, Mom, aren’t we going to have a great day?” I bet they enjoyed ordinary days most of all.

Wishing you peace in the ordinary moments of this busy season…


Peace in the neighborhood: Stories, Service, and Sweets

What’s a birthday party without cake??

We wanted our neighborhood party to have a sweet ending. After the kids were finished with games and crafts, we invited them into our living room for a story. This was a great “settling down” activity before we enjoyed a treat. I read a different story each year that we had this party, but I want to share two of my favorites:

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, by Richard Schneider, is a beautifully illustrated fable. The story ties the Christmas message in at the end, but is not preachy, so it is a gentle choice when building relationships with new neighbors, and a nice introduction to the concept of Christ’s devotion and sacrifice. For a group of younger children, you’ll want to “story tell” this book rather than read it word-for-word…the language is beautiful, but it’s a long story, and you may lose the kids’ attention unless you abridge it.

The next story is A Tree for Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall. This is a “pattern book,” which means that a line repeats throughout the story. (the kids will learn this quickly and they’ll be able to help you “read” by repeating the line on each page.) Mackall ties the tree theme to the life of Christ; his birth, childhood, ministry, death and resurrection are all mentioned with clarity and age-appropriate detail. Younger kids will be able to follow this rhyming story easily, and older kids will enjoy the lyrical stanzas as well. The illustrations are lovely, and include silhouettes that tie past and present together. I believe this book is out of print, but some copies are available on the web.

Thank you, Mitzie, for your assistance.

After our story time, we talked about our neighborhood service project. When we handed out invitations, we requested that the children bring a new, unwrapped book or toy to the party to donate to the local children’s hospital. We asked each child to show the gift he/she chose and then place it in a large gift bag. We talked about how much the children who were spending Christmas in the hospital would appreciate the caring gesture!

We also had an opportunity for children to share their gifts with each other! One year, a young boy played Christmas carols on his violin. Another time, a girl taught some simple sign language to the group. This is a great way for kids to get to know one another and appreciate each other’s strengths!

Finally…we sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday, dear Jesus,” and enjoyed blowing out candles and savoring cake! (Please note: When planning a party like this, be sure to ask the parents if their children have any dietary needs/allergies/restrictions.)

It’s important to note that each time we had this party, we had a mix of “typical” kids and kids with disabilities…we planned carefully so that every child had enough support. In addition, we made certain that quiet spaces were available, as well as choices for activities…it was very important to us that no one felt left out…when Jesus was on earth, he clearly said, “Let the children come to me!” We felt certain that He would want everyone included at His birthday party.

Happy Birthday, dear Jesus!

Peace in the neighborhood: Crafts for the party!

When planning birthday parties for my kids, I usually included a craft activity. It’s fun for kids to return home a tangible reminder of the party (and this is also a good springboard for conversation with their parents!)

For our neighborhood Birthday Party for Jesus, we chose picture frame ornaments and angel “candy cans.” Both projects were relatively simple, and could be modified easily to accommodate different ability levels and ages.

Picture Frame Ornaments:
Materials: craft foam in sheets, tape, beads, or other embellishments, glue, glitter pens, pipe cleaners

Prepare for the craft by cutting the craft foam into small rectangles. Cut a hole in each piece. Punch two holes at the top of each rectangle and attach a pipe cleaner.

Take and print a picture of each child (or ask that children bring a picture of themselves to the party.)
Tape the picture into the frame.
Have kids decorate their frames with beads, stickers and glitter.

Angel Candy Cans
soup or canned fruit cans, (emptied and washed, labels removed) coffee filters (2 for each project: one for the “dress” with the center cut out and one for wings), circles cut from manilla folders, glue, crayons, spanish moss

Be sure that the inside rim of the can is safe for little fingers by covering it with duct tape!
Place one coffee filter over the top of the can and help kids tape or glue it in place to make a “dress.”

Help kids to create “wings” out of the second coffee filter by taping the filter in half.

Glue the “wings” onto the “dress.” Then, have the kids draw a face on their manilla circle and add spanish moss “hair.”

Glue the face onto the rim of the can and fill the can with candy. You can also add a paper halo if you would like!

(Note: I added an additional coffee filter around the bottom of the can to make the skirt longer.)

Note: It’s always good to have two helpers at the craft table so that everyone feels successful! Also, be sure to have extra sets of crafts for kids who might need to revise their crafts (or for kids who work quickly!)

Tomorrow: Stories and Service