Friday, December 27, 2013

Homemade Christmas

This year Phil and I began brainstorming for Christmas before Thanksgiving. We wanted to be smart and thoughtful with our gifts, and this meant spending more time instead of money on people.

In October we made our first batch of soap using the instructions from Phil handled the chemicals and essential oils because websites suggested pregnant women not participate in these sorts of experiments. (Everyone is always pooh-poohing on pregnant women doing cool stuff.) The most surprising bit in the experiment was the lye, which we purchased in the form of drain cleaner from home depot. Mixed with water, the lye heats up all on its own and forms the base for the soap. To this we added our oils: palm, coconut, and olive.

The second most surprising discovery was the color of our soap, which I believe was caused by the red palm oil. That creamy pumpkin color inspired Phil's clever labels: Phil's Naptha—a play off of Fels Naptha, which is an orange laundry soap.

We had our doubts about whether the experiment would work because we used an old iffy scale for what was supposed to be precise measurements. That's probably why we used the entire bottle of peppermint essential oil to scent our soap. We waited four weeks for the soap to cure and then tested it. First on our hands and later we dared use it on our faces. It worked. The scent was even delightfully pleasant. It's safe to say we'd do it again, although second time around we're going to use a precise scale and purchase our supplies in bulk. Buying the ingredients in small quantities is not cost effective.

Our next project was inspired by the old apple tree at Grandma Seelye's house. The tree had continued to produce fruit even though its trunk was half hollowed and inhabited by ants; however, this year the tree gave up the ghost, leaving the gnarled, hollow branches for Grandma and Grandpa to chop down. On one home improvement visit to the Seelye's, Phil and I learned that Grandpa Seelye was using a handsaw to cut the tree down limb by limb. Phil volunteered to finish the job using his reciprocating saw, and I suggested we take home a branch to slice into BBQ sized chunks for Kirk Stevens for Christmas. Using his table saw, Phil chopped the branches, and with each slice we found an intricate wooden swirl. The rings were so beautiful we displayed them on our kitchen table.

Phil then strung the wooden rings on a wire so that they look like a moose's vertebra, and then he packaged them in a homemade box.

About a week and a half before Christmas and with most of our family members checked off our list, I was still searching for the right gift for Lois Thorpe. I wanted to make her the advent calendar that she'd put on her list several years ago, but I was afraid we didn't have enough time. Phil, who fears no duration of procrastination, was undaunted by the project. So I researched the calender, bought the wood and candles, and Phil took care of the rest.
He made a spiral template using AutoCAD and pieced together the figurines using various google silhouettes: a tail here, donkey ears there, those legs, and that nose. The figurines progress around the spiral with a candle for either the 24 days of advent in December or the 40 days of lent before Easter.
Phil used my parents scroll saw to cut out the wood. Linseed oil stained it. See Ann Voskamp's website for the real deal. Hers, which is made by her son Caleb, uses pieces of red oak linked together to prevent the wood from splitting. Our red oak was a single sheet of wood and thus, the spiral split along the wood grain. Phil and I were holding our breath for fear that the entire piece would fall apart. But after he shot several pins into the split, the spiral held together for the drilling and packaging that came next. We're pretty sure Thorpe loved it.
Yes, it was a sweet homemade Christmas. We made pot pies for Jacob and Grandpa Jerry Stevens. 
We brainstormed three date night ideas for Heather and Jeff Himes including letterboxing supplies, movie night materials, and a romantic dinner. We printed two copies of a prayer book that I've wrote for my mom and the Finchers. We found a new crock pot for Jessica and an umbrella stroller for Gretchen Stevens on Craig's list.

We filled Lee's stocking with walnuts and fishy crackers. We wrapped up his fuzzy blanket for his Christmas morning gift. And then . . . AND THEN Phil breaks the bank by buying me a new MacBook Air. For shame! The indecency of it all! Oh my, it works fast. I suppose I can't hold it against him. We had such a lovely Christmas, and the celebration isn't over yet.

Lois Thorpe told us how Christmas is a celebration that lasts beyond the 25th of December, and Phil and I have decided to do just that. Since Phil has Christmas to New Year's off, the celebration continues with family visits, lights, Grandpa Seelye's 90th birthday, haircuts, and walks with Daddy. We will continue to read the Christmas story to Lee. We will continue to talk about the special baby that came and our baby that is coming. The doctors say soon. In fact they don't think I'll make it another week. Oh dear! Time to pack our hospital bag.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


7 days until Winter Solstice
11 days until Christmas
18 days until January
28 days until baby’s due date

This was what life was like before any more little ones came.

The mandarin oranges were ripe on the tree. The Boston Ivy was dropping it’s rusty red leaves. The stag and the moon and the lady with cookies were all opened on the advent calendar. And I’ve just made fresh bread with my free bread maker. Phil and I ate slice after slice slathered in butter and dipped in the turkey broth simmering on the stove.

The green corners of our home are shaping up as Phil and I have moved pots here and there, replanted, transplanted, and made way for new plants. We hope to buy a Ginkgo in honor of the new baby. Lee received a navel orange, grapefruit, and strawberry tree. Perhaps the new baby will also get a Hollywood Juniper, but a Ginkgo will be enough. It is a tree that I’ve written into my story. Both Phil and I love it.

The garden against the house is producing lettuce, carrots, beets, arugula, cauliflower, nasturtiums, and slugs. I use the lettuce in salads and turkey sandwiches. I use the slugs to teach Lee how to smash slimy things. He is learning how to find his gnomes every morning, how to smash the curly seed pods off the ornamental pear trees, how to get Daddy to chase him, how to request his sippy cup by touching his nose and making “Shhhh” sounds, how to pull down his own pants. He is refining his skills, catching himself when he falls, lifting and holding, pronouncing words, using the potty sign to postpone bedtime. 

And we are learning too, learning how to pay one another attention in front of him, how to handle a bowl of rice purposefully dumped on the floor, how to hear him without giving in to his every whim. We are counting down with him.

I've been wrapping the Christmas packages one by one. They decorate our home like giant peppermint candies. They contain works of our hands, crafts, time, and thought. There is an art to giving gifts. And the art must be enjoyed by both the giver and the receiver. We will have to wait until Christmas to see what the receivers say, but these days the givers are enjoying getting their hands full of dirt and their hair full of saw dust.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

All His Needs

Multitasking: it’s a necessary skill to mother. I don’t mean acting like you’re listening while checking facebook, or chatting on the phone while trying to cook. Those combinations don’t work well. I mean going about the necessary business needed to keep a household running in the midst of watching children. This is necessary. I cannot let my 20-month-old wander freely doing whatever he wills while I swiff or meal plan or change the sheets on the bed. I cannot ignore him for such durations of time.

I suppose if and when I have multiple children, I will become better at ignoring them, but for now I haven’t perfected that skill. Oh yes, I do believe it is a skill because I’ve seen a dozen mothers at central park who do not have it. They follow their children around the play structures: “No Mariah, don’t pick up that pinecone.” “Come here, Mariah. Let’s climb up these steps.” “No Mariah, don’t lay down on the floor.” "Mariah, look at the doggie!” “Say hello, Mariah.” “Say goodbye, Mariah.” Yes, I have memorized these children’s names.

The real trouble is being a first time mom. Every irksome whine and needful grunt sets off a little alarm in my head. I must answer it. I must do something. I haven’t the endurance to do otherwise. I suppose it’s like standing. Trisha Hail once told me that after she joined the Orthodox Church she used to get stomachaches and back aches and feel nauseous from standing for the long church services. Now she does it easily and with impeccable posture. She’s built up her strength.

My focus muscles haven’t been built up yet. I can’t continue chopping vegetables when I hear a little person whining. I can’t go for more than 5 minutes without making sure I know the whereabouts of my little monster. If I hear cries, I must look. If I hear requests, I must listen. I don’t do it because I’m trying to be a good mother; I can’t help it. If I don’t, I start inventing horrible visions of my boy eating snail poison in the backyard or clogging the toilet with his cloth diapers or laying unconscious somewhere. 

Like I said, it’s a skill, a strength that I haven’t yet built up. But I know that I must. I am not here to meet everyone’s demands. I am not capable of healing all discomforts, nor should I try. My attention is not the most valuable asset, the most desirable treasure, nor necessary for happiness. Lee is about to find out.

I’ve got about a month left here. One more month before it all starts again. We’re back to square one. The next baby will know nothing, will be able to do nothing, and will need everything. And I must be there to give it. Perhaps that’s where the difficulty lies. Lee has gone from needing everything to needing less and wanting more, but I have yet to make the transition myself. Who else will meet his needs, if not me?

And who is to decide what he needs? He has passed beyond needs to desires. He wants a mandarin orange even though he’s had diarrhea for the last four days. He wants Phil to chase him around the house even though it’s bedtime. He wants to go outside in his socks in the rain. He wants to eat toilet paper. He doesn’t want to sit on the potty chair. What he wants is no longer what he needs. What he needs is not necessarily what I want to do. I must let him be without. I must let him feel disappointment, frustration, and loss. The sooner he knows that I don’t fulfill him, the sooner he will start searching for the ultimate fulfillment: the one who gives endlessly for our good. We both need that One.