Reclaiming Joy

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Advent and Christmas are my favorite time of the year, or it used to be. Three years ago, my father died on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas. It was my favorite celebration in the season of Advent, marking the start of the Advent/Christmas season in my home. We always celebrated the feast day in style. St. Nicholas would come to visit the night of December 5th. He filled Christmas stockings for the children to find in the morning. Over the course of the day, we would read books about St. Nicholas, watch movies about him, talk about him, do activities, and spend time in prayer. In the evening, we would have company come over to share a meal with us. I would prepare a big feast with traditional Dutch foods such as Runderlappen. It was always a beautiful day.

That was until my father died. I received the call that he had passed in the wee hours on the morning of December 6, 2014. He was battling terminal lung cancer and had entered hospice care the previous day. However, I never imaged he would pass so quickly. We didn’t celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day that year. The boys received their stockings, only because they had already been laid out the night before. I spent the day laying in bed, alternating between crying and sleeping. Mark canceled dinner.

For the next two years, we didn’t celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas beyond stockings. I just didn’t have it in me. 2016 was terrible, I had one of the worse chronic pain flares of my life, and ended up in the ER. After that, I mostly gave up celebrating. I was furious with my dad for having the audacity to die on one of my favorite saint’s feast day. (Which I know is unreasonable on my part.) I didn’t know how I would ever reclaim the joy of St. Nicholas Day.

This year my oldest two sons’ expressed that they missed our St. Nicholas celebrations. They wanted more than just stockings. I had no clue how I was going to pull off a happy day of fun. How do you reclaim joy from death? Losing my father devastated me, I had no clue how I was supposed to come back from that.

However, somehow I had to find a way. I turned to prayer. I spent the two weeks from Thanksgiving to December 6, praying. I prayed for joy. I prayed for the ability to live in the moment. As an insurance policy, I called some friends and invited them to dinner, knowing I would feel bad if I canceled. I may have also done a little retail therapy in preparation for the day. Stockings sort of overflowed this year.

stockingsHowever, I did manage to pull off our traditional St. Nicholas Day celebration, for the first time since my father died. We read several books about him, including a new one. We watched the CCC of America movie, Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa. (All their titles are amazing, and I highly recommend them.) We spent time in prayer and talking about everything we had to be grateful for. Lastly, I cooked a terrific meal of twice baked potatoes, Runderlappen, corn, salad, and rolls. Our friends brought Speculatius cookies. Everyone ate and laughed. The children played. The adults visited. At the end of the night, as I was tucking in my oldest son he told me, “Mommy, I am so glad we celebrated like we use too. Thank you for putting aside your sadness to be my mommy and make the celebration happen,” those words cemented the joy I worked so hard to reclaim. It will help ensure that I can find joy year after year on December 6th. I will always mourn my dad, but now I know I can miss him and still celebrate St. Nicholas Day with my family.

Here is a list of some of our very favorite books about St. Nicholas.

If you want to learn more about St. Nicholas and how to celebrate his feast day check out the St. Nicholas Center.


Birthdays Galore Without Going Broke

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It’s birthday season in our house. We have three birthdays between January and April. Needless to say by the time we get to the end of April this momma is birthday out. However, birthdays are important in our house. For example with one son born so close to Christmas I always want to make sure his birthday doesn’t get lost in the celebrating of Christmas. With their birthdays so close it can be tempting to celebrate them at once but I want them each to have their own special day.

Growing up birthdays were a big deal in my family. My father use to wake me up at 5:24am every birthday to wish me happy birthday. He said he wanted to say it at the exact moment his greatest joy was born.(Funny part of it was that my birth certificate says I was born at 5:24pm. He swore it was a misprint.) Even, after I moved out he would still call me at exactly 5:24am my time. That meant for the 5 years we lived in a different time zone he was actually waking up at 4:24 his time to call me. His birthday call is probably one of the things I will miss the most now that he is gone.

For most parents birthdays are an extravagant expensive occasion. It is an occasion were hundreds of dollars is spent. I am part of several mom’s groups and I think for most a birthday party cost somewhere between $500-$1000 by the time they pay for the party and gifts. I just can’t wrap my mind around spending that much on a child’s birthday. You times that by four and Mark might very well have a heart attack. Time and time again I hear parents say kids have to have these fancy parties. It’s what ever one else is doing. They expect it. You build your child’s expectations.

Our children always enjoy their birthdays and  we are not spending $1000s of dollars on them. The birthday boy gets to pick where they would like eat for dinner that night. (It’s almost always chic-fil-a) We do cake, ice-cream and gifts together. They pick a family activity to do. In past years we’ve had movie night at home, visited museums and picnics at the park. As they get older we start having small low-key parties at our house. Nothing fancy. We invite a few friends over: play and share cake with them. The kids have a great time. The stress is low for me and it doesn’t break the bank.

So, here’s to making birthdays special and remembering that to make them special it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.


Easter Baskets 2014

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Easter is only a few weeks away and that means it is time for Easter baskets. I find great enjoyment out of putting together Easter baskets and things of that nature. However, with 3 kids it can become time consuming and expensive! Last year I switched to a family basket instead of individual baskets. It was wonderful! This is a tradition we will be continuing this year.

Growing up my Easter basket as a kid was filled completely with candy. From the start I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to approach Easter baskets. I wanted them to be fun but not filled with junk candy; that was bought just for the sake of filling the baskets. Thankfully, this approach was already well established by the time we found out Thomas needed to be gluten free; since, it’s hard to find seasonal candy that’s gluten free. Though, Peeps candies (including the chocolate covered ones) are!

I like to fill the Easter basket with stuff that was already planned purchases for the most part. That way there isn’t a lot of extra money going out the door. There are certain staples that go in every year like sidewalk chalk. My kids adore the stuff and we use it all up by the end of the summer. So, each Easter I replenish our supply. This year’s basket will have:

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett. (I picked this up last year on after Easter clearance)
The Weight of Mass: A Tale of Faith by Josephine Nobisso (school related)
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (The Knight’s Tales Series) by Gerald Morris
Butterfly garden (school related)
– a new matchbox car per kid
Sidewalk chalk (I scored a better deal on Amazon than what the price was at our local Walmart)
Thermos Funtainer water bottle for each kid. (I picked these up at our local Walmart/Target because they were significantly cheaper than on Amazon.)
-Octonaut’s DVD

So, what is going in your kids Easter baskets?