Thursday, December 27, 2012

13 Reasons to start a Journal in 2013

1. The time you take to reflect and write may be the only solitude you get. Psychology Today says solitude improves relationships and fosters problem solving. Who doesn’t need that! 

a beautiful journal from paperblanks
2. Defeat thought-scatter. When one thought leads to another so fast I can’t keep up, I need to slow the synapses! Writing helps. The must-do list loses the frenzy factor when I move it from my head to my journal.

3. Ideas are clarified, insights gel while you write. 

4. Record major life events.  My journal helped keep me sane and organized during my daughter’s hospitalization. It preserved our questions about her condition and the physicians’ answers. It chronicled the process of her recovery. It documented the interminable communication with the insurance companies. 

5. Record the minor pleasures. Then you can go back and relive the things that made you laugh, gave you a thrill, and caused you to be grateful. 

6. Record the events you never want to repeat. Reflection reveals other choices you could have made.

7. Boost your creativity, even if you don’t think you have any.  I like to illustrate my thoughts. I keep a separate section at the back of my journal for projects to pursue later.

8. Track progress--and obstacles--toward your goals. 

9. Paper doesn't talk back. You can express your feelings without saying something you’ll regret or get fired for! 

 10. A full journal is satisfying. When life seems to be a series of recurring tasks, completed pages in a journal are evidence you were in the driver’s seat for at least some moments. 

11. When I review my journal for the year I see patterns of behavior, recurrent 
themes, insights. It helps me set new goals.

12. It's memory back-up. Once it's written down you can find it again.

13. It puts in you in good company. People from all walks of life, ancient and modern, have kept diaries. I bet you can find someone you admire on this list!

How many of you kept diaries as a child? How many keep journals now? What kinds of details do you record? Why does it give you pleasure? Share something from your journal in the comments box. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa’s Not Welcome

Santa’s no longer welcome at my house. I thought I’d be enchanted with him forever.  But before I hit thirty I knew he’d been stringing me along. And I realized he couldn’t offer anything I truly wanted. I’d been completely deceived by the glitz and candle light, which, while pretty, still left me in the dark.

Santa couldn’t deliver the Hallmark-card family I yearned for. No slippers or even diamond earrings were going to make up for my disillusionment.   No amount of shopping, gift giving or cookie baking could balance out the guilt I felt about how I fussed at my small children or criticized my husband.  I needed a new me, and Santa couldn’t produce it.

Then Jesus came calling. When I understood that He wanted to trade me divine forgiveness for my shame, I placed my faith in the cradle-to-cross Savior.

  I learned that Christmas is all about the second chance, the clean slate, the renewed spirit that Jesus offers. He was the miracle and Santa a sham.  I plugged the chimney, metaphorically speaking, and put up the manger on the mantle.

So you won’t find Santa here. We celebrate Jesus born and Jesus resurrected. 
Forget the little hooves on the roof top. I’d rather have the angelic hosts singing to high heaven and its King. I love the Light of the World more than the colored strings on my Christmas tree. The trappings of the season (interesting word, “trappings”) can’t compare with the truth behind the celebration.

I pray that your festivities would be focused on God-Come-Down. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Borrowed Christmas Traditions

I asked some friends to share their Christmas traditions. I’m happy to spotlight them here. 

Peggy Stanley has contributed this story telling tradition from her family.

This craft preceded the story.
"My sister, Ann, was an enthusiastic elementary school teacher for 42 years.  As my sons and my brothers’ sons and daughter came along, Aunt Ann used to read a relevant story to them every Christmas Eve.  This tradition began in the late 1970’s.  Ann chose stories such as The NutcrackerThe Legend of the Candy Cane, The Polar Express, The Stranger in the Woods etc., and with each reading, she gave the children a symbol of the story.  My grown sons still have many of these such as the little wooden nutcracker and the bell that those who believe can still hear.  

Three generations sharing a story.
Now, we are too geographically spread out to all get together at Christmas, but Thanksgiving is the gathering time.  Aunt Ann has now included the youngest generation in her stories, and five little ones from ages five to one sit hypnotized as she carries on the story tradition.  Some of the older ones as well tiptoe in to catch a favorite story.  This year they all made nutcrackers before the story began.   What a very special way to link the generations, kindle the Christmas spirit, and create memories for children of all ages."

Janet Head has six grandchildren. When they were small she began the treasure hunt one of the nights close to Christmas. She explains, “the teacher in me wanted to come up with a new Christmas tradition for my grandchildren that would: teach following directions, cooperation, taking turns, and critical thinking.  A large order.  I came up with a treasure hunt.  The children (then ages 3-7) would follow a set of written directions to find their gifts.  They loved it and I felt somewhat successful in achieving my goals.  Now they are older (ages 8-13) and there are now 6 of them.  It's gotten harder and more expensive.  We keep changing it each year to suit everyone.  But we still do it and the children are all in agreement that we should never stop it.  Good luck.”

She’s looking for ideas for inexpensive gifts for the teens and tweens, so please contribute your thoughts.

She and the kids also prepare 400 decorated sugar cookies. She makes the dough a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The kids spend Thanksgiving night with her and then in the morning start rolling, cutting, egg-washing, and sprinkling and baking. I’ve eaten Aunt Alice’s yummy cookies. Here's the recipe:

Aunt Alice’s Christmas Cookies

4 sticks Fleishman’s margarine
2 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ Tablespoons vanilla
5 cups flour 

Cream margarine and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, and flour.  Beat until blended.
Refrigerate overnight.
Roll on a floured surface (needs to be marble) and cut with cookie cutters.
Make a wash of 2 beaten eggs and water.  
Brush cookies with egg wash and sprinkle with colored sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned.  Check after about 10   minutes since ovens vary.
Cool and store.

Grocery List for 4 batches:
( 4 batches will yield 36 bags of cookies)
1 5-lb. sugar
3 5-lb. flour
4 pkgs. Fleishman’s margarine ( each pkg. 4 sticks)
1 doz. eggs plus 2 for wash
red and green sugar sprinkles
plastic bags
Christmas bags and yarn or cookie tin

Thanks, ladies, for sharing.  Readers, I hope you enjoy your last weeks of preparation. Start a new tradition. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Miracles of Chanukah

I never had a Jewish friend growing up. I don’t have one now. But I have appreciated learning a little about Jewish holidays. 

As an elementary teacher I tried to give my students nuggets from cultures different from their own. One year, I invited our Jewish assistant principal to come to the class and talk about her heritage. She described how she’d felt as a child being “different” because she didn’t go to church, but synagogue. How she hadn’t celebrated Christmas, but Chanukah. 
As part of our lesson, I shared the history behind Chanukah. How the Romans persecuted the Jews in their own land, forbidding them to worship and maintain their laws. The Romans slaughtered Jews who refused to worship the Roman idols. 
An army of loyal Jews, called the Maccabees, finally liberated Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple.  When it was time to light the ceremonial lamps which burned nonstop they realized there was only enough purified oil to keep them burning for a  day. But God intervened, and the oil lasted for eight days while a new batch was prepared. 
Chanukah commemorates the miracle, the victory, and God’s care. 

I found a tender contemporary story about the holiday,   The Tie Man's Miracle by Steven Schnur.  The Tie Man (who sells ties door to door) is an old, lonely Jewish man. A family invites him to share the candle lighting with them and in the course of the evening the family’s young son asks him awkward questions.  The boy’s father briefly explains that many Jewish people were killed during a big war, including the Tie Man's family.  
To lighten the mood, the old man recounts a childhood tradition. If, on the last night of lighting, one watches the candles burn out, and all nine burn out at the same time, “those nine little columns of smoke would rise as one up to heaven, carrying our wishes straight to the ear of God.” 
The old man heads home. The young boy stays up to see if the candles will all burn out simultaneously. As they do the room brightens. The boy sees shadows of feet running across the floor, voices shouting “Papa!” and for a moment before the room darkens--he hears laughter.

        I cry every time I read this story.                                                                        

As it happened, I was sick the day I intended to read it to my class. I left it with a note for the substitute teacher that I hoped she could get through it without choking up. 
When I returned I found a reply. She appreciated the opportunity to read the book to the children because she lost family during the Holocaust. 

Chanukah begins next week, on December 8. You have just enough time to find this book and share it with a young person you love.