Hanukkah family fun, night 5: Game night!

Go back to Night 4, here.

Board games. Card games. Role playing games. Heck, even video games. I’m open to almost any game, as long as we can play as a family.

I like to make our Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts things that we can enjoy together. Games are an obvious choice.

Personally, I like any game better when I have a good chance to win. That rules out quick action games with a lot of hitting like Slamwich, but leaves plenty of great options for agile minds that can outrun nimble fingers: Syzygy (my favorite letter tile word game, released in 1997, but similar to widely available 2007 knockoff Bananagrams), Settlers of Catan, and Robo Rally are popular with me.

Hanukkah 5 gift game - 1Yeah, that’s right. I’m not one of those moms who throws a game for her kids’ self esteem. I like to win! Here’s hoping there’s some evidence somewhere that says my kids will turn out okay in spite of that.

After yesterday’s electronic extravaganza, and with some heavy metal tunes percolating in the background, tonight, the kids opened two small gifts before we turned our attention from Hanukkah to the celebration of a family birthday.

Hanukkah 5 gift game D&D Monster Manual - 1There was a D&D Monster Manual for the little boy whom I imagine sweeping the world’s competition to become the ultimate dungeon master someday, and a card game from Think Fun entitled “The Last Letter opened by DS1.

With a house full of company, we didn’t play any of our new games tonight, but some of us took care to spend a little time learning their rules. After all, how else is Mommy supposed to maintain her winning streak?

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah 5 - 1

חגחנוכהשמח

Watch this space for Night 6.

Hanukkah family fun, night 4: Shout to the Lord… with giant stereo speakers

Go back to Night 3, here.

The King James Bible translates Psalm 100 as:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness…

A Chabad reference gives us this English version of the same verse:

A song for a thanksgiving offering. Shout to the Lord, all the earth.

Serve the Lord with joy…

Today, the latter may be more apt for our situation. I gave DH and the rest of the family a set of three Polk Audio speakers for the fourth night of Hanukkah. These were installed in our main living area, and will be used for both music and to add surround sound to our television setup.

Hanukkah 4 speaker with soundbar - 1

In case you’re wondering, a Polk Audio CSi A6 center channel speaker fits perfectly in an IKEA Pax Wardrobe Frame (shallow 13″ depth.) I’ll tidy those cords later. Demoted soundbar shown at front.

I like to make our Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts things that we can enjoy as a family. While it is true that we are a household that places limits on media consumption by the kids—probably more so than an average American family—it is also true that, like most modern humans, we spend a fair bit of time on our couch in front of the tv.

We’ve had our various media components hooked up through a receiver for several years, but, when our old bookshelf speakers got disconnected during out last move—relics, themselves, from a former audio system—I did the expedient thing and replaced them with an inexpensive sound bar from Costco.

I’m not an audiophile, but I did notice that a puny soundbar in one corner leads to tinny sound when I play music for the dinner table at the opposite end of a 1000 square foot great room.

I’m not interested enough to become truly educated about speakers and sound systems. I am smart enough to read up a little then consult an expert for specific buying guidance. Many thanks to my advisor, CJ from Crutchfield. Having had success being talked through installing our own car stereo by these guys, I figured the purchase and installation of a set of speakers would be manageable, and trusted their advice.

Hanukkah 4 speaker with kid - 1

The speaker, Polk Audio model RTi A7, is the one not wearing sweatpants.

Measuring at about the height and weight of a seven year old child, the powerful front speakers provide a strong presence in our very large room on several levels. They fit our space, then can provide sufficient sound to fill our space, and the cherry wood veneer complements our living space visually.

Being prone, as I’ve admitted, to serial enthusiasms, it took a great deal of self control to stop at a 3.1 system (two large, floor standing front speakers and a center channel for the all important television dialogue) once I dove into the world of Big, Awesome Sound.

Hanukkah 4 speaker in box - 1

Any bigger, and our teen and his grandfather couldn’t have gotten these speakers up the stairs

I can see how our receiver could use an upgrade. A subwoofer would really thrill my guys during the action movies they enjoy. And, without rear speakers, how will we ever hear those creatures creeping up behind us when the suspense is building?

Ah, but there are only eight nights of Hanukkah, and the budget has its limits. These new toys should prove delightful in and of themselves. Though it was a struggle given my nature, this is me practicing self restraint.

And the new speakers? They sounds great!

DH was even prompted to hook up some music components that had been gathering dust since our move. He doesn’t take enough to time to enjoy his own hobbies, always working too hard and taking care of us first, so it was great to watch him fool around with a stereo and play some of his own tunes.

I did have to tell him to turn that noise down after a while, but, with speakers like these, that was to be expected.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah 4 light candles

חגחנוכהשמח

Click here to read about Night 5.

*Psalms are known as Tehillim in a Jewish context. Tehillim translates as “Praises” from the Hebrew, just as Psalms does from the Greek.

Hanukkah family fun, night 3: Lego Train heading into the Winter Holiday Station!

Go back to Night 2, here.

If you read yesterday’s post, you probably saw this gift coming, and full steam ahead at that.

That’s right: the Legoset 10254Winter Holiday Train has arrived at Winter Village Station. Thank heavens we got the platform built in time!

Hanukkah 3 train gift

I like to make our Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts things that we can enjoy as a family. I’ve gone on at length about our family love for Lego toys, but I think this photo might best express the joy a train can bring.

Hanukkah 3 train fans

That’s joy, I promise, and not terror (that the gift was a Trojan Horse promising to unleash a conquering army while we slept?)

Hanukkah 2 train station barista espresso - 1

Commuters into Bricklyn have received the greatest holiday blessing of all: Espresso! Okay, that’s a little blasphemous. So sorry. But it couldn’t be helped. Or, rather, I won’t help myself.

For those of us with espresso obsession, I’d also like to point out that the Winter Village Station has finally brought to Winter Village that most essential of services: a coffee window with barista working her espresso machine.

Lest you think these gifts are getting too predictable, I’ll share one hint about what’s coming tonight: it’s something the whole family will enjoy, but with a much greater focus on the long-held dreams of the grown up boy in our household, my darling husband.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah 3 hanukkiah

חגחנוכהשמח

Click here for night four.

Hanukkah family fun, night 2: Let there be Lego of the Winter Village variety

Go back to Night 1, here.

On the second night of Hanukkah, our family received the gift of Lego set 10259, the Winter Village Station.Hanukkah 2 - Lego front

I like to make our Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts things that we can enjoy as a family. While some parents may think Lego is just for the kids, those of us who still love to build would argue that a Lego set is a great starting point for creative family togetherness.

It is possible that I threaten the kids on “one gift shared by two brothers” nights by saying they should either enjoy their collective present peacefully, or the joy of building reverts to Mommy.

I may as well admit right now that I’m a tyrannical dictator albeit with benevolent intentions. I’m supposing that’s been obvious for about as long as I’ve been writing about parenting.

We’ve been collecting the “Winter Holiday” series from Lego since it was introduced a few years ago. While it is true that their “seasonal” decor leans more “Christmas-y” than secular, it is also true that the classic holiday look reflects fairly closely what we see in our community.

Hanukkah 2 - Lego back

Reflects our New England community, except maybe for the steam engine. Our local commuter rail employs modern diesel-electric locomotives.

It’s not hard to construct our own hanukkiah* to add to the Christmas tree in the winter village square.

Considering the number of aliens and other non-traditional types who populate our Lego scenes, we consider Bricklyn** to be a tolerant and accepting community where every minifig can worship or not as s/he sees fit.

And this particular contribution to the Winter Village? A train station? With a level crossing?

Oh me, oh my, there was no chance I would let this set slip by.

This mom likes trains. I like to travel by train, and I like to build toy tracks. I’m a sucker for the romance of the rails.

My oldest child was a Thomas the Tank Engine nut as a tot, and he still enjoys model railroading. To this day, he can name more of those little wooden trains than I would think possible. He’s our greatest engineer, and will build the best layout for our space, with our tracks.

DH is less an enthusiast, but will play with any radio controlled (RC) or motorized vehicle when given the chance. The trick with that man is keeping him within the bounds of our Lego city and the established decorums. He never builds according to the rules! We appreciate his creative nature, but sometimes have to reign in his wildest innovations.

And DS2? He’s a natural storyteller. You could give him a bowling set to play with, and he would weave a complex tale of the pins’ interrelationships and the great tragedy of the upcoming ball. Seriously! He might already be the most compelling narrator I’ve ever met, a fabulist in the best sense of the word. I often see my role as protecting him from having his boundless talent for spinning yarns educated out of him by a well-meaning system run by dull-witted bureaucrats. This little boy breathes the breath of life into Bricklyn, animating its subjects, and inspiring everyone else’s constructions to add dimension to our shared story.

Someday, we plan to have a model train—probably of the Lego variety—permanently set up around an open atrium in our living room. Blame it on my early exposure to Mr. Rogers and his trolley, but it’s been a dream of mine since I was a child, and my family seems equally keen on the plan. In my most elaborate fantasy, we will sandwich a Lego public transit system between two layers of acrylic sheet and create an entire subterranean level for our Lego city. My heart flutters when I think of it!

But, for today, we have a Winter Village Station to build. I promised the little guy that DS1 and I would get the main building assembled before he got home from school; he wants to make the old-fashioned truck by himself.

With the holiday school break approaching, we should have some serious hours to spend together in our invented winter wonderland.

Happy Hanukkah!

 

חגחנוכהשמח

Click here to go to night three.

*The nine branched candle holder used specifically for Hanukkah is a “hanukkiah.” Notice the raised position, in the center of my hanukkiah, for the helper candle, or “shamash.” We use the shamash to light the other candles.

A “menorah” is a (now purely symbolic) seven armed candelabra that dates back to the days of the First Temple in Jerusalem where it would have been lit by the priests in a nightly ritual. Our Temple was destroyed, so we now make religious observances together in a house of prayer or “synagogue” instead of the Holy Temple.

**Read more about our family Lego project and its pride of place smack dab in the middle of the living room in this post.

Hanukkah family fun, night 1: Percussion instruments for drum circle dreams

Go back to my holiday greetings to all readers, here.

DH might have been entranced by the joys of a drum circle at a recent event that took place in California, where New Age regularly rubs shoulders with Neuroscience. He might’ve put percussion instruments on his wish list.

Hanukkah Night 1 gift - 1

How does a scientist gets a djembe out of a bag? Pretty much the way a dog gets peanut butter out of a jar: face first.

Here’s what that led to: a joyful noise!

For the first night of Hanukkah, a djembe, tambourine, and various shakers made their way into our home.

Hanukkah Night 1 djembe gift - 1Will my tender ears come to regret this gift? Let’s hope not. I can always lock the instruments in DH’s office if the kids get too percussive when Papa isn’t home.

I like to make our Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts things that we can enjoy as a family, not the more personalized items we receive for birthdays.

Hanukkah 1 shakersI may not be beating any drums with my arthritic fingers, but I can shake a maraca with the best of them. Well, maybe not with the best of them. My sense of rhythm and timing is mediocre at best. I also drop things when my joints are stiff. But, hey, maybe I was dropping it artistically!

Let’s get back to that “joyful noise.” We can definitely accomplish that as a family, though melodious may be a pipe dream.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah Night 1 table - 1

חגחנוכהשמח

Move ahead to Night 2, here.

Thanksgiving lessons learned: one mom’s (grateful) battle to enjoy labor-intensive holidays

I love that Thanksgiving reminds me to take stock and be thankful for the abundance of blessings in my life. I am blessed. I am thankful. I’m grateful for a holiday devoted to that awareness.

Thanksgiving give thanks - 1But then there is the reality of celebrating Thanksgiving in America as a mom. It involves a lot of cooking, a lot of shopping, and a lot of stress.

Let’s all keep in mind that I’m not a great cook. I can produce reasonably healthy and palatable food for my family; I don’t enjoy cooking.

Shopping the gauntlet

I start shopping right after Halloween. I buy the wine as early as possible for obvious reasons. I pick up our family celiac’s favorite gluten free stuffing mix from Trader Joe’s as soon as it arrives for the season.

Pantry goods are easy to buy ahead of the rush, and doing so helps spread out over multiple weeks the costs of a sit down dinner for 20.

I’m grateful for Amazon Fresh delivering my last minute, fresh foods on the day before Thanksgiving. Grocery stores are hellish just before this holiday! Having the items I want dropped off right to my door is a Really Wonderful Thing.

We enjoy seasonal, local bounty direct from family-owned farms in New England via Farmers To You. This year ’round service is especially gratifying as the autumn harvest rolls in. I’ve posted before about my commitment to support our regional food shed with my grocery dollars.

A humanely raised turkey from Misty Knoll Farms as the centerpiece of our feast is something I’m proud to feed my family and friends.

Cleaning the house

As we catalogue my faults, let’s remember that I’m not much of a housekeeper, either. Hosting a large meal raises certain expectations for minimizing the usual daily clutter. Having out of town relatives to stay means prepping the guest room and the downstairs bathroom, too.

I have to confess: this year, I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked to prepare for houseguests. I struggled to forgive myself for that, but I used up every iota of energy that I had prepping for Thanksgiving in other ways, choosing to prioritize the feeding of 20 people from seven households over the immediate comforts of close relatives.

I’m grateful that I’ve gotten better at acknowledging my limits; I’ll keep working on accepting those limitations with grace.

Planning on the level of a precision strike

The only way a less-than-stellar cook is going to get a meal for twenty on the table in something resembling good time is to create a plan that incorporates all the prep and cooking times for multiple recipes and integrate them temporally. Continue reading

Holiday wishes for readers of every stripe: why I may wish you Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Good Yule, tool

Looking forward to a holiday season that promises merriment and stresses, joys and missed opportunities, I send my sincere wishes for a healthy, happy, well-balanced Celebration of Your Choice to every reader.

X New Year - 1

Beginnings of a feast to welcome the New Year

Contrary to what some pundits believe, I am not partaking in a “War on Christmas.” I just happen not to be one of the Americans who makes a Christmas holiday in her home. I am delighted by the fact that so many do, however, and honored to be invited to participate in Christmas and alternate holiday parties held by friends, family, and my community.

I cherish every card I receive wishing me the best, whether the sender is joyfully recounting the birth of Jesus or illuminating the darkness in remembrance of a miracle of light. Some of the greetings are silly cartoons and puns, and I like those laughs, too.

I’m especially fond of the irreverent ones because they tickle my fancy, though I don’t think most who know me would accuse me of a lack of reverence in my personal or spiritual conduct.

Xmas - 1

Ёлка (yolka)

I even appreciate the commercial cards from my dentist or the auto repair shop, especially when an employee took the time to sign his name; it may be advertising, but it is also a human expression in an age when some would call corporations “citizens.” Ahem. It’s an effort to spread joy. I’m all in favor of that.

Counting your blessings, sharing glad tidings, and lighting up the darkness are Really Wonderful Things.

I begrudge no one her wish to draw her family close and celebrate the season as she sees fit; I wish for everyone the comfort of being embraced by his family and friends during these darkest days of the year.

It is human nature to need a bright and warm “coming together” in the heart of winter. I hope every reader finds that, whether the bosom that welcomes you is secular or holy, crowded or solitary.

May each of us find the love we need to keep our spirits lifted, now and going forward.

And I pray for extra doses of relaxation to find their way to all of us who join in multitudinous cultural festivals due to the rich complexity of our intermingled lives. Let all the in-laws and outlaws* revel together in harmony this season.

Shalom! Peace be with you and yours. Happy holidays. Blessed be.

X Hanukkah - 1

Homemade hanukkiahחַנֻכִּיָּה, only slightly flammable. Adult supervision required!

 *Outlaws may be a distant possibility unless you celebrate a real, old-fashioned Saturnalia. Enjoy a law-abiding holiday season… unless you are living in place that suppresses your religious freedom. Secret personal observances in defiance of culture police? Yes. Drunk driving? No!

Pacing yourself: good advice for chronic illness, and everyone else, too!

It’s been so long since my last post, subscribers and regular readers may have wondered if I fell off the face of the Earth. Fret no more! I’m alive, but I have hosted a major holiday party and traversed a healthy arc around our little blue planet.

Between the trip–which I’ll write about soon–and the annual marathon that is serving Thanksgiving dinner to 19 people, I have been running right at the edge of my available pool of energy.

I have been writing, but I haven’t finished anythin…*

If you can believe it, I have over 50 draft posts in various stages of completion. What I haven’t had is any stamina left at the end of these busy days to polish up a given post for presentation to my readers.

I think I’ve mentioned it before: I’m not a real-time writer. Or, at least, I’m not even attempting to keep up with the pace of life since this blog is a hobby for me. I’m writing about Really Wonderful Things because I enjoy it. I’m trying to keep it that way.

I feel bad when I fail to post regularly. I cherish the sharing aspect of my own blog and those I follow. Slacking off on my posting schedule of a mere two pieces per week leaves me feeling guilty, and even a little anxious.

What if I lose a lot of followers? What if I lose a favorite frequent commenter?

And this is where I have to remind myself of the reality of my situation. I’ve written about accepting my limitations in the context of travel, and I think I give myself plenty of permission to do so when away from home.

What’s much harder is to take my expectations down a notch at home. Real life is a marathon, not a sprint, but there are so few obvious places to let things slide when it comes to parenthood and caring for your family.

The thoughts sound like this:

“If I don’t make this one birthday count, it is gone forever. My child won’t have good memories of turning X years old.”

Or this:

“Extended family and a dozen friends are coming for Thanksgiving. If I don’t make it a good one, I’ve ruined a holiday for 20 people.”

There’s a kernel of truth here, but most of it is anxiety talking. I don’t invite over the kind of “friend” who would blame me for a Thanksgiving catastrophe. If I had family members who actively tried to lay down that kind of guilt trip, I would consciously reject it as nonsense.

Beneath my conscious mind, however, is the deeply ingrained message I’ve been internalizing since infancy that 1) opening my messy house to people as is tells them I don’t care that they’ve come, and 2) any failings in our family’s hospitality belong to me, the wife and mother.

I’ve put a lot of effort into inviting people over “in spite of” the usual state of our home. Life can be so hectic, and it is hard to find a time that works to see good friends; an unwashed load of towels or a project-in-progress in front of the TV can’t be allowed to block a chance to socialize with companionable souls. Those moments are too precious.

And all of that was before an autoimmune condition reduced my available store of energy from less-than-average to downright-low. At this point in my life, there are days where I choose between cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day or eating dinner; some days, I fail to do either because I’m too tired to accomplish even one “trivial” task.

So when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving, for example, I had to choose between planning the menu and buying ingredients for the dinner (the main point of the event), or preparing a more comfortable guest room for out of town visitors. And did I mention that I was leaving town for an international trip 48 hours after Thanksgiving dinner?

Tidying the great room where we hold the party was such a distant last on my list of priorities, it was hard to even see it at the horizon.

Without a doubt, I get some flak about these failings from people who truly don’t understand how I can be taking a break on the couch when people are coming over within hours and my house “looks like this.” I know that I need that break or I won’t be able to stand on my bad foot to prepare a meal; not everyone can or will understand that point.

Honestly, I hope they never come to a point of realizing how hard simple things can be for someone with chronic illness. It really stinks. I wouldn’t wish is on my worst enemy.

Add to my list of “the hard work” of hosting a large party the effort to reject others’ unrealistic expectations for me. It may be the hardest thing I deal with at some events!

We welcome others into our homes to share time, experiences, and the very real products of our hearts. We cook for each other and care for each other because we can, and because we want to.

When I take whatever energy I have and translate that into action in real terms, it is a gift to those I love. I choose to believe it will be received that way, whether I make a fancy shape of it or hand it over in a messy bundle.

This holiday season, I hope we can all focus on why we invite others to share with us. Spend a little less effort on worrying about how you measure up! If you find yourself leaning toward the latter, back up a step and take a breath.

It’s a privilege to be free to celebrate as we see fit.

It’s an honor to host friends and loved ones in our homes, and to have more than we need to share.

Try not to go down the rabbit hole of should have and could be; be grateful to enjoy what is, here and now, and those who’ve graced you with their presence.

And, if someone makes you feel less than great for what you have to offer, leave them to their negativity and add it to your list of blessings. At least you are glad for what you have, and who you are!

I will try to do a little better about piping up twice a week and staying in touch with my followers. I sincerely wish for a season of peace, abundance, and joy to everyone reading, and everyone else besides.

Cheers!

*Quoting a cute, hand-drawn postcard I had pinned outside my college dorm room. I wonder where that card has gone…