Sunday, November 30, 2008

A New Christmas Tradition

Today we received a most wonderful and thoughtful gift from our friend, Yves.

What Yves doesn’t know, is that for four years I’ve been looking for an Advent calendar, never really satisfied with anything I’ve seen.

When Matt and I became parents, certain things started to become important to us, like life insurance and family traditions.

Getting the life insurance was the easy part. But the family traditions part hasn’t been as easy. When our children were just a little over one year old, Matt got an assignment from Chicago Parent to write a story on family traditions for their November/Thanksgiving issue. Having a background as an investigative journalist, Matt immediately went into research mode, and came across a book by Meg Cox, “The Book of New Family Traditions.”

When I first read Meg’s book, I felt like I was cheating. Was it okay to take other people’s traditions and make them your own? Or are traditions supposed to happen organically; otherwise they’re forced and not significant or meaningful?

It’s actually a great book and has good ideas or can spark even great ideas for family traditions all throughout the year.

One area that I wanted to explore was traditions for the Christmas season which focused on the birth of Christ. In our homes growing up, the birth of Jesus was not a focal part of Christmas, so neither one of us had anything from which to draw.

One kind of obvious thought I had was, “Why not have a birthday cake?” So now, on Christmas Eve, right before bed (oh so healthy) we light candles on a chocolate cake, sing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and enjoy our late-night sweets with a glass of milk.

I liked the idea of celebrating Christmas, not just on the 24th and 25th, which is what we typically did, but for all of December leading up to Christmas Day. (Jewish people have it right with Chanukah being a celebration of more than just a couple days.) So one tradition I found in Meg’s book was a “Literary Advent Calendar”. Our kids enjoy books. And we enjoy reading to them. So what we do is read one of 24 different Christmas-related books each night.

So Yves’ gift is perfect because it combines Advent and a book. It is "The Advent Book".

“The Advent Book is designed to be a family heirloom and the centerpiece of an annual Christmas worship tradition. The large full-color book with beautiful illustrations features 25 unique doors, each opening to reveal a picture and a segment of the Christmas story. The story is told in simple concise language so that even young children can be included in this Advent tradition. A new door is opened each day from Dec. 1st through Christmas in the manner of an Advent calendar. Because the doors are reopened and added to every day, family members enjoy the anticipation of remembering or revealing what is behind each door and learn the Biblical story by heart.”

Yves, we are so excited to start our new tradition tomorrow. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Filling In The Blanks...

As I wrote in my last post, I am playing a bit of catch up with what's been happening in Bridgett's World the last few weeks. Here's a continuation and conclusion...

November 9th - Simple Fun

We took the kids rollerskating at a rink. It wasn't something on our To Do list, an experience we thought the kids must have. We just happened to see a poster advertising the rink and decided that it would be a fun Sunday afternoon activity.

It was only when we strapped on our skates and entered the rink, that my husband and I realized that this could be a dangerous endeavor. Neither one of us had been on roller skates in at least 15 years, and we were going to be our children's protectors and guides who'd never had wheels strapped to their feet in their short five years on this earth?

As it turns out, we all did pretty well. I even remembered how to skate backwards!

The amazing part was to see the wide eyes and the ear-to-ear grins on our kids' faces as they circled the rink. Beaming. That's what they were. So excited, so joyful, so enthusiastic.

November 10th - "I Was Built For This Economic Tough Time"

Jim Flanagan and my husband have a mutual respect for one another as human beings as well as businessmen. Though we weren't yet officially his clients (we're kind of on the younger side of the spectrum for his clientele) Jim invited us to attend one of his hourlong presentations for his clients in these uncertain, tumultuous economic times.

One piece of information that Jim passed on floored me. He said that rather than bite the bullet when the stock market bubble morphed into the tech bubble, we artificially propped up the economy by lowering the interest rate. The interest rate, Jim said, was at 1.5% for 33 months. The last time this happened was right after World War II, and that was only for 7 weeks, not almost 3 years.

So lending became cheap. There was a political movement to increase homeownership, so people were approved for mortgages who never ever should have become "homeowners."

Sidenote: Homeownership is, for the majority, a fallacy. You're renting with an option to buy. Unless you don't have a mortgage, you do not own your home--the bank does.

Those factors are partly why our economy is in shambles. Another key element is the reality that Baby Boomers are about to exit their peak spending years, with a markedly smaller generation coming up behind them to fill that spending gap (read about the Generation Wave.)

The only other time I saw Jim before his presentation was a month earlier, at his home, where I also had the privilege of meeting his wife and three children. Jim showed us a fine piece of machinery he was using to build a new garage and lay a new driveway. He even guided my husband and the kids in having the unexpected thrill of operating it.

As Jim closed his presentation, he emphasized, "I was built for this economic tough time." In that moment, I reflected on our visit just a month earlier, when I met Jim in his grubby jeans, his work gloves, and his paper-thin T-shirt, willing to get dirty and work hard.

Intelligence is an importance asset, but it is meaningless without character. In a world seemingly lacking people of character and integrity, it's refreshing to know a man like Jim.

November 16th - The Power of A Shoe Box

As a church small group we had decided to put our efforts this holiday season towards Samaritan's Purse--Operation Christmas Child. I'd never heard of the organization, so I went to their website to find out about the program. I watched their video (the longer version) explaining how these shoe boxes of gifts are distributed. All of a sudden, tears welled up in my eyes as I'm watching this young girl moved by the gifts that a stranger, halfway across the world, had sent her and told her that she was loved.

I was surprised at my response. I was like, "Oh come on Bridgett. Get a grip." But after that video, I went from being dutiful in helping the needy, to being passionate about it.

I told my family that we were going to go shopping for some children, and to watch the video beforehand so that we were all on the same page with what we were doing. All three of them watched the video the next day before we headed out to the stores, and my husband told me, without knowing my response to the video, that he started tearing up watching it!

We went shopping, with our daughter's shopping list in hand (she doesn't know how to write just yet, so she drew pictures of the items we were to get), our boy picking out presents for boys his age, and our girl picking out presents for girls her age.

I spent the next few days going to local shoe stores collecting a shoe box here and a shoe box there. Other people in the area were apparently doing the same thing, and I started to explain to these confused shoe store workers about the gift of a shoe box. Some wrote down the web address eager to find out more.

We wrote a note to each child with a picture of us, and included it in their box.

We then all got together as a church small group, assembled our boxes, and prayed over them. I dropped them all off a couple days later, at a big truck parked in town, in frigid weather.

This shoe box experience all happened in a blink of an eye, in less than a week.

But the effect is long-lasting. It showed me that there is a difference between giving money to a cause and being involved in a cause. Not that I'm gonna fly off to the mission field any time soon, but I see how powerful it is when your heart is involved.

I see how, when you believe in something, when it's meaningful to you, when you feel it's worthy of your time and effort, you then make the time and you gain stamina, amidst your already packed life, to do what's needed.

I also learned, once again, how awesome God is, how blessed I am, and how effortless it is to have a grateful heart when I am others-centered and have a big-picture perspective.

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's Been Four Weeks??!!

It's been 28 days since I last blogged. I'm surprised the Weblog Police haven't come knocking at my door.

Rather than feel the pressure of attempting to play catch up and do a dozen posts in the next dozen hours; or act like the last 672 hours didn't occur, I'll do a couple of "filler" blog posts.

Brief highlights of the last few weeks. Here we go...

October 30th - Facebook Photo Causes Avalanche of Other Photos, Dialogue, and Memories
On May 31, 2007 I joined Facebook. My second visit to the site was seven months later when I got a "friend request" from one of my real friends. It wasn't until seven months after that--fourteen months after my first log-in, on July 23, 2008, that I visited again and added three other friends who had found me.

Within 24 hours, people were coming out of the woodwork, and my facebook friends were rapidly expanding. People I hadn't heard from in 10, 15, 20 years!

One group of friends are from my high school--The Chicago Academy for the Arts. I posted a picture of Jamie Harrold with the caption "Our playground". That picture had some of the funniest comments from fellow classmates, as they recounted some of our teenage escapades. That dialogue inspired Sean Guinan to upload 49 photos -- 49!!--none of us had seen before. It's been a fun and interesting and moving and rich experience seeing every one's thoughts and their perspectives, prompted by 20-plus year old photos.

October 31st - Halloween. Why?
Now that the kids are old enough to participate in activities, it's become apparent that I'm not really in to Halloween.

Not even addressing the spiritual aspect of Halloween,
I'm not a fan of:
*scary stuff
*knocking on strangers' doors

I do like:
*dressing up in cute costumes
*parties with healthy tasty food

Make note to self: Kids will participate in fun costume parties and costume parades, but will skip everything else.

November 4th - Obama Rally in Grant Park
There is much to say about this night. Many different images, thoughts, feelings. I want to mention just one aspect: the realization that Grant Park was the center of the universe that night.

My aunt sent me an email, acting like Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who just received a Golden Ticket. She was so excited that she had received a ticket to the event and she was able to invite someone. And she chose me.

Frankly, I was not interested in going. I was indifferent to the whole thing. Then I got to thinking...I'm an "el" ride away from seeing possibly the next president of the United States, with major implications which could be remembered for generations, and I don't wanna go 'cause I'm not really in to crowds or politics or staying up late or leaving my family for an evening? How lame is that?

So I went and I took photos, kind of with a historian/photojournalist/observer perspective. Here's a 28-second video of the celebratory crowd

a few minutes before Obama took the stage to deliver his sobering victory speech. Interesting juxtaposition.

My first inkling that all eyes were looking right where I was standing, was when I went on to my phone to send a "status update" on facebook. My friends all around the country were on their computers sending updates about their thoughts as they watched this event on television?

And then to see one from half way across the world write: "David welcomes America back to the world. We missed you."

Huh? It took the next 48 hours, as I watched the event on video, read accounts of the event in the newspapers, saw tons of pictures of the event online, to grasp the magnitude of what had occurred and that I was smack dab in the middle of it.

The most overwhelming was to see 700+ front pages of newspapers from around the globe, reporting the events in America on November 4th, 2008.

The world is watching America. Stunning realization, to say the least.

to be continued...