What Remains. (at Christmas)

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In these days before Christmas, grief tends to hit me more than usual, and sometimes the only reprieve for it is to hold the ones I love a little tighter. So today I look into the eyes of my most precious gifts and I place these moments deep in my heart, knowing that even these as sturdy and beautiful as they seem, they do not last. Even these will pass and grow into something different, and love is the only thing that stays. Through the birthdays and holidays and memories made…only love. Through the questions and disappointments and empty spots at the table, only love. ONLY LOVE remains.

May it beat loud and clear in our hearts this Christmas and remind us that there is greater than just what our eyes can see. May it thread its way through all our holiday celebrations and triumph all our days, the good and happy ones and yes even the sad ones when we remember those who are not with us, and that which is never quite the same. 

Peace!

Operation Christmas Child: Making a Difference for Less Than a Starbuck’s Latte.

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For Christmas this year we decided that we did NOT need any more toys. NEWS FLASH. We already have one million and one, so instead of exchanging names or giving gifts to each other, my sister and I made an executive decision to get our kids together to make boxes for Operation Christmas Child. I mean, why not give to kids who actually “need” something this year, instead of hoarding more to ourselves and our children?

Ah, that feels so much better.

So last week we did just that.

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First, I snagged these clear Rubbermaid totes at Walmart for $.94! 94 cents, you guys! Whaatttt??? I mean, that is less than 1/4 of my favorite chocolate bar at Whole Foods. And not even half of a Starbucks latte! (I venture to say it will probably make more of a difference than the wording on the side of their cups ever will, but that’s for another time.:))

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So we each went out and gathered tons of fun “stuff”, some from our toy boxes, some from the store- stickers, paper, toothbrushes, pencils, hats, crayons, band aids, socks, wind-up toys, balls, flip flops, soap, etc- and then got together at my house to fill the shoe boxes.

My mom had instigated the idea after she helped pack and ship boxes at OCC last year and was completely impressed and inspired by their heart and mission to help children and so, of course she came too!

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We had a total blast, wrapping and filling our boxes and it was such a delight, watching our kids get into the spirit of giving! They loved picking out things that “they would want” and giving it to someone else instead.

In all it was a wonderful day, we packed eight boxes full to the brim, and we all learned again how much more blessed it is to GIVE than to receive. How fun it is to come willing and ready to bring what we have, than to long for that which we don’t!

What a joy and what a beautiful life lesson  for .94 cents! May it stay with us this holiday season and forever, and may it go deep in the hearts of my children, and all who receive it!

Thank you, Operation Christmas Child, for the opportunity to bless others through your ministry! Love and Merry Christmas to all! -The Hostetler’s

How about you? Do you have a non-profit you like to give to as a family? A favorite way to bless others over the holidays? Share your ideas in the comments, and let’s make it a Merry Christmas for everyone this year!

 

A Letter to Thee Ole 2013.

Dear Two Thousand Thirteen,

It’s been real.

It’s beeen good and bad and hard and wonderful.

And I would like to take this time to say…”thank you.” (I guess??)

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FIRST…

You started out with a bang, when my huzbun and I discovered the “happy little surprise” of another baby being added to our family! Yeah. A bit reckless, perhaps, but you proved yourself pretty epic right from the start.

Not much time though for celebrating! You pushed me directly out of my newly-pregnant nest and off to Vegas for a blogging convention, all by my big girl self. Something I never thought I would do, but you were ballsy like that. I grew tremendously during those four days and my blog grew like crazy after that.

BUT THEN…

Then you took our dear Johnny, and we cried. God, we cried! My heart hurt worse from that, than my stomach did from the morning sickness. And yet you moved us on. Abandoned to the cause of stripping us down. Of wrecking us further into love and plunging us deeper into faith.

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Oh, but you had your moments of splendor. Like when I sank my toes into that Maui sand for seven of your 365 days. Not only that, but I got to do it with one of my favorite people: John. That trip sure brought the laughter back into my world. And I sure was lovin you!

Then you turned sentimental on me, with the un-expected finding of old journals , and a long-awaited trip to childhood, in which I got to make Easter eggs with my favorite kiddos.

(You always had a way of evoking emotion, right when I needed it, didn’t you?!)

Your Spring was divine, and so was the day I discovered that it’s a boy!

I loved your summer and your gardens and the way your nights stayed warm. I even liked your rain! I got in more coffee shop writing and more rainy night snuggles than I ever could have wanted. And consequently, more blogging than I ever could have dreamed of.

Those were exciting times! I wrote about everything from my journey to health to chocolate chia pudding to getting on the back of a horse again. And I watched my blog go from one follower to one hundred, in just a few months!

UH HUH. Pretty ridic! And I have you, my dear 2013 to thank for that.

You had your hardships, too, yes you did.

You ended the summer about as brutally as you ended my sister’s marriage, with tears and rain all mixed together, and you hacked at many other relationships, including my own, until only a few remained.

By the end of my pregnancy, you had challenged my life, my sanity, and my health more than ever.

And it was all I could do to breathe.

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But then he came! And I got to meet my son for the very first time! His paper-thin skin brushed against my chest and and I felt happier than I had ever been.

So happy, in fact that I hardly noticed the fog and the poop and the chaos that ensued. So happy, in fact that I almost missed the fall altogether! I think I woke up around October.

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Just in time to discover this cute little farmer’s market slash coffee shop, on the edge of town. Just in time for beautiful sunsets and birthday celebrations and…

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the best Christmas ever. (Btw, my five-year-old daughter took these two pictures, isn’t she amazing??!!)

So yeah.

You’ve been pretty stinkin WILD!

And yes. I do want to thank you!

Thank you for the lessons learned and the growth that I’ve experienced. Thank you for the tears, the happy and the sad ones. Thank you for the gifts of life and new beginnings.

And most of all, thank you for ending!

Adios, twenty thirteen. Peace be with you!

Love,

your fren-emy forever,

Ruthie

How to have a Merry Christmas. (Without Drinking all the Vodka at the Party!)

So it’s Christmas time.

Time to push and shove and butt in front of people, to get to your company’s ugly sweater party or to your singles’ group gift exchange.

Time to check your phone every ten minutes to see what your Mother-in-law’s latest dinner plans are and when the ham will be on sale. Time to get frustrated, punching buttons and pushing numbers to find the best toy deals at Target or the best days to fly with United.

It’s Christmas!

Time to figure out how you can possibly get that electronic gadget that shaves your legs AND brushes your teeth at the same time, so you no longer need to do ANYTHING. Then ya gotta put it on your Christmas list, because you’ve just spent the last of your money buying a similar gadget for someone else, that they clearly NEED, so that they won’t have to do anything either.

Now you can both sit on the couch all day and watch the world go by, one newsfeed at a time.

That is, until…

It’s time to go to the bank and take out another mortgage on your house, so you can bless your child with that real-life princess castle she wants, which will consequently take up the whole back yard. Oh and definitely time to yell at the person who cuts you off while you are doing so. Possibly even give them the middle finger. Just because…

It’s Christmas time!

Don’t you know??

Aah yes.

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Joy to the world and yet we’ve lost our joy! We celebrate the Prince of Peace, and yet we have NO PEACE!! Somehow, year after year, Merry Christmas turns into Mad Christmas for way too many of us and I, for one, am not having it anymore.

As of this year, I am officially done with that. I’m done with living in a constant state of anxiety about buying gifts and booking flights and getting to the party. I’ve decided instead that I am going to celebrate true “Peace on Earth,” by staying peaceful. I’m going to have a Merry Christmas, by doing things that make me merry. (Profound, I know!)

Now I’m not talking about downing a whole bottle of vodka, before the party. (Ok. So maybe a half?!:)) I’m talking about saying NO to things that take me away from peace, and YES to things that bring me joy.

So I’ve come up with a guide. A happy holiday guide, if you will. One which I am positive will help us all have a much more “merry” existence in these last days before Santa comes.

Here’s 10 easy (and FREE!) ways to have a Merry Christmas:

No. 1. Slow Down. Seriously! It’s not going to kill anyone if you’re late to that ugly sweater contest. On the other hand, it might actually kill someone if you keep driving like a train wreck all over the road, to get there.

No. 2. Dance to some Christmas music. Well, first light some candles and make a bath for your loved one. Slip on something sexy, take them by the arm and dance to The Jingle Bell Rock. Then, let the magic of Christmas go to work. Cuz it will! Promise.

No.3. Listen to the Needs of Others. This might seem like a no-brainer. But for many of us, it is a lost art. Especially when we are scurrying about, trying so hard to get our own needs met. Take three extra seconds to look into the eyes of the bank teller or the stressed-out cashier at Walmart. And listen. You might be surprised at what you will hear.

No. 4. Buy a stranger’s coffee. Instead of butting in front of them, smile and pay for their coffee. (Ok, so this one’s not free, but! It is so worth the four bucks, to know you totally made someone’s day, and possibly even their whole year!)

No. 5. Offer your babysitting services to a Mother of small children. And can I just say, especially to a single Mother?! Chances are, that is the only time she will have, to go get her Christmas shopping done.

No. 6. Smile at the person who cuts you off. Yes, I said, “SMILE.” You might freak them out, but you might also help them calm down and relax a little. And every little bit helps. Especially right now, in the days before Christmas!

No. 7. Give your kids the gift of time. Read a Christmas story. Pop some popcorn. Do a craft. Or put a puzzle together. Instead of doing something FOR them, do something WITH them. They will remember that much longer than the toy you spent your life savings on, anyway.

No. 8. Stop and help someone that’s broke down. This is also becoming a lost art. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stopping long enough to ask if they need to call someone, or if they have a phone. It takes five minutes, max. Do it!

No. 9. Buy a homeless person some lunch. Even better, invite them to meet you at the restaurant right around the corner. Sit across the table and hear their story. Go ahead n buy them a beer. What the heck, it’s Christmas time! And everyone deserves to be celebrated, to experience extravagant grace at least once a year.

No. 10. Take a deep breath. Remember that nothing is worth losing your peace over. Not even United Airlines. Relax, meditate, and sip some hot chocolate.

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Because really. That’s what it’s all about.

It’s Christmas time!

Instead of getting stressed, get happy and enjoy the season! Instead of losing your marbles and going ballistic, try one or all of these things. You will feel so much better about the world, yourself, your job, and even your kids, if you focus on things that bring you joy, not stress.

Now, pour a nice round glass of red and have yourselves a Merry little Christmas! All of you.

Update: So immediately after publishing this, the world blew up at the news of Phil Robertson being fired for speaking about his view on gays. Here’s the deal, guys. It doesn’t matter to me, and it shouldn’t to you. It shouldn’t matter what a funny guy on reality tv thinks about the way you live your life. I sure as hell won’t let that dictate how I love gay people or anyone else, and it sure as heaven will not rob me of my joy. Neither should it rob you of yours. It’s Christmas, for pete’s sake! Let it go. Cut the tv if you need to, but do your thing! Keep breathing. Keep loving! And stay happy.:) 

Gingerbread Houses and Priceless Moments.

This was going to be my previous post. But then a bunch of school children were killed by a gunman, and I couldn’t stop crying long enough to write about gingerbread houses.

Now that I have momentarily composed myself, I am going to attempt it today. This is the stuff that helps us heal, anyway, isn’t it? It is good to mourn with those who mourn. But then it is also good to look around and find joy in the moments we spend with those we still have. It helps me to look at these pictures, and remember the reasons why I am beyond thankful for these, my littlest loves, and how I want to savor every moment I get, with them.

Last week, one day, I rounded them up, herded them into my van, and took them to their Grandma’s house, where we decorated and adorned miniature gingerbread houses, with all manner of food coloring and sugar-laden delights. Can we say, FUN?!

Two of them were my sister’s kids, whom I adore, and one of them was my very own Beanstalk, whom, well. We all know how I feel about her!

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I assembled the miniature houses, the night before, so that it would be easier and less mess for all of us. I purchased four, pint-sized containers of whipping cream, (Hey. It was the only thing I could find in that size!) and dumped out the cream, washed them real good, (cuz the last thing we want is gingerbread houses that reek of sour milk!) and then pasted graham cracker squares onto them, using this royal icing:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/royal-icing-recipe/index.html to hold them in place. Turns out it was the perfect consistency for the job and the frames held up really well to the bumping and poking and sticking they endured, later.

I should mention that I cut about an inch off of the bottoms of the cartons, so that a half cracker fit perfectly on each side, which also gave it a better proportion and made it cuter. I was a bit hazy on the the actual assembly, when I started on these things. All I had to go off of, was the one that Ari had brought home from school, a week earlier, and then promptly ate, before I had the chance to inspect it closer. So, of course I learned all this by trial and error: at first cutting the crackers to fit into the odd size, pasting, ripping off, then cutting the carton, and starting over.

By this point, I was already relieved that I had decided to do the assembly ahead of time, and not while all three kids were waiting impatiently to decorate their houses. I highly recommend doing it this way, for that reason! All they really want anyway, is to squish the frosting and plop the candy onto their “house. ”

So…that’s what we did!

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Well, first we stuffed our bellies full of soup, to try and put a damper on the amount of sugar we would ingest or otherwise “get high” on, while we did the other.

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Oh my. Look at all that candy! And look at those smiles! I gave them each a pastry bag, filled with vegan buttercream frosting. I figured that at the very least, my child might not have a stuffy nose for two weeks, if I kept the dairy out of the frosting. Nevermind all the “stuff” that’s in the candy! But hey, at some point, it becomes more about damage control, than actually making it healthy!:)

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Some of them needed a little help from me, to get things started.

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And others, needed NO help, at all!

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I am quite positive that I had just as much fun as the kids did.

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Even this guy couldn’t resist, jumping in! (He just so happened to be “working” there!)

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We squished alot of frosting and ate way too much candy.

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But here we are, with our finished gingerbread houses!

P.S. All of this happened while “Maggie” was galavanting around other parts of the country, and while we missed her, we sure made some good memories at her house, while she was gone.:)

Why Do You Cry, Mama?

It’s Saturday and it’s still early.

I get up and make some coffee, and lay out my still-sleeping daughter’s clothes for her Christmas program. Everything is fine, until I go online to check my e-mail, and that’s when I see the pictures. The heartbreaking pictures of yesterday’s shooting. We don’t watch the news at our house, and barely any tv, so this is the first time I see any details about the tragedy that happened in Connecticut.

I instinctively click on the stories. I want to know what happened. I probably shouldn’t have. I don’t make it past the first picture of one of the little victims, before my vision is blurred by tears. She was six years old, and her eyes were bright, just like my little girl’s are.

I can’t read anymore. Tears keep coming as I scroll through the frantic faces of parents and the eyes of the innocent, that are now frozen in the headlines of this nations worst moment.

“Twenty Children Die in Elementary School Shooting…”

“Teacher Huddles into Closet with her Fifteen Students…”

I sob through them all.

Eventually I realize what time it is and that I need to get ready for my little one’s program.

But not before she catches me, with tears. “Why are you crying, Mama?”

Normally, I would say something like, “oh, I just read a sad story” or “I just thought of something that made me a little sad.”

But today, I can’t speak.

Today I realize that what is making me sad is way too deep, to try to explain to my innocent four-year-old. So I quickly dry off the evidence of my anguish, and move on with my day, but the question remains.

“Why do you cry, Mama?”

Well, my dear.

I cry because no six-year-old should ever have to hide in a cabinet at his school while someone shoots his friends and his teacher. 

I cry because there are at least twenty parents that don’t have a child to give their gifts to, this Christmas.

I cry because of what could have possibly turned an innocent little boy into such a distressed man, that he would shoot help-less children.

I cry because he must not have known love, as I know it. He must not have known a safe place for his pain. And so he resorted to violence.

I cry because I live in a nation that so quickly turns to gun laws and legislation, for help, and yet ignores the true source of wisdom and love: God. 

I cry because the earth is missing twenty little angels, whose calling and purpose was snuffed out by another human being.

I cry because there is so much love in my heart for the world, and yet it seems like that is not enough. It is not enough to heal the wound. To fill the void that is left in the face of this evil.

And so, I do the only thing I know to do.

I reach down and pick up my daughter. I kiss her matted morning hair and pray, pray that she never has to know the real reasons why I cry, today.

Spiderwebs, Skulls, and Stress.

It is the last day in October and I am drying my rosemary-scented hair in the bright, mid-afternoon sun. Beanstalk is playing, uh, learning at school, and that gives me two and a half hours of uninterrupted “me” time. Time to reflect. Meditate. Write. Create. Time to   de-stress.

It is also Halloween, but I really could not care less. I have never been into this wanna-be-holiday. To me, it is just an annoying thing between fall and Thanksgiving and Christmas. I mean, do we really need one more holiday, this time of the year? And can’t I just enjoy the lighted, leafy garland I finally hung on our dining room window, two weeks ago, for ONE minute? Can’t I gaze at my dried orange and pinecone centerpiece a little while longer? Oh, I guess that would kind of be my bad, for not putting it out sooner. But for real. Now I’m supposed to replace the dried oranges, and the pine cones, with spider webs and skulls? Uh. No thank you! It’s bad enough, that by Thanksgiving, I need to put up Christmas. And somewhere in there, I need to squish in, me and my daughter’s birthdays. Those in themselves, would be holiday enough for me! But seriously. It stresses me out. And that’s not even touching the whole costume thing, or any of the other reasons why I don’t celebrate this holiday. The idea of spending a hundred bucks on cheap costumes for all of us, that we will wear only once, puts me into a permanent financial coma.

Maybe I am just too friggin’ practical.

Or maybe, perhaps? I am learning to say NO to things that are not worth the stress they put me under. I hope it’s the latter. Not that it’s so bad, being practical. But…

Back to the rosemary and the sunshine.

A good friend, who also happens to be my chiropractor, asked me the other day what I do to de-stress. I hadn’t really thought about it, recently.

But it’s a legitimate question. Especially now, as we head straight for one of the most  stress-loaded times of the year. After we figure out where to store the halloween costumes, we gotta buy gifts with money we don’t have, and put on dinners and find something to wear for family pictures, and banquets and balls. Makes me wonder: why do we even do this to ourselves? And that’s not even scratching at the political drama that will engulf us for the next three weeks. Just talking about it, makes me wanna move to the Dominican and forget about all of it. And just live!

The reality is that we all need something that combats the beating that our nervous system takes on a daily basis. Just like we need to balance all the junk we eat, with some raw veggies every now and then. Or if you’ve been on a juicing/health binge, like I’ve been, you need to balance all the raw veggies, with a chocolate chip cookie, every now and then! You get the idea. It’s all about balance.

In the same way, if you’ve been filling your brain with negative thoughts and depressing media, for your body’s sake, put something peaceful and relaxing in there, sometimes. Oh and then, consider turning off the tv, for awhile. It’s actually really good for you!

Research shows that stress is acidifying to our bodies. Who knew?? You and I both need to seek out those things that alkalize our stressed-out minds.

So, this. This is what I do. I walk outside. I take a deep breath. I let my hair dry and I let go of worry. Well, at least most of it. And for whatever’s left, I take a bath. Talk to God. Listen to music. Paint. Create food. And dream of the Dominican.

What about you? What do you do with the stress in your life? What are some of the things that you’ve found, that help you de-stress? Please share them in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, I am going to breathe in this perfect day. (It would almost seem like spring if my garden was not dead, and the trees were not bare).

I may also try that hot yoga that my chiro recommended. Because I need all the help I can get, with these treacherous times that I live in.