Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book review: The Christmas Sweater, by Glen Beck

The Christmas Sweater The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Glen Beck may be a well-known radio host, but he writes with all the finesse of a high school sophomore. In this semi-autobiographical "heartwarming Christmas tale", Beck tells about 12-year old Eddie who, along with his mother, has had some hard times since the death of his father a couple of years before. Eddie just knows that getting a new bike will make things better.



It will come as no surprise to any reader that, instead of the hoped-for bike, Eddie instead receives a sweater that has been lovingly knitted by his mother. Eddie reacts to this turn of events as poorly as one might expect, and the circumstances of his life move from bad to worse.



The Christmas Sweater is supposed to teach a lesson about dealing with adversity and God's presence within the storms of life, but it's pretty predictable stuff. The passages which dealt with God and religion, which could have been interesting and thought-provoking, were instead pretty vague and ill-formed.



Read it if you must, but I'd either get it at the library or wait until it comes out in paperback.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas past

We do not have a fancy theme Christmas tree. Instead, our tree is filled with a combination of gift ornaments and ornaments the kids have made in school or in Scouts. I love our tree. It's like a walk back through the past every time we decorate it. I thought I'd share some of my favorite ornaments with you...

Nathan's stocking
Nathan made this one in 2001 when he was in 1st. Incidentally, the shirt he's wearing is the exact same shirt Daniel had worn for school pictures the previous year.

Daniel's tree
Daniel made this one in kindergarten.

Kate's snowman
I made this in Girl Scouts. Clearly, the arts are not an area of skill for me!

Jacob's snowman
Jacob at age 2.

Jacob's reindeer
Jacob made this one this year.

Jacob
Jacob made this one last year. It appears that he got his artistic talent from me! :( Poor guy.

Afro angel
Daniel made this ornament in first grade. Dubbed "Afro Angel", she is a continuing source of embarassment for Daniel and enjoyment for the rest of us. Daniel spends the Christmas season attmepting to hide Afro Angel in an inconspicuous spot on the tree. The rest of us repeatedly return her to her place of glory right in the front until he finally gives up and leaves her there. The tree will never be complete without Afro Angel.

Paint brush Santa
Cub Scout craft project. I think it's so cute. If I was a little more on top of things, I'd do these with my class as parent gifts. Maybe next year. No...I've still got about 40 plastic Christmas flower pots to use up first!

Lightbulb reindeer
Another Cub Scout project. The reindeer is made from a painted lightbulb. Nice re-using project, but no WAY would I try these at school. I can't imagine many of them would get home in one piece!

Jacob's mitten
Jacob painted this last year at a birthday party. It was held at one of those ceramics studios where you paint an item and they fire it for you.

Raggedy Ann and Andy
An echo of growing up. My brother Jim and each had an ornament similar to these. I loved to play house with them in the tree. He gave me these ornaments a few years ago.

Sandpaper tree
Nathan in kindergarten. Awww!

There's Waldo
Waldo is another family tradition. He is hidden in the tree, and the boys look for him and then re-hide him. This is a much more pleasant tradition since we got a fake tree and no longer get stabbed by pine needles!

Gingerbread Nathan
"Gingerbread" ornament made from applesauce, cinnamon, and glue. Saw this done at Cub Scouts, and decided to make them for the family. Apparently Nathan's is the only one left.

Katie
Me! In 1978 at age 5.

Homemade Gifts

I made several gifts this year. I always initially think of it as a way to save money...and it always ends up costing more than I think, but I really enjoy making something for someone else with my hands (or in some cases, with my own effort). So here's my run-down of homemade gifts:

1) Can't show you this one, but I made a book for my mom of pictures and narration from her 60th birthday party. It's supposed to be delivered today, so I guess we'll see how it turned out.

2) Parent gifts for my students to give (they obviously helped with these).
Parent gifts
The flower pots were donated. The tag is a card drawn by the students with a recipe for preparing the cookie mix that's in a baggie inside the flower pot.

3) Gifts for my students and for new members of the family. I made "gingerbread" (actually a mixture of applesauce, cinnamon, and glue...they smell great, but you wouldn't want to eat them!) ornaments and then glued pictures of my students on them. I haven't yet found family pictures, so these may or may not be family gifts as well. My intention had been to make them for Jacob's class, but I didn't get to that, either. If I don't get cracking, I'm going to have a lot of little gingerbread men floating around!
My class as gingerbread cookies

4) Jar mixes. There are several different varieties...brownies, cookies, cookie bars, rice mix, soup mix, and a couscous mix. I gave these to the other teachers in my grade level and to an aide who works in my classroom for a small part of the day. These are also my gifts for our neighbors and to the siblings whose name we didn't draw in the gift drawing. Incidentally, the green ribbon is reused from a gift I had received earlier that day! ;D
Jar cookie mixes

5) Cross-stitch for my mother-in-law. The only possible way this will get completed is if angels work on it while I sleep. I've done plenty of counted cross stitch, but this thing is way harder!

Now that school is over, I can enjoy finishing up the gifts and looking forward to celebrating Christmas with my family. I have been much more relaxed about the Christmas "stuff" this year. I am not where I want to be as far as really having the focus of Christmas being Jesus's birth and God's awesome gift to us rather than what we can give to others, but I have felt more of sense of peace and joy this year, and my giving is much more from the heart than from a feeling of responsibility.

I'm finding that it's so difficult to turn that focus once you're on a set path. We have celebrated Christmas in such a secular way for so long. We set up a manger scene and go to church on Christmas Eve without fail (and have always attended church on a fairly regular basis), but those are the only God-related things that we do. I don't even know how to make Christmas NOT be about presents, not just for the kids but even for my husband. And in a smaller, but still there, way for me, too.

In some ways, I almost feel like it's too late for anyone but Jacob...and maybe even him. I started spending a little time each night reading the Nativity story to Jacob from the Bible and talking about what an amazing gift Jesus was/is to us from God. Hopefully this is something that, the more I talk about it to him, the more I'll internalize it, myself. It's definitely an area I need to pray about.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Listened to the abriged audiobook version of this book. I liked the narrator's voice, except when he read a woman's lines. Just read in your voice. We'll figure out it's a girl talking! I am also a big fan of the case the book came in. Rather than some byzantine folded paper cd case, it was a stack of jewel cases that you can page through like a book. Very handy for switching cds on the interstate!



As far as the content...part memoir, part book report, part stream-of-consciousness riffs on whatever strikes the author's fancy, The Know-It-All is very entertaining. I was often somewhat surprised by the facts that caught his attention, and I definitely think that he overthinks A LOT of things, but I enjoyed the tone and the story.



My favorite line: "I've actually dabbled in reference books before." I laughed out loud when I heard it. I'm pretty sure that my dad read the encyclopedia when he was growing up (though most likely not all the way through and if he did he wasn't tooting any horns about it). When I mentioned this fact in grade school, I spent the next few years being teased about reading the dictionary. Or maybe I have the reference books backwards. Obviously the emotional scars have faded. :)



A couple of interesting concept that came up in the book were head knowledge vs. life knowledge and the dichotomy between reading about life and living life. In some ways, I think this is so topical today. Granted, there probably aren't too many people skipping an evening walk in Venice to read the Encyclopedia Brittanica (I just spelled "encyclopedia" differently than it is spelled in the title. The title is spelled "encyclopaedia". The "ae" is supposed to be joined, and there's a term for this which Jacobs mentions in the book...he obviously read with more comprehension than I used to listen, because I don't remember the term for the conjoined twins of the phonetic world), but people spend a lot of time building relationships and lives on the internet at the expense of their "real" lives.


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Wall

I've hit it. The Holiday Wall.

Every year I have these thoughts of saving money by making gifts. Of course, it's never as cheap as you would think...and it's a lot of work. In addition, our volleyball league has an end-of-the-season tournament this week which results in us being out late late twice this week. Since we've been gone and I've been swamped, our house is a disaster. Last night I just wanted to curl up and hide...but instead I addressed Christmas cards while we watched a Christmas movie with the boys.

After the movie, Jeff put Jacob to bed while I went shopping for Jacob's teachers' gifts (an ornament attached to a cookie mix we had put together in a mason jar), gifts for my aides, and some Christmas gifts for my family. Once I was out of the house and shopping, I was able to relax a little, and when I got home Jeff and Nathan had done a bunch of cleaning.

Here's a list of the homemade things I'm doing/attempting this year:
  • Jar cookie or soup mixes (about 20 or so) for co-workers and friends
  • Cookie mix wrapped in a Christmas flower pot for students to give their parents (classroom project...way more work than doing it myself! :D)
  • "Gingerbread" ornaments with student and family faces on them (very cute and finished except for the faces)
  • Photo book of pictures from my mom's 60th birthday party for her (done)
  • Thomas Kincade cross-stitch for my MIL (almost definitely won't be finished in time)

Tomorrow is the last day of school, so after that I can relax a little and wrap some presents. The thing of it is that I love to make things for people, and I love to send and receive Christmas cards. I just start way too late. Maybe next year I'll do better. I don't want to be too tired to relax and enjoy my family and attend to the real reason of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Defender of the faith

Jacob sang with the children's classes in church on Sunday. They sang three songs, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and Wonderful Counselor. Despite wanting to sing with the kids, he showed little interest in actually practicing. And, therefore, his singing in church went something like this:



"Silent Night, Holy night...
.............., all is bright...
...
...
.....
...
Silent night, Holy night....
...."



You get the picture. It was still pretty entertaining, and very cute when he'd occasionally look over at me and give a small wave. The picture below is a lousy one, snapped with my phone because I, apparently alone of all the parents there, did not remember my camera. Jacob is the second kid from the right. The one behind him was pretty entertaining. And most likely suffering from some behavior disorder.



Church




So what's this "defender of the faith" talk? We were witness to the most amusing conversation/confrontation Monday night. We were all eating dinner, and Nathan (being Nathan) made some sort of remark about Santa not being real. Realizing, perhaps after a glance at my Look of Death, that he'd better cover his mistake, he did so by then claiming that God is made up, too. (Before you email me asking what kind of heathen godless children I'm raising, he was just being silly). Jacob's response was surprising.



Jacob: "No, Nathan, God is real! God made everything!"



Nathan: "God didn't make everything. People did."



Jacob: "No. God made everything. Even if there was nothing here, God would still be here. God was here before anything. It says so in the Bible."



Nathan: "The Bible is just stories."



Jacob (a little shocked and offended): "The Bible is God's word!"



At which point we cut off the conversation as the distraction from the Santa gaffe had succeeded. I kind of wonder how it would have ended on its own.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Look-alikes

My cousin sent me a cd full of old family pictures. I have loved going back through them, especially ones of my mom and her brothers as children. I've also noted some resemblances.

In this picture, my mom is at the far right. Her mouth is exactly the way mine is set in our family picture below.

Rezabekkids2 008Rezabekkids2 010

In the next set, the old picture is of my uncle. I NEVER realized how much my middle son, Nathan, looks like him.

JeanPhotos 190Kelsea Jacob Nathan

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday fun

After Nathan's basketball game today, Jeff and I went to a free Christmas fun event put on by a local chiropractic office. Since my ex-husband had brought his wife and their two kids to the game, we invited the wife and kids along while he waited for Nathan to sit through the next game. I've probably mentioned before that Kim, my ex-husband's wife, is one of my best friends. I guess it's a strange situation, but it works for us. Their kids and Jacob are around the same ages and all get along, so we're kind of like one big, weird family.



The kids had a great time. They got to sit on Santa's lap...


101_3093101_3094101_3095

Make a Christmas ornament...


101_3096101_3098101_3099

Get faces (or hands) painted...


101_3100101_3101

...play a couple of games, and have a snack. They also got little goodie bags. It was a nicely done event and surprisingly uncrowded.

Nathan's basketball game (WOW!)

So far, so good. Nathan's having a great season so far! They're record is 4-0. So far he has started each game and gotten a lot of playing time. He's not one of the big scoring stars, but he's been a good supporting player so far. We've been really impressed by his aggressiveness this year. In the past, he hasn't seemed to go for the ball that much. That has changed this year.

Of course, another thing that has changed is his number of fouls. He's been in foul trouble in two of the past three games. Naturally, HE isn't doing anything wrong; the refs are just against him. Right? Right?? Um, he might just have inherited his tendency to foul from (whisper) his mother. Whoops. In last Saturday's game, it seemed like he was called for a foul every time the ball was anywhere near him. This week, he was definitely being more careful about the fouls, but he was considerably less aggressive, too. Hopefully he can find some happy medium where he's really going for the ball but not fouling out!

Boy, today's game was SO exciting! We played Belleville West, and it was a really close game all along. Nathan was only out for a little bit of it, so it was really fun to watch. I mean, watching the team is fine, but there's nothing like watching your OWN kid play (unless it's being able to play, yourself). They used a half-court press most of the game, and in the second half, Nathan had a terrific steal on the press. He was RIGHT next to the sideline and his momentum was carrying him off the court. Before stepping out of the court and while evading on of the other players, he managed to get off a GREAT pass to one of his teammates. On which we scored. Yea!! We (me, Jeff, Nathan's dad, my mom and her boyfriend, my brother, and my niece...it is so nice to have other family who care enough to come to the games) were all yelling so loud!

The game was back and forth the whole time, and we were actually down one with less than a minute to play. One of our players was fouled and sank both freethrow shots to give us the lead. We held off the other team for most of the remaining time, but they finally got off a shot with SECONDS left in the game. It bounced off and they shot again, but our defenders were all over them and I think they ended up with a jump ball. It was Edwardsville's turn to throw it in, so we got off a pass in and then held on for dear life. What a game!! It's a good thing I took my blood pressure medicine this morning!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Deep breaths

Oooohhh...today God is definitely giving me the opportunity to strengthen my patience muscles. What a challenging day. I did, however, remember to look for and thank God for the blessings within my complaints. Such as...

I took my frustrating morning as an opportunity to thank God that I have a job, that he is helping me to increase my patience, and that I was, in fact, able to maintain a pleasant, patient demeanor with a particularly difficult student who, for a time, anyway, shaped up.

I let my .2 pound weight gain (in our school's Biggest Loser competition) remind me to praise God for the availablity of food in our house and our country.

And, while I'm kind of bummed that our work Christmas party doesn't start until 6 and right now I'm exhausted and only want to go home, I'm trying to focus on the facts that a) I have 2 1/2 hours to Christmas shop before the party, b) my children are in good hands while I'm gone, and c) I have friends and colleagues with whom I can enjoy celebrating...once I get there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Funny

We were in the car this evening, coming home from Nathan's basketball game (they won; he didn't play a whole lot because he got in foul trouble early and it just got worse from there) when Jacob expressed a desire to go back to Florida and stay in the rental house. Jeff reminded him that he (Jeff) didn't have any vacation time left, so Jacob would have to go without him.

"OK."

"But Mommy has to work, too, so she couldn't go with you, either."

"That's OK. Maybe I could find some money laying on the counter." (I only wish I had that kind of change lying around!)

"You know, it's not right to take money that isn't yours."

"We-ell...maybe I could just say that I found it and it looked like it needed some love."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Things that make you go hmmm...

Jacob was busy the other morning. If he wakes up early, we'll often have him play in his room for a while so that we can sleep in a little. He has a ridiculous amount of toys, but lately he's been really into his puzzles. He is an amazing puzzle worker...and goes about it so much differently than I do.



When I put a puzzle together, I start with the outside pieces. Jacob, on the other hand, sees the "whole" of the puzzle and puts it together from the inside out. It's so interesting to watch the way that he learns and does things. He's been able to work 50-100 piece puzzles since he was in his late 3's-early 4's alone or with minimal help.



Anyway, Saturday morning he was up early and played in his room. He was pretty busy, because this is what we saw when we went in there:



Puzzles

I asked him later about the puzzles he had done, and he mentioned the "dead animal puzzle". Huh??? I had to go up and look again. The long floor puzzle is about endangered animals. OK, so we need to refine his understanding of "endangered". Haha.




Power of prayer

In general, Daniel has been seceding from the family for a while. He is 16 now, with all that being a teenager seems to entail. In truth, he is probably much more respectful and responsible than I was at that age, but knowing that doesn't make dealing with it any easier. I know that it's natural for kids to separate from their parents as they grow up, but he has taken this to a new level. In addition, his attitude towards God, and in particular my increasing interest in church and the Bible, has been pretty negative.

Tuesday evening was rough in our house. We were decorating our tree as a family, and for a variety of reasons relating to Daniel it was a very unpleasant experience. For most of the time, I think I handled it pretty calmly and well, trying to include him while addressing his rudeness. Things came to a head, though, when as a consequence of his actions, we sent him upstairs to shower and go to bed (without, of course, his phone, which was a part of the issue). "How much trouble would it be for me to move in with Dad?"

I am a yeller by nature, but this is an area where I have really improved since I began seeking God. All I can say is that I relapsed. There is no question that his father loves him, but he is not responsible with his money and priorities and has provided little support overall for the boys in the past 10 years. I have my reasons for not pursuing this legally, but it's a sore spot that I have to pray over regularly. Well, I flipped out when he said that, and I really felt down about the whole situation for the next day.

I felt bad because I knew that I hadn't handled things well or in a Godly manner. And I was really hurt by his attitude...not just the talk about wanting to live with his dad but his attitude in general. At our Wednesday group at church, when our group leader asked for prayer requests, mine was for Daniel and for myself to have some parenting wisdom. When Marcy prayed over the request, I was amazed once again by how her prayer pinpointed things that were a huge issue that I had not spoken of. She addressed so much of what had gone on--my part of it as well as his--and I had only mentioned the smallest part.

Well, Friday night we went to the Snowflake festival. I called Daniel to see if he wanted to go with us, and despite the fact that he had the opportunity to do something with friends that I know he would have liked to do, he chose to go with us (even before we mentioned going out to dinner, lol). It was a really nice evening, and it was so wonderful to get to do something with him being a willing, enjoyable participant. I had a real sense of God's movement on our behalf.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Snowflake festival

We went to the Snowflake Festival at Glazebrook Park tonight. The Parks dept. puts it on, and they do a really nice job. They have several activities, all free. As we were walking out the door to the car, up walked Matt and Bradey, so we drug them along. Then, we got to see Carol, Jan, and Alex at the park. We also got to...



Pet a reindeer...


Bradey and Jacob with reindeer

Pet snow dogs...



Jacob Bradey and snow dog

And, no...in the above picture Jacob isn't pouty or about to cry...he just can't feel his face anymore!!



roast marshmallows (if not chestnuts) by an open fire, take a horse-drawn carriage ride...



Bradey and Matt

Jeff Kate Jacob

Carol

...drink hot chocolate, and (of course) see Santa.



Santa and BradeyJacob and Santa

If it had been up to me, I'd probably have sat home tonight, but we really had a good time. Daniel even went along, which was a real treat because we have so little time with him these days. Of course, being a 16 year old boy, he went in the 27 degree weather in shorts, but at least he went!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cool tools for school

Vertical workmat

One of my students has a lot of trouble with 1:1 correspondence, and I noticed today that she seemed to count better on the board with the items directly in front of her than when she's counting manipulatives at her desk (when she has to look down). This doesn't "fix" all the problems, but she seemed to count better with the work in front of her. I'm trying to decide whether to glue in the felt or not. I like the idea of being able to change out the felt "boards". I'm going to make one that is 1/2 and 1/2 for vertical addition.

Perspective

I've said it before, I'm a complainer. I'd say "recovering complainer", but I'm really only recovering in the sense that I at least recognize now that it's a problem. Today, I've caught myself a couple of times wanting to call my husband and complain about things, but I've stopped myself. Here, in writing, I want to put things in perspective.

* Rather than whine about being a little achy from falling down the stairs this morning, let me be thankful that I wasn't badly hurt, that our stairs are carpeted, that I have enough house to have a downstairs, and that my Nathan, for whom I was on the third trip down to wake him up, is alive and well enough to frustrate me.

* Rather than complain that I grabbed the wrong tupperware this morning and had plain noodles for lunch today rather than the nice meal I had prepared for myself, let me be thankful that I have food to eat of any kind in this world where so many are starving.

* Rather than grumble about having to go back to work, let me praise God that I have a secure job and that I was able to enjoy a paid break.

When I stop to think about it, I think that many of my biggest blessings are wrapped in these complaints. Let me never allow inconveniences to mask the many ways in which God has provided for me. I want to have a spirit of joy and appreciation.

Lord, thank you for all of the blessings You have given me. Help me to always recognize and appreicate Your provision for me.