Christmas 2015


Christmas Eve 2015

It’s that sweet time between Christmas and New Year’s. Games and books are stacked on the table, with piles of candy beside them.  There are bags at the base of the staircase needing to be carried upstairs. All the candles have burned low and the votives need refreshing. It’s bare under the tree except for a light covering of needles, but the lights and ornaments still sparkle and shine.

So much of life is spent between, in the middle, but this time is good, and probably my favorite. When I was a child it meant a houseful of relatives and fun every single day. Now that I’m an adult I enjoy this time even more, if only because the work of Christmas is over and, even if Paul and I are working, the days are slower and relaxed.

I last wrote here two years ago, a couple months after our accident when I was just figuring out I had a concussion. Turns out Eden did too, although it took even longer to get her diagnosed. Both were determined to be “mild.” At first that diagnosis irritated me because I felt so incredibly messed up. With time, I realized a brain injury is like many terrible things: just to have one is awful, and it could have been so much worse. We spent the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 busy with speech and physical therapy, and haggling with insurance. Again.

During my hiatus, if you came here to check on me and worried over or prayed for my family, thank you so much.  We are doing well and I’m grateful to be excited for the new year.  In 2016 I’ll be writing here weekly, as well as at on a monthly basis. Last year I took a break from all other writing while I worked on a bigger project which I’m excited to tell you about soon.

I hope you have a safe and Happy New Year!









Three Clues Your Vacation Has Gone Terribly Awry

1. This is your view for the better part of what should have been Day One:

2.  That evening you’re home again and what should have been Day Two, you have these posted on your fridge:

3. Your van is in an impound in Canada and looks like this:

 and this:

Short story: we had an accident early Saturday morning outside London, Ontario on our way out east and spent the day in the E.R. Christopher and Lydia were bruised and shaken; Eden got stitches in her forehead and hand—it’s driving her crazy they didn’t tell her how many because it was A LOT—Paul’s left forearm is hamburger—it scraped along the high way when we were on our side before the van flipped over entirely and came to a stop—and his legs have some impressive cuts.

I have a sprained ankle, a torn up elbow and, according to the doctor, my days as a forehead model are over. Of course I have a couple natural remedies up my sleeve, so we’ll see about that.

The crash itself was so incredibly terrible and then we were all separated in the E.R. I’ve never had all my children in a medical emergency. Being in one of my own, and not able to be there for any of them was beyond horrible. But they were all amazing, as any of you who know them can imagine. Lydia was discharged first and she tracked down Eden, never leaving her side until Paul was discharged. Their nurses came to meet me to, in their words, “gush” about how wonderful they were.

Christopher lost his processor in the accident so he went quiet. When he saw the van at the impound he began to weep, “I just can’t believe we survived,” he said.

None of us could. Mainly we’re thankful. “I’m just so grateful,” Eden said to Paul as he tucked her in last night, “I’m just so glad we’re all here and alive.”

I’ll be honest, I also feel a little sheepish. I don’t want to be those people who run after chaos and though I know this was an accident, still. When the house was burning I thought, “You have GOT to be kidding me.” because we had already been through so much. Sitting by the side of the 402 with a pillow clasped to my forehead to staunch the blood I couldn’t believe we were in this jam, but I was in too much pain to analyze it.

Later, at the impound, as Paul and I quickly and easily sorted through what could be salvaged and what should be trashed because—you know—we’re experienced, I told him “We have GOT to stop doing this.” And he agreed, so there’s that.

Do you know how hard it is to photograph two black dogs? I’m happy to say I don’t let the challenge stop me.  I’m on a mission to make the world a better place and with every picture of my dogs online, I know I’m reaching my goal.

Yesterday Jack and Oliver hit the big time in an article I wrote for Houzz called, “So You’re Thinking about Getting a Dog.” We’ve invited readers to add pictures of their own beloved dogs. It’s a love fest.

Come join the fun.

A New Kind of Minimalism

I’m delighted to announce I’ve become a regular contributor to the design website, Houzz was my number one resource while we were rebuilding. 

I’m working on a series about minimalism and decluttering, which will amuse long time readers who know how hard home keeping has been for me. My definition of minimalism is having what you love, but not a bit more than what you can maintain. If you haven’t read my first post yet, I’d love for you to check it out below:  

Years ago, when my children were little and our home was awash in toys, laundry and papers—to name the top three categories of stuff I found overwhelming— from time to time, when I was feeling exhausted and entirely beleaguered, I would imagine our house burning down. I really only wanted to lose the laundry room, the playroom, a closet or two and several cupboards, but I knew with fire you can’t be so choosy and I found the idea of a cleanly wiped slate intoxicating.

Of course I was imagining the absolute best house fire, where all the mess was (poof!) gone and insurance immediately handed us a big, fat check to start over soberly and responsibly, without Legos and stuffed animals…. 

To read the rest, please check out my article on

As always, thank you.

How To Teach Children To Mourn – Part Four

Lydia and Jack, Christmas 2012

Part One is HERE
Part Two is HERE
Part Three is HERE

After the birth of my son Christopher, I was astonished by how effortless it was to become selfless. Don’t get me wrong, it was arduous—I had never been so tired—but there was no question about what I was willing to do or give. There wasn’t any tension, at least in the early days. I was depressed and scared, constantly worried I was going to mess up Christopher, but I never hesitated to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure his health and welfare.
And yet, several years and a couple kids into the gig, I found the whole Florence Nightingale/Mother Theresa/Marmee role unsustainable.

I remember the first time I realized my children’s pain could be a mere annoyance for me. I don’t recall the details, I just know Lydia was crying and I was half-heartedly soothing her when I was struck by this deep awareness: I can’t feel her pain.

You know when you know something intellectually and then suddenly everything else falls away and you

Despite being a loving and empathetic mother, my child’s physical pain was a figurative one in my neck.  I just wanted her to be quiet. The gulf between her experience and my own was wide and I was so thankful to see it.

That was a game changer.

Since then I have made a conscious effort to let my children’s discomfort be what it is without stepping in to minimize or dismiss it because it’s an inconvenience.

My father’s death taught me the value of mourning and for years I had created space for my children to mourn their sorrows, but the day the Christmas Tree farm was closed I realized I had missed something.

As I told you before, after weeks and weeks of waiting to get our tree, even the dog was devastated to find we couldn’t go to our favorite place. It was a van full of sorrow which headed away from our Christmas paradise towards the farm where my friends cut their trees every year.

At first glance it didn’t look promising. A tired little ranch house with a pile of saws on the front porch seemed to be the extent of the operation. Paul knocked on the front door and talked to the kindly man who answered. Yes, we were in the right place. Just drive on back and cut down whatever tree we wanted. Pay on the way out.

As we drove as far back as the road went and followed the loop up again towards the house I didn’t know what to say. There wasn’t a tree under twelve feet tall and many were far over twenty and they were all at least eight feet across.

“Let’s get out and walk around,” I said.

Further investigation produced no tree even remotely suitable.  Christopher set to making snowballs and chucking them at his sisters until Paul yelled at him to lay off. Jack was in a frenzy of pent up excitement. Somehow he had known where we were going and couldn’t understand where we were now. He barked and pulled.

Eden stomped around making insulting comments about this “farm” supplying air quotes to underline her indignation. Lydia stood silent, clearly stricken.

I had my camera at the ready to capture golden Christmas memories, but both girls begged me to put it away. Paul and I huddled together to make a new plan. An “experience” seemed out of the question and I shifted to the pragmatic. Lowes had marked their trees way down and I suggested we go there and then get dinner. Paul agreed.

Lydia let out a low moan, “Nooooo!”

 “What!” Paul looked at her.

“That would be like adding insult to injury!”

Paul stiffened, “My family got our tree from a lot every single year when I was a boy and it was FINE.”

“I don’t think bringing up your childhood as a comparison is ever helpful,” I said smiling.

On paper that looks terrible, but I swear it was an attempt at levity. Paul has told many funny stories about his mother’s frugality and the suffering it caused him as a boy. I really wasn’t meaning to demean him or his family of origin, but I can see how it looks and that was certainly how Paul took it.

He turned to squarely face me, “Insulting my family isn’t going to help anything, Alison.”

For once, by God’s miraculous grace I didn’t jump into the fray. I did try to explain, “Honey, I’m sorry! I was making a joke. I really didn’t mean to be insulting!”

Paul just looked at me and shook his head.

It was as if I was watching it at a remove and I saw every thing: the kids’ hope deferred for weeks turned now to sorrow and anger; Paul’s frustration with their seeming recalcitrance; everyone’s exhaustion and I had compassion for each one. 
In that moment I knew Paul and I needed to teach our children how to mourn. Suddenly, I could see it wasn’t enough to simply give them room to mourn which, to be perfectly honest, Paul wasn’t just then. But this was a man who, when he expressed any “negative” emotions as a child, was encouraged/commanded to repeat, “I feel great! I feel great!” regardless of how he actually felt.
I looked at Eden’s angry little face and knew the key wasn’t in teaching her to deny her feelings, and it certainly wasn’t in allowing her to wallow in them either as I had done when I was her age. We needed to teach her and her siblings how to express their frustration and sorrow appropriately. 
It’s just a tree! Get over it! There are people all over the world who are STARVING! You may be thinking this, but that isn’t really helpful. And this was so far beyond  a Christmas tree. We were rubbing up against the basic questions of life.
How do you live in the mess? I didn’t have the answer yet. What do you do when, as my friend, Caryn Rivadeneira, puts it, “your life lets you down”?  Where is God in the midst of disappointment? Is he truly Emmanuel? How do you live in the face of any loss and still choose hope? 
This was about everything.
I couldn’t know how terribly important this would soon be. In six months a man is going to set our house on fire. We will lose all our earthly possessions and so much more. 

A snowball whizzed by and the dog was still barking.
“Christopher!” Paul bellowed.

“Look, let’s get out of here,” I said, “I’ll run Jack and meet you at the end of the lane. OK? Do any of you kids want to come with me?”

It was bitterly cold. They all declined and piled into the van.

As I walked I prayed simple prayers. “God help us. God save us. I know you are here with us, please help us see.” Jack marched beside me obediently but yelped in frustration and I had compassion on him. Here at least, was someone whose sorrow was within my control and easily relieved.

“Okay,” I said and he was off on a gallop with me running behind him. At first it was fun, even exhilarating, but soon I wasn’t so much running as bouncing along behind Jack who was in an all out sprint.

At 6’6″, Paul is a giant of a man and if there was ever a woman who has no business pounding down a frozen lane, it’s one who has given birth to the three enormous babies of such a one, but I remembered this too late.

“Jack! Jack!” I shouted. He slowed to a trot and eventually a walk, but the damage was already done.

I waddled to the van and flung open the side door to let Jack in and all heads turned, the tension still there. I was sheepish.

“Jackie ran so fast and the road was so frozen and hard….”

They all stared.

“I wet my pants!” I cried.

They all burst out laughing.

“Oh Mama!” Lydia said with compassion, trying to stop.

“Sweeeeetie!” Paul said.

“It’s horrible!” I said. But I was laughing too, “It’s too bad we don’t have a sled. I bet Jack would love to tow the kids.”

“I brought a sled,” Christopher piped up from the far backseat, “Three, actually.”

And just like that he had Jack harnessed up and towing Eden and Lydia. All three kids had several rides and even I had one before Jack finally tired out.

We found our tree at a family owned market which we pass on the way to “our” farm. One of the sons helped us in our protracted selection (Eden rejected several before compromising with the rest of us) and even tied it on the van while Paul paid.

Driving home I thought about how God revealed himself, how his grace was delivered to us (this time) through me and my weak bladder which was strained from giving birth to my own trinity. God became flesh and dwelt among us, Emmanuel indeed.

I heard a whooshing sound and looked back just in time to see the tree fly off the van and land in the middle of the road.

I’m not kidding.

I will remind you, Paul was not the one who first secured this, but he got his turn after hauling it out of the middle of the road. We made it home, set up the tree, decorated it and had a very merry Christmas and a wonderful visit with family.

After the holidays we got everything re-arranged and sorted out so our dining room no longer looked like something featured on “Hoarders.” We kept going with de-cluttering and remodeling up until the day before the arsonist slipped into our garage and set it on fire.

It’s not a neat wrap up and you can’t know how sorry I am about that, but it’s life, isn’t it?

This is how to teach children to mourn: you allow them to feel and express their disappointment and you help them to look for hope in the midst of their sorrow.

Christmas Eve 2012