Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Today is the first day of Advent! A couple of weeks ago, I published this in our church newsletter:

The Advent Conspiracy –
There’s a conspiracy afoot, and you are invited to be a part of it. There are a few facts you need to know first: like the fact that worldwide, lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything else. In third world countries, it’s not unusual for children and infants to die from diseases caused by drinking unclean water. But here’s another fact: the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone, forever, is $13 billion. That may seem like a lot, until you consider the most shocking fact of all: that Canadians spend over $35 billion every year on Christmas.

The gifts. The wrapping paper. The shopping. The Christmas cards. The decorations. The traffic jams. The crowded stores. The credit card bills. Is this what Christ intended when he gave of himself, that very first Christmas? The Advent Conspiracy doesn’t think so. We think that Christ calls us to a higher purpose – rejecting consumerism and reflecting on how to give what really matters: ourselves. This is called giving relationally, and it can change the way you think about Christmas. It can add peace, love, and joy to your holiday season. It can create memories that will last a lifetime!

What if you skipped that toy he doesn’t need, that sweater she won’t like, and that gift certificate you feel obligated to buy, and instead, give something truly valuable – like your time? Talk, eat, sled, bike, craft, cook, read, play, create, sing, dance, build, draw, laugh, hike, write, together. You might just start a whole new Christmas tradition! Here are some more ideas on relational giving:
52 packets of gourmet hot chocolate with a personal coffee cup: So that you can share a special time together once a week.
Deck of cards and book of card game rules: This gives you an excuse to do something to hang out together.
Collage of special photos: Highlighting your favorite memories together.
Craft supplies: Geared to help you do something creative together.
Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds: Indicating you'll work on a garden together.
Homemade cookie mix with instructions for baking: Take turns making each other a round every couple of weeks.

We challenge you to cut your Christmas spending by 30% this year, and donate the money you save to CLWR’s clean water initiative – where, right now, it will be tripled by CIDA. There will be info available on the bulletin board, in the weekly bulletins, and in next month’s newsletter. There will also be an Advent Fair on November 29th, partially sponsored by the Advent Conspiracy, where you can learn more.

We want your help to make Christmas a life-changing event again – just like it was on that very first Christmas. Are you ready to conspire with us?


I've actually been working since June to make this a reality at our church. We decided to give any donations earned to Canadian Lutheran World Relief, where every dollar given right now is being tripled by the Canadian International Development Agency. So far, our little church has given $675 to build freshwater wells for families who need them. I'm really hoping that the month of December will at least match that, if not more.

One of the really cool things I found while hunting around for inspiring links is this Advent calendar. I got rid of the graphic, changed the focus from orphans to water, and shrunk it small enough to fit on a can - a can with a coin slot in the top. I love this calendar because not only is it a tool for collecting a bit of money, but for every day in December it makes you think about all the things you have that so many people don't have.

And ultimately, that's all I want people to do. I want people to think about whether our Christmas traditions really accomplish what we want them to - the expression of love, the sharing of joy, the experience of "peace on earth and good will towards men". I am touched by this message and excited about sharing it with others. Maybe it will touch you too.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Blathering

There’s so much going on, yet nothing amounts to enough for a real post (in the fantasy world where I have time to make real posts, of course). So here’s a bunch of blather.

While traveling with Gwen earlier this month, I tried something that had been recommended to me when she was much smaller: showering with her. Moms of newborns will agree heartily about the scarcity of showers available during that phase. I had a couple people tell me that they just brought the baby into the shower with them: put them at one end with a couple of toys, and Mom got some all-important preening time. When Gwen was that age, she HATED being in the water. Then it took her three months longer than expected to be able to sit unassisted, and by the time she did, she was completely in love with crawling and there was no way she’d hang out while I groomed and lathered.

When we took our recent series of swimming lessons, I showered with her at the pool afterwards. In that case, the shower was mostly about getting the chlorine rinsed off her: I showered at home later, preferring to use a water source that doesn’t automatically shut off every forty-five seconds. Anyway, she really disliked the showers at first, but by the end was quite accustomed to them and even enjoying them. Thus, one night while we were at my folks’ I brought her into the shower with me for a full-length Mama and Gwen Shower. It was a hit.

She loved it and I loved it. It is so incredibly convenient. I hate showering in the morning anyways, so usually the evening routine is a bath for Gwen, bedtime for Gwen, and a shower for me. By the time I finish my shower it’s nearly 8pm and then I have to do my hair and then the night is pretty much shot. Now we have a shower together instead, my hair dries a bit while I put her to bed, and then I’m all prettified again long before 8. I realize this is incredibly boring for the rest of the world but it is awesome for me, and Gwen seems to really love having a shower with her Mama. I can’t really share any pictures here though so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When Chris picked Gwen up from daycare yesterday Denise asked if Gwen has a problem with biting. Naturally, this stopped him dead in his tracks. Every parent fears their child being the bully, especially the BITING bully. But it turned out that Denise meant biting food. Gwen doesn’t really bite her food. She just shoves as much of it into her mouth as she can and then chews and swallows it. She doesn’t use her front teeth in the process at all. Chris pointed out that most of the food we give her is either bite-sized or soft (or both), so she doesn’t get a lot of practice with this skill. (We do give her crackers and so on, but they just get shoved on in.) As an added bonus, while we were having this conversation, Gwen was in her chair eating a banana – which she had demanded, been coaxed into saying please, and then been given. She shoved about half of it in her cake-hole, and while chomping away with her jaws barely able to close around the mashed-up, masticated fruit, she demanded “MORE”. Okay, so the kid needs some table manners.
I never thought that biting lessons would be part of parenting – somehow figured it would come naturally – but that is what I found myself doing last night, feeding Gwen a Mum-Mum cookie and eating one myself (yuk) the better to demonstrate how to take bites with her front teeth: little bites, at that. “Little bites! Little bites!” I said, over and over, pulling the Mum-Mum a little further out of her mouth so that she’d bite off a half an inch instead of two inches. I’m still kind of stunned that this is on our curriculum, but okay, I’ll play along. Next time we’re going to eat something I like, though.

It was during this lesson and my constant repeating of “Little bites!” that Gwen said “big bite”. This might be her first actual sentence, as in, independently putting together two different concepts. Yes, she has said two words together before: “All done” is a great example, and as recently reported she often says, “I did it!” But my thinking is, she has no idea that “all” and “done” are separate words or concepts. She doesn’t use them independently. As far as she is concerned, that is one word. That’s a far cry from putting the word “bite” that she hears me using, together with the opposite of the other word she hears me using, to form the phrase “big bite”. It’s amazing to watch her development at this stage, it is just in full swing.

Chris also reports that Gwen may understand the concept of “two”. I forgot to put in my recent newsletter that Gwen likes to “count” occasionally. Her counting sounds like this: “zhoo ... zhee … zhoo … zhee …(etc)”. There is never a one, and never anything higher than three, and things might get counted multiple times, but whatever. It’s still adorable. But as I was saying, Chris said that when they were getting in the car yesterday, he handed Gwen two stuffed animals of the bovine persuasion (because she likes to have company in the car). She said, “Two cows.” Even if it was just luck and she doesn’t actually grasp the concept of two yet, that’s yet another sentence that she created without mimicking. Damn, kids are cool!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Nineteen

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are nineteen months old. You have a vocabulary of over 100 words that you will use, in context, without prompting: you can mimic and/or understand many, many more. (To put it in perspective, The Experts expect you to know and use five words by this age in order to eliminate the possibility of a speech delay.) You are completely unstoppable when it comes to Getting Into Things: you can now climb up onto our coffee table, our couch, and our dining room chairs without any assistance – and VERY quickly! This, in turn, means that you can climb onto the dining room table, the kitchen table, the kitchen counters, and so on. AND YOU DO. Your dad and I are really scrambling to figure out how to keep you (um, and our stuff) safe during these new developments.
Your personality is really shining through, too. You have a great sense of humour and love to make your parents (and grandparents) laugh. You are also very, very into music. You love to dance and you love to make music with, for example, Grandpa Ron’s piano. You have started to be interested in watching things on the TV, and your favourite thing to watch is music videos (especially those that simply feature the band playing their instruments. “Guitar! Guitar! Grandpa! Drum!” you shout excitedly (because both your Grandpas play guitar, the word guitar is ALWAYS followed by the word Grandpa). The instant the music ends, you sign and say “more” until we start another one.
This month, I took you on a week-long trip: first to Powell River, where we spent five days with Grandpa Ron and Grannie Maureen, and then to Vancouver, where we celebrated your great-aunt Liz’s 60th birthday with many family and friends. I was nervous, as usual, about what effects the trip would have on your sleeping habits, especially since we’ve gone through some struggles lately in that area. And as usual, I suppose I needn’t have worried, because you slept like an absolute champ. You always turn out to be far more adaptable than I think you are – but I guess in the long run, I’d rather worry needlessly than get overconfident and then pay the price!
You sure had a great time hanging out with your cousins and second cousins at the big birthday party. Last time you saw all those kids, you couldn’t walk yet: this time, you were in your glory as you could follow them from room to room and participate in whatever craziness was going on. You were just glowing with happiness to be part of the action, whether dancing to Raffi, jumping on the bed, or taking turns with an electronic toy.
Even though you are a very fast learner, Gwen, you don’t always learn things the exact way we would hope. For example, on the weekend I went to the spa and got a manicure with a lovely plum-coloured nail polish. You noticed this dramatic colour right away, and I took the opportunity to try and teach you the word “purple”. You were very co-operative, and often pointed at my fingernails and said “purrpurr” for the next day or two. I was quite proud of your growing mind, until your father pointed at his (non-painted) fingernails and asked you “What’s this, Gwen?” Sure enough, you answered “purrpurr”. (This is similar to the way you cover your mouth and say “cough, cough” AFTER you cough, or the way you stand up on a chair and shout “BUM!” (because that’s what WE say when you stand on a chair…)

Your favourite songs are “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. You request the latter nearly every day, and for the former two you will attempt to do the actions and even sing along a little bit. Your favourite stuffies are Bunny and Lamby, and I think your favourite toy is your LeapPad, though it’s hard to know for sure because you play with pretty much all your toys fairly consistently. Your usual M.O. is to dump all the perfectly-organized baskets and bins of stuff all over the floor, one after the other, as if you are making sure all your toys are still there. We call this the Toy Inventory.
You are also still enthralled with books. Some of your favourites are “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” and “I Already Know I Love You”, as well as your beloved Baby Einstein Alphabooks. It is thanks to the Alphabooks that you already know two of your letters: R and O. (I keep telling people it’s not nearly as amazing as it seems: if you can recognize and identify a picture of a dog and a cow and a sheep, why should it be amazing that you can recognize and identify the shape of a letter? It’s not as if you understand the abstract concepts represented by the letter, you just know that that shape is called “R”.)
On the other hand, something I do think is kind of amazing (an opinion shared, so far, only by your Uncle Mikey) is the fact that you have somewhere picked up the phrase “I did it!” Not only is this phrase utterly adorable when spoken with your wide-eyed pride and awe, but I cannot figure out where you learned the switch from “you” to “I”. Prior to you using this phrase, if you accomplished something, I would praise you: “You did it!” But when you started saying it, you didn’t parrot me, saying “You did it!” – you said, “I did it!” Unless Denise has been saying “I did it!” whenever you complete a task, and you are just mimicking that, you are some kind of freak genius child who has realized that I am I and you are you and that is not supposed to happen for another couple of years. In any case, like I said, it’s super-cute to hear you say it. (I’ve tried to capture it on video, but it’s completely unpredictable, so I have not succeeded.)
It's hard to capture just how amazing you are, Gwen, but every month I try my damndest. If nothing else, I hope these newsletters show you how proud I am and how blessed I feel to be your mom. I love you so much, my girl.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We are on Holiday!

Last weekend I left Gwen with Chris and went down to Victoria to visit my best friend and help him celebrate his birthday. I had an awesome time. It's great to get away and just be Laura for a while, separate from being Gwen's mom. On Sunday morning I drove back to Nanaimo, grabbed a quick nap, packed up Gwen and all her stuff, and we drove up Island to catch the ferry to Powell River, where we are visiting my parents for the next few days.

I am absolutely LOVING this vacation business. This is the first time I have taken more than a day or two off work since returning to work in April (because my employer doesn't award vacation time until six months after you return to work). Because we are not at our own house, the Gwen-maintenance chores are a little more, well, high-maintenance, but .... that's ALL I have to do! No housework (other than cleaning up after Gwen), no schoolwork, no rushing around to meetings and yoga and swimming lessons, no chores to be done, no calls to return. Just hang out with my daughter, try to mitigate the chaos she is causing at her grandparents' house, and enjoy their company. You guys? I started a book on Sunday and finished it last night. I LOVE VACATIONS!

I hadn't really predicted how marvellous it would be to be "off" not only from work, but from all my other extra-curricular activities. It's downright lovely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Sleep

We have had a really rough time with Gwen's sleep lately. The roughest it's been since before sleep training (which was just about a year ago now).

It seemed to be a combination of separation anxiety (which peaks around eighteen months of age) and the nasty cough she has been suffering since that throat infection a few weeks ago. Since our sleep training, our routine has ended with us putting her into her crib, saying goodnight, and walking out of the room. Gwen would then play with her books (we always left some on the shelf within her reach) for about 20 minutes and then lie down and go to sleep. Suddenly, when we approached the crib at bedtime, she would cling fiercely to us with all four limbs, sometimes even using our waistbands as footholds and attempting to climb up our bodies away from the crib.

If we did manage to disentangle ourselves and get her into the crib, walking away and reaching for the doorknob to exit the room earned us blood-curdling shrieks. Gwen has always been well able to express her displeasure, but this was a new kind of screaming, a scream that reached the next level. A scream to make your ears ring. A scream to make your heart break. A scream that made you turn around, walk back to the crib, pick up that child and swear that you would do whatever it took to not ever have to hear that scream again.

One night, Chris "slept" on the floor of Gwen's room. More than once, in fact more often than I can actually recall, I got into Gwen's crib with her. The two more comfortable alternatives - comfortable for us, at least - were to have Gwen sleep in our bed with either or both of us, or to have her sleep on the floor with us. She would not tolerate either. She wanted to be in her crib, but she wanted us right there with her.

(This photo is a re-enactment to prove that yes, I can fit in a crib. This picture was taken in the middle of the day, faraway from any actual required sleep time, and was taken several days after Gwen stopped demanding that I get into the crib with her in order for her to go to sleep. Had this been an actual Nighttime Crib Sharing Experience, she would be in pajamas, she would be curled up on my chest, and it would be so dark you wouldn't be able to see any of that.)

Thanks to the lovely cushioned headboard that came with the crib bedding my mom bought for Gwen, getting into Gwen's crib wasn't actually that uncomfortable. I'd be in the same position as shown above, except Gwen would be facing the other way, snuggled into my chest. I would sit there with my back against the cushion for 10-15 minutes (I'm not sure, there's no clock in her room) and then start easing us both into a lying-down position. Once I got her lying down I'd try to move away so I wasn't touching her, but if she started crying or whimpering I'd move back. After not touching her for a few minutes, I'd start working on getting out of the crib. Once I made it out of the crib, I'd crawl out of the room on hands and knees towards the door. That way, when I opened the door and a small amount of light came into the room, she wouldn't see my leaving figure silhouetted there unless she stood up. And if she stood up, well, the jig was up and I'd have to start over again anyway.

So yeah, those were fun nights.

There was originally another 400 words on the end of this post, all about how we were past the worst of it and how the addition of a blanket and a giant cow seemed to have Saved the Day Night. But then? Gwen got up at 12:45am and we were all awake for the next two hours. I eventually got to sleep in my own bed - Chris was not so lucky, spending the night on the floor of Gwen's room once again. So perhaps I should not be so hasty with the celebrations and lauding the giant cow.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A couple of weeks ago we took Gwen to the Corn Maze just outside Nanaimo. When I posted the pictures on Facebook later, I wrote "We took Gwen to the Corn Maze. Mostly it was an excuse to take some pictures of her, to prove to her later that she had a fun childhood."

It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time there's a kernel (heh) of truth to it. I was thinking about this again yesterday, since it was Halloween.
We dressed her up in the obligatory costume, totally chosen and designed by us (not her).

We made her sit on the couch next to the other costumed cuties for the obligatory Halloween Party picture.

We took her out for the obligatory mall trick-or-treating, which consisted of us very infrequently wheeling her up to a mall employee, coaxing her to "say trick or treat" (which she can't and won't do), and then having a piece of candy plunked into her bucket.

We ended up with about six pieces of candy, two of which were safe for her to eat. So we had the obligatory candy before dinner.

Did she actually care about any of this? Would she have much preferred to stay at home in her usual comfy clothes and play with her own toys rather than being hauled around from one place to another, strapped into the carseat and then the stroller and then the carseat again and being given a nearly endless stream of instructions about what she is to do and say and touch and most importantly what she is NOT to do and say and touch?

All good questions, but I don't have time to ponder them. I've got to figure out where to buy a dress for Gwen's picture with Santa. Only 53 days till Christmas!


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