The Time The Children Wept For Me

They gather in their pajamas as Henrik looks over from his pack’n’play, sitting themselves on the tattered rug from Goodwill with all the colors on it trying so hard to make our mismatched furniture look intentional.

We are in Proverbs, chewing on a few verses at a sitting.  Digesting them together in the earliest of mornings or the dark of evenings; in all those holy times of beginnings and endings of days.  Those are very real and very slow times.

“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.”

Proverbs 10:19

I talked about how words can be like swords flying out of our mouths (which made them giggle), and how they can deeply wound others (they sobered).  I said that cuts on our skin heal within a week, but cuts on our hearts from words can take decades to heal, and even then, they might reopen and bleed again.

I talked about how words can be like giving each other treasures, beautiful gifts that each can store in their hearts, bringing them joy all their life.  I told them some of my treasured words that were given to me, that shaped me and encouraged me.  They smiled and told me about which words were given to them.

Then I told them words that had wounded me, right to the marrow.  It was a teacher in middle school screaming at me that I was stupid, stupid, stupid because I messed up in following a list of computer lab instructions.  As I related how she screamed at me and how quick I blinked not to cry, their eyes filled with tears.

My children wept for my wounds, right there on the colorful rug, right there in their jammies.  It was as if they were sitting in that hard plastic computer lab chair, being whipped by words let fiendishly loose.  They felt the sting and pain of them.  They cried for the broken place in me that always cringes if I make a mistake, for the wound that keeps telling me that I’m stupid, stupid, stupid.    For the ways I try to bandage that wound by trying to appear smart, smart, smart.  Reuben crawled up on my legs, draping himself over me with a groan, whispering “You’re not stupid, Mommy”.

The three little blond heads tucked under my chin, I prayed for wisdom for all of us; that God would help us to think and discern before we let our words fly out.  That He would ever remind us that words are powerful, for destruction and for building one another up.  Their potential is all out of proportion to the ease with which they are uttered.

They are now tucked into their beds and the crickets are calling one to another, and I can’t quite wrap my mind around the holy moment on the colorful rug when my children wept for me.

 

Morning Worship

This chant pulls worship up and out of my soul like no other.  And the tears too, yes, but when worship is pulled up, the tears oft are pulled right along.

Try singing along with this and see if the same doesn’t happen to you (it’s repetitive, so you can catch the words easily).  I find that my most full-throated singing is set free.  It was recorded within the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

“For His mercy endureth forever and ever, Alleluia!”

The Great Unlikely, Or How I Funded My Soap Making For Free

In the midst of harvesting our gardens and canning, I have been preparing for the adventure which is soap making.  I LOVE good soap, but not good soap prices.  I also love knowing just exactly what chemicals I’m putting on my skin (the less being the better).  I have a budget from selling two antique pieces on craigslist totaling $95.00.  For that amount I needed to be able to buy all the supplies I’d need to set up shop (consumables like fats, essential oils, and lye go on a separate budget as I hope to sell soap and recoup those costs).  When you’re on a tight budget you can either get incredibly frustrated or incredibly invigorated by the challenge.  I chose the latter, with fervor.

I was inspired by this lady, Marsha, who on a YouTube video thoughtfully and simply went through making cold process soap, and most importantly, she pointed out all the ways that you can do it cheaply.  Because it is one of those things that very easily could be done much too expensively.  She showed a wooden mold her husband had made for her.  My husband made one for me the next day out of scrap wood.  Do you know the story “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?”; well, if you give this wife a soap mold, she’s going to want to scour online sales, thrift shops, and discount places for all the other bits needed to make soap making a reality in her life.  And she’ll want to do it without adding weight to the load of the family budget.  So she sells some unnecessary antiques that she acquired off the curb and at a yard sale, and looks at that $95.00 and grits her teeth, and says, “Let’s do this thing”.  And then she stops talking in third person.  Mercy.

So, soap making supplies can be costly.  Like, there’s a beautiful wire soap cutter that slices 12 perfect bars at once for, oh, five hundred dollars.  Or the divided molds with removable sides for eighty.  But, as my obsessive tabulations below show, it doesn’t have to be a break-the-bank proposition.  And this applies to any number of hobbies; don’t let sticker shock keep you from realizing a dream.  Realize that there’s usually another way to do things and get comparable results.  Relish the challenge!

My Soap Supply Budget

Budget:  $95.00

  1. digital scale:  $35.00 (on sale on Amazon)  This was the only precision instrument needed, so I didn’t bother looking for a used/possibly damaged one.
  2. gloves:  $2.00 (Dollar Store)  Needed for working with lye.
  3. spatulas and whisks:  $4.00 (Target)  Would have been more, but they were on sale and I had a five dollar gift card from buying our school supplies there, so saved $12.00!
  4. pitcher:  $2.07 (thrift store)  Soap making requires soap-only vessels as the lye would cross-contaminate my kitchen supplies.
  5. wooden soap mold, 10 X 20 for making 25 bars:  free (scrap wood)  (thank you, handy husband)
  6. safety goggles:  $18.00 (Amazon)  I needed chemical goggles that would prevent lye from splashing up into my eyes, which could cause blindness or severe damage.  Very worth that chunk of the budget!  Don’t skimp here!
  7. measuring spoons:  .75 (thrift store)  Good for measuring essential oils or nutrients like oatmeal or honey.
  8. small and medium liquid measuring cups:  $1.75 (thrift store)  When doing different colors or textures, these allow the batch to be divided.
  9. large pitcher:  $1.00 (thrift store)  For mixing and pouring raw soap.
  10. silicon mold:  $3.00 (thrift store)  Makes twelve decorative soaps, originally designed for baking in, these are ideal for soap making due to being able to pull away from the soap easily.
  11. two knives:  $2.75 (thrift store)  For cutting the bars.
  12. immersion blender:  $14.99 (Ollie’s Discount Store)  These are used in the saponification process to bring the lye and fats into a creamy relationship.
  13. vegetable peeler:  $1.29 (Ollie’s)  Used for trimming up the edges of cut soap bars.
  14. two candy thermometers:  $3.98 (Ollie’s)  To get both the lye and the oils/fats to the same temperature.
  15. long stainless steel spoon:  $1.79 (Ollie’s)  To stir the caustic raw soap.
  16. small batch wooden soap mold:  free (scrap wood)
  17. cutting surface:  free (my father in-law had a scrap piece of Corian countertop)
  18. books on soap making:  free (public library)
  19. stainless steel pots:  free (extras not needed in the kitchen)  These are used for melting solid fats down.

Total spent:  $92.42, under budget by $2.58

Wasn’t that a fun romp through my obsessiveness?   HA!

IMG_2455 Some of the supplies….doesn’t it just make you, I don’t know, want to make soap RIGHT NOW?IMG_2456

So, you see how I roll.  And best of all?  I’ve whirled my friend Andrea into my soaping vortex and we’re attempting our first batch on Monday.  So.  Indescribably.  Excited.

What dream can you work on that you’ve put off?  What could you sell to help you get there?  Trade a good for a better and let me know how it went!

 

On Hard-wearing Joy

IMG_2382I sit in the quiet hours of Henrik’s nap.  I should be canning tomatoes and getting the diapers out on the clothesline, but for now I let the stillness have sway.  Yesterday we celebrated Sophia’s birthday with a four-course meal on our best plates for her and ten of her dear friends.  There was an embroidery lesson, there was sparkle slime made, there were huge bubbles blown on a homemade wand.  There was the that daughter at day’s end thanking me for my hard work to make her birthday so special.

I melted into my bed last night, and my husband massaged my aching feet, and we talked in that easy-exhausted-contented way that we do after a big day.

Joy.  That is the word my thoughts keep circling back to.  How much joy is in this life we’ve been given.

IMG_2346A naked baby in an old enamel pot having a bath in a stained laundry room sink kind of joy.  It’s astounding, really.  We’re broke and I just crazy-glued my wedding ring back together because we can’t afford to get it repaired, but we’re madly happy.  God wraps joy in and through all our mess and holds us together.

IMG_2309 IMG_2323 IMG_2336 IMG_2298IMG_2409IMG_2441IMG_2407IMG_2384Yes, I am astounded.  Astounded by His mercy…by all this joy in the midst of day-to-day hardships.  Yes, our world is mad; outright brimming with suffering and violence and death.  How can I believe in God?  Because the world is beautiful too; outright brimming with joy and kindness and children and smiles and tastes and flowers and redemption.  How can I not?

Common Romance

“Honey, I really appreciate that you installed that sprayer by the toilet for cleaning out the baby’s diapers.  I use it every day and am so thankful for it.”

We were talking about romance, see.

We were discussing how the way it’s framed in the media doesn’t suit our ways, not at all really.  Not that we didn’t try out that mold; he brought home flowers, wrote poems, we ate cheese and grapes by candlelight, and there were notes in his lunchbox.  But it always felt like we were painting someone else’s story on top of ours, a foreign element to our day-to-day loving.  What if, instead, we knew ways to express love and care and desire for one another all on our own?

Our children’s clothing lives in the laundry room when not on their little selves in cubby-type shelves that my husband built.  With four children, and one on the way, I can’t tell you how many back aches I’ve been saved by not hauling laundry up and down the stairs.  Dirty laundry is dumped right there, clean clothes put on right there, and I exhale with a contented smile that there is order in that area of my life.  No laundry languishes in the purgatory of baskets awaiting folding; it all goes right from the dryer to the shelves.  It’s glorious.

And my husband built it.  For me.  For my sanity and my back and it lasts so much longer than overpriced roses.

IMG_0415Every day as I do laundry my heart swells in gratitude toward him for making it so efficient and manageable for me.  He has used his giftings to make my life sweeter, less harried and more whole.  I’ve never seen a box of chocolates have such an enduring impact.

“Yeah, I try to write poems, but I just think they sound stupid,” he said while we talked about romance.

“Well, hon, you’re not a poet.  It would be like someone who doesn’t know how to bake trying to express love for their spouse by baking them cupcakes, and all they can offer is burnt ones that don’t taste good.  Sure, the thought behind it is touching, but it isn’t what their strength is.”

Which is why I don’t think we should put too much stock in what the media and the books say romance is like.  It may be just exactly what some couples love, and I’m happy for them (and so are Hallmark and Godiva and the flower shops).  But there’s no sense in squeezing ourselves into a mold that doesn’t fit.  A stuffed bear with a velvet heart pressed between its fluffy paws has no appeal for me.  But chocolate-covered strawberries…now those are another matter (I’m not completely nonconformist).

Romance can be as practical as not leaving underwear on the bathroom floor, as having dinner ready after a long day of work, as being the one to get up with the baby and make the coffee.  It is a daily dying to self and sacrificial loving of another.  It makes for an undercurrent in our lives of care, support, and love, which, in turn make marital intimacy all the more fulfilling and joyful.  It’s the exclamation point on the end of all that day-to-day love-choosing.

“I just don’t understand romance.  I’m just not a romantic person”, he said in frustration.  No, you’re right, dear, according to the books and the magazines and the movies, you’re not.  But you love your own wife well; she feels treasured and protected and cared for and delighted in.  All this builds trust and intimacy and peace and, yes, sexual desire.  Everything and more that the world says can be achieved through the right words, the right flowers, and the right paper heart full of chocolates.

 

On Racism, The Little I Know

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Praying so hard as a child of eight or nine years that God would make me black.  That my skin could transform from boring white to deep, rich ebony.  I found nothing lovelier, nor rarer, in my hometown of Great Falls, Montana in the 1980’s.  Opening my squeezed-shut eyes, I looked down at my pale arms and sighed.

There was an African American man who volunteered in an after-school program I attended and he was funny and beautiful and I couldn’t help but stare at him in awe.  I relished his smiles; his teeth looked so bright white against his dark skin and I felt honored to know him.

Then there was the day when I said the awful thing.  He loved laughing and carrying on with us, so I was delighted when one day I thought of a joke that might make him laugh his big laugh.  “Hey, do you know why your face is dark?” I asked with a broad smile and a whole lot of foolishness.  “Why?”, he asked with some sort of apprehension settling around his mouth.  “Because you forgot to wash your face!”, I exclaimed, breathless, waiting for the big guffaw, the high-five at my inventive joke.  His eyes dropped to his lap and he turned away from me.

I knew somehow I’d just blown it, somehow I’d hurt him deep, but I didn’t know why or how.  I didn’t know people were treated differently or were oppressed or harassed because of their skin color…how would I know, matching nearly everyone I met in rural Montana?  I didn’t know the wounds that thoughtless words could lay bare on a bus ride all of a sudden.

He never spoke with me after that, not if he could help it.  I wished that I could go back and not try so hard and not hurt him.  I wished he knew that I admired him and thought him beautiful and fun and the best sort of grown-up.  I wished he would tell me why my words hurt so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice; I wished he’d forgive me and smile again.

The years went by and I learned about slavery and the horrors of racism.  It all gave me a nauseous twist in my gut.  I couldn’t (and can’t) imagine how it would feel to be discriminated, profiled, and treated as less-than because of the amount of melanin in my skin.

As a foreign missions worker in Chile for six years, I can sympathize with being treated differently because of my skin, my eyes, my hair.  I was charged more for fruits, veggies, and fish no matter how fluent I could speak or how attuned I was to the going rates.  I was treated at times as a resource rather than a person, a means rather than a soul, to whatever end the other person desired (money, influence).  I was sexually objectified and became nothing more than legs, light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair to cat-calling men.  My children were stared at; we all were stared at.  Sometimes their hair was touched with wonder.  But I certainly wasn’t treated cruelly, sometimes the opposite, I was embarrassingly treated as more important than my Chilean girlfriends standing next to me. It all felt so silly to me.  The real differences weren’t on the epidermis but in our cultural understandings, our world views, and those differences were indeed complicated.  But skin?  Skin seemed simple.  Why couldn’t people see past the skin and get to know the heart, the soul?

My son in first grade came home and told me that a boy had excluded a girl at recess from playing ball with him, making fun of her for being the “only one with dark skin”.  I felt fire rage up my throat and swallowed hard.  Kids can be thoughtlessly, or purposefully, cruel, and it can be hard to know where those words were coming from, but my son sure got an ear-full about defending people who are being picked on.  That he needs to tell that boy not to say such mean things (I think I even said I wouldn’t have been mad if he had hit the boy in the nose for saying such a thing!), and to tell the girl that she can play with him anytime.  The next day he went to school on a mission.  He told the boy how wrong his words were; he extended friendship to the girl.  I can only pray that she heals from and gets past the words she heard one recess.  I can only pray that the wounds don’t fester and that those who are wounding others would have eyes opened and hearts changed.

That the walls between would crumble and that we’d see each other as God sees us, flawed, loved, beautiful.

 

Joy, Grief, and Prayer (or A Reflection on the First Day of School)

The quiet is profound.  After a summer full of little voices chattering and little feet pounding through the house, I’m now hearing birds and locusts and Henrik’s soft breathing as he takes his first undisturbed nap in months.

_MG_4741

There is a moment there, when the school bus starts to pull away from the curb and my children’s faces are framed in those windows smiling down at me that I fight a wave of panic.  “No!  Come back!  Aack!”

This even while knowing that they have wonderful, kind friends at school.  That their teachers are excellent, compassionate people, and that the classes are not over-crowded, but rather cozy and intimate.  There’s so much not to fear.  I see the joy and excitement in my children’s faces; I saw it when they picked a blue folder over a green one, when they slipped on new shoes this morning, when they chatted with friends yesterday at the school’s open house.  They were, and are, rip-roaring-ready.

I’m so intensely glad for them.  So grateful, down to my marrow grateful, that they can attend such a great school.  It’s strange, though, in any sort of change, even changes that are blessings, there can be a sense of loss.  The loss of their vibrant presence had me swallowing my coffee past a lump of emotion in my throat.  I have no doubt that we are all gaining by this parting, but it is hard.  Which got me thinking.

What of the mamas sending their kids out to a school that’s under-funded and over-crowded?  What of the mamas who know that their kid is likely to be bullied again this year or is a bully to others, or who knows that their junior high daughter is being swayed to try dangerous behaviors by her closest friends?  What of the mamas who know their child is addicted and that school friends are his suppliers?  What of mamas who have to send their kids into a school known for gang violence?

I’m betting they’re doing a whole lot more praying and a whole lot less self-pity with their coffee.  And I should too, because we really don’t know what our kids will face each day, do we?

Father of all mercies
We ask that you would bless
the youngest and littlest of learners,
the most helpless and powerless of persons,
with Your infinite and loving mercy,
granting them the strength to learn, concentrate,
and act in love towards
their teachers and fellow students.
We also ask that You would watch over them,
at home and at school
and give them proper direction
so that they may learn
of Your wonderful virtues.
We ask this in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen
-David Bennett

 

What I Can, While I Can

The afternoon was warming and the elderberries were darkening crimson and I’d gone out to collect some ahead of the birds.  If you wait too long, the ripe berries, just the size of peppercorns, cascade to the ground with a stiff breeze.  Near half of them feed the birds and I can’t begrudge that.  So you have to go out, see, when half the cyme is still green and harvest what you can, when you can.

Sirens were in the distance and the sun beat down and the mulch was damp under my feet from the morning rain.  The sirens neared.  Police cars came up our street, lights flashing, officers huffing up the street counting down house numbers, looking for a particular place, across the way, a few houses down.  A man opened his door and waved them in.  More sirens pierced the air from far off.

The man paced in the front yard as the officers brought bags in from their cars, a yard brimming with flowers and bushes.  Arms waving hopelessly I heard him tell another neighbor what was going on.  I heard snatches of his words.  My sister.  Unresponsive.  Heart attack.  Gave her mouth-to-mouth.  Just nothing.

I had laid the bowl of elderberries aside and joined a knot of neighbors on the hot sidewalk.  I watched a man’s heart being broken on a sunny afternoon.

The fire truck came and after an eternity of minutes, the ambulance.  Grim-faced paramedics sped in with more bags and a plastic gurney.  When they didn’t rush her out with speed, when the pace of it all slowed way down, when the fire truck pulled away, and the officer escorted the brother to a side yard to write down details, I knew.

I didn’t know the woman; all I know is that she was in her sixties and that they didn’t know how long she’d been in the state her brother found her in.  We all walked back to our homes; death is too sacred to be a spectator event.

The grapes are ripening next to the elderberries.  They’re a small variety, sweet with an edge of bitter.  Tougher skins than grocery store grapes that are bred to uniform perfection.  I slip some into my hands and chew them in the hot sun on a day that that man won’t forget.

Life; we don’t all get a hundred years of it and it can end swift and on a sunny day no less.  We don’t get uniform lives, predictable ones.  They’re full of sweet bits and bitter ones and the whole deal looks nothing like what’s advertised, does it?  But it’s good.

So, I can’t farm, I can’t have chickens, I can’t breathe life into our dwindling accounts, and I can’t just run back to South America where life had so much life and color and purpose.  But I can make soap.  Stay with me now.

What can I do while I can do something?

I have a hundred dreams, so I pulled one out of storage.  Making soap.  I love good soap, but unless I find a screaming deal on some goat milk or triple-milled french stuff, we can’t buy it.  I knew it would cost some money to get some equipment, but not much.  So I sold a hutch I’d refinished (that I’d picked up from a curb for free) and an antique ice crusher on craigslist.  I had ninety-five dollars to make a dream come true.

Thirty-five went for a good quality digital scale, the only precision instrument needed.  I weaseled my husband into agreeing to build me some soap molds out of scrap wood.  I plundered my cooking supplies for extra pots and measuring containers that could be dedicated to soap-making.  I watched YouTube videos and checked books out of the library.  Long gloves from the dollar store.  Safety glasses left over from fireworks.  And fifty-nine dollars left over to buy fats and lye and essential oils.

It truly is something to be able to do something.

Now it’s just a matter of deciding what kind to do first…lemon-lime-coconut shampoo bar?  Honey-oatmeal body bar?  Tea Tree-Sweet Almond?  Peppermint-Goat Milk for Christmas gifts?  Should I open an Etsy shop?  Try to sell locally?  Just make for ourselves and friends?  Or maybe slow down and see how my first batch turns out, crazy self??

But, I CAN DO SOMETHING!  That’s the joy and the hope of it.  I’m not trapped by our fences, but free to create within them.

And I realize that in the past year’s time I’ve seen many dreams come true…I am now an amateur beekeeper and supplied our household with a year’s worth of honey with extra to give away.  I got to take a pottery class and feel all that slippery clay yield to my shaping hands.  I taught myself candle dipping and have now both white and deep yellow beeswax tapers aplenty to light our way through winter.  I wrote a short story that I love; the first story I’ve ever exposed to public view without cringing.  I started this small corner for writing, for spilling words and exercising my writing muscles.

All of this happened as many of my dreams came crashing down about my ears.  Oh the irony.  Oh the grace.

So I will do what I am able, as long as I am able, and I’ll count it as joy.  Because it really doesn’t matter how wide our fences are, but how we live within them.

 

Waves High, God Higher

The hungry man sits down to a modest meal of lentil stew and a piece of bread.  It will be enough to satisfy his hunger pains, but not enough to fill him up.  As he begins to eat, a rich man passes by his table.  He reminds him in sage-like voice to remember to put some of his food aside for leaner times.  It is good stewardship, says the rich man, and goes on to expound on scripture passages that address the management of one’s bounty.  Then, smiles the man, next time you won’t be quite so hungry.

The poor man drops his eyes to the bowl.  “There is only just enough as is.  How can I save it?”

The rich man shakes his head and privately wonders how the poor man is squandering his food that he never feels he has enough.  He nearly smiles at the thought of his own table, full of bounty, and how he is always able to not only seal up the leftovers for later, but to give food away as well.  “I am glad I am not like this man, who is not wise and prudent with his earnings”, he says to himself as he walks away.

The poor man finishes his meal and gives his thanks to the Father.  In his whispered prayer, he asks God if it is his fault that he is hungry, if it is his fault that he doesn’t have a bounty, but only just enough?  He knows by the ache in his back and his throbbing feet that he works hard for the little he has, but no excess rains down upon him for that.  Daily bread, not bread for a host of tomorrows.

The counsel of the rich man weighs across his shoulders.  His back aches more fiercely yet.  He pushes back from the table and swipes errant tears from his weathered face.  How disappointed God must be in him, and how God must smile on the rich man who does all well and is richly rewarded for it.

As he walks to his home, God says it quiet in his heart, right where the pain is, “You are not a disappointment to Me.  Continue to trust; I am worthy of your trust.”

The poor man smiles past his tears.

……………..

Hospital bills looming, our tenant two months behind on rent, school bills, school taxes due, and the waves rise and rise above our heads.  My husband’s hours cut back at work.

I read it today; Psalm 16:5,

LORD, You are my portion and my cup of blessing;

You hold my future.

Even if it means crying in the shower so the children can’t hear and seeing my husband’s brow knot in worry as he carries the bills up to his desk, can I not yet say that He holds us?  That each day we eat and each day we enjoy our home and are clothed?  Can I not yet praise Him for daily bread, daily mercies, daily faithfulness?

Yes.  Because He is my portion and my cup of blessing.  He holds my future.

 

Ten Ways to Celebrate Birthdays Well (On a Dime!)

It’s birthday week all rolled up into first-day-of-school week.  A daughter turning eleven and a son turning nine.  Those numbers are so big and so are those long legs and those eyeballs are getting ever nearer to staring evenly into mine rather than up.  They’re excited about their upcoming parties, see, I celebrate them wildly.  Not expensively, mind you, not extravagantly, but I just pour out my creativity and all my energy and make them wildly delighted, wildly celebrated.  

It starts with that first look on their first on-the-outside day.  When my eyes meet theirs and my soul widens with joy.

Henri 088Or maybe when I first suspect and the two lines appear and I giggle in the bathroom.  The life begins to be celebrated.  Welcomed and rejoiced over.

So…birthdays.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating simply.  And I’m glad there’s nothing wrong with celebrating boisterously.  There was the time in Chile when Edison asked for a panda birthday and there were panda-shaped pizzas and a big panda cake, huge jungle leaves cut out of shiny paper and strung across the ceiling.  Internet radio provided rainforest sounds and Edison was so, so happy.  There was even pin the nose on the panda.  All homemade, all just love poured out via scissors and powdered sugar and joy.IMG_4721Lego men approach a volcanic island whilst a Lego shark approaches maliciously.  The volcano was an upside-down ice cream cone and the lava was a bit of homemade jam.  The sandy shore was brown sugar, and my boy?  His eyes went wide with wonder and happiness.IMG_1018Cupcakes wear handmade sombreros for Sophia’s Mexican birthday.  They were made by melting candy wafers into the bottoms of mini muffin tins and were topped with Dots candies.  Below Edison’s Snow Owl birthday cupcakes stare up at the world with cookie eyes and candy beaks.IMG_1019_MG_5034_MG_5039IMG_5050_MG_5056The children make “dolls” out of clothespins, decorating them stylishly with scraps of fabric and ribbons._MG_5058On the days they were born, I labored hard.  Every birthday since, I’ve labored hard to make at least one day of their year shine with celebration over the gift of their life.  I don’t always labor well; sometimes I get stressed-out and snappish as I try to make it all come together.  I can forget that the day isn’t about having the house all presentable at the same time (a near impossibility with this crew).  I can forget to make the day more about smiling and less about sweating.  I make mistakes, but my children have graced-memories; they don’t remember me scurrying about, they remember the cakes and the fun and the friends.    They love to look at pictures of birthdays past and all year long they daydream about what theme they’ll choose for the next one.  

This week we’re preparing for Edison’s Science Birthday.  The budding scientists will be mixing up a batch of homemade glow-in-the-dark slime.  Clearly we needed lab coats.  Clearly I’m not going to pay $15.00 a piece for little lab coats.  We headed down to “the bins”, a local Goodwill outlet where all the clothing is dumped into bins with no rhyme nor reason and is sold by weight.  We found six white men’s long-sleeved dress shirts that will make hilarious baggy “lab coats” for about $2.00.  Today we’re headed out in search of cheap safety glasses and gloves.  I can hear the giggles already.

I’m also preparing for Sophia’s Embroidery Birthday.  We bought vintage white handkerchiefs and a whole passel of embroidery hoops at a second-hand shop, so each little lady can make and take home their creation, complete with their own embroidery needle and hoop.  We managed that for about $3.00.  I’ll decorate her cake in frosting embroidery stitches and will make bouquets of all the blooming flowers in my gardens to make our home burst with beauty.  

We spend so very little and get so very much.  Here’s some handy tips for making your loved ones’ birthdays memorable and festive on a dime:

1. Pick a theme that isn’t based on a movie character; it’ll be easier to make decorations if you’re not trying to replicate a professionally-rendered character.  So if your kiddo is wild about the Cars movie, make the theme cars in general, OR make a cake with a roadway going across and plop Cars toys driving across the top.  

2. Don’t buy disposable napkins, plates, cups, silverware.  Not only does it save money and a whole lot of unnecessary trash, it really is beautiful to set the table with nice settings.  I have a collection of enamel plates that I’ve amassed over the years at yard sales and they always look nice and don’t break easily in the birthday frenzy.  If you do buy some disposables, I recommend colorful napkins as they can bring such a cheap pop of color to coordinate with balloons, the cake, etc.

3. If you’re serving a meal, I recommend homemade pizza or beans and rice.  They both cheaply, and deliciously, serve a crowd.  For drinks, nothing beats homemade lemonade:  6 cups of water, 1/2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice, and 3/4 c. sugar.  For a special treat, smear the rims of half pint jars with your leftover lemon halves and then dip them in colored sugar for a festive look to serve it in.

4. For favors, make the bags from colored paper or calendar pages taped into pouches.  The favor doesn’t need to be a cheap toy from China that costs ten times its worth; send home a homemade cookie or some trail mix, or like Ed’s birthday this year, a baby food jar full of slime and a “lab coat”! 🙂  For Sophia’s Tea Party Birthday years back each girl went home with a cute little teacup and saucer with candy inside the cup.  Tiny teacups are easily and cheaply found in thrift stores or dollar stores.

5. Have it in your home or a local park.  Yes, you’ll have a mess to pick up, but kids love it just as much as the bowling alleys or other special venues.  If your child really wants to go to a trampoline place or other costly place, give them the option that they can do so if they bring just two friends, otherwise they could have all their friends to your home or park.  You’ll see which the child most wants and they’ll feel a part of the decisions.

6. Get your scissors out.  Poster board is cheap and even the most artistically-challenged can make fun decor to set the ambiance of the party.  Coloring pages can be printed out for free as can masks that the kids can color and cut out.  If you can cut a triangle you can make lovely banners of them on a bit of string.  

7. If you like to use disposable plastic tablecloths, leave some markers out for the kids to doodle on it.  Draw some tic-tac-toe grids to get them started.  You could even write out each kids’ name at the their place on the table to make them feel special.

8. Pick up invites at a second-hand store or make them yourself.  Kids enjoy decorating the cards!

9. Instead of having a clown or a movie entertain the kids, let them learn a skill, do something with their busy little hands.  We’ve had my husband teach the kids archery, and this year I’ll teach the girls how to do basic embroidery stitches.  Even letting them assemble their own pizzas will be a joy to them.

10. Let them play.  Let their imaginations set the agenda for the party and get out of the way if need be.  You can set up areas of interest, like a bubble-blowing area or set some games or a bin of dress-up clothes out, but let them decide what’s fun; even if it’s just tearing around the yard on bikes.  

In all, let your child or loved one feel celebrated.  Rejoiced over.  Whatever your style or budget, let them feel that this day is special because their lives were given by the Father who loves them wildly. That rich or poor, their birthday is remembered and joyful.