Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Spirit of Giving

I woke up this morning to the sounds of Naomi cooing sweetly and the tap tap tap of her little hands on my cheek.  I opened my eyes and stared into her smiling wide eyed face.  She thinks she’s hot stuff now that she is on all fours and can pull herself to the side of her co-sleeper and reach me.  “Morning Mama!” Jenna said softly, snuggled in my other arm-her Elmo quilt spread across us both.  I kissed my girls and relished in the gift of one precious extra hour of sleep given to me by my husband. 
No matter the struggles we have been going through I am blessed to have a roof over my head, food on the table, and my husband and girls by my side. How rich I am on this Christmas Eve! As I lay there warm and soft in my daughter’s twin bed I thought of how many out there are sacrificing and doing without this holiday season.  It made me think of a story I told to my students each year.  One that I’d like to share with you now… 
It was an unusually cold night that December 21st 1989.    Catechism had ended early and the children were frenzied with joyful anticipation of Christmas and too much sugar consumed at the class party.  A little girl sporting a blond pony tail and scraped knees raced through the church grounds daring over her shoulder for her friend to try to tag her, “Na-Na-girls rule, boys drool!”   The boy sprinted after her but soon bent over to catch his breath and nurse the cramp in his side.
“You’re too fast for me!” “Besides my dad’s here!” the boy called.  Disappointed, the little girl slowed down and watched her friend run to the parked car, “See you next week!”
“Bye, Patrick!” She yelled, “Merry Christmas!” Her wave became less and less enthusiastic as he drove away.  Bummer!  She was the only kid who wasn’t going home right away.  You see her parents both sang in the choir so she still had an hour to kill before their weekly practice was over.  “Everyone else is probably watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer right now or Frosty and I’m stuck here…”
The little girl looked around her, the empty parking lot, the dew filled grass, the frogs croaking in the tiny pond behind the parsonage.  Its windows were lined with battery operated candles and a soft glow shown from each one.  Just one light was on in the house.  “I wonder what Father Joe is doing right now?” the little girl wondered, shivering partly from the cold and excitement. She zipped up her jacket and made her way across the pathway, through the grass, all the while an impish smile of a child brainstorming spread across her face. Just as her secret agent mission was nearly formulated in her mind she was stopped cold in her sneaking Pink Panther like tracks. 
“Um, excuse me little Miss? But what do you think you are doing in the Father’s bushes so late at night?”  a voice asked above her. 
“Oh! Hello Mrs. Stein.”  “I’m just…” the little girl crawled out of the hibiscus plants, and stood up casually brushing a red flower bud and a snail from her hair, “just wondering if Father Joe is home.” “Is he?” 
“Don’t be bothering Father right now, you should be inside with your parents!” “Not gallivanting all over who knows where!” “I’ll stand here and watch until you go in.”
 “Oh, alright!” Reluctantly the little girl headed across the crosswalk and slowly walked toward the church hall, taking her time. 
“I don’t see what the big deal is!” “It’s not like there’s anything out here that can hurt me!”  The little girl grumbled under her breath. 
“March young lady!” Mrs. Stine ordered.
She picked up her steps a little faster, spun three spins around a flag pole and then skipped to the church entrance.  The little girl opened the door and music and warm light from inside illuminated the side entryway.  “Merry Christmas!” She heard Mrs. Stein call as she held the church door handle.  The little girl stopped and turned to reply with a "Merry Christmas" as well but something in the corner, just behind a large flower pot caught her eye.  She couldn’t quite make it out but it was silent and motionless. Just then Mrs. Stein’s car drove past and her headlights lit the large object for just a moment.  But in that split second the little girl’s eyes grew wide. 
Huddled in the corner was an old man.  A mess of gray curls and an unshaven beard upon his sun burnt and wrinkled face.  His pants and shirt were well worn and caked with stains of dirt and a small backpack lay at his side.  Just then the wind blew carrying with it the smell of urine and grime.  “I wonder when he last had a bubble bath.” The little girl wondered silently to herself, when all of a sudden the man opened his eyes. Talks of stranger danger instantly flooded the little girls mind-stories of children who didn’t listen to their mother’s warning to come straight inside after dark and now had gone “missing”.  Terror spread across the little girls face and without a breath she bolted inside the open door. 
The heavy wood door slammed behind her as she raced across the church to the pews by the choir.  There they were singing away.  The little girl’s mom motioned for her to come sit beside her but the little girl stayed put.  Typically the little girl would have busied herself in the church storage closet playing dress up with the variety show costumes, or sit in the confessional pretending she was a priest assigning 100 Hail Mary's to all her arch enemies at school. But tonight she was different. Tonight she just wanted to sit.  A million thoughts ran through her mind. “Who was that man anyway?” “What’s he doing out there?” “Why isn't he inside where it is warm?”
15 minutes later, the Christmas hymns were perfect and practice was over.  The little girl’s mother made her way over and sat beside her daughter.  “Where were you?” “Why didn’t you come right here when the party was over like I told you?” “I had to send Mrs. Stein to go after you,” her mother questioned. 
“There’s a man outside.” The little girl interrupted.  “He looks like he’s camping but I don't think he is mommy.” 
Her mother looked startled, “Where?” 
“Out the side door.” The little girl pointed. 
“Stay here.” her mother said firmly.  The little girl watched her mother walk over to her father packing up the microphone wires.  Their conversation was inaudible but she knew what it was about.  Her mom and dad made their way to the side door and opened it. The little girl sat silently in the pew, fearfully watching them from afar.  But the compassion on their faces as her mother knelt down and her parents spoke quietly with the man outside, melted away the possibility of danger.  Before she knew it the little girl was listening near the doorway.   
“I’m sorry I frightened your little girl.” She overheard the man say. He did not want the money they offered and insisted that the little girl’s parents not call anyone to find him a place to stay.
“I’m fine, really.” “I don’t want anyone to go to any trouble.” “I’m just resting here for a bit and then I’m heading on.” Perhaps it was because of the warmth of the music or the peace of being on the doorstep of God’s house that had drawn him there.  The little girl marveled at the idea and thought in her innocence that if she was allowed to bring her sleeping bag to church, that’s exactly where she’d want to sleep. 
“Are you sure, there isn’t anyone we can call for you, or anything we can get you?” the little girls’ father asked.  
“I’m fine.” “I just want to rest.” The man replied, “But thank you.” 
The little girl could tell the conversation was drawing to a close so she sprinted to the spot her mother had told her to stay and waited for them to return. 
“We can’t force him to go to a shelter.” She heard her mother say, “And he won’t take money or food.” “I just wish there was something we could do for him.” 
“Who is that man?” the little girl asked.  Her father looked at the little girl’s mother, gave a sad smile, and then returned to packing up the musical equipment. The girl’s mother lifted her onto her lap and explained in as gentle a way as possible some of the realities of the world. 
“That man has no family honey.” “He’s not lucky like us to have a place to take a shower and to sleep at night.” “He has no home.” “That’s what being homeless is and that is why he is sleeping outside.” 
The little girl did her best to wrap her mind around the idea of not having any place to call home.  Things were tight in their house but they always had food to eat and a roof over their head, yet this man had just the clothes he was wearing and a few items in a backpack.  
Walking to the car the little girl’s heart ached for the man.  “Outside, all alone in the dark, and on such a cold night too,” she thought to herself as she jumped in the car, buckled her seat belt, and pulled her quilt over her lap. It was a favorite of hers since she was small, one she took with her on each Brownie camp out, or beach trip.  Orange, red, and bright, fringed here and there from wear but still fantastically soft and warm.  
Santa had brought her a new one last Christmas but she hadn't been able to part with her old one. It was special.  She planned to keep that blanket till the day she died, but as she sat there wrapped in its comfort she thought of the huddled man in the corner.  That’s when the little girl noticed her mother staring at her from the front passenger seat.  
“You know, it’s an awfully cold night.” Her mom offered. 
“Yep.” The little girl answered trying not to make eye contact with her mother. 
“That poor man is out there with no jacket.” “I bet he is real cold.” Her mother continued. 
“Hmm.” The little girl looked at the beloved quilt in her hands. She thought of all the happy times she had making tents with it, how when she was wrapped in it had the magic to make monsters...
“Can’t we go home and get him a blanket?” she asked. 
“We could try, but he might not be here by the time we get back and he is really cold right now.” Her  mother smiled softly. 
The little girl knew what her heart was telling her but she was torn.  Mrs. Stein’s words from one of her Catechism class suddenly reared up their head in her mind, “Just ask yourself, what would God want me to do?”  
“God loves children and he would want me to be happy.” The little girl tried to reason in her mind, “If I keep my blanket that will make me happy.” “God will take care of the man outside.” But when she waited for the reassurance of peace, it never came.  She knew what God would want her to do and suddenly she started to sniffle.  
“Honey, it’s your blanket and your decision.” The little girl’s mother said trying to comfort her daughter.  
“I know.” The little girl sniffed.  She tried to force the overwhelming urge to give the man her blanket beneath her desire to keep it for herself, until finally she couldn’t fight it any longer. The little girl gathered up the quilt in her arms and with her mother and father made her way to the man in the corner.  She stretched out her small arm and handed the blanket to the man.  She tried to do it bravely, but wiped tears from her eyes as she said, “Here, you go.”
The man looked up and there was kindness and gratitude in his eyes.  His voice was hoarse and weak as he spoke, “Thank you.” He carefully wrapped the quilt around himself. She would have said “You’re welcome” but all she could muster was a silent nod. In that moment the freezing wind started to blow and the sadness in the little girl’s heart slowly began to lift.  She turned to walk away with her parents; “God bless you!!!” the man called after her.  The little girl smiled over her shoulder and waved back at the man now covered in orange and red.  
As the little family drove away in their blue station wagon the little girl knew she had made the right decision.  She may not have been completely happy about it at first but she had done it anyway. She thought of Jesus and how he had been frightened in the Garden before he was captured and died on the Cross for all of our sins.  He must have been scared too but he did it anyway. In that moment the eight year old girl had an epiphany.  Sometimes doing the right thing can be the hardest thing.   The cold air howled outside the car window and her father offered to turn on the heat.  “That’s Ok, Daddy.” “I’m good.” She said.  And it was true. She had never felt warmer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Genetic Germaphobia

As a kid I always knew my Grandpa Jim was….different.  He was a poet/song writer through and through, a traveler who never stayed in one place long enough to cultivate deep roots.  Grandpa Jim took a respite from his wanderings for a few years in my young adulthood, during which time I got to know him better. I can still hear his slow voice in between cigarette puffs, “Did you know that you are talking to the smartest man in the world?” “Take Grandpa’s advice….and you’ll do great, kid.”  His guidance was…interesting to say the least, “People are filled with germs I tell you… crawling all over them inside and out…that’s why I drink a swing of this each day (he pointed to a glass bottle that stunk like rubbing alcohol)….so I can kill the worms I breathe in the air…”

I remember one day when I stopped by his trailer to check on him and the overwhelming scent of disinfectant nearly knocked me over.  When I asked my grandpa what he was cleaning he said, “Some weirdo lady at the coffee shop was coughing all over the place….so I gave myself a good wash down with Lysol spray and a rag.” Of course I explained to Grandpa that was toxic but he wouldn’t listen.  How can you argue with “the smartest man in the world”?

A week later I had popped in to say hey and Grandpa noticed my runny eyes and stuffy nose.  “Are you sick?” he asked with hesitation in his voice, slowly closing the door so that only a crack remained. I explained that my allergies were acting up because the pine trees were pollinating but he must have thought I’d contaminated him somehow because later that day he put an open cup of bleach in front of a fan to “sterilize the air he was breathing.” It’s amazing he lived to be 79 and died from emphysema and not his many attempts at self preservation.    

I suppose the apple never falls too far from the tree because my father is a 2nd generation germaphobic.  As a teenager I remember being quite annoyed by my father because he wouldn’t order an ice cream cone from MacDonald’s.   “You just don’t understand Jamie.” “That kid in there handles the money-the same money that has circulated through thousands of hands.” “Then he grabs a cone, fills it with ice cream, and does he hold it by the paper protector like he is supposed to?” “NO!”
Dad was terrified that his cone would be contaminated and he’d be so preoccupied worrying about the diseases he was contracting that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his treat.  Instead he forever ordered his ice cream in a cup and then did his best to restrain himself as I attempted to enjoy my ice cream cone in peace.

I remember hearing the retelling of one MacDonald’s in particular that had a mess of ketchup all over the counter and no soap or paper towels in the bathroom.  When my father brought it to the attention of the teenaged employee wearing a t-shirt stained with French fry grease, the kid just shrugged, preceded to hand my dad his Big Mac order, and said “Oh I know, we’ve been out of soap all day.” My dad nearly gagged and bee lined it for the exit, leaving his meal behind him.  It was funny how relieved he was when that same restaurant burned down six months later. Yet his germ phobia didn’t die with it.

Dad hated to touch the menus at any restaurant and would often use napkins to read them or lift BBQ bottles to squirt sauce on his sandwich.  He would never play checkers with me or that little peg game at Cracker Barrel because “You never know who handled them.” If he ordered ice tea and someone’s hand at the table touched the rim he’d use an alcohol wipe or ask for a new glass.  As a kid, watching him squirm was a fun way to entertain myself.  I’d take a sip of his drink and tell him so when his glass was nearly empty or I’d touch him with an “infected” finger with my checker playing hand after he had already washed his hands in the bathroom.

As an adult, living in my own home with my own family, I sometimes forget how germ phobic he is.  But the other day I got a reminder.  After I first posted the blog, Gobbles Gone By, I got a phone call from my dad requesting a word change:  

 “Well, I’m not comfortable with the statement- But there was no room left in the drive way so we had to park in an empty lot next to my parent’s house.” “I don’t want people to think we live so close to a lot full of dog poop.”    “I don’t even want to think about the fact that I live next to a lot full of dog poop.”
I had started to laugh, “Alright so what would you like me to say so you’re not so freaked out?”
“I’d like it to read-we had to park in an empty lot down the street from my parents’ house…”“Jamie, don’t laugh!” “I’m serious!!!”
“I know Daddy!” “It’s just the way that you are.” “That’s what’s so funny!”

Looking back at memories from my Grandpa Jim and my father I knew there was no way I was going to let myself become like them…Until today….

My family and I were at this awesome light’s display at Tara Plantation, a lawyers firm in a gorgeous two story house on a beautiful piece of property.  Naomi was tucked in her hip hammock happily taking in the scene of thousands of Christmas lights and moving figurines.  Upon entering I noticed this very nice gentleman shaking the hands of each person walking in. I can only imagine how many hands he shook in the last three hours but for a moment I was grateful that my one hand was supporting Naomi and the other was holding on to Jenna’s Elmo harness so I would be socially exempt from touching him. 
The first room we toured offered cookies and punch.  While waiting in line Naomi gave some especially adorable grins to the other guests and of course she kicked gleefully when they fussed back at her.

“Oh! What a dolly!” one lady said. “She looks like the Gerber baby on the baby food jars.”

Thank you I smiled back and unconsciously I found myself taking a couple steps backwards as they moved in closer.  Before I could escape I was surrounded by two elderly ladies and a gentleman that could have been anyone’s Grandma and Pop-Pop.  Now I know that many of our snowbirds in our area are desperate for child contact.  I’m sure many of their children, grandchild, and great grand kids are all still in Connecticut or someplace but I just don’t understand how people think it is acceptable to touch a stranger’s baby.  Naomi gives the slightest coo and people are trying to tickle under her chin, hold her hand, “steal” her nose, and then to my extreme HORROR the gentleman attempted to kiss my little girl on her hand.  HELLLO!!! Do they not KNOW the illness that is out there?

In an attempt not to kill the Christmas spirit that was echoing throughout the Martha Stuart like plantation I opted for “Thank you for your complements, please excuse me.” I fled across the room and found my mom feeding Jenna a frosting covered sugar cookie and a cup of red # 5 masquerading as fruit punch. I tried to look extra busy adjusting Jenna’s Elmo leash/harness.  Just as I stood up my mom was pinching Naomi’s cheek and “beeping” her on the nose.  Normally I wouldn’t have cared. She’s my mom after all, but she had shaken the hand of the man at the door…...

My mouth shot it out before my brain could stop me but thank God it was in a half whisper, “Please stop touching Naomi and putting that door greeter guy’s handshake germs all over her head.”  My mom blinked at me.  My brain raced over what I had just said and I was shocked at myself.  DID I REALLY JUST SAY THAT OUT-LOUD?

“Wow, I’m so sorry mom…I didn’t mean for that to come out like that!” “It’s just that guy touched how many…”

My mom just smiled at me.  “It’s alright Jamie.” “I know how you are.” “You’re just like your father.”

“What?” “No, I’m not!” I started to protest, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the same trio from earlier starting to make their way over again.  Before I knew it I was down the hall and casually concealed behind a giant Santa statue.

“Just like my father?” “I’m not as bad as dad!” I reassured myself as I discretely washed Naomi’s hands, cheek, and nose off with a baby wipe. But images kept flashing through my mind of myself using hand sanitizer after touching the gas pump or cash, pushing restroom doors open with my shoe, strategically using the first bathroom stall because statistically it is the least one used, mastering aerial #1 to avoid touching the toilet seat. When had I crossed over and became my father?  

The truth is that each of us has a bit of our parents in us.  No matter how hard we may swear when we grow up we will never do THAT, we often find ourselves surprised one day to step back and see our dad or mom staring us back in the mirror. Today was my day.  I may not be as bad as Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, or that guy on Munch, but I am defiantly effected by the idea of cross contamination in public places.  If I give it a few years it may develop into a full clinical case of third generation Germaphobia, but right now I’m just trying to be safer than sorry. :)  

FYI: Top 12 Places You Risk Getting Infected 

(Courtesy of Dr. Mercola ) 

1. Your kitchen sink: With more dirt than a typical bathroom, and over 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain, your kitchen sink basin and faucet are teeming with germs.

2. Airplane bathrooms: Never mind the fecal bacteria that’s commonly found on door handles and faucets, the worst part is the tornado of germy particles that’s spewed into the air when you flush the toilet.

3. Wet laundry (even after it’s been washed): A dirty pair of underwear contains about a gram of fecal matter, and this gets spread around the entire load of laundry very quickly. It’s not until you dry the clothes that the germs are destroyed.

4. Drinking fountains: All public drinking fountains are loaded with germs, but those in schools -- which contained anywhere from 62,000 to 2.7 million bacteria per square inch of the spigot -- were the worst.

5. Shopping cart handles: While you’re innocently shopping for groceries, your hands are grasping a handle covered in saliva, bacteria and fecal matter from dozens of people.

6. ATM buttons: Think about how often these buttons are touched everyday. Now think about how often they’re cleaned. This explains why one study found an average of over 1,200 bacteria on the average ATM key.

7. Your handbag: Women, your purse is likely overrun with thousands, and even millions, of bugs like salmonella, E. coli, staph bacteria and more. Makes you think twice about putting your handbag on the floor, and then plopping it down onto your kitchen counter, doesn’t it?

8. Playgrounds: Your typical children’s playground is covered in bodily fluids like blood, mucus, saliva and urine.

9. Mats and machines at health clubs: Yoga mat? Elliptical machine? Think bacteria factory. Such mats and cardio machines have been found to contain antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria and more.

10. Your bathtub: Bathtubs contain more than 100,000 bacteria per square inch, some of which you have just washed off your own body.

11. Your office phone: Phones get coated with germs from your mouth and hands, to the tune of over 25,000 germs per square inch.

12. Hotel-room remote control: This little remote has been used by hundreds of other people, and likely wasn’t thoroughly disinfected in between.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holly Jolly Christmas

As Christmas approaches I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty jolly and well prepared for the first time in…I can’t remember.  Our Christmas tree was up and our Christmas cards were in the mail by December 2nd.  Since the first showing on Thanksgiving Day, Jenna has become a mad fan of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and has been watching it over and over again. She’s memorized the script and nearly all of the words to each song. She loves it so much that my mom gave her a Christmas sing along soundtrack to the movie which we have been listening to during each car ride-short or long. Most days I accept Jenna’s invite and sing along to favorites like Clarice’s There’s Always Tomorrow or Sam the Snowman’s Holly Jolly Christmas.  Naomi seems to enjoy the tunes as well but most days she is very preoccupied with trying to cut her first tooth by gumming everything in sight (including my chin).  “Nom!” Nom!” “NOM!” There is the tiniest tip of a grain of rice just peaking on her bottom gum line, so I just know her hard work and drool will pay off in the near future.

By some foresight and divine intervention I got most of the girl’s Christmas shopping done the day after Christmas last year.  December 26th is like a second black Friday-only less crowded.  Stores are extra motivated to get rid of surplus toy merchandise and I am only happy to help them out with deals of 50% off or better. Because of my fabulous finds last year, the only purchases I had to make was the unforeseen Jenna request for a blue guitar.   We thought it was a fluke at first.  But her wish from Santa hasn’t changed in the last three months so I found one online for $16.95.  Her only other request was a dance game similar to the Wii Dance Revolution game.  I found a DVD kid version on Ebay for $9 and a bonus find of a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer figurine play set in BJ’s for $4.97.   Naomi’s still too small to make requests so Santa will be bringing a Jumperoo play center and a puppet frog that croaks songs. Overall we’ve spent around $100 but if I had to guess our items would have totaled over $400 if it weren’t for the good deals. 

Some people would find our reduced financial circumstances depressing during the holidays but I can’t express enough in words how wonderful it is to take the financial stress out of Christmas.  We gave family a heads up a long while ago that things would be simple this year.  My side of the family agreed that gifts would only be given to kids under the age of 18.  If I had it my way I’d join my dad’s thinking and spend Christmas like the pioneers did.  I never forgot reading a Little House on the Prairie book about Christmas when Santa brought a rag doll, a gingerbread cookie, an orange, and a stick of peppermint. That was when the focus of Christmas was on the birth of Christ instead of materialism.  Who knew that me being home and our family operating under such a tight budget would become such a liberating experience. 

To celebrate our new found focus Mike and I have been making a huge effort to get in all the fun holiday activities that we had always been too busy to fit in before.  We went to the town Christmas parade and have been driving around looking at neighborhood Christmas lights.  Jenna and I have been baking and doing Christmas crafts each day to make little gifts from her to family.  We’ve got two upcoming dates with Cowboy Christmas at Laporte Farms and Tara Plantation’s light spectacular (which Mike has talked about for years and now we are finally getting to go).

We also started two new Christmas traditions in our household.  On Thanksgiving we read the book Elf On the Shelf to Jenna and Naomi.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with it the book is the story of an Elf who acts as a scout for Santa Claus.  Each day he watches for children’s behavior and then he flies to the North Pole at night to report to Santa whether each little girl or boy has been naughty or nice.  When he returns the next morning he finds a new hiding place. 

Jenna named our house Elf, Elfie, and it has become a fun game each morning for Jenna to find Elfie and give him good reports like, “I just peeped on the potty again Elfie.” Or “Elfie, look, I gave Nomie (Naomi) her doll back.” (Of course she leaves out the minor detail that the reason Naomi is crying is because Jenna had just ripped the doll from Naomi’s hands two minutes before she “gave it back”).  Still the extra set of eyes “watching” Jenna each day has been very much welcomed.  Elfie has become a comrade in arms so to speak and I find myself mentioning him frequently throughout my day, “Elfie isn’t going to like that you put Mindy-dog’s food in daddy’s slippers.” Or “Are you going to clean those up or do I have to tell Elfie you put Dora the Explorer Stickers all over your sister?” Is it low for a mom to turn snitch to a stuffed Christmas Elf? If it brings peace and good will to the world, I think not!

But what excites me even more than my new found Elf power is the second tradition Mike and I started. On Thanksgiving Day we sat down and made a list of all the answered prayers that we have received in the past year.  At first it seems hard to remember but once we got going we found more and more things that we were grateful for, things we had been praying for and had received, things that had brought joy to our lives.  It was  a list  sort of like the Glad Game that Pollyanna played in the movie Pollyanna. After a couple days the list started to get longer and longer.  So we cut strips of green and red construction paper and wrote one item from our list on each strip of paper and made it into a Christmas chain.  Jenna had a blast trying out tape for the first time and Mike and I were amazed how our answered prayers and joys from the year quickly encircled the entire length of our tree from top to bottom.  Accompanying our angel Christmas balls, ribbon, and ice sickles, I’d say this is our most beautiful tree we’ve ever had.

So with the advent wreath that Jenna made in Sunday school placed beside our Nativity scene, we happily anticipate the coming of Christmas (and the finding of baby Jesus which Jenna was playing with and has since lost).  The magical array of warm cookies and Christmas hams will be welcomed treats and I can’t wait to see Jenna’s face when she opens her guitar on Christmas morning so that she can be just like “Murray from the Wiggles only blue not red.” But as I look at our Christmas garland chain on our tree there is one link that I am most grateful for: I am so grateful that I get to be home with my girls so I can enjoy every moment of this season with them.