Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unexpected Gifts


Christmas stories around the tree have become a favorite tradition. We push bedtime back a bit, pull out a book or two, and everyone settles down happy as they scootch under boughs, curl up on pillows, and listen. 


Gordy wears his boots. He has an affinity of late for foot and head gear. We rarely see him without boots (snow, cowboy, even two rolls of toilet paper will do - I kid you not. The other day I found him tiptoeing around with a roll of toilet paper jammed onto each foot.). And if it's not boots, it's a hat (cowboy, baseball cap or bike helmet). Yes, Eliza's bike helmet has been the hat of choice lately. More on that below.


We've been trying to talk the boys into parting with those squeaky, rubber things you see in their mouths but Gordon told me today he would put the binkie fairy in jail if she tried to take his binkie. Looks like we're going to have to try a different approach.


Here are our favorite Christmas books this year. I promise more details next Christmas.

The Carpenter's Gift, published last year, is a sweet tale about the history of the Rockefeller Center Tree and how it is now used to build a home for a family in need through the neighbor-to-neighbor program, Habitat for Humanity. 

The story is set in 1931, when many families, suffering from the Great Depression, were out of work and doing their best just to put food on the table. Young Henry, who belongs to such a family, is helping his father sell Christmas trees in Manhattan. When they decide to give the last of their trees away, he thinks, 

"The best presents are the ones you don't expect." 

That line has been on my mind all week. And I believe it's true.

It's the gifts you don't expect that bring a unique kind of joy. Like Sami cleaning up the entire living room on her own without my asking. Eliza's Merry Christmas note for her fairies, and the way she decorated her fairy house, complete with a sled she made out of popsicle sticks. 



What fairy wouldn't love a midnight sleigh ride?


Or Gordon climbing into his brother's crib and falling asleep. Doug and I found them like this the other night, arms and legs tucked around each other. (We took down the crib tents and converted their cribs to toddler beds. A comedy of errors for another post.)


It's Doug leaving me a note on the window. Snow gently drifting out of a gray sky. Phrases of scripture that stick in my throat as we read the nativity story aloud.

Gifts are everywhere. And it is pure delight when they catch us by surprise.

So our family decided to join the movement, #26Acts. 26 acts of kindness for each life lost in Newtown, CT last Friday. Ann Curry got the ball rolling early this week by tweeting, 

"Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for each precious life lost. An act of kindness, big or small. Are you in?"

We talked to our children Sunday evening about what happened, wanted to arm them with knowledge and comfort in case they heard about it at school the next day. When I read about Ann's idea, I thought, what better way to combat the horror we all felt? Fight darkness with light. Fill the world with warmth and kindness, and do it when no one expects it. 

So we just returned from our first act of kindness. 

While buying cinnamon bread at our favorite local bakery, we purchased two extra loaves and asked the woman at the counter to give them to two people in line behind us. 


She hadn't heard of #26Acts so I explained it to her. And as I did, a huge smile spread across her face. "Really?" she said "That is so cool. I'm so excited to do this!" 

I asked her not to point us out, wished her a Merry Christmas and we scurried out the door, a herd of little feet hustling to the car. The girls squealed as we drove away. Something giddy gets lit inside when you anonymously do a good turn. And it doesn't need to require money.

The threads from different articles about #26Acts are inspiring. Just google #26Acts. I get choked up reading the list of instances where individuals purposely offered kindness, surprised the unassuming.

It is true. "The best presents are the ones you don't expect."


We've continued a few other traditions at home. Every year we fill our santa mugs with hot chocolate, marshmallows, and a candy cane to stir. Then we read The Polar Express by candlelight.


(Can you guess what this girl wants for Christmas? She and her darling friend Caroline sang  "All I want for Christmas..." at the neighborhood Christmas party.)


The Polar Express tradition began years ago when I was a teenager and spent most my weekends babysitting these cute boys and their sister.


One brother got married a month ago, the other yesterday, and visiting with their family last evening was a gift of its own. I babysat for them until I was in college, loved them like my own siblings. Every Christmas I'd bring my book over, we'd make hot chocolate, light candles, and I would read them the story. Yesterday, I looked at their photos on the fridge and thought, how can the circle of life spin so quickly? They're all grown up....and when did I get so old?


As much as I think the Polar Express movie is fun, I'm kinda sad children know the movie better than they do the book. The movie fills in too many gaps, tells too much story, steals the magic. At least that's my opinion. So I insist on reading the book every year and letting the wonder of its words spill over us.

Now a couple funnies, followed by a final unexpected gift.


Gordon surprised me one evening with this Mr. Potato Head face. So glad he's around.


And here we are at the girls' dance studio. Gordon wearing Eliza's helmet. I love that tuft of blonde hair sticking out the top. He refuses to take it off most places we go. We get a few funny looks, but it's a battle I don't need to fight. And hey, safety first, right?

I took this iPhone video during a quick trip to H&M this week. I rarely have the luxury of running errands alone, so these guys have trekked along for those few items I couldn't find online. When they started head-bopping right there in the middle of the store, I had to pull out my phone. I might be the only one who thinks this is funny, but with Gordon wearing his helmet and Spencer's I'm-too-cool-face and his hand on his hip, I can't help but hoot.

Finally, on a serious note, I want to share with you this Mormon Message, based on a true story, called "An Unexpected Gift." It's the most beautiful thing I've watched all Christmas season. Largely because of the death and sadness we've experienced this last month.

Truly, Christ is the greatest gift of all.

Peace and love as you approach Christmas day. 


  1. 26 acts is a great idea - so simple yet so powerful.

    Btw I received your book a couple weeks ago - thanks again!

  2. I've recent started blogging myself, and I found your blog and I just love it. Beautiful family and beautiful photos and words.
    Merry Christmas!

  3. Catherine, I love the 26 acts idea. Thank you so much for sharing it. You have so many beautiful traditions in your family. Your kids are so lucky to have you. Wishing you love and joy this Christmas season. Hoping to get Christmas cards out this weekend…but just in case I don't, know that you and your friend Kara have been in my thoughts these last few weeks.

    Love you.

  4. Beautiful, Cath. And thanks for sharing the Mormon Messages - I haven't seen that one and it's wonderful!

  5. knit 1 knit 2 - so glad you got the book! And I agree, #26acts is simple but so very powerful.

    Rachel - thank you so much for commenting. Blessings to you this Christmas.

    Sweet Anne Marie - Wishing you all the joys of Christmas as well - the happiness of family, the magic of your children, and the unmatchable peace of the Savior's birth and life. You have been such a gift to me these past couple years. Sending love across the miles to you, and a hug of gratitude for all your kindness and empathy. xoxo

    Kellie - I'm so glad you saw the video. I thought of you when I watched it. You and your beautiful life are a testimony of the Lord's atonement and peace. Merry Christmas dearest friend. Love you so much. And I have a message from Doug's parents in NZ I need you to translate. ;) All sorts of slang from your part of the world. xo


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