Three things

I agonized over the fact that I couldn't shower my lovely babies with a ton of gifts for Christmas this year. I felt discouraged, angry, sad and then resolute: we will not fall apart because we can't buy our kids a ton of gifts.

In the past, friends have passed the name of our family to our church, who have never failed to take care of us. We've also been sponsored by organizations, and it's always a blessing to see your children's faces light up when they see presents under a tree that has been....well, sort of empty for the entire month of December. And my family never fails to remember my children, even though I know it is a challenge for them to shop for six additional kids.

But I didn't put my family's name on any list this year. I figured there are lots of other people in our community that need this more than we do. We would have a very humble Christmas and I knew that my children would adapt because deep down, they are very simple creatures. I love love love that about them. What they adore most in the world: mama, daddy, grandma-mama, Papa, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, brothers, sisters, laughter, food, dance parties--they would have in abundance.

Three things.

That is how many gifts they each got from Michael and I. And they weren't three extravagant things, either. Three very humble, very simple gifts. One thing they need (like socks, gloves or underwear), one thing cheesy thing that Michael and Maya picked out from the dollar store and the third gift would be something that they could pick out for themselves, like a set of headphones (Noah), a book (Diego), a necklace (Maya), a new Wii game (Solomon), a new Lego set (Cyan) and a Barbie refrigerator complete with tiny food for the girls' repurposed doll playhouse (Xixi).

Their constant question of Mom, when are you going to buy us Christmas presents so we can put them under the tree? was really starting to wear on me. I couldn't be angry with them, judging from the pitiful pile of gift bags under the tree. I kept praying. Not that God would send me a bunch of money so that I could buy the chil'rens everything they wanted. I have seen firsthand the craziness, the greed, the ungrateful attitudes my children can display after a gift opening frenzy has occurred.


I prayed for a humble spirit. A thankful spirit. I meditated on a few of my favorite words in the Bible:

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

My treasures are my husband, my children and my family. Are you waiting to read that we woke up on Christmas morning to discover a huge box full of amazing gifts on the front porch, from some mysterious and generous gift giver? Nope. But God is still good and the chil'rens were still generously provided for. And I have a house full of contented children, pleased with the small things they received.

Content children= a very happy, peaceful mama.

Image source: A "love" ornament that I hand-painted for our Christmas tree.


I'll be home for Christmas

My little brother Joshua has been traveling through Europe for the whole month of December. Lucky dog.

I can't stop referring to my brother in Europe...in Barcelona....oh, today he is in Germany....the Bavarian Alps...yesterday he was walking through the Champs Élysées and so on and so forth.

What can I say? I'm living vicariously through him and his travels.

He excitedly planned this trip for an entire year and we all knew that Christmas would be the hardest for him.

For us.
He's the baby of the family.
The crown jewel of our collection, if you will.

He's 21 years old and this is the first time away he's been away from the family during the holidays. For weeks now, he's been posting envy-inducing pictures on his Instagram. But today....today was rough. For me and my sister....for his nieces...the boys....my mom, of course.

He sent us this video of him singing a Christmas message to us from the Eiffel Tower.


But they are happy tears. Happy that he is experiencing the world and living life. But what I wouldn't give to see his mop of curls bouncing around, his sparkly bow tie and combat boots and his skinny bear hugs.


Homeschooling: the good and the bad days

Now that I've been practicing this homeschooling lifestyle for the past ten years, I'm beginning to realize something. Homeschooling families should have a very strong conviction that this is the road they are meant to be on. Developing a thick skin as chief executor of your child's education wouldn't hurt either. You need to or else you'll crumble at the end of a really rough day trying to teach your children.

And believe me, there will be some rough days. It's reality.

Some days homeschooling is so amazing it makes me want to cry because we are so blessed that we have the freedom to educate ourselves in any way we choose.

Recently, we hosted a history group in our home. We're studying Story of the World, volume two. My boys are really loving this book and they often read ahead of the chapter we are studying. Since we were studying Ancient China and Japan, we thought we would do some fun activities that correlated with the topic. We drank hot green tea, studied the map of Asia and looked up photos of the Grand Canal (which I never knew was man made, did you?). Then we took our little group outside to sit on the front lawn and enjoy nature so they would be inspired to write their own Haiku poetry.

Red leaf, spider veins
spread along the fallen leaf
crunches in my hand

Once our poetry session was over, we sat in the kitchen and started to make our own sushi rolls, using thin sheets of nori (dried seaweed), rice and thinly sliced fresh vegetables, which we ate with soy sauce and pickled ginger.  We also had spicy tuna rolls (I ordered some already made), sauteed tofu wedges (yum) and some delicious miso soup. Once their tummies were full, we finished off the lesson by carving stamps into sweet potatoes (of all things) and using them to block print onto small squares of paper, just like during the Golden Age of China. We capped off the day chatting in the driveway while our children tossed the football around.

Sigh. It was one of those perfect homeschooling days where the learning just happened organically.

Diego, enjoying his vegetable nori wrap.

Xixi and Natalie, smiling and spreading their sticky brown rice.
Happy kids learning.

Wasn't that lovely? Doesn't it make you want to stay home and homeschool your little Einsteins?

Then there was last Tuesday.

I've decided to call this homeschool character development day. This is when very little schoolwork gets done because we're too busy striving against sibling rivalry, squabbles and drama and I am exhausted from the effort. Those are the days I wish I could pack them all off to a boarding school and not have to worry about educating a pack of savages.

So you see, you have to take the good with the bad in this homeschooling adventure. And thankfully,  there are many more good days than bad. Thankfully.

Have you had a great homeschooling experience lately? Do share. I need all the encouragement I can get.


It's National Cupcake Day--wanna bite?

Since today is National Cupcake Day I thought I'd share these tasty little morsels I just had. The funny thing is, I'm not a big sweet fiend. I prefer that my poison be salty and crunchy. If you locked me in a room with a bunch of baked goods or salty dips, you know I would be knee deep in the dip.

Just saying.

I enjoy a yummy sweet treat every now and then. I don't discriminate. I am an equal opportunity fat girl.

So Laura from The Sugar Spot came by and dropped off a box filled with cupcake yumminess for me and the chil'rens to enjoy.  Carrot cake, chocolate and red velvet. Just so you know, I hissed like a feral cat everytime the chil'rens tried to get near my carrot cake and cream cheese frosting cupcake.

Like, for reals. Carrot cake is my all-time favorite.

And it was heavenly. Moist, not overly sweet (my usual issue with cupcakes), the carrot cake tasted like actual carrot cake...and the frosting? Let's just say when I die, you can bury me in a vat of cream cheese frosting. The light dusting of walnuts sent me over the edge.


When someone drops these at your doorstep, you know you're going to have a good day.

So cute and delicious.

Keep your hands off my carrot cake cupcake or you might end up with a nub!

Judging from the way we demolished these cupcakes, I'd say they were pretty delicious. If you want to bring some fantastic baked goods to your holiday festivities but you don't have the time or the inclination to bake them yourself, contact Laura. She is located in Riverside (she delivers!) and she has a ton of specials going on for the holidays.

And she has really cute freckles. At least that's what Xixi said.

Like The Sugar Spot on Facebook. Celebrate National Cupcake Day by munching on some delish cupcakes!


Rest in peace, friend

A dear friend of mine who battled brain cancer for more than twenty years died yesterday.

Jon Veitch was one of those people you never forget. A free spirit, a true original, an artist visionary with a sweet spirit. He was passionate in his love for others and his love for God.

Although we graduated from the same high and we knew many of the same people, I didn't really get to know him until 2004 when we started attending the same church. I came to find out he was also a talented artist and so we bonded like that. Crazy artist people.

Jon's drawings inspired me to begin my own Sharpie work.
His Dr. Suess-inspired bike/sculpture. Amazing!

I often wondered how much of who he was was truly him or the brain cancer. Ask anyone who knew him,  he could be out there at times. But that is what made Jon, Jon. That is what people loved about him. When I would see him worshiping God, it always brought tears to my eyes.  He was the dude way down in the front with his arms and his voice raised. Or he was humbly on his knees in thanksgiving--either way, his outright worship inspired me. There was no shame, no embarrassment, no attention-seeking in his offering. It was then I realized he was who he was because that is how God made him,  brain cancer be damned.

After we heard the news that he had passed, my husband and I sat together and reflected on our friend. So many of us have a mask on, a facade. It covers who we really are, it shows only what we are willing to share with other people. It seemed as though Jon's brain cancer stripped that part of his personality away.  What was left was his true self, the raw incarnation of who Jon Veitch was. Unpolished, inappropriate at times, loving, humorous, passionate, brutally honest...real.

I was sad, thinking of his daughter's loss of a father. I was also sad that I won't see his handsome, smiling face again when he made his presence known, as he so often did, in the middle of bible studies, family gatherings, birthday parties, church, the Art Walk or our front door. I understand that he is no longer walking in the Earthly realm but I have a peace knowing he is walking with Jesus now. No more suffering, no more tears.

R.I.P Jon Veitch 1964--2011


Hooking up my wreath with Home Depot

My Christmas decorations are up, thanks to my very persistent children. If it wasn't for them, I would put up the snowman shower curtain in the bathroom and call it a day. But they so love the ritual of putting up the Christmas tree, our beloved Nativity scene, and all of the twinkling lights that I can't help but catch the Christmas spirit.

Everything is looking nice and colorful except for one thing: the great big wreath I had hanging on the front door. It was basically a plain wreath with a few acorns scattered on it.

It was not exactly the most colorful, welcoming wreath. It did not scream, jolly Christmas times are being had here.

This wreath needed some love STAT. So, we loaded up in the hooptie and made our way to Home Depot.
I love how the chil'rens use the cart as a family trolley.
The minute I step into a home improvement store I get all wide-eyed and I start fantasizing how fabulous my house would look if I could just buy everything. Home Depot is one of those places where we spend an incredible amount of time because A. We have six kids who have managed to wear down our house B. The house was built in 1953 (!) and C. My dear husband always has a very long "Honey Do" list.

We grabbed several things for around the house: LED lights, chalkboard paint (new projects--yay!), painters tape, spray paint, wood and a gallon of semi-gloss paint that was in the mistake pile that happened to be the perfect shade of Fiestaware green. For seven dollars. Swoon.

Decorations. Stay on track, Denise. You are here to fix up that sad little wreath, remember?

If you are like my family, you have a big bin filled with Christmas lights that either don't work or are a tangled mess. Our solution is to just keep buying more, apparently. After looking through the mind-boggling selection of lights, we choose several strands of mini lights.

But wait--the ornaments! It's important to me that I not just pile on a bunch of random ornaments for the sake of decorating the wreath. I wanted to incorporate a bit of my family and what we like. I snagged one of Martha Stewarts's 71 piece set of shatter-resistant ornaments. I loved it because it had such a variation: glitter balls, snowflakes, Christmas trees, polka-dots and icicle ornaments. And 71 shatter-resistant pieces sounds good to me. I can't even count how many ornaments fall and break because of the chil'rens rough little hands.

This is what the wreath started out like.

Hi, I'm a dusty old wreath with sad little acorns on it.

Booo-ring, right? Total snoozefest. Then I started layering some of my favorite ornaments, along with the new Martha Stewart shatter-resistant ornaments.

My felt pear--so cute!
Baby Jesus.
Had to put some Dia de los Muertos flavor up in here. It is hand-painted on clear ornament glass.

In the end, I really loved the way my wreath turned out.

Oh, you fancy huh?
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