Friday, December 23, 2016

The True Story of the Paper Tree

Once upon a time...
A 14th generation Southern Californian Natived moved to the Washington Kitsap Penninsula, following a dream and her heart.  She found a tiny apartment to move into to get her feet wet (ha ha ha) and learn about the area. The apartment had just enough room for her things and that was about it. Since she moved in during the Spring, she'd given little thought to what a Christmas in the tiny apartment would look like. For her, Her Sailor, and Clydas (the Boxer dog), it was 865 square feet of living space that fit them just right for a start.

When the seasons turned colder and the days turned into holidays, the young Sailor was out to sea, so it was up to the girl to decide what kind of Christmas she could do. She knew Her Sailor wouldn't be back until long after. Any live tree would die and the tiny apartment didn't allow for storage of a fake one. (Besides having grown up with a real tree, anything less seemed less festive by far and hardly worth the investment of energy.)
So thought long and hard... she enjoyed the holidays, and knew she'd need something,  but with no floor space, where would she put a tree?  And would any live tree still be alive when Her Sailor finally returned?

She got creative and went on a mission for butcher block paper and water color paints. She asked at a few stores until she finally found a Fed Ex Office store who was understanding of her plight. Though it was against company policy, the kind worker cut off about 6 feet of paper from a printing machine designed to print out large scale blue-prints and the like. Grateful for the contribution, she stopped by a craft store and picked up the necessary water colors and set to work.

She worked long into the night, and the end result more closely resembled the workmanship of a 5th grader than an adult. Instead of ornaments, the tree was decorated with scrap book stickers. It took several hours to complete, and used up nearly all the green in the water color kits, but it was finally done.

She pinned it to the wall, pinned her tree skirt under neath it, and sat a box nearby with gift for Her Sailor to enjoy upon his return.

The bewildered Clydas didn't seem to know what to do about it, but was happy to stand guard over the package and the strange new addition to the wall...

Later on, the paper tree was folded and put away, until the next time Her Sailor went under the sea over the holidays. Then, it traveled with him, along with everything he needed to affix it to his rack to remember the holidays and think of her.

Now, the same paper tree gets unrolled every year and displayed in the house before Christmas. This year, it holds all the Christmas cards they've received. It's hard to believe the little, imperfect tree could hold so many well wishes, but it still holds up today, even though a real Christmas tree (complete with actual ornaments, lights, and a few scattered gifts stands a room away). It may be a bit faded, and may be mistaken for a child's art project, but the tough little Paper Tree, tattered and wrinkled, has yet to lose its needles - and no doubt has many other travels in its future.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Shoestring Made of Magic - Christmas and the year 2016

We live in a very Norwegian little town. Every year, our little town of Poulsbo throws a strange sort of party. Every year, a clan of vikings kidnaps a maiden (St. Lucia) and lights a big ass bonfire right on the waterfront in the middle of downtown. The shin-dig starts off with lighting the Christmas tree, and dancing around it in big circles (no skill required kind of dancing... okay, so it's more like an organized shuffle, but it's entertaining to witness and be a part of).
Beanie Girl Does Julefest 2016

It was a crazy day for us, but it was also a fun tradition to begin with Beanie Girl.

And best of all, it was free.

It's been no secret. This has probably been the hardest year on our pocket books ever. It started last year, when little got sick right around the time I got back from Maternity leave, causing me to take even more time off work to see her gentle soul through some trying times. While Beanie Girl was busy building the best immune system ever, Trainer Girl (me) was frantically rescheduling and losing sessions here and there - sessions we can't afford to lose since we were making financial decisions in the blur of new-parenthood. As most people operating off very little sleep, we made some unwise financial decisions in the heat of the moment (you know, like putting groceries and gas on credit cards...) and have spent this year working hard to get our heads back above water. Like many, we don't make enough to get help, but also don't make enough to stay current on everything all the time, so it's an uphill battle.

While we've made some head way on our debts this year, in the spring (you know, about when Beanie Girl got pnuemonia, after me being out of work to sit with her during a bad cold the week before which I think was her 3rd virus since her August birthday - a tough start for a lightweight kid),  Our resources were completely tapped out financially and something I never thought would happen was happening.

We were starting to get hungry. Literally. The pantry was empty, and the bank account was too. I was constantly searching for ways to increase my pay, but to do so w/o needing child care services was grasping at straws. (Let's face it, Sunshine Rewards doesn't pay that well.)

So My Sailor reached out to his family and I reached out to local, more immediate resources -  a community that had helped us with so much before - our local Buy Nothing project. They helped us fill the gaps by cleaning out their pantries and freezers and offering us what they didn't have any use for anymore. For the price of gas, we got frozen turkey from the Thanksgiving before, home jarred Salsas, baking mixes (more than a few meeting our Gluten free needs), protein shakes and more. It filled the gap and until the next paycheck.

We learned to be resourceful. (And that says something, since I've always been pretty damn resourceful to begin with.) With the thanksgiving left overs gifted to us, we made huge pots of soup and stews that got us through those lean weeks. (My mom had given us the gift of Cloth Diaper Service, so that was one think we didn't have to worry about.)

And we've learned a lot.

Most of our clothes this year are second hand - either hand me downs (which we've continued to hand down to others), or Goodwill finds, with the odd pair of pants here or underwear there that's new. And There Is Nothing Wrong With That. 'New' doesn't always mean 'better'.

We have let go of the things we don't need.  I've sold some musical instruments I no longer play and Disney art peices that I wasn't particularly attached to, and My Sailor as sold one of his guns - because in the end, they are just 'stuff' anyway.

We made some hard decisions. My Sailor reupped for the military, and we're looking toward the future as things continue to upswing.

Through it all, we've caught up. Slowly but surely, the small decisions are adding up and we're making progress.

And we're still together. We're still a family. Nothing changed. And Maybe We've Just Learned the Greatest Lesson of All this Year....

Santa taking photos on stage
Today, Beanie Girl went to a military Kids and Family Holiday party. It was a free event that My Sailor had signed us up for. I knew she'd get her picture taken with the jolly old elf himself, and that she would get a present. I was expecting something generic (like a candy cane). Instead, Santa knew she liked Rapunzel and her age - and she was given 2 toys! One was a doll of Rapunzel that she was enchanted by, and the other was a developmental ball toy I'd been wanting for her, but had yet to see a quality one cross the Buy Nothing or Goodwill 'shelves'. It was like Santa knew...

Our foam, family made frame
There were 2 bounce houses she was a bit too small for, and a few other games, including a cookie decorating station (which we didn't do because a) no 16 month old needs THAT much sugar, and b) they didn't have any gluten free ones anyway and we opted not to brave the allergic reaction for a cookie...), a frame making station (which we did as a family) and a few other grab bag goodies. She came home with a coloring book as well.
Doing a Scratch Art ornament and gazing at her new doll
I looked around at all the different families... some dressed up for Santa. Some just rolled out of bed. Some looked as though they wanted for nothing, while others looked as though they barely had clothes for the weather.

And I sat there fighting back tears more than once...

I've had more than enough in my life and had more than enough need as well.

But when the need has arisen, I've always been looked after. Even this year...

Despite making progress, we're on a complete shoestring. Our 'gift' to our local friends was throwing a Murder Mystery pot luck dinner party at our house last night - and it was an amazing night (that I managed not to take one... single... solitary... photo of... ).  We'll have enough food left over not to need to go grocery shopping again until 2017... We didn't expect that!

But I sat there during the party, fighting back tears, reminded of all of the generosity that seems always to come my way when I need it the most - when I'm short on cheer or necessities.

One small example, Beanie Girl recently grew out of her hand-me down winter coat... and the weather has rarely gotten above 35. So we layer up as much as we can, and don't spend much time outside. Still, she needed a good coat. I heard of a store with a huge sale and asked a friend I needed to spend some time with to come with me to the mall and browse and catch up.  The coat we found was slightly out of my price range - but it just so happened my friend was looking for a Christmas gift for Beanie Girl. Not just any gift - but a useful one.

See that little pink coat with the silver stars in the photo above with Beanie Girl's bag?

She loves it.

Needless to say, it's useful.

We can't repay our friends, family, and Buy Nothing in kind, necessarily, but this year they have all served as fantastic reminders for me -

There is no 'giving season' anymore than there is a 'needy season'.

Speaking a need isn't 'shameful'. 
It gives people who the chance to do good, to give, to be part of the solution to someone else's story.

This year may have been a skinny one, but we've made magic on a shoestring - and those who helped us make it are the threads.