Happy Holidays!

 From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal April 26, 2011

Happy New Year! Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Happy Easter! At our house, we love holidays and celebrate them to the fullest. From green pancakes on St. Patrick’s Day, to egg hunts at Easter, we do it all.
Holidays in Wyoming are a bit different than in Las Vegas. Be it Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter, Vegas celebrates holidays with a bit of a twist.
The first clue I had that Vegas wasn’t “holiday happy” was when my son was in kindergarten. As my first school child, I was excited to celebrate the holidays in his classroom. A week before Halloween, we received a note from the teacher explaining the school would celebrate “Nevada Day” on Oct. 31 in memory of Nevada’s statehood. (Yes, Nevada became a state on Halloween.) Only western costumes were allowed. I swallowed my disappointment that he would have to save his official costume for trick-or-treating and helped him pick out a pair of chaps, western vest and a cowboy hat to wear to school. When we arrived, I expected to see cowboys and cowgirls milling around everywhere. Instead, all of the other boys were wearing sombreros! My son was the odd man out.
The next holiday was Thanksgiving. I recalled my own “Thanksgiving Feast” as a first-grader and anticipated helping out in the classroom with a festive meal. However, when the note from the teacher came home, the holiday was called a “harvest feast.” Yes, fall is definitely harvest time, so the teacher was politically correct. “What about the Thanksgiving feast of the pilgrims?” I wondered.
In December, I began to grow wary of school holidays. Sure enough, a note came home about a “Winter Concert.” At the concert we heard the children sing about Santa Claus and Rudolph, dreidels and Kwanzaa. At the end of the evening, the music director stood and invited us to sing “Silent Night,” as a standard American tradition. I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a touch of Christmas in the concert.
When February rolled around, we learned all about Black History Month, with barely a mention of Presidents Lincoln or Washington. On Feb. 14, the children were invited to exchange “friendship cards.” No, I’m not Catholic. I don’t know much about St. Valentine, but our family certainly celebrates Valentine’s Day. At home that night we decorated our sugar cookies and exchanged pink hearts.
In April, another note invited the children to bring filled, plastic eggs for the “Dinosaur Hunt.” I must admit, I’ve never seen a real, live Easter Bunny. But then again, aside from bones in a museum, I’ve never seen a dinosaur either.
Yes, I’m glad to be in Wyoming. Our family celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. We do all of them whole-heartedly. We dress up. We cook special food. We hang decorations. All of the holidays didn’t stem from our personal religious beliefs, but they’re American, and we are, too.
When I lived in Japan, I wore a yukata in August and enjoyed the Obon parades. I watched families set lights on the water in memory of their dead. Over New Year’s I ate mochi and gathered with friends at the temples to observe. I’m not Buddhist, but I enjoyed the celebration. It was Japan!
This is America, and some celebrations are just American. I don’t mind adding holidays to represent a variety of nationalities, but let’s not forget some of our original customs. Besides, traditions provide comfort and stability to children. I don’t want that comfort watered down.
So, if you see me on the street some time, I may just say, “Happy President’s Day!”, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”, “Happy Easter.” No political correctness here. We celebrate as often as we can. Can I say it again? Glad to be in Wyoming, proud to be an American.

Money Matters

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal April 12, 2011

I had an argument with my husband last week. It was about our family budget. He wanted to cut spending. I wanted to expand it. He thought we should spend less on oatmeal. I wanted to spend more on paper plates. He threatened to shut down our family. I threatened to stop making meals. We held a conference behind closed doors. The kids waited outside, breathlessly. Finally, we exited the room with an agreement in hand.
“Well,” my husband began, “instead of cutting out oatmeal, we’re just reducing to once a week.”
“And,” I added, “we’ll now be using paper plates every weekend.” The kids cheered. The compromise was accepted and signed into law.
Really? No. Although I do fix more oatmeal than my husband cares for, and we all wish we could use paper plates every day, I doubt that either issue would shut down our family. Besides, how do you shut down a family? No matter what disagreements are had, people need to eat, sleep and be clothed. I’d suggest that the government act a little more like family.
Does money matter? Of course it does. However, money may not matter as much as some people think. I remember when we were expecting our sixth child, one well-meaning friend asked, “But how will you afford another baby?” Others questioned, “What does your husband do for a living?” For some people, “children” is synonymous with “money.”
I’ll be the first to admit, children do cost money. It takes resources to keep 10 people going. We often subsist on hand-me-down clothes, second hand furniture and large doses of homemade bread. However, I don’t believe we’re any worse for the wear. Daily entertainment involves playing outside or with siblings, while the X-Box doesn’t exist in our house. All of our babies have slept comfortably in the same wooden cradle (the one I slept in) and shared many of the same blankets and sleepers. Birthdays are simple, with lots of cake and singing, and a few memorable gifts. Weekends are rarely spent at the roller rink, but at the nearby park or building a fort in the back yard.
Yet, despite our lack of “worldly goods,” we’re all rather happy. In fact, I’d say that our happiness comes in large part from our simple lifestyle. Singing together while washing a stack of dishes, a good family swim and a side-splitting game of charades are memories likely to last a long time.
As you can imagine, anyone with eight children qualifies for every government program under the sun (unless, of course, you’re a millionaire.) Still, I was raised old-fashioned and taught to do without government handouts. Our family chooses liberty over dependence. We don’t mind eating beans for a few meals at the end of a month.
I also appreciate the work ethic my children are learning. When my son went to the National Scout Jamboree, he sold popcorn and did odd jobs for nearly two years to pay his way. My daughter bakes homemade bread to finance her violin lessons.
I’m certainly not opposed to money. I love quoting Mark Twain who said, “I despise people who have money, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.” I wouldn’t mind a little extra cash to take a trip to Disneyland or go out to eat on nights I don’t feel like cooking. Sometimes I’d rather purchase name-brand clothes at the store, instead of saving hand-me-downs. These things would be nice, but would we be any happier? I doubt it.
Money can buy convenience, but it doesn’t buy happiness. Wasn’t that what the Revolutionary War was all about? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Those opportunities are priceless and cost little.
Then listen up, folks in Washington. We depend on you to ensure our rights. Leave the other details up to us. We can choose our own financial compromises along our pursuit to happiness. It’s time to get in, get out and get on with it. I’m sure most people would agree. Our family would.