Thursday, December 28, 2006

After-Christmas Commentary: Christmas Day

We spent Christmas alone, just our family, for the first time in seven years. (Usually Papa Rooster's parents come over for the morning, but this year they drove in to Chicago to spend the whole day with his brother and his family. On Tuesday they all came to our house.)

We had Morning Prayer together and then turned our attention to the sea of gift bags that surrounded the tree. I wrap most of the younger two's gifts so that they can have the satisfaction of rrrrrripping that paper off. But the older ones don't care, and since it's faster than wrapping, I go for the gift bags most of the time, wrapping the item up in an opaque plastic bag--to discourage peekers--before stuffing tissue paper on top. Quick, reusable, and needing little in the way of decoration, the only problem with them is that you can't easily stack them under the tree!

For posterity (and character development in the grand plot of this blog), it may be of interest to report on a few of the most successful gifts, especially the ones that didn't cost much. How does one keep Christmas from becoming a financial nightmare when trying to please six children?

First, one asks them for a list, and one gives immediate feedback on the list. "Don't hold your breath, dearie, for the laptop. Better not count on that iPod, either. How much do Heelies cost?" (Upon researching the latter question, these gym shoes with built-in wheels in the heels are not to be had--anywhere--for less than $70, and since the requester, Bantam11, is outgrowing shoes every six months, it was lovingly explained that he should not expect these under the tree.)

Having accepted financial realities, they usually shift focus to smaller things they'd like to have, and I do my best to please, while staying out of the expensive stores. I didn't even set foot in the mall this year; their gifts all came from Target, Aldi, Dollar General,, and Bath and Body Works (I had a 33% off coupon!).

And I always supplement and surprise them with garage sale and resale shop finds. These items are not usually on their lists, but they were, for one reason or another, too good to pass up, and the kids usually recognize that same quality in them. One of my biggest scores this year cost me a mere $10 at a garage sale last summer and delighted all three of the Bantams--a Lego spaceship, UFO, boat, jail and X-wing fighter, plus two zip-lock bags of assorted Lego parts including 4 much-fought-over foundational bases. They divvied everything up very amicably and seem extremely pleased to possess and play with these models even though they did not have the pleasure of assembling them. The X-wing fighter, it turns out, is a discontinued model worth at least $45 on Ebay, and I am just the coolest mom ever, to have had the luck to find it and the sense to buy it!

We did very well at Dollar General: sticker books and paint-with-water books delighted the younger crowd; Chicklet4 adores her porcelain ballerina doll and feathery princess tiara; Bantam 7 fools us all with his spy binoculars; Bitty Bantam's light-up bouncy ball was a hit all around, and Blondechick14's request for a jar candle was easily met there. One of the coolest things I found there was a $20 electric piano, on sale for $10, which seems to be remarkably good quality (i.e. it's still looking and sounding good after 48+ hours in our home). The keyboard folds in half so that two players can play it at once, and it has all kinds of settings and accompaniments. We gave it to the two piano lesson-takers, Bantams 7 & 11.

In keeping with the musical theme, the two boys each got a $3 harmonica, which delighted them both, and Bantam11 is already playing recognizable tunes. I saw them at the music store while buying the piano books ($11) they had requested--Bantam 11 is eager to learn some easy Beatles arrangements, while Bantam 7 will work up some simple Disney movie musical numbers. While I was there, I checked for any deals on Broadway-type karaoke/accompaniment CD's which we could use for auditions, and found a reasonable 2-disc anthology of choices for Blondechick14, who's been anxious to start working on her next audition.

A few more scores:

Bantam 7--an I Spy book and the only McDuff book we didn't have, both for quarters at a resale shop. (I Spy and McDuff are way up there on his list of favorites.) He also asked for and received boxers and black stretchy gloves, thin enough that the fingers fit in the trigger section of an Airsoft gun. Having just seen the first one for the first time (these poor deprived fourth-borns), he was thrilled to receive Toy Story 2 (we ordered a like-new DVD from for half the price of one from Target)

Bantam 15--a graphic novel based on H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (which he asked for and I purchased with my teacher's discount at Borders), black leather gloves ($7 at Aldi), 3-D puzzle of the Capitol (still in the shrink-wrap, $2 at a garage sale), books on the military (from garage sales), and a new backpack

Chicklet4-- picture books from garage sales, especially a version of Cinderella, which accompanied a darling Cinderella pumpkin coach from Odd Lots ($8, and it goes with a playset she received for her birthday last September, thus revitalizing that possession)

Bantam 11--a CD mix that Blondechick14 made for him, a CD holder, cologne, skateboarding stickers (which delighted him almost as much as Heelies would have), and a plush tiger rug/blanket from Aldi (this was his expensive and most thrilling gift at $17)

Blondechick14--small purse, large purse, winter coat that converts to vest (all on clearance at Target), earrings, footless tights, body spray, and 2 DVD's (which I did not have the foresight to order from

Bitty Bantam--play fruits and veggies from the dollar aisle at Target (he and Chicklet are playing picnic all the time now) and a chunky toddler schoolbus I found at a garage sale.

Papa Rooster and I had agreed to not exchange gifts for Christmas, since we spent beaucoup bucks earlier in the month on a family gift--a heavy-duty, won't-break treadmill, for all the runners we have in our house now! And he gave me a special anniversary gift for our 20th--a sapphire-and-diamond cross on a gold chain, with matching sapphire studs. Beautiful (he has great taste), and they were on sale. Still, it's a good thing we economized on the kids, dontcha think?

Perhaps our best Christmas gift cost us nothing at all, and it arrived on Christmas afternoon--the news that my sister-in-law (Pilot Brother's wife) had given birth, on Christmas Eve, to my newest niece, and that they were both healthy and well!

Which brought our minds around to other free gifts we enjoy--health, family, friends, salvation, and meaning in life, all because of the gift of another baby born 2,000 years ago. It's a cliche, but it's true--the best things in life are free!


Islandsparrow said...

Your Christmas sounds lovely!

You're so right - the very best things are not bought with money.

Praying the Lord's blessing for you and yours in 2007!

Anonymous said...

Can I ask you this: What is the meaning of life? I really mean the question very seriously and am interested in what you might respond.

At A Hen's Pace said...


I will have to give this question further thought once my company leaves (after this weekend).

It's a phrase easily used, but not easily unpacked. An excellent question to be forced to think through!

Jennifer said...


your Christmas sounds beautiful and delightfully free of the materialism snare. What a refreshing post! It sounded like fun, thoughtful gifts all-around.
Your necklace sounds beautiful, sapphires are my favorite.

Jenny in Ca