Friday, December 27, 2013

The Gift of Giving

Zoe's wish list 2013
Late on Christmas Eve I took a moment to sit by the fireplace where the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We'd set out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.  We'd sprinkled magical reindeer dust in the front yard and opened and put on our Christmas pj's. The gifts were all wrapped (by 3 am) and the girls (who are 11, 20 and 25) were in bed.  We were content and happy.  The next morning they would wake up and open the rest of their gifts.  I couldn't wait! 

We're all familiar with the old saying that "It is better to give than to receive"  and I have to say that while I sure like to receive, there is nothing like the joy of giving!

Given the fact that I opened a gift store in the mall you'd think I would have had time to do a lot of shopping this year, but it was, in fact, the opposite. So as I sat there enjoying the last few moments of Christmas Eve, I felt a little less than content because I hadn't been able to find the perfect gifts for all of my friends and family members.  I got lucky with my girls.  I was able to order almost everything they had asked for on Amazon.  I was worried that the packages would not all be delivered in time, but they were.  I think Magical Mall Santa had something to do with that - when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas I told him I wished for everything I ordered on-line to come in before December 25th. Four packages arrived on December 24th. 

I inherited this love of giving.  Not in the DNA way, but in the nurturing.  My grandmother understands the gift of giving.  She always put together "gift boxes" for our birthdays and Christmas and graduations - a box that contained an assortment of small gifts that she had been collecting for us up to our big day.  I always looked forward to those boxes!  You never knew what was going to be in there and I loved it all.  One particularly difficult birthday during one of the latter years of my tumultuous 20+ year  marriage I was saved from succumbing to a a major pity party when my Granny's box came in the mail, filled with little gifts that told me loud and clear that she was thinking of me.  It lifted my spirits and gave me the perspective I needed.  That day I was on the receiving end, which helps remind me how much I like to be the one to create that kind of joy and happiness. 

My parents understand the gift of giving too. We didn't have much money when I was growing up but at Christmastime all 5 of us kids made our wish lists and every year our parents got us everything we asked for (or it seemed that way to me). I don't know how they did it, but Christmas morning was always pure magic happiness (as it was again this year!).  I have tried to do the same with my kids, but I've also tried to provide them with opportunities to really experience the sheer joy of giving. 
And the stockings were hung by the chimney

I'm pretty sure I've passed it on down.  Ariel emailed from Florida a couple of weeks ago asking questions about family members, hoping to get the info she needed to make the right gift selections.  I can see on Lacey's face how happy she is when she can give someone something they really like, and she puts so much thought into it.  She made a card for Mother's day this year for me with a wonderful drawing of The Grumpy Cat (when I was going through a grumpy cat worship phase).  It was perfect and I framed it!  And the youngest, at 11, had THE BEST time at our Big Brothers Big Sisters store picking out and wrapping gifts for all her family members.

I have been amazed at how adamant the kids coming in to the store are about what they want and what they don't want to choose as gifts.  I had this 9 year old little boy tell me in great detail all about his dad's hobbies and likes and dislikes and he was very particular about what he eventually picked out for dad.  But I have also had kids who just couldn't wrap their heads around picking something out for others, not for themselves.  I expected that from the 4 and 5 years olds, but not the 10 and 11 year olds.  I sure hope we get to do the store again next year cause there are a lot of kids who need to experience the gift of giving.  The ones who understand it already were a joy to shop with.

The best thing is that there are always new opportunities to give; birthdays and anniversaries and other holidays are coming up and there's always Christmas again next year! 

I have to say as well that I sure did make out on the receiving end again this year!  Yay, Presents! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Place For Kids To Shop!

Some of our first customers!
There are still 4 more days to shop at "From Me To You," the holiday gift shop set up by Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas in Rolling Oaks Mall!  It's open til 6 pm on December 24th!
A little customer donates
Once upon a time the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff and board members looked at its waiting list of over 1,200 kids and said, "We love our donors, but we need more money to match more kids before it's too late!"  So they formed a crazy committee called the "Sustainable Revenue Committee" whose job it is to find and vet ideas to bring in new, non traditional donors to support the program.  This holiday season, the committee voted to invest in this special social enterprise venture:  a holiday retail gift store for kids to shop for gifts at!  So far we have had nearly 300 customers at the store and over 90% of them are new donors!!

The gifts through the window
The idea is simple:  one side of the store is a waiting area for parents to sit, relax, watch Christmas movies and drink hot cocoa while their kids shop, assisted by helper elves,on the other side of the curtain - where the gifts are displayed on shelves.  Parents make a donation which is converted to points which the kids use to select gifts for mom, dad, grandparents, siblings and friends.  They have to stay within their budgeted points.  They leave the store with a backpack full of under the tree ready wrapped gifts.  

The kids are loving it!

Parents relax while their kids shop.
A really cool thing about our store is that we have had shoppers in to buy for gifts for Angel Tree Families and other adopt a family programs.   QVC even came in and shopped for gifts for a "store" it set up at its offices for its Inspire U mentoring program Little Brothers and Little Sisters to shop at for family and friends.
QVC bag-o-gifts!
There's been a whole lotta buzz about this venture and you can check it all out here.

This is a link to a really cool news-story that Fox and WOAI did on the store: 
You can also read about some blogger's visits with their kids to the store:
My previous posts about the store are here:

Read more about it on the Big Brothers Big Sisters website where you can find and print a FREE GIFT WRAP COUPON!  

Also check out From Me To You on:
More pictures of the store:
The store is upstairs outside of Macy's, above Santa in Rolling Oaks Mall


A customer mails a letter to Santa

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Yay, Family Traditions!

"When you create family traditions, you help make lasting memories that hold families together."-- Caroline Kennedy.

This post is inspired by my middle daughter, Lacey, aka @aacerr, age 20 and a junior at Texas State University.  In a previous post, Parties and Presents!, I talked about how birthdays are celebrated in our family.  We are huge into creating traditions. For example, in this post on Photos, you can see many of our traditions illustrated.  Last week when I was writing the post about Santa, Lacey sent me a long note listing all of our traditions by month.  The note ended with this:

Here are a few of our favorite traditions:   

January:  This being the month after all the holidays, it would seem to be a good time to rest, but there is no rest for the Party Wechsler family!  Not only do we celebrate my birthday and my brother Lance's birthday in January, (often at my favorite Chilis), but it has also become a family tradition that we celebrate Bramble, our stuffed rabbit's birthday too.  Complete with cake and candles.  He will be 8 years old in 2014.  Oh, where has the time gone, stuffed rabbit?  I'm telling you:  Any excuse to party. 

In February, Valentine’s day is very important. This is the holiday of love, hearts, stuffed animals, the color red, chocolate, and wine. Wait, wine? I may have just started that tradition. Now, here, in this blog post.  I am so good at this. 

Two of my daughters have March birthdays, but there's a glitch in this month, so the tradition has evolved into the following inevitable steps:  
  • Vow to schedule birthday party on time for (insert Ariel, Lacey or Zoe, this has been going on for years) 
  • Procrastinate scheduling party due to St Patrick's day celebrations, Spring Break and sometimes even Easter 
  • Finally squeeze party in right before Fiesta! in April
The beauty of this is that what is actually a total mom fail has become a Family Tradition.

Here is what Lacey's note says about April:   
"April is usually Easter and Fiesta, we dye Easter eggs together and then on Easter we do the egg hunt for the hard boiled eggs in the morning and then we open our baskets together, always with an egg for Ariel (whether she is there or not) and the Bram and the Atlas, the cat, then we go to grandma's for the money egg hunt. :D"   

Zoe said, "She forgot going to Mass," but I’m pretty sure Lacey didn't “forget” to list Mass in her Yay! Family Traditions list.  ;p 

May is Mother's Day:  I heart Mother's Day - the kids have to do everything I say.  #asif

Our big summer tradition is to rent a huge multiple bedroom house on the water in a coastal Florida town like Destin.  My parents and 4 sibs and their families all usually go and there have been as many as 22 of us on these trips. If I go this year, I will probably do a post about these vacas, which are chock full of little traditions.  

The aforementioned Parties post describes our August tradition to have a big celebration of all the June, July and August birthdays.  

September is of course the school supply shopping expedition and the first day of school outfit selection complete with requisite picture taking.  This is all preceded by the tradition of refusing to believe that summer is coming to an end as described here in my Procrastination Meets Denial post. 

I'm pretty sure I did Halloween justice in these posts:  A Problem with Pumpkins, Cackles,Cauldrons, and Cobwebs: our Costume Craze, and Baubles,Trinkets and Knickknacks, Oh My!, but here it is in Lacey-speak: 
  • 1st bring a million Halloween boxes down to decorate the house   
  • Then find costume 
  • Then Momma's Halloween party
  • Then trick or treating on Halloween at sunset with dad and momma hands out candy
  • Finally, Apple cider and pictures by the pumpkin ghost
Lacey's note continues for November:  "1st is away with the ghosts and out with the turkeys. Then Thanksgiving with everyone at gramma's house, then Black Friday shoppin,' Christmas tree shoppin' for gramma's the day after thanksgiving and Christmas tree decorating with the grandkids while listening to Christmas music."  

I keep trying to create a tradition to get everyone over to my house to get all my Christmas boxes out and downstairs, but it never happens. Thanksgiving is all about Grandma's house. 

And finally, Lacey has this to say about December, the most wonderful time of the year:  "Oh man, then it's time for December and that's when things get crazy. Turkeys make way for Santa and elf hats in the house."

Her list of Christmas traditions:  
  • Find a weekend to get a tree, decorate it, drink eggnog and make a fire :) :) :) 
  • Pick a night to go the river walk and see all the lights and ride on the barges 
  • Open up one present and Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve to take a million pictures with all of us (including the kitty and the Bram [we've even been known to take a picture or two with the fish]).  
  •  Sprinkle reindeer dust on the front lawn and leave carrots out for the reindeer (which I'm pretty sure Bramble just steals anyways) and cookies and milk for Santa (which he most definitely does not need, surely he gets enough).
  • Do our stockings on Christmas morning (of course Bram and Atlas have stockings, haven't you been paying attention ?) 
  • Go over to gramma's to open more presents and eat a lovely Christmas meal prepared by the lovely gramma 
  • Uncle Shane is always the Present Elf
  • We also always go to a Spurs game as a family whether it be before or after Christmas, it's an important tradition. 
  • Then New Year's Eve brings forth sparkling cider and either downtown San Antonio or the NYE celebration on the TV in New York.
  • Yay !!!!! Traditions !!!! We're such a cute family." 
(Zoe:  "She forgot Mass again.") :) 

A new tradition this year:  We are going to Tokyo steakhouse for my grandmother's 90th birthday today!. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Your Child Could Be Next

As I was driving away from my daughter's school today I was suddenly overcome with anxiety.  Yesterday I saw this CNN blog post, "Support for stricter gun control fades"  and was dismayed.  Once again I thought to myself, "what can I do?"  The general public has been lulled into a false sense of security because it's been a few months since we had what the general public considers to be a catastrophic episode.

As I drove away from where my daughter attends the 6th grade I started flashing on pictures from the media coverage of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  Pictures of sheer panic and utter pain on the faces of anxious parents and relatives outside the school.  Pictures of the children coming out of the school bewildered and scared.  And I said to myself, "I absolutely have to do something."  This could be my child, today or tomorrow.  Don't I do everything I can, every day to protect my child?  This is a very real threat - and what am I doing today? 

All that I have managed to do so far is write a few emails to my elected officials in support of stricter gun control laws.  I've defended my position on social media.  I've signed petitions. I've grieved for the parents of shooting victims - in no way comparably to what they have actually experienced.  I've thought to myself:  "I'm so glad it wasn't me."  

Today as I drove further and further from the school parking lot, crazy thoughts and images flying around in my head, I was scared for the safety of my child.  Gun control advocates would roll their eyes if I tried to describe my fear to them.  They would say my child had a greater chance of getting into a car accident on the way to school.  This would not comfort me.   The craziest thing is that it's not an irrational thought that my child might be the victim of a mass shooting today at her school.  It's a horrifically possible scenario.  Sure the "chances" are lower than a car accident, but does that matter to the parent of a dead child?  Why does this problem persist, with no measurable progress in safeguards?!  Why does my 11 year old have to take off her shoes in the airport as a precaution against terrorism but she is not afforded relevant similar precautions in her own school?

Well, we all know why.  It's the powerful, well funded gun control lobby that blocks and sabotages every effort at precautions, right?   We all shrug, helpless-like, in agreement.  "What can the average American do against that big powerful group?" we ask ourselves and each other, rhetorically, and uselessly. 

Here is what I think the average American can do to fight for the safety of our children:  PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING HE OR SHE WANTS TO DO.  And let me tell you - we gun control advocates WAY outnumber the other side.  I know what the polls say about the percent of Americans favoring more gun control and the percent that does not.  It seems to be about 50/50 most of the time - except right after something really horrific happens and then the percentage of people in support of more control  goes up.

There are over 300 million people in the United States.  Roughly 4 million of them are members of the NRA.  That's like 1%.  70 million Americans claim to own a gun.  That's abut 20% of Americans.  I know many gun owners.  A few of them get pretty heated when you say anything that even hints at blocking their total access to any kind of gun, anytime, anywhere for any reason.  But most of them are reasonable people.  People who would support laws to prevent more Sandy Hooks.  People whose child could simply, easily be one of the next victims. Just like that.  When they least expect it.

Here are a few things that the American people have done when they were mad enough or afraid enough or visionary enough to be moved to action: 

1. The Declaration of Independence:   In 1776 there were between 2 and 2.7 million Americans (not counting the native population) and as colonists, we formed the greatest country in the world when we fought off the yoke of the oppressive British. We were pissed off about, among other things, taxation without representation. Take that, you Tory Loyalists!
2. The Emancipation Proclamation:  Abolitionists believed that all men actually were created equal and they fought to free over 4 million slaves, despite the the predictions of dire negative economic consequences. Now this was a challenge to overcome. Just imagine for one minute the strength, faith, resolve and courage it took to be a part of the Underground Railroad!  This proclamation was followed by the 13th Amendment in 1865 and of course the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
3.  The Woman's Suffrage Movement:  Hundreds and hundreds of women got up and went out and petitioned and picketed and marched and got arrested, all for the right to vote.  Talk about a lack of representation!  Women were fed up and they did something about it. 
4.  The Moon Landing:  We actually flew to the moon, landed on it and walked around.  And then we flew back safely.  We can do anything

So, it's not the pro-gun groups that piss me off on this issue, it's the American people.  A lot of people have to die before the average American can be jolted out of his or her fast-food, reality TV induced soporific stupor of indulgence.  That sounds ugly and mean, I know.  It's also a gigantic generalization.  But I'm sorry, it's based in too much truth.  And in all seriousness, I really do blame television.  Go ahead and google "great things America has done," or "great feats in US history" and see what comes up. It's no coincidence that the most revolutionary things we've done since the majority of households in the US got televisions is to create more technology like the DVR and the iPad and robots. Things that allow us to be more and more sedentary.  (And more and more obese.)  Did you know that Americans spend as much as 40 hours a week watching TV?!  Oh. My. God.

Today's revolutions are not happening because a vast majority of Americans can't get off the couch. Children are being killed

This is not a Joyful Rant, I know.  It's an appeal (and I am finally getting to the point).  I propose that everyone who is even remotely interested in preventing more innocent people from being gunned down by someone with a gun spend just 30 minutes to an hour of TV-watching time each week researching this issue.  Research it until you are moved to action.  Read everything - look at all the facts, sides, views, statistics and opinions.  But don't ever forget the victims.  One is too many, but there are thousands.  Do this knowing that your child or a child you care about could be next.  Do it because we are the only ones who can change things. 

If we did this, we could find a solution that works for everyone.  We could do the right thing for the safety of our children.  We freed ourselves from the British, fought against slavery, continue to fight discrimination and flew to the moon!  We can figure this out. 

If you read this (and granted not a lot of people read my blog, but I gotta start somewhere) and you are moved to any kind of action, please let me know.  I plan to post in the comment section about my weekly research and my actions. On those days when I am overcome with fear and helplessness, when I think about my child, vulnerable, at school, maybe it will help, a little. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Santa, or not to Santa?

My youngest daughter is 11 and she still believes in Santa.  What a magical bonus this is for her childhood!

I'm not saying she doesn't have doubts. I'm pretty sure that at this point she's choosing to believe in Santa because she doesn't want to let go of the magic, and I wholeheartedly support that. 

Childhood is so short. And some of it is so hard. Santa Claus and presents and sleighs and magical reindeer dust are parts of one of the really pure, sweet, fun perks of childhood:  Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Saint Nick, Father Christmas -- by any name, he is widely known as a bringer of joy and happiness. For example, he is so amazing that we knew instantly that things were gonna get better in Narnia just because Santa finally came around.  He shut that White Queen down!

I've always told my kids that their childhoods are going to be so short. "This is your childhood," I tell them, holding my thumb and forefinger just slightly apart to illustrate a tiny slice of life. "And this is the rest of your life," throwing my arms wide to drive home my point. "Don't be in a hurry to get through your childhood. It will be over too soon anyway." Of course after all these years I don't even have to say the second part anymore:  as soon as I say 'this is your childhood' they finish my sentence for me. The older two are 25 and 20 and have never been in a hurry to grow up.  And I've even heard them tell this to others now. Our kids may roll their eyes, but they're still listening. Even my Little Brother in the BBBS program knows this!
Naughty and Nice in 2012

Seriously though, in a world where childhoods are full of Honey Boo Boo and Miley Cyrus what parent wouldn't want to capitalize on the sweetness of Santa Claus? Santa stands for Love and Giving. He's all about making people happy. He's selfless and unassuming. He has a joyous laugh. He ponders ethical questions.  He's a hard worker.  His employees love him. This is a good role model. 

Some people don't like Santa. These people are kinda Grinchy. The typical arguments they have against him fall into 2 basic categories:

a) He's too commercial, and/or takes away from the "true meaning" of Christmas, or
b) He's a myth, (i.e. I'd be lying to my child)

The commercialism/true meaning of Christmas issue usually has to do with the belief that Santa detracts from the fact that the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We believe that if your faith is strong enough, there's room for two.  Our personal stable is big enough for both the Baby Jesus and all 8 reindeer, plus Rudolph.  When someone says "Christmas is all about Santa," it's not his fault they've lost their faith or can't get themselves to church. 

As for the "lying to your children" issue, I very scientifically consulted both my older children and Wikipedia.   Wikipedia agreed with me that no children were harmed in this experiment, and my oldest daughter Ariel, now 25, had this to say when I asked her when she knew or wondered about the existence of Santa:  "When I was in the 5th grade and y'all got us that playhouse I came downstairs and thought, 'Wow, they had to do that all by themselves last night." 

I just don't see a downside here. 

I asked Lacey, the middle child, age 20, the same question and our conversation ended with her sending me a long list of beloved family traditions that will be the subject of my next blog post. 

One thing Lacey reminded me of in particular is the year that my ex-husband expressed to me that he did not like Santa "getting credit" for all the presents. He said that the kids "should know" that we, their parents, bought them the presents.  I tried to say that "their childhoods are this short"....but he was not impressed.  That was the year the kids got presents with gift tags from "Tweety-Bird," "Tinkerbell," "Sean Elliott" and "Rudolph."  Lacey was about 12 then and she says this was a "big clue."  The ex shoudla learned how to wrap.  ;p

The bottom line for me is that there is such joy in both giving and receiving presents and Santa is the embodiment of that beautiful concept.  Sure, you could outlaw Santa and just keep it all in the family.  But that's just not as.... magical.  We have birthdays for that.  And other holidays.  And like it or not, during the holiday season, Santa is everywhere  - you just can't escape him. And you know the old saying, if you cant beat' em, join 'em!  So, if you're a young parent and struggling about whether or not to support the spirit of Santa, I say struggle no more!  Get on the Santa bus now - it's a wild but innocent ride! 

Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!

Bonus link:  you should believe in magic....
My childhood stocking :)