In our early years, our parents used to offer variations on the process of opening gifts at Christmas. One was the "Russian nesting doll" variation: We opened a huge box found under the tree only to reveal a slightly smaller box inside, followed by a slightly smaller box inside that, and so on.
Sometimes the core of the nesting boxes had a small gift inside. Other times, the smallest box contained a clue as to where the actual gift, which might be as large as a bicycle, lay.
My favorite variation, however, was the treasure hunt. The initial gift (or envelope) contained a hint leading us to the next clue, found somewhere in the house.
As we got older, the hints became little riddles in themselves. We had to work out where the next clue was, which process sometimes took some trial and error.
(My apologies for the sideways photos here; Blogger is messing up my formatting.)
This year Gwendolyn's main gift from me came at the end of a treasure hunt. Since she's not adept at reading yet, Sara had the brilliant idea of making it a visual hunt. On the reverse of every colored circle was a photograph of the next colored circle at its location in the house. When Gwendolyn identified where the picture was taken, she could easily find the next circle.
What fun to follow an excited three-and-a-half-almost-four-year-old around the house as she found the clues! It was certainly worth staying up late to put the construction paper circles in place.
Next post: what was behind the orange and green doors . . .
For the past ten years, I have made an anniversary gift for my wife out of the material assigned for that year (probably by Hallmark in a grand marketing plan). Last year's gift was made out of tin; my list then begins skipping every five years--I did not have a material for the eleventh anniversary. (I have recently been told that the material is steel--oy!)
The day of our eleventh anniversary last month we were committed to the annual caroling event with the youth of our congregation, which does not make for an exciting anniversary date. So we postponed the celebration until January. Last week Sara I and went out for supper at one of our better local restaurants, then met up with friends at another local joint for the best desserts in Afton. While we were together, I gave Sara her anniversary gift this year, something I've been planning since last winter: a Silver Star.
For eleven years I have been proud to be married to such a wonderful woman, full of dedication, industry, smarts, and love. Her superb sacrifice for the community after the flood of 2011 gave me an excuse to honor her a bit extra. Because the image and symbol are handy, I used the military honor of the Silver Star to mark it. Here's the text from the award that hangs now on our wall:
"In September 2011 Sara coordinated flood relief efforts operating out of Nineveh Presbyterian Church, working long hours under stressful and exhausting conditions. Meanwhile she continued to provide for the needs of a household which included one busy husband and one energetic toddler, all while in the throes of early pregnancy. She showed a character of perseverance, compassion, and patience under all circumstances. For these inspiring acts which would make any other husband jealous, Sara Jane Tyler is awarded the Silver Star."
It's Monday morning. Sara's asked for time to work, so I've got the kids. Micah is down for his morning nap.
The morning has been the familiar inexhaustible litany of requests, exclamations, and cries from Gwendolyn. Then: something unexpected. She points to her gingerbread house, made with Granny in early December, which has been sitting on our counter for a month. I can't help looking at it and seeing mouse attractant.
"We have to put this outside for the birds and the squirrels." Squirrels still comes out like krurruls from my three-and-a-half-almost-four-year-old's lips.
I have no idea where she came up with this idea. I try not to let my happiness seem excessive. "Really?"
"Yeah." Matter-of-fact. As if everyone puts out gingerbread houses on January 14th for local fauna to eat. As if it's a Catholic feast day.
We don our boots, hats, and mittens. The air is cold. Right there, outside the kitchen picture window, we lay the cookie abode to rest, a hapless victim of nature. Then we come inside.
Without a word Gwendolyn retrieves her "oggles," binoculars made out of two mismatched paper towel tubes glued together and decorated with princess and butterfly stickers (magnification: 1X). She perches on a chair next to the picture window and peers through her binoculars at the gingerbread house, six feet and a world away on the other side of the triple panes. I sit next to her, gazing into the cold January sky.
"Daddy, you need your oggles."
I reach over to the counter and pick up my pair of toilet paper tubes with DADDY inked on one side. Gwendolyn made a pair for every member of the family, including Micah, how sees cardboard only as a fantastic chew toy.
Now we are partners in the watching, our worlds divided evenly into two circles.
The gingerbread house sits alone against the pale green and brown of early winter, a steel blue sky showing no sign either of birds or squirrels. But we watch.
For ten minutes we sit in silence. Ten minutes: a blessed eternity in my life with a whirlwind preschooler, with no words, no whining, not even the quiet contemplative singing she often does. She is too focused to speak, riveted by the expectation that at any moment a flock of birds or warren of squirrels will appear in the field of her binoculars. The moment is full of gravity and hope. We are watching.
She is watching for the hidden beneficiaries of this unexpected winter treat.
I am watching, silent with joy, yet another facet of this ever-new life lit by our winter window.