Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Lives in Ornaments: 2013 Edition

In my last post, I described the many wonderful entries into this year’s Ornie Competition, leaving out only the three that belong to Jeff, Alexa, and myself. As the blog owner and author, I decided to reserve a post just for ours.

In the past, I have picked out Alexa’s ornament entirely on my own. Because I view these ornaments as memory keepers—visual reminders of the key themes and events of our lives, holding the memories and bringing them back to us each year—I didn’t want hers to be a childish “I like cats so mine is a cat!” theme when there have been more pervasive and meaningful currents running through the year. This year, however, I knew that she is old enough to have a preference, and she deserves to have her voice heard when it comes to the ornament that does, after all, represent her year. At the same time, though, I knew that we never would pick one for her—and if we did, it would be of the “I like cats!” variety—if I simply sat her down in front of a computer screen showing all of this year’s Hallmark ornaments and had her pick her own.

My compromise for her this year was that I picked two themes. Then I picked two ornaments, one for each theme. Then she picked the one she wanted from those two. The ornament that she rejected was a Noah’s ark ornament, complete with animals walking up the gangplank. In my mind, this ornament represented a couple of things—her love of all kinds of animals and the focus we’ve had this year on teaching the Bible as Truth, different from the other stories we read. It also represents both of our homeschool curricula, as Little Hands to Heaven has a week-long unit dedicated to Noah and the b-b-boat, and Sonlight P3/4 includes a Noah’s Ark graphic novel-style book.

(c) Hallmark. The ornament Alexa didn't choose.

The ornament that Alexa chose is a more specific representation of the beginning of her “formal” (to the extent that our homeschool is formal, which it isn’t) education. Her ornament shows a Mama Snowman … er, Snowwoman … holding a Baby Snowman … Snowbaby? … on her lap while reading to her. This scene represents the feel of our homeschool, though in our case, it’s more often that we’re lying on the carpet together while reading, rather than sitting in laps. And just like in our family, there’s a little cat sitting beside the reading pair. Oh, and do you want to know why Alexa chose this ornament instead of the Noah’s ark one, which I expected her to want because of all the animals? It’s because this ornament had a cat, and the Noah’s ark one didn’t—so Alexa got her “I like cats!” ornament after all. It paid off for her, too; she was the winner of this year’s Ornie Competition.

Alexa's 2013 ornament: Reading is "Snow" Much Fun!

Jeff’s and my ornaments appear very different from each other, but their themes are so similar that I will describe them together, at least at first.

This year was an odd combination of peace and chaotic stress for Jeff and me. It started out a little stressful, but nothing unusual or worrisome—we were in the throes of preparing for our third intercontinental move. Upon our arrival here in Kosovo, we settled in more quickly than we ever imagined we could. We made friends. We felt at home. It was amazing how peaceful our lives seemed.

Then, things began happening in each of “our” countries. The Egyptian army ousted President Morsi, who had been elected democratically but who was ruling dictatorially. The Muslim Brotherhood refused to go quietly, set up massive protest camps, and began attacking Egyptian Christians and their property. The Embassy of the United States underwent another mandatory evacuation, affecting friends of ours. In Cambodia, election results were disputed, protests—intended to be peaceful—broke out, and the possibility of violence loomed large. I received messages from friends there asking about how the American embassy would assist in case a mass evacuation of American citizens became advisable.

In the United States, continued leaks from a traitor damaged Americans’ perceptions of the intelligence agencies whose mission is to protect them, endangered those agencies’ ability to fulfill that mission, and caused a diplomatic furor that affects all Americans abroad, not just diplomats and their families. A political standoff resulted in a government shutdown, and the vitriol directed against federal workers—who did not in any way cause the shutdown; that was the politicians—was even more strident and widespread than I imagined it could be.

And, finally, here in Kosovo, in this place where the vast majority of the local population loves America and Americans; in this place where we met a young Kosovar man who joined the United States Marines out of a sense of gratitude to our country, who served honorably, and who even renounced his Kosovan citizenship in favor of American citizenship because it was asked of him in order to increase the ways in which he could serve; in this home where we felt (and still feel) such a sense of peace—here in Kosovo, two young American women were viciously attacked because they were here as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS; known to most Americans as Mormons). In the aftermath of that attack, I became aware that Islamist extremism is on the rise here, and this place, though peaceful, is not as peaceful as I had assumed.

Deborah's 2013 ornament: A Wish For Peace

My ornament for 2013 reflects the turmoil that our countries have experienced this year and the hope and wish that I have for them—for all four of them. My ornament is an amber dove, inscribed with the words “one hope … one wish … peace.” It is the heart cry of a mother, a wife, and a friend.

Jeff’s ornament this year is in honor of those who work to make my wish reality. It is no secret that we are political conservatives, and that there are plenty of federal jobs that we believe should not be federal jobs. But there are many federal workers who work quietly, in the background, for the same or even less pay than they could earn in the private sector, and their goals are to provide for the security of the United States of America, to protect her people from threats of which we may not even be aware. These federal workers—all federal workers—were demonized this year by people who don’t understand what they do or why they do it, but who would be severely and negatively impacted if they were to stop doing it. It seems only appropriate to me that Jeff’s 2013 ornament is a figure of Batman, swooping down to save the day, in a move that would be characteristic of him even during the events of the movies The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, when he was demonized by the people of Gotham City, on whose behalf he never stopped fighting. Likewise, many of our federal workers did not stop working—did not stop fighting—even during the shutdown, when they were being vilified and when they didn’t even know if or when they would be paid. Like Batman, they continued to protect us from threats, our blissful ignorance of which allowed us the luxury of demanding that they stop.

Jeff's 2013 ornament: Descending Upon Gotham City

A child’s pleasure in learning, in reading, and above all, in cats. A woman’s wish for peace. And a man’s determination to keep fighting the good fight no matter what others think. Those are the things for which 2013 will be remembered in our family.

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