A Proper Saxon Christmas Pt. 2: Nutcracker Men and Merry Cherubs!

saxon christmas 7True to his word, on the first Advent eve, Opa started putting up tiny decorations in special places around our home—or was it really the work of the Weihnachtsmann?

saxon christmas 1One by one, a miniature choir of chubby, wooden angels began to appear in the glass kitchen cabinet. Every day, a new one, each with a musical instrument—some playing a trumpet, or a harp, or an organ.

On the kitchen reading table now sat four deep red candles in a thick WeihnachtsKranz (Christmas wreath), to be lit one by one—one for every Sunday of the special Adventzeit.

And then there were the traditional, handgemacht (handmade) figurines of the Erzgebirge, little Raüchermanner (Smoking Men) who puff scented smoke when a Raücherkerze (incense cone) is lit inside, and wooden nutcrackers.

saxon christmas 2Now, the particular Nutcracker guy we have isn’t really a nutcracker at all, but a bushy-browed fellow on horseback, wearing brightly colored uniform! He’s always looking fierce, to represent those harsh German authorities of the Ore Mountain mines in the late 1800’s.

saxon christmas 8This region in East Germany bordering the Czech Republic, besides it’s delicious food, is also famous for its grand mountains, forests, and mining industry. It’s become my once-in-awhile-home since my son was born here in 2009.

An artisan hand-paints the nutcrackers in Saxony
An artisan hand-paints the nutcrackers in Saxony

The wooden figurines are well-known Erzgebirge handicrafts made by the local communities since hundreds of years. The ones that sit on our kitchen table now aren’t newly bought decorations; they’ve been in the family for years, sort of vintage artifacts—heirlooms—that resurface every December.

The little prune-men, with their bodies made of dried prunes, are some of my favorite. A family friend last week, added another artifact to our collection: a lucky prune chimney sweeper.

I’ll never forget the first time one I met a real chimney sweep, five years ago, in this house. My husband had told me that if the black-uniformed men ever came to your door, they were believed to bring good luck! I was pregnant at the time, and hoping for all the luck (blessings) in the world for my new baby who was on his way!

So when the doorbell rang one day, and a very tall, smiling man in a top hat and buttoned-down uniform cheerily appeared to sweep the soot off our chimney, I felt like a little child shaking hands with the Weihnachtsmann! (I only found out much later that he’d been hired, of course, to work that day.)

But innocence is bliss, and Christmas is for innocent children—and children at heart.

saxony christmas 6It’s what I love about my two kids’ ages right now (nearly 2 and nearly 5): they are still young enough to be whisked away in the mind to a place where wonderful things happen at Christmas!

We’ve read together, of course, the real story; they know about the angels and the Star, and the baby Jesus—but I do think a little of that other magic is fun too, when you mix traditions with culture and throw in a little of your own twists.

Yes, we can have real evergreens and traditional Saxon figurines…but we can cut out simple paper snowflakes and string them on the windows, too. We can tell stories about surprises and magic …but we do know that love is the biggest magic of it all.

And when Saint Nick leaves two gigantic chocolate men on the doorstep to eat, and more chocolate surprises in their winter boots (as he did last December 6)…

saxony christmas 4…or when you can write wish lists and be on your best behavior for the Weihnachtsmann, or when soft snowflakes flutter down, sprinkling everything in the village like the frosting on a birthday cake…

…and when you can enjoy all these simple pleasures with the wonder of a little child, then Christmas becomes, not a stressful occasion, but a lot of FUN.

I know it won’t be long until they’ll be older, and perhaps jaded. So, while their little eyes are still wide with wonder and delight, I’ll be enjoying the season’s magic, too.

saxony christmas 3Yesterday, as the son and I skipped through a slushy path on the way home from school, he looked at me thoughtfully and then posed a very serious question.

“Mom, do you know who actually gives us the uberraschungs (surprise gifts) at Christmas?”

“Um…the Weihnachtsmann?” (I’m hoping he hasn’t found the secret stash of packages hiding in our cabinet.)

“Well, someone else, too! Do you know? There’s the Weihnachtsmann, and Niklaus, and…do you know who else?”

“Tell me!”

Splashing his boots through the half frozen mud, with an intelligent look that only a nearly-five-year-old can properly pull off, he said:

“The postman, of course.”

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A Magical Summer & FinerMinds Feature

beachart1Doesn’t it seem like summer is slipping away too soon? We enjoyed our days and nights with the crisp warm weather, the unusual rains and occasional thunderstorms.

I hope you enjoyed the season too, that you learned new things, saw new places or new perspectives, or grew with challenges in greater ways.

But most of all, that you made time FOR TIME–with your loved ones, with your children, or with those who you may not have as close this time next year.

stonesYesterday, the awesome folks at MindValley published my piece on Making Room for Magic on their FinerMinds Blog.

Mindvalley invests in pushing humanity forward. They develop knowledge products, media platforms, community events and movements that help people in the areas of personal growth, entrepreneurship, lifestyle applications, and continuous education. 

I’m honored to be able to share my writings there with a greater audience, and hope you will take time to read the other helpful articles on their site. Thanks for reading!

Seven Ways to Make Room for Life’s Magic and Gifts

shutterstock_130937636By Nyx Martinez

I am no psychologist, or degree-holding professional. I am simply a mother, wife, and lover of life. And life has taught me that there is a force out there, greater than ourselves, which causes amazing things to happen.

But it’s not just out there…it’s right within us. The difference between people who experience magic in their lives, and those who don’t, is that the former consciously allow amazing things to happen. They focus on it. They acknowledge its existence. And what they concentrate on is what comes to life.

As if by magic.

(Continue reading the article here.)

The Explodation Mark

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When was the last time you felt truly excited about being alive?

When did you last laugh out loud for no reason at all, but just because something made you really happy?

Let’s admit, these are not every day emotions. For many people, they can be more the exception rather than the norm.

And yet, why shouldn’t we be excited every day?

What really holds us back from joy?

I’m gonna guess it’s just being adults. Grown-ups don’t or shouldn’t get too excited, we think. Focus on the tasks at hand…over-think the problems…groan about what isn’t right in our world.

But kids know best that happiness and excitement just can’t be contained. My son calls it, having  an Explodation Mark. (I didn’t bother telling him the punctuation sign is actually called an EXCLAMation mark!)

It usually happens just before his favorite LEGO DVD starts…he jumps around…cheers and gets all crazy…

“Settle down,” I’ll say.

“But mom! I’m just having an Explodation Mark!”

Or upon me announcing that it’s time to go to the gelato bar now—

Uncontrollable excitement.

“Settle down now!”

“But mom—I’m just having an Explodation Mark!”

Or when someone—anyone—scores in the football match…

“Yeeahhh! TOR!”

“Settle down!”

“But it’s just my Explodation Mark!”

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Well, this week, I have been having a few explodation marks of my own—and they weren’t even the kind that begin with stress and end in tears (usual for us moms, you know!)

They were the happy kind, the blissful kind, and even the jump-up-and-down kind, like my son has at times.

And I realized, it was because, recently, I have made up my mind to get more excited about life.

No matter how stressed I feel…

No matter how uninspired home chores can be…(No matter that my daughter just plopped my phone in the mop bucket and killed it.)

No matter what life surprises with or the challenges each day brings.

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Explodation Marks can even be just bursts of gratitude.

Or, they can be moments of peaceful silence.

Explodation Marks can be that serene feeling, watching a sunrise

Or a fantastic thunderstorm.

Explodation Marks can be long hugs between you and your partner

Or of course they can be more than just hugs.

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Explodation Marks are really saying, what my other kid has learned to say over and over again, her first actual English word:

“WOW!”

When I hear her say it, I am reminded to always see the wow, and say it—even if only silently, in my heart and mind…but sometimes, out loud, too:

Wow, Life, I am grateful for these moments with you.

Wow, Problems, you sure know how to challenge me!

Wow, Stress, you again?

Wow, Fear, you really think you are going to win?

Wow, Nature, let me never forget your beauty.

Wow, Universe—you continue to surprise me.

Wow, dear God, you are truly amazing.

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And you know what?

The more I see and say wow, the more explodation marks I allow myself, the more Real, True and Authentic, meaningful experiences come into my life.

More magic happens. More amazing people cross my paths. More serendipity. More Wow.

If you want your world to come alive, allow yourself some childlike awe, some Explodation Marks. Have more fun, and you will feel more alive, guaranteed.

For Alexandra

journal alexandraMy one and only daughter turns one year old today.

I haven’t considered buying her a material gift, first off because she’s too young to appreciate anything that isn’t edible—and second, because she’ll be getting a whole lot of presents from relatives at the big party in a few hours (she shares the same birth date as her German grandfather).

But I have decided to do one thing, starting now: I’ve begun a journal, just for her.

My thoughts, notes and musings to her. I want to record these memories, our times together, what she knew,journal2 what she loved, what she did, what she said (and how she said it), what she attempted, and what she accomplished…how she cried, how she touched my heart, how she frustrated me, and angered me, and loved me

…and how enormously I loved her.

baby girlOf course it will be many years till she reads it, but it’s important to start recording these moments now.

As I began to write in this journal, I realized it was also what I wanted as a child. I wanted to know my mother’s reflections…I never knew of her hopes or dreams—whether for myself or for her—and some of the early years of my life are lost with no record of those times (my mom and dad split up when I was five).

But it’s okay.

I have made my way through life with experience for a teacher, and I know now that my parents both love me unconditionally. Still, sometimes, I wish there were more of my mom (in those faraway moments of 1981) to remember.

So, I am gifting my daughter something I never had—insight to her mother’s feelings, dreams, and desires.

…unspoken thoughts, meant only for her.

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Whether she is 13 or 31, or 50 or past then, she will know that her imperfect mom still found a way to pursue a perfect love—the one she found with her.

And perhaps she will realize then, the incredible gift of life to my soul that she, my Alexandra, gave me.

alexandra

Wide Awake in Winter

winter2Do you know how snow-dust sparkles? I never knew—until yesterday.

If it is a sunny day, like the ones we’ve been having lately, then winter dances and pierces and sweeps through the senses.

Those snowflakes didn’t just flutter down. They swirled and twirled and whirled like magic. Crisp. Gleaming. White.

Pure white—but sometimes, when the sun’s reflection bounces off of icicles and snow-dust, suddenly, one sees vibrant colors. It is ten degrees below freezing point—and yet, walking through the woods, I feel warmth.

winter walk

This month, the start of the New Year, I am doing lots of celebrating—a magical winter spell sets off the perfect mood; I gaze at the way sharp shadows of light strike the snow at 11 o’clock.

Did you get to celebrate something today?

Celebration isn’t always fireworks, candles and cake. Sometimes, celebration is simply being thankful. It’s acknowledging. It’s saying, “Yes, this is where I am meant to be, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

schnee3Celebration can also be commemorating: observing, honoring, and remembering.

I am honoring my daughter’s first babbles, her awkward “dance” (bouncing) every time she hears the sound of music, and the murmuring exhale she grunts when I tell her she’s eaten quite enough today.

schnee12I am remembering the squishy sound of my son’s gummistiefels as he sloshes through every muddy pile of melting ice.

schnee11And the way his concerned four-year-old voice pierces my train of thought loudly:

“Mom, the baby’s alive!”

(He means, she’s woken up—I must get back to mommy-work.)

schnee5So I’ll be realistic too. Not every moment is met with joy. There is the mundane, day to day that being a mother requires: endless nappy changes, dishes to wash and little people to keep happy and well-fed. Trips to the doctor’s office, meeting with the school principal, laundry to sort, hang, and fold. And always, a floor of toys to sweep.

And maybe, that’s why we need to celebrate the special moments more. Even the ones we think aren’t quite that special.

I take this 3-kilometer walk every day to pick up my son from school. The same routine. My fingers are frozen as we trudge through the show. But I try to make each day on the same route a new experience.

snowy walkThe sunlight’s glint is never exactly as it was yesterday; the village sounds are never just the same. On some days, I find horse-riders trotting through the streets; other times, snow-sweeping tractors plowing through the neighbor’s gardens.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t always so for me. With my first pregnancy, I was also in this same village, and I felt cold, and isolated, and bored.

narnia1It was a new experience in a foreign country (a new continent!), and I’d had all the usual moods a pregnant woman goes through. Not used to eat cold herring and schwarzbrot for dinner, I craved the warmth of tropical islands, the chaotic mess of the city. And oh, yes, I missed speaking English with other people!

It wasn’t easy, that first long winter, before my son was born. And of course, the days following, as a new mom, were even tougher.

But this time around, I’m getting a second chance at choosing: choosing joy over self-absorbedness, artistic expression over boredom. Choosing to see the sun through the shadows, to notice the way nature unfolds, envelops, and captivates. Choosing to appreciate and reciprocate the love of my family here, who care for us so well.

snowy walk3As I walk the same snow-swept paths along the edge of this Eastern German forest trail, I’m glad to be just where I am today.

Sometimes, my daughter is fast asleep in her stroller, and other times, she is wide awake.

Wide awake, I’ve realized, is how I want to be.

Exploring the world with the senses I’ve had all these years, but now finding new ways to use them.

Finding new ways to come alive.

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Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
Oscar Wilde

Waking up in Wonderland

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Sleep-ins, as all moms know, become something of a distant memory once a baby is born.

But today, I welcome my 8-month old’s wake up call, her whining to go outside.

Because today we are in the “City of Pines”—that lovely, cool climate escape called Baguio. I slip into some comfy strolling clothes, and then push her out into the sweet-scented open.

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The breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant smells of buttery croissants, homemade jams, and finely brewed coffee. That, mixed with Asian aromas from the giant spread: garlic-spiced longganisa, honey soy chicken, fish fillets and a large pot of steaming congee. I spy salted egg, banggus and ampalaya ensalada…

But we’re not up this early to eat—not just yet. We’ll wait for the sleeping boys and then pig out later. I’ve packed my camera, so we’ll go revel in this morning hour.

We catch mist rising; cascading streaks of early light. Hints of a perfect day awaiting us, its sun-showers spraying through a forest of impossibly tall pines.

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More pretty things on the pathway: beds of flowers, decked with frosty Christmas beads and giant glass baubles, a wishing pond with dancing kois and invisible water nymphs. At its bottom, a thousand coins glisten.

Dare I make a wish?

And still more pretty things: Paved up-hills and down-hills, winding roads to travel on foot. Further on, we overlook a silent lake. There’s a sprawling golf course in the distance, nestled in this carpeted playground of vibrant green.

Baguio city, tucked away in the Cordillera mountain ranges,  was once the recreation destination for US soldiers, when they held bases around the country. Because of its high altitude, the temperature is always pleasantly cool. Today, it’s just 17 degrees, a refreshing change from the usual humidity we’re used to.

My baby basks.

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She is silent, enjoying, taking in the peace and stillness of this wonderland. Every now and then, she coos a little, and when the hotel staff greets her with a good morning, she eyes them suspiciously before breaking just a half smile from an upturned, pouty lip.

She’s a bit suplada like that.

I scold her for being unfriendly, but maybe she just needs to get out more. We turn down towards an open road, continuing our stroll until it’s time to sleep again.

And this time, I welcome her dreamy midday slumber with a nap myself.

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As partial payment for a project I did for the Philippines Dept. of Tourism this year, I was given a four-day complimentary stay at The Manor. This charming luxury hotel is located at Camp John Hay and—besides other delicious things—serves the most amazing gourmet salads.

http://www.campjohnhay.ph/

What I Learned Living in Italy without Internet

lake como italy 1From May till September of this year, my small family lived on Lake Como in Northern Italy, where my husband worked at a water-sports center for the summer season.

The tiny apartment we were blessed to call home for those few months was charming in an old-fashioned way. It was a bright yellow centuries-old flat, on the corner of a narrow cobblestone street, so close to my neighbor’s window that not only could they see our underwear hanging out to dry; we could also hear their every whisper, laugh and (all too often) shouting marital disputes at 3am.

living in italy houseWe, like any normal people, wanted to buy a super-fast wifi connection for our temporary home. But in order to do that, we would have to sign a whole year’s lease. Knowing we weren’t going to stay in the country that long, we opted to not have it. (When we finally purchased a plug-in Internet device, it was so slow that it was worse than having none.)

This made for daily trips to the wifi-friendly Bar Pace café across the street, where we sipped creamy cappuccino, ate fresh, fluffy croissants, and checked our emails for half an hour.

Weekends on the lake got a little more active, with parachuters dropping down from the Alpine slopes, kitesurfers plowing through the rippled waters, sailboats in regattas, and dozens of sunbathers enjoying summer.

living in italy juneBut most of the time, life in Como was mostly uneventful; night-life was non-existent.

And after those slow-paced months, the realization hit me:

I didn’t miss not having Internet.

I didn’t miss not being “socially” connected.

I didn’t even miss texting!

I had a Twitter account, and a Facebook Page, and even a LinkedIn, yet never felt the urge to check my friends’ updates—never knew what was going on in half a thousand other people’s lives.

Here’s what I did do: life in italy beach

Ate chocolate gelato every day

Swam every day with my son

Read more books

Saw more sunsets

Did a lot of people-watching

Did a lot of listening

Went running every morning

Used my telephone only to book occasional dinners at restaurants, doctor appointments, and reach my husbandGera Lario painted by Nyx Martinez

Painted more 

Drank lots of prosecco and vino rosso with girlfriends, without distractions

Read more stories to my son

Fed swans and ducks every day

Watched Futurama episodes as a family on our laptop, every night

Learned a little Italian (“Bambini! Attentione! Macchina!”)

Got off my butt to exercise and lost 16 lbs

 

For those few months, I also did more dishes, laundry and house chores than I’ve ever done in my short history of being married and being a mom. It was exhausting, since I also spent every moment with my son. life in italy gravedonna

I spent every moment with my son.

And my husband, when he came home from work, did, too.

Today, I’m reminding myself of what life was like without an Internet connection there in Italy, because in a day or so, my world will change.

I’m buying a Smartphone.

Because of new changes, lifestyle moves, new work, travel and just plain Real Life, I’m getting back to being universally connected. I don’t want to be unrealistic about new business start-ups, career and family, and it’s essential that I strive for a balance (Main point: STRIVE.).

Yes, I’ll suddenly be ever-present in the online world, able to see all my updates and send out messages on the fly.

But I don’t ever want to forget the sweet life, the real Dolce Vita.

And that was, dear readers, being ever-present for my son, for my husband, and for myself—without distractions of modern living.

It was being able to hear myself think.

It was being able to hear both of my boys laugh, play, and even snore.

It was being able to silently pray, without static.

I’m making this note today so that maybe, even when Amazon delivers my brand new gadget, I can still find a balance-point–somewhere in-between real life, and the sweet life.

Maybe I can keep in mind what really matters.

life in italy lake comoIf you have helpful tips on parenting while still being realistic about other obligations, work, etc, I’d love to hear from you 🙂