The Spirit of the Season
I love all Holidays. I go a little OVERBOARD decorating for every holiday, whether its Halloween, St. Patrick's Day or the Grand Daddy of all Holidays... Christmas. Considering the many blessings that our family has been given, it's important to Bret and I to teach our children the joy of giving. We know how important it is to make sure that less fortunate families are taken care of. For years we have kicked off the holiday season with a huge Kids' Christmas Party.
Of course we invite the Big Man in his red suit to join us. We hire a local company to bring one of Santa's helpers and arrive on a big red fire truck.
(I love this picture of our family. Nothing better than "real" photos. If you look closely you'll see that Cierra's face is covered in chocolate from a cookie which she's brushing off her hands. Brock is hilarious. I love my crazy family. I love the chaos and fun that this photo captures. I came "this close" to making it our Christmas card photo :)
We invite every kid (and parental units) we come in contact with over the past year and the only way you can get into the party is by bringing an unwrapped new toy for the Spark of Love Toy drive. it's a great way for me to get together with my best girls too. From Left, Angie (as seen in Cardio Party 3, Monica, as seen in "You want more pump?" and Cardio Party 3, yours truly, Danielle, as seen in Cardio Party Remix and Booty Sculpt, and Cindy, as seen in 3T. Its rare for us to see each other all showered and glammed up. 5 days a week this group meets before the sun comes up for a quick Turbo workout at 5:45 am. Oh and that little tiny one in the pink hat is Monica's daughter (one of her triplets) doing her best to sneak into the picture.
This year was fantastic. The men and women at the Mission Viejo Fire Station spend many hours organizing, collecting and distributing toys to families in our community who are most in need. My favorite moment is driving away from the fire station. It always makes me cry thinking about the happiness of those kids on Christmas morning or the relief the parents will feel knowing that their children will feel special on Christmas morning. This was our 9th year of hosting a toy drive kid's party. It's fun for the kids and serves a meaningful purpose.
As a family, we did something a little different this year. Instead of spending countless hours and dollars searching for presents for the adults in our immediate family, this year we decided to only buy for the kids and pool the money that we would have spent on the adults and use that money to help the less fortunate. With the help of my awesomely organized sister-in-law, Dana, we found the perfect charity, The Orangewood Children's Home.
This facility provides education, training, mentoring, housing and custodial care for unplaced foster children. Located in the heart of Orange, California, we drove up to the facility which is located between the county courthouse and juvenile hall. The the facility is very nice, quiet and clean, you can't help but notice the view of coiled barb wire fence topping the 40 foot chain length fence of the yard to juvenile hall, a stark reminder of where many of these children end up without the love and guidance of a parent.
Bret and I decided we wanted to donate something that would give these kids pleasure for more than a couple of days. We wanted to bring them something that could help them be active and fit and a moment to "escape", at least mentally. The perfect fit seemed to be bikes.
Together we visited the local Toys R Us and persuaded the manager to assemble 25 bikes for us before Christmas. We explained the purpose of our mission and the need for all the bikes to be ready on this "exact date". She graciously waived half of the assembly fees to help our cause.
My father and mother-in-law purchased helmets and toys to go with the bikes. They also arranged to have a truck pick up and transport the assembled bikes. Dana and my brother in law Rob hit Target. They filled shopping carts with electronics, t.v's, games, Playstations and gifts perfect for teens.
We took the kids out of school a few hours early. Bret and I both agreed that the lesson of giving back to your community is far more valuable than anything they could have learned in school that day. Together we unloaded the bikes, helmets, toys and electronics into a spare locker room located on the facility grounds. It was the best hour of our holiday season. I had goose bumps thinking about how exciting it was a kid to see that Santa had left you a new bike.
The idea became a valuable lesson for our children, a heart warming moment for our family, and a gift for children who have been dealt a hand they didn't ask for and don't deserve. (Photo of Brock and Cierra holding my only Niece, Tatum. (You've never seen a happier or cuter baby girl! Swear!) What I didn't expect was the gift of time it was for us! Wow! What a difference. This year we didn't run around finding presents for adults who are 'hard to shop for', spending hours tracking down sizes, colors and the store that still has "it" in stock. There was no last minute speed demon wrapping, saving receipts, crossing fingers and hoping someone liked what you picked out. As a result we were able to spend several nights driving around with the kids looking at Christmas lights, time with friends, baking with the kids, reading Christmas stories and generally, for the first time in many years, a relaxed and peaceful holiday season. What a blessing!
And... Christmas eve, as family assembled to exchange presents with the children, we all reminisced on what a wonderful day that had been. We also agreed to do the same next year. I purposed the idea to our family after seeing "Oprah's" Favorite Things show . Expecting her to give thousands and dollars worth of "things", I was surprised and inspired by her idea to give everyone $1,000 to see what "good" they could do with it. I hope that her show inspired others as it did our family. I truly felt that this year and years to come we will feel the true spirit of the season.
So many people have helped Bret and me. So many strangers have given me their support and encouragement to follow my heart and my passion for life and fitness. I could never repay each individual. All I can do is pay it forward in every opportunity and when there isn't an opportunity...make one. The greatest gift is to be able to give to others. I am thankful for the amazingly fulfiling life I have and the people who surround me. I am thankful for an amazing family, friends who share my values and the people who I may never get to meet, but who inspire me to do more. I love you.