The Toothpick-Legged Sheep

When I was growing up, we, like many families, had a manger scene. It was set up in our dining room each December. My mom would pull out a few encyclopedias (remember those?) off the shelf in our den, stack them on the “little buffet” table to the side of our dining room table, and then gently unfold and spread out a piece of green velvet that was reserved for this one special role. Together they became a verdant, green hill. 

Then we would take the lid off the sturdy white J. M. Towne department store box and unwrap the cast of characters from their blankets of yellowing tissue paper. This tissue paper, probably from circa 1965, was invincible. It was used and reused and not going anywhere. It smelled of mustiness and evergreens, and still retained a bit of the cold from being stored up in our attic. 

There was Mary. Joseph. The manger and then a separate Baby Jesus you could take out (and hide in the top drawer until Christmas morning when he was officially “born”).  A shepherd. A herd of sheep. A donkey. Two cows. Three wise men. A camel. And an angel. 

The angel stood on top of the velvet hill, overlooking the mother and father with the manger positioned between them. And then the animals, shepherd, and wise men took their places. 

Because our manger scene was so prominently displayed on a low side table,  it was attractive to the little hands of my nieces and nephews. But it was never considered off-limits. So, the scene might be re-arranged, and suddenly the angel was accompanied by a camel and a wiseman, Joseph was manning the manger and Mary was out on the dining room table along with the sheep, who were now having a picnic with my mom’s collection of assorted pig figurines and miniature pretend foods. It was like a Catholic Calico Critters set. 

After years and years, the set got a little bit chipped—the patina of play. But of all the figures, the sheep really took the brunt of it. Their delicate carved legs were individually positioned perfectly by the good people at Fontanini so that the sheep could be balanced and stand on their own (today’s toy manufacturers should take note). Even though each sheep was designed to be slightly different from the others, with a neck turned slightly, or a foot lifted a bit as if mid-step, they could stand. That is, until, they couldn’t.

Where did those wayward legs go? No one knows, I guess. Because, if found, my Mom would have reused them using her trusty glue gun. But these were fairly down-and-dirty repairs. I bet I can guess the reason. My Mom had 6 children of her own, upwards of 15 grandchildren (at the time, #16 didn’t come until 2012), and she was the Keeper of all the Christmas Magic. It’s not like she had time to whittle new sheep appendages. 

The first sheep to lose an extremity was given a prosthetic. But not a discreet one; she just snapped off a piece of a toothpick, glued it on, and boom, that sheep was back in action on the velvet stage. It’s debatable whether the second sheep fared better. After an incident that involved the loss of two limbs, he just got the two remaining hooves (or whatever they are on sheep?) hot glued to a piece of brown cardboard for stability. Back to work, Muttonchop. 

Over the years, my mom accumulated several more Nativity Sets. By this time, I was an opinionated twenty-year old, and in my estimation, *this was too many nativity scenes.* Flash forward maybe a decade later, we were helping to move my parents out of their home. Our task involved trying to downsize their 40+ years of accumulated belongings by about 95%. It was a heart-wrenching process, but it was clear that almost everything had to go. 

Going through some boxes, I found the Nativity scene. I knew as soon as I came across it—this was not destined for the dumpster in the driveway. At this stage in our lives, my siblings already had accrued Nativity scenes of their own. But Rick and I had only been married for a few years, and we hadn’t. So there wasn’t any negotiation needed, the manger scene came to New Hampshire with us. 

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know who now has a minimum of three nativity sets displayed at this time of the year. Because that’s how life goes. The moment you open your big bratty trap is the exact moment that thing becomes sealed in your destiny. We moan and groan about our parents’ idiosyncrasies as we “grow up” and grow out into the wide, wide world, and then one day turn around and promptly do the same things

This tattered old set is now one of my most prized possessions. I don’t know exactly how to describe the way I feel about it except to say that it’s the polar opposite of buyer’s remorse. When it’s early in December (or the day after Thanksgiving, who are we kidding?) and I go to unpack my Christmas decorations, I think to myself, I am so glad I was able to keep this set.  

One look at it and I am transported back to my childhood. My house growing up. The smells of Christmas. The bitter cold wind stinging my face. Being together as a family, with all or almost all of my older siblings under one roof. My parents—the dynamic duo, with Dad working tirelessly to finance Christmas and Mom, making it happen.  An ever-expanding crew of in-laws and babies. A fancy dinner out followed by the sleepy silence of a Midnight Mass. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I fared well in the presents department, too. (Just ask any one of my siblings…) But my parents also gave me (and all 6 of us) the best gift—the gift of faith. They weren’t opposed to “the things” of Christmas, but it was always clear that this holiday centered on the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I mean, it was laid out before us right there in the dining room. 

Now displayed in MY dining room (sans encyclopedias, green velvet, or three wisemen and camel which got lost in the shuffle somehow), the manger scene now hopefully provides the same kind of subtle lesson for Ryan. Together, he and I unwrap the pieces, and I lay eyes on the familiar faces of old friends: Mary, Joseph, the sweet little Baby Jesus, the angel, the shepherd, the cows, the donkey, and the ovine crew—of course, including the cardboard-mounted ewe and the toothpick-legged sheep. 

The 36 Day Delay

I’m super-pumped to share that last year I was invited to contribute to Seacoast Moms, a collaborative site geared towards parents in my area— the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Pieces are written by moms for moms (and dads, too).

While I only contribute monthly, man that month rolls around quickly. But I gotta admit, I love a deadline. The only problem is that I haven’t been as focused on sitting down and writing for Finding Alice because I am the deadline setter and I’M A PUSHOVER FOR A BOSS!!!!!!

Truth be told, I’m constantly thinking about this blog and what I’d like to write about. If procrastination were a sport, I would be, like, the Simone Biles of it.


But, it’s all about to change in 2020. Oh, we’re a month in?

New idea. I’m starting my New Year’s resolution 36 days in. That’s actually my resolution, put everything on a 36 day delay, and so far, I am off to an excellent start.

Here are a few of my pieces for Seacoast Moms, if you’d like to take a little gander.
(*Please note, clicking on each title will link you to the article. Miss WordPress Guru over here can’t figure out how to change the color from nigh-night gray to something more interesting…Who can help a girl out? )

Diagnosis? A Case of the Man Flu

I used to reference “the Man Flu” all the time, and tease Rick for it whenever I saw a window of opportunity. No more. Here’s why.

One Thing You Shouldn’t Say When a Friend’s Mom Dies

Obviously inspired by my personal experience losing my Mom, Alice, I wrote this to remind myself and anyone reading about how important it is to reach out to someone going through something tough. Even if you don’t know what to say.

Allergies & Halloween: 4 Easy Ways to Welcome All Trick-or-Treaters

Although this was obviously written for Halloween, it may be helpful to get you thinking about food allergies when it come to any kind of group gathering— BBQ, birthday party, etc. If your family members or friends don’t have food allergies, they probably aren’t on your radar at all. My son, Ryan, developed allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and egg before he turned one, so it’s been on the top of my mind 24/7 since 2013.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more coming very soon. Sooner than another 36 days!

7 Truths About Catholics During Lent

Oh hey there! It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted, mostly because this has been a germ-filled first quarter of the year for the Feeney family. Thankfully, it’s just been a constant stream of smaller things, but it has been an enlightening experience for me, particularly as a wife, so watch out for a future post about my relationship with the Man Flu.

I’ve mentioned that my faith would be a part of this blog, and so thought I might share a few insights into life as a Catholic during this season of Lent. For the non-Catholics out there, Lent is the forty-day period leading up to Easter during which Christians prepare spiritually for the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. The Lenten Launch Party kicked off on March 6—Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time of self-reflection, fasting, and penance. In other words, it’s fun! 😊

No, but seriously, I do really find my faith fulfilling, and I appreciate the benefits I get from some of these tougher practices that come around this time of the year.

To review some of the basics, on Ash Wednesday, Catholics get a mark of ashes on the forehead to remind us that we are all mortal and will return to ash/dust. This gives us the chance to assess our lives to see what ways we can become better people to reach the goal of getting to Heaven. On Ash Wednesday, and later, on Good Friday, we fast during the day (eat small, simple meals and nothing in between) and avoid meat. We also abstain from eating meat on all the other Fridays during Lent.

Not to brag, but I’ve been doing this Lenten thing for a long time.  And I feel like there are certain global truths you come face-to-face with during this spiritual season. I’d like to share some of these with you.

Seven Truths About Catholics During Lent

1. You will never touch your forehead as much in your LIFE as you do on an Ash Wednesday. The ashes, which initially are applied in the shape of a cross, quickly become a Rorschach smudge because you’re suddenly inspired to use the ol’ exaggerated face palm gesture, itch your forehead incessantly, or wear a headband that you haven’t worn for 364 days. You get the idea.

2. Even if you don’t like tuna fish in general, you WILL crave it during Lent. Except those cravings will only hit on Thursdays—the day beforeit’s the best/ most convenient meatless meal option that you will have during the day. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been dying for, and eaten, a tuna sando on a Thursday, only to realize that I will probably have to eat it for back-to-back lunches. Annoying.

3. Pizza, without the meaty toppings (obviously), is an excellent option for lunch or dinner. However, if you have a family that doesn’t like it, you are in a BAD SPOT when it comes to Lenten meal planning. But in all honesty, you should’ve married better and raised better. So that’s on you.

4. Life is crazy all the time. You might frequently have days where you get going, find yourself in a productive groove, and then realize that it’s been hours since you’ve last eaten, and you’re still good to go. You may, like me, not be much of a “lunch person.” Doesn’t matter. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, days when you have to fast, you’ll feel like death from start to finish, and will be aware of each and every minute that you’re not allowed to eat. You will also somehow see an outrageous number of mouth-watering, food-oriented commercials on these two days of the year.

5. A benefit to today, the first Friday after Ash Wednesday, is that you’ll be rejoicing that today you can eat all day long, it just can’t contain meat. SO EASY! It’s all relative though, and by next Friday, the requirement to avoid meat will feel impossible all on its own. “NO MEAT? HOW CAN THAT BE?!?! THIS IS AN ATROCITY!” Meanwhile the vegetarians and vegans are doing this all day err day. Lent must be a walk in the park for the Catholic vegetarian/vegans out there. (And in that case, do you have to give up something else, like your favorite veggie instead? Deep thoughts….)

6. You WILL get invited to a sumptuous meal at an upscale steak house. And you know what day it will be? A Friday. In fact, there will be many meat-oriented opportunities that all seem to find themselves on that one day of the week during Lent. Your boss will treat the office to a free lunch of meat-laden subs, on a Friday, of course. You’ll hit the grocery store on a Friday only to find it is a meat-eriffic Sample Day. Have kids? Instead of the traditional indoor play place party, yours will be invited to a sausage-making soiree on a Friday night. Ok that last one’s a stretch, but you get the idea.

7. It’s understandable to get confused mid-week if it’s a Tuesday or a Wednesday. These are generally not exciting days of the week. But as a society we are geared towards Fridays, working the week toward this sacred finale, a carrot we dangle over our heads to keep us going. We say stupid things like “TGIF!” and “Fri-yay!”out loudto one another. We get pumped up when Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” hits the Lite FM station. And when the clock strikes 5:00 pm, we take off like Fred Flintstone sliding down the proverbial dino’s back to get on with whatever it is that we’ve got planned. My point is, it’s easy to keep track of Fridays, but not for Catholics during Lent. Though there are but a handful of Lenten Fridays, we will all, inevitably, lose track of what day of the week it is and mistakenly take (at a minimum) a bite of meat at some point on the ONE DAY A WEEK we aren’t supposed to. I can’t make this stuff up, people. It’s just the way it goes.