Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Big Picture

Great coloring T!

Impressive, right? I mean, a few months ago, we were eating the crayons!

Oh, wait…

"The Big Picture" doesn't always necessarily bring a desirable perspective. (Side note: I love that having a blog totally justifies the fact that when I saw this, I grabbed the camera instead of a sponge or a towel ! )

It’s hard to complain about a busted transmission when there are severed heads floating around

I have decided not to complain about the fact that the transmission just died in our car, that the estimate to repair it was higher than the value of the car, or that unexpectedly purchasing a new (to us) car wiped out our emergency fund and left us figuring out how to put a car payment into our monthly budget.

Instead, I will say that I am grateful I now have a safe car to drive and distract myself (and you!) with a picture of the back wall of the “kids corner” in the car dealership.

Check it out:

When we go back to the dealer for our first tune-up, I am absolutely dressing T in his footed PJ’s that match the wall almost exactly.

You thought I was kidding? It really is almost a perfect match...

I am pretty sure he will look like a head, floating in the heavens (that is, if I can get him to stay in the “kid corner” long enough to snap a photo…when we were there last time, he was in a different kind of heaven…a display room completely full of cars).

It reminds me of when I was in elementary school, and our local weatherman (Gary Dobbs!) came to speak at an assembly, and we thanked him by giving him a sweatsuit in our school color – blue.  Mr. Dobbs apologetically told us he would never be able to wear it on air because it was exactly the same color as the bluescreen he stood in front of while giving the weather report (you know the blue area they overlay the weather map onto before transmitting the signal to your TV).  I remember him saying that maybe he could wear it to report the weather on Halloween, since on that day it would be appropriate to hear the weather from what looked like a creepy floating head.

He didn’t do that.  I actually tuned in on Halloween to see if he would and was seriously disappointed.

This begs the questions: (1) why do I remember the name of the man who reported the local weather in my small Alabama town during the 1980s when I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the woman who says hello to me every single day at Kindergarten pick-up?, and (2) why, of all the wisdom that must have been spouted from that lectern during assemblies, is Mr. Dobbs’ rejection of our blue sweatsuit the only thing I remember in such detail?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.

But perhaps I have distracted all of us from the saga of the car…

Christmas Recap, Part 3, the Final Chapter (Alternate Title: A focus on Christ during Christmas…what we tried, how it went, and what we want to try next year)

This is the last long post about our Christmas season. I have posted about the joy of being with family and the fun of elves and Santa.  Here I want to recap how we try to keep the focus on Christ.  I feel a little strange about the post for two reasons:

(1) Sometimes an effort to focus on The True Meaning of Christmas comes across as a judgment against all the other parts of Christmas.  For the record, I am not someone who necessarily believes that our tinsel and lights and Santa distract from our focus on Christ.  Quite the contrary, for us they are an absolute expression of joy, faith, generosity and love.  While I respect the act of quiet contemplation and seek it out when I can, I think part of being a parent is finding God in the hustle and bustle.  I love finding Him in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, especially when the kids and I are happily bustling around doing fun Christmassy things together.  (This does not include shopping, which I do try to finish early.)  Someday I will write a whole essay about this, but today is not the day!

(2) I worry that an explanation of how we try to keep the focus on Christ will come across as a “look what we do, we have it all together” kind of thing.  I assure you we don’t.  The reality is we are trying to get it together, and part of that process for us is learning what other people do.  I have benefited tremendously from dialogue with friends (and other bloggers) about holiday traditions, which encourages me to continue that dialogue here.

With that in mind, here’s how we tried to keep the focus on Christ and how I am hoping to improve on our efforts next year!

We begin by framing the holiday as a big birthday celebration for Jesus.  Our preschool makes this easy by throwing Jesus an actual birthday party, and a friend told us about a family tradition that we have adopted as our own: making the dessert at Christmas dinner a birthday cake for Christ.  I forgot to make a picture of the birthday cake, but the reality is that no one ate ours this year anyway, since S coughed all over it as she was helping Jesus blow out his candles.  In case you are wondering, yes, that did mean that I served Twix bars for dessert at Christmas dinner!

We have three nativities at our house.  The one in the yard is from my childhood home.  I asked Nana to bring it up because (1) she was looking to share it with someone (i.e. we didn’t take it and leave her yard bare!), and (2) it is a big, gaudy display of neon Jesus-spirit that just feels so right sitting in front of a home during the holidays.

(E had two funny reactions to this when Nana brought it to us.  The first was asking if she could keep the three foot high Mary in her room as a nightlight.  Already, she is finding comfort in the Virgin Mother, I suppose!  The second was about a week before Christmas when she viewed all our lawn ornaments and noted that Jesus and Santa had completely burned out.  This left all the adults within earshot humorously wondering – if Jesus and Santa were feeling that way, how the rest of us were supposed to make it through the rest of the holiday festivities?! : )

Anyway, here’s a photo of Mary, who did a quick detour into E’s room en route from the attic to the yard:

I would be comforted by this as a nightlight in my room as well, I think!

The other two nativities are inside the house: a breakable one that was my Grandmother’s and is displayed on a table that used to belong to her (and still smells like the perfume that she kept in the cabinet), and a cloth one that the kids can play with.

The cloth nativity set contained the Jesus that was offered a room in the Barbie Mansion.  Innkeeper Barbie and her guests are pictured below.

note that several of the characters have either been knocked down amid the daily chaos that engulfs the Barbie mansion, or they are bowing before the Christ child...I prefer the latter interpretation

and a close-up…

I learned of another interesting tradition this year that I’m going to think about: leaving the nativity’s manger empty until Jesus appears in it Christmas morning. I love the idea of this, and we might do this with the more fancy nativity.  However, I think I like having the one pictured above around for the kids to play with throughout the season.

During Advent, E also sang (like an angel) and bleated (while dressed as a sheep) in the church Christmas pageant.  There are no pictures, as my husband was ill that evening and I had to choose between holding T, S and the camera.  Fortunately, there was a wall of parents taking photos and I have already seen some I am planning to get copies of!  But here’s a photo of E & S caroling with E’s church choir at a local nursing home, which was another activity that kept us in the spirit.

Note to caroling children: avert eyes from scantily clad lady on the TV in the background...yikes! Can someone please change the channel or turn off the TV?! By the way, E & S are the ones in the turquoise shirts absolutely fixated on the the television screen...oh well...

We also tried to keep the focus on giving with fun projects like:

– the kids making small treat bags for teachers and whatever friends we happened to encounter over the season.   (I love this activity because the kids can actually do most of it themselves…I gave the kids a bag of Hershey kisses, a box of fold top sandwich bags and a spool of ribbon.  They put three kisses in each bag and cut the ribbon.  I tied the ribbon on the bags.)

– coloring pages…I printed out a whole batch of these and the kids spent several afternoons coloring pages that they gave to people for Christmas

– shopping for Angel tree gifts: the parenting Sunday school class at our church did this and we intentionally signed up to bring clothes for kids that were the same ages as ours.  The kids were happy giving clothes (toys might have created more of an “but I want it” issue…we will tackle that soon, but for now we just wanted them to feel good about giving).  Selecting kids the same ages meant our kids were able to really help pick things out (e.g. “I bet she would like this shirt because I think it’s pretty”)

– We also made sure to tell Santa that we were busy making cookies, etc. for him (in addition to telling him what we wanted).

Still, to keep it real, I’ll show this picture of the kids writing their letters to Santa…

(OK, I wrote this and just realized I don’t have any pictures of that…sorry!  But we did write the letters!)

and I’ll end by mentioning an idea that I heard about for the first time just after Christmas, but am thinking about for next year.  Here’s the link, and here’s the excerpt:

When my oldest was a baby, my Mother-in-Law gave us a beautiful wooden Advent cabinet with 25 tiny doors. This year, along with the gifties that Granny sends, there will be a note with an act of kindness to be carried out that day. Some will be strategically placed…like on the 10th when we’ll be joining my husband’s Rotary group to lay wreaths on gravesites at Arlington Cemetery. Or, on the 20th when we’ll be volunteering as a family to organize donations at the Salvation Army warehouse. But, others will be less grand…like picking up litter anytime you see it throughout the day. Or, feeding the birds

And there you have it— a simple plan for 25 days of serving, giving, and helping others.


Me talking again here…

I like the idea of this because of its active nature (with kids this young, we do better with active than contemplative acts of the spirit!) and because it can be mapped out in advance.  Then each morning, you pull out a reminder of one way you can refocus the family during the season.  I can already think of simple ones like making it a point to notice someone doing a good job that day and telling them you noticed…

I’d also like to try a “David tree” activity, but need to learn more about that.  And I definitely want to do a better job with our advent wreath next year: setting aside a quiet time to really explain to the kids what each candle means.

OK, I just read back over this entry and know there is no way I can do all of that.  The nice thing is that I have many months to figure it out!

I’ll leave you with one last photo:

The men of the house, clearly exhausted from all the festivities! (Yes, that's T asleep on the floor next to his dad, asleep on the couch!)

and a final Merry Christmas to all!

With that, it’s back to our regularly scheduled blog programming (with a few random belated posts about our Happy New Year to come at some point!)

Christmas Recap, Part 2

Since I posted a few details about our missteps en route to helping Santa with the girls’ Christmas present, but never actually said what the present was, I thought I’d reveal it here.

To inspire even more dramatic productions in our house, he brought them a stage (technically, stage curtains)…

Santa borrowed the big curtain from our attic bin of old apartment furnishings and hung it with a $14 shower rod from Home Depot. The smaller frame was Santa's second attempt at a Craigslist purchase. (Honestly, you can buy almost anything on Craigslist...Santa just did a search for "stage" and there were real - enormous - stages for sale, though it turns out this one was a little more our speed!)

Santa also restocked our art supplies and provided art bins (with labels, a gift truly for mom!) that allowed us to put a set of supplies in each girl’s room.  We had actually sworn off markers in the months prior to Christmas because no one ever put the tops back on and I was constantly having to get rid of the ones that dried out, but Santa took a risk that paid off tremendously.  Since he gave each girl her own set of markers, everyone has become incredibly invested in keeping their own set intact.  In over a month, not a single marker has gone dry.  Perhaps a lesson for mom in how ownership can lead to more responsible behavior?  Hmmm…..

The white bin is one of the ones Santa brought for organizing the art supplies and has labels detailing what goes in each drawer. E was just as excited about the process of putting everything in the right drawer as she was about the art supplies. I was so excited that they fit perfectly into the girls' bookshelves that I asked Santa to bring each girl another one for holding hairbows, jewelry and play make-up. Just in case you are wondering, I am not a neat freak (at all...don't even make the bed most days...) but I am an obsessive organizer and LOVE labels. E has inherited this trait. Recently I asked her to clean her room and she told me she could if I could tell her how to spell "girl" and "boy". Eager to see where this was going, I spelled the words and checked on her 20 minutes later. Her room was still a wreck but her uncolored Toy Story picture pages had been organized into piles: one for pictures that had mostly "Boy" characters and one that had mostly "Girl" characters. Just like my house...a wreck, but a laundry room with clearly labeled bins for batteries, light bulbs, etc. I don't know if this is a blessing or a curse that I have bestowed upon my daughter! I do know E and I had the best time putting everything in the right bins while S and T joyfully played with dad!

Speaking of T, he was actually the first one up on Christmas morning.  While we typically have the rule that everyone waits at the top of the stairs until we can all walk down together to see the stockings, T is so young (and wakes up so early!) that my husband and I actually brought him downstairs for 45 minutes of his own time before anyone else in the house even stirred.  He saw his train/car table midway down the stairs and began yelling “vroom! vroom!” right away.  The opportunity to play cars trains with he and his daddy in the living room before anyone else woke up was an incredibly fun part of the day.

Santa shopped on Craigslist for the train table too, and my goodness there is a story there, but that is for another blog post...

Another incredibly fun part of the holiday was having my inlaws spend it with us!  Their making the trip was the real gift…such fun to be with them.  In addition, they brought a gingerbread house that my father-in-law won in a contest just before Christmas

This thing was enormous! We were all on a sugar high for well over a week, eating a piece of candy every time we walked by it!

Our "elf on a shelf" is named "Bingo Bango". He hid in the gingerbread house one morning, surprising us all!

My inlaws also arranged for the girls to go horseback riding at a local farm

Here are the girls brushing one of the horses after the ride. S is wearing boots that belonged to her dad when he was a kid. I love things like that!

and my mother-in-law showed up with a cooler full of food that reminded me of Mary Poppins’ bag.  Good stuff just kept coming out of it!

A directly quoted excerpt of one conversation…

Me: We should think about a dinner plan for tonight.

MIL: Well, I do have a fully cooked penne-a-la-vodka in my cooler that we could just heat up…

How amazing is that?!  Have I mentioned that my inlaws are awesome?  and that they drove (with that cooler and that gingerbread house!) 10+ hours to get here from New York?!

In case it hasn’t come across, we had a truly blessed holiday and loved just being together.  The fact that while together we were able to see the kids put on shows in front of their stage curtains, enjoy coloring with fun markers, play with the “vroom, vrooms” and “choo choos” that T so loves, learn how to ride and care for some gorgeous horses and eat magical penne with vodka cream sauce…well that was just unbelievable icing on the cake!

My point is that I loved the togetherness that this holiday season brought us…time off work for my husband, a trip to see my extended family, an opportunity to host my inlaws, and many mornings hanging out in pajamas with the kids.

One last note:  I also love how new art supplies inspire kids in ways you would never imagine.  Though it may seem a strange gift to those who don’t know my daughters, Santa brought them each their very own pack of post-its.  They were able to use as many as they wanted in whatever way they wanted.  Well, check out my new designer wine charms, folks!

First a close-up…

And then a shot of the whole set…

They spent 45 minutes designing and arranging the charms. By the way, those are not green bags of dog poo on my kitchen counter behind the cups. They are, however, green bags that are provided throughout our neighborhood for the purpose of picking up dog poo, but were - on this particular day - used by my daughters to collect rocks. Thanks for letting me clarify that... Also, by the way, that white box to the right of the cup contains the wonderful gift my husband gave me...my entire blog printed out...it looks like a real book! Such an awesome gift!

I’ll leave you with that for today.  One more Christmas recap is coming (specifically about our attempts to keep our focus on Christ amid all the glorious hoopla!), then it’s on to the new year!

Christmas Recap, Part One

I do love Christmas.

I am one of those people who turns the Christmas music on the day after Halloween, plays it non-stop throughout the season and leaves the decorations up way too long.

Case in point: we took our tree down Saturday (ahem, Saturday, January 21…) and are still eating off of our Christmas dishes.  I have plans to pack them up tomorrow, which makes this the perfect day to post some details and photos from the holiday season. What?!  You thought the holiday season ended weeks ago?!  Nonsense : )  Soon you’ll be trying to convince me it’s already 2012.

Anyway, I’ll kick it off with some images from our family trip to Georgia, where my older brother rented a cabin and invited everyone (including Nana, my other siblings, their spouses, and 9 children ages 6 and under) to join him.  Super fun and everything Christmassy (except for the silent nights!)

Here are the kids and cousins coloring Christmas pictures…

and making ornaments…

and playing with Uncle B on the Santa train

and celebrating cousin E’s birthday…

cutting Christmas cookies…

preparing to decorate Christmas cookies (T helped with the set-up)

and having fun with playdo…

I do realize that a lot of these pictures look the same.  I guess I just love them in sequence because they show that regardless of what the activity was, the kids all just jumped right in (is this a factor of their age?  I do love this age…) and simply enjoyed being around that big table together.  Such fun to have so many siblings and cousins in the same photo frame…

Here’s one that looks different, mainly because my brother (the official family photographer) took it and his eye is much more artistic than mine.  Six of the kids listening to stories (including S, who is on the far right with a red halo made out of pipe cleaners perched on her head).

And no, it wasn’t bedtime… (lest the PJ’s and stories throw you…)

It was just an awesome, fun, relaxing, wonderful family get together!

(and because I have to keep it real on some level, can I just say that I truly wish I had taken a picture of the one yard that we drove by on every trip to and from the cabin that had a random toilet in front of it?  When we got back, and friends asked the girls how their trip was, their first words were not about cousins, Santa, playdo, ornaments, stories, bunk beds, train rides, cookies or anything else (though those did get eventual mention…)  Instead…

“We saw a toilet right in somebody’s yard!”

Awesome.  (and lucky for the homeowners that we found a gas station with an open bathroom a few minutes before we spotted that toilet on our initial trip in, because one of the kids had to go, and we were desperate, and, well…let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t have to explain to the kids why I was leading them to a nearby tree when there was a toilet just waiting in this gentleman’s yard!)

“MOM!!! LOOK!!! T is holding A BEER!”

Earlier this week, I took S (age 3) and T (18 months) with me to the grocery store while E was at school.

The shopping trip was going remarkably smoothly, largely due to the fact that we scored the elusive “red car cart” at our local Kroger.  S and T were ecstatic.

I was riding high too.  In addition to scoring the red car cart, I actually found a “sani-wipes” dispenser that had “sani-wipes” in it.  (Am I the only one for whom this is incredibly rare?)

Anyway, after I wiped down the cart and had a remarkably successful foray through aisles 1 and 2, my wave of good feeling was interrupted as I searched for taco seasoning on aisle 3.  The interruption came from S who yelled at full volume, “MOM!!!  LOOK!!!  T is holding A BEER!!!”

And indeed, it appeared he was!

S, a responsible older sister, immediately took it from him.

I, a responsible parent, immediately took a picture of her.  (What?  You think I should have taken the beer?)

Here’s the photo.  T is clearly irritated that his drink has been taken.  S is clearly saying “Cheers!”

Anyway, I was all curious about why the store would have beer on such a low shelf on an aisle next to the taco seasoning (i.e. where any kid could grab it!), but it turns out it was actually a bottle of Malta Goya, which google assures me is not alcoholic.

If only I could go back and tell that to all the people on aisle 3 who were, ahem,  “admiring” my parenting as I snapped away with my cell phone camera.

They should know that I was documenting my children’s choice to go for the non-alcoholic, high in vitamin B, carbonated beverage.

(Let’s not focus on the fact that when they grabbed it, they thought it was beer!)

Holiday Letter 2011

A belated holiday letter from us to you!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!  We hope you had a wonderful 2011.  Here’s a glimpse of our year, categorized by venue and starting with life…

Around the house… where, this year, the evidence of imagination is everywhere!  Daily, we watch the kids transform the ottoman into a pirate ship, the chairs into a doctor’s waiting room, the hallways into wedding aisles & the backyard into an African jungle.  The action?  Inspiring.  The aftermath?  Well, let’s just say there is no point in trying to “tidy” a pirate ship or a jungle (or at least that’s my excuse to myself & anyone who visits…)

T (18 months) is now walking & beginning to talk, and it’s no surprise that his first consistent words were “whoa!” (i.e. “I’m excited!”) & “night night” (i.e. “These people wear me out…”)  He is the foil in many of his sister’s productions, at least when he’s not busy obsessing over cars, trains, books, family photos or pacifiers (one in his mouth; a spare in his hand!)  He is at that precious moment of transition from cuddly baby to toddler-on-the-go, which leaves us savoring the snuggles, admiring the independence, & defending everything within reach.  Currently, the only thing he shows zero interest in is his high chair, where his newest word (“no”) & phrase (“yuck, yuck, pfffttt”) have made it almost impossible to feed this lovable, huggable guy.

S (3) and E (5) are most often in their princess costumes, inviting us into a magical world where gifts hidden too well in a box of packing peanuts mean “Nana sent us snow for Christmas!”  In addition to representing pure goodness (e.g. offering our nativity scene Jesus a room in their doll house), they constantly entertain and amuse us with their blend of impressive imagination and ever-increasing real world knowledge (one telling quote: “We have to run from the mean witch! Head for the woods!  And don’t forget to bring the GPS!”)

For those wondering about the parental presence in these productions, mom is part stage-hand (“Yes, I can clean dog poop off your glitter shoe…”), part villain (“Bedtime!”) and – on one occasion – a hero (when she affirmed E’s response to the Orkin man who told us he’d be happy to kill all our dandelions. E’s words: “No! We use those flowers to make wishes!  Don’t let him, mom!”)  Of course, dad’s role is that of prince charming, which is ironic since he is always kissing the kids, except when he is worried that doing so might actually wake them up.

When not playing together or with T, the girls are pursuing their own interests.  E loves to run (anywhere), draw (princesses and fairies), organize (things and people), perform (in costume, with a microphone), and help her mama bake cookies (but not clean up!  In her words “I’m E; not CinderE”).  She is pure joy, eternally enthusiastic, and a jumping-up-and-down, open-armed, caregiver to all.  This year, E has asked Santa for 101 real dalmation puppies, a request that has her parents seeing spots (& not the kind of spots E wants…)

S is more likely to be playing music (drums or piano), setting a table (for her 15 dolls – all named some variation of “Angie”), collecting (fuzz & pennies), painting (on any canvas, including her brother), and using her craft scissors (to cut paper, but also necklaces, and on one occasion her hair).  She remains eternally passionate (about everything), infinitely lovable (and loving), and greets the world with her head cocked, a hand on her hip and a twinkle in her eye.  At the age of 3, she calls everything just like she sees it.  Recently one assessment warmed our hearts when she told her dad he was “the best dad in the whole world… even Disneyworld”.

Around town:  You may have seen us taking E to Kindergarten, choir or space camp… S to preschool, playgroup, or princess dance camp… or T (my traveling buddy) to all those places plus his own playgroup at church.  If we’re not at those locations, try any UNC athletic event, where dad embraces both a job he loves and the opportunity to “take your family to work” on gamedays (despite S’ assertion that we’d get more milkshakes if he worked at our local, and much beloved, Chick-Fil-A).

Elsewhere: Trips to NY (including Niagara Falls!), the NC coast (& its turtle rescue center!), GA (the Santa train!), and anywhere else the kids’ imaginations take us. We are hoping 2012 will take us into 2 national titles (Bama football! UNC hoops!) & close to many of you.

And finally, from the deepest part of our hearts…  we are sending our very best to you and yours for a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!  God’s Blessings and the Peace of Christ to you all!

Love,

Mom, Dad, E, S & T

 

a warning to my husband (re: your wife & daughters versus the perfume counter…)

I should be using the first blog post in a while to catch you up on our Christmas festivities and New Year’s resolutions.

Instead, I am using it as a warning to my husband, who will likely be headed home in about an hour.

Dear husband,

Your wife and daughters REEK (REEK!!!) of Chanel No. 5.  As you know, they have temporarily moved the public library into the local mall, which means we had to walk by the Dillard’s perfume counter en route to the books.  Your 5 year old daughter decided today was the day to ask “What’s perfume?!” and our fates were pretty much sealed after that.

A better wife might choose to use this hour to bathe the children.  But they are happily looking at their new library books, taking occasional breaks to twirl around in some sort of fanciful perfume-induced-fog.  So instead of “righting the ship”, I am using the blog as a foghorn:

Prepare yourself to tell us we smell wonderful (the girls are very excited!) and by all means, consider yourself (and your nose!) warned!