Category Archives: Nana

More “staycation” photos

Still catching up on the last few months!

We stayed home over spring break this year and simply enjoyed a week without a schedule.  I can’t tell you how much we appreciated just being in our hometown, taking advantage of some down time in the house with one another, enjoying some local outings with friends, and visiting a few nearby attractions that we had never made time to see.  My husband even took two days off work to make it a true “staycation” and a family affair.

The only time I felt a slight twinge about our lack of solid plans was when E was assigned to write about what she was looking forward to over spring break.  After hearing what her classmates planned to write, she came home and said “I think we are the only ones not going somewhere”.  However, my perspective was set right again when S responded, “Didn’t you hear?!  We’re going to my friend’s house…they’re petsitting chickens and we get to visit and touch them!”  Well, by golly, the kids were bouncing off the walls with excitement about that!   (Thank you, friends, for letting us visit, and for serving as the entire topic of E’s spring break essay!)

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E holding the chicken in our friend’s living room : )

In addition to that highlight, we spent the rest of break doing (to quote an elderly gentleman I met once) “a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing”.

We…

(1) played the first ever family game of T-ball in the back yard (called on account of hail after 4 innings, if you can believe that)…backyard T-ball has now become a favorite family activity, by the way.  One of my favorite moments was when – in our game of kids vs. grown ups – all three older kids were on base, leaving six month old H as the only available kid, which meant he had to bat.  We helped him earn his first RBI  (reported here mainly because I know you would be proud, uncle B!)

(2) traveled to the local transportation museum

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A real train shed, with a real turntable! The kids got to sit on the turntable while it moved and also got to see a milk truck (a concept we had to explain : )  We really made this trip for T and he loved it.  However, as a note to anyone who might find themselves at a train museum with a youngster, if I could do one thing differently, I would bring his toy train shed and turntable with us, so he could see that this was the same thing, only bigger.  The scale almost made some of the things we love seem unfamiliar.  It also makes my family seem tiny in this photo.  Can you even see us?!

The transportation museum was 5 miles from a park that had a kiddie-train and a carousel and the loudest donkey on earth (seriously, the thing “Hee-Hawed” so loudly and unexpectedly that we all jumped and H started to cry).  Of course, that will be the part of the day all the kids remember! : )

(3) hit our favorite local frozen yogurt shop

(4) concluded our Lenten project (I’ll update this later) and celebrated a wonderful Easter with some wonderful friends

(5) hunted some Easter eggs at home and at our church egg hunt

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If you can see past those faces that I love so much, I would like to point out the orange Christmas ornament on the table behind them. Did I mention that we’re a little behind on the housework around here?

The Easter bunny scaled back on the candy this year and brought each of the kids a small surprise.  The girls each found a small lego set in their basket, T discovered a new addition to his train set (Butch, the Sodor tow truck), and H is enjoying a new sleep wrap since the velcro on his old one, well…let me see if I have a photo…

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H stands for Houdini

(6) The big finale to the “staycation” was a pony ride.  We went to a local farm that, as it turned out, had “lost” our reservation.  It actually turned out to be lucky that we caught them at a time they could do it, and even luckier that the lack of preparedness in the stable meant we were able to help get the ponies ready.  The kids helped brush the animals and saw them being saddled and bridled.  Then each girl got her own turn while T watched and learned.  After he was ready, they doubled up while he got his own ride.

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And here’s T feeding the ponies afterwards…

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It was disconcerting that the petite carrots we fed them were exactly the size and shape of T’s fingers. Fortunately, the ponies have discerning palates.

Of course, the best part of the week was being together, and having extra time to just let a relaxing week feed our imaginations.  For example…

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That place where we spilled the water looks like a hippo!

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I could put pennies there to make the eyes!

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Check me out; I’m riding the hippo!

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My hippo is shrinking in the sun Mom!  What the heck?!

We may have also watched a movie or two…with a horse we rediscovered in the toy bin after our  trip to the farm.  (I played with this horse when I was a little girl and have vivid memories of building a fence for her with Lincoln Logs under Nana’s ping pong table…thanks for bringing up the old toys, Nana!)

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Love the staycation idea.  Now if I could just get the kids to stay little so we could savor more of those “at-home” moments.  I know that I’ll blink and they’ll be asking me if they can go on a spring break trip with their friends.  And that will be fun too, as long as I know where they’re going, that it’s a safe environment, that chaperones are present, that they know how to make good choices, that…

Well, let’s just say again that I’m savoring these moments.  Sit there and snuggle that pony as long as you want, T.  I’m coming over to sit next to you…

More updates to come!

Pity the Fool!

There are so many things I should be posting about right now…my beloved Grandmother who just passed away, the special significance that adds to our Easter celebration, our plan for quality time as a family during a spring break “staycation”, our continued adventures in potty training…

Instead, because I know if will bring a smile to my mom’s face, I am going to post that I am managing everything, but have just encountered the one thing that is going to put me completely over the edge…

E just looked at her calendar and with delight, squealed,

“Hey!  It’s April Fools Day!  Man, am I going to have some fun with this…”

Heaven help me!

Have I mentioned recently how much I love these kids?!

Adventures in Potty Training (alternate title: Dinner and a Show)

Nana is visiting, and offered to treat us to dinner at the local Hibachi restaurant, much to our delight…

I forgot to make a reservation, so we had to wait a bit.  No problem.  The older kids admired the fish in the tank, and I bounced H, as Nana sent a text message to my husband who is away on a work trip.

The peace was broken when I heard T announce, “I have to go potty!” and turned around to see his pants – and underpants – around his ankles in the crowded waiting area.  That’s right.  Full frontal for the captive audience.

Dinner and a show! (of sorts).

I raced to hand H off to Nana, who said “I’d love to hold him.  Give me one minute to get my phone back in my purse” to which I responded “YOU HAVE TO TAKE HIM NOW!  LOOK AT T!!!”  to which Nana responded “Oh!  OH!  OH MY GOODNESS!!!  T!” to which T responded, “I HAVE TO GO POTTY RIGHT NOW!”  to which I responded by handing off H, picking up T and sprinting to the bathroom while holding T like a weapon naked from the waist down, to which the crowd responded by parting like the Red Sea, to which the host responded by offering to seat our family immediately (an act I discovered when E came to get us in the bathroom).

As a side note: E was shocked to see me helping T stand on the seat and peeing in the potty that way.  (I’m new to this with boys; is that an accepted method in public restrooms with little boys?, because I am open to alternate suggestions…he’s not wide enough to sit on – or tall enough to stand on the floor and use an – adult potty, and although I am queen of carrying the porta potty everywhere we go, there are times when we’re not going to have it…)

Anyway, as if all of that weren’t enough, the chef at our table did the flaming volcano thing that they do with the onion, then brought out a little statue that looked like a boy peeing to douse the flames, which prompted everyone at the table to laugh except for T who was decidedly unimpressed and said, “I do that now too, but I pee in the potty” which I can only assume means that given the choice between peeing (a) into a potty, (b) into a restaurant area crowded with people and (c) into a flaming volcano, T finds only options a & b acceptable.

How’s that for an exciting Saturday night?

(And thank you for dinner, Nana!  And to everyone else, you are welcome for the show : )

update on the past month, part 2

Other things we’ve been up to this month…

(1)  Exploring!

Here we are at NC State’s “farm day”.  Note to self: pack vegetarian lunches next year.  Otherwise, S may look at the animals walking around in their pens and ask questions like, “Is that turkey like the turkey I just ate for lunch?” and you will have to field panicked looks from nearby families until you say something misleading like “NO ONE is going to eat THAT turkey!!!”  (and at least one mother will mouth the words “thank you” as you’re leaving.)

S milking a pretend cow. There were also bunnies to pet, calf statues to lasso, and free ice cream. I thought T would like the “touch a tractor” section, but he just yelled “Big Scary Truck!” as we moved away.  I guess he’s used to the matchbox versions.

We also visited the big museum about 40 minutes away (a special outing for us!).  Friends gave us passes they weren’t using (thank you!), and we had an absolute blast.  T fed his train obsession in this exhibit.

T could have happily played here for the entire day.

And how about this sign at the exit of that exhibit?

It’s like they knew T was coming…

(2)  Celebrating!

Our cousins had lots of birthdays, so we have been to their house for a “Tangled”-themed treasure hunt, to a park near their house for their one-year-old’s cake smashing soiree, and to a pasture within that park to just admire the horses and views.  (Thank you, cousins!)  One photo, from my brother, who is by far my favorite photographer (as long as he’s not taking “work photos” of my children, i.e. “X-rays”…)  Can you believe this photo was taken by someone who just plays around with the camera during the off-time from his Orthopedic Surgery practice?

S in the white, E in the green, cousin G with the long ponytail and cousin E in his superman cape.  Childhood captured in photo.

(3)  Hanging around

Check out E on the swing in our backyard.  Photo credit to my brother again.  How much about spring and childhood and E is captured in this one photo of her muddy feet?  Volumes, I tell you.

(4)  Fishing!

Nana got the kids a fishing pole AND managed to disassemble the pole and fix it after I broke it (thank you, Nana!).  Since I clearly don’t know how to handle a rod, dad took over the casting lessons, and the kids had a blast.

Noteworthy: the kids will spend an hour catching minnows and tadpoles in their nets at the local pond and collecting them in a water filled bowl that we pour back into the pond before we leave.  Here are E & T inspecting their catches with Nana…

Also noteworthy: the girls “fished” for an hour with dad with a plastic stopper on the end of the reel (i.e. no bait or hook) and were thrilled with the experience.  I can’t imagine what they will do when we actually introduce the idea that you could use the pole to catch a fish.

(5)  Trying to keep our heads above water in terms of housework

With this much fun going on, mom has had to work overtime to simply keep our familial feet underneath us.  Exhibit A: every few weeks I have to go through a pile that looks like this to pull any artwork or projects we want to save.

This process deserves a post of its own.  Stay tuned.  Then there’s the normal stuff.  I mentioned before that I lost the battle with the laundry.  I fared only slightly better in the kitchen.  And Nana saved me with regards to everything else.  (see below)

(6)  Spent time with Nana!

Nana’s visit was devoted to catching up, hanging out, and pitching in. In addition to fishing, playing, taking the kids to several museums (T was adorable riding the train at the local science museum and still asks to “go ride James” again at least every other day), Nana just rolled up her sleeves and help me get some things done.

More detail?   I am just out of the first trimester of pregnancy, which means I am still exhausted, but also feeling my version of a nesting instinct.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I have no desire to clean, but an overwhelming urge to organize and declutter (my normal instinct, but taken to a fever-pitch during pregnancy).  The end result: During pregnancy, I am desperate to get organized but too tired to actually do it, which leaves me very frustrated.  While she was here, Nana helped me sort through the kids outgrown clothes and she watched the kids and took care of lots of everyday things (the kitchen! the laundry!) while I tackled the attic, my desk, the bankbook, and several projects that have been languishing on my “to-do” list literally for years.  Thank you, Nana!  We loved playing with you and are so appreciative of all the help.  (I haven’t listed everything you helped me catch up on because I am embarrassed that I was that far behind!)

More updates coming…have I mentioned that it’s been a busy month?!

Updates and photos from last month (part 1!)

So I’ve been AWOL (life has been busy!) and have been promising an update…

Here’s the short version: we’ve been having fun, which has involved a spring break “staycation”, a week recovering from that staycation (hello, laundry), a wonderful Easter, and then a great visit from Nana!

And here’s the longer version: updates and photos from our last month (part 1)…

Each girl got to pick one special “must do” for the week of spring break.  To my surprise (why did I think they would stay in my comfort zone?) E picked “make a dress for our dolls” and S picked “plant a garden”.  Holy moly.  I have no experience in either of those things.  (It did make me glad I asked however, since there is no way I would have put either one on a list of plans, and obviously they are unexplored areas of interest!)  Anyway, here we are at the fabric store…

fuzzy cell phone photo

After a “looking loop” around the store, each girl was allowed to pick out one yard of any fabric they wanted, and one foot of any ribbon they wanted.  E & S surprised me by both selecting the same fabric and ribbons.  (They wanted their dolls to match, I guess!)  T got a piece of fabric with cars on it that I hoped would become his new lovey, but alas that role was filled by the racecar and Toby train the Easter Bunny brought him.  Not conducive to sleeping – rolling over onto those loveys (especially Toby, who says “full steam ahead!” everytime T bumps him in the crib).  Oh well.  He loves them!

Anyway, here’s the dolls in their dresses.  Since I don’t know how to sew, these are more like glittery sackcloths, but they made the girls happy!

E said, “Her dress looks a little like a bathrobe, but I like it!”

Thanks to Nana who did an actual sewing lesson with the girls when she visited a few weeks after this (with a real sewing machine).  I keep a few cloths around the house for various things, and one now has random, festive stitches all over it.  An easy way to have the kids feel like they were “really sewing important things” (at least until the machine stopped working…anyone have a spare manual for a JC Penney sewing machine purchased in the mid 1980s?)  Here’s one of my new decorative cloths below.

Just look at that stitching! She’s a natural, I say! : )

We’re hoping to complete the set after (1) we figure out what’s going on with the sewing machine, and (2) Nana comes back to teach me how to thread and use it.

S’ project was the garden.  I am not a gardener, but we headed over to Home Depot (with their optimistic “You can do it.  We can help.” motto).  S & E picked out three things to plant (1) marigolds: the only flowers the deer won’t eat, (2) carrots: the only vegetable S will eat, and (3) basil: because the man who helped us said there was almost no way I could mess it up.

After hours and hours of shoveling, weeding, removing rocks, adding topsoil, planting, and lots of muddy shoes and jeans piling up on the porch, we have the smallest garden ever.  It is impressive only to me and the children.  (I promise, we truly have spent countless hours on it, but it is really only a 4 x 6 patch of ground with 12 flowers and some tiny sprouts that are either carrots or weeds…I honestly don’t know how to tell them apart, so I have no idea if I’m weeding, or ruining our only crop.  I am not kidding about this.)

The two big rocks on the left that we used to mark the rows of carrots and basil kind of look like gravemarkers for our struggling-to-survive garden. Seriously, is anything going to grow in that red clay? We added two huge bags of topsoil, but honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And in the interest of internet input, can someone please click on this photo to enlarge it and tell me if any of the green things sticking out of the ground look like the beginning of a carrot-top?

OK, so if you can fight the impulse to tell me we should have added more topsoil and removed more rocks (I promise, we were removing rocks for hours…), tell me instead which of these green leaves is a carrot sprouting, and which is a weed. Carrot at the top of the photo? Weed at the bottom? All weeds? Egads. I think I’m going to go to the grocery store, buy a bunch of fully grown carrots and plant them one night after the kids go to bed and then take everybody outside to harvest them the next morning. In case you think I’m kidding with this plan, I have already done my research. Apparently, they sell carrots at Whole Foods that still have the green leafy parts on top. Score!

Anyway, the kids love watering the flowers; it has been a fun adventure, and I give us an “A” for effort.  My grandma J, who – God rest her soul – (1) won all sorts of yard and neighborhood beautification awards, (2) was in charge of all the flowers for our church for decades and (3) grew the rose petals that lined the aisle of my wedding, would applaud our efforts too.  She would appreciate that at this stage of life, we are certainly process (as opposed to product) oriented!

My grandmother would also likely laugh at the fact that the flowers we are trying to grow are in a battle to survive, while the part of our yard that received no TLC and is “supposed” to be grassy is covered in the most lush display of flowery “weeds” you can imagine.  I mean, check out the photo below.

Yes, I love them. But honestly, “My kingdom for a carrot!”

The brick wall marks the property line between our house and the neighbors.  It’s like the weeds magically stop there (much to the delight of the girls, and to the dismay of my husband).

It is uncanny. I will say that these flowers provide hours of entertainment for the children, because they are determined that none of them be chopped by the lawn mower. Every time my husband says he’s going to mow the lawn, they sprint outside to pick all the flowers and cover my kitchen in bouquets. I will miss this stage so much when they grow out of it…sigh…at least then I will know that I really did try to enjoy it all in the moment.  Bring on the bouquets, girls!

Finally, since I mentioned the racecar and train that appeared in T’s Easter basket, let me include a few photos of the holiday.  We tried to capture the meaning of the season – telling the kids an age-appropriate version of the crucifixion and resurrection (when S heard Jesus died and came back to life, she said, “Hmm.  I think that’s what I’ll do too”, then let out that little breath that almost made it sound like “Well then, that’s one less thing to worry about.  What’s for dinner?”  It was a good opportunity to tell her we can all come back to life, and live forever in heaven.  (Happy belated Easter, everyone!)

Then there were the secular celebrations.  Here we are dyeing Easter eggs

T got a plastic egg and a cup of water, and was absolutely a part of it at the age of 1!

I know you can see the plastic egg in the photo…can you also see the clear plastic cup of water he dunked this egg into for half an hour? He kept yelling out random colors while he did it, mimicking the words his sisters were saying as they dyed their eggs. I remember taking this photo. He shoved the egg right at the camera and yelled “purple!” So we have the spirit of the activity covered…we’ll work on colors next year : )

S at our church egg hunt

Hunting eggs in our house Easter morning

E & S hunting eggs on Easter morning. Note that it is still pitch black outside the windows. The kids were so excited that they woke up insanely early. Also…note to self: ask the Easter Bunny to make a quick list of where the eggs are hidden. There was one we couldn’t find for a few days, and of course it was one of the real, hard boiled eggs. Fortunately, we did find it before the smell found us! I was like Kirk in that episode of Gilmore Girls, looking for the egg…anyone else remember that episode?!

We also enjoyed spending part of the weekend with cousins and the other part with friends.  Beautiful company, beautiful weather, beautiful time.  Love all y’all!

In the “less than beautiful” category…My deviled eggs didn’t turn out exactly right…

I had promised deviled eggs, then learned that I couldn’t use the boiled Easter eggs that were hidden overnight at room temperature (health risk, apparently), so I only had the two eggs left in the fridge to work with. Me in the kitchen + no spare ingredients = no room for error/recipe for disaster. My mother-in-law gave me this awesome tray to hold deviled eggs in, and I am embarrassed to say that these eggs were so misshapen they wouldn’t even fit in the tray. Oh well. This is why no one complains when I bring pre-packaged cookies to potluck gatherings.

Between the flowers and the eggs, my grandmother would finally have to admit that I inherited absolutely none of her talents…but my admiration for those talents is ever increasing grandma!  This gardening and cooking is tricky stuff!

More updates on S’ new obsession with cooking in the next post…  Here’s hoping she has inherited my grandma’s skill as well as her interest, and that she can take over the kitchen soon!  S is actually so into cooking right now that I’m thinking of arranging an apprenticeship with my Mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook and maybe planning to visit soon.  Are you up for it Grammy?!

I’ll leave you with a photo of the laundry that accumulated while we were doing all this other stuff.  The laundry problem was exacerbated by the fact that the week after spring break was unseasonably cold, which meant I could just shove all the dirty warm weather stuff deeper into the hamper and pull out all the winter things I had just put away.  End result?  Well, check out laundry day…

There are no people in the photo because we were all basically walking around in towels by this point.

My husband, never one to complain, actually looked at the growing pile shortly after spring break, sighed, and went out and bought himself new boxers.  True story.

(And lest that be misinterpreted, know that he is actually great about helping out with the laundry and everything else around the house, but in his infinite marital wisdom realized that buying a few new boxers was probably the best investment in overall domestic contentment.  And his wife says, “amen to that”.  I don’t need a six-week retreat in Fiji.  But occasionally, I do need a week of blissfully ignoring the laundry : )

So that’s part I of our update…to be continued with part II later.  Hope everyone else is enjoying spring too!

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 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!)

Are we tending to the souls of our children? or is our time otherwise consumed?

A few weeks ago, Nana e-mailed me and all of my (three) siblings with information and an offer.  She had just seen the movie “Courageous”, which is the story of a group of male friends who – amid many challenges and conflicts, and along a dramatic (fictional) storyline – commit to becoming better Christians and better fathers to their children.

Nana was so inspired by the movie that she wanted to make sure all of her kids had an opportunity to see it with their spouses.  To facilitate this, she offered to pay for a babysitter, dinner and movie tickets if anyone wanted to check the film out.

Well, she didn’t have to ask me twice.  An inspiring movie?  A date with my husband?  Only Nana could figure out a way to invest in our marriage, our parenting, and support a great film all in one swoop, and to do it in a way that made all of my siblings, and siblings-in-law, feel good about how much Nana loved them and the roles they were playing in our family.  (She told us in her e-mail offer that this was a movie about fathers and she thought all the guys on the list were great fathers who would appreciate a celebration of that…)

So a few days ago, my husband and I hired a sitter, had dinner in a restaurant, and saw a movie about Christian parenting.  It was a fantastic night.  Thank you, thank you Nana.  The movie made me catch my breath, cry, laugh, and hold hands with my husband.

I’ll leave you with one quote from the movie’s conclusion (told as best I remember since a google search didn’t turn up the exact words):

“Someday, we will all realize that the jobs and hobbies that consume us hold no eternal value . . . and that the souls of our children do.”

Not undermining the value of jobs and hobbies here – we believe God leads us through passion for work and other pursuits and don’t want anyone to misinterpret – but that is some serious food for thought…

It is the souls of our children that hold the eternal value.

How much time have we devoted recently to the development of those souls?  To fostering our children’s spiritual natures?

Or has our time been otherwise consumed?

Thank you, thank you Nana!

And thank you Hollywood for giving us a movie I was proud to see.

For those who are interested, this is the link to a review of the movie:

http://m.cbn.com/entertainment/screen/courageous-movie-review-goodwyn.aspx

“CHIRP! CHIRP!”

This blog post is a song with a chorus.

 

The chorus is:

But that requires work in the attic!

Which requires clearing a path through the front of the attic!

Which requires (very rare) time in the house without any children!

Because having tiny helpers in my attic just isn’t safe.

CHIRP! CHIRP!

 

Here is the song:

 

(verse 1)

“CHIRP! CHIRP!” goes the smoke detector in my attic.

It has been chirping for (no exaggeration) over a month.

This means the battery has died

A new one’s needed inside!

I have to do that before the chirping noise drives me insane.

 

(chorus)

But that requires work in the attic!

Which requires clearing a path through the front of the attic!

Which requires (very rare) time in the house without any children!

Because having tiny helpers in my attic just isn’t safe.

CHIRP! CHIRP!

 

(verse 2)

You ask why I don’t do the work in the evening?

When the attic is cool and the kids are asleep?

It’s because the attic light bulb has blown!

And plans to install the new one quite thrown!

Since I can only install a bulb when I can see (i.e. during the day)

 

(chorus)

And that requires work in the attic!

Which requires clearing a path through the front of the attic!

Which requires (very rare) time in the house without any children!

Because having tiny helpers in my attic just isn’t safe.

CHIRP! CHIRP!

 

(verse 3)

You ask why I can’t have another adult watch the kids while I work in the attic?

I say, “sitters are $12 an hour!”

Weekdays, my husband’s work pulls him away –

Weekends, we don’t do projects; we play!

And that’s why my life has this soundtrack…

“CHIRP! CHIRP!”

 

P.S. (which stands for “Post Song” in this instance):  This song is dedicated to Nana, who during her visit (1) watched the kids while I spent a half-hour organizing the attic (which became crazy during our summer closet-cleaning marathon) and (2) changed the battery in the smoke detector.

Can you hear that?

Me neither.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Silence (no chirping!) for the first time in over a month.

 

P.P.S.  (Post, Post Song): Those of you who read this post, and remember yesterday’s post, are probably thinking that Nana has been working very hard here during her visit.  And you are right, especially since she is here during a week that (a) my husband is traveling for work and (b) T has been sleepless after receiving his 15 month vaccines.  But I must emphasize that while working hard, we are also making lots of time to hang out and play (e.g. movie with the kids yesterday! pizza with everyone today! park playdate tomorrow!)!  Love you, Nana!  Thanks for the work and the play!