Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 2011

We’re on our way home to Maryland now. Bags, gifts and kiddos packed like a Tetris game into our rental minivan (someone backed into my SUV a few weeks ago and it’s been in the shop longer than we anticipated). We’re meandering through mountains somewhere in south-central PA. We took a detour an hour ago when traffic was backed up for miles and miles. Baby Girl is only happy when the car is moving, so we set off in a different direction. It probably cost us an hour of driving time, but at least the little one is content. And although I have no clue where we are, it is most definitely beautiful. My favorite state always is.

There’s a chorus of coughing coming from the three babies in the back, drowning out the “When I See an Elephant Fly” song wafting from the DVD player. And my arm is resting on a stack of napkins from Sheetz that my husband picked up after my initial pile of tissues ran out within the first 15 minutes of our drive. We are all sick. It wouldn’t be Christmas vacation if we didn’t come home coughing and snotting around. As hard as I tried to fight it, with as much Echinacea and Vitamin C that I’ve loaded my family up on, I still lost. This year especially. Among all the fun things we did and cool places we visited this week, we can also include the ER on that list. Jon ended up spending 4 hours there with Jack on Tuesday night. “They” think he has pneumonia. So now we have exactly three hours to get home, unpack and take all three of our offspring to the pediatrician before things get any worse.

Then we have to pick up our car from the shop, drop off the rental (which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed by the way, while it’s not much to drive it sure is great for traveling!), scrape together something for dinner from whatever is left in the house, and get my sick little family in bed. There won’t be much time for reflection any time soon, which is why I fished the laptop out from underneath a pile of Christmas cookies and settled in to enjoy a bit of “hands fee” time while the rest of my family is otherwise occupied. Because despite the busy schedule, runny noses, sleepless nights and gassy babies, Christmas vacation was still worth it. Being with family always is.

We spent Christmas Eve with Jon’s family. This was the first time since before Jack was born that we were all home for Christmas. We’re up to 9 grandkids now, 7 of which are boys.

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Jack been very concerned about Jude's posing lately.

You can just imagine the chaos. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Okay, most times it’s frustrating. Julia starts screaming right when I sit down to eat, Jack spills his drink, Jude dumps his plate. Then there’s present time. Trying to get all the kids to wait patiently for their turn. And then there’s the one gift that everyone wants to play with… at the same time. Baby needs fed, diapers need changed, small boys need to CALM DOWN! *sigh*

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Julia's only female cousin - Aviel.


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Taking it all in with Poppie.

But as my mother-in-law reminded us this week, Jesus always welcomed the children. I can just imagine the disciples, desperately trying to create order, to settle the kids, to push them to the back of the crowd where they could play quietly. But there was Jesus, welcoming the little ones, bringing them right to the forefront, including them in all he did. Certainly children don’t make the holidays any easier but they certainly make it all worthwhile. Besides, I’m fairly certain Mary wasn’t getting good nights of sleep during her first Christmas either.
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The cousins put on a play for us.


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It involved one dance, and several fight scenes.


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Grammie and Grandpa came for a visit too.

Christmas day was with my family, where my three are the only kids. We’re still waiting on some additional cousins, okay so maybe we’re still waiting on an aunt or two first. Every Christmas Eve I toast to a bigger family the next year and every year it backfires on me. Ironically, there was no toast this year. This time we waited until after church and lunch and naps … and before the kids got too hungry again, to start the festivities. Still a little busy, but certainly much more manageable when the adult to kid ratio is 4:1.

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Funny thing about kids, they never do what you expect them too. All the adults were eagerly waiting to see Jack and Jude’s reaction to their big gifts – a workbench and a play kitchen. The boys barely gave them a second glance, they were too interested in fighting over another toy. (Although now that the kitchen is all assembled I’m counting on it keeping my little Jude-bug occupied for many hours … and out of my own kitchen drawers!).

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The boxes are always more fun than the gifts.

But there was more to this week than Christmas celebrations, dinners (oh lots of ‘em), and game nights with some of our oldest friends.

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Some of my oldest friends - Julia and Elaina are only 3 weeks apart.


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Poppa has "the touch."


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Marmie knows dinosaurs.

Since we both had off this week it was a great opportunity to introduce Jon to some of the local flavor. Yes, my husband and I grew up living only 20 miles apart. But our experiences are slightly different. On Mondays my mom would often take us kids to the local livestock auction for some up-close views of cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc. It’s probably been close to 20 years since I was last there. Not that it mattered, the place hasn’t changed a bit. The place where the actual auctioning takes place is like a small amphitheater, which a few rows of old theater seats and a couple of borrowed bench seats from some old retired vans. But the real fun is beyond the double doors, where you can watch the trucks come in to unload their animals. And yards and yards of catwalk high above the pens. No pictures because I didn’t bring my camera, I was too busy trying to make sure my kids didn’t climb over the railing, and there were Amish everywhere whom I did not wish to offend.

Speaking of our buggy-driving friends, we also took Jon to the Lewisburg Farmer’s Market. If I’m ever home on a Wednesday I make sure to stop here, but Jon had never been. The guys love the hot sausage and the pickle guy. I’m a big fan of the hand rolled pretzels and reserve sharp cheddar (aged 8 years!). And my new favorite stop is Toy Cow Creamery for some delicious raw milk (I’d post a link but again, they’re Amish, so no website). This beverage is so creamy and delicious, it’s a shame my current home state has outlawed it for consumption.

We also hit up some fun for the kids. Namely, Treasure Castle in South Williamsport. Jon kept saying, “I wish this was here when I was a kid.” It’s pretty incredible, especially for our little corner of the world.

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And I thought my kitchen window was pretty cool...


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Can you tell this place used to be a church?


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Treasure Castle isn't just for little boys ...

And the Milton Model Train Museum, which a friend was able to get opened just for us! I was quite amazed at the set-up, so you can imagine how my little train-lovers felt about room full of choo-choos.

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Anita Mann Dating Service :)

Needless to say, we’re tired. A happy sort of tired. A “we just accomplished so much in so little time now we get to rest” sort of tired. You can bet what we’ll be doing to ring in the new year this weekend … sleeping. But that’s not to say we’re not excited about it all. If it's anything like the end of 2011, I have a feeling 2012 is going to be a very good year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Breath of Heaven

Like many mamas, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “Breath of Heaven.” The longer I’m a mother, the more I feel like I can relate to Mary, and the more this song becomes the song of my own heart. In fact, one of the first things on my “to-do” list when I get to heaven is to track down the mother of Jesus and swap birth stories. Sure hers is one of the greatest stories ever told, but I want to hear ALL the details. I must say, from the little we do know, it somewhat reminds me somewhat of my own.

I mean, Mary had an advantage many of us don’t get – she KNEW the moment she got pregnant. There was no mistaking her due date. And yet she decided to travel anyway. Maybe Jesus showed up early. I can just imagine what all that walking and donkey-riding would do to a pregnant woman. I bet all the other ladies in the caravan were telling her how good she looked, that there was “no way” she was due that month, how she carried so small, “must be a tiny baby like his mama” kind of comments.

I have traveled many moonless nights,
Cold and weary with a babe inside,
And I wonder what I’ve done.
Holy Father, you have come,
And chosen me now to carry your son.

And then they reached Bethlehem, and by now Mary is starting to feel a little different. “Nah,” Joseph says, “The baby’s not coming yet.” And they go from door to door, inn to inn trying to find a place to rest. Meanwhile Mary’s breathing is getting faster and faster, and position on the donkey is becoming more and more uncomfortable.

I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with my now.

Joseph tries to explain that their situation is desperate, but the innkeeper’s wife takes one look at Mary and just shakes her head, “No, you’re too tiny, you’re not ready to have a baby yet” or “You sound too calm, go have a glass of wine, take a nice long bath and come back when you really think it’s time.”

Breath of heaven,
Hold me together,
Be forever near me,
Breath of heaven.

And just as the final door is shut yet again, Mary knows like only a woman can know. She braces her feet against the donkey’s straps, arches her back and yells for Joseph to “Hurry, it’s time!” And I’m sure Joseph starts crying out to God at this point. He’s probably wishing he had paid more attention to the midwife when she came to visit, trying to remember just what exactly he’s supposed to do in an emergency situation. He tries to get the local midwife but she’s sleeping and doesn’t get the page.

Breath of heaven,
Lighten my darkness,
Pour over me your holiness,
For you are holy.
Breath of heaven.

So he does the only thing he can do. Finds a nice warm place for Mary to rest, starts digging in his cloak for something to wave down help, and then turns around to find Mary already catching her new little one. She nuzzles him close, not even bothering to confirm it’s a boy, catches her husband’s eye, and they both laugh. I’m sure neither of them have ever felt more alive than they did at that moment.

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place,
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be.
Help me.

And as she rests against the manger I’m sure the weight of her new responsibility settled on her shoulders. What a blessing, what an honor, what a task was set before her. She was now a mother, not just of any little boy, but the Savior of the World. Like so many mamas, I often feel unqualified to the task. I can only imagine what was going through Mary’s mind that night, and the many nights to follow as she thought about raising Christ the King. Suddenly, giving birth in a stable seemed so easy.

Breath of heaven,
Hold me together,
Be forever near me,
Breath of heaven.
Breath of heaven,
Lighten my darkness,
Pour over me your holiness,
For you are holy.
Breath of heaven.


What a story, what a life!

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Best Christmas picture ever!!

From our family to yours, may your day be full of light and love. May your little ones continue to make you feel more and more alive. May the celebration of our Savior’s birthday fill your heart with awe and wonder.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Little star with the big voice

On Friday, Jack's preschool had its Christmas program.  He had been practicing for weeks.  The 2-year old class was to sing two songs - "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Jesus Loves Me."  You can guess what we had the pleasure of hearing over and over again in our house.  (Sidenote: We found a cute video of Twinkle, Twinkle on YouTube that Jack now constantly requests.)

I was a little nervous about the upcoming production.  It's no secret that 2 and 3 year olds rarely do what they're supposed to, especially when it's most important.  So I had my doubts.  But all Jack-fears aside, I also had two others to think about.  Since Jon had been traveling all week he couldn't take off work, which left me to fend for myself with Jude and Julia.  I knew Daddy and the grandparents would be wanting to see some pictures and a video.  So I found a seat conveniently located next to another on-her-own mama with twin girls, plopped  Jude down next to me and said a quick prayer that Julia would stay asleep in her carseat and Jude wouldn't decide to throw a fit or try one of his escape tactics. 

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Have you ever been to a preschool program?  They're really quite humorous.  A bunch of tiny kids, trying to follow directions but too distracted by the sea of faces before them.  Some tears, when a child or two finds their mommy and realizes they can't get to her.  A few simple songs, always sung off-key (or in no key at all).  And of course some costumes to trip over and cardboard scenery that doesn't function as it should.

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And little ones that fail to sing at all because they're too caught up in what's going on behind them (he didn't look towards me once for a good picture!)

But you've never seen such a prouder group of parents.  All it takes is a stage, maybe a few lights and it doesn't matter how well their child sings, or if he even sings at all.  Those little ones are stars!  And we're the ones honored to raise them.

As soon as we saw Jack enter the room Jude and I cheered.  We clapped, we screamed his name, we waved our hands, just so our little star would notice us.  And when it was his turn to sing, I may have cried a little.



Jacks' the second one from the right (in between those two darling girls).  You can't see him too well, but you can certainly hear him.

Okay, so they were totally tears of laughter, but I was a proud mama nonetheless.  Because on Friday, my little guy walked up on stage, faced a crowd of people and belted out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" like we had never heard him do before.  And then he did it again.  Unfortunately, he was supposed to be singing "Jesus Loves Me" at that point.  At least he was putting his whole heart into it!



It's funny, what we deem as successes these days.  Having a 2 month old sleep just long enough that I can video her big brother's performance.  Keeping a 20 month old within a 2 foot radius without disturbing those around us.  Seeing a 3 year old stand in place and fearlessly belt out all the words to a nursery rhyme.  And having all three of them take a nap that afternoon at the same time.  These are my major accomplishments during this phase of my life, and I relish every single one of them!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Unseasonable

I love snow.  And I'm all about cozy, blizzardy winters but I also know what it's like to spend the longest, darkest months cooped up in a house with small children.  So when Mother Nature throws you an unseasonably warm afternoon, you take it.  You carpe diem that bad boy. 

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"The Smolder" - 20 years from now he's going to use this look on some poor girl and she'll be his for life.

And that's just what we did this afternoon when the average temperature of all my weather sources came out to somewhere in the upper 50's.  After rounding up children, socks and sneakers.  Doing potty runs and diaper changes.  Making sure all perishable goods had made it back to the fridge after lunch.  And strapping a baby onto my chest, in twice as much time as it used to take me to pack for an entire road trip in my single days ... we managed to trek all the way to our backyard. 

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Good thing it was warm enough that we didn't have to add "find and zip up coats" to our list.  Even so, the trip was well worth the effort.  All of our gazillion trees are bare, and despite the fact that our days are shorter, they seem so much brighter now that the sun can shine through.  Even the house is extra-sunny during the middle of the day.  And even a pile of dirty dishes can't diminish the cheer of a sunny, warm kitchen!

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We were playing so hard he lost a shoe.

Jack is really in to soccer these days. And Jude is in to anything his older brother is in to.  We're still working on the "don't pick up the ball with your hands" rule.  But kicking, oh we're good!  I'm usually wearing Julia in the carrier when we're outside which makes kicking and chasing balls even more interesting. 

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A shot of the girls.  Wonder how long it will take her to realize that if you want to show up in pictures, don't hang too close to mom.

It also makes lifiting 24 and 40 pound toddlers into their swings interesting too.  But when I'm standing there, pushing Jude in the swing with my left hand, Jack in the swing with my right, and lulling my baby girl to sleep at the same time ... I feel pretty accomplished.  It's also nice to know that I don't have to worry about any objects getting lost or broken or anyone getting hurt for a few minutes out of the day, because all three of my children are strapped down for the time being.  Ah yes, just another reason to enjoy the sunshine.

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Do you know how hard it is to snap a picture of a baby who is attached to you?


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Jon was in Texas this week so my oh-so-helpful parents came down for a few days.  Poppa and the boys had some outside adventures of their own.  They came back in the house smelling like fresh air and full of stories about pirate ships, beaver dams and buried treasure.  Jack's been looking for treasures ever since.  And I'm now the proud owner of a nice growing collection of rocks, seashells and golf balls that he's "discovered" in our backyard.  I gotta say, I love his little imagination.  I just wish he wouldn't bring it to the dinner table where bread bitten into the shape of a boat sails across a "lake" of spilled milk where a fishing rod looking very much like a fork catches a shark made out of cheese ... It's no wonder he's always the last one left at the table.

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Marmie and Poppa headed  home early yesterday morning, and left behind yet another freezer full of meals.  I tell ya, when the baby is fussing, the boys are running circles around the kitchen and your husband calls to tell you he won't be home until much, much later that night ... it's so nice to not have to worry about making dinner.  Which is exactly what we did tonight.  And I even got to eat half of my food while it was still hot. 

Julia is doing better during the day.  We're starting to get a good routine going.  Yesterday she took all 4 naps in her crib.  She's an excellent napper in the morning, despite being interrupted by preschool runs, but by the end of the day she's down to catnaps.  And by 7pm, even though she'll be sleeping solidly in my arms, she's awake and upset the moment I set her in her crib.  And then we reach 10pm and it's like someone hit the reset button, because I can lay her down to sleep wide awake and chatty, and she'll contentedly suck on her fingers until she falls asleep, and stay there all the way until morning.  I just don't get it.  But I guess I don't need to. 

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I finally took the pack 'n play out of our room.  It's been very useful as a giant laundry basket for the past week but it was time to part ways.  Julia's been doing so well in her crib at night, and Jon and I like having our room back to ourselves.  Still, it makes me just a little sad to know that phase is over.  Oh, I'm sure there will be many, many more nights to come of some mommy/daughter bonding time.  But those newborn nights, those nights where you lose track of being awake or asleep, where you wake up in darkness and panic because you can't remember where you last put the baby, those I-want-to-sleep-close-enough-to-hear-her-breathe-all-night nights, are passed. 

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I just love these little ballet slippers from Nonnie!

And just like those good times are gone, so too shall these evenings where I get nothing done but hold a baby.  Unless the hubby happens to be home and offers to hold her for me.  And just like an unseasonably spring-like day in the middle of December, I'll take it.  I'll carpe diem that two-hour time slot.  I'll clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, wrap some presents and then plan out a grocery list ... or maybe I'll just blog about treasure hunting in the backyard and folding up the pack 'n play.  Yeah, that sounds good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An unscented Christmas

It is a truth universally acknowledged that fall is my favorite season.  But all the good things must come to an end.  And for once, I am ready to wrap up fall.  It was a good run.  Much better than I had anticipated knowing I'd be in hibernation mode for the better part of the autumn.  But Baby Girl has only made this past season even more savory.  And so the last of the leaves have been raked (no small task in this quasi-forest of a neighborhood) and the pumpkins and leafy twigs have been replaced with twinkly lights and pine garland.  And boxes of wintery decor to go with it.

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Someone likes the Christmas lights.

And right up there with autumn, I love me some real Christmas tree.  Fraser fir to be exact.  And I love the whole experience.  I have fond memories of the whole family bundling up, piling into the mini van, getting trampled on by our dog "Cody" (who was so hyper that we never took her out in public except on Christmas tree hunt day), treking around the woods seeking out the tree that would fit most perfectly in our pre-determined corner, and arguing over who had found the best one.  And then there was the sawing, the dragging, the tying it to the roof of the car, and bringing our treasure home.  Of course, our eyes were always bigger than our ceiling and most years my dad had to cut a little (okay, a lot) off the top and bottom to make it fit.  In fact, there's still a brown scrape on my parents' ceiling where we squeezed one too-tall pine into the house.  And then there's music and decorating and hot chocolate and cookies ...

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Cozy winter fires ... Just another thing for Jude to inform us is "HOTTT!"


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Taking hot chocolate to a whole new level!

We haven't quite reached that place in our little family yet.  Especially the hyper dog part.  Who needs a crazy lab when you've got two toddler boys!?  But we are working on creating our own family traditions.  After growing up in an artificial tree household, I think my husband has finally crossed over into the "real" side.  He doesn't even put up a fight anymore when I bring up "the hunt."  Although this year's search, as has been typical lately, didn't quite play out like I thought it would.  With all the traveling we have going on this month we knew we wouldn't get to enjoy our tree and decorations for very long, so I really wanted to get things going soon after Thanksgiving.  We didn't have the time, or energy, to visit a cut-your-own farm.  So when we found out our favorite produce stand/pumpkin patch/local farm has a Christmas tree lot, we decided to go there to find something that would rival the majestic tree we found last year

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So we loaded the kids up quick one night after Jon got home from work.  It was dark, and cold.  And there was no Christmas music or hot chocolate (why didn't I think of these things ahead of time?!).  There weren't even any freaky stuffed animals hanging in the trees like at our favorite Virginia Beach tree lot.  The boys had fun decking in and out of "the woods."  But my fingers were so cold I could hardly snap pictures.

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We settled on the second tree we looked at.  It's very nice.  Perfectly shaped.  A little shorter than what I had hoped.  And it's from North Carolina.  And nothing against North Carolina or anything, but your trees don't smell.  At all.  I mean, that's my favorite part of a real tree.  I certainly don't go through all this just to have sticky, sappy hands at the end of the night.  I want my nostrils to scream "CHRISTMAS" when I first come down the steps in the morning.  I want my botanical masterpiece to rival the best candle Yankee has to offer.  I want my couch cushions to be infused with that fraser-y smell for the rest of the winter.  Hmph. Maybe next year.  Maybe next year we'll realize how much money we could save by cutting down our own tree in Pennsylvania and driving it back down to Maryland.  Because, sorry Maryland/North Carolina/Pumpkin-Patch-That-Thinks-It's-A-Tree-Lot, you don't know Christmas trees!

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But since I'm trying to be a good mama and teach my boys about love and acceptance, we'll just go right ahead and enjoy the tannenbaum we have. 

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Heaven knows it's taken a real beating over the past week. 

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Do you see the baby?



Jon suggested "we" decorate the house last Saturday.  And then he sat in the office doing work while I attempted to teach two toddlers how to hang ornaments.  Jack kept getting distracted and playing little imaginary games with the ornaments and Jude's idea of decorating was to throw them at the tree.  I think we *only* ended up with about 5 broken ones that day.  Fortunately, none of them were too important.  But I haven't been keeping track of our daily average since then.  If it wasn't ornaments it was the other decor, the tangled mass of Christmas lights, or the boxes.  I've been so good at storing all our decorations in their original boxes to keep them all neat and tidy.  Well, not anymore.  Those boxes were crushed at the hands and feet of two excited little boys.

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A boy and his stool.

Thankfully, the precious nativity that I inherited from my G'Ma hasn't suffered. 

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Anyone know who this guy is? A shepherd?


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Just to clarify, Joseph's hand was gone when I got him out of the box, it wasn't from the boys...

Naturally, I'm very strict about this one.  Jude likes to point at it and tell himself "No, no!" and Jack likes to tell people that "he's looking with his eyes" (not with his hands) whenever he's around it.  He's actually quite enamoured with it all.  We've been reading some different versions of the Christmas story.  His favorite part is the angel.  I overheard him walking around the house the other day saying, "Glory to God in the highest ..."  And I have to say, it's moments like that where I feel like I may be doing some small thing right.

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Here's hoping that THIS is the week we score a family Christmas card photo.  I'm starting to think three separate pictures of three kids is the way to go.  And I'm also starting to think, if we continue at our current pace, we may end up doing New Year's cards instead.  It's okay, she's totally worth it. :)
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