Monday, December 30, 2013

Making Merry

Homeward bound.  After 9 days in Pennsylvania with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, we are headed back to our nest.  I love PA, and Christmas, and being with family.  But I miss my pillow and my favorite water filter.  I just miss home.

Early Christmas gift from Daddy -- a bulletin board and chalkboard wall.
We’re on the least favorite part of the trip.  This long stretch of highway made of cement, which creates an annoying background noise when driving over 60 mph.  There’s a river on one side, and the other side of the road is dotted with Amish homesteads and “adult outlets.”  I can’t stand it.  And since we’ve driven this road many, many times I’m more than happy to direct my attention to the computer screen.  Away from the dead brown landscape, away from my 2 year old soprano singing an unrecognizable song in my left ear, away from the two boys who have each other in head locks on the back seat, and away from the baby who I’m quite hopeful is going to use the entire trip to catch up on lost sleep from this week.  Let’s get caught up on Christmas.

Another early gift, because the kids were driving both Jon and I crazy the other day and we just needed something to keep them occupied!
 The festivities began with the boys' preschool program.  They’ve been practicing for weeks.  I was slightly disappointed that Jack wasn’t as voluminous as his first year of preschool, and that Jude didn’t quite perform the same way he did in our living room, but overall it was a fabulous event.  Anything that involves Sunday best and slicked back hair (compliments of Daddy) is sure to be special.

We did our own family Christmas that afternoon.  Actually, Jon and I went ahead and opened up our gifts to each other the night before.  Because (as you may have noticed from previous years), my husband isn’t known for his patience.  Plus we just wanted to enjoy a peaceful evening where we could focus on each other without having to compete with four little ones.  And of course, there’s always those one or two random gifts that you really shouldn’t open in front of the children … I digress.

Forget presents, this girl just wanted a nap!
Our kids are not quite old enough to grasp the excitement of Christmas (they actually all slept in on the real Christmas morning), but the giddiness is certainly mounting.  I tried to take more videos this year, especially after watching (and laughing) over some of my family’s old Christmas home videos.  I wanted to capture Lia’s smile in action, the way Jude couldn’t stop kicking his feet the whole time, and Jack’s incredibly high-pitched voice overflowing with gratitude for the “best Christmas ever!”  Our little home was just bursting with happiness that day.

We drove north the next morning, watching the amount of snow alongside the road increase the “closer we got to the North Pole.”  Nonnie and Poppie had several inches waiting for our boys and their sleds, but unfortunately it started to rain when we were about 20 minutes away.  And it didn’t stop the rest of the day.  It didn’t dampen the adults' spirits though, because that night was a kid-less celebration of Jon’s birthday at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants!  Jon hates being sung to at restaurants but the night was redeemed by his enjoying copious amounts of sushi.

Christmas Sunday was extra-special because our little sweetheart got dedicated.  We’re just so grateful that God blessed us with this beautiful soul.  It’s been five months of pure bliss and I know God has a mighty plan for her life over the next five decades. 

Sunday evening was Uncle Micah’s annual Gingerbread House Competition.  We came with guns a’blazin’.  Okay, not really.  We had our idea months ago, fully intending to have it all planned and practiced ahead of time, but December always gets away from us.  That certainly doesn’t take away from the fun though.  And we got to live our dream of owning a sailboat dubbed with the family nickname, even for just a little while. 

Competition was fierce this year.  And keep in mind these are all made out of graham crackers, and started and finished in a mere two hours time.

"Reeses" football stadium.

A cell phone bomb.

3rd Place - Snowman Vacation Resort 

1st Place - A German Cathedral

A farm.

2nd Place - Charm City (Baltimore) Row House

Monday night was bowling.  I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a horrible bowler.  I have strengths in other areas.  Good thing we played two games, because I was just starting to get the hang of the whole “knock down the pins thing” by the second round.  This was Jack and Jude’s first time bowling.  I think it would have been just as much fun if all we did was watch them.  I mean, I never saw a ball roll so slowly, or stop rolling, and start coming back down the lane, until I watched Jude bowl.  He had no idea what was going on so it didn’t make any difference in his merry meter.
Jack enjoying his Daddy's favorite childhood book.
We celebrate with Jon’s family on Christmas Eve.  We do it right – with a big dinner that always includes shrimp cocktail, plum ketchup, and crème de menthe parfaits.  There’s also a scripture reading, hymn singing, and candle lighting ceremony at night (in which I spend more time holding/shushing/swaying my littles than actually participating). This year Nonnie upped the ante with coordinated pajamas for her and the grandgirls.  And then there’s the exchanging and opening of gifts.  Which, with 10 grandchildren, is as chaotic as Christmas gets. 

This girl.  And her runny nose, chapped cheeks, chocolate lips, and many accessories.

It’s to be expected that our kids konk out on the drive to Marmie and Poppa’s that night, and have to be carried to bed from the car – Batman jammies and all.  And also no surprise that they have a hard time waking up on Christmas morning.  This is also about the time where the annual “Christmas cold” starts to set in.  Noses running, throats burning, heads aching – it doesn’t matter how much Vitamin C and Echinacea we stock up on ahead of time, it’s no match for those holiday-induced, out-of-state germs.  Surprisingly, Jude, the child that always gets sick first, is the healthy one, despite sharing a bed and drinks with his brother.  Joci also weathered it like a champ.  I, on the other hand, spent most of Christmas day with a hot beverage in my hand.  And sending loving glances at my baby girl who let me go to bed at 8:45 and sleep straight through until 7:15.  See?  Absolute doll.

We did not toast to an expanding family this Christmas Eve.  It wasn’t necessary. Of course, there’s Joci now.  And Aunt Kylee is officially part of the family.  And this year Miss Carrie joined in the festivities.  Christmas at my parents house has grown so much we may need to start spreading it across two days.  My great aunt Jane still manages to knit a stocking to add to the mantle for each new member. 

Jon had to work after Christmas so he loaded up our “sleigh” that night and headed back to Maryland – along with all our gifts and the kids’ snow gear.  Naturally, we had a surprise snow that evening.  We woke up the next day to a beautiful world of white.  So we improvised, yet again, with extra layers of pants, plastic bags and duct tape, and a few pair of too-big gloves.  A lot of the snow had melted by the time they made it outside but they thoroughly enjoyed a few runs down the hill in the backyard.  And Jude finally got to build the snowman he’s been talking about since before Thanksgiving.

We spent the rest of the week relaxing, nursing colds, and catching up with old friends.  Jon returned Friday night and we were able to spend Saturday with his grandparents who drove down from New York.  This was the first time we’d seen them since last Christmas, and the first time they’d met baby Jocelyn.  She settled right down with Grammie and, in her usual style, made eyes and smiles at Grandpa like she’d known him all her life.

The whole family!
That fairly sums up Christmas vacation.  We’ll leave out the parts about what got broken at the grandparents’ houses, or the sleep-deprived meltdowns, the night that I spent with Joci, while Poppa took care of Julia, and Marmie handled Jude, and Jack slept through it all.  That’s not important.  What’s important is that we made merry memories.  We were happy when we arrived and we’re still smiling as we snake our way south.  Christmas delivered.  Now we can go ahead and sleep through the new year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I don't think I ever fully-grasped the meaning of Advent until recently. I thought it was just a religious way of counting down the days until Christmas... and a good excuse to eat a piece of chocolate every day.

But while searching for a way to do this with our kids this year, I found I wanted to move away from simply observing advent, to truly celebrating. Because I think it is worth a celebration. 

First time in the Bumbo.

I think she liked it!
You know me. Christmas Eve is my favorite holiday, the last few weeks of pregnancy are an absolute thrill, and I have fond memories of the night before the first day of school. I mean, anticipation is one of my top ten favorite words. 

Yeah, he's not excited or anything.

Lia the Lion.

So I'm not sure why it's taken me 30 years to spread that feeling you get on Christmas Eve over the previous 24 days.  Needless to say, I was tickled to discover Truth in the Tinsel this year. It's a fantastic way celebrate Advent with Littles. And super flexible, which is key for mamas like me. I love that there's scripture reading, plus a craft. I don't know about you, but glue and sequins make everything better in this house. And we're still able to incorporate traditional elements like cute, little wooden doors and, of course, chocolate. Full disclosure: we don't do it every day. But I like to think that by not going all the projects this year, it will still be new and exciting for years to come. And also, my 2 year old has already tapped in to a few of next week's chocolate treats.

We're trying to take it easy during this small space between holidays. Jon had his second surgery in month last week. This one was for a hernia (I think you can guess what the first one was for). We thought it would only take a long weekend for recovery, but his on-base doctor just told him he can't go back to work for two weeks. So it's nice that we get to have daddy home. But not so nice that he's medically restricted from being too helpful around the house.

I was craving a meadow a few weeks ago.

So we Google-mapped the closest space.

And went to watch the sun set.

But it was too cloudy.

We had fun anyway, hunting for deer.

And filling our lungs with cold, fresh air!
Oh, the house. You can tell the weather had been raunchy and my kids stuck inside for too long. There's just stuff everywhere. Blankets are the current trend. Blanket forts, pretending to camp-out in blankets, pretending its nap time in the middle of the living room, or just trying to keep warm. My kids like to drag out every blanket they can find. And then they're shocked when someone trips and rams their head into a wall...

Which is happening more often these days because our furniture is shifted around. It's Christmas and, behold, our tree. 
This was supposed to be a picture of it UP and DECORATED.  But I just realized I never took one.  And the house is too messy to do it right now.
It took us FOREVER to pick this guy out this year. We just weren't seeing anything we loved. We tramped all through the farm and ended up picking the first one we had seen when we arrived, hours earlier. So far, nothing beats The Tree of 2010, but that's okay. It's one of the few things we fondly remember about that winter.

Notice our big helper pulling up the rear!
So far, I think only 4 ornaments have broke. It's frustrating, but at the end if the day we have to realize it's just stuff. And our kids help us clean out. And if they don't break it, chances are the moving company will one of these days. So yeah, letting go...moving on...

She's a long one!  90th percentile for length!!
The 4.5 month old. She's got my heart in that steely baby grip that always catches me by surprise. I'm trying not to get sucked down in the whole "last baby" thing. But it's tough. I finally worked up the courage to move her to her own room last night. She's been ready for weeks. Me?  Not so much. I didn't cry. But I also didn't mind retrieving her when she called at 4:58 this morning. And then she spent the rest of the morning in my bed until Lia came in yelling "Mama, Mama, MAMAAAA!!!"

And so our day began. Quickly followed by snow and crackling fires and Christmas cookies in the oven.

He worked so hard to build this little snowman.

I'm intending to live out the lyrics to "Let it snow" today. I think we're up to the part about popcorn. I'm sure the kids will be up for that after they play outside. And from previous experience, that won't be very long. Oh Advent, I'm so glad you came with snow this year!

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