Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December Highlights

Mom's night at The Local; Playgroup cookies & books with Santa

My Three Kings on Christmas Eve; snuggling after playing in the snow

Christmas dinner - Carters, Seehavers, Hammons

What a wonderful way to end the year! We enjoyed so many treats and special events this month. Highlights include:

In early December, we made our annual visit to see Santa Claus. The boys were so exited! Aidan talked all about our visit last year to see Santa, and how Leo looked "worried" as he sat on his lap. Appropriately, Aidan & Leo wore shirts that said "Naughty is the New Nice." No longer shy, Aidan marched right up to the Fat Man and gave him a nice hello. Santa took his time talking to each boy, asking what they wanted and reminding them to be good helpers to Mom. (Yay Santa!!!) Aidan asked for a tumbling mat "to practice my gymnastics and for exercising." Pax requested more hair. (Santa said maybe he could have a hat instead.) And Leo's request? "A remote control." Santa responded, "A remote control?..... like a remote control car?" "No," said Leo. "A remote control." Santa and I were both a little puzzled, but Leo refused to say more. Later, he explained to me that he wanted the remote control to spin the Christmas tree around in circles. Hmm. In the same way that I came to learn that Santa doesn't always deliver, through repeated requests for a pony and a TV for my room, Leo didn't seem too surprised not to find a remote control underneath the tree. Instead, he was thrilled to pieces with the lollipops Mr. Claus left in his stocking.

Last year, I figured we'd seen the end of a holiday party through Jeff's work, since he would no longer be working for UVA in the academics side. I was really pleased, then, to find out that he and his fellow nurses held a bake sale and other fundraisers to come up with the funds to rent out a nice community center and to purchase a liquor license for their annual nurses party. Even though I was really looking forward to our first date post-Pax, the very introverted, shy part of me was dreading going to the event. Jeff nearly dragged me there, kicking and screaming. Of course, we ended up having a lot of fun, and I was very happy to be able to put faces with the names I've been hearing about for the past 5 months. Clearly, Jeff is adored by his fellow nursing staff (mostly women, of course!) and it was nice to hear how much they appreciate him and how highly they think of him.

We changed things up a bit for this year's annual mom's night ornament exchange and dinner, forgoing our tradition of going to Bang and instead heading to The Local. The atmosphere was great; the server, a cute artist type, and the food, outstanding. And of course, the company couldn't be beat!

On December 17, I joined Aidan at school for his holiday party. It was really fun to see him in his classroom, interacting with his peers and friends. His teacher set up four stations and the kids rotated at 15 minute intervals between them - a beautifully orchestrated party, indeed. They decorated a cookie, made a reindeer craft, created a glittering snowflake, and devoured snacks and desserts. I enjoyed the party much more than I could have imagined, and yet it still affirmed for me, with no uncertainty whatsoever, that I'll take 100 middle schoolers over 10 kindergarteners, any day!

On December 18, we were hit with a record-setting snow storm! In all, we received over two feet of cold, fluffy powder, trapping us indoors for 2 days. I was so glad Jeff was not scheduled to work. We spent the days playing in the snow, sitting in front of the constantly-fed fire, and snuggling on the couch.

But that snow would not keep us from our other fun events! We braved the roads just 3 days later to attend our playgroup's annual cookie and book exchange, where Santa Claus Himself makes an appearance each time to deliver the books. The new favorite cookie of this year is Stacy's Chai Eggnog. It is simply divine! The funniest part of playgroup was when all of the kids (except Pax) locked themselves into a huge dog crate and told stories to each other. WHY didn't we think of a dog crate earlier, we wondered aloud?

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the holiday season came in the next two days, on December 22 and 23, when we went caroling to those who could use some holiday cheer. First, I asked all of the playgroup moms and kids to come with us to the home of my homebound student who died in October. With song sheets and jingle bells, we caroled for Susan, Johnnie, and Alex, who seemed very pleased and touched by the singing. The next day, our family of 5 headed to the hospital to carol for our good friend Ed, who has been in the hospital for several weeks and only recently was moved out of ICU. We added "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to our list of carols for Ed, since Leo is so good at singing it. Aidan pointed out to us, "It's kind of like a Christmas carol! Twinkle twinkle is about the stars, just like "the stars in the sky... looked down where he lay!" So we're singing about those stars!" The caroling was simple and easy, and yet the message it sent to our children was so much bigger - Christmas is about doing nice things for people, because you care about them. I'm so grateful that we had the chance to give this "gift of service" with our kids, because it was finally something that they seemed to understand. It left me with the determination to continue to find small gifts of service that my young children can contribute to others.

And finally, on Christmas Eve, I was so proud to watch my Three Kings in the Christmas Pageant at our church! Aidan marched tall and regal in his get up, solomnly holding up his gift of gold; Leo was positively gorgeous in his attire, yet was mischevious and squirrly - hiding his bag of frankincense, punctuating their quiet entrance with "Pow! Pow! Pow!" and wandering all over the manger scene. Pax was serene and peaceful in his crown and robe, comfortably observing everything in the Bjorn baby carrier (worn by Jeff) and mounted atop an oversized camel puppet. As the story was told and the children gathered around the cradle to admire the baby Jesus (doll), a quiet stillness came to most of them. In that moment, all was calm and bright!

Christmas morning was among the most calm and chaos-free of any we've seen in the past 5 or so years. Aidan could read the names on the gifts, and was a huge helper in the distribution. Leo actually quit opening his gifts about 2/3 of the way through, happy to play with whatever he'd already opened. And Pax was the happiest baby we've ever had, content to sit in his bouncy seat and watch the action. The day was unrushed and fairly relaxing, and culminated with a fabulous dinner prepared by my mom at their home. The Hammons family joined us in celebrating, and it proved to be one of my favorite Christmas dinners in recent history.

Tonight, we're heading to Richmond to the botanical gardens there for the Gardenfest of Lights, an anuual event where visitors walk through the gardens to enjoy the light show. We're treating ourselves to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and then heading over to see the lights.

As we begin to look to the new year, I continue to feel so incredibly grateful for the many gifts and good fortune our family has enjoyed. I've said it before, but it bears repeating - I feel fortunate and lucky for our good health and our happy children. I am filled with gratitude. I understand that we have so much to be thankful for. And I know that I must find more ways in which to help others. "For of those to whom much is given, much is required." (Luke 12:48; JFK)

Monday, December 14, 2009


We once were lost, but now we're found. This past Sunday, we officially became members of St. Mark Lutheran Church. It was an unexpected match in our quest to find a new church home; we had visited St. Mark when we first moved to the area, but it was not a good fit then. Now, with a new pastor leading the congregation and what seems to be renewed life in the church, St. Mark felt just right for us from our very first visit. We were happy to learn how soon we could become official members and circled December 13 on our calendars in red.

It was a memorable day for us because we've longed for a church to call home. I think it was rather memorable for the congregation as well - Leo put on quite a show for the members, despite my best efforts to mitigate his monkey business. It began with a simple nose-picking display, then moved on to crawling around the spaces between the communion rail, then on to dipping his hand in the baptismal font (and sweetly dripping the water on his head) and wandering around the front of the sanctuary, all while we were being introduced and officially made members. Aidan stood with his hands in his pockets, looking dapper in a sportscoat, pinstripe shirt, and bright red snowman tie, and Pax looked around bright-eyed and slightly apprehensive, eyeing the baptismal font where he'll be baptized on January 10. We felt warmly welcomed, with open arms and loving hearts.

While we still miss our old friends terribly, and will never enjoy the music in quite the same way as when it was directed by our good friend Julie, we know that this is a good fit, a place where our children will hopefully become deeply rooted and carefully nurtured in faith. Already there is a place for each of them during the Christmas Eve pageant - stay tuned. The Carter Brothers will make their debut as the Wise Men, the three kings, the Magi - yes, even Pax!!
(Aidan decided that this was all well and good, but that Pax could not be a king if he was going to spit up. So maybe he could be a camel instead... a spitting camel....)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Leo

My blog entries feel kind of heavy these days, so it's high time I lighten things up a bit. Here are some very funny quotes from Mr. Leo Carter himself. You have to imagine him saying everything, though, in his sweet little voice. He is very articulate for an almost-three-year-old, and that's what makes what he says even funnier sometimes...

(at dinner one night -)
Leo: I need to eat my bite ums.
Daddy: Your vitamins?
Leo: Yes. My bite ums.

(after finally settling down at his seat and eating his lunch, very quietly and intently--)
Leo: (with a sigh of relief) Oh good. The monsters ate up all of my lunch for me.

(Leo, referring to Pax's sneeze)
"He blessed me!" (He sneezed!)

Leo has a love-hate relationship with the cats. He wants to love them, and tries to, but they kind of hate him for it. Especially Alice.
Leo: I do not want my kitty to go into the bathroom, so I lock the door.
Mom: Why don't you want Alice to go into the bathroom?
Leo: I do not want my kitty to be flushed down the potty.
(now THAT would be quite the sight. Alice nearly outweighs Leo! She's huge!!!)

Leo to Daddy: I lost my tooth.
D: You lost your tooth?
L: Yup. But I can get a new one.
D: Where will you get a new one?
L: At Target.

At church last week, the Sunday School teacher asked if there were certain roles Aidan and Leo would like for the pageant. I told her they would be whatever they needed, so she asked if they would be kings. Aidan was very excited about this, but Leo just kind of stared at her. At dinner, when Aidan was talking about being a king, he was very excited and said that a king was much better than a shepherd (what he'd been two years ago.)
Jeff asked Leo, Are you going to be a king in the Christmas pageant?
Leo: No!!....... a pumpkin!!
[silence as Jeff searches for how to respond]
Daddy: Leo, I'm afraid there aren't any pumpkins in the Christmas story...
Leo: Oh. A king, then.

We went to sit on Santa's lap recently. I was nervous about this for several reasons, the biggest of which being I didn't want the kids to announce some big, elaborate, extravagant gift that they hadn't mentioned wanting before. I even coached Aidan for weeks beforehand, hoping he'd change his mind on the real violin he was set on having. (He did - he asked Santa for a tumbling mat so that he can practice his gymnastics. Whew.) But I thought Leo's request would be a cinch - at first he said he was going to ask for lollipops, and then decided on train tracks. Done and done. Well.... Santa and I were both a bit thrown off with Leo's request:
Santa: And what do you want for Christmas, Leo?
Leo: Remote control.
S: A remote control..... what? What will the remote control do? Like a remote control car?
(Leo just stared at him, and that was the end of the conversation - at the time, at least.)
At dinner, we asked Leo to tell us more about the remote control he was hoping Santa would bring.
Leo: "A remote control for the tree. So that it goes round and round when you push it!"

Santa certainly has his work cut out for him!!

Monday, December 7, 2009


I have had a hard time sitting down to write a blog these days... not for lack of ideas, exactly; not for lack of desire; and not because of a lack of time, believe it or not... it's more that my thoughts are still festering and simmering, have not yet reached culmination. Best put, I am waiting...

And maybe that there is the culmination - the waiting. I am waiting to sort out my thoughts, to achieve the "ah-ha!" moment of my musings. In the meantime--

I am waiting for Christmas, for the celebration of Jesus' birth. I love the anticipation almost as much as I love the day itself. I love the traditions - the decorating, the carols, Countdown until Christmas books. I love the excitement of my children, growing bigger each year as they understand more and more about the holiday. I love reveling in the time before the big day arrives.
Recently I overheard the phrase, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The original context of this quote describes the role of the newspaper, and Finley Peter Dunne is credited with coining the term. It was the first time I'd ever heard it, and it struck me to the core. I am waiting to figure out my response. I am comfortable, too comfortable. I want to be afflicted into action, afflicted into doing something more than I am doing now. But what? For whom? How? And when?
In many ways, the Christmas holiday greets us in a new way each year. We may take out the same old decorations, put them in the same old places, make the same old cookies, tell the same old stories - and yet each year, there is something new and different. Sometimes it is new and wonderful - the birth of a new baby, such as our sweet Pax. Sometimes it is terrible and painful, such as the death of a loved one. Sometimes the year has been so good, we hate to see it end. Sometimes the year has been awful; we can't wait to bid it good riddance. I sense a change coming, not a bad change by any means, but a change. I feel too comfortable this year, too lucky, too fortunate. I'm not sure I have done enough, am doing enough for those who have struggled so much, who are struggling still. I sense a change; I feel an imperative to do more.

And so I wait.