Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final Roundup - in Photos

The halls, decked:

Picnic dinner in front of the tree:

Decorating the church's Christmas tree = any excuse to climb a ladder
 Cookie decorating:
 Christmas Eve Tea Tradition (!!!!!)

 (Even Gladys got in on the action this year)

 Pax, gazing at the nativity.  (Swoon)

"The Reading..."

Christmas Morning!  The long wait on the staircase....
Christmas Day dinner:

 (This would be Paul and JP = "Junior Paul")

Homemade - 2013

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness."  -Bob Hope

A round up of homemade gifts, 2013:

Aidan sewed an owl pillow for Pax (with peace signs and everything!)....His sewing skills improve each time, and the hours we spent working on his project was a gift of its very own.
 He made a dalmation puppy pillow for Leo (who is the Year of the Dog)
Leo worked to create beautiful snow globe snowmen for each of his brothers.  He was especially excited about getting to use the glue gun for this one, and, like me, Jeff reveled in the one-on-one time this project afforded the two of them.  (Plus Jeff secretly loves making crafts, almost as much as I do).
 Pax made peace sign ornaments for Leo and Aidan.  First, he made them out of clay, and once they were fired, he glazed them before they were fired again.  This is very authentic work, with just a little help from me:

I made a whole nest of owl ornaments for friends and family.  What a hoot!

For each of the kids, I made a clay whistle.  (A completely deceptive project:  it looks unbelievably easy... until it's time to create the right angle/pitch of the hole underneath to let the sound come through.... thank heavens for Jeff, who always solves my math-related crafting challenges!  A hugemungous thank you to my mom, as well, for guiding me through my clay projects and waiting through two firings for our gifts!)

The whole family worked to make this Shrinky Dink hearts bracelet for my mom.  The kids did most of the hearts (I did a few) and Jeff assembled the finished product.  P.S. The possibilities for making shrinky dink things?!  Endless!!!! 
I made a canvas for my dad of 10 years' worth of "The Reading" of "'Twas the Night before Christmas," which includes 1 grandson in 2003 to FIVE grandsons in 2013. (Acrylic paint; cardstock; photographs; stickers; mod-podge on canvas)
Jeff's awesome duck tape belts for each of the kids:  I mustache you a question.... Will you shave it for later??
 And the coolest homemade gift *I* received this Christmas?  Check out the best ever book light:

The photo does not do it justice.  22 carefully selected books, including childhood favorites like Danny, the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl) and Harriet the Spy (from whom I got my 3rd grade obsession of wearing oversized glasses frames with the lenses poked out) as well as recent reads, make up this this sturdy, oversized lamp that puts an end, definitively, to the value of paper books versus nooks and kindles.  

'Tis a "great glow of happiness," indeed!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

We Did Christmas.

How was Christmas?

One might say it was busy:

We spent a rather frantic week after returning from Thanksgiving, decking the halls; there was a gingerbread workshop; youth group dinner; a choir cantata; a choir celebration; a visit to Santa; a Santa Lucia party; a nativity and craft event; a Christmas party in town; school parties and teacher appreciations; a performance of The Nutcracker; Christmas caroling at assisted living communities; a picnic dinner in front of the tree; shopping; wrapping; finishing up homemade gifts; helping brothers with their gifts to each other; Christmas Eve tea.

Throw in some other non-Christmas related stuff on top: birthdays to celebrate; a belt test where Aidan earned his purple belt in karate; planning for January birthdays to celebrate.  Add in a few snow days, just to mess things up a bit, including forcing the delay of the children's Christmas pageant all the way to January 5, the 12th day of Christmas.
Way to go, Aidan!  We are *so*proud of you!

Do you feel tired just from reading the first two paragraphs?

For many days, I was dismayed to hear my inner voice keep shouting at me, "You're too busy!"
The only goal I had for this December was that I wanted to be bored, not busy. I'd hoped to make this year one of peace-filled waiting, anticipating, hoping.  I was dismayed because of what I had given up to make this happen: I baked far fewer cookies than ever before; crafted far fewer handmade gifts; drastically simplified the gifts of service; gave up entirely on sending out Christmas cards, despite the joy it brought me last year.  I neglected this blog space, which matters to no one except me - yet it matters, because there is so much I never wish to forget - and that I need to process.  And so I was frustrated, and feeling very Busy.... until I stopped being Busy.  I let go of many of my too-high expectations for myself.  And started being Aware. I was Watching.  I was Waiting, and Hoping, and Preparing.  In quiet moments snatched from the busy ones, I found so much to celebrate.  As I embraced the preparation, I made room for the discoveries of Christmas.  Here, I remember a few:

Hurrying home one night from the downtown mall, I was feeling weary and heavy-hearted.  As I waited impatiently for the light to change, I noticed a mother and her son walking down the sidewalk.  The son had scaled the stone wall along the side of the path, and was elated at the chance to test his balance on its edge.  The mother slowed her pace and waited patiently, ever so patiently, for the boy to take all the time he needed to conquer the stone wall.  She did not rush him, did not say a word to hurry him.  She did not tell him there was dinner to be made, or laundry to fold, or that she was tired and wanted to go home.  She waited for him, and laughed with him in his delight.  She gazed at him and his deft and able self, radiating with love and affection for her son.  Instantly, it made me remember another mother who gazed in wonder and admiration of her son.

I watched Santa hold a three week old baby, saw the full knowledge he had of what a special moment this was in the life of this newborn's mother, the gift of holding new life in his red velvet-clad arms.  I remembered the first Christmas I had a new son to hold in my arms, to hand over to Santa's arms.

We visited Santa.  I was nonplussed with the initial photos the "photographer" took, and then I saw this moment -- and I saw the moment.... even though it eluded the photographer.

After our visit with Santa, I explained to my kids the idea I had for them to be Santas, too:  anonymous gift givers.  Aidan and I wrote simple notes on the outside of envelopes:

Leo and Pax stuffed the envelope with the required amount of money for vending machine drinks and rides on the carousel.  We stealthily made our way through the mall, careful not to be spotted when leaving these little surprises.  It was a quiet affair, and yet the thrill that Aidan (in particular) felt in being the anonymous gift giver was palpable.  I watched him, witnessed his gift giving, and loved his generous heart and his furtive ways on that day. 

In the pre-dawn hours one Saturday, I'd stumbled down behind my early riser Pax.  After plugging in the newly decorated tree, I wandered back to the kitchen to pour my cup of coffee.  I didn't know where Pax had gone, so I went back to the living room and discovered this:
...which was even more beautiful in person than in this photo.  He did not notice me as he first stood and gazed at the tree before eventually repositioning a few of the ornaments.  He stood in wonder and awe.  That is to say --

We both did.
Last week, we enjoyed the last of our Christmas 2012 "experiences" (see gifts) at Richmond Ballet's matinee performance of The Nutcracker.  I have been waiting, many years, until my children are old enough to sit through the ballet that I love so much for both the music and the artistic beauty of the dancers. Blinking back tears of happiness and gratitude, I held Pax on my lap as I whispered to him reminders of the story we'd read for days before the show.

"There's Clara, see how excited she is about her nutcracker?"
"Oooh, there's the mouse king!"
"The Sweets and Spices! Look, coffee from Arabia!"

During intermission, we surveyed the orchestra, exclaiming over the huge harps and tiny piccolos, excited to hear - and see - the rest of the performance.  At the opening of the second act, Pax took in the shepherd and shepherdess (dressed in blue), and all the little sheep, and proclaimed loudly --
"Now them is doing Mary and Joseph!!"

Later, whem Mother Ginger enters with all of her "beautifully behaved children" (with angel wings and halos, to boot), Leo exclaimed,
"Those look like the Gabriels!"

Afterward, we went out to dinner, the five of us.  We talked about our most favorite parts of the ballet. We marveled over the athleticism of the dancers, and the agility of the musicians.  We reveled in our last experience, our December family date.

And in those moments, and the moments to come, I realized how much we were Doing Christmas.  In the waiting.  In the hoping.  In the preparing.  In the celebrating.  And as acutely as I was aware of how busy I felt, I became acutely aware of something entirely different:  In wanting to be "bored" in December, I was realizing how rich and how full - not how Busy - our December truly was.  After a particularly cathartic 4 mile run with my best running buddy, I'd discovered, in our conversation, the key to all of this hustle and bustle:  our community.  Our church. Our family.

And now, days later, I have thank you notes to write; decorations to take down; resolutions to make (or not); I have appointments to make; stuff to do.  Endless, endless stuff to do.  One might say I'll be very Busy in the new year.

But what we did this December?  We did Christmas. 
4 Shepherds and 1errant sheep, delivering the Children's Message on December 22

Heading over to Christmas Eve Tea, then worship on Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rootof the red nosed reindeer

Aack!  How is it December 19?  How is it I've only managed 2 mediocre posts this month?  In the words of Gerald (of Piggy and Gerald in Mo Willems' We Are in a Book), "I have more to give!!!"  ....but not tonight.

Instead, some guest posts by Leo G. The kid is a prolific writer in 1st grade, which thrills me to no end, since a) he claimed to hate writing last year and b) his teacher is awesome.  Simply awesome.

So --

If I had a pet reindeeer...
If I had a pet reindeer his name woud be Rootof.
He woud liv at the noorthpool.
He woud be brown.
I woud love him.
I wot [want] a pet reindeer.

Dear Santa,
How are thing at the Northpool?  I hav ben a good boy.  I hope Rootof is rety.  Merry Chrissmas!
Love, Leo

(and now for my favorite...)

Dear Santa,
I can explain.

I did not lisin to my Mom.  I din't dwu wut [do what] I ws spostoue. [supposed to]  Ples ples cepe [keep] me on the nus [nice] list.
From, Leo

At dinner tonight, Aidan was talking about a friend who didn't make it to the next round in the spelling bee because he misspelled "yeast."
Jeff:  Well, Aidan, how do you spell yeast?
Without a moment's hesitation, Aidan replied -
Jeff burst out laughing.... and said Yes.  Yes you do.

You DO spell it wyeast.... if you order your homebrew supplies from here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jeff's sons Gingerbread Monticello

There are three huge perks to living so close to my parents.  They are:
1. We live really close to my parents.  
2. My dad works at a great vineyard, ergo, we get the benefits of a dad who works at a really great vineyard. 
3.  My mom works at Monticello as a tour guide, ergo, we get the benefits of the coolest stuff that  Monticello offers.

And so in the first week of December, my mom invited us to Monticello's Staff's Friends and Family Gingerbread House event.  I was a little apprehensive going into the event with my little hellions, not sure if Monticello was prepared for the possible bloodbath that might ensue when Pax and Aidan butted heads over the construction and design of the house, but it was an offer I couldn't resist.

My apprehension was quickly put at bay when
1. I saw how well-prepared and carefully planned the event was scheduled to be, and
2.  There was a mother there with her FOUR hellions, so I knew I had a pretty good chance of coming out ahead on the hellion-to-mother ratio.  We'd fly under the chaos-radar, I supposed. 

I'm happy to report - no bloodbath, no tears (except for the youngest hellion belonging to the other mother - when she was not allowed to eat her fifth cookie -) and an overall wonderful way to spend the afternoon - and we have a creative, original, and very teamwork-evident house to prove it.

We started by learning about the various architectural structures favored by Mr. Jefferson.  Here, my mother teaches the group how to create Corinthian columns:
 Next up is Iambic (with Pax stubbornly stuck on Corinthian.  Love is patient, remember?)
 Finally, it was time to get to work!  We quickly settled on a compromise that worked out very well:  Aidan and Leo were charged with designing the front; Pax was left to embellish the back of the house.
This kid is seriously good with a pastry bag.  Watch out, Chef Ramsey!
Adding some finishing touches....
The finished masterpiece!

This was a truly delightful afternoon, and just the thing I needed to get me into the holiday spirit.  It was also deeply gratifying to see these three boys work so well together as a team. (Not to mention that if Mr. Jefferson were alive today, this design would be a shoo-in for The New Monticello!  I bet Jefferson is just kicking himself for not thinking of adding a drawbridge to his estate.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Squirrel Glue

Pax made this little brown squirrel at preschool recently, and is very devoted to it.  He totes this squirrel all over the house with him, talking to and playing with it.  He was crushed to realize that one of its eyes had fallen off.  I assured him that it was no problem, nothing that a little glue couldn't fix.....

Pax:  I wish we had squirrel glue.
Me:  This is squirrel glue.
P:  No it's not.  It's cow glue.

M: (totally perplexed by this) What makes you think it is cow glue?
P:  Look.  There's a cow on it.  So it's cow glue.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rogers (KY) Thanksgiving

The halfway point between Missouri (where my brother and his family live) and Virginia (where we live, along with my parents) happens to be Rogers, Kentucky - almost down to the mile.  This year, for the first time in many years, we traveled for turkey dinner.  Speaking in commonly accepted "love languages" - quality time; physical touch; words of affirmation; service - this trip fulfilled them all.  The quality time with family; the physical proximity stretched over so many days; the service of preparing food, cleaning up, tending fires, fixing tea, shared walks; kind words spoken, moments shared, and memories made.  A gift.

I rarely include lots of photos in my posts, but this one lends itself best to photo journaling.  Our time together included....
A snowy, snowy drive!!
Celebrating safe arrivals through said snowy drives.  Cheers!
The beginnings of the 1,000 piece puzzle
Puffy clouds and fluffy snow, perfect for....
Awesome long runs on snow covered paths (forgive the clashing hat and jacket)
Decorating with homemade pilgrims
The working smoke alarm, Night 1.
Random chair dances
Gorgeous, gorgeous skies!!
Many hands make light work on Thanksgiving morning
Snowball fight!
Games, games, and more games!  Chess was a top favorite.
Still working...
Crafts with Grandma
Jean Seehaver's (inspired) Corn Casserole, passed down several generations....
More chess.
A lovely table with personal touches from home! (Note the Carter Thanksgiving banner in the window)
A 5-legged turkey, so that every boy could have a "hold onto"
5 noisy grandsons; 1 sleeping Grandpa amidst the chaos
Team Intense
This boy was bound and determined to be a guest in the "big boy" room!
A smattering of delicious brews from the weekend!
Natural Bridge in Kentucky
Reeeally chilly hike to see the bridge
AWESOME.  Truly, truly amazing!!!

(Great photo courtesy of Jeff's iphone + skillz)

On the top of the bridge!
999 pieces completed.... and one lost forever.
Bonfire builder
Snowman builder
Family Feud!
Another gorgeous sky. 
The giving of thanks - yes.  That.