Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

I decided to Unplug the Christmas Machine this year.  I decided to simplify, say yes to the things that we think are most important, say no to the things that aren't.  We're focusing more on traditions, and on time spent together.  We asked each kid to identify the one tradition that is most important or dear to them, and made sure to carve out the time and space to make those things happen.  We've been intentional in creating big, blank spaces in the December calendar.  We've focused on the Waiting that is so important in Advent.  11 days away from Christmas morning, I can actually say, with sincerity, that I am enjoying Christmas this year.

I'm enjoying...

the way Pax arranges the Nativities.  He is enthralled with each one, and painstakingly arranges each character in a circle surrounding the Baby Jesus.

 The best part is when I discover one long after he's gone to bed... like this one, left on a corner table and undiscovered for several hours.

...decorating a gingerbread house at Monticello was what Pax named as the Tradition We Must Do.  This year, we felt like seasoned pros.  We had a plan; we had a design; we had a wonderful time creating this.... masterpiece?

 ...New traditions:  my girl Clancy and I decided it was high time for a tradition of our very own. Early in December, we began researching the Best Christmas Cocktail Ever.  We feel as though it is the very least we can do for our dear husbands, who work so hard.... we'll take the hassle and stress out of mixing cocktails, and we'll just deliver the very best drink, right to their thirsty hands.
Cranberry Spice Sidecar = our research is over!
...After our exceptional adventure to see The Nutcracker last year, Leo decided that the Tradition We Must Do would be to go and see a Christmas play or show.  We decided to support our local high school and go and see their production of "A Christmas Story."  It was such a fun night!
Pax was delighted to see his preschool friend Claire at the show. Here, he's waving at her and giggling.  Too cute!!
The cast and crew --
 I'm also enjoying Holiday Mischief.  "I am SUPERSanta!!"  Pax proclaimed:
Driving his Sleigh on Christmas Eve....
 My mother treated me to a wreath making workshop at Monticello. It was interesting and somewhat stressful, yet I am happy enough with my end result.  I kept wishing, though, for my never-fails-me- glue gun.  The next morning, Pax had many questions about our wreathes.  "Does Grandma's wreath look exactly like your wreath?" he asked. "No, it doesn't.  We each got to do whatever we wanted." "Oh," he said.  "So Grandma's looks a little bit more awesomer than yours?"

homemade wreathes.  My mom's is on the left; mine is on the right.  
 I picked the kids up early from school one day so that we could go and visit Santa.  Aidan asked for trumpet music that he could play with his dad; Leo asked for a remote control, life-size clone of himself; and Pax froze up and didn't ask for a single thing.  Still - it was a fun visit, especially afterward, when the boys played "Secret Santa" all over the mall.

 (The boys wrote sweet notes and drew pictures on these envelopes, signed them "Love, Santa's Elves," filled them with small bills and change, and left them on vending machines and the carousel for others to discover and enjoy...)

Pax's preschool program was so sweet.  There's nothing quite like a bunch of four- and five- year olds singing "Go Tell it on the Mountain" to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  This particular expression captures his delight in seeing Grandma and Grandpa and Daddy all present (with me) at the performance.

Pax's beloved, gifted, extraordinary preschool teacher, Ms. Susan.  This woman is an absolute treasure.  

...and then today, we celebrated Advent with the Sunday School Christmas Pageant.  Pax was a regal and proud king; Leo, a kind shepherd; Aidan was a humble Joseph.

We are discovering the Wonder in the Waiting.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I love you even when.

Today was a long day.  After preparing 3 massive lasagnas to feed a total of 23 youth and advisors from church tomorrow, then adding in a pan of rice krispie treats, a pan of brownies, and a sheet cake for the Baby Jesus, I was pretty much done with cooking for the day. At 4:30, I wearily looked at my monthly menu plan, then uncharacteristically looked away.

Then, we invited my parents over for happy hour, so that they could experience my newest obsession:  Cranberry Spice Sidecars.  One thing led to... another round of drinks.  But what to serve the kids?

Clearly, there was only one solution:  carryout pizza for dinner.  We never have carryout pizza for dinner.  I can't think of the last time the five of us sat down for Papa John's pizza.  Was it 6 months ago?  8?  14 months?  But when I bit into that pizza tonight, fetched on by Jeff and Aidan,(I'm still too cheap to splurge for the delivery guy) the first thought that ran through my head was, this is delicious.  Why don't we ever order pizza?  

An hour later, I started the putting-Pax-to-bed ritual.  After books, prayers, and songs, I lay next to him, quietly, holding his hand.  And then -  he said, "Mom, I love you.  Even when we have carry-out pizza for dinner."

I sat there, stunned, ingesting those words, not believing what I'd heard.  I reframed it into a question,

"Even when we have pizza?"

"Yes, I still love you," he answered.

Tonight, I learned the very real consequences of raising foodies who love to cook.... and perhaps, too, the measure of unconditional love.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tree of Thanks: 2014

I read recently that creating - and then maintaining - traditions is one of the most important things parents can do for their children.  With that timely reminder, I dug out the clay pot embellished with a fall ribbon, hunted down a pair of spindly tree branches, and set to work with my glue gun to firmly root our Tree of Thanks.  I put the kids to work cutting out simple leaves, and in the end, I felt more grateful than ever before for this ritual, this tradition.  It wasn't so much in what they wrote - though there were some poignant and perfect gratitudes - but more in that I felt joyful and gratified in that they knew the drill, knew what to do, knew the tradition. Indeed, it felt like important work.

Our leaves:
I am thankful for brotherhood.   (Leo)
I love going to school, and playing outside.  (Pax)
I am thankful for big books.  (Aidan)
All the books! (Leo)
I am so thankful for "extras" like 2 cars, iphones, Internet service, beer, and wine... (Anne)
I am thankful for God (Pax)
I am thankful for my friend, Gregory.  (Pax)
The convenience of the fridge, dishwasher, microwave, washer, and dryer. (Anne)
I am thankful for gymnastics!  (Pax)
I am thankful for lots and lots of love.  (Aidan)
I am thankful for my BFFs!  (Leo)
Dinners over at Grandma and Grandpa's house and the fun times we share with them (Anne)
Our county.  (Leo)
Excellent health care, especially ENT; dentistry; physical and mental wellness. (Anne)
I am thankful for LIFE!  (Leo)
My bed. (Leo)
Aidan loves band and middle school; Leo is stress-less at school and has fewer headaches; Pax has the best preschool teacher EVER. (Anne)
My school (Leo)
Seatbelts.  (Leo)
Helpful and caring bystanders.  (Anne)
I am thankful for Pax and his cute stories and his hugs and snuggles.  (Jeff)
I am thankful for our thankful tree.  (Pax)
I am thankful for friends and teachers. (Aidan)
My closest friends:  Emily, Clancy, Nicole. (Anne)
I am thankful for the beauty of sunsets.  (Jeff)
I am thankful for a gym I enjoy and friends I can exercise with. (Anne)
I am thankful for church.  (Leo)
I am thankful for the time I got to spend coaching Leo's soccer team.  (Jeff)
I am thankful for HOME.  (Anne)
Cooking and sharing good food with Aidan, Leo, and Pax.  (Anne)
I am thankful for a warm safe environment and house.  (Aidan)
Our family - especially our now-official Aunt Linsey. (Anne)
I am thankful for being able to practice my trumpet with Aidan, and the things he does to help us.  (Jeff)
I am thankful for my home and my food.  (Leo)
My mom and dad (Anne)
Good friends to talk about beer with (Jeff)
I am thankful for friends and teachers.  (Aidan)
Having "enough."  And more.  (Anne)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Although I am squirmy and uncomfortable about how our schools teach the whole "let's celebrate the Native Americans and all the contributions they brought to our culture" before we raped and pillaged them bit, I will admit that I still find these little Native American-inspired shirts so, so cute. Round 3 of these shirts seems somehow cuter than ever before - perhaps because I know how quickly these days are coming to an end. Pax kicked off our Thanksgiving celebration with singing and a display of the crafts he's made, followed by a lunch-feast.    
Showing off his Turkey of Thanks
Sharing a secret with his Best Bud, G.
One last show of all his goods at home!

Thanksgiving day itself was lovely.  We missed sharing the day with our extended family, yet it was still festive, joyful -- and delicious.  We have so much to be grateful for.

Hostess gift:  Tom Turkey, complete with hands from each of us, listing the many reasons for which we are thankful for Grandma and Grandpa
Afternoon Cocktails.  Because Grape Soda is *always* better in a plastic martini glass
Game On!

Ping Pong champions
Carving the turkey.  First order of business:  hydrate the carver!
Best. Meal. Ever!!!

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

-Melody Beattie

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Say What?

At dinner the other night, we were talking about books.  Leo asked if I thought the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series would be a just-right fit for his reading level, and I suggested saving those books for a little longer, that he would enjoy them more in a few years.  He paused, then asked, "What IS a diary, anyway?"  I explained that it was like a journal, a place where someone writes down his own thoughts and ideas, and that it was usually not something that was shared with others.  He contemplated that explanation, then looked at me and said, "So there are two kinds of diaries, right?"  "What do you mean?" I replied.
"Well," he said, thinking - not a hint of funny in his face - "There's the diary where you write stuff down, like a journal.  And then there's the diary where you accidentally poop your pants."

Aidan has a big project he is working on for his math class. It's real-life application of math skills he's learning:  researching his projected salary, cost of housing, insurance, groceries, and recreation.  After gently explaining that earning a salary of $85K as a scientist with an undergraduate degree was pretty unrealistic, Aidan decided that a $26K stipend as a PhD candidate was more likely.  He'll be riding a bike instead of driving a car, and eating ramen noodles (presumably on the days he doesn't come to Mom's to cook her dinner in exchange for access to free groceries) but he was pretty set on the $900/mo rent on a cute apartment he found in town.  I worried aloud about the high price of his rent, but he said, "Oh, don't worry, Mom, it comes with toiletries."  I paused.  "Toiletries?" I asked.  "Yeah!  You know, like a toothbrush," he said.
"Your apartment comes with a toothbrush?" I asked again.
"Yes!" he insisted.  "A toothbrush, toothpaste, you know..." he trailed off.
"Okay," I said, "do you mean utilities?  Your apartment comes with utilities?"
"YES!" he said. "That's what I meant. Utilities.  A toothbrush."

Finally, my giggling subsided enough to explain what utilities are.  He seemed a little disappointed about the heat and the electricity.  Bummer about those tiny bars of soap, neatly folded-down corners of toilet paper, and the free toothbrush....  but I can totally sympathize with him.  I myself was similarly disappointed to learn that at brothels, they don't, in fact, serve nice warm bowls of soup in a cozy nook....

To diaries, toiletries, and bowls of soup--

Saturday, November 15, 2014

to have and to hold

Last month, we attended the wedding ceremony of my brother and his long-time partner.  It was joyous, affirming, and important in the lives of our family, collective.
But in our little Carter family, there was an ugly event, one that marred an otherwise wonderful weekend.  There was anger, fear, frustration, disbelief, and embarrassment.  And yet, during the ugliness, there was love, support, friendship, faith, and respect.  In time, there is forgiveness and healing.

Looking back on the weekend as a whole, and as we continue to forgive and heal, the word that keeps coming to my mind is that our time with our family was affirming.  Listening to the vows that were shared affirmed the very most important components of a relationship, including mutual respect, unwavering love, commitment, humor, and friendship.  Gazing around the circle of witnesses to the marriage affirmed the feelings of gratitude for the many ways in which each of us, individually and as couples, have forged ourselves into family.  And the way in which the Carters were loved and cared for, even during the darkest of our days, affirmed the concept of Family in a way I'd never imagined. In our circle, I saw loss coupled with joy; struggle coupled with perseverance; commitment, devotion, and unconditional love:  it was all present, each of us bearing witness to it all.  And to each other.

To Love.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Halloween 2014

Best. Year. Yet!!!  But I say that every year.  Even though we were more 11th hour than ever before on the costumes, even though I was more skeptical than ever before that we'd pull it off, even though I was hating the fact that I didn't just pony up the money for stress-free store boughts... this was the best Halloween yet.

We carved pumpkins a few days ahead....

I mustache you a question... but I'll shave it for later (Aidan)

(Pax:  classic and cute)

(Leo: winking and trying to look fierce, but mostly looking cute)
 ...and sent our EPIC Super User off to work.

A witch and her husband joined us for dinner that night.  Most kids got candy; ours got apples.

Darth Vader showed up in full force

The Ewok wanted to snuggle.

and the Jedi wowed us with his Light Saber moves.

We all enjoyed a night of sweets and treats...
...and great fun was had by all!