Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Big Day

If I were a billionaire, I think I would hire a personal photographer for each of my children on Christmas morning. Although Mike and I were each armed with either the video camera or still camera, there are so many shots we can't get with five children pulling things randomly out of their bags from Santa. Santa doesn't wrap gifts at our house, but instead puts 3 gifts plus an outfit and underwear in bags sewn a few years ago by yours truly.

It seemed that I was more focused on an insignificant package of firefighter toys Joshua was coming to show me, than the much desired remote controlled helicopter Luke was pulling from his bag, or the American Girl surprise being pulled from Ellie's bag.
(At least the photo captures Megan's face in response to the American Girl surprise.)

There are times, I wish I could throw out the expectations of photographs and soak up the moments a little more. But what would that really say about us as parents if we took no photos on Christmas morning!? Besides, this year the photos of Christmases past that my mother has in a little Christmas album, really seemed to tug at my heartstrings more than in years past, and I felt even more the desperate need to capture today's memories for my children to fondly look back on in a few decades like I so enjoy doing with my own childhood photos.

And so there you have it. A few obligatory photos of Christmas morning.

I wish I could say this outfit was only a temporary outfit. But I guess Drew was more excited about receiving a pair of church shoes for Christmas than we thought. (Not to mention the packet of underwear he received that he had to try out each pair throughout the day.) He kept the church shoes on for a long time. Perhaps he was worried they would disappear and he would have to keep going to church without shoes like he has for the last 4 weeks. True story.
(They weren't exactly a "Christmas present" but I was trying to even out the presents from Mike and I for each child, and so church shoes got wrapped for him.)

Such is life around here.
Merry Christmas 2012!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

PJ's & Siblings

At some point back in the days of fewer children and a more simple life, I *signed* up for the Pajama Fairy. (You know, those things we parents sign up for, tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa and for us, the Pajama Fairy. Thank heavens I never got sucked into signing up for the Leprechaun, Cupid or other such things.) 

Each Christmas Eve morning my children wake up to new pajamas by their bedroom doors, courtesy of this once a year visit from the beloved Pajama Fairy. It's a highlight of their Christmas Eve evening to change from their (required) nice clothes for the Christmas Eve dinner, into their new pajamas. Of course there are always visitors to show them off to, which the children consider a plus.

After everyone leaves from the Christmas Eve dinner we continue with our Christmas Eve traditions. I must back up here.

A week or so before Christmas, a dear friend text me to ask what our Christmas Eve traditions were that helped us focus on Jesus. I shared them with her, and told her I was flattered she would ask (and assume we even did some!) to which she replied with a really nice compliment about my little family that really made my day.

I thought of her on Christmas Eve night after I stormed out of the family room (I believe picking something up in my path on the way to throw with added flair and drama) as I uttered aloud, "I can't believe this is Christmas Eve."

I couldn't help but think of my friend as I stormed up the stairs and felt mildly guilty that she had an unrealistic impression of our family's Christmas Eve-Christ-centered traditions.

It didn't take me too long to calm down, or the guilty children to become repentant (after all it was Christmas Eve), and we resumed our Christmas Eve traditions with no further incident. (Give or take.)

It's funny that less than a week later, I look back at these photos and see only goodness, love, joy, and harmony in my children's faces. So, I'm not just fooling everyone else, I'm fooling myself too. Don't we look like our family time together is nothing but bliss, joy, laughter and harmony?

Okay. Maybe not. Those smiles don't exactly look like the most genuine smiles around now do they?!

I digress.
Back to the events of the evening.

After our more serious traditions, it was time for the beloved sibling gifts. This is one of the highlight of my children's Christmas, buying gifts for each other. This is the third year we have have drawn names, rather than buy something for everyone as we previously did.

Megan bought for Luke
Luke bought for Joshua (and also "paid Ellie back" the sunglasses of hers he lost a few months ago.)
Ellie bought for Megan
Joshua bought for Drew (and for Luke! I made a mistake about who is was supposed to buy for.)
Drew bought for Ellie (except he can't keep secrets so he wasn't really in on it this year.)
and Megan surprised everyone with a gift for all of them to share. (The game, Operation.)

It really did end up being a pleasant evening. While Mike and I hand-washed/dried my crystal goblets from dinner, the children laughed and played Operation together. Ellie was becoming mildly anxious that the hour was hastening on and Santa wouldn't come because we were all still awake, and put herself to bed before anyone else even considered going.

Before we knew it, everyone was lying in bed with visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Most Traditional Part of Our Christmas

At one point in the days leading up to Christmas, the reality was it would quite likely be just my *little* family of seven for our traditional (formal) Christmas Eve dinner. Everybody's plans seemed to unfold gradually (good thing I'm okay with being everybody's "back-up plan"), and before we knew it, we were going to be right back enjoying the tradition of the last few years (minus last year).

Casey, Cindy and Lucy, James, Kristin, Annie and Kate, and Nana and Grandpa, all joined us for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It was a little of a tight squeeze in our dining room, and the conversation, food and general goings-on, seemed to take more of a precedence than quality photo taking. Eyes closed and cut off faces will have to suffice.

In the days leading up to Christmas Eve, at least two of my (extended) family members told me that Christmas Eve dinner is one of their favorite parts of Christmas. What hostess wouldn't love a comment like that? Of course it thrilled me, and mades the hours of food, table, and cracker preparations worthwhile.

All of the elements that make this a much loved tradition were in place. Christmas crackers, a quarter in the dessert, the $5.00 bill on display for the winner, everybody squeezed around one table (except the four little ones, they had to get booted to a separate table this year), and a lot of Christmas Eve excitement and anticipation in the air.

(Excuse the red eye--Picasa was doing funny things when I was trying to fix them.)

We spent a long time sitting around the table visiting, while the children disappeared to do who knows what. Well actually, we have a little clue what they were doing, courtesy of Joshua the photographer...

Although Cousin Annie stayed at the children's table long after the other children had left. I'm not quite sure if she was having a eating-blindfolded contest with herself, or if the Christmas cracker crown was simply in the way.

Baby Kate got stuck sitting by the adults, which is probably why she is showing very little interest in anything but the mashed potatoes on her tray.

Luke wasn't in the greatest moods throughout the meal. I think it had something to do with the fact he and Ellie had to share the piano bench for the duration of dinner. Not exactly the best mix of children to be in that close of a proximity for the meal, but such is life.

(And please, oh please excuse that tacky lemonade container on the table. Luke doesn't like carbonation or any of the drink that comes in the pretty-bottles-suitable-for-a-formal-Christmas-Eve-set-table, and at the last minute I allowed him to splurge and have the lemonade that's been sitting in our pantry for at least a year.)

I'm not sure if this photo was taken before, after or during Grandpa Peter's traditional online searching of Santa's whereabouts.

Oh, and the winner of the quarter-in-the-trifle this year?

That would be Mike. Which is probably appropriate. He's "donated" a lot of $5.00 bills to the cause over the years.

I know I could have made it a Christmas Eve to remember had it ended up being just the seven of us, but having everyone else join us, really was a bonus. I think one day, when the Christmases of today are tomorrow's nostalgic remembrances, the Christmas Eve dinners squeezed into my dining room will be some of the most remembered parts of the season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Too Busy Last Saturday

The older I get, the more I prefer to stay home. I love weekends spent at home with nothing to do but things of our choosing.

Now, I get that we "chose" everything we did last weekend. But too much of it still felt obligatory. Like a harp recital, a piano recital, a horse show, and a gymnastics open house. Which is why we didn't go to the gymnastics open house. I felt mildly guilty when the reminder popped up on my phone and I deleted it without Ellie seeing or remembering it herself.

Given the fact that Ellie uses any free carpet space, the front driveway, or any "open" place we happen to be at as an "open mat" , I don't feel quite so bad that she didn't show off her skills to us at the gymnastics 'open mat.'

On the other hand, she did show off her piano skills at her piano recital Saturday morning.

And before you ask. Yes, Megan does teach piano. But no, she does not teach Ellie. Enough said. 

Fortunately, I made it in the nick of time to see Luke take 1st place in one of his horse competitions. We missed the competitions he took another first place in, and the one he took second place in. Although I was sad to miss the horse show in its entirety, Luke knew when he registered for the last minute show that it was already a jam-packed day. Our commitments to Megan and Ellie for their recitals had been made several weeks in advance, so a three-day notice horse show wasn't exactly a top priority for any of us. Well I take that back. It was a huge priority for Luke.
How sad is it that the only photo I got was of Luke from behind? I'm no photographer and moving horses and my camera skills don't go well together.

Megan participated in a performance with 40 other harpists, a choir and some bell performers. I'm glad the recital is over. It was a lot of hours of rehearsal 25 miles from home. It is times like this recital I wonder why we didn't encourage her to play a small, easy to transport instrument like the viola.
In between all of the somewhat obligatory events, was the priority of visiting Santa Claus at a local country store. As I looked at four of my children posing by Santa for a photo, I was overcome with emotion at the fleetingness of time. I think it was because Megan wasn't with us (she was gone ALL day for the recital), and I got a glimpse of what begins to happen as our children get older.
We finished the day off with homemade sugar cookies. And the fact I let my children assist??? Major, major breakthrough around here.
Actually, we finished the day off with everyone getting yelled at to get in bed and leave us alone. But really, what's new about that?

Happy week before Christmas--my favorite part of the season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sure To Be One of My Favorite Christmas Memories EVER

Remember this post, a week ago? 
While I've been running around minding my own business, wrapped up in my own life with five children in the busy days of December. My mother has been sewing, and crafting, and sewing and crafting, and then doing a little more sewing.

Tonight when I walked into her kitchen to deliver my five children for a gingerbread decorating party, 
THIS WAS HANGING UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(The angels, star and baby Jesus are removable, and should wait to be placed on Christmas Day.)

For a split second, I thought somehow she had performed some sort of Christmas miracle and found the Mary and Joseph advent calendar from my childhood. I can't even begin to describe the feelings I felt in those brief seconds of seeing it hanging there on her door. I felt sheer joy at seeing what I thought was only ever going to be a memory in my mind. For another split second, I thought my mother had made it for herself and was sorely disappointed to think she imagined she and my dad enjoying such an advent. Then I caught a glimpse of the little tag on the side with my name on it and realized it was mine. 

My mother spent the last week in a labor of love. And I mean that quite literally. That advent has a lot of intricate details, and a lot of small pieces. I'm fairly certain she cursed my name several times throughout the project and probably more than once questioned exactly what she got herself into. Hopefully my reaction (it was quite loud, and just about had me in full-blown tears), was well worth her efforts. 

It is such a sincere, heartfelt gift and is something I will treasure every Christmas season. 
After the oohing and aahing had settled down, my dad mentioned they had been wondering what in the world would have happened to the original Mary and Joseph advent. We all surmised that it probably became yellowed, faded and well-worn over the years, and nobody thought twice about tossing it.

Even if I had known as a teenager my parents were tossing the calendar, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought. Perhaps enough years hadn't passed for the Nativity advent to have made its way into my heart. Never once during all those December mornings as a child, as I moved Mary and Joseph closer to Bethlehem, did I think the calendar would one day be a treasured memory from my past.  It makes me wonder about how many everyday items we own now, that may end up becoming sentimental treasures and nostalgic remembrances.

I have no idea what makes today's everyday items become tomorrow's treasures, but I know without a doubt, this advent calendar is a treasure I will keep for as long as I live. No matter how yellowed, faded or well-worn it may become.

(And for the record, this is my advent calendar. This year at least, for the few days remaining until Christmas, I WILL be the one to move Mary and Joseph forward each morning.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eyes, Trains and Sleepy-Heads

~ Ellie recently spent five days of school home with me due to a nasty eye infection.After the weekend saw no signs of improvement, the doctor had us in for a visit last Monday morning. Puzzled by the fact eye infections are highly contagious, and no one else in our family contracted it, the doctor decided to do an eye screening to rule out the possibility of any more serious causes. (Glaucoma, etc.) Ellie passed the test with flying colors and the doctor said, "If she couldn't have seen the line of letters with her infected eye we'd look into the possibility of more serious issues."

I thought nothing of it, until later that night when I heard Ellie say to Megan, "I couldn't even see the letters from my blurry eye, but luckily I had them memorized from saying them with my good eye." Guess Ellie's little quirk/fascination/OCD with number and letters paid off for her with that eye test!

The doctor declared it possible she be home for another week or two, to which my prayers became more fervent for a speedy recovery. I mean, I love Ellie and actually quite enjoyed having her as my sidekick for a week or so, but I did love when we returned to a more normal routine around here. I played more card games and board games in her seven day infection than I have in the past seven months combined.
(This photo was taken two days before she returned to school. It looks far better in this photo than it did in the worst stage.)

~ It seems that even with Drew in preschool 6 hours a week, I still don't have as much time as I'd like with no children around to get Christmas errands done. I really needed to go to City Creek (a shopping mall in Salt Lake City) and couldn't seem to fit it in sans children. So last week I bundled up Drew, stroller and all, and went in to Salt Lake. I had only 2 stores I wanted to run into, and a ride on the public TRAX train was not part of my original plan. Drew was a very patient boy (helped largely in part to the over-sized and quite over-priced bag of Skittles I compulsively purchased for him) while I shopped for longer than even I anticipated. When we got outside and Drew said, "Look at that train. Can we ride it?" I couldn't say no. It ended up being one of the most pleasant afternoons I have had in a long time. I'll admit, all too often it takes the three year old to slow me down and remind me of the simple pleasures of life.
~ Speaking of Drew. He isn't always so pleasant, patient, obedient and nice to have around. At bedtime lately, Drew is required to lay in our bed to separate him from the same room as Joshua. It makes for a much more calm and speedy road to slumber when those two side-kicks are separated. Most nights Mike makes some kind of comment about how cute Drew looks asleep in our bed. I often find myself having a hard time agreeing because I've spent far more hours with Drew's energy that day and the angelic sleeping face doesn't always fool me. But I seem to be the one that ends up carrying Drew into his bed (Mike always conveniently places Drew on MY side of the bed), and there's something about that sleepy head on my shoulder as I carry him down the hall that renews my energy to start anew the next day with him.
~ This would be Joshua asleep on a church bench during a Saturday night 2 hour-adult church meeting. Typically children do not attend, but atypically, we had blurted out earlier in the evening, that the consequence for continued poor behavior would be accompanying mom and dad to the meeting. Poor Joshua ended up reaping the consequence. I think his nap helped pass the time as I overheard him say to Ellie later that night, "It was fun. I drew a picture, played a game and then took a nap."
And these are the days that apparently, one day I will miss.
Sarcasm or not,
I know I will.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Ride for Jesus, United States Statues, and Goat Coats

A Ride for Jesus
Apparently Drew thinks modern-day Hot Wheels and cars should be part of the Nativity. Every time I turn around, a car is en route giving a ride to Baby Jesus, either to or fro the manger.

A Gangsta and United States Christmas
Putting out my Christmas village has been on and off over the past few years. It isn't a part of my Christmas decor that I especially love, which is funny considering it represents the time period I dream about every Christmas season. Either way, I decided this year to put it out. It hadn't been out even minutes, before cars were being driven through the village. I'm not quite sure what bothered me more, the fact Drew couldn't appreciate the quaintness of the scene without modern day vehicles, or the fact he chose a gangster looking lo-rider truck to crash the tranquility.
And as for that stallion statue. I have NEVER put it out before. It has always stayed in the box as I've never thought it "fit" in. That changed this year when Drew was helping me set up the village. For some reason he thinks it is the "Statue of the United States." I think he is getting it confused with the Statue of Liberty, which incidentally I had no idea he even knew existed. Drew feels the need to constantly tell Joshua it is the "Statue of the United States" to which Joshua must think Drew is getting it confused with "a globe" and every time snidely asks him, "Then show me where Utah is on it." Then Drew screams that Utah isn't on it, to which Joshua replies, "Then it isn't a statue of the United States" and Drew screamily replies, "Yes it is." And so on and so forth.

Between the gangster truck and the "Statue of the United States" dialogue, my village isn't exactly what I had in mind when choosing to set it out this year.

Goat Coat

Luke saw this dog cover at the local tack and feed store that he thinks will help Lily (the goat) stay warm this winter. Luke is concerned Lily isn't as big as Hank was as a baby last year, and doesn't want her "to get wet and cold because her hair isn't growing very fast." Luke is quite frugal and thoughtful with his money, and decided to enlist the donations of his siblings towards a coat for his goat. Although typically, not one to like girlish things, Luke felt setting his sights on the zebra-print coat would entice Megan to "want to pay at least half for it." Luke requested I take a photo of it, so he could take it home to aid in his donation solicitations. Megan's nice and all, but is pretty conservative with her own money and paying half for a coat for a goat didn't quite fit into her Christmas budget as Luke had hoped.

Somehow those darn animals endear themselves to me (or maybe it's Luke's love for them that is so endearing), and I hate the thought that any day now there will likely be a wrapped present under my Christmas tree addressed to Lily (a goat!!!) from ME!! Then I'll feel bad there's nothing for Hank, and before I know it, presents for the animals will have come from MY Christmas budget. As if presents for five kids aren't enough.

As always, Christmas or not, life goes on around here.
Happy December.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Countdowns to Christmas

When I think of Christmas, I always think first of Christmases as a child. Even though I've had far more Christmases as an adult, I love my childhood Christmas memories. My parents (actually I probably should give the majority of the credit to my mother), so, MY MOTHER knew how to do Christmas. 

There wasn't a single Christmas that I didn't love. I loved everything leading up to Christmas, everything about Christmas, and I even have fond memories of the days following Christmas.

One of my most favorite things about yesterday's Christmases is this advent calendar here:
(Matthew, Casey and me (please oh please excuse that bad hair) in December 1983)

If you can't tell, it is an advent calendar that each day moved Mary and Joseph one step closer to the manger. We also had another advent calendar (Santa's beard) that Matthew and I alternated each day which one of us would do which calendar.

I adore both of the advent calendars, but perhaps because this Nativity one is no longer around, the absence of it makes my heart grow fonder. 
Oh how I wish I had it!

I've never really gotten into advent calendars with my children. Maybe because I've never found one that compares to the ones I so fondly remember from my childhood. 

Although last year (maybe the year before?) we did receive a pretty Victorian house with 24 little doors in it. Each little door is big enough to squeeze in 5 little pieces of candy (like Starburst, Lifesavers, Rolos, etc.) The only problem seems to be that ALL five children never get to it at the same time, and by the time the fourth or fifth child makes their way to the house. Our (birth-order) FIFTH child has already gotten there first and taken any and all remaining candy he finds.

It causes all sorts of commotion, contention, and denials. Not to mention candy wrappers left under my dining room table.

Every day I consider tossing the idea of an advent calendar. And then I remember Santa's Beard and Mary and Joseph's Journey, and how thrilling it was each morning to do them. I'm not too lost in nostalgia to think Matthew and I never fought about whose turn it was to do which one, or to think one of us probably selfishly did both on occasion.

I'm hoping at least one of my children will one day look back at the Victorian Advent House with fond memories. It will make all the troubles of today, worth it.

P.S. I've made a mental note to force all five of my children to pose for a photo smiling by the advent house so in the event that none of them actually recall fond memories of it, I can *show* them they did. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quick Christmas Rant

A couple of years ago we were gifted an Elf on a Shelf by my brother and sister-in-law. I don't like him at all. (Meaning the elf, not my brother, I like him.) You can read a little more about the elf gift HERE. One of these days I'm going to gift them the same gift back, but I'll wait until they have a few more kids, and have to be a little "more careful" with such magical Christmas powers.

My understanding of the Elf, whom my children affectionately named Jingle Wingle, is that he is here as a spy of sorts, for Santa. He watches the children's behavior and reports back to Santa every so often. Jingle moves around the house hiding in places where he can observe the children most effectively.

I dislike Jingle for several reasons:

1. It really doesn't magically improve my children's behavior. Although the 3 year old does look at it and stare if his behavior is being questionable, and somebody says, "Jingle Wingle can see you." Besides, shouldn't my children WANT to behave 365 days of the year, not just the days leading up to Christmas.

2. Sometimes it seems we have a lazy elf. He forgets to move. The children will wake up and find him in the same spot as the night before. I explain it as perhaps Jingle found it an extra good spot to observe behavior from and chose to stay there a day or two (or three). Then I get irritated that I'm making excuses for an elf I don't even like.

3. All over Facebook I see photos posted of other peoples elves into all sorts of mischief. One in a pile of salt making snow angels, one in a bag of dumped over marshmallows, etc. I thought the elf was supposed to be coming to watch for good behavior, not participate in poor behavior?

All these Facebook photos are accompanied by expressions of glee and excitement of children finding their elf in such amusing situations.

Not us. He is always boring, doing pretty much exactly what the title of his accompanying book is titled, The Elf on a Shelf.

I have enough messes to clean up without having to clean up after a silly elf. And besides, I need to keep him up high out of the reach of little hands, or he'll end up being frantically searched for in toy cupboards and bedrooms. And if I get irritated that I have to make excuses for the silly thing, I certainly don't want to be searching for him.

That's the children's job each morning to find Jingle Wingle's new hiding spot. Except it usually only takes them 10 seconds or less to find him, as he isn't exactly the most creative elf around

Rant now ends.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mr Christmas the Second

Remember Mr Christmas from a couple of years ago (HERE and HERE ). Luke's kind of growing out of his 'Mr Christmas' title, but never fear, we have a Mr Christmas the Second to enjoy just as much.

I realized we had a second Mr Christmas on our hands last week while allowing the children to decorate their own Christmas tree upstairs in the hallway. Joshua caught one look at the empty boxes left-over from the Christmas lights and wanted to wrap them up to place under the Christmas tree.

You'd have thought that I'd told him he could open an actual Christmas present, with the ear-to-ear grin he gave me when I told him that yes, he could indeed wrap up the empty boxes with last year's leftover wrapping paper.

His eyes lit up as his little project went from this:
with a little of this focus, concentration and effort:
(Please note the tongue stuck out in concentration in the top left photo.)

to this:
The fact Drew unwrapped Joshua's carefully wrapped presents 2 hours later is another story entirely...

Nonetheless, Mr Christmas is alive and well at our house. So much so, as I stepped out of the shower last Thursday morning, I was greeted with this image:
And a little voice proudly exclaiming:
"I'm Santa Craus."

Mr Christmas the Second makes me smile every bit as much as the original Mr Christmas did too. So despite us having an absolute Bah Humbug living in the house, our holidays are off to a pretty good start.

Happy December!


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