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Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2013
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I ended the day yesterday with a few quiet moments as Norah slept and Jude and Scott were somehow still building with Legos.  (At 10:26 pm!)  I had time to take a look at photos from the camera while deliberately ignoring the heaps of toys and mess all over the house. There were very few still and quiet moments this year with two kids at these ages.  I find myself wanting to record a few details about this Christmas before I forget and life speeds to another season.

Christmas Eve had us at my grandparents’ home.  I have spent every single Christmas Eve of my life there, not even missing one.  The same house, the same faces and voices – rooms full of loud cousins and noisy siblings.  Norah and Jude fed off the excitement the same way I did as a child, and watching them brought back so many of my own memories.

Try as we might to get children to understand the meaning of the season, it is PRESENTS PRESENTS PRESENTS at these ages, and I am totally okay with it. What better way to learn to understand love and generosity than to first understand what a joy it is to receive and give? They were so enthused about each and every package this year.

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I watched them with their cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Family ties feel so much stronger during the holidays somehow, don’t they?

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By the time we got home Christmas Eve, it was something like 9:30. Add getting the kids in bed and the car unloaded, and I felt depleted. But the second you start getting ready to play Santa, you get a burst of energy because really and truly, there are not many things about parenthood that are as fun as Christmas morning. That unadulterated joy and genuine excitement when two pajama-clad kids walk down the stairs? Priceless.

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I found an awesome play teepee on Land of Nod, and Norah’s toys were mostly baby dolls this year with a stroller and a cradle, while Jude got Lego sets and Transformers which have only allowed him to come downstairs for a moment to grab lunch. He LOVES building sets and such. It astounds me. For a moment, I think I got a glimpse of what Christmas morning will feel like in another five years when they rip into presents and stay busy all day while I crack open a book for some leisure time (what is that!?) This year had me burping and feeding baby dolls until Norah’s nap time though. I’m okay with the attention she needs seeing how fast Jude has grown and how independent he has become this year.

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After naptime, we headed over to my in-laws for round three. Lots of craziness with four under five, but they loved it.

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It’s such an intense season of parenting we’re in right now. But I know for certain that God sees it best to reward your extra efforts with such big doses of magic. Am I sleep-deprived and exhausted and rarely organized? Yes. But these years of believing in magic without question and being so impressed with even the tiniest toys and gifts? I know they are short, and while my holidays will be far more relaxed one day soon enough, I get to see Christmas through the eyes of these two right now, and it really is a pretty magical sight.

Happy Christmas to you and yours, and I wish you the best in the last days of 2013. The end of the year always has me a little reflective and, honestly, a little sad. Life is sweet, and each year is precious. Make the most of this one. Happy Holidays, friends! Praying for peace on Earth and in the hearts of all of us.

officially holiday’ing!

December 8, 2013

On Friday, I graded my last exam as I  hurriedly inhaled a sandwich at my desk.  As I began my position in August, it felt like SO MUCH  desk time and many office hours compared to my previous teaching days in a high school setting.  I thought I’d always be caught-up and that grading would never feel like a push.  It hasn’t turned out that way entirely though.  Between Writing Center tasks and other odds and ends that come up, it still feels like a push to get all the grading done at the end of the semester.  And when that last one was finished?  Such a feeling of relief.  I am staring at four full weeks of a break, and I’m excited to slow down and do a little bit of nothing and keep whatever pace we feel up to.  As always, I can’t help but keep a list of goals in my head and consider all the things that need attention right now – specifically house projects that never happened after the move.  But really, they are not essential and whatever gets done will be.  Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t.  I’m just ready to relax and enjoy the last bit of the year with my little family.

We had a great Thanksgiving, and Jude helped – truly helped – with a few kitchen tasks as I prepared a ton of food for family.  He has always loved helping in the kitchen, but recently it really is a true help unlike the “help” a toddler can give.  I’ll give him a bowl and a spoon and he can stir something while I move on to another dish.  Or the other night we made muffins for his teachers, and he actually portioned out all the muffin liners and the batter on his own.  It’s so fun to watch, and he is ridiculously proud when he makes something.  I love his interest in food and his genuine desire to help.

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We also saw a great production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with some friends at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta last weekend. It was awesome, and I definitely suggest it to anyone with kids in Atlanta.  Norah was squirmy as expected, but Jude loved it.  I know next year she’ll follow it more closely, and I’d love to make it an annual tradition.  We got to follow the production with a workshop making puppets.  This snow monster has been played with constantly since, and Jude even wrote “puppets” on his Santa list earlier this week.

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Other than that, the last week has been mostly full of Elf on a Shelf shenanigans (so fun this year!) and time spent at home.

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I’m looking forward to more of that in the days and weeks to come. Cookie baking, present wrapping, Santa planning, and reflecting on the year that’s passed. There’s so much to enjoy in the Advent season – especially with kids these ages. Magic is so real to them, and it’s a joy to watch.

fall photos

November 15, 2013

Can you believe Thanksgiving is around the corner?  As we near the end of the year and start thinking about the holidays, I’m struck again with how fast life is moving.  So many changes occur when your kids are so little.  Plus, of course, the days are a blur because you are so busy with all the many little things – putting socks on feet, tackling piles of laundry, diapers and more diapers, meal after meal in the kitchen…. There is always something to do.

I try to make it a real priority to get some quality family photos done every year or so.  It takes time and money, but it seems to be one of the very few material things that will actually be around and still cherished decades later.   My walls are covered with photographs of family and travels and special moments.  It’s a necessity for me.

The last photo session we had was last June with Norah was just a couple weeks old.  Jude was wearing pull-ups and looking [and acting] very toddler-ish.  Fast forward 15 months later to a toddler and a relatively grown-up preschooler, and our family looks and feels so different.  It’s crazy the change that occurs in just a few months with kids this age.  It’s bittersweet.

We worked with Andrew Thomas Lee again.  (I’ve said it before, but he is amazing and so easy to work with.  I don’t trust our photos with anyone else!)  Meeting at Sawnee Mountain on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, the kids were so outrageously uncooperative.  I can’t even explain how feisty they were being about not wanting to be photographed.  I left knowing if Andrew could manage to capture anything at all, he was incredible.  Of course, that’s exactly what happened, and I love the results.

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It’s easy to not see the magic when you are in the day-to-day madness of little ones. But looking at photos forces you to step out of that craziness for a minute. I love that.

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It’s been a good year, and I’m excited for the weeks we have left of it.

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October Recap

November 4, 2013

I can’t believe we’ve turned the page to November.  Work has been incredibly busy for me since midterm, and our semester ends with final exams the first week of December.  I’m looking forward to a full month (!!) off for Christmas, and I am ready to finish the planning and grading I have ahead of me for the next three weeks.  All in all, the first semester here is going really well.

October is always a busy month for us, and it’s all fun stuff that we genuinely want to do, not just obligations on the calendar.  Jude’s party was followed by his day at the fair with my mom and a whole slew of family, including cousins he adores and admires. (And my brother’s girlfriend went along with her camera and photography skills, so I got to see it, too!)  He was beyond excited to eat tons of fun food and ride everything he was tall enough for, even the scary stuff.  This kid is fearless.

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A week later, we ventured to a small pumpkin patch near home to pick out a few pumpkins. The weather was a tiny bit chilly and perfectly fall.

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Then Halloween came and went with a ridiculous amount of excitement at our house. We had Buzz Lightyear and a ballerina this year. The Child Development Center here led a parade of trick or treaters around campus, and I was able to join them which was so fun. At one point, Jude shouted “This is the best day ever!”

Halloween 2013

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We also had a ton of people over on Halloween night because our new neighborhood is perfect for trick or treating. Sidewalks and tiny kids everywhere! It was a great chance to meet more neighbors, and it felt like everyone had kids no older than ten. It makes me look forward to my kids growing up here – so many little friends their age!

October is such fun as it begins what I think is the best part of the year. But November seems almost better. Looking ahead at Thanksgiving in a few weeks and seeing the leaves turn red and gold in Georgia, I think we all slow down a bit and become more verbal about our gratitude in a way we forget to during the rest of the year. Bowls of soup for dinner, bread baking in the kitchen, movie nights and chilly mornings, sweater wearing (finally), and holiday plans looming soon. Gratitude is felt so much more fully this time of year. And I’m so grateful for my little family, now more than ever.

Our Pirate Party

October 21, 2013

Jude has been nothing short of obsessed with “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” for the better part of the past year or so.  Truth be told, I don’t mind it that much.  It’s Disney and it’s cute and there could be much worse things to watch.  So when he wanted a pirate party this year, I jumped on board.

We invited only family and a couple of close friends this time.  I know everyone has her own ideas of how to do birthdays, and that’s fine.  Whatever works for your family.  But for us, it feels like the first couple of years are all about the parents in a way.  I mean it’s obviously about the baby or toddler, but at the end of the day, parents and loved ones are the ones celebrating the milestone.  The one or two-year-old has no clue what’s going on.  But as kids grow older, it seems best to ask what they want and how they want to celebrate.  Jude wanted a pirate party with a few friends, so that’s what we did.  It was fairly low key and laid back, and with my being back at full-time work, that was a good thing anyway.

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We had party sandwiches (these simple ones) with pirate flags I found on Amazon. I added fruit and cheese, chicken tortilla soup from the slow cooker, cupcakes, and the apple cake I’ve blogged before, plus I threw some chocolate coins on the table as well. And of course, I copied Pinterest with some pirate bananas.

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The weather was perfect for soup, and it really feels like fall finally arrived here in Georgia. Actual sock weather and a real need for a jacket!  Jude had a blast and was really excited about every little thing with the party. He really understands birthdays in a way he didn’t get last year, I think.

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The cupcakes (with toppers I found on Etsy) were the same chocolate cake with buttercream that I do for every single birthday party since the dawn of time, but he loved them… and had way too many of them.

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On the whole, it was a great time, and a perfect party for our little pirate.

Year Four: A Letter

October 15, 2013

Jude,

We begin your fourth year today, and I have spent the past few months watching all the baby melt away and the kid emerge.  It seems to be the magic age when so many baby struggles – sleep, potty learning, communication difficulties – have sailed away.  The label of “toddler” isn’t even one I can really use anymore.  You are a preschooler, a kid, a boy.

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You grew up this year in a big way.  And even though I thought I’d be weepy about that, it’s such a privilege to watch.  Your imagination and your way of playing is something I know only lasts for a little while.  I’m wanting to hit the pause button a lot these days, to freeze this moment in your life.   But I’ve said that before, and look what I would have missed if I’d been able to pause on those baby years?  So time marches on, and I know that somehow your future self will become something even more dear to me.  These last few months have turned a new page it seems.  We have real conversations.  You understand things around us; you walk tall beside me, and you have opinions.  Lots of them.   They don’t always match my own, and you know what?  This is just the beginning of that.  We’ve got a lot to learn from each other.

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In trying to explain to you what you were like at four, I can’t fail to mention your openness and honesty.  You tell me if you don’t like what I made for dinner.  You tell your sister if her diaper stinks or she is bothering you.  You emerge from the bathroom to loudly exclaim, “I wiped my butt, mama!”  It makes me squeeze your hand a little tighter and hold my breath a bit in public, hoping you don’t volunteer an assessment of a stranger.  But with this openness comes a lot of joy and amazement in your world, too.  Your joy is wide open for everyone to see.  It reminds me every day to find happiness in the smallest things and to share that delight with others.  I love you for that lesson and for a million more reasons.

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You’ve had so many changes imposed on you in the past twelve months.  We moved from the only home you’ve ever known.  I went back to work in the college classroom.  And your school routine demands a lot more of you than it did before.  To say you’ve embraced these changes doesn’t give you enough credit.  You’ve confronted these challenges with an acceptance and maturity that surprised all of us, and nothing makes me feel more at peace than to see you thrive so clearly in your current life.  Countless leaps have happened in the past few months with your speech, your ability to focus, and your capabilities in a number of areas.  You see tasks as your responsibility, your work.  And you attack activities with such enthusiastic focus that it leaves me excited for your future.  A sense of thoughtfulness and introspection is emerging in you, and it makes me proud to watch that happen.

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To say I love you seems somehow inadequate this year on your birthday. I’ve always loved you, of course. But now, as we test out new waters and new ways of relating to one another, I can say I respect you.  I see you, I hear you, and I value what you have to give to the world and what you are teaching me.  I’m seeing the whole person emerge as we turn the page to your fourth year.  Your curiosity, your kindness, your joy, your understanding – so many traits I’m grateful to watch emerging in you.  I can’t wait to see what this year brings for you.

Love,

Mama

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I write birthday letters to my kids on each of their birthdays.  You can see the others here.

our trip to the apple orchard

October 6, 2013

The calendar says fall, and while it doesn’t always feel like that here, we are trying to  take advantage of all there is to do this time of year.  Yesterday we drove about an hour northwest of home and spent the morning at an apple orchard.  The kids got to pick their own apples which they both loved.

We came home with a full peck of apples, and we enjoyed this delicious dinner last night – a lot of nutrition in one skillet. Apple muffins, my favorite apple cake, and some homemade applesauce are on the line-up later this week.

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Jude’s class learned about apples a few weeks ago, the process of seed to tree to flower to fruit. He’s been talking about it a lot and looking forward to “the apple farm” as he calls it. At almost four years old, he’s in such a perfect age for understanding the world around him but still being fascinated by it. It’s so fun to hear his commentary on everything we see and do.

The scenery was gorgeous, and it made me grateful for the region we live in. There really is a lot of beauty in North Georgia, especially this time of year.

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It got hot as the day went on, so I stripped Norah down to her underclothes. Half-naked toddler didn’t care. She has such a curious side these days and loves to mimic every single thing her brother does.

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Today we are slow roasting a chicken and spending the afternoon inside the house. This should be the last few days that the temperatures reach 80, and I’m actually looking forward to a little rain and maybe some light sweater weather soon. So many fun things await in the next few weeks.

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