keep on keepin’ on

Somehow nearly three weeks sped past since I last wrote here. I am not even certain exactly what I’ve been doing that has had me so busy. Just regular life, I suppose. Wrapping gifts and prepping Christmas traditions and school parties and the everyday life that already leaves us feeling busy as it is.

The Christmas anticipation was fun, and the day itself was lovely, but now I’m glad it’s over. Am I allowed to say that? I am grateful for the next week or so to decompress and reflect and restore order, and I’m ready for the blank slate of a new year.

We spent Christmas Eve with my family, and the kids played with cousins. They ran around outside playing hide and seek until the food was ready, and then they returned inside to eat and play games until late. They got a few toys to play with, but the adults in my family stopped exchanging gifts years ago when we realized that we have all we need and kids are a lot more fun to shop for. (This change improved my holidays ten times over, by the way. No stress of shopping for anyone other than kids.) But this year, my granddad surprised us with one of the best gifts I have ever received. He’d found a box full of old quilt tops my grandmother had packed away. Most of these were stitched by her own mother, and a few were even pieced by her grandmother. So if you’re counting generations, that is my great-great grandmother. (!!) They were the tops only, and the rest of it was unfinished, so he found someone to finish them and one-by-one had them completed. There were enough for each of the girls in the family to get one.

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No store-bought gift could compare to this. It blows my mind to think about – each stitch completed with love and care, and it laid unfinished in a box for decades only to re-emerge as something whole and real and beautiful. We never know where our story ends, do we? We never know how what we create today will live on and on. So many things in my life feel unfinished, and I’m grateful to have this reminder to take the long view.

When we got home on Christmas Eve, my kids put the cookies out for Santa and hurried to bed as quickly as they could. They don’t always get along easily these days, but the best Christmas Miracle imaginable is that they have really played together so well these last couple of weeks. It has felt like such a gift to me when I’ve grown used to more sibling bickering than I’d like.

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They’d written letters to Santa earlier in the week. Norah’s list was a random assortment of all kinds of things that just occurred to her with no warning (typical five year old) — a stuffed animal, a doll, a pretend pet bird who can fit on your shoulder, and pineapple from the North Pole. Jude’s contained only one item that he’s been asking for since September — a Nintendo Switch.

They ran down the stairs on Christmas morning at 5:58am (yawn), and waded through their gifts. But they paced themselves on opening them and talked a little about each one which pleasantly surprised me. Jude was beyond surprised to get the Switch even though it was all he has asked for. He didn’t expect it somehow. But it cracked me up that the gifts that brought the biggest smiles and the most excitement were the North Pole Pineapple ($2.65 at Publix) and a package of root beer (impulse buy for a boy who loves it but never gets to drink it at home). You just never know what little things will bring joy.

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Christmas is so heavily laced with nostalgia and meaning. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it – especially as a parent. We try to make it perfect enough to leave some indelible imprint in their memory, but one thing I’m understanding as I begin to string chapters together for this book I’m working on is that memories are actually not made in isolation. When we remember one thing or one moment, it is actually laced with meaning and layer upon layer of association — not just that one day in time.

I’ve made such a conscious effort this past few years to see Christmas as any other day – with a few extra celebrations. I do the best I can to show them the traditions that can ground us, the reason for the holiday, and the value of both giving and receiving. And then I let it go. I do not compare to what it looked like before or what it might look like in the future or what it looks like in homes outside of my own.

All I know now is that I do the best I can and that somehow the three of us fill the room with enough light to drown out any shadows of inadequacy or comparison that may be lingering in some dark corner of my own mind. 2017 is the year I figured out that fear and negativity and dissatisfaction do not grow when you don’t feed them.

Some holidays are hard and some years are hard, and we just have to accept that sometimes. Life doesn’t look like exactly what we thought it would, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we just move right along to what is good about right now and perhaps even what is better than we expected as a result of the unforeseen. I recently ran across a Maya Angelou quote on Instagram and some commentary relating it to the holidays and what they can feel like when we lose ourselves in some expectation of comparison and think we have failed if we do not make it The Best Christmas Ever. Angelou says, “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

The holidays became a lot easier for me when I realized that, in actuality, they are just another day in a series of 364 other ones where we get to create magic and possibility and joy and comfort and peace and fulfillment. What Maya seems to be saying there to me is keep on keepin’ on. And so I am. With root beer and North Pole pineapple and cozy nights at home under my new quilt. The best is yet to come, and there is always more. Christmas joy is like no other, but that same peace waits for me all year long when I slow down enough to see it.

Random babbling. And a toddler recipe at the end if you actually read that far.

I’m warning you that there is no cohesion to this post at all.

Randomness #1: Christmas is ten days away, y’all. Countdown is on and we are busy busy around here.  Presents are purchased, but I’ve got A LOT of wrapping to do, and the cards remain un-mailed. For some weird reason, Jude is just as fascinated with the reflection of our tree as he is with our actual tree.  Weird kid, that one.

Randomness #2: I made red velvet cookies this weekend. They are very good.  I have 2 left in my fridge.  I will eat one tonight with a glass of chardonnay and NO APOLOGIES.  I got hungry while writing and already ate one.

Randomness #3: We are coloring here sometimes. We try to color everyday, and sometimes he really gets into it and feels all proud when I ohhh and ahhhh over his lines and shapes.  But mostly he just likes to carry the crayons around the house.  Not doing anything with them at all, just carrying them.

Or other times, he tries to eat them.  Purple and yellow are his favorite colors in case you wanted to know.

Randomness #4: Today he put the right pieces in the right place on his little farmyard puzzle, and I freaked out in classic over-reacting, stage mom style. JUDE!!  OH MY GOSH!!  YOU ARE THE SMARTEST BOY EVER!  YAY YAY YAY!  YAY! JUDE! I heard myself and am fully aware of how ridiculous it sounded, but I don’t care.  There are moments that feel pretty phenomenal, even if every other mom has that same moment.

Randomness #5: Why does my kid try to eat everything?  [He is fourteen months old today, and I swear he’s been doing this since month four.]

I mean everything.  (Yep, that’s a Christmas ornament.)  And then when I give him a little kid’s toothbrush to chew on, he looks puzzled and offers it back to me or carries it around the house but doesn’t dare put it past his lips?

Randomness #6: I’ve been wearing the same perfume for 10 years, and I want something new. Any suggestions?  I hate florals.

Randomness #7: I love how bath time is like a reset button for the day.  No matter how cranky or tired or cooped up and stir-crazy we feel, bath time is always pleasant.

It is a little weird that he likes to chew on a washcloth though.  I have to bring 2 cloths in the bathroom – one to wash with and one to give him to chew on while I’m cleaning him.

Randomness #8: We had a little playdate last Sunday afternoon, and I was overwhelmed with the cuteness.  Watching two kids interact can be so funny sometimes.

These two are less that three weeks apart in age, and we mamas already betrothed them long before they were born, but I need to work on little man’s chivalry.  Jude came on a little strong.

Randomness #10: That same mama sent me a great recipe a while ago that I have used and frozen again and again.  So when she told me that she’d been experimenting with different ingredients, I couldn’t help but try to mix it up a little.  The result was a parmesan-veggie-nugget-type-of-thing that Jude is loving.

Ingredients:

  • vegetables (use anything, but I used yellow squash and zucchini with some leftover potatoes.)
  • about one cup of breadcrumbs (I used Italian.)
  • 2 eggs
  • about one cup of shredded cheese

It’s easy!

  • Grate one green zucchini and one yellow squash.  Place grated vegetable in a colander because it’s watery and needs to drain for about 30 minutes.  Squeeze out remaining water
  • Melt a little butter in a pan, saute the vegetable for a few minutes to flavor and soften it.  (At this point, I added a small serving of leftover mashed potatoes from dinner the night before, just to use them.  Totally optional, but a great way to use leftovers.)
  • Toss vegetables in a bowl with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and 2 beaten eggs.
  • Stir and mix it all together until it’s combined.
  • Make small ball and squish it flat so it has more of a cookie shape.
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
  • Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

These freeze pretty well and are really versatile.  (Hence my loosey-goosey recipe.)  Use any vegetable you want. The main idea is that cheese, breadcrumbs, and egg will make anything stick.  I did mine somewhat large, by the way, so he could eat one as a snack or side to lunch or dinner.  You could do them a lot smaller though – like traditional chicken nuggets, for instance.

Thanks, Samira, for the original recipe and inspiration!

Randomness # whatever we are on, I’ve lost count:  It’s freezing in Atlanta and across much of the country, from what I see. A heavy fuzzy blanket, house slippers, and un-addressed Christmas cards are calling my name. Stay warm!

 

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Thanksgiving is over, and you know what that means….

CHRISTMAS! I know.  I know….  Turkey Day deserves some attention as well, and that’s why I insist on waiting until today to put up the decorations, but I can’t take it much longer, so there’s Christmas music on the speakers here, and we are pulling out the boxes of lights and garland and wrapping gifts already.

I’m such a holiday fanatic, and Christmas is my favorite.  (Isn’t it everyone’s?)  Among all of the tasks that make me so happy in the month of December, I LOVE the tradition of Christmas cards.  Choosing them, addressing them, receiving them.  Love love love it. It’s so much fun to see how each card reflects the personality of the giver.

We’ve done photo card for a few years now, and I really enjoy looking at our past designs.  We’ve moved from a wedding photo to pictures of us with the dogs to photos of international travels, and last year I had the joy of sending out cards with images of a tiny, squeaky, squishy little newborn.  I can’t wait to weed through all the images we have of Jude and select and design this year’s card.   I’ve always used Snapfish for my cards in the past, primarily because it is linked with Flickr, but after the ASTOUNDING results and quality of  Jude’s One Year Scrapbook, I am sold for life to the great people over at Shutterfly.  I can’t wait to choose and send some adorable cards to wish our loved ones a happy 2011.

And with these incredible design options, I’m surely going to have a hard time choosing one.

Shutterfly has great folded cards, so you can personalize each one and have space to write to the recipients.  I especially love the subtlety and sophistication of monogram designs like this one.

Or how beautiful is this?  Simplicity at its finest with their holiday cards.

They’ve also got high-quality stationary photo cards that are printed on matte cardstock.  Gorgeous ways to update your friends and family on the progress of your entire year!  I love this little ornaments card. You can tailor this to say anything you want and really convey they heart and spirit of your own family.

Don’t forget they also have calendars, photo books, canvas art, and all sorts of perfect gift ideas in addition to a ton of holiday cards designs.  Be sure to check it out!  I’m off to wrap more gifts and design our cards and trim the tree and bedeck the mantle and indulge in all those cozy, happy Christmas-ing activities that only come once a year.   Mmmmm, leftovers and football and the beginning of  the holidays.  Is there anything better?

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Disclosure:  I am receiving 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly in exchange for this promotion.  If you are a blogger and interested in doing the same thing, head here.

obligatory Thanksgiving post

Bellies are stuffed.  Babies are sleeping.  Food has been put away.  Another Thanksgiving come and gone.

All day long we hear what everyone is thankful for, and soon it can sound like an obligatory list – health, home, family, friends, food.  The same things we are grateful for every year.  Why we need a special day to remember all of this, I don’t know.  But there is something about sitting around a table of friends or family that reminds us that there is so much more good in the world than bad.  So much to celebrate.

Today and always. But since today is the day for it…….

I’m grateful for my often messy but cozy home.

for time to be with my son in the most mundane of activities to stay home with him, to not miss a minute of this crazy-fast journey.

for my family, which often seems insane, but then I remember that everyone claims that one.  We are all derived from the crazy, it seems.  But my crazies?  I love them.

for my husband who loves me and loves our Jude so so much.

for an amazing year that finds me in a very different frame of mind than I was 12 months ago.  A happy place that has come gradually, and I love that.

for food and conversation and nice china and warm candles and table linens and all those things we should do more often.

for the health of my own able body and the bodies of those I love.

for a warm, active, curious little man with the sweetest blue eyes I have ever seen and the uncanny ability to teach me how to “get it” in a way I never have before.

for this little journal, this thing called blog.  It’s illuminated some beauty in my days that I might not have noticed before and connected me with friends old and new.

for you, reader.  If I know you in our real world, I thank you for our friendship.  If I know you through this lens, I thank you for our friendship as well.  Your comments and emails mean so much, and I love that this scary-huge world can seem a lot smaller through the computer screen.

 

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It was a happy holiday with cousin time, family talk, and more food than you could imagine – which of course I ate before I could photograph.

 

John Milton once wrote, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” And I, for one, agree.  So happy Thanksgiving, friend.  Take a deep breath and think of what you have – the small pleasures and the big things.  The world is a wonderful place, in part because we all look for the wonder.  So be happy, reader. Life is good.

Halloween

Someone wasn’t so sure about Halloween this year.

But can you blame him?  It’s a lot of work when you can’t even really eat the candy. He was a cute little zebra anyway, and after we returned from the brief door-to-door routine, he was happy to get in his pj’s and answer the door for fellow trick-or-treaters.  The costume was on for maybe 20 minutes total, but we managed to get a few photos.

and by the way, he REFUSES to put anything on his head. anything.

Truth be told, I felt like crying as well. Because last year?  Last year, he looked like this.


Sigh.  His playing and “reading” and walking and his babbling attempts at talking and the occasional temper tantrums are all reminding me that we are sailing away from baby land soon and into the toddler zone. Good news?  Christmas will be so much fun, and I’m unbelievably excited about the holidays around the corner. Turkey and more turkey and pumpkin everything and cookies and Christmas carols and hanging stockings and lights and Santa and gift wrapping and hot cider……  He’ll only half get it this year, but memories will be made for his parents who were too dazed and sleep-deprived last year to even notice the date on the calendar.  Happy things ahead. Happy November, reader!

Carnival Birthday Party: Details and Decorations

It’s my last post about the birthday party; I promise.  Now for my favorite part of it: the details and decorations.  This part was SO MUCH FUN to complete.  Let me begin by revealing that I am really not the most creative person I know. I am simply good at stealing someone’s ideas and adding my own thing to it a little, and all of these little crafts are something anyone can do. So easy.

One simple thing was the sign near our mailbox that greeted guests as they arrived.  I actually made three signs but only managed to take a photo of one.  We live on a hill and our driveway is long and steep, so this one was at the bottom near the mailbox.
yard sign
As guests made their way up, there was one that said “Step Right Up” and further on, there was one that said “Almost There” because you sort of need a cheerleader to make it up our driveway.  We tied bright balloons to some of the signs and to the front porch, and I hope it set the tone for guests before they even entered the party.  Once they came inside, our guests saw this table in the foyer.

favors and guest book

I placed the favors here next to a book I ordered from Amazon that worked with the circus theme and could be signed by the guests as they left.  I know Jude will appreciate it one day as he reads the sweet messages left by all of our friends and family who celebrated with us.  For the favors, I used Oriental Trading Company for all of it.  Each bag contained some candy, a clown nose, some carnival-themed stickers, some circus-themed temporary tattoos, and a small box of crayons, so all of the kids at the party could leave with something fun.  I designed the little labels using my scrapbook program, and you can have a closer look at them by looking at this earlier post.

I also made a high chair banner using the free circus font I found online.  I simply cut circles and glued them to bright cardstock and then tied it all together.  Super simple but helped to bring the theme together.

high chair

Now for the bigger things.  I sewed A LOT of bright party pennants that we hung everywhere.  I sort of forgot to take photos of them, but you can see them here behind the table.
table details

I used cloth rather than paper so that I can easily reuse them in the years to come.  I figure boys are always having parties that use some combination of primary colors, so if we do trains or cars or superheroes or dinosaurs or whatever in the future, I can always use these flags and maybe just sew a couple of new ones to add to the mix and bring in something fresh.  If you don’t sew, you could use heat n’ bond or something and make the flags that way.

I also made a birthday onesie I’ve already written about in an earlier post. I used the leftover material I had from the flags, added a little freezer-paper stenciling, and sewed it to a onesie I found for $4 at Target. Birthday Boy looked so perfect in it.  He’ll continue to wear it this fall, I’m sure.

toy train
It's my birthday, and I love my new toy train!

Lastly, my favorite part of the party was the photo booth. It was incredibly simple and served as some great entertainment.  I simply used blue fabric as a background and strung some party pennants and lights over it.  I spent about $5 at the dollar store to buy  various funky Halloween type dress up things – a large tie, funny glasses, a feather boa, etc.  I also tossed a few clown noses in there and placed some balloons next to it so it looked bright and circus-like.  This photo booth idea could be great for all sorts of parties though.  I can totally imagine it with a fairy or princess theme for little girls with a pink background and wands and tiaras.  Or even an adult holiday party with a Christmas-y background.  So.  Much. Fun. In fact, my new problem will be avoiding the urge to have a photo booth at all my parties.

photo booth

As excited as I was, I honestly wasn’t sure how this would go over because sometimes the things you are most excited about are not so loved by other people, you know?  In the end, I think some of our guests did love it after all.  I hope to print out some photos and mail them with the thank you notes so guests can remember fun times.

So that’s it!  I think I’ve told you almost everything I can about our circus birthday party.  Feel free to recycle these ideas for yourself, and I hope you have as much fun party planning as I did.  If you want to read more about the details of this party, you can see my archives here and here.

Carnival Birthday Party: Food and Tablescape

So yesterday I wrote about what I learned throwing my first kids’ party, and today I’ll get specific on some of the details.  The most important detail, of course: FOOD.

I wanted to keep things simple, and the party was held at four in the afternoon so I wasn’t exactly responsible for feeding people dinner or anything.  Keeping with the carnival theme, we served all finger foods. I didn’t even have flatware on the table!  Here was the menu we decided on for Jude’s Big Top Circus Birthday Extravaganza:

  • hot dogs (We chose kosher, all-beef since that’s kind of where we are on our “food journey.”)
  • corn dogs (So not healthy or kosher, but I bought them from our warehouse store here and they were fast and easy in the oven.)
  • sandwiches – chicken salad; sunbutter & jelly (for 2 peanut allergy kids who were there)
  • Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies(First time I tried them and they were delicious!)
  • fruit sticks (just bites of melon, grapes, and pineapple on a skewer)
  • chocolate-covered pretzels (I used store-bought chocolate candy coating.)
  • cupcakes! (more on those later)
  • various classic and colorful candies to go with the circus theme

So for the general tablescape and basic look of things, I wanted to go bright and celebratory. I was also careful to use varying heights on the table with the cupcakes, pretzels, and the lollipops.  The cupcake stand is this basic one by Wilton, and I love it!  I can reuse it again and again for any birthday parties or showers I host and just redecorate it each time.  To decorate it, I used scrapbook paper I found on clearance at Hobby Lobby and simple blue grossgrain ribbon.  I had a hard time getting the ribbon to stick at first, but when I decided to use Elmer’s traditional school glue, it worked easily and washed right off.

table details

Food labels are necessary for me, and I know that allergy mamas especially appreciate them.  I hate being at a function and not so sure about what you are putting in your mouth.  I found a circus font online and downloaded it for free, and I used it on the invitations and all of the signs and food labels at the party.  There are a ton of free simple graphics and fonts if you look for them online.

table details

For the added color and backdrop to my table scape, I used bright red wrapping paper from the dollar store  and topped it with a blue tablecloth from the dollar store as well.  We folded that tablecloth like a runner and topped all of that with $1 confetti and voila!  Three whole dollars and the table is done.

the spread

We also had a candy corner because what carnival doesn’t have sweets?  I bought all of the glass containers from (you guessed it…) the dollar store, and I racked up on candy there as well.  I chose candy that was either colorful or nostalgic or both – Mary Janes and Sugar Daddies for retro flair; gumballs, jolly ranchers, and ring pops for color.  The oversized lollipops I found at Oriental Trading Company for pretty cheap. I set out a few treat bags I had from a shower I hosted once and encouraged guests to take some home.  Luckily, almost all of it disappeared and I am only left with about 10 lollipops, but I’m thiking I can use them to adorn birthday packages this year.

table details

table details

Lastly, the cupcakes!  I went back and forth SO MANY times about what kind to make because I wanted something different and a variety.  Because we took a trip to the apple orchards a couple of weeks ago and because nothing says fall like apple cinnamon, I finally settled on apple cupcakes with cream cheese icing.  For variety, I also baked Ina Garten’s chocolate cupcakes (my old reliable favorite!) and topped them with homemade buttercream frosting.  I baked them all the night before and iced them in about 15  minutes shortly before the party.  It honestly took the same amount of time as calling to order a cake and going to pick it up.  So simple.

table details

I also found some awesome toppers on Etsy that added a special touch.  Some of them even had his name!

cupcakes

Did you know that even a simple grocery store cake is something like $40?  All together, I would estimate the cupcakes and toppers were something like $20, and they were cute, tasty, and personable.  At the end of the day, we fed a crowd of about 35 people on less than $100 including tableware!  An accomplishment in frugality for sure.

Tomorrow I’ll post on details and decorations – my favorite part of the party!

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For other posts about this carnival birthday party, see my archives here, here, or here.