Friday, December 26, 2014

Musings From Christmas Eve

Holidays can be strange if you're married to someone who works in a church (or if you are someone who works in a church, of course).  Nathan was gone all day Christmas Eve, and not home until hours after the girls' bedtimes, so there was no Daddy Reads The Christmas Story or Daddy Lights The Christ Candle or Daddy Helps You Put Baby Jesus In The Manger; instead it was a long day of Mommy Takes Everyone To The Doctor And Wrangles Toddler And Baby Through A Few Last-Minute Errands In The Rain And Everyone Cries A Little.  So it goes.

Nell cried because she wanted cheese for breakfast, and we weren't having cheese for breakfast.  Marie cried because she refuses to sleep these days, or at least, not for more than 45 minutes at a time.

And me?  I cried because the antique iron bed I'd found at a yard sale, the one we'd had sandblasted and painted a beautiful glossy white for Nell for Christmas, the one we'd set up in secret the night before... it suddenly didn't seem like enough.  Thank you, social media, for allowing me to know that other mothers don't just give 'Big Girl Beds' for Christmas, they give entire 'Big Girl Rooms' or 'Big Boy Rooms,' with curtains and rugs and wall hangings and everything all Pinteresty and just so.

I was giving my daughter a bed frame that didn't even have a mattress yet.

It felt like not enough.

I felt like not enough.

* * *

By evening, I wiped away my tears and took the girls to the Christmas Eve service, dressed in sweet Christmas dresses sent to them from their Aunt Emily.  By the time I had them dressed and ready to go, the baby changed and nursed and the toddler pottied and coated and shoed (shod?) and all that, I barely had time to brush my hair, much less dampen and blow-dry it as I had planned to.  I didn't put any makeup on.  And I threw on a corduroy skirt and a sweater that would be easy to nurse in, and out the door we went.

Once at church, I looked around at a sea of reds and greens and holiday plaids, silks and satins and hair bows, and I suddenly felt... well, kind of stupid.  My outfit barely matched.  It might be passable for an ordinary day, but Christmas Eve?  Couldn't I have managed better?  Damp from the rain, I sat in the pew miserably thinking not about the babe in the manger, but about myself.  I wasn't dressed nicely enough for Christmas Eve.  Once again that day, I wasn't enough.

And then it hit me.  How could I be sitting there and missing the point of it all, on Christmas Eve of all days?

My corduroy skirt and thrift store cardigan wasn't enough.

But a silk dress wouldn't have been enough, either.

My face without a trace of makeup wasn't enough.

But perfectly-applied Christmassy red lipstick wouldn't have been enough, either.

My two-year-old smacking her baby sister's curious hand away just as we knelt to receive communion, well, that was hardly enough.

But the sisterly kisses and hand-holding in more peaceful moments wasn't enough, either.

Even small girls -- blurry or not -- in matching Christmas dresses isn't enough.

Even snowflake tights with a ruffle on the bum isn't enough.

{hard to believe, but probably true.}

* * *

How could I have missed it, and at Christmas, of all times?

A bed without a mattress as a Christmas gift for my daughter?

Not good enough.

And yet, the message of Christmas is that somehow, a manger with nothing but straw was good enough.

And now our efforts, meager as they may be, are enough.

Because he came and made it so.

* * *

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die.

Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent, Days 5 & 6 {a concert, St. Nicholas' Day, and a tree}

Nell eagerly climbs up on a chair and stands on tippy toes to open the day's little door on the Advent calendar each morning.  Friday's slip of paper read: "Today we get to go to a Christmas concert!"

A local orchestra {one with which I have played dozens of concerts over the past few years} was doing a 4:00 pm children's Christmas program, and we had decided it would be quite fun for all four of us to attend a concert together, rather than the usual for us of shuffling kids between the two of us while one or the other of us plays a gig here or there.  I wasn't playing this concert, and Nathan was able to take the time to go, so I got everyone ready, picked up Nathan from the train station after his work day, and we headed to Lexington.

The girls wore their matching Christmas dresses from Aunt Emily!

Unfortunately, trying to get a cute picture of two wiggly little girls at the same time is nearly impossible.

Evidence of the impossibility... these were the best of about twelve attempts:

Nell really enjoyed the concert.  She nearly danced out of my lap with joyous enthusiasm during some of the songs.

When we got home, we enjoyed a pizza dinner and then the all-important activity of putting out her shoes for St. Nicholas.

Which brings us to Saturday's Advent activities...

It was St. Nicholas' Day!

Wait on the stairs until Daddy is here, too...

Did St. Nicholas come?  Let's open the door and see!

St. Nicholas brought us some little Christmas books!  What presence of mind he must have had to put those items inside the storm door so they didn't get wet in the rain!

Outside on the front steps, two little pairs of shoes had chocolate coins in them.  And a pomegranate, too -- however did that St. Nicholas know how much Nell loves them?

Later that morning, we read the book about St. Nicholas.  He lived a long time ago.

"Do you think it was really St. Nicholas that brought you chocolate and fruit and books, or was it Mommy and Daddy pretending and being generous like St. Nicholas was?"

"It was Mommy!"

The Advent calendar for Saturday declared the day's activity to be getting a Christmas tree, so naturally, it had to be done that day -- despite torrential rain and the fact that Daddy didn't get home from work (yes, working on a Saturday!) until dinner time.

We bundled the girls up and headed off to select our tree.  Poor Miss Marie screamed the whole way there, but calmed down once I lifted her from her seat and zipped her up into my jacket.


Daddy selected a tree while I tried to keep the kids out of the downpour under a tarp, watching from a wet distance.

Both girls screamed all the way home; Nell because Daddy had forgotten to help her put her hands into her pockets after buckling her in, and Marie because tired tired tired someone please nurse me and put me to bed.

Things were bad, and I was thinking, "The moral of the story is, don't ever try to do anything fun with your kids. Ever. Ever."

But then Nell danced in circles with a pink balloon she had gotten at a party earlier in the day while Daddy and Uncle Andrew carried the tree in, and she oohed and ahhed over it, and I nearly forgot all the screaming.

We all survived with the fortitude to tackle the rest of Advent's activities.  Like getting that tree decorated.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent, Days 3 & 4 {and our cocoa recipe}

Our daily Advent activities have continued with a mix of the simple and the even simpler -- although we do have bigger things coming up over the next few days.

Wednesday was an evening cup of cocoa, and when you're 2.5 and you've only ever had cocoa once before in your life, this is no trivial thing.  Especially when served up in your very own little reindeer mug.

First, you have to wait patiently while it cools a bit.  {Pour the toddler's cocoa first so it gets the most cooling time!  But you might miscalculate and it still might be a bit too hot.}

As she finished the last sip, Nell smiled up at me sweetly, contentedly, and said,

"Mommy, do you wemember when I peed in mine underwear?"

Yes, yes, I do.

A special family bonding moment.

* * *

Around here, we do cocoa like this (recipe is for one serving):

1 c. whole milk (is there any other kind?  don't tell me.  in fact, our latest thing is raw milk! yes, really!)
1 T. cocoa powder
1 scant T. organic sugar (I've also done it with coconut sugar and with raw honey, each of which are good in their own right, but different)
a smidgen of vanilla

Serve poured over a cinnamon stick.

Easy proportions to remember.  Easy to double or triple or whatever you need for your family size.  Approved by father, mother, and daughter alike in this family!

What's your cocoa recipe?  Do you use a favorite recipe or a particularly delicious store-bought mix?  Please do tell.

* * *

Today, for the fourth day of December, the little slip of paper in the Advent calendar read, "Today we will do a special Christmas craft together."

This was what I came up with.  Nell sat on my lap as I cut out the felt pieces, eager to pick them up one by one as I worked.

I'm sure I could have done better on a less busy day, with a little more time at my disposal, and hey, maybe even a printed template instead of free-hand cutting.

"A special craft," perhaps it is not.  You won't be seeing this little fella on Pinterest anytime soon, no.

Or then again, maybe "special" is in the eye of the beholder.   The sparkling eyes of a two-and-a-half year old certainly gleamed with excitement as she arranged and re-arranged the little ornaments on her felt Christmas tree today!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

{Playing Catch-Up}: Ree at Five Months

I tried to make up for the fact that I totally forgot to take pictures of Ree at 5 months old by capturing some stellar (?) expressions at 5.5 months, when I suddenly realized how old she was one day.

Oh... she was capable of cute smiles as well as funny expressions, too.

The top of her hair has been growing and growing... sometimes lending what our friend Cara thinks is a "Who-ish" look to our little girl.

"Who are you calling a Dr. Seuss character?!"

By 5.5 months, when I got around to taking pictures, she was sitting up!

And she was grabbing for anything and everything within reach.  And fussing for anything and everything out of reach.

Since she was picking things up and holding them, I remembered that these things called baby toys exist.  And that they were all packed away from when Nell was a baby.  I brought out a basket of them, and they've been a big hit.  Granted, she'd prefer a piece of paper to chew on, but she'll settle for rattles, teeters, and Sophie the giraffe.

The only thing better than an object in hand?  An object in the mouth, of course!

Nell gets a little concerned, saying, "No Muwwee, don't eat it!" at least a dozen times a day.

At five months old, Ree could put herself to sleep a reasonable portion of the time, if swaddled.  Pacifier also appreciated.    Since she was rolling back to front as well as front to back, I freed one arm from her swaddle so she wouldn't find herself face down and helpless.  Unfortunately, the free arm could flail and knock the pacifier (known around here as a "dubduh," an early Nellism) out of her mouth, but she was far from possessing the coordination to put it back in, especially not in a half-asleep and upset state.  I halfway solved this by wrapping her free arm around a stuffed lamb to keep it occupied.  It worked, some of the time.

Nell is quite sweet for the most part when it comes to Marie's nap times.  She can play quietly by herself while I put Ree down, and when we're struggling in the sleep department, Nell is always good to echo some of the things she's heard me say time and time again: "Go to sleep, little pumpkin!" and "Gah-gay ("It's ok") Muwwee, Mommy get you!" being chief among them.

And in case I don't hear (which I always do), the first peep out of Ree and Nell comes running to me: "Oh no! Baby Wee gy-in'! ('cryin')"

Miss Marie, you are lucky to have a big sister to look out for you!

{Mine still looks out for me when I need it, even at 31 years old.  It's not a bad situation at all.}

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent, Day Two

A certain two-and-a-half year old was very excited to open the second door of our Advent calendar this morning when she woke up.

The little slip of paper read: Today we decorate our house for Christmas!

I may have been a bit ambitious to think we could do it all in one evening.  Especially given that Nathan ended up having to work late and couldn't get home to join in the festivities.  But we made a pretty good start to the decorating!

Nell helped put out the Christmas pillows.

Aunt Hannah and Uncle Andrew joined us, and added a dose of Christmas cheer to the happenings with their company!

{Andrew was far more jolly than his expression would indicate.  I promise.}

When I showed Nell the scrapbook Christmas tree wall hanging I made a few years ago, she nearly tripped over her own words with excitement.

"It's a keetmah ("Christmas")... keetmah... keetmah... PIZZA!"   "With a TAH! ("star")"

Andrew pointed out that, as a matter of fact, it is exactly the shape of a slice of pizza.

I have a feeling that paper tree will henceforward be known as the 'Christmas pizza' in this household.

Our trip to Trader Joe's this morning had yielded - along with a wreath for the front door - a sprig of mistletoe.  Once the basic principle had been explained, there was lots of kissing to be done.

Nell and Uncle Andrew.  True love.

After staying up well past her usual bedtime, the final bit of decorating for the evening was carefully placing the porcelain angels up on the mantle one by one.  With a particular appreciation for the angel playing a violin, of course.

Mistaking a tree for a slice of pizza?  That's her Dad coming through in her, clearly.

Knowing the angel with the violin is the best one?  Well, that's all Mama's influence.

* * *

Before tucking her into bed, we looked through one of the nativity books we had gotten out together.  And at one point, Nell looked up at me and said, "Jesus, Mommy, Jesus!  Jesus keep me safe from moths."

In Nell's world right now, that is no small thing at all; perhaps it is the most important thing.  But that is another story for another time.

P.S. No photos of Marie because she slept through the entire evening decorating event.  Next year she promises to be more merry!


I suppose one could and should be thankful any old day of the year, but - cliche though it may be - there is something special about Thanksgiving.

I found myself musing thankful musings all day.  And on Saturday, too, because we celebrated twice!

Thankful for...

Family, of course.

My girlies.

{she got to eat on china dishes for the first time!  accompanied by a frog-footed sippy cup and a fully-body bib, naturally.}

My hard-working husband.

Good food and good wine shared with good friends.

Cranberry pie from Smitten Kitchen.

Nathan's new work situation, and what a huge life-changingly good thing it is for us.

Grace to keep trying again each day.

Assurance that life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful.

That we don't have to have it all to have enough.

That I don't have to be perfect to be enough.


Advent, Day One

Two years ago I snagged a $60 wood advent calendar at JoAnn's for $5, as I recall.  It's missing three little knobs on the doors, and when I asked if they would discount it, the woman working at the register said, "does $5 sound reasonable?"  Um, yes.

{It's still patiently waiting for me to get some new knobs on there!  One of these days...}

This is the first year we're putting our advent calendar to proper use.  Now that Nell is two and a half, she's definitely old enough to get excited about Christmas coming, and to do so many activities with us.

When I was little, my family had a tradition of making a paper chain for December.  Each night, we'd take a link off the chain and read the number telling us how many days were left until Christmas.  We also often had a special activity for the day.

Remember this family tradition, I decided to do something similar for our advent this year.  I have heard that some people put candies in each box, but we're not big on giving sweets to littles around here {okay, Nathan probably would be, but I'm not, anyway!} and the last thing anyone needs around the holidays is extra chocolate, so I decided on slips of paper, instead.

Each day's door has a slip of paper behind it which Nell will get to take out.  When we read it to her, it'll reveal the day's special activity.  Some of them are the big ones, like getting a tree or going to a service of Lessons and Carols, and others are little things like a craft project, an advent-themed book we'll get out and read, or a cup of homemade cocoa one evening.

Day One was simple: Start listening to Christmas music.  Set up the advent wreath.

Actually, we should have done this on the first Sunday of Advent, which came a day before December began this year.  But with Nathan's 12-hour work day on Sunday, I usually have the kids fed and ready for bed before he ever gets home, so we transferred it to December 1 so we could do it as a family.

Nell is super excited about "Advuhnent."  I am, too!  Stay tuned for more of our advent activities around here.