Easter Fun

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For the last couple of years we’ve spent Easter morning with friends, complete with an egg hunt for our kids and a handful of others in a park near their home. I knew that we would miss that this year, and honestly we didn’t have much in the way of plans until some things fell into place at the last minute. It turned out to be a surprisingly lovely holiday weekend, both because the rain we’d expected turned into beautiful weather both days, and because we squeezed in plenty of Easter activities with people we love.

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On Saturday morning we dyed eggs with the kids, the kind of craft project I always visualize idyllically, but which always ends up somewhat marred by my anxiety and control-freak tendencies. It’s not that I really care what their eggs end up looking like (OK, I sort of do, but only in that I want them to stay in the dye long enough to have visible color and to end up with a variety by the end). This is actually the first year Jude and Vivi have dyed eggs. I’d forgotten that last year we did it while they were asleep (good move). They totally enjoyed it, but Jude really wanted to dunk his eggs aggressively, splashing dye everywhere, and Vivi wanted to dunk her hands in the dye because she’s really into hand-print art lately. We did end up spilling an entire cup of yellow dye on the wood floor (no stain, fortunately), and Jude did manage to stain a chair seat (our mistake for not putting him on a metal stool), and I was way less relaxed than I’d hoped to be, but I do think that they all had fun.

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One of K’s colleagues also gave the kids a set of foam eggs with stickers to decorate, so we also did a little bit of that before nap time.

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Some good friends invited us over for dinner and an egg hunt that evening, which was perfect because the weather was gorgeous and they have the most incredible yard for an egg hunt. The kids had a blast.

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We left much later than we’d planned, well after the sun had set, but the kids were still going strong out in the yard. Vivi and her friend Kate were busy building a tiny house out of sticks and mud, and she was not happy to leave her project to head home. I told Kristin that it’s exactly the sort of childhood I want them to have: out playing in nature for as long as we’ll let them. I’m so glad they have that now.

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On Easter Sunday we started the day with Easter baskets filled with tiny toys they seemed thrilled with, and drove out to Canton to have lunch with K’s family. I’d been dreading more time in the car, not yet having fully recovered from the drive back from Charleston last weekend, but I’m glad that we went. It was important to K and the kids had fun with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

We have way more candy in the house than we ought to, and it took the kids hours to fall asleep tonight surely due in part to all of the jellybeans and marshmallows their grandmother fed to them this afternoon (well, that and the car nap on the way home). But I’m trying to let that all go and be thankful for their delight.

Valentine craftiness

 

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I have to admit, a couple of weeks ago when I began to wonder whether the kids’ preschool would suggest that they bring and exchange valentine cards, I was feeling a little bit grinchy about it. I pictured the entire classroom buying boxes of character cards and handing them out completely at random (since none of the kids can really read or write anyway). It felt completely devoid of any sentiment, and for some reason I tend to be really character-averse when it comes to things like…well, almost anything really, but mostly things like clothing, backpacks or other items that aren’t specifically a toy that allows some imaginary play; it feels like free advertising. We have a billion Octonauts toys (see our most recent Halloween for evidence of my own hypocrisy), so it’s not as if we don’t do characters at all, but I’ve never loved those valentines. I was sort of hoping to skip it, but then a blogger I enjoy posted something on Instagram about her plans to do all sorts of fun, over-the-top things throughout the month of February, and I realized that there was joy to be found if I made some effort. Not everything has to be so utilitarian, and sometimes I need a reminder. So what if exchanging Valentines doesn’t do anything; it’s a reason to do crafts and bake cookies.

I spent Thursday night, all day Friday, and all day Saturday at a super intense anti-racism workshop (which was powerful and necessary and gave me a lot of hope for Kalamazoo because of all of the wonderful people representing local organizations who were there making commitments to real change) and knowing that I was losing a lot of precious weekend time with the kids made me want to pack even more special moments into Sunday. Now before you start down the “I’m not a Pinterest mom…” or “I wish I could do things like this with my kids…” path, know that at one point early in the day, Kristin stopped me and gently asked “Is this the most relaxing way for you to spend the day?” which was a poorly disguised way of saying “This seems to be causing you a great deal of stress, do we need to do this?” But it was important to me, and by then I was committed and nothing was going to get me to back down. She later apologized for calling me out and pointed out that she did observe many moments of real joy. I’m still glad that we did it.

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We didn’t attempt one of those adorable, candy/valentine combos that usually involves some sort of clever play on words. I just bought a crapload (it was actually a “party platter” if you must know) of foam hearts and a bunch of additional stickers, along with some markers and glue sticks. It was WAY more than we needed, but the kids were honestly really into it! So I’m glad we had extras.

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Even after we took a break to bake cookies Vivi said that she wanted to do more art, and went back for more.

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The wardrobe change is because it was post-cookie-mess, and they were completely covered in flour.

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It’s so funny and wonderful, Jonah is at this age now where he takes on crafts and activities with so much more independence than ever before. He was just cranking through the valentines totally on his own, and the same was true for the cookies. While Jude just wanted to roll everything flat and poke a variety of toy kitchen implements into the dough, Jonah was busy cutting out hearts and dutifully carrying them over to the cookie sheets. Vivi actually tends to be the same way which is somewhat surprising given the age difference, but her over-the-top independent streak is probably the explanation.

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It was so cute watching them watch the cookies bake. They could hardly wait.

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Unfortunately the afternoon got away from us and K and I ended up doing all of the decorating solo after the kids were asleep, but I did decorate one for Jonah before he went off to bed and we saved a few more for tomorrow. The rest are going to the kids’ teachers because I cannot have this many butter-frosted sugar cookies in the house or I’ll eat myself sick.

Feeling the end of the holidays

Today is the final day of our holiday week (really ten days) at home together as a family, and I’m feeling a bit sad about it. Another mom in my Facebook mom group mentioned recently that she’d foolishly forgotten how un-relaxing it is to have a vacation at home with three children, and while I don’t disagree, I really love having this time with them and wouldn’t trade it. Kristin is off for two weeks in this school district, so she actually has this whole week off as well (so I imagine she will get some recuperation time) and I took tomorrow off so that she and I could have one day together, but the kids return to school tomorrow. Their school was actually open for most of last week, so we could have sent them Tuesday through Friday if we’d chosen to. We knew that we would pay for the days either way, but we chose to keep them home because we both remembered the excitement of holiday breaks at home with family, and wanted to share that with them.

Originally we’d planned to get out of the house a whole lot more than we did, but never-ending illness really put a crimp in our intentions (I can’t call them plans really, since we only talked about all of the places we might go). The pink eye that showed up on Christmas day made its way through the house until we ended up at urgent care on New Year’s day. The cold that we all had a couple of weeks ago seemed to return for both K and I, and in spurts for the kids, and I ended up with a painful ear infection that almost had me driving myself to the ER on NYE. As a result, we ended up with almost zero social interactions, save for a couple of drop-bys earlier in the week, and we decided that it was best to quarantine ourselves at home for the most part. Thankfully the kids had new toys to amuse themselves, and there’s always the bounce house in the great room to burn off some energy. While a part of me wishes that we’d done more novel things, another part of me knows that sometimes all the kids want is to play at home and have our attention.

This morning I checked the weather and told Kristin that we really ought to get outside in the morning because it was going to rain in the afternoon, and suggested a walk at The Nature Center. We got everyone dressed and headed out (a pretty significant drive considering it’s Kalamazoo) only to realize when we arrived that we’d forgotten to bring the twins’ coats. Since we don’t let the kids wear puffy coats in their car seats, it’s actually somewhat astonishing that this is the first time we’ve forgotten them. I was super bummed, but K was optimistic and felt that we’d dressed them warm enough (since they were both layered on top and had snowpants on the bottom) to give it a go. We gave them our scarves and off we went.

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It wasn’t a long hike, but we foolishly failed to consider the fact that Jonah had a crappy breakfast of two orange rolls and nothing else (our kids are all huge breakfast eaters, but Jonah slept late and then we decided to head out without a more significant meal) and was probably starving by the time we got going. He cried and yelled almost the entire walk, and I can’t even remember why at this point. The photo above was pre-meltdown.

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I think that one of the reasons I find this post-holiday period to be so emotionally challenging is because I spend so much time looking forward to Christmas, and when it’s over there are fewer traditions to fall back on and just a lot of cold, grey weather and the usual grind. I usually get through the transition by finding something else to look forward to on the horizon, and much of the time that’s some sort of spring break trip. This year we’re planning to drive down to Charleston to visit my parents and my sister and brother and law and their kids, and I love seeing the cousins together so I’m certainly looking forward to that. I don’t want to give up on the months in between like I may have in the past, however. I’m curious to know what others do in order to get through the winter once the holidays have passed.

Christmas is here!

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It really is the most wonderful time of the year. We’ve been looking forward to Christmas in this house for so long, and it did not disappoint. With my parents down in Charleston with my sister and her family for Christmas, we knew that it would be a very quiet day for us (well, quiet for a family-of-five Christmas). A few friends mentioned that they might stop by later on, but we knew that the morning was ours alone and we were actually looking forward to it. There’s something lovely about having no one else to coordinate or compromise with when it comes to the plan and how the day unfolds. We made sure to pull together the Christmas morning breakfast that’s become an important family tradition, even if we were going to be on our own: peaches & cream french toast (my mom’s specialty that K looks forward to all year long), grits with cheese and Cholula, scrambled eggs, sausage and soy bacon.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would wake up well before dawn and urge my parents out of bed, they would head downstairs first to plug in the tree and make some coffee while we waited at the top of the stairs for the go-ahead to rush down and see what Santa had brought. I know that there are many ways of doing Christmas morning, but in our house the gifts Santa brought were in stockings or on the hearth and were unwrapped, and everything under the tree and wrapped was from someone else (our parents, pets, etc.). Many of those gifts were already under the tree well before Christmas. I found out from Kristin only a few days ago that all of the gifts they received were from Santa, and all were wrapped and appeared only on Christmas morning. It became a point of contention when I started to wrap gifts and place them under the tree a few days ago, so we had to hash out how our own family’s tradition was going to unfold. To be honest, I’ve also had lots of complicated feelings about Santa, largely because I want Christmas magic to come from lots of places for our kids and not have it all in that singular person and event (and in receiving gifts – Jonah already says that his favorite thing about Christmas is getting lots of toys). So this season I’ve tried hard to actively remind him to notice lots of other special things about the holiday season, and I’ve been telling him that those are MY favorite things about Christmas. It seems to have a tiny effect so I’ll keep trying. At any rate, peer influence is powerful and this year he’s been more interested in Santa than ever, so we’ve embraced it and he was excited to put cookies out on Christmas Eve. I’m not really capable of half-assing something with meaning, even if I’m ambivalent about some of the details, so I was fully committed to it this year.

My parents usually have a big Christmas Eve party and we’ve been doing that for years, but with them out of town we had to come up with an agenda. To make Christmas Eve feel special and not like any ordinary Saturday night, we decided to go to church. This is not something we ever do. I told Jonah about it a week or so ago and he said “Oh church. That’s a really big building that can fit lots of people. What’s a church?” I told him that it’s a place people go to talk about the Bible, which is a book about God and Jesus. He replied “Oh, Jesus. She’s the baby, isn’t she?” The service was really sweet, lots of very brief Christmas hymns, a brief cute and funny sermon for the kids, and cupcakes and a round of Happy Birthday for Jesus. We ran into some friends there and they introduced us to their pastor and a few other members of the congregation, which was really nice. After the service Jonah somehow found the toddler room full of toys, and as I was putting him to bed later on, he said “Hey, maybe some Sunday we could go back to that church, but instead of the singing part we could just do the playing part.” I told him that the singing part was kind of the whole point of going to church, and he said that he didn’t care for the singing part. At least he found something he liked.

On the drive home we drove through the older part of our neighborhood, where luminaries along the road are apparently a Christmas tradition. Nearly every single house for blocks and blocks had them out front, with real candles. It was truly beautiful. Kristin and I talked about how there’s something really special when that many families decide that they’re willing to go out in the cold after the sun goes down to set these up and light them, just to make the world more beautiful for the people who will pass by. Sure, some of it is tradition and neighborhood pressure I’m sure, and some might be from a sense of specialness worth flaunting (it’s the “good” part of the neighborhood), but I truly believe that at Christmas there’s a good bit of willingness to make your little plot of land more beautiful for those who may see it, and that’s so magical to me.

K and I were up ridiculously late last night (2 a.m. to be specific) preparing for the day, including some Ikea assembly that we both could have done without. At 1:30a.m. when you’re almost finished and getting super excited, the last thing you want to discover is that you’ve put the 2nd or 3rd piece in upside down. Some disassembly and reassembly later, the crisis was averted and we were off to bed. I was curious to see what time the kids would get us up, since this is the first year Jonah was truly excited and knew what to expect in the morning. At some point he climbed into bed with me (Kristin had shuffled into Vivi’s room) and asked me if it was morning. Without even looking at the time I said “no, not yet” and insisted he go back to sleep. At four he’s young enough to be OK with that, which was a much needed Christmas miracle. He finally asked me again if it was morning at 7:30 and I told him that yes, it was. I had him go wake Kristin and the twins and we all made our way into the living room.

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Jude and Vivienne were super excited about the toy kitchen, and spent a lot of time there today. That fiasco was totally worth it, even if they pulled the faucet out within the first 20 minutes. Vivi was initially disappointed that water didn’t come out and asked us repeatedly to turn it on. Maybe that’s why she removed it, who knows.

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The kids also got a teepee from Santa, which they all enjoyed. A friend who stopped over today mentioned that we seemed to choose a lot of “classic” toys, and I suppose in some ways that is our style. We almost managed to avoid batteries this year, with the exception of one flashlight and a small backhoe loader that makes engine noises (a specific request from Jonah to Santa to replace an old one that had broken). We certainly can’t claim to be minimalist in any way, however, and there’s nothing Montessori or Waldorf about our playroom. We just tend to love those toys and love to see the kids using their imaginations and creativity.

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If we struck out at all, I think that it was with Jonah. Along those same classic toy lines, we got him a marble run, which he loved and wanted to open and play with immediately in lieu of opening more gifts, which was amazing. That said, it was really the only gift he received today that he got to play with, whereas Vivi and Jude simply ended up with a lot more stuff that they were actively engaged with throughout the day. It’s not that we make any effort to keep Christmas small; in fact I come from a family that went WAY overboard on gifts every year, and it’s hard to break that cycle when it’s been passed down with such passion and love and enthusiasm.

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The problem is that we have SO many toys already, and 90% of those belong to Jonah. Sure, we insist on sharing, but when we’re thinking about gifts we often think “maybe Vivi and Jude should have their own…” or maybe it’s just that they’re interested in their own unique things now and Jonah’s interests haven’t changed a ton over the last year, so there’s space for Vivi and Jude to add new creative toys, but Jonah has all of the Legos and Magformers and construction vehicles that he could ever possibly need. Plus he has a Thanksgiving birthday, so when it came time to pick out Christmas gifts, we didn’t c0me up with much. That, and when his grandparents and aunts and uncles on Kristin’s side asked for suggestions, we gave them most of the ideas that we had (and those gifts aren’t being exchanged until tomorrow). So he’ll be receiving more things to play with, but Christmas morning is a big deal, and I’m not sure it was everything he hoped for.

He actually got a couple of other super cool gifts, a sit on digger for the sandbox (which we don’t have yet, and which it’s far too snowy for right now) and a bouncy house (!) from my sister, which was a collective gift for all three kids. We seriously considered blowing it up in the great room today but never did; every time we thought about it the kids were engaged with something else and we didn’t want to interrupt them to change gears, and by the time they were bored Jonah wasn’t feeling well. Did I mention he seems to have come down with conjunctivitis today? Double bummer. That means that he’ll miss K’s family Christmas party tomorrow (along with me) which really bums me out, for him more than anything else, but also because I really wanted to be together.

I know that he’ll love those two gifts once the weather is right to use them in the yard, but it’s tough to wait on those things. Kind of like getting a bike for Christmas in this sort of weather, which reminds me of another example of “Maybe the twins should have their own…” They got scooters from my parents since Jonah has a scooter and they’re always trying to snatch it. We didn’t even realize that the same company has a version that converts from a ride-on to a standing scooter, and Jude and Vivienne LOVE them.

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I don’t really have a good picture of the ride-on version, but V is sitting on hers in the very back of that shot. There’s even a storage compartment under the seat that came in rather handy since Jude needed to scoot while carrying baby, and once we converted his to the seat they both popped their babies underneath.

One of the highlights for both K and I was seeing Jude open that babydoll. Vivi has a baby that she adopted from Jonah’s toys; it was a gift he received from a friend on his first birthday and he never really took to it. She loves it to pieces and takes it everywhere. Jude never really had a baby, but this summer he inherited an old Cabbage Patch doll of mine which went lots of places with us, but it was in shabby shape and was really too large for him to carry around comfortably. We knew that he needed his very own baby for Christmas, and I think this moment made our day. I honestly didn’t even catch this kiss until I was going through the photos, and despite the fact that it’s out of focus, it’s the photo that makes me melt.

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Last night, as Kristin and I were finally drifting off to sleep, we talked about how different Christmas feels when the magic is entirely up to you. It’s more work, of course, but it’s also kind of special. We felt like we were a team with a mission to do something really magical for our kids, and it felt wonderful. Last night as I looked around at the living room after wrapping and what not, I said to Kristin that maybe we’d overdone it. They just didn’t need this many new things. But this morning, seeing their excitement and joy made it all feel just right; maybe that’s why it’s so easy to go overboard. Christmas really is better when you have kids of your own. Kristin said it was the best Christmas she’s had in decades, and I might have to agree.

 

New Traditions & Snowy Day Magic

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We had the most beautiful snowstorm this past weekend. One of the most magical things about being in our new home is having the opportunity to really notice and appreciate how it looks and feels at different times of day, in different seasons, and different weather. Seeing how our backyard looks when it’s covered in snow has been such a wonderful discovery. For some reason (which I’m sure has a simple “what they eat grows in your yard” explanation that we have yet to look up), we have lots of bluejays and cardinals in our yard. There’s a Mary Oliver poem that Kristin loves, from a book by the same name, called Red Bird. I feel like we now understand the inspiration for that poem. We love to point the cardinals out to the kids and they seem just as eager to stand at the window and look for them, bright red in the snow-covered bushes.

Friday night Jonah and I went to the store to buy sleds, and Saturday morning we went out front to play in the snow. Our street seems to be low on the city plowing priority list, which was actually convenient because we were able to pull the kids up and down the street in the sled.

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Jonah loves it, and also loves helping us to shovel the driveway. Vivi quickly learned to love the sled as well because it kept her out of the snow. This is how she felt about actually being in the snow.

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Jude tolerated the first ride or two, but then decided that the sled really wasn’t his thing. He preferred to stand around with a bucket and shovel and sort of poke at the snow.

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I also just love cozy, indoor fun while it’s snowy outside. While the twins napped after playing outdoors, Jonah played with trains in the great room. There’s nothing like PJ pants and a ski sweater to keep you toasty.

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I also decided that this year I wanted to start a Christmas cookies tradition with the kids. Can you believe I’ve NEVER done this? I mean yes, I’ve made cookies. But I’m fairly certain that I’ve never made rolled cookies before. We’ve had cookie cutters lying around, but they’ve always ended up in the play doh bin. I went out with Jonah and Vivi and we bought a rolling pin (never owned one!) and a ten-pack of holiday themed cookie cutters, some sprinkles, food dye (I know, but I wasn’t going to do turmeric and beet flavored icing), and all of the ingredients for sugar cookies. We did it over two days because we got a late start with the dough and baking, but I’m so glad we did it.

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Vivi was out-of-sorts, so I was wearing her while we made the dough. She got involved later for the rolling and cutting portion, however.

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Once they learned that you can eat raw cookie dough it was all over. We pretty much had to cut their involvement in that stage short once Vivi started putting handfuls of dough into her mouth.

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Kristin and I did some decorating on Sunday night after the kids went to bed, but we saved a whole bunch for the kids to do, and because they ended up with a snow day on Monday (and I took the day off to join them) we were able to decorate then.

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Vivi stuck with it the longest (although Jude was pretty into the sprinkling as well). She just loves art so much, I think she really took it seriously.

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On our snow day I also took Jonah shopping for families in need. We didn’t have a very solid list of needs on this particular trip because I’d crowd sourced and come up a little confused, but we have a few organizers in mind with whom we can drop things off, so we had a loose sense of what might be useful. I’d talked to Jonah in advance about choosing gifts for families that might not have any on Christmas, and for people who didn’t have basic needs met. He was totally into it. He was SO SLOW in the toy aisle, and I kept telling him that he needed to choose his gift and reminding him that it wasn’t for him, and he kept saying “I am choosing my gift, I’m just thinking about what I want to pick.” He was super thoughtful about it and finally chose two large trucks. I picked up a doll (and am shocked and disappointed by the whiteness of the doll selection at two different stores – it was eye-opening and just reinforced my unwavering commitment to buying brown-skinned dolls from now on), some building blocks, three winter coats, and three backpacks. Jonah was really into it which made me so happy. In the clothing section he kept saying things like “We could buy underwear for people who don’t have underwear. We could buy snow pants for people who don’t have snow pants.” I felt like he was getting it, and I was thrilled.

It felt like a really long weekend full of good-quality Christmas fun. I’m excited that it’s only mid-December and that we still have two more weeks to enjoy this! Hopefully we can think of a few more fun things to throw into the mix.

In search of holiday magic

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Once we knew that we were buying this house but had a long wait before we would actually arrive here, I began to set my sights on the holidays in order to get through the agony of waiting. Halloween was really my first light at the end of the tunnel, but we didn’t end up moving in by then. So then it became Christmas (because we’ve never really done a whole lot for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t magical enough for me to focus on), and the idea of getting our first Christmas tree in our very own home was absolutely magical. I couldn’t wait, so when Thanksgiving rolled around I told Kristin that we were definitely getting our tree that Friday.

When I was a kid, my parents tell me that Halloween was my favorite holiday, but I also had a whole lot of enthusiasm for Christmas. I remember keeping my parents’ Christmas CDs in my room and listening to them every night when I went to bed throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. We always put those fake plastic candles in the windows, and I loved mine so much (I had three windows in my bedroom growing up, and my room faced the street) that I’m pretty sure I kept them in my room year-round. My sister and I would barely sleep on Christmas eve and we would wake my parents at ungodly hours in the morning, ready to see what Santa had brought us. Honestly I think that my parents loved it just as much. They always went way overboard with gifts and loved seeing our excitement.

Here’s what I find tough about the holidays though. That sense of magic from your youth, you don’t forget it, and every year I look forward to it. But when you’re an adult it’s never exactly the same, so something is lost and that always makes me a little bit sad and a little bit panicky. I find myself hoping to feel the same things – no, not the desire for lots of stuff (and maybe that’s part of the problem: as a kid getting stuff was a huge part of the mystery and magic and as an adult I’ve developed an aversion to getting a huge amount of new “stuff” in one swoop, because that means I have to find places for all of that stuff, and that makes me twitchy) but just that sense of holiday magic and wonder and beauty. And sometimes I find it! There is magic out there to be found, but I also find myself trying to force the magic to happen, and to do it quickly before it’s too late, and that ends up causing anxiety. It makes me think a little bit of my friend Jodi’s writing on happiness projects and also of this article that I find to be so resonant, about the impossibility of scheduling and forcing quality time with your extended family.

So here I am, at the start of the Christmas season in our new home in our new town and trying to find new holiday traditions for our family that will infuse the month with some of that elusive magic. When we set out to get a tree, I’d heard that Costco had affordable Frasier Firs, so we drove out that way only to discover that it was no more than a dark semi-trailer in a parking lot full of pre-wrapped trees that they wouldn’t open for you. Now, to be fair, my memories of getting a tree as a kid involved parking lots, and my dad confirmed just the other day that we usually got our tree from the Kmart parking lot, but I still remember going to a tree lot and selecting the perfect tree. It was more than a semi-trailer, so without even getting out of the van, Kristin declared that we needed more of an experience and I couldn’t agree more, so we drove way across town in the other direction to Gull Meadow Farms (the same place from our fall fun post). It was lovely – lots of twinkling lights out front, and a greenhouse full of beautiful, good-smelling trees to choose from. Without having measured our ceiling height I told K that I thought a 6′ tree was probably sufficient, but she wasn’t willing to go small. “We aren’t in a NY apartment anymore”, she declared, “and I don’t want a tiny NY apartment tree.” So we went with the 7′-8′ category and hoped it would fit. Once we got it into the stand it just barely fit, and it felt like it was meant to be.

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Once I picked up some stocking hooks I also hung up our stockings (something we never actually did in New York because we didn’t have a fireplace, and the last Christmas we spent there Jonah was young enough that he didn’t really know about stockings so we didn’t bother coming up with a solution). We also wanted to wait until the twins were born so that we could order a matching set with everyone’s names on them, so we did that last year and used them at my parents’ house when we were there for Christmas. We LOVE these stockings, which came from Etsy. The seller also makes ridiculously adorable bonnets (we have some for the twins).

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We made a million trips to Lowe’s to buy lights to put on our bushes outside, because I’ve always wanted a house so that we could do that. I say a million trips because I grossly underestimated the number of lights we would need for these two bushes out front, and kept having to go back for more. I also made the amateur mistake of buying the “net style” lights for bushes, assuming that I’d just kind of lay them on top and voila! Instant Christmas magic! Not so; don’t do it, just buy the strings.

Last night we took the kids downtown because it was an Art Hop night and while we don’t really ever see any art when we do that with the kids, I knew that Bronson Park would be decorated and I wanted to go see it as a family. It may not be the most incredible light display out there, but it’s our park and it made me really happy to take the kids. K promised Jonah hot cocoa with marshmallows once we got home, so we didn’t stay out long. The twins went to bed and Jonah enjoyed his cocoa, and I felt good about our night and knew in that moment that most of the time it’s about the small stuff. But how to find all of the small stuff?

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So I’m still searching for holiday traditions that we can begin and continue each year: places we can go, the best Christmas houses to drive past, activities we can do together, beauty I can help them to appreciate. I want Christmastime to have magic for the kids not only now, but throughout their lives. In my mind that means that I need to teach them now that the magic is in lots of things, not just in the presents. When I began to lose enthusiasm for getting lots of presents, some of the anticipation and magic vanished for me, and I don’t want that to happen for our kids. So I’m inviting ideas and suggestions and would love to hear about any traditions that you’ve enjoyed either now or in the past, and I’ll keep you posted on what we try. Happy holiday season!

The Kids at Christmas, 2016

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I mentioned in my last post that I was getting our Christmas cards ready to send out. They’re out in the world, and while I’ve definitely been doing some writing in recent months, I haven’t written an actual Christmas letter in quite awhile. I always love receiving them, but for some reason I haven’t been writing or sending them. One of the things that everyone seems to do in the Christmas letter is to give an update on everyone in the family and it made me wonder what I would write about each of our children right now. When I started this blog, I hoped to do a better job of recording who the kids were and what they were up to at different moments in time. But I’ve been so busy documenting our move and the house that I haven’t said very much about who they are. So here we go, a brief snapshot.

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Jonah just turned four on Thanksgiving. Despite all of the times that I expect too much of him and he acts his age, refuses to listen, is stubborn and defiant, I still feel like he’s growing up far too quickly. He’s so tall, and the day he turned four he told us repeatedly that he’s bigger and stronger and insisted on doing things like carrying his birthday cake from the car to Grandma Sue & Grandpa Pat’s house, “because I’m four now and I’m strong.” He loves books and loves being read to. His teacher told me that in one of the first weeks of school, she was reading a story and almost all of the other kids were talking or doing other things and he said to her with surprise, “I’m the only one listening!”. He loves to build things, loves trucks and machines and seeing how things work, and still loves digging in the sand (it’s consistently his favorite part of his day). He’s doing great with the potty now, and really only has accidents at school after nap when he’s been sleeping a very long time.  He doesn’t show much interest in art or in learning to write (one of the downfalls of a Montessori-based school is that he can choose never to do these things if he wants). He likes music, but mostly just in the car and at home, and seems to be lukewarm about music class at school (an administrator told me that he’s mentioned that he feels his music class is for babies – he’s with the 2 & 3 year olds and most of his friends are in the 4s group). He has two very good friends at school, boys he plays with daily, and it feels to us like he’s found his tribe. We’re having them over next weekend to celebrate his birthday and we’re excited to get to know them better.

If I’m being completely honest, he’s wonderful but also super challenging. Most of the time we feel like asking him to do almost anything is a battle. He’s the most strong-willed person I know, and things go from zero to totally explosive in just a few seconds. He’s super smart (they recently gave him a test at school because of a study the school is participating in, and his “age equivalency” the average age of other test takers who scored like he did, ranged from 5.7 to 6.9 depending on subject), but has a lot of trouble with self-regulation and not getting ridiculously upset if he doesn’t get his way. If someone does something he doesn’t like or even just misunderstands him, he loses it. He’s super grouchy in the mornings, often refuses to acknowledge or greet anyone. He’s basically a teenager in a four-year-old’s body.

That said, he can be so charming and so sweet; he has incredible empathy. If I’m upset for some reason (stress, frustration, who knows…) and I’m crying, he’ll always come over to me and say “It’s OK Mama D, I’ll take care of you” and pet my head and hug me with absolute sincerity. Last night he refused to stop playing with a box of fragile Christmas ornaments and dropped it, and it sounded as if some things had broken. I was very upset and he laughed at me, which was WAY more upsetting than the fact that he’d dropped them. I basically told him that it was monstrous to laugh at someone when they’re sad or upset because you’ve hurt them or upset them, and walked away from him. He sat on a stool across the room from me while I ignored him, and about a minute later, on his own, he said “I’m sorry Mama D. Can I give you a hug?” I was blown away by his awareness and his desire to make amends. Usually we have to force him to tell people that he’s sorry. He’s still a cuddle bug, loves to sit in my lap and needs to have me cuddle him to sleep at night.

I worry a lot that we’re making all kinds of mistakes with him. Children absorb everything; they learn so much from what we say and do and I often feel that we choose the wrong battles, we yell way too much, and his explosiveness is probably directly correlated with our explosiveness. Despite the fact that I know better intellectually, I really take his disrespect personally and let it get to me. I have a lot of work to do and really want to be a better mama. I know that so much of what we see in him comes from what we model for him.

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Vivienne and Jude are 22 months now, and are at a pretty adorable age. While we’re seeing the beginning of the terrible twos in certain moments (they both say “no way!” when we ask them to do things because they’ve learned it from Jonah), this stage of development seems impossibly charming and cute compared to their threenager big brother. That said, I have to acknowledge that I love Jonah’s independence these days. It’s amazing to know that (in most cases) if I want to bring him along for some errand I’m running, he’ll be fine and trustworthy and will make the errand more enjoyable because he’s good company. I can leave him alone to play for ages and not worry about him. There’s less risk that he’ll do something outrageously dangerous or destructive. The twins are still in that toddler phase when you just don’t know what’s going to happen, and if things get quiet you know to worry. When the three of them are alone together they can be trouble, but I love that they love one another and enjoy playing together enough to get into trouble. Jonah loves making them laugh, which can lead to him making bad decisions and modeling bad behavior for them, so that’s less amusing. They think that he is everything, which is really sweet to see.

Vivienne is super sassy. Teachers at school adore the twins, but in particular we get lots of funny stories about Vivi because of her sass. She loves shoes and hats, insists on putting on her boots first thing in the morning, and loves to wear sunglasses. She’s absurdly independent and wants to go up and down stairs without help, won’t let us help her to put on her boots (the other morning when I tried to help her, she put her hand on my chest and said firmly, “No Mama D”). She wants to put her own coat on just like Jonah (flipping it over her head). She has so little hair, but she loves it when the teachers put it in a tiny ponytail. She loves books, loves being read to, and feels a great sense of injustice if Jonah is getting a book before bed but she isn’t. She insists on joining in. She also loves playing pretend – she loves baby dolls, loves the toy kitchen at school (we’re getting one for Christmas now that we finally have the space), will offer people pretend food and tell me when her baby is napping. She’s also fiercely determined to do things even when challenged. She’s spent many an hour at school outdoors trying to ride a trike on which her feet do not reach the pedals, but the teachers tell me she is undeterred and just keeps trying. Unlike Jonah she LOVES art! For some reason she says something that sounds like “lellow” (rhymes with yellow) when she wants to color, and color she does. She will go through page after page of blank paper. She used to do big dramatic scribbles, mostly in a circular motion, carefully choosing just a few colors that all seemed to work beautifully together on each page. But recently they taught her to spell her name at school. If you ask her to spell it, she’ll shout “V-I-V-I”. What’s funny is that Jude also says that when you ask how to spell his name. Once she learned that, her artwork turned to attempts to write her name. She does tiny scribbles now, like handwriting, over and over again and will sometimes quietly say “v-i-v-i” as she draws/writes. Despite her independence she can also be clingy – when tired she wants to be held all the time, and sometimes even when she isn’t tired. She’s affectionate and gives wonderful hugs and kisses, and loves to bury her head into my neck. She LOVES music. As soon as we get into the car she shouts “I want songs!” and usually requests one. It’s often Baa Baa Black Sheep or the Muppets Mahna Mahna. She sings along to most of the songs on the Raffi album we listen to in the car. And if she doesn’t like the song we’re playing she objects loudly and continuously until it’s been changed. She’s such a firecracker, such a huge personality, and she’s super fun and super amusing to have around. She does have quite a temper, and is probably just as strong-willed as Jonah, but at this point her small size and huge personality make it cute enough that even when she’s furious we often look at each other and giggle. I know that’s terrible and that we probably need to reign things in now before she’s 12 and it’s uncontrollable, but for now I’m enjoying her spark.

Jude is so easy going, so laid back, and just so happy-go-lucky. He’s sensitive, cries easily when knocked over (for example), but never seems to get very angry. Every once in awhile when he’s thwarted we can see the two-year-old approaching, but for the most part he’s either just happy or briefly sad. He’s the one of the three who is that stereotypical toddler who is always touching or getting into things that he shouldn’t: dirty things, dangerous things, electrical things, anything with buttons or switches, whatever it may be. He is always interested and always where he shouldn’t be. He likes a lot of the things Jonah likes: cars, blocks, playing in the dirt, but he’s also much more into playing pretend than Jonah ever was. He likes baby dolls (less than Vivi, but enough) and the toy kitchen at school. He loves slides, bouncy things, and ride-on toys. He and Vivi both love climbing on things (they have a climber at school) but Vivi has always been the more advanced climber (he’s also heavier and generally less nimble). He’s a total cuddle bug, loves to be held and cuddled all the time and has his two fingers in his mouth most of the time. He likes books now (he didn’t when he was younger) and will ask for them, but mostly likes the ones with things that move/flaps that open, and will often wander away mid-book if it’s one without. He doesn’t show much interest in art, but loves to sing and listen to music and will dance easily. He and Vivi both love animals – they love to spot them from our windows or when we’re out and about, and Jude will say “meow meow” or “woof woof” in the cutest voice. He has such an adorable giggle and is a super easy crowd. It seems like he’s smiling about 97% of the time. Both Jude and Vivi love to play games with people – the sort of thing where a pattern of you-do-this then I-do-that repeats itself over and over and they can predict what will happen and just laugh and laugh. Oh, and if Jude is playing with something and it’s time for bed he’ll often object, until I say “say night night to the balloon (for example)” and suddenly he’s fine and saying “bye bye balloon!”

I feel badly that Jude’s paragraph is so short compared to our other two, but the truth is that he’s the least complicated of the three. I knew it would shake out that way before I wrote a single word about any of them. They’re so unique and interesting and fun in combination with one another. I’m excited to see how they continue to grow, how their interests evolve, and who they all become. I also wish that they would all slow down a little. Last night I tucked in sleeping Jonah before I went to bed and marveled at how big he looks, especially in bed. There’s something about seeing them completely still that accentuates their growth for me. I need them to stay little for awhile longer, it all just moves too quickly.

*all photos in this post by http://jesmilephotography.com/

 

 

Octonauts Halloween!

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I love Halloween. When I was a kid it was my absolute favorite holiday. My mom made all of our costumes and my dad always took us trick-or-treating. We lived in a wonderful Halloween neighborhood; there were kids everywhere and people drove in from other parts of town. We would stay out as late as there were porch lights on, and my dad always wanted to cover just one more block before calling it a night. I got a little bit sad when I realized that I was starting to get too old to trick-or-treat (not because it was uncool, but because lots of people seemed to frown on teens coming to their doors), so that first year that I stayed home we decked the front yard out in a graveyard with spooky lights and music and I sat under a pine tree in a witches costume to hand out candy. It was awesome.

When I became a mom I was determined to continue the homemade costume tradition, even though every year I get in a little over my head and end up in tears at least once from the pressure that I put on myself to get it just right. This year Jonah is really into the show Octonauts, and he wanted to be Captain Barnacles (“the boss” according to Jonah). Since it was a hit last year we decided we’d keep all three kids on theme (I’m sure they won’t be into that forever, so may as well do it while we can). Originally Jonah suggested that both Jude and Vivi should be vegimals but it was tough to find costume ideas on Pinterest. We ultimately decided that one of them ought to be something simpler, so Jude became Peso the medic penguin and Vivi was Tunip, the only vegimal in our crew.

There were lots of pictures of good Captain Barnacles costumes on Pinterest, and even though Jonah and Jude each started with a sweatsuit, there was a surprising amount of work involved.

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I struggled quite a bit with the collar shape. For some reason I could not figure out what shape to cut in order to get it to lay correctly. My mom wisely suggested that it should just start with a circle, and then be trimmed down. That worked brilliantly. Please forgive the bad lighting in all of these photos – it’s because we worked on these at roughly 10 p.m. every night.

And for the record, rotary cutters are amazing. We’re lucky to be living with my parents right now because my mom has oodles of sewing supplies, including a sewing machine (which I do not have) that she graciously used to do all of the machine sewing for all of these costumes. I did a fair amount of hand sewing as well, but she really made this happen.

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We used this pattern for the hoods for both Barnacles and Tunip. We just didn’t use fur and didn’t line them, but seeing how quickly my mom whipped through the second one once she knew the pattern kind of makes me want to ask her to make all of the kids warm furry animal hoods just for winter fun. We actually used a sort of fuzzy white fleece, and I bought way more than we needed (because I’m not really all that good at this and knew I’d need wiggle room). It was my mom’s brilliant idea to dye the remainder of the white fleece yellow, using turmeric, and use it for Vivi’s costume. We did two rounds of hot water and turmeric to achieve this color (leaving in a bucket overnight), and were really pleased with how it turned out.

I referred to this costume boot tutorial in order to make Barnacles’s boots. Jonah almost wouldn’t wear the before we went out tonight (he claimed that they were supposed to have the Octonauts logo on them, but they didn’t) and I basically told him that he had no choice. I was getting a photo at the very least. Fortunately he decided to keep them on all night.

The hats for the boys were kind of free-hand based on the shape I thought they should have, and initially I really wasn’t happy with the height of the one I made for Barnacles. It felt too extreme, but once I got the Octonauts logo on I felt much better about it. I printed out a logo and put white felt on top of it and attempted to trace. I definitely threw away two drawings before figuring out that I needed to just free hand the legs (they were turning out like ghosts with no legs when I tried to trace such tiny parts with a felt-tipped pen). We ended up having to hand stitch the stripes on because the fabric glue wouldn’t hold on such a small piece, and my mom hand sewed them onto the hoods for the boys.

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There were virtually no pictures of Tunip costumes online, and the only one that we found looked super involved. I wasn’t sure that V would wear a hood floppy enough to have the face on it, so I decided just a few days before Halloween that maybe it should go on her belly anyway. Tunip’s facial features are actually pretty low, so that seemed like the right solution. My mom lined the little suit so that we could stuff it with batting. Initially Vivi hated wearing it (I’m sure it felt weird) but the candy won her over pretty quickly.

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The costumes even survived a costume parade at preschool this morning, which was a huge fear of mine. I was sure they’d destroy them before we could do any trick-or-treating, but it all turned out just fine. Since I knew that the kids were supposed to bring them to school, I probably hand-sewed things that I would have otherwise glued, and I think that was the right move. I’m really pleased with how these turned out and even more pleased with our first Halloween in Michigan. Our experience tonight was exactly the way I remember Halloween feeling when I was a kid, and it was so special to share that with them. I kept asking the kids “Are you having fun? Do you like Halloween?” and even Vivi kept saying “yeah!”