Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas village

We're more than halfway to Christmas! Woohoo! How's everyone holding up? Shopping done? Presents wrapped? Cards sent? Sanity in check? Or have you chucked all the have-tos in favor of eggnog and Chevy Chase?

I have to say, I'm somewhere in the middle. It definitely feels like we're doing all the things - there's a tree in our living room with presents underneath and everything! - but some of the time I wonder if we might be missing the point.

I caught myself the other night chastising the kids for whining and complaining instead of having fun and saying thank you. (And, no, the irony was not lost on me...I'm well aware that I sound like a complete idiot sometimes.) "Here I am going out of my way to make Christmastime super fun for you guys and all you can do is pick on each other and whine? Seriously?! Why don't you appreciate all the fun stuff we get to do? Would it kill you to show a little gratitude? I mean, come on! Now, get in the car and buckle up. We're going to the restaurant of your choice for dinner now and WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN!"

And I wonder where my kids get it.

Anyway. I think it's a fairly common problem this time of year. (Or maybe it's just me - ha!) We work so hard to make things special and fun and memorable that sometimes we straight up miss the point. You could pile your whole family into Santa's actual sleigh with Darth Vador riding shotgun and fly through a Minecraft holiday world singing Jingle Bells, Batman Smells at the top of your lungs while Princess Anna makes it snow and Mrs. Claus feeds you warm gingerbread cookies, but if Mama's stressing out or you had to rush in traffic to get there or your budget is stretched too thin or someone isn't getting enough sleep, it might just feel like one more thing to cross off your list.

Which sucks! Because it's not about checking things off a list, it's about...connecting. Celebrating. Enjoying this time together. Right? It's not about what we do, it's how we do it.

But the how is so much harder to plan. Making a list and checking it twice is easy. But once you try to execute the list in real life? With all the spilled glitter and bad attitudes and tired feet and opinions? It's just never as easy (or as fun) as it seems like it would be. I mean, it's fun. But it's also lots of work.

Thankfully I found a way to make it easier...

The village! No, no. The Christmas village!

This was not my idea, but the idea of one of my friends who said she was feeling like a Grinch and needed to snap out of it. "I haven't done anything for Christmas yet and I feel bad for my kids." I told her I'd done lots of stuff for Christmas and I still felt bad for my kids. (There's more than one way to Grinch, you know.) So anyway, we decided to get together with another friend and spend a morning making cookies together.

I'm not gonna lie. It was pure magic.

There's just something about being around others that makes everyone a little bit sweeter. My kids look out for each other, say please and thank you like they mean it, and just generally make my heart swell.

I feel much more patient and kind and catch myself consistently behaving like a really good mom. Not that I'm a bad mom in the privacy of my own home (well, sometimes I am...) but it's just like everything good gets kicked up a notch (and the not-so-good gets dialed way back...).

It feels great.

Everyone had so much fun. Not a Grinch in sight! The kids were so creative with their cookie decorating - combining cookie cutters to make original shapes (like centaurs!) and carefully placing sprinkles to create their designs.

I was super inspired and spent a good chunk of time hunched over my reindeer in an ugly holiday sweater and a gay pride angel. (Next time I'm going to make a Victoria's Secret angel!)

We spontaneously burst into song many times and sang all the Christmas carols we could think of. Loudly! With lots of vibrato! It was gloriously bad. Like, we need to take this thing on tour bad. Oh, and the boys and I wore antlers the whole time. Actually, I wore them the whole day. And we broke out the clown noses I ordered for Finn's circus party for a whole house full of Rudolphs!

No one fought or whined or complained or stumbled into a bad mood. It was exactly what I have wanted all of our Christmas activities to be like. Only effortless, you know? No one was trying to enjoy themselves, we just were having a wonderful time. It made me want to start a commune. Or get some sister wives. Instead I think I'll just remember to call on the village the next time I feel my inner Grinch creeping out. But first I'll put on my antlers...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Evening out the injustice of the first born, one ornament at a time.

When unpacking our Christmas stuff the other night and decorating the tree, we couldn't help but notice there was an awful lot of Liam on display. Things he's made over the years, ornaments with his name on them, and lots and lots of pictures from his first Christmas.

It's no one's fault, really, just a law of the universe. Like gravity or a heavy rain after you finally wash your car. First born children just have a lot more swag than their siblings. Period. End of story.

Still. We felt like jerks every time Finn pulled a Liam ornament out of the box. "Look!" he'd say, genuinely excited. "It's more baby Liam!"

Fortunately he's a big fan of his brother (he carries around the little photo album - and calls it his "best friend book"). But still. No fair. So when Finn was at school the other day I whipped him up a little something. His very own best friend book with photos from his first Christmas.

How cute is that baby?! Killing me with that sweet grin...

I think he really liked it even though he immediately asked why there weren't more pictures of baby Liam (we should have named this kid Even Steven).

This isn't the first time I've made a project like this and it's really fun and easy. Take some photos you like, a little card stock, and maybe a bit of ribbon and you've got yourself a nice little ornament or picture book. I made one a few years ago for Grandmama and recently whipped one up for my cousin (I spelled her name in pictures of tree roots I found on a hike - it turned out really cute).

Almost every day Finn pulls his little photo book off the tree and unties the ribbon to look at his pictures. It makes my heart so happy to see both boys hanging out on our tree.

and under the tree...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The gift that keeps on giving.

Well, it's that time of year again.

Time to wake up each morning to a Facebook feed of sneaky red elves in compromising situations in your most creative friends' homes. Or perhaps you yourself are an Elf on the Shelfer? Maybe you and your kids are dazzled each morning by a small mischief maker who flies around at night and does hilarious things.

Or maybe you, like me, would just as soon enjoy this one from the sidelines.

Let's be honest. It's not like December is gagging for more activity. I mean, with the advent calendar and Christmas parties and teacher gifts and holiday cards and decorations and CHRISTMAS (not to mention normal life...), I already feel in the weeds and it's only December 1st. Really the last thing I need is another super fun and magical thing to look forward to EVERY SINGLE DAY.

And yet.

Once you have an elf in your home, you cannot help but be swept up in its magic.

No, really. I tried to suggest we just weren't really an Elf on the Shelf kind of family ("Guys, c'mon. Do we really need some elf hanging around keeping track of whether or not we are good? Seems a little weird...") but it didn't take.

"But, Mama, remember his letter last year? He's not here to keep track of us! He's just here to hang out and enjoy Christmastime with our family!"

"And he might do silly things!"


Turns out, when kids are promised daily magic by a doll in an elf hat, THERE WILL BE DAILY MAGIC.

Or, you know, something.

Neither of my boys really has high hopes for this elf. Apparently "Bob" worked so hard making toys last year that by the time he got to our house (by way of the boys' cousins...) all he wanted to do was put his feet up and chillax. We found him riffling through the long forgotten Halloween candy a couple of times and I think he maybe switched shelves now and then, but other than that, he just kind of hung around.

He had obviously never caught wind of Pinterest.

This year, when the boys found him in the box of Christmas things I immediately wondered why I hadn't hid him when I had the chance. But the boys were so excited! I wondered if Bob had found his groove. Would be be more magical this year? I hoped he would be a little more awesome but in a practical, not over the top, sort of way. Like, maybe after the kids go to sleep he could fold all the laundry and in the morning present us with perfectly folded stacks and a note that says, "You're welcome."

This morning when the boys got up they couldn't wait to find him. It didn't take long for them to discover Bob sitting near the advent calendar with a note rolled up in his arms.

It said hello, obviously, and then asked the boys to write down one thing they're grateful for every day so that on Christmas we can read back all the notes around the tree. He said they should make Mom and Dad do it to.


Then the boys noticed their advent calendar had a note sticking out for December 1st. Only something was a little bit fishy.

I had written, "Let's go to the indoor/outdoor place to look at the decorations!" (Opryland Hotel) but someone had crossed that out and written, "Watch Elf!"

As we pondered what could possibly be going on, Finn pointed out that Bob was holding a green marker.

Well played, Mr. Elf. Sure going to the Opryland Hotel to see the decorations would have been fun but who doesn't want to get cozy at home and watch Elf? Especially on a rainy day. When I'm still a little sore from capture the flag this weekend and fighting off the impending crud. Plus, I've got all those ornaments for Liam's class to finish sewing...

I think Elf on the Shelf is right! Elf on the couch is the perfect way to spend this afternoon.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Young men and the swamp.

After our big day in Orlando, we headed to New Orleans to visit our friend Guy (who the boys now call Uncle Guy). It was kind of a funny place to go right after Universal Studios where everything is fake but looks real. New Orleans might look fake but everything you see is real. Like, the most real you've ever seen. That place is legit.

Walking around the French Quarter felt not unlike walking around Disneyland. The architecture is interesting, people watching is at an all time high and parades spontaneously break out right in front of you.

We had to keep reminding the boys to keep their hands to themselves. They had gotten accustomed to everything being staged for their entertainment so it was kind of a mind trip to step into a place that looked pretend but was not.

Cool to see but a little loud and grown up for the boys.

Not that they let that stop them...

Plus, the real reason we had come to New Orleans was the swamp.

We always talk about taking the boys fishing and camping, but we're just not very good at it. We could certainly just do it and figure it out as we go along but when we have awesome uncles who have all the gear and expertise? Why not outsource?

It was an uncharacteristically cold day but we didn't care. We loaded up our supplies, stopped off at Walmart for a few provisions and then drove straight out of civilization. Picture Beasts of the Southern Wild then dial it back a notch.

Or maybe half a notch.

It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. So beautiful and peaceful and otherworldly. The boys took to it immediately and before we knew it we were out on the swamp, opening beer bottles with old propellers, fishing live shrimp out of the bait bucket, and casting away.

It didn't take long for the fish to start biting, an experience I've never had no matter how many times I've gone fishing. It was really cool to be able to tell when I'd caught a fish (sort of wiggly) versus a plant or a crab.

Yes, I caught a crab with a fishing pole! A kid-sized Anakin Skywalker fishing pole no less. I reeled it in thinking I had something and when I pulled my hook out of the water there was a crab hanging onto the shrimp with his claw. It was so cute! I swung my line over the boat quickly so he wouldn't get away and let him drop off into the boat. This seemed like a great idea but it immediately sent both boys into tears. Apparently crabs are way freakier than fish which are not too creepy as long as they're far away. We learned this the hard way when Liam reeled in his fish and we made him do the classic "look what I caught" photo.

Fish in a net = exciting

Fish next to me = uhhhhh


I'm outta here.

Let me show you how the pros do it, buddy.

Super thankful for our village.


Remember that thing I wrote a few days ago about feeling uncomfortable about over-sharing on the Internet? I think I might have been having a sensitive day. Like I stepped in a big pile of self-consciousness and, rather than shaking it off Taylor Swift style, I decided to wear it like an unflattering jumpsuit for all to see.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, I thought I'd better DO something about it. I mean, I can't just get all publicly insecure and declare something isn't working for me and not DO something, right? So I went on Instagram and blocked/unfollowed every single person. Every. Single. Person. Like a take back the night rally over pictures of my kids.

I immediately regretted it.

Not just because it made me see that I actually do like the social aspect of Instagram most of the time (it forces you to be more creative if you know someone else will see your work - and by work I'm talking clever emoji use, and seeing your friend's pictures is fun) but also because it made me feel sort of like a drama queen. If I hadn't been at my sister's house with zero responsibility and a long ass parade to sort of watch, I never would have taken the time to do something so lame.

It's pretty embarrassing that while people were writing thought-provoking essays in response to the Ferguson verdict and weaving tales of gratitude for Thanksgiving, the only thing I found the time to write was about little ole me. Blech. And now I'm doing it again! But this weekend with my family made me realize I come by it honestly. Man, do we love to over analyze ourselves! I'm not saying it's a problem but when it coincides with a blog and a speedy Internet connection, it can create a bit of a self consciousness hangover.

Because once it's out there, it's out there. No take backs, you know? How thankful am I that none of this was around when I was an (even more) awkward kid?!

I promise I will quit talking about this now but I can't promise I won't be insecure or awkward in the future. It happens. I'm sincerely thankful for all of you who check in here now and then and let me share my story, no matter how thoughtless or self serving it might happen to be. It's a journey I am honored to share with all of you.

And now? Some photos from Thanksgiving at my sister's house! We had a few fallen soldiers (Erick quarantined himself in the cellar, Finn rallied after only barfing once...) but all in all it was an awesome time. My sister did a fantastic job hosting and cooking and we were so thankful to be able to celebrate together with good food, freezing cold walks, all the card games, Capture the Flag with her new neighbors, a mint julep and some Christmassy stuff downtown, a past bedtime walk to the ice cream shop and, of course, lots and lots of talking. So much to be thankful for...