Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas.

Oh, sweet Christmas.

The holiday has come and gone.  It was glorious.   I even got an early Christmas gift...the opportunity to write another article for a local magazine, Distinctly Montana.  Check it out here.  So cool. 
   
More on Christmas to come.

Today our evening was capped off with a magic show put on by the girls and their cousins.  We were told to close our eyes a lot as they made things "disappear".  It was quite entertaining.  Our usual quiet house of four has been been full of cousins this weekend.  It has been a little louder, messier and crazier.  It's all good.

My sister is on her way to Mayo Clinic.  We are hopeful for answers.  I think everyone has been nervous about her leaving.  It is what we have been wanting...her to get to a bigger hospital to find help that she isn't finding here at our small one.  However, this limbo of not knowing what will happen now is nerve wracking.  All we can do is hope and pray for them to finally figure things out.  They just have to.  Them being gone means some extra cousin times for the girls.  From birth to kindergarten these kids spent almost every day together.  Now they are all in school so the time together is less frequent.  Having the gang back together takes me back to those earlier days.  I like it.  I like that even now that they are older and all have their own friends at school (or hundreds of friends like my niece Kim told me) they still all enjoy each others company.  

Company to slide down an icy hill like penguins with...


After all the snow and then the warm up with rain the usual sledding hill was a sheet of ice.  They flew down in sleds a few times before venturing down on their bellies.  It was awesome.  

Before all this we had a little celebration we like to call Christmas.  After all the build up of the holiday season it seems like the actual day goes so fast.  I went to bed Christmas evening exhausted and content.  Exactly how any proper holiday should end.  It was very full.  Full of family, friends, food, gifts and magic for the kids.  I like to write about our holiday to look back on later and bring back those happy feelings from the day.  A look at our Christmas.

Pre-Santa holiday preparation of scattering reindeer food in the driveway...


Excited girls waking in the morning and running out to see if Santa ate all the cookies...


I think we will all too soon be coming to the end of Ava believing in the magic of Christmas so I am trying my hardest to soak it up while we can.  


Oh, the excitement of seeing your stockings and gifts under the tree.  I know I have talked a lot about Christmas not being about the gifts, but I remember this feeling on Christmas morning.  

My sisters and I would all sleep in the same room, full of anticipation for the next day.  We would promise if we got up in the night we wouldn't look over the ledge (it looked into the living room) until we all were up the next morning.  It was so hard to not peek and when we finally did I can remember the feeling of excitement.  It is something I hope to be re-creating with my own girls.  

As much as they ripped through their presents, the girls were very much into giving their own gifts.  They were all homemade and totally done on their own.  I do believe we have instilled a good giving spirit in them that I hope to continue to nurture.  

The beautiful mess of a successful Christmas morning...

Lazing around, playing with new toys, breakfast at 11 and naps on the couch before heading to the next celebration.  My hope for the holiday season was to not get carried away with it.  To keep it simple and focus on the family and tradition part of it.  I feel I was able to keep this up until our final celebration because with this big of family I just don't think calm and simple is possible...

Calm it is not, but fun it is.  Presents flying around, too much food and champagne and many, many hours later leaving with a car full of goodies.  It is funny to think back to those Christmas mornings with only a family of five.  My sisters and I in our pj's going through stockings with my parents on the couch watching.  We have now multiplied into our own families and we all still gather around that tree in pj's.  It is crazy.  It is loud.  But, that is us.  

Happy girls full of smiles-

And little boys playing with new Legos-


And pre-dinner naps for some to recover from the chaos-


Every year we say that we need to change it so it doesn't feel as crazy the next year and each year nothing changes.  This is okay.  

Christmas is now fading and we enter the last week of holiday vacation.  The tree gets two more days and then it's coming down.  I resisted the urge to take it down the day after Christmas.  As full of holiday spirit I get, I tend to get over it rather quickly.  Another week of doing not much.  Staying in pajamas with the kids and settling into the calm of January.  A couple more days before we kiss 2013 good bye.  

Hope your holidays were happy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Full disclaimer...I'm all hopped up on hot cocoa and holiday cheer so things could get a little sappy and annoying around here.  You've been warned.

This morning was the girls holiday program.  They wore sparkly shirts, had curls in their hair and I teared up over silly songs like "Santa's Getting Fit for Christmas".  Years before they've been slightly timid up on the stage.  They must be getting the hang of it because this year I saw what appeared to be actual singing and dancing from my ladies.  

Seriously, when did they become so grown up?  I know it happens gradually but occasionally I see them and am caught off guard by how quickly it is going.  Being around my baby nephew has made me realize it even more.  You forget how much a newborn baby needs you.  How physically demanding those years were.  I got to babysit him last week and I held him the entire time because he's so darn snuggleable (may not be a word but in my festive mood it is now) and also because it made him the happiest.  Doing things one handed quickly came back to me.  Getting my other nephew ready for bed while holding the baby brought back flashes of holding baby Layla while tending to toddler Ava.  The next morning we were getting ready to leave and all I had to do was tell the girls it was time to go and that was it.  They put their own coats and boots on, they get themselves in the car, buckle themselves and are ready to go.  When did that happen?!?  No longer am I needed to tie shoes, zip jackets, open car doors.  I don't remember the moment that changed.  If I knew, maybe I wouldn't have been annoyed with the extra fifteen minutes it took to get everyone out the door.  Or the extra five it took to put the baby carrier in its seat and then going around to the other side to put a toddler in.  It all felt so exhausting at times.  It is easier now but it makes me wonder if all that happened in a flash, how soon will it be before they don't even need us for driving them places?  When it's a quick goodbye and then they are out the door, hopping in their own car and driving off into the big world on their own?  Yikes.  I can't even fathom that.  In fact I do believe I'll get off this tangent and back on to holiday cheer.  Because let me tell you...we are full of it this year.  They may not be babies and toddlers anymore, but at this age they are full of all sorts of Christmas fun!

This afternoon we took the girls out of school early.  The plan was to head to Chico Hot Springs for some family time and soaking.  Apparently a big storm is coming so we decided to postpone for later this weekend.  I haven't seen one snowflake fall yet, so it better start blizzarding soon.  We still took them early and instead all cozied up on the couch to watch The Polar Express with popcorn and cocoa.  Watching that movie as a family has become a tradition.  I love it.  My favorite line..."The true spirit of Christmas lies within your heart".  In my heart this means family.  This is what our weeks leading up to Christmas have been full of.  

Things like...

Our annual cookie making party with my mom, sisters, aunt and cousins-

There were some good looking gingerbread boys made.  And a lot of candy eaten by littles.  


There were merry cherry bars made...something my mama's been making every Christmas that I can remember.  The tradition continues as she teaches my pretty niece the recipe.


And cousins around the tree.  If that doesn't say Christmas, I don't know what does.  There were a few boys missing in this shot...poor Greg looks so out-numbered.  


And things like school holiday parties...

I got to help with Layla's class party and you could smell the sugar before you even walked into the class room.  Let me tell you, these kids are hyped up for Christmas.  If you are feeling a little scroogey this year, might I suggest going and hanging out in an elementary class.  If you don't leave feeling the holiday energy that is radiating off the kids then something is wrong with you.  They are so excited they can hardly stand it.  Getting to be a part of that is fantastic.  

From class parties to work parties...

Can I just say how much I love my hubby?  He's the funniest guy.  My office did an ugly sweater party and I've decided there is nothing better for a normally stuffy real estate party than ugly sweaters.  It was hilarious and festive and good for a lot of laughs.  

And of course things like playing in the snow.  After the freeze out we had a couple weeks ago, things finally warmed up and we've been able to play outside in the winter wonderland.

And making tiny snowmen...

And big ones too.

I'm going to gush about the snow for approximately 6 more days and then things may take a turn for the worse.  Right now I'm loving it and so happy we are going to have a white Christmas.  It's been so beautiful...holiday lights shining and our town covered in a blanket of fluffy white.  

The girls are now officially on Christmas break and I am thrilled.  Two full weeks.  Time to soak up more holiday traditions and simply be together.  No school, homework, activities or schedules.  No sharing them with teachers and friends.  Selfishly, I get them for the next two weeks and I couldn't be happier about it.  

Time to wrap it up and the most perfect song just came on so I think I'll just end with it...
"It's the most wonderful time of year.  It's the hap-happiest season of all!!  There will be much mistle-toeing and everyone telling you be of good cheeeeer, it's the most wonderful time of the year". 

Yes, I do believe it is.  


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Living in the North Pole.

Yesterday, finally, temperatures creeped above zero.  Today it got in the twenties and you could feel the mood of everyone around cheer a few notches.  A week of bitter cold got to the best of everyone.  Kids didn't get recess at school, no runs for mama, no fresh air...just running from the warm car to the warm house trying not to breath the cold air into your lungs.  By Sunday you could feel the negative energy in our house.  We need fresh air.  To be outside, even if it's chilly.  But, twenty below is too cold for all that so we have been cooped up.  

Saturday we braved the cold for the Christmas Stroll downtown.  I'm glad we went, but it was not the same as years past.  We froze.  But we saw Santa up closer than we have at any other stroll.

I love our downtown holiday lights.  They haven't change my entire life and I love that.  I remember once years ago there was talk of replacing them.  Thankfully somebody put a stop to that nonsense.  I think they are perfect.  

Before the freezing of the stroll I took my girls to the Nutcracker.  For the past few years we have gone and it is a tradition that makes me very happy.  I have always loved the ballet and for years Matt, awesome guy that he is, would take me to the Nutcracker each Christmas.  I do believe he is quite happy we have daughters to go with me now.  As he said when I invited him to join us "I gave you girls so I wouldn't have to go anymore".  That's cool.  I've got my girls and my bestie and her girl to go with now.

Sitting with Amy and our daughters watching the ballerinas up on the stage that her and I used to dance on is something else.  A reminder of how quickly it all goes.  Such a fun morning, and one of my many favorite traditions I hope to continue for many years. 

By Sunday I think everyone was worn out from a busy Saturday and with the added bonus of being stuck inside because of the cold, moods were chilly.  I know Matt and I both wanted to skip out on church, but Ava's Sunday school class was having a Stepping Stones event.  And, of course the girl who never wants to go to Sunday school wanted to go to this.  Lately I have been finding my faith on a yoga mat instead of a church pew, so really wanted to go to a morning class instead of church.  However, I wanted to be supportive of Ava, so we all headed to church.  The Stepping Stones event was nice, but then the girls went on to Sunday school and Matt ended up having to teach, so there I was.  Sitting alone in church.  And, like I tend to do in church lately, I zone out what's going on, look around and question my thoughts on the whole thing.  I feel like my faith has been shaken this past couple of years with my sister getting sick.  I have prayed a lot.  And she's not better.  I know you never know how your prayers are being answered and there have been some very scary moments that she has come through so I should still have faith in prayer.  And, I do...don't get me wrong.  It's more the church part that I question.  I didn't grow up belonging to a church and didn't until Ava was born.  For most of the past eight years I have enjoyed our little church community we became a part of.  But, lately the more I go, the more I question things and the less I like it.  I think there is so much more to it than church.  Since I was uninspired by the sermon going on and was wishing I was at my yoga class, I took a couple deep breaths and read some stories in the bible Ava had gotten that morning.  It passed the time and by the time we were singing Joy to the World as the sending hymn, I felt peaceful.  I will continue to try to figure out this faith and spirituality thing.  And I will keep praying every night with gratitude for my beautiful family.  And for my sister to get better, because she has to.  I believe questioning things is always a good thing.  Namaste.

Now that the weather has warmed and Christmas is right around the corner I feel like things are lifting up.  I have been good about staying calm and enjoying this holiday season.  A little gift shopping here and there, but I'm not stressing about it.  I have a box of un-opened Christmas cards I was going to write on this evening, but I didn't and that's okay.  I don't want to do them out of obligation, I want to do things this holiday season because I want to and it will add some holiday cheer.  If cards go out great.  If not, it will not be the end of the world.  We are having our annual cookie making party this weekend and I bought (gasp!) frosting for it instead of making my own.  I'm letting the little things go so I can enjoy the other little things.  Like going old school and cutting out snowflakes with my girls...

The last two weeks before Christmas can be the busiest...holiday parties, school parties, Christmas programs and all that jazz.  I plan on obligating ourselves to some and saying no to others.  Choosing instead to stay home curled up on the couch watching Christmas movies like Polar Express and the Grinch.  Ya know, the important things.

...And to All a Good Night.  


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deck the Halls.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving.  We ate, drank and gave thanks.  We started the day with our local Huffing for Stuffing on a sunny, but chilly morning...

It was a good morning for a run. Layla was all quiet before it began and as soon as the turkey gobble signaled to start, she was off.  Running ahead of us determined to beat us all.  Or to get it over with so she could warm up in the tent with hot cocoa.  Regardless it was a great way to start our Thanksgiving morning.  The rest of the day was about watching the parade, baking pies for dinner, toasting champagne with neighbor friends and then dinner with family.  It was a delightful day and I felt full of happiness.  The remainder of the long weekend was about hanging out close to home, staying in pj's and getting ready for the business of Christmas...

Christmas decorating doesn't usually begin for us until next weekend, but for some reason we are ahead of ourselves this year.  Usually Thanksgiving settles a bit more before the holiday decorations come out.  However, Saturday seemed like the perfect day to head up to the mountains to get a tree.  The weather was good, sun was out, but still snow for sledding.  We packed up the hot chocolate and headed up Hyalite in search of our tree.

Because I am not a skier, I don't spend much time in the mountains during the winter except for getting our Christmas tree.  It felt good to be up there, away from everything else.  Things are quieter.  Calmer.  And, it's funny...in the middle of July the woods smell like summer...in December, they smell like Christmas.  

We found the most perfect Charlie Brown Tree.

We enjoyed hot cocoa and a picnic lunch in sleds after finding our tree

There is not much snow in town, but up there we managed to find a sledding hill...



It makes me wish it would snow more for a super white Christmas.  The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas I adore the snow.  I really wish it would deliver before I'm totally over it come January.

The tree went up Saturday, but we didn't get around to decorating until today.  I love the air of excitement in the house as we pull out the holiday tubs.  The girls anxiously waiting to dig into each of them.  I try to slow them down, to savor the moment, keep the chaos under control.  I remember as kids, my mom was always the one unwrapping each ornament and we could put it on the tree.  I get this now...I want to be the one opening each ornament and taking in the memory that goes with it.  Remember where it came from and why it would continue to find a place on our tree.  From each girls "First Christmas" ornaments to one I got that says Cheerleader 1995.  I love how each year the girls remember these stories.  

Layla waited anxiously to unwrap her "L"...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here...

 Matt "oversees" most of the holiday decorating, but always puts the angel on top.


The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

The getting and decorating of the tree is a favorite tradition of mine.  (I can't really think of one holiday tradition that I don't love, but that's beside the point).  It marks the beginning of the season.  There are 24 days until Christmas.  As an adult that will go crazy fast.  For the girls, it will feel like forever.  I see the excitement in their eyes and you can't help but get caught up in it.  This is what I love about the holiday season.  Everyone seems happy.  My hope for this holiday season is to treasure the happiness in it.  To not get caught up in the nonsense.  I know some feel stressed during the holidays and I believe it should be a time of celebration of the simple things.  Of family and traditions spent together.  My hopes are to remember what is important.  

I hold the tree decorating day close to my heart because it marks a change from my childhood traditions into ones with my own family.  I know I have mentioned this story before, but it's a favorite of mine and just as I tell it to the girls every year when we eat pizza after decorating, I'm going to share it again.  Matt and I spent our first married Christmas together in Portland.  We came home for the actual holiday, but it was hard to be away leading up to it.  As December approached I remember getting overwhelmingly homesick one night.  Not being a part of all the family traditions I knew were going on back home.  That night instead of letting me feel sorry for myself, Matt told me to put my coat on and get in the car.  We were going to go see a Boy Scout about a tree.  After buying a tree for the first time in my life, we headed to Target and loaded our cart with decorations, a star for the tree and a holiday music CD.  It didn't end there...next stop was for pizza and beer and then back to our little apartment to put up the tree.  The home sickness went away and I knew home was where ever we were.  Together.  To this day we have pizza the day we decorate our tree.  It was when I knew all the traditions that had been instilled in me as a child, I would get to continue in a new way with my own family.  The fact that Matt was not only on board with this, but an eager participator made me know he was a keeper.  

The Christmas station has been turned on Pandora, the lights are up, I even bought a couple gifts today.  Holiday... game on.