Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Merry Little Christmas.

Christmas is winding down.  We've gone to all the holiday parties, we've opened all the gifts, we've drank all the eggnog.  (Actually I don't drink eggnog but it seems like a Christmasy thing to do so I added it for effect.)  It was a lovely holiday season, full of family, friends and traditions.  I know some feel a let down after Christmas, when all the excitement is over.  I find comfort in it.  In the calm after everything.  Even with keeping the holidays simple, there is a lot going on...late nights, full days.  

Through it all my very favorite moment is Christmas morning.  It always has been.  When I was young it was waking up way too early with my sisters, sneaking peaks at the fat stockings under the tree, trying to wait patiently for my parents to say we could dig in.  Now, still waking early in anticipation of the girls excitement.  Teasing them by dragging out the process of heading to the living room to see what Santa left.  Seeing their smiles as they read the note left by him, overjoyed that he mentioned they were on the extra-nice list...
Finally letting them start on stockings and gifts.  Feeling so proud that they are just as excited to give their handmade gifts to us and each other as they are to open their own.  Taking our time moving through each present until the tree is empty and the living room is  a mess of paper, ribbons and new toys.

Leading up to this moment are so many traditions that make me happy.  A few of my favorites...

Annual Cookie Party

This started many years ago, long before I had the girls.  I would get together with my sisters and mom and we would bake cookies and everyone would take home an assortment.  Baking during the holidays is the coziest thing and doing it with the ladies in my family adds to this.  Now it has grown and the kiddos all get in on the fun.  By the end it's a mess of red and green sprinkles, faces covered in frosting and some very bright sugar cookies.  The last couple of years, I've added a reindeer food buffet to the cookie party.  I found this idea on another blog I read and love it.  We set up reindeer food...oats, cocoa, peppermint sprinkles, magic flying powder...and the kids fill bags with an assortment of this to be scattered in the driveway on Christmas Eve.  
We used to include glitter to add some sparkle but found that glitter never leaves the driveway.  I don't think the reindeer miss it.

Holiday Programs
Oh, how I love the girls holiday program at their school.  There's something so very parenty about it (yep, I totally made that word up.  It means doing something that suddenly makes you realize you are a grown up with real children.  That you made.) Sitting in the audience with all the other parents proudly watching your child sing.  My eyes tearing up every year.  Feeling so happy to be one of the parents in the crowd.  It's weird, but I get such a feeling of contentment at these things.  Like life worked out just exactly as I wanted it to.
New and Old Traditions with all the Family.  
Our main Christmas celebration is the morning one with our girls.  But, I love extending the celebration with each of our families.  Things have evolved into great celebrations with each.  Christmas Eve with Matt's parents...choosing to eat out instead of cooking so we can get around to the business of gifts faster.  Going downtown and feeling festive as we leave the restaurant and see giant snowflakes swirling above the decorations...

Continuing with old traditions with my mom giving us all PJ's to wear on Christmas and staying in them all day long.  The chaos of 9 adults and 10 children filling their living room for dinner and presents.  So happy for this one time of the year all the cousins are together...

Driving home afterwards feeling wonderfully exhausted from the past 24 hours.  Waking up the next day and trying to sort through everything while the girls jump from one activity to the next, trying to play with all their new things.  

Winter Break
I love getting the girls for two full weeks.  I try to work a little less and fill our days with Christmas movies, sledding and hot cocoa.  Each year during their break we try to squeeze in a day trip to Chico Hot Springs.  This year when we ventured over it was a perfectly quiet day and we swam for hours. 

Ice skating is always on our winter break list as well.  It's generally the first opportunity to hit the rinks and like riding a bike, the girls pick it right back up each year. 

Now we settle into the quieter week of the break.  There are less obligations.  Things will slow down.  We will squeeze in more cousin time before everyone gets busy once back into the school year.  We will soak up carefree days without schedules or homework.  The tree will come down along with the Christmas cards and decorations.  I never feel sad about this.  The month it is up is just the right amount of time to enjoy it without getting sick of it.  We will wrap up 2014 with gratitude of what the year brought us and get ready to welcome a new one.  It will be good.

Enjoy the last few days of this year.  I hope your Christmas was Merry.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire....

I actually have never had a roasted chestnut, nor could we roast them on our gas fireplace.  But, it is my all time favorite Christmas carol so earned a place as the title.  

So...It is suddenly December and Christmas is right around the corner.  It is cliche, but I really don't know how that happened.  One minute we were giving thanks with family and the next thing you know Christmas exploded all over our house...

There is much goodness in the holiday season and this is what we soak up this time of year around here.  I know it can get crazy and one can easily get caught up in the chaos of it.  Over the past years, I have clung with all my might to keeping with the spirit of the season.  In our house this means spreading Christmas cheer.  You can feel it all around.  From the decorations...all carefully put in place by the girls (and maybe one or two rearranged by me) the music (Christmas playlists hit Pandora the day after Thanksgiving) the energy.  Little girls excited and trying hard to be patient, but wondering why it is taking so long.  Each day cutting off a portion of the countdowns they made.  Eagerly making homemade presents for everyone they know.  We try hard to instill in them that Christmas is not about the gifts.  Of course gifts are a part of it, but not the part.  I think we are doing a good job as they struggle coming up with ideas to put on their lists rather than filling it with all the millions of things they want.  I read something the other day...teach your kids gratitude by giving them less.  This makes so much sense.  When we fill their lives with things all the time, they will constantly want more.  I find myself having this same problem.  Getting caught up in the wanting stuff...buying new clothes to keep up with a new trend, wanting to update something in our home.  Feeling good when I buy something new, or we remodel a room, but then realizing how quickly that feeling is gone.  As humans, we will always have desire for more stuff...I am no exception.  However, I have been trying to really make conscious decisions when it comes to buying things for myself or gifts for the kids and family.  Making thoughtful purchases that are meaningful and responsible.  Christmas is the perfect time to work on this skill.  It also goes hand in hand with keeping the holidays simple.  Making them about the memories we create and not how many presents are under the tree.  I like to believe in ten years the girls will remember hiking through the snow to chop down our tree and then spilling hot cocoa all over themselves on the ride home, not what was in their stockings that year.  That the cookies they decorate with cousins every year will always have a place in their heart, while the current electronic fad will be long outdated.  And, if it is a gift they remember it because it was so special and well thought out that they still have it.   Yes, the spirit for our family will always be the time together.  

The traditions.

Each year since the girls were little we've gone to the Christmas Stroll in Bozeman.  When they were younger it was a bit of a pain...toting babies bundled up in the cold, pushing strollers through the snowy streets...all to see the lights of downtown go on.  Now I am grateful for this tradition and the ease we have taking them.  

Traditions like going to the Nutcracker, baking with aunts, grandmas and cousins and watching Christmas movies the entire month of December (Polar Express is the all around fav!)  Things like staying in Christmas pj's all day long.  Driving around to see all the holiday lights on peoples homes.  Wrapping presents while watching my own favorite Christmas movies...Sleepless in Seattle being on the top of my list.  These are the things I love.  The things I will continue to treasure and pass on.  It is such a magical time of year.  We will continue to fa la la la la la la la la all the way throughout the month.
Tis' the season after all.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winter has Arrived.

Winter showed up full force this week.  We went from sitting on the side of a mountain one day...

To bundling up for the first snow and brutal low temperatures of the year...

Because we had such a marvelous fall and we are inching towards the holidays, I have embraced this wintery weather.  It almost makes me want to turn on Christmas music, but I'll refrain until after Thanksgiving.  In any case, the snow puts the holiday spirit in my heart and I get excited like a little kid.  The week before Halloween, while walking through Target I felt annoyed by the Christmas decorations everywhere.  Rolling my eyes at the decorated trees and reindeer hanging from the ceiling.  The very next week when we entered November, I walked through the same aisle with a dreamy smile on my face, humming "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."  The snow really ups the ante.  I can't wait.

That being said, these below zero temps can go ahead and move along.  Cold is fine, but we gotta be able to be outside.

Anyways...back to pre-cold, while we were still enjoying the extra long fall Mother Nature was giving us.  The day before the storm came, Ava was at horse back riding lessons and for the first time got to ride in the outside arena.  For my first time, I enjoyed taking her to these lessons.  Maybe it was the sunshine and fresh air that calmed the usual nerves that come over me as I watch my baby on a giant animal that could throw her to the ground at any moment.  Maybe it was because as I watched her go from walking to trot to canter I saw how hard she was concentrating.  Instead of feeling fearful as she got faster I noticed how controlled she was with the horse.  How seriously she takes her teachers instruction and follows them...elbows straight, gaze forward, up down, up a dance.  After she slows, seeing the look of pride on her face at having done this dance gracefully.  I see how much she loves it and I have to settle into a place of acceptance.  A place of letting a mama's worry go and let her fly.  Man, that's hard.

I also had this girl to keep me distracted...

Little miss walking back and forth on the stands...waiting not so patiently for her sister to be done.  Questioning over and over, why there aren't pig back riding lessons.  This girl, she is something else.  She makes me laugh every single day.  She is her daddy all the way.

I had an opportunity to write an article for another local publication.  I thought, like my articles for Distinctly Montana, it would simply be on their website.  To my surprise it was in their actual print magazine also...

I was pretty excited to see this.  Something about seeing your name in print is awesome.  Bozeman Magazine is a cool monthly publication and I am proud to be a part of it.  Even better is they asked me to do another.  So cool.  Here's the link for this one.  

As we settle into winter I hope these feelings of enjoying it continue.  Unfortunately the novelty of it tends to wear off for me somewhere around January.  This is too bad since winter usually drags on and on and on.  For now I'll ride it out...appreciate the beauty of the snow covered mountains, the crispness in the air and the holidays that are right around the corner.  These two certainly help with all of this...
Actually...these three...the dog much prefers winter to summer.  Silly dog.

Happy day to ya.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Halloween and Hello to November.

The energy of Halloween changes once you have kids.  Sure I enjoyed it as a child.  I remember getting excited to dress-up and then have to completely cover my costume because of the cold weather.  I remember sorting candy with my sisters after trick or treating, trading to try to get the best possible assortment.  When I got a little older I went with friends...carrying pillowcases to fill, getting skeptical looks at the door...knowing we were pushing the envelope of being trick or treating age appropriate.  Halloween during the college years are appropriately a blur.  Now with my own kids I have found that I love Halloween.  Their excitement for it is contagious.  And rightfully so.  This day is about playing dress-up and getting candy.  Good stuff.

Our Halloween.

As per tradition, the carving of the pumpkins.

Extra festive when done with friends.  

And not very traditional, the addition of extra gore on our pumpkins this year.

I tend to carve a very boring jack-o-lantern so I was looking for inspiration.  In one magazine they showed using nails and other hardware  to jazz them up.  The other one showed melting red crayons for a blood like effect.  Apparently doing both on the same pumpkin just makes you look like a crazy deranged person.  Our front porch was extra creepy this year.  Probably not what Martha Stewart had in mind.  

Dressing up.
Each year we let the girls choose their costumes and then I try my best to make it happen.  Ava was a horse, no big surprise as her horse obsession grows each day.  Layla was a pig vampire.  I have no idea where this came from.  Her love of pigs no doubt brought that part around, but the vampire?   Hmmm...maybe it was the gory jack-o-lanterns that inspired her to insist on vampire teeth and blood on her face.  Weird.  

Our party.
Each year we have a Halloween party with our family and friends.  Everyone dresses up, fills our house and enjoys this crazy night.  Lots of food, a pumpkin scavenger hunt and a long neighborhood stroll with the little trick or treaters.  This year it was so warm coats were needed.  We walked for hours as the kids ran from house to house, gathering candy and checking out the creepy decorations.  Their energy level so high you could feel it radiating off them and get carried away with it.  Finally after making our way back to the house, all the candy is dumped on the floor and the sorting and trading begins.  With this little guy stealing a few along the way...

Kids go to bed, exhausted from the day.  I get up the next morning and erase all signs of a party.  While I'm at it, I get on a roll and suddenly all signs of Halloween are gone.  Decorations downs, pumpkins in the compost.  The house goes back to itself for the month of November before Christmas throws up all over it.  

All signs of Halloween gone except, of course, the candy...

It gets scattered on the floor once again for a second sorting and trading session.  Funny enough, after all the trading there wasn't one complaint when I asked them to combine it all into one bowl.  Now we will be eating candy for the next year or until I get sick of it and it all magically disappears.  All 107 pieces.  Yep, they counted.  

Welcome November...a glorious month of mellow, cozy nights and anticipation of holidays to come.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall Happies.

It has been awhile since I've written here.  I've had some new writing opportunities taking up my time.  It has been challenging and exciting.  Coming back here feels comfortable.  Like slipping on your favorite shoes.  A place where I can write freely.  No word limit, no questioning if it sounds like what I think someone is looking for.  The word limit is the hardest I have found.  Trying to cut 600 words to get something down to 1,000...not so easy.  I know I tend to be wordy (Matt reminds me of this often), but I like all the words.  It's hard to decide which thought should be cut when I feel they are all important.  Here I can go on and on and on.  People may stop reading around 1,000 words but I can keep on going if I want.  No worries.  

Anyways.  Along with working on other things I have been busy falling back in love with fall...

My love affair with fall has come on strong.  My full time, monogamous relationship will always be with summer, but I am deep in pumpkin cooking, changing color ogling,  scarf wearing glory lately.  We even have Halloween costumes mostly done and invites to our annual party made.  Fall is totally game on.  I'm head over heels.

This weekend was one of those rare times when it was just us four.  There were no plans with anyone and so we saw no one.  I love this.  I love being social and hanging out with friends and family, but a weekend with just us, doing our thing is totally awesome.  And easy.  It ends with me feeling filled full with family time and content.  Ready to bring on a week where spending quality time together is harder to come by.  The pace is faster and preoccupied with school and work.  

Since I'm on a roll I'll keep with it...some fall lovin'...

Pumpkin patches and corn mazes-

Last weekend with our unseasonably warm weather I deemed it too warm to go to the pumpkin patch.  Today required hats and gloves and this in my book equals pumpkin patch weather.  You have to feel crispness in the air.  There's just a small farm here that does this and we go every year.  We take the hay ride to the field where they throw a few pumpkins out.  We follow giggling girls as they run through the small corn maze.  We pet the goats and check out the pigs.  We pay for overpriced pumpkins and jump in the hay bales.  I love it.

Fall Hikes-
I don't know why, but the colors seem so spectacular this year.  Maybe because last year in October we got crazy early snow so we didn't get to enjoy the colors very long.  Whatever the case it has been so beautiful here.  I'm sure my family is sick of hearing me exclaim "oh my goodness...look at those colors."  I can't help myself.  It's also made me seek out trails that I know will have spectacular colors so I can keep on annoying my family.  Luckily they seem to dig it too.  


The kids get hyped about Halloween and I can't help but get caught up in it.  I like the creativity...coming up with costumes and finding ways to make them.  The girls want to be a pig vampire and a surprises there.  Decorating the house with silly witches and ghosts I've accumulated over the years, thanks to my mom.  We start planning for our Halloween party and of course bake some sugar cookies.  Good, messy fun.

Field Trips-

The return to school means more field trips.  I try to volunteer to go every opportunity.  Getting the chance to be a part of the world the girls are at most hours of the weekday.  Feeling fortunate to be a part of a school community that gets to participate in these types of activities.  Layla's was a trip to a local farm as they have been learning about farm to table this month.  Layla was in heaven getting to see and feed the pigs.  Even if part of the farm to table was learning that these pigs will eventually become food.  I'm not a pig or bacon fan, but I have to admit...when they brought the runt out and he scurried around squealing, even I was smitten with him.

Yes, I am quite taken with fall this year.  I will be sad to see it go but am sure I will quickly rebound with the first snowfall and thoughts of the holidays and cozy fireplace nights.  

Until next time.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A New Season, and Doing Things our Way.

It's officially fall.  I'm on board now.  Especially because mother nature has brought 80+ degree weather along with its arrival.  This week we've been getting the beautiful changing colors of leaves as well as hot, sunny days.  This is a win-win in my book.  Getting outside to take advantage of this unseasonably warm (two of my favorite words) weather every chance we get...

We are also one month into the school year.  Settling into new routines and the world of 2nd and 4th graders.  This will be our fifth year doing the school thing and every year I find myself questioning my parenting when the year begins.  Throughout the summer months I feel very confident with the decisions I make as the mom.  I'm comfortable with our lack of participating in summer camps and don't have to hear others talking all about the activities their children are in.  I feel happy with a summer full of playing, hiking, camping and the only play dates being with cousins.  I never question that these memories we create throughout the summer months will stick with them long into adulthood and shape in a positive way who they become.  

And then school begins.  The inevitable questions of "what sports are your girls playing...oh, none?  They must be doing dance or gymnastics then?"  This year it actually began earlier when we ran into some friends one week before school started and she mentioned her kids had already started soccer practice.  I felt the familiar feeling of...are we doing this all wrong?  Are we holding them back by not getting them into all the various activities that are available?  At that point it still felt very much like summer and I was planning a final camping trip, not thinking about the fact we already missed soccer sign ups.  

I do think five years in I'm getting better at feeling secure in our parenting of school age kids.  I remind myself if either girl expressed a desire to do an extra curricular activity we would be the first ones to encourage it.  But, I can't find a reason to push it on them when after a full day at school they just want to play.  Of course, many kids version of play is going to basketball practice and that is great.  I just have to remember each year that it is okay to go against the grain and not participate in everything.  To know it's okay that our weekends aren't filled with soccer games.  We tried that once and now no one is interested.  Our weekends are instead free for us.  To decide as we go and if that means three hikes in three days then so be it.  Instead of games we get this-
Friday night, after dinner sunset stroll...
Saturday afternoon hike to a waterfall...

Soccer games are fun and all, but this is beautiful...

Sunday spent on another hike because why not?  The mountains will be full of snow soon so now is the time for us...

I say all this with no judgment.  No one is making me feel this conflict, it's all on me.  My own insecurities of we only have one go at this with these kids and I don't want to screw it up.  Hearing after school chatter of how other parents do things brings these questions up.  Most often I feel so confident in our parenting style.  I'm getting better about knowing we may not do it like everyone else when it comes to the school year and this is okay.  I have to do what feels right in my heart.  And these moments together doing family things feel right.  And that is all that should matter.  They may not be athletes or gymnasts or future ballerinas but they are happy.  They have imaginations and each other and to me this is priceless.  Every school year these questioning voices may start in my head again.  I simply need to politely tell those voices to be quiet.  I'm doing it my way and it's all good.

Happy kids.  That's all any parent really wants, so we do the best we can.  And try to be gentle with ourselves that this is enough.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Holding on til the Bitter End.

I see you Fall.  Trying to encroach in on our last couple of weeks of summer.  I feel the crispness in the air, the subtle change in the colors of the leaves and the freakin' pumpkin lattes popping up at Starbucks.  You even had the nerve to sprinkle snowflakes down last week.  Snow flakes!  That was a bold move to let them flutter down on a what should have been a perfectly nice summer day.  You almost got me going...falling for your me thinking about wearing cozy scarves and making veggie chili.  But then you went and took it too far with an early freeze and we had to take up our garden while it was still summer.  Well.  That just ticked me off.  Our summer bounty was half what it was last year because you just couldn't wait until it was officially your season.

This is NOT okay.  Do you see how GREEN those tomatoes are??  It quickly reminded me that I refuse to get caught up in the early fall nonsense even if baking pumpkin bread sounds perfectly delightful.  I refuse to make anything with our pumpkins until after September 23rd...the official arrival of Autumn.  The family keeps requesting some of my soup recipes...I quickly filled refusal of baking with pumpkins extends to cooking any sort of soup, casserole or other such comfort food.  They can wait.  It was bad enough we had to pick everything.  We should have had a couple more weeks.

Fortunately after that cold snap things turned around.  Snow melted off the mountain tops and warm temperatures returned.  We got back to summer like things with weekend hikes and outdoor shenanigans...

Tonight we ventured to one of the last Farmer's Markets of the season.  It felt good.  Buying fresh veggies from people who didn't lose everything in the early freeze.  Knowing I could prolong buying vegetables at the grocery store a little longer.  Enjoying the market in a more peaceful way now that tourist season is over.  Soaking up every last minute we have of this final week of my favorite season. 

This is how I intent to spend these last few days.  Pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween decorations can patiently wait their turn.  Summer often gets a late start around here because winter always overstays his welcome...fall can't just be showing up early.  That's just not cool.  There's a time and a place and right now it's still time for shorts, flip-flops and warm sun kissing our cheeks.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodbye Summer Vacation.

Things are a changin' round here.  You can feel it all around.  The days are getting beloved sunshine not popping out from behind the Bridgers until much later in the morning and then making an early exit in the evening.  The air no longer feels of summer warmth but more of fall chill.  
And a big began this week.

We knew it was coming yet it still seemed to sneak up on us.  I'm never quite ready for another school year to makes it so evident that they are growing up.  Ava is in fourth grade this year, I mean come on!  This is ridiculous.  I can remember like it was yesterday standing in line with her for kindergarten...her a bundle of nerves with a brave face, me hiding my tears behind my sunglasses...talking about the matching hearts I drew on our hands with markers to remember each other throughout the day...
And now she walks in like she owns the school.  No tears or apparent nervousness from either of them.  I love this...their confidence and ability to do these things bravely on their own.  It just breaks my heart a bit as I am needed less and less.  I suppose these steps are all to prepare us for one day when they actually, gulp, leave the nest for good.  These little day flights are simply practice.  They return at the end of each day with chatter of their adventures away but are tucked back into the safety of our home by evening.  These flights will get longer and longer over the years, preparing us for the day they pack up and leave for real.  Oh, Lord...I need to stop before I become a sappy mess.  

Needless to say our back to school routine went the same as usual.  The girls were sad to see vacation end but happy to see their friends again.  I was sad to see them go but knew it was time for new routines.  Change it up.  But first we had a few things to cross off our last week of summer bucket list.  

Things like going to the splash park one more time...

Pool party with cousins...
This ended up not only being the last pool party of the season but also the last of the pool.  Five big kids in there was apparently too much as it popped mid-play.  At least it held out until the end of summer.

On my end of summer bucket list was one more hike and picnic with my girls and we sure found the perfect picnic spot...

Hiking in the fall is actually pretty awesome around here so there will be more hikes in our future.  In fact I really want to try some snow hiking this winter.  I think part of the reason I get in such a winter slump is because I need to be in the mountains.  The girls are older now so I plan on bundling everyone up and at least giving it a try.  I know I can convince this family with the promise of hot cocoa.  

That last week of summer vacation we crammed a lot in.  Wanting to soak up every last morsel.  We said no to nothing.  When neighbors called with a last minute invite for a dinner picnic up Hyalite, we didn't even hesitate...thoughts of summer is ending, do it.  The very next night we did the same thing but with different friends and at a different location.  Same type of may be work, but we gotta, summer is ending.  Doing so much there was a small part of me that began to look forward to the calm down of the fall months.  I do believe each season has its purpose and fall for me is slowing down.  Taking a breath.  But I will miss these carefree, no bedtime, fun with friends evenings...

Usually Labor Day is our final farewell to summer, however this one felt more like a welcoming of fall.  The air was chilly and there was plenty of rain.  As much as I wanted to we decided against camping.  As I felt the chill each night I was very happy with this decision.  We still tried to do summer things.  All ended with us soaking wet.  A hike and picnic Saturday was going beautifully and suddenly the clouds changed and opened up and dumped on us.  By the time we reached the car all of us were soaked to the bone.  Yes, I was very thankful we weren't returning to a tent that night but to the warmth of my parents river house.  The next day, as if we didn't get enough the prior day, we went for a float on the river only to be poured on again.  Not much you can do sitting in a raft on a slow moving river with the wind and rain going against you.  Just laugh.  That's what you can do.  Laugh at the situation and know you would dry and warm up soon.  

It wasn't the ideal way to kiss our summer goodbye, but what can you do.  You remember the little moments of the weekend when the sun poked out and blessed you with its warm rays.
You stick your feet in the cold creek and feel happy to be out in nature...
You watch little girls, imaginations flurrying with the sandy beach we played on...
And, you sit back with your favorite book you're reading for the hundredth time and enjoy...
Yes, that is how you say goodbye to summer vacation.  You just do it, despite the weather because it deserves a proper send off.  After all it was so very good to us.  

I know it doesn't officially end for a few more weeks so I won't start mourning the end of summer quite yet.  There's a bit more to soak in and I intend to do so.