Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Date with my Best Girl

Katie has been so patient with having to share my attention with her brother, and she is always loving toward him. Still, I know it has not always been easy for her, especially since it was just the two of us for so long. With that in mind, I wanted to take her on another mother-daughter date this month. We had a perfect opportunity: Tangled, Disney's new film about Rapunzel, came out in theaters today and Bill was home to take care of Eric.

Although Katie has been to live theater several times now, she had not yet been to a movie theater. I was excited to give her this first experience. She loved it! She has learned to be super quiet in the theater, and so she even asked me if it was okay to make crunching sounds while chewing her popcorn. Sweetie pie! In fact, outside of eating a piece of popcorn off the lobby floor (EW!!! I thought we had established not eating off the floors when she was 2 ?!?!?), she did GREAT at the movie theater.

Afterward we briefly went into the mall to pick out a pair of Christmas jammies for Katie and Eric, and then we went to Golden Spoon for some frozen yogurt. A very fun date!

We really enjoyed Tangled, which was both cuter and full of more substance than I expected. This version of Rapunzel's character is extremely appealing, and even Flynn the thief-turned-sympathetic-helper was winning despite his occupation. Despite a couple of odd and modernist elements, like the gang of villains who turn out to have soft hearts full of unclaimed dreams (such as playing the piano or....becoming a professional mime?...what?), I felt this film was nonetheless charming. It probably helped that I was getting to see it with one of the people I love most in the world, and that she was so excited for it and laughing.

 Katie is ready for our date. I always tell her that she should only ever go on dates with someone who thinks she is one of the best people in the world. It is important that parents set the standard for dating. We actually believe that dating is only for the purpose of getting married; it should be more like courting. We make sure Katie knows that we would never want to her spend time with someone who would ever treat her less well than her parents do or who would ever try to part her from her family.

Katie admires the huge Christmas tree at the mall.

Katie with our bucket of popcorn in the theater while waiting for the movie to begin. I usually don't get popcorn anymore, actually, but for her first time I wanted to give her a really classic experience.

I loved having this special time with my girl and reforging our bond. Of course when I came home, one of the first things I did was scoop Eric off of Bill's lap and cover him with kisses!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cone Advent Calendar

With Christmastime so near, it has been time this week to start organizing ourselves a bit more methodically for the season. I've been working through a deep-clean of the house (not so fun), making our Christmas cards (fun, but a reminder to myself to focus on joyfulness of heart and not perfectionism, because, really, perfectionism is a drag), and starting our Christmas projects (really, really all fun). I missed blogging about our Thanksgiving turkey pinecone craft, but I promise that I have been making Thanksgiving a distinct holiday for the kiddos. Well, okay, the lines got a little blurry this week: reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas was just too enticing with the rain and the firelight, and I actually played Christmas carols this morning.

We are planning to decorate this coming Friday, and I had to decide what to do about our advent calendar. Last year, I had an advent calendar I'd gotten on sale the year prior and saved...and we also made a classic paper chain. It was a little much to do each one every morning and there were drawbacks: the advent calendar was small for Katie's dexterity at the time, and the paper chain (when it wasn't falling down) started to be unreachable as the days counted down. This year I have been pondering: what to do?

I thought about buying another advent calendar, nostalgic from my childhood, but for Katie it would still be difficult to use (the numbers can be hard to find, too), plus there is the expense. They aren't super expensive, but I knew I could do something more cheaply. I thought we might give the paper chain another go, but then I found this from Disney's Family Fun magazine. It is the "cone-iferous forest advent calendar" and the template for making the varied sizes of cones is online. How easy is that?

Since we were up early we had plenty of time to get it done before Toastmasters. Another reason I am thankful for my teaching career prior to having children? I can be energized and ready to teach my babies with a smile by 7:15 AM (with some good coffee, I might add).

Some pictures:
Taken last night right before bedtime: goodnight, babies. Get some sleep before your project tomorrow.

 Eric looks on from the couch, and happy Katie is ready to start our paper craft. She loves, loves projects...and it has been more challenging (understatement of the year) to fit in as many as we used to now that we are a family with two children. But I actually have had some time more recently to do my prep, so we have some projects on board for the coming weeks.

 Basically, the "calendar" consists of several cones or Christmas trees. We made ours very colorful just for fun. Katie and I held the pen together to write the numbers, and she glued on almost all the number circles. We made a glitter star for the 24th tree, the Christmas Eve tree. A little cut-up butcher paper beneath makes snow.
What I love about these trees: they are hollow, so I can hide little treats underneath. I bought some Christmas Hershey's Kisses on sale, and they will fit perfectly under the trees for a little nibble of chocolate each day. The kisses were $3.00 and the only money I spent on this craft (not counting the construction paper, glue, scissors, and glitter which were all on hand).

So I really love this project and it should be fun for Katie to use this year. She can reach this ledge fairly easily now that she has her stool that she painted. The numbers are big enough that we can use this as a good numerical teaching tool for numbers higher than 10.

I'm pretty excited about this one. I definitely recommend this project if you are looking for a traditional advent calendar alternative for little children.

Growing Younger

With just a little time to catch up on my blogging for the week while my son and daughter sleep---miraculously---at the same time, I reflect on their innocence, their faith in my husband and I as their parents, their excitement for life. In what ways can we keep our hearts always this young and supple? How do we find within ourselves our very essence?

So often I have the perception that Life reveals themes for me to ponder in concentrated forms. This afternoon at Toastmasters all three formal speakers gave speeches that embraced a common theme: the relationship of the unique and aging self to the Universe. I frequently leave Toastmasters and the genuine, thoughtful people I have met there, with questions about the greater truth. There may be a perception that we come together each Tuesday only to work on our speaking skills, yet what I see and hear from my friends there is an authentic opening of their hearts and minds as they stand before the rest of us. Jerone Lee asked us today to consider ourselves as part of a symphony, each one of us a special instrument that must play our individual part with faith that the Great Conductor will help us to transition from theme to theme. He exhorted us to celebrate our unique roles, without fear. He acknowledged that some of us play minor melodies of melancholy, and others play the bright major notes of optimism. His metaphor was quite powerful, made more heartfelt by experience as a musician who has played all over the world.

As I look at my children napping nearby one another, I wonder what each of their roles will be in this great wide universe.

Bob Freel, whose objective today was to plunge us into a mood of merrymaking with a humorous speech, reminded us that growing physically old is inevitable. Exaggerating the use of his body, Bob demonstrated the seven ways to deal with putting on underwear as we age, the three ways of getting up off of the ground, and a few other unexpected pieces of advice for dealing with our declining bodies. In an ironic twist, however, Bob proved that he has the stamina of one young at heart and quite fit: few people could have actually pulled off the physically demanding slapstick speech that he showed us. He was rolling on the ground, jumping around, and keeping a good pace despite the aerobic nature of his speech. I found myself thinking about Jerone's speech and the idea of Bob using his time---and our time on Earth is finite---to put something positive out into the world. In all the time I have known him, I have known Bob to be someone who wants the best from others and who, most importantly, seems to hold himself to that same standard. I think that may be what I respect most about him. He uses his voice, his instrument, to put passion and humor and thought before audiences big and small.

We never know why, at first, our paths intersect with those of certain people for a time. There may be cases why we never know even at the end. But I do know I am meant to be learning from this particular group of people right now, and that is one of the reasons I keep returning. Bob addressed even some of us who were younger in the audience, as he joked that one day we would all be old and going through similar situations. Even though most of me found that very humorous, the serious side of Sarah got just a little sad. I know someday when I am 80-years-old or 90-years-old, some of these friends that I see every week will no longer be here. In that moment when I am doing the knee-bounce to stand up, will I remember Bob in his Grumpy t-shirt making jokes and talking just about this very moment? I know I will.

And then there was Steve Matley's prepared speech. Steve is known for his humor, but this speech was quite serious. In a speech that almost had me in tears several times (I used to cry only very rarely, but after having children I am a ball of weepiness, probably permanently), Steve spoke of being a young dad and raising his daughters. He demonstrated several magic tricks that he used to do for them and how they always believed in "Daddy Magic", especially when they were young. He could solve any problem, making anything better, heal any hurt. And then they grew up...

It was a poignant speech, I thought, as I sat next to my own dad at the meeting. I thought of how my dad used to make hand puppets, too, and it was only just like yesterday. There was nothing my dad couldn't do. In my heart of hearts, even though my mind knows he is human just like me and therefore given the same limitations we all have, I still believe that my dad can fix anything or do anything. It made me both happy and nostalgic to realize that I still think that of my own dad. I have faith in him, and in my mom, beyond the faith they probably both have in themselves. I wonder if I seem that way to my own children. It's funny, because I know that I am still such a baby in so many ways, myself: every once in awhile life brings me puzzles to solve and I realize that adults/parents don't have all the answers. If anything, adulthood and parenthood only bring more questions. So, does that mean that my parents still feel like children, too, sometimes? Do they still have questions, too? Do I see them as adults even when they don't feel like they are?

Steve's larger point, though, was that he, too, has faith in his "daddy," God (Jerone's Great Conductor) even when he has burdens that feel too heavy to bear. It was either Steve or Jerone (and I think it was Steve) who compared faith to the innocence of a child sleeping.

Which returns me now to my own sleeping children. And how much I hope their faith in me is not misplaced, even though in my darker self-critical moments, sometimes I think it is. I am so imperfect and have many moments when I wish my children could have a better guide through this life than I am---like someone who knows everything about what she's doing. But I know that isn't realistic. I know that, perhaps, no real parent ever feels like she does know everything. We are just waiting for our children to discover how imperfect we are, and then, by some kind of grace, to love us regardless.

Even half as much as we love them. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Home Renews the Heart

Every once in awhile when an element of my life falls out of balance, I find myself temporarily out of touch with my authentic self. This week I have been on a quest to renew myself and tune back into authenticity. I haven't been writing, because nothing bothers me more than to write when I lack an authentic voice---or at least, a solid grip on my authentic voice. Writing can be many things, but for me it must be true. Yet because I have not been writing (even falling behind in my gratitude journal), I am even more removed from the place in my heart where I am most genuine. A vicious cycle. I finally got frustrated at myself yesterday when I tried to write something and found myself completely at odds with my search for my authentic voice in the piece. When a voice (and I do mean voice, specifically, and not rhetorical devices, which one can alter to suit an audience) is really authentic, it can be itself anytime and anywhere, to any audience---and even if the audience doesn't agree with the message, one hopes that at least the audience recognizes the sincerity.

For me, especially the older I get, I am becoming more of a stickler for this: if it isn't sincere and authentic, it is not really worth doing, or perhaps should morally not be done. Debate can ensue on the latter half of this statement, readers, if you wish. ;-)

Lately, with my tendency to burn candles at both ends to work on personal projects and business and the natural tendency of children to awaken in the middle of the night (Katie, at 3, still wakes up most nights for comfort), I haven't been getting as much sleep as perhaps I should. Eric has started sleeping for many-hour stretches, which helps, but I still find myself conditioned this week to wake up at his previously established feeding times. My mind then starts whirring and just when it starts to get sleepy, one of my children will wake up. So, sleep has been out of balance.

Finding those moments of personal rejuvenation has also been a little out of balance this month. Of course it is, with two children, and that has a tendency to happen as an involved mother. I prepared myself for this period many months ago, knowing it would occur. I remember that one of the major benefits of college and learning to live with roommates is that I had to make my private spaces in my mind---mental compartments I could go into for a moment to revitalize even when there were people around me. I need to work more at tapping back into those peaceful areas, even in the midst of busy and happy noise. I have been working, too, with Katie on learning to entertain herself a bit when I am working on business or other projects. At almost every moment of her life, I have entertained, played with, stimulated, talked with, and taught her---and done almost everything else while she was napping or asleep for the night. Since she has almost entirely phased out naps, we are working on a new dynamic. I know that in the long run we will be able to work on separate projects side by side, but it is taking quite a bit of creative effort to give her the confidence that I still love her and acknowledge her when we are working on separate things or when I need to give concentrated attention to Eric.

Thus today I tried to go back to the source: gratitude, simplicity, and appreciation for home. Whenever I start feeling out of balance and out of harmony with myself, I begin the return journey by giving my thanks. Something about the simple act of identifying the parts of life for which I am grateful gives me the perspective I need to laugh at myself, find my creativity, and give the deeper parts of myself to my husband and children.

So it was a day of playtime and art and baking cookies with my children. For me, often, when I focus on filling up my childrens' cup, it so happens that in the end I also fill up my own. We return to the less complicated joy of simply being with one another and letting home renew our hearts. That joy is the reason I am able to write tonight, authentically and more in harmony with myself. I've never had a job outside of the home that was more demanding, or rewarding, than raising these two kiddos. I've never had a job that required more of everything I have to offer, or that asked me to reach deeper into my stores of energy, patience, intelligence, or, sometimes, sheer willpower to keep going on those exhausted days. Late last week I did some business writing for my dad's website, and that actually felt like a break or even a hobby! The mothering gig makes writing an eight to ten page paper on literary theory for a graduate level course in college seem like child's play.

Today, we played with joy in mind:

 Eric and Katie work on "tummy time." He is getting stronger!

 Sweet kiddos!

 We put on our paint clothes and painted a wooden stool for Katie to use in the downstairs bathroom as she washes her hands.

 We each painted a part of it. Katie explained her swirly technique to me, and I learned from my daughter how much fun it is to blend colors at whim and see what beauty arises (instead of trying to be so Type A about it, which is how I usually try to paint---and which is why I am not a visual artist). ;-)

 Eric in his bath. Oh, he loves his bath! He likes to suck on clean washcloths just like his sister did.

 Baking cookies. We tried a healthier recipe today: lower carbs, lower fat, lower sugar. They are moist and tasty. Thanks, Ellie Krieger!

Katie still loves her magnifying glass. I love how her own face is magnified here.

So, I am wishing you all an authentic week, and a week in which giving thanks is a means to remember the truest source of your joy.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Aunt Debbie's 60th Birthday (SURPRISE) Party

My Aunt Debbie turned 60-years-old this past week and my cousin Jed and Uncle Tom threw her a surprise party this weekend! We loved celebrating with her, and I know we made the right choice in choosing to attend: Katie had also received her first invitation to a birthday party for a little girl in our music class, but the two events conflicted. It was finally resolved in our hearts to honor our family before our friends. I was proud of my girl, who chose our family first, when I had and heart-to-heart with her and asked her where her heart's desire lay (prefaced by the caveat that mommy would make the final decision). She had a child's clarity about it that was refreshing, and in being with my aunt yesterday and watching the friendship between Katie and her cousins, I knew our hearts led us true.

So many aspects of the birthday party were witness to this: Aunt Debbie's joy in seeing everyone, Katie and Violet laughing as they played with Jed and me outside, a slide show showing Aunt Debbie's life and the realization that yes, "the seasons, they go round and round/and the painted ponies go up and down..." and that we are in the season of watching our childhood recede and our mothers take up the mantle of grandmotherhood. 

Aunt Debbie watching the slide show.

Eric and his Nana.

Nana with two of her three grandchildren (my brother and Ashley came, but this was taken after they left toward the end of the party) and all four great-grandchildren.

The next generation of cousinhood, all snuggled up together.

Cousin Jed makes a sleigh from a blanket and takes the girls for a ride.

We play "ring around the rosie." At some point during our play, I was watching my daughter play with Jed and Violet...and I was struck by how it seems like just yesterday that Jed and I were running around that same yard playing our mystery/clue game we always used to play together. It was a beautiful and poignant realization all at once...

Violet and Katie playing in the backyard.


We are thankful for this time with our family, and a weekend filled with cousins on both sides of our family. I cannot state enough how grateful I am to my parents and my aunts and uncles for solidifying in our youth the bonds of family and the friendship among us all. May those bonds and friendships last us through our lives.

Beach Picnic in November

As the keeping of the family together becomes the responsibility of my generation, I realize ever moreso the gift that my parents and their siblings gave us in making sure we had friendships and memories with our cousins over the years of our childhood. My cousins feel more like brothers and sisters than cousins. Some of us even dream of a family compound someday, a place where we all can live within walking distance to one another across many acres of farm land. I love my cousins so much, and I hope that we can always be an example of a family who is loyal and loving to its own, of family members who never leave one another, of one unit who will always rally the wagons and search to support one another even as we must make difficult decisions together.

After music class on Friday, I drove the kiddos to my cousin Hannah's house in Oceanside. She lives right next door to Aunt Diane and Uncle Brad, and my cousin Kd is minutes away in Vista. We planned a beach picnic and hoped to get as many cousins as possible with us. Bethy was able to meet us, and we all ate, watched and played in the ocean, and marveled and rejoiced at the beautiful day. We thought the beach might be crowded given the weather, but we happened to be on a stretch of sand with almost no one but the seagulls hopping about.

November in California has its advantages!

Eric's first glimpse of the ocean. He loved watching the tide...I dipped two of his toes in but not for long, as the water was somewhat cold.

Katie plays on the beach.

Beth and Katie.
Picnic time!
Kd and Hannah give Eric love.
A golden moment.
Dancing in the water together.

Hannah and Eric at our picnic spot.

Eric got to visit with his Grand-Aunt when she got home from work. I got to visit with both my aunt and uncle, and I just thought it was really awesome to feel so welcome at their house without it being a family party day or without my parents, like just dropping in. I love having so many parental figures in my life, not only my parents but also my aunts and uncles---and I am thankful that my parents have made decisions to ensure that this would be the case.

I love this picture of Kd, helping to build the sandcastle.

When I give my gratitudes each day, I am always thankful for my cousins and my family. They are my treasure.


The year Katie was born, I brought her home on Halloween. Ever since, the holiday has felt like an extension of her birthday to me, another day to celebrate my October Baby, my little pumpkin girl. We always have my parents over for Halloween, and some of us go out trick-or-treating, and some of us pass out candy. This year, Bill manned the door and the rest of us---including Eric!---braved the night. It is funny how Katie had to wait until she was 2-years-old to be allowed out on Halloween, and now Eric is only three months old and he is already dressing up and in his stroller (he was just along for the ride: I believe you can't collect candy until you can walk and do the work for it). Ah, younger siblings catch all the breaks, no? ;-)

We listened to our Halloween play list while eating our dinner: penne with a pumpkin cream and sage sauce; quesadillas cut to look like jack-o-lanters, and fruit salad. We mulled apple cider while we were out, and then we came back and sorted Katie's candy while sipping the warm drink. We closed up the house at 8:00 PM, the kiddos' bedtime, but in truth we had very few people this year. We made a festive time of it, however!

Carving our pumpkins. Katie chose happy faces for both this year---she is definitely not into scary things!

Mr. Pumpkin!

A dalmatian, a cat, and a pumpkin. Katie knew she wanted to be a doggy (her very favorite animal) months and months ago. When I asked her this past summer what I should be, she wanted me to be a cat to go with her dog. I chose Eric's pumpkin costume after he was born.

Ready for trick-or-treating!

Halloween 2010!