Monday, December 30, 2013

I don't know what it is exactly.

This Christmas season has held approximately one thousand moments of loveliness.  Here are some of them.

I helped Reed's class build gingerbread houses. 

We got a bunch of beautiful snow in Maine, and this was just the beginning.
We drove to Cleveland to visit Tim's family.  Yes we did, for a two-day visit.  13 hours each way.  At this moment, Ellis was driving and we were relaxing in the back.  With four drivers and such good company, the trip was a breeze.
This family sings "Joy to the World" (with harmonies) at the table before eating, laughs often and loudly, plays cut-throat Balderdash, and gives perfect and generous gifts.  This family also runs, so in our two days there, we ran 10 miles together. 
And there are big sit-down dinners with much banter and conversation, and good beer, and place cards.  I love them.

We drove back in time to prep for Christmas day.

And Christmas really began for me once these two were within my clutches.
On Christmas Eve, there was a pink sunset, and also, sledding. 

Christmas morning, before the spell was broken, I drank coffee in the dark while the kids slept upstairs.
Soon, I heard laughing, and somehow they had all ended up in bed together. 

Skyler said, about Christmas morning, "I don't know what it is exactly, but everything feels just perfect."

The personalized guitar strap (with flames) from Uncle Chris was a highlight.
Also, there was bracelet making.

Even Saige, the American Girl Doll, got a horse and dog.  I mean, really.
The ice storm left everything coated in glitter.  This is the view from our deck.

And another foot of snow sealed the deal:  Maine, you're gorgeous.
The rest of the week we spent doing adventurous and boisterous things like TUBING.

And skateboarding, rock climbing, and more sledding.

And suddenly yesterday,  the house was clean and the presents were all put away, and Tim and I found ourselves with a whole day to ourselves.  The two hardest decisions we had to make were:  What time do we run?  and, Where should we go out to eat?

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Everything to all of you.  

I don't know what it is exactly either.  I just know it feels good.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From Skyler, with care: who my daughter is

I overheard this conversation in the beginning of December:

Skyler: "Reed, what is the best part of Christmas, giving or receiving?"
Reed:  "Giving?"
Skyler:  "CORRECT."

Anyone who knows Skyler knows what a generous little soul she is, and how she prides herself in taking care of others.  Even as a little kid, our friends would come over to play, and Skyler would send each child home with one of her toys or stuffed animals.  She would insist that everyone take something home.

Skyler just seems to have a deep and real understanding that she's lucky, and she feels a sense of duty to make other people feel lucky and cared for too. She actually finds joy in helping and giving in a way that belies her age.   I think I'm a pretty nice person and all, but I can't take credit for this side of Skyler.  Generosity is not something anyone taught her;  it is who she is.

Skyler, this year, made and wrapped presents for all of her friends and family without any help from us, nor any knowledge of it happening.  I knew she was busy doing something in her room, but I was surprised when I found a whole pile of presents up there, all tied with bows and labeled with to-from notes.  But that wasn't enough, she wanted to buy some presents too.

Side bar:

We use a system of marbles for rewarding good behavior at our house, and the kids each have a marble jar.  The marble system is actually sort of complicated and it has taken on a life of its own in our house.  You can earn a marble for eating a good dinner, getting everything done in the morning without nagging, making your bed, or just being "caught" doing something extra nice or good.  You can lose a marble for various infractions too, and so some days marbles are going in and out of the jars in a very complex formula.  The kids can trade in their marbles for things like movies, a new book, a new toy.

Skyler earns a lot of marbles and loses few, and so as of yesterday, she had 117 marbles in her jar.  As a contrast, Reed has about 12 because he loses one every time he leaves his jacket in the middle of the floor, which is most days.  He also loses one for jumping on the couch or driving me crazy.  I sometimes say:  "You are going to lose your marbles" and what I mean is, that I, in fact, am losing mine.


Skyler shopped for Christmas presents at our favorite store the Rock and Art Shop, and used up most of her hard-earned marbles.  It was just the two of us, and she took her time thinking, weighing possibilities, and then deliberately selecting presents for her family, really nice things that will have use as well as meaning.  Watching her in action just about killed me.
She made sure each gift was boxed carefully and then carried them all home to wrap.  This cost her 82 marbles, which she dutifully counted and emptied out of her jar when we got home.

But she was not done.  Earlier in the month, she asked if we could do something nice for people that might not have as much as we do.  We discussed some options and decided on baking a lot of cookies because cookies make everyone happy, and after much deliberation, she decided on the Ronald McDonald House and the firefighters of Bangor as the recipients.  The Ronald McDonald House is a home-away-from-home for families of sick children on extended stays in the hospital.  These people, Skyler decided, probably could use some extra Christmas cheer.  And bringing cookies to the firefighters just seemed like a nice thing to do. 

Reed helped, but this operation was driven by Skyler.  When Reed was exhausted and lying on the floor, Skyler was still carefully decorating piles of cookies.

hey guys, you got a little bit of flour on your shirts.

Several batches later, we had a nice collection.

On the cards, she wrote:

And we carried them off for delivery. I told her we could deliver them without Reed, and at first she was excited at that thought.  But it seemed to weigh on her, and so she asked that we wait to do the fire station trip until Reed could be with us.

The reaction of the staff was perfect.  They made an appropriate fuss about how kind she was to think of these families, and how delicious and beautiful her cookies looked.

And they asked her to come into the office and give her name and address so that she could be properly thanked.

Later on, we went to the fire station.  Again, the reaction was perfect. 
 Not only did the firefighters gush about the cookies, they invited us in for an extensive tour and let the kids climb up and sit on everything.
They radioed upstairs and asked some men to drop down the fireman pole to meet "the kids who brought them cookies."  What a thrill.
"You made us cookies?  YOU ARE THE BEST"  they said.

Yesterday, I also took Skyler to the eye doctor as she had been complaining about headaches and not being able to read the board at school.  Her near-sightedness was confirmed, and we went to pick out some glasses.  Another thing I adore about Skyler:  She is very decisive and knows exactly what she wants.  Within the first two minutes, she said:  "These are the ones I want.   I am sure."

Oh, my girl. 

On the way home last night, thinking back on her day, about the people at the Ronald McDonald house, the people at the doctor's office, the people at the glasses store, and the firemen and, she said:  "Everyone was so nice to me today."   You reap what you sow, honey.  You reap what you sow.

What a joy to share my life with this little person.   I cannot wait for Christmas morning for a million reasons, but one of them is that I'm excited to give Skyler some nice gifts I know she will love.

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December skies and black eyes: maintaining our Christmas cheer.

In terms of the no-stress holiday, we are doing pretty well.  I am trying not to run around too much, or take on too many ambitious baking projects (but some), and we are spending as much time as we can just sitting by the fire and the tree.

I am reminded this time every year that as parents, we have a lot of work to do to create holidays for our kids.  It's not just the shopping, but the keeping of positive attitudes, the willingness to get sprinkles all over the kitchen, to make home-made gifts for all of their teachers, and all the while keep going over and over the words to the Christmas carols being sung in the pageant.  I want to make a lot of sweet memories with the kids, but they have their limits and they get tired, too. And so do I. 

My mother set the bar pretty high with amazing gourmet meals around the holidays.  So one potential stress is that I guess we need to plan for and prep a Christmas Eve dinner, a Christmas brunch, and a Christmas dinner.  Christmas dinner seems like a lot to ask, doesn't it?  Don't we just want to lie around under the tree all day and watch the children who are still happily occupied with new toys?  Yes, we do. I think I need to come up with a meal plan that leaves the adults as happy and relaxed as the kids.

I'm remembering to breathe and keep the focus on all the goodness and generosity and the blessings that make up our lives.

December is so pretty, and can be so peaceful.  Look at this early-morning sky, taken after I left the pool this morning before school.  So quiet.  I will come back to the image of this sky over the next week or two when I will undoubtedly run out of scotch tape in the middle of wrapping and have to drive to Target, again.

That peaceful sky may turn into a big storm this weekend (yes, please!) and that adds another element of joy:  a foot of snow. And really, what is more peaceful than a snow storm, forcing us to stay by the fire?

Meanwhile, December means Reed has started basketball which turns out to be one of the cutest things in the universe. 

big gym, little people.
It is cute because these 6-7 year-olds are so short but they work so hard.  It is cute because the coach is good enough that the kids actually sort of know what they are doing, and I was so proud watching Reed steal, run, and shoot.  When he scored for the first time, he got at least a foot of air and threw his hands in the air in victory.

He also collided with his coach's forehead during a drill and got a nice black eye.
Look how tough.   On the night of the collision:
And the next morning:

Puffy eye and all, we had a weekend full of Christmas cheer:

Christmas crafting at the UMaine art museum:

Festival of Lights Parade... (with layers, hats, blankets and stuffed animals)
...which ends with a Santa sighting.  And I almost shouted:  "It's about time, Santa!!  IT'S FREEZING!"

 Christmas pageant rehearsal:
For which, I guess we were a little sleepy.

And Christmas tree choosing, cutting, and trimming.

 The kids actually cut down the tree with very little help from us and only a moderate amount of arguing about whose turn it was with the saw.

We ended the weekend with a big family dinner, a house full of people and cheer.  

There was, in fact, so much good cheer and ingestion of so much sugar that the night ended, after the 49th time that I had to break up a squabble between the kids for someone poking someone or taking something from someone, with me grabbing each kid and whisking them upstairs for bed in a rather teary and dramatic scene.

Ah, the holidays.  We can try all we want to make every moment so special and perfect, but apparently sibling rivalry* doesn't take a Christmas vacation. 
At the end of the day, though, we can all sit on the couch and squint at the Christmas tree so that the lights get all sparkly.  You do this too, don't you.

  *Tim reminds me on a daily basis how well Skyler and Reed get along, considering.  They are usually so good to each other.  But when they start to annoy each other, they really annoy each other, and everyone near them. 

So, though these moments aren't all perfect, they are ours, and our fire is always warm, and the next few weeks hold a lot of promise for a very very good Christmas.  

Cheers!   xo


The wellness column that I write each month for the Bangor Metro Magazine is now online, and December's issue was an article I was proud of.  It stemmed from a blog post I wrote a year ago, and has gone through many ruminations and changes.

Thanks so much for all of you who already commented on the facebook post about this article.   Your support means so much to me.

  Here it is.