Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On being sick. And 2015.

It seems as though the sickness has not left our home this winter, and winter has just begun. From one cold to another, to then catching the big dog, the flu, we can't seem to catch a break. Just when we think we are on the mend, another one catches us and brings us down hard.

So we are stuck. We are stuck inside moping and groping and feeling pitiful for ourselves.  I lost 3 pounds in a matter of 2 days. I couldn't leave the couch except to feed my children and change them. And I tossed and turned at night, in between chills and breaking fevers. My body was fighting and I couldn't help but say "I hate this feeling."

And the truth is, that I do. And I hate it even more when I see my children experience the same feeling. Being sick is one of the most helpless feelings in the world, and not just that, but an entirely big inconvenience.

Think about it. Christmas is over, all the big birthdays are over, and I'm stuck here with the flu. I finally have 3 days off work and I have these big plans to put all the Christmas decor away, to organize every closet in the house, to clean and to de-clutter. And now I can't. I have this set back, and it's a pretty crappy one at that.

But as inconvenient as it may be, and as terrible of a feeling as it may be, it is a greater blessing in disguise. To appreciate your health. To appreciate your body. To take care of yourself. To forget about the unimportant things in life {laundry, cleaning, organizing} and focus on what is important {your family, and helping others}. I can't count how many times I have sat on the couch with my children in the past 3 days and thought about all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, adults and children, who are sick out there. Those that are much sicker than I am. Those that are struggling with cancer. Those that are actively dying.

Specifically, I thought about the women I wrote about last year who had passed away from cancer. I knew then that her words would forever stay with me, but I never realized how much. As I walked up the stairs two nights ago carrying Graham in my arms, I thought that I possibly wouldn't make it one more step. Every bone in my body ached. I felt the weakest I had ever felt. And I teared up thinking about this mother and how she had to crawl up the stairs to tuck her children in at night. Her body was failing her, and I could only imagine the pain that she felt both physically and emotionally.

But unlike those that are dying, the sickness that hits many of our families across the world during this time of year gets better. We eventually get our strength back. We eventually get our appetite back. And we eventually get up and moving as if we were never sick.

For me, all that is left of my sickness is a lingering cough. My muscles feel stronger. My bones don't have that dull ache.  And I think I will be able to scrounge up an egg or two this morning. Better yet, conveniently, I am pleased to report that I'm well enough to go right back to work tonight. 

But I can't help but think about what these past 3 days have meant to me. I look around the room and I can't hold back the tears wondering how blessed I am for these three people in my life and for the good health that we have been fortunate to have all these years.With the new year approaching, I think about all the things that I want to improve on, how I want to grow, and in which ways I want to fully dive into life, and each time I bring myself to one word:

To give.

To give more of myself.

 To my children. To myself. To Jesus. To those in need. To the environment. To my family and friends.

Sounds so basic.

That's because it is. I don't have any grand plans or goals, I just want to completely live life. Use my strength and good health to focus on the important things in life and to see what the future brings. To never have regrets, and to re-focus.

To give all of myself. To all that is important in life.

Happy 2015. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Christmas Traditions

A couple of years ago, I wrote out our traditions on the blog. Actually, I think it may have been around 3 years ago when E was just a tiny little baby. Since then though, our traditions have changed—or better said, they grew.

It's always fun for me to read about what other families do. Do they do Santa? How do they give gifts? Are they wrapped or unwrapped Christmas day? Who brings the most of the gifts—parents or Santa? Do they do Advent? Elf on the Shelf? Cookie baking marathons? Christmas tunes starting 100 days before Christmas? Real tree vs. fake? Decorations throughout? Christmas carols for the neighbors?

I want to know it all.

And to be honest with you, I have adopted some of my own traditions for our family based on some of the things that I have read on other blogs. This time of year is always too short and goes by too quick, and I know that one day the kids will grow up and they will look at the holiday in a slightly different way. That Christmas magic may be gone, but my hope for them is that they always hold on to the true meaning of Christmas and that they celebrate the gift of life that was given to us by Jesus' birth. I hope that they remember that family is what is most important and not the gifts under the tree. And I hope that they always put others in need before theirs—every bit of extra money that they may have to go to those that are not as fortunate as themselves.

So about those traditions.

We believe in Jesus is the reason for the season. Jesus is the reason for Christmas and my kids will tell you that if you ask them. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because Jesus was born. They know the entire story of Jesus' birth from start to finish, and they understand the meaning behind why we receive gifts. It's important for them to have this foundation so that they don't get overwhelmed with the whole magic of Santa and presents— they still do of course, they're 4 and 2 [almost}.

So, that brings us to the major "controversy" below {never realized it was such a controversy}.

We believe in the magical fun of Santa. Let us just get the big elephant in the room out of the way. You know, growing up, I never even knew that people didn't do Santa. I know that may sound silly, but aside from those that were from other religions and didn't celebrate Christmas, I never knew anyone that did Christmas and didn't have a Santa come through their chimney to deliver their presents. The thought, the horror. 

 But in all seriousness, I think it's great that people know from the beginning that they aren't going to do Santa in their family and that they teach their kids who he is {since he is everywhere and you kind of can't avoid him} and that some parents choose to celebrate him while others don't. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter to me whether one does or doesn't want to practice the fun of Santa with their children, it's just important that they understand that others do and it's not about Santa, and it's not about being good or bad, and it's not about lying to children.

In our family, Santa is a big red guy that we take pictures with and that travels around and delivers one present from their Santa list. Why only one? Because he has to take care of all the children in the world, and one is always more than plenty. The rest come from mom and dad in celebration of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So is it lying? Nope. Not in our book. We want them to discover when they believe and when they don't, so it's not for us to decide when that happens.  The day that our kids come to us and ask if Santa is real, our answer will be simple:

"He's as real as you want him to be. "

Advent. Of course we do Advent every year, and every year I change it up in the way it looks, but the theme is always the same. This year we bought a book that went with every day and it talks about Jesus, how we can grow as individuals as we wait for the birth of Christ, and also has a daily prayer. I made envelopes and wrapped them this year with different activities to do every day, the story of the birth of Jesus, as well as some treats from time to time. They love the idea of opening a new envelope every day, and I may just do the same thing next year. Time consuming though guys. Time consuming.

We are the fake Christmas tree people... for now. Growing up, I always had a real tree in my family. In fact, my parents still get a real one every year. Growing up for Andrew, it was always a fake tree. So when we had E, I was certain that we would be going to a tree farm and doing our cutting and that was going to be the beginning of that tradition. And then Andrew's parents gifted us a tree, and I loved it and that was well... that. So here we are, 4 years later, and I want to still so badly get a real tree. We talked about it this year, but we talked about it too late. So what we decided was that next year we would be getting one, and still keeping our fake one up as well. One for each big room downstairs. One the kids decorate, and one that we do as a couple.

Check in with me next year.

We welcome back our Happy Elf every year with open arms. We started this tradition last year when E was 3 and could understand, and I tell you what we have never had a single regret. For one, we don't do anything extravagent. In fact, our Elf just simply goes from one spot to the other and that is more than enough for the kids to go "Ohhhh, ahhhh" and to ask for him first thing in the morning and wonder where he will be. Also, we break rules around here and our elf sometimes changes spots throughout the day. The craziest thing our elf has done was spill flour all over the floor while trying to make cookies {Andrew was not pleased with this one}, and make a mess with the toilet paper in the bathroom. That's it.

No, our elf does not talk about good/bad behavior and we don't threaten with that, but I see nothing wrong with that if others choose to use him in that way. Hey, it's no different than someone threatening time out or to take a toy away for bad behavior. Potato-PotAto.

We decorate with no theme. I'm not a pottery barn decorator, and I never will be. I'm an after-Christmas-75% off Wal-Mart decoration shopper. I have Santas and Christmas trees in every room and all sorts of crazy decor, and all it means at the end of the day is Tis the season. And I love it, and I always ask for gift cards for Christmas simply for this shopping experience alone. True statement.

When my kids are older, I do hope to have that out of the catalog Christmas tree and home. But I don't like to talk about days of when my kids are older...

Tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving. All other decorations are fair game {a couple weeks before}. This is a husband tradition.

We bake cookies and deliver them to neighbors. I was waiting until E was old enough to start this tradition and understand it, and so this year was the first year that we started doing this. We had so much fun doing this, that we plan on having another baking marathon and delivering more.

Santa also gets cookies and carrots for the reindeer. We have a plate made specifically for Santa's cookies, and it sits out on display until the night before.

We donate every chance we get. What I want my children to see most during the holiday season is the importance of giving. I talk to my oldest about this almost on a daily basis and explain to her why we do what we do. It's also important for them to understand to give not just once, but to give whenever a need is out there and is presented to you. This year we picked 5 kids to shop their list for Hope for the Holidays: including coats, boots, clothes, toys, car seats, art supplies, and more. We also picked a tag from our Church's Christmas list to fill those needs. Every time we step into Walgreens we also buy a toy there and drop it off in their box. No matter how many times we go. And our local fire station also has a toy drive.

My hope is that as the kids get older, we will also be able to donate our time and visit different nursing homes and help out with food drives, and so forth.  I truly believe the greatest joy in life is helping others, and I hope my children get this same feeling when they give.

Christmas Eve is at my parent's house, Christmas morning is spent at our house, and the rest is fair game for traveling/travelers. We open presents at my parents house and usually spend the night {I usually run back in the house after the kids are in the car with Andrew and take a bite of the cookie, spill a little milk, and put out all the presents}. We may not spend the night this year, but have not decided yet. We love the ideas of our kids spending the morning at our house and having a big breakfast and listening to tunes while in PJ's and opening presents.

St. Nick Shoe. Every year I have been wanting to incorporate this, but have not. I am buying wooden shoes for the kids to decorate and be prepared for next year!

Santa at the museum. We have gone to him the past 3 years and I hope he stays around for the next 20. We take pictures all as a family, and it's really fun to look back on the years.

Polar Express. We have done that the past 2 years and the kids absolutely adore this train ride with carols and a visit from Santa.

Christmas light show. There is a house that does a huge light show {45 minutes} synched to music on the radio and every year we get dinner to go and sit in the car with the kids and watch. It is so much fun and we plan on going next week!

No limit on gifts. Look, when it comes to presents, I don't do the whole 1 toy, 1 book, 1 outfit, and a kiss on the forehead. I love this idea, I think it's great, but it's just not for us. My kids actually typically only get 1-2 toys anyway {this year all Elli asked for was a guitar} and the rest are clothes, shoes, and books that I have been buying all year long {knowing they need this stuff as they grow}. I think the important thing is that we teach our children to be grateful and to give. If we do that, there is no reason to feel this fear that we may spoil them by giving them more than 3 gifts. And no, we will definitely never CANCEL Christmas.

They are only little ONCE, why the rush to grow them up and put these ridiculous expectations on them?

So there is us and Christmas in a nutshell.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Only 2 months late... FAMILY PICTURES!

I know I am behind on this post. Actually, I'm behind on all posts. But one of the reasons that I waited was because I wanted to get our Christmas pictures out first, and then I realized that I had already shared our picture with our loved ones, and so there went that excuse. The actual reason is that I have neglected this little space of mine, and I am hoping that after the holidays that I will get another boost of writing energy. I'm hoping I can catch up on posts sharing new recipes that we have tried. I'm hoping to share all the latest in our lives. I've hoping to relive the holidays and memories created with our children through pictures. I'm hoping to finally put together the video from our vacation {back in July}. I'm hoping that I can somehow find my way back to a routine and schedule of writing. To scheduled posts. To edits. To reaching out and working with companies. To get my thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto the computer screen.
Here's to being hopeful.
But..... let us not get ahead of ourselves and just do one post at a time. Starting with these family pictures that we took last month.
You know, there is a reason why most families have their pictures taken only one time a year. We are one of those families. If it were up to my husband, we would probably only have them taken every other year. But, as soon as they are over, we all let out a sigh of relief. Only 365 more days to go {roughly}.
I'm not one of those people that looks forward to family pictures. Not the process, that is.  I know two things for certain when it comes to family pictures: 1} My kids will want nothing to do with it, and 2} my husband and I are going to argue about it. And me? Well I'll be more stressed than ever before.


Well, this years go around to family pictures was no exception. Just as I predicted, just as I had envisioned, we were all a hot mess. From one kid going one way, the other looking the other way, a husband who wanted them over before they started, and me who was commanding left and right on the position that my sister was in with the camera. Actually, if I were my sister, I would think we were all clinically insane. Good thing she's my sister. I don't think I could hire someone to be a part of our natural chaos.

But we did it. We snapped a few pictures at my parent's house, grabbed just enough at the park, and then even got a few of Andrew and myself {much needed} at the end while the kids played. I literally kicked off my shoes at the end in the car and realized that I much prefer to be behind the lens rather than in front any day of the week.

Looking back through the pictures, it's amazing how much more I prefer the candid {not expected} shots. I'm not talking about the ones where we are just looking at each other smiling while my sister snapped some photos. I'm talking about the ones where we were positioning and chasing after kids. The ones where you can see the real life in them. Real life means children that don't want to sit still for a picture. Real life means that we bribe with lollipops for a smile. Real life means that mommy promises "just one more" over and over again. Real life means that we aren't picture perfect, but we are together and we are capturing this stage in our life, and that is frankly all that matters at the end of the day.
I can't tell you how many times I went through our pictures, looking through them over and over again for a couple days following the shoot. 
It's not the colors.
It's not the props.
It's not the clothes or accessories.
It's those darn infectious smiles that make me want to pull my hands through the computer screen and squeeze the heck out of.
Those kids.
They are every bit of the meaning.... the light of our eyes. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I See Me Favorites

I was recently offered the opportunity to review a couple books by one of my favorite companies, I see Me, and it honestly came at the best time. Actually, the specific book titles could not have been anymore perfect.

Elliana is at a ripe age of 4. I mean, she is go go go, me me me. She is smart and hard-headed, and has some really strong traits that I know will help her grow into a very driven adult. I know this because she reminds me a lot of myself. But what I want to make sure to instill in her the most out of this life is the importance of changing the world. And not by discovering the cure for cancer {which would be great if she did}, or winning the noble peace prize, but by simply affecting those around her every day. By reaching out to people. By giving more than receiving.

How do you do that? How do you teach a little one something so big?

We talk about it all the time when we come across certain situations. We try to show her the beauty of giving by donating at our church, buying gifts for children in need, and noticing and helping those that are struggling on the streets. But how do I know that they get it, and how can I show them through words and pictures?

That's where this book, Elliana can change the world, comes in.The illustrations are beautiful, the fact that her name is plastered all over the book enforces the message further, and the meaning behind the story is key, but the wording is what grabbed me the most.

"Elliana, the way that you act and the words that you say can change the world in a positive way. When you do good things for others and give it your best, it spreads all around—north, south, east, and west.  "
Graham's book, Speedster Graham, was more appropriate for his age, and of course his love for cars. His favorite part was a license that was in the book with his name on it and his birthday. Not only that, but his favorite people—cousins and sister, were also in the book.

The selection of books are endless on the website, and if these titles aren't what you are looking for, I am sure there is one that would better suit your child's needs or interests. Not to mention, it would make for a great gift this holiday season.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Savings for our kids' futures.

When I was pregnant with our first, Elliana, my husband and I had a talk about our future, our finances, and how we would begin preparing for our children's education. With both of us having student loans hanging over our heads {and following us everywhere we go}, we knew that this was a road that we didn't want our children to go down. We didn't know how we would get there, or if we would completely get there, but we wanted to find a way to assure that when it came time for our children to go to college that they would not have to take out multiple loans with growing interest rates to do so.

And so we opened up our first college savings account. We set up a monthly withdrawal from our bank account, and slowly, we started to watch the account grow. For her first birthday {and every birthday following}, we encouraged less gifts and instead asked our family for the biggest gift of all— helping contribute to their future finances. After the first year, we increased our monthly withdrawal amount, and made it a goal to add a little more throughout the year. The amount is small, and we don't even notice it when it comes out of our accounts, but it is amazing how quickly a small amount can grow into something bigger. So quickly that by her 4th birthday, she had more than enough for one year's of a college tuition.

When Graham was born in 2012, his account was also set up just days after his birth. And the contributing began shortly after.

After watching these accounts grow, and knowing what it will mean for our children's future, I have tried to encourage all our loved family and friends to do the same. I know that sometimes people are already in a tight squeeze, and they want to focus on the now rather than the future, but I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be a lot. By budgeting out ones spending on coffee or drive-thru runs, they can simply use that money to contribute every month a greater cause, and something that will bring them much more gratitude than a latte ever would in the moment.

But here we are in full swing of the holiday season, and we ask ourselves how? How do we start saving right now when all we are caught doing is spending, spending, spending.

It's easy. It's easy to get caught in the spending aspect of the holiday season and completely forget about the financial peace that we all seek in our lives. Often times when we think of Black Friday, we think of deals on things, but I'm here to share with you deals on savings.

Capital One 360 has released deals that are hard to ignore. Their products are designed to save you money and are fee-free and earn you interest. They are also decking the halls this holiday season by sharing with you deals on new account bonuses, referral bonuses, and closing cost credits.  Need an account to begin saving for your children's future? Look no further. Visit Capital One 360's Black Friday Sale and take advantage of all their deals.And because I am a big believer that sharing is caring, don't forget to let your friends and family in on the deals and benefit by getting a $40 referral bonus! That's called a win-win for all.

What you save now, will give you much bigger reward in the future. I know, because I get to login every day and see my kids' accounts grow.

You can do the same.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deals of the week!

First, before you shop anywhere, be sure to be signed up through Ebates, and then search for your retailer on their website so that they can track your purchased and give you free cash back with no strings attached. Plus, you get a free $10 gift card with your first purchase! Have I said free enough yet to convince you? Refer your family and friends and get even more money in your pocket. Actually, by simply referring 3 people, you get a $75 bonus. To date, I have made $3,000 through Ebates.

$8 Household items after $12 visa card rebate! Plus $15 cash back for every $50 spent. + 15% off code: {THANKS1236}

Kohl's is opening up their Black Friday deals EARLY! That means you can shop now and get all the savings, plus their awesome cash back going on now. The deals are too good to be true, and there are over 500 of them!

Shop through EBATES first, and get an additional 9% cash back!

50% off Toys at Kohls  + 15% off code : {THANKS1236} + $15 back for every $50 spent!

Again, Black Friday starts early, and they have 50% off or more deals on Kohl's toys! And remember, shopping through Ebates will get you an additional 9% cash back.

CLARKS for men

Holiday dresses 58% off

Classic Toys sale


Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Can Shop Tobacco-Free

* This is a sponsored post by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, however all opinions stated are that of my own.

I remember laying in bed at night as a little girl crying. Crying and praying. I prayed for many things when I was younger, but one of the biggest of all was for my mom to stop smoking. It sounds like a strange thing for a child to pray about, cry about, or be so deeply affected by, but when you begin to understand the consequences that smoking has on an individual and those around them, it then takes over your everyday thoughts, digs deep into your soul with each lit cigarette, and becomes the reason you toss and turn at night.

It took years. And many failed attempts at quitting.  But she did it. SHE DID IT. And I remember finding myself yet again in my bedroom pondering over this exact same topic, yet this time with a smile on my face. The biggest, happiest, most elated smile I remember having. It's over. The war on cigarettes was over.  Here I am jumping up and down on my bed because gosh darn it, it's over.

Although it wasn't my war to fight, I felt like a winner.

Here we are, 15 years later, and I still feel like a winner. Back then, I didn't know that I would become a nurse. Back then, I didn't realize the depth of the impact that smoking had on each and every organ in our bodies. Back then, I didn't have statistics and probabilities. Back then, I just had a mom that I didn't want taken away from me because of this disease. And today, today, I am even more thankful. I won that battle, but I can't help but think we have even a bigger battle ahead of us.

Being a mother now, I feel this need to want to protect all children out there. Protect them from second hand smoking, and protect them from picking up this habit themselves.

I challenge you, to ask a very important question: "What are the facts on smoking?"

Aside from what we have always learned about it having a higher risk for developing certain illnesses and diseases such as obesity, heart failure, diabetes, cancer, stroke, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to list a few, do we know the actual numbers behind a cigarette and what smoking truly means?

According to Shop Tobacco Free, a project of the campaign for tobacco-free kids, there are important facts that you and I need to know:


Now that we know the facts, what do we do next?

Easy— Shop Tobacco Free has launched user-friendly resources that allow you to simply type in your zip code and results will show you a map of your city and the closest retailers that have pledged to be Tobacco free. A list will also pop down below the map with every location listed.

If you are not already aware of the retailers that are currently part of this program, then I strongly urge you to check it out. I urge consumers to also thank those retailers, and to consider letting retailers that are not a part of the program the important facts of why they should pledge to be Tobacco Free.

It's as easy as 1-2-3. Here is a step-by-step tutorial of where to go. This is a direct link to search by zip code the retailers near you.

Support and Encourage!

Now that we have learned how to find out what retailers are part of the program and which are not, it is important for us to continue to drive our support as well as encourage more to join in to be a Tobacco Free Retailer. 

1. Encourage. This is where word of mouth and social media comes in handy. Check out the wall of shame of retailers here, tag these retailers, and share this link {   } for them to go to apply to be a Tobacco Free Retailer. Be sure to use the hashtag #ShopTobaccoFree on all outlets.

2. Support.  Support those that have already taken the initiative. Shop there first. Invest money in companies that care about you, and share with your family friends through social media outlets. Remember to use hashtag #ShopTobaccoFree.

You can further show your support and follow Shop Tobacco Free on these social media outlets:

Innotab Learning Cartridge: Doc McStuffins & Spider-Man Review

***The VTech products mentioned below were provided for review, however, all opinions stated are that of my own.

I have learned that when it comes to learning, I have to get creative in teaching the kids by incorporating things they love. One thing that my oldest loves is characters— Doc Mcstuffins being on of those characters. I will find her throughout the day playing doctor/patient with her little brother and the things that she talks about really blow my mind. After play time, I let her practice on me, and I take the opportunity to talk about educational things about our body and how it works. That's when I hear her passing along this knowledge to her little brother who really cares only about three things: cars, trucks, and trains.

So needless to say, I had a pretty excited toddler on my hand when the Vtech Innotab Doc McStuffins Create & Learn with Doc! Learning Cartridge arrived at our doorstep. The learning games introduce important aspects of learning including education on our health, differentiating patterns, music, reading, and creativity. There is this fun game of "Boo-Boo's" where they open up and they find out the diagnosis of each toy and finding out how they can make them feel better. The e-reader is of course one of the favorite parts, as always. 

Vtech Innotab   also has a Spider-Man learning cartridge which is ideal for ages 4-7 and probably for those that are Spider-Man lovers, but I was surprised to find that Elliana really enjoyed it as well. I like that this learning game focused on spelling {something we are learning at home}, as well as things that we are just beginning to introduce such as weight balance and skip counting. The skip counting is a hard concept to grasp, and I am glad that I have something that helps enforce this subject. We also covered grounds on food groups, animals, light reflection, and materials. Graham was definitely into the E-book and thought the red man was great!

For all the latest updates, be sure to check out VTech on twitter and facebook!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yesterday was one of those days....

You know.

The kind that you replay over and over again.
The kind that you want to talk about with your friends.
The kind that where you are telling your husband "come look" every 5 minutes.

The kind where you go to bed smiling, you wake up smiling, and then you find yourself sitting on your kitchen room table, staring out the window, enjoying your breakfast while the little one naps, and saying to yourself...

Yesterday was one of those days.

Really beautiful, amazing days.

We woke up yesterday and decided that today would be the day that we put out Christmas decorations. Elliana's birthday had passed, and the cold temperatures put us in the mood. The only rule that my husband was insistent on was that we had to wait to put up the big Christmas tree until after Thanksgiving.


So I hauled 12 large boxes out of the attic {how did we ever gather that much stuff}, turned on pandora Christmas station, and began with the upstairs. 

This year E really wanted to help. I'm talking she was digging through each box, finding stuff, and then going room by room placing decorations in different spots and hanging bells and wreaths on the doors. I want to stop here for a moment and just tell you how unbelievably warm and happy my heart was when I saw her excitement over each and every piece that celebrated Christmas. And Graham man? Well when he saw the very first item— a garland, his eyes lit up and he said "Christmas!" He joined in on the fun and helped us decorate the little Christmas trees in the kids' rooms {and by decorate, I mean, he took off every ornament E and I put on}. But he enjoyed yet, and I think he even enjoyed it more simply because he could see how happy it made E.

When we finished Elliana's room, she stood on top of her bed, and exclaimed proudly,

"We have a Christmas house now!"

You could see a twinkle in her eye. I mean, it was exactly what pure happiness is defined as in the dictionary. Right there, in front of my eyes. I snuggled her and the little man up and said, "Yes, baby, we do. All for Jesus!"

But we weren't finished. We headed downstairs to resume with the downstairs, and box after box we dug stuff out. Stuff that I didn't even remember having, and stuff that I quickly realized was missing. The garland that sits on our mantle was now M-I-S-S-I-N-G. I dug through the attic probably about 5-6 times, and still no trace of the piece. I have since come to the conclusion that somehow it must have gotten thrown away last year. Don't ask me how. Just, somehow.

Next, it was time for a Christmas movie. Snuggled up on the couch while the rest of the house twinkles and shines in gold, red, silver, and green. Lights everywhere. A Christmas tree and Santa in almost every room, wreaths on the doors, bells on the handles, decorations on every table, stands, and crevice that one could dream of. Christmas was in the air. Or in this instant, in our home.

And what do you know, it begins to snow.

The kids literally run to the window, Graham jumping around saying "It's raining, it's raining!" Which E quickly corrects him, "Snow buddy, snow!"

And mouths drop open. Literally open at the sight of the snow.

"Look mama, snow on trees!"
"Snow on papa's car!"
"Snow on the ground!"
"Sooooooo much snooooow."

It was dark by the time the movie ended, but that wasn't stopping us. We put on our bibs, warmest hats and gloves, snow boots on, and while the chili cooked on the stove, we headed outdoors in the dark to breathe in the first snowfall of the year.

And it was just as glorious as we expected. Leaving trails of our feet, making the first snowman of the year {pretty small and pitiful, but we made him}, and even experiencing a snow ball fight.

This is what movies are made of.

To be honest, the only way I could get the kids to even come indoors was by promising them hot cocoa.

And hot cocoa they got.

We ended the night with the best tasting chili in our bellies, matching Christmas jams, and a mama who was so tired that she passed out just as quickly as the little ones did. Right there with them.

It was one of those days. A day that movies are made out of. A day that was perfect in every way, to remind us of the little things in life. To savor these moments, those twinkling eyes and excitement, and to pause for a moment and enjoy.

Let the countdown begin.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thoughts on this past weekend

Sunday is drawing to an end, and I cannot help but reminisce about this weekend. In fact, I thought all day about yesterday and how bittersweet it all was. Our baby girl, turning four, and celebrating her life and all the beauty that she radiates from the inside out.

It was truly as great as I imagined it being in my head, and I actually really got to enjoy her party this year, unlike the last year where I felt like I was stressed the majority of the time {too worried about pleasing others}. This year was different though. And yet, I still didn't take any pictures {during the party}. I was definitely able to snag a few before, and a couple after shots, but only of the kids.

That is life, I guess.

We only invited close family and a few of her friends, and yet the house felt so full. I kept saying, nope, didn't invite that many, and it felt like 100 people in a room. Mainly because each child was equivalent to about 5. And it's not the size.... it's the speed of the tornado.

That's what it was, I decided. Last night— a tornado. It's like it came...stayed for a few hours...and then left. I looked around the house and said.... That was quite the storm.

A good storm. A great storm. The kind of storm that was full of laughter, lots of playing, great food, some yummy drinks, and a home full of happiness. All in celebration of our sweet girl.

Who had the best time. She was so happy about her cousins and friends being there, and it again just proved that all that matters is the company around you.

We limited presents to family members only, and asked that her friends simply make a donation {to wherever} in her name. It was great to not have that overwhelming amount of gifts, and happy to report that we only got a few new toys in the house. And the next day, we took over a couple bags and two boxes of toys {and other stuff} to donation. Elli fell asleep in the car on the way there, and it was yet another sign of a really good weekend. A couple of nights staying up late will do that to you.

But before I wrap up the weekend of celebration, I have to add something else very important that happened this weekend.

The wean.

I feel like I should insert "Dun dun dun...." in there. Suspense music out of a horror movie.

Except, this isn't exactly a horrible thing. I'm not sure where the decision came from, or if I even really made the decision prior, but it just sort of happened.

Friday was the last day that I BF Graham and it was kind of bittersweet. I think I was ready for the journey to end a couple months back, but he struggled a lot, so we just continued. We were down to just morning, night, and nap time feeds, but I knew that by his 2nd birthday {which was our end goal} that it would be coming. This weekend just sort of worked out though, because we were busy enough, his mind was elsewhere {he still asked}, and I had the time to devote to soothe him and talk him through it.

He did great. There were tears {no lie}, but he was able to work through them.

And just like that... it's over. In the past 4 years, I have BF 3 of those years. And now I get a little break, and I am more than okay with that.

A memorable weekend it was.

That's for sure.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy 4th Birthday.

When I think of a topic to write about, I often start out with 20 different intros in mind. I search for the perfect one with the right wording, and then I'm typing away furiously at the keyboard trying to keep my fingers up with my thought process. But for whatever reason, whenever I sit down to write these letters, I struggle with the beginning. Maybe it's because I'm searching even harder for the words because I know I cannot bring this moment back again. Because I know that in the future whenever you, or I, will sit down to read these letters, it is the only piece of wording that I will have to capture this moment {this year} of our lives. And so, naturally, it has to be perfect. It has to truly grasp every little detail and emotion so that when I close my eyes I can feel you, touch you, and hear you.

I can feel your small hand fit so perfectly in mine, resting your head on my shoulder as we watch your favorite show. I can hear you laying next to me at night telling me about your day and how you saw the biggest hot air balloon EVER.  I see that smile when you find your favorite car that has been lost for days. The proud look of accomplishment when you put your clothes on all by yourself. And the excitement and twinkle in your eyes when you see me the morning after work.

I close my eyes now, and I found it, I found you. I can see you so perfectly, just the way you are. Every detail about you, I see. hear, smell, and feel.

Now. To put it into words. I need to find a way. A way for me to hold on to you just the way you are, forever. Because it's the only way I can.

I know I can't stop you from growing. I know I can't stop your voice from changing. I know I can't stop you from becoming less dependent on me, and seeking yourself more. I know I can't stop the hard days from coming. I know this, and that's why it hurts just a little bit. Because although you will always be my baby, and you will always be Elli, you will forever change throughout the years. In a way, it's like falling in love with another person year after year. And I'm always excited to find how much deeper our love grows for you, even when we thought it wasn't possible. But I also remember the person that we are leaving behind.  And as the years go by and as you mature, we will get to meet another part of you again. And I'm excited for that. I truly am. But I'm going to miss 3 year old Elli. I'm going to miss every little ounce of you with my entire being.

And so here I am, sitting in a dark quiet room as the rest of the world sleeps, with blurry eyes and tears rolling down my face, dreading the inevitable goodbye. Is this normal? Is it normal to feel this immence gratitude and excitement for every milestone and year to come, and at the same time, pain and sadness over what we leave behind?

The answer is yes. I know it's normal because it's the 4th time that we are doing this now. The 4th time that I sit here, days before your birthday, and relieve every part of your childhood thus far. And cry. Cry big fat mommy tears. But more importantly, smile. Smile so big that I swear I'm going to wake up the entire sleeping world. If you could hear my smiles, that's exactly what it would do.
My tears have turned into smiles as I relive this past year.

So when I think about all the things that I want to remember about your third year.... it would be this:
You love cars. You and your brother will play with cars all day long. This is what you ask for when someone says "What would you like?" It's the first thing you think about when we pull into Kroger, and you jump with joy when grandma shows up with a new car that you don't already have. And if you do have it... it's an "Aw, man!"

A couple of months ago you decided you didn't like ponytails. Not sure what happened or what sprung this out of nowhere, but you literally woke up one day and said "No more ponytails!" And since then, I have probably convinced you a total of 3-5 times to wear one. The funny thing is, you love mama in a ponytail and always ask me to put my hair up. I'm giggling right now on the couch just thinking about this morning when the first thing you asked me was..."Mama, is your hair still up in a pony?" Yes, baby, it is.

Food you love. Cereal, granola bars, yogurt with granola, waffles, mac n cheese, almond butter sandwiches, chocolate almond milk, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, carrots, peppers, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, and tacos are by far your favorite foods.  You are totally not a meat person and if you had it your way, you probably would not eat it at all. And of course you despise the thought of seeing anything green, especially broccoli or spinach.

You're wild. You have always been my crazy child, and I love that. You love to jump, run around the house, chase people, and just be out and about. I love that you can run free and find so much happiness in just being you. One thing that you have never needed {but love of course} was TV, an i-pad, or even a person, to entertain you. Even if it's a cold winter day, you can still somehow find ways to entertain yourself all day. But I love nothing more than when you walk into the kitchen and say, "Mama, can you play cars with me, please?"  There is no where else I'd rather be.

Your favorite color is blue. In fact, a month ago you told me you wanted a ladybug party {which is what you are getting}, and then a couple days ago you changed your mind and said "Actually, I want a blue party!" A blue party? "Yes, all things blue!" Well, sadly, I had to inform you that all ladybug decorations had already been purchased, in which you responded "I skipped." Ha, you mean... you changed your mind.
You love to color. You've really grown into art in the past 6 months, and it has been really fun to watch your visions on paper. You get excited when you learn how to draw something new, and I probably get just as excited about the fact that you tell me all about it. 

Have I mentioned how strong-willed you are?
You are. Very much so. I think that you know what you want, and when you want it, and you are pretty darn determined to reach that goal. You're learning though that if you want something, you have to work hard at it, and that sometimes it may not be attainable, and you have to fact that reality. We are getting there.
 Just like your mama, you are not a cold fan. Actually you hated snow last year, which I imagine had something to do with frozen. Oh yes, by the way, you are the 0.5% of children out there that hates frozen. I mean, you ask for me to change the channel if you hear the song even come on when we are listening to pandora or the radio. 

You're a teacher. Often times, I hear you trying to teach Graham. "Graham, if you have to go poopy, you tell us so you can go to the toilet." And, "Graham, this is the letter B, can you say B? It makes a bb--bb--bbb sound." I smile proudly, really.

The library is one of your favorite places to be. You love music time, story time, and getting new books every week. We always get about 20, and we always read them at least 20 times before the week is up. And when I'm not reading them to you? You're busy in the corner reading them to yourself. Have I mentioned that you started reading this year? You probably know over 300+ words {I've truly not counted}. You can read the 1st level books with no problem, and we always have you read the first page of any book we read for extra practice on the harder ones. I can already tell that you will be a reader like your mama was.

You love your pajamas. You would stay in them all day if we let you, and your favorite are always the character ones or holiday ones {Christmas especially}. 

Your favorite shows currently are: Jake the Neverland Pirate, Thomas the Train, Sophia the First, and Dora the Explorer. You also like Leap Frog and Mickey Mouse clubhouse. 

Your favorite movie, hands down: The Elf on the Shelf.

You can't go to sleep without your clubby {most nights}.

Your mama is your favorite person in the world, and I'm not saying that because I am the one writing this. I hope it stays this way forever.

You love to sing, but you don't like anyone catching you sing. You get embarrassed, and I think it's so interesting that one can even get embarrassed at such a young age.

You are just... you, and I love everything that there is about you. Tonight, the last night as a three your old, you were so.... perfect. I don't know what it was but it's as if you knew that you were growing up and you knew that a special day was coming {well you did know all these things}, but you also knew how important this day is for your mama and papa too.

I told you today about the day that I went to the hospital. How you were so quick to come into this world, how you could not wait to meet us and show us who you are. And now you're here. And somehow you decided to just skip through the past 4 years, and learn how to walk, talk, and live life in a way we all should be living, all in a matter of what seems to be seconds. You're so beautiful. I could stare at your pictures all day. Your smile is perfect. Your cuddles are even better. You are our daughter, and the greatest thing we ever did as a husband and wife. 

You made us a family, and you made us more pure. Children, I believe, are sent to us to make us better people, and an example of what Jesus was on this Earth: Whole.

You continue to show us, and we continue to want to be better because of you and your brother.

So thank you baby, for all that you do to us. For every moment, and every memory that you have given us. Happy 4th birthday baby girl. We love you to the moon and back and over and over again.
Time for me to go to bed, since I have to wake up in 4 hours to go {get} and make you a doughnut cake! 

Mama, Papa, and your silly brother Graham.

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