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.

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