Thursday, December 31, 2015

Closing down 2015

We had a baby. He spent two days in the NICU. I cried when I met him. I cried when I held him with those tiny monitors attached to his chest. We took him home.
Friends brought us dinner. Friends we did not know were friends, but would become the very bestest of friends brought us dinner.
We became Godparents-- again.
Mom kept the babies-- the youngest at a mere four weeks old and we donned a tux and gown for the Heart Ball. We spent the night at the hotel and had to catch a cab the next morning in that same tux and gown.
Husband started making his own beer. He has improved immensely.
We went to see Elton John play, Stomp! perform, and Birdie got the day off from school for St. Patrick's Day. We were in the parade with our green clothes and big smiles. Husband was on call. Fuzzy was in the stroller.
We dropped big dollars on big doors for the back of our house. Six doors slide so easily when they are new.
Husband took a week off from work and volunteered at the golf course down on Berckmans. We had friends in town and watched golf every day. It was a beautiful week. It always is.
We paid our taxes, baptized our child and feared for his sight. 
Feared so mightily that he might not have sight. 
We found peace in the blindness.
We found gratitude for his life.
We found the love of strangers.
And then he found his eyes. Fuzzy found his eyes and how beautiful they became as he started to see, to focus, and to track.
His sister tried to poke out his eyes. Oh, Bennie. 
Bennie got her own hashtag: #OMGmattie 
Lilly issued Target exclusive clothes and they sold out in mere minutes. I was dumbfounded.
Birdie and I hosted a mother-daughter tea for the girls in her class. 
I made wreaths of rosemary for those little ladies and their kindergarten graduation. 
Birdie had a dance recital, Bennie danced in the aisles, and Fuzzy slept.
We went swimming, Birdie had more swimming lessons and instantly became a little fish. Bennie could not stay out of the pool. Fuzzy slept in his antique infant bed that his sisters once used with the baby monitor stretching to the edge of the pool. 
Birdie tagged along at camps and lessons.
The children and I spent a lot of time at Chick-Fil-A.
Birdie discovered the song, "Shut up and Dance" and "Saint Jah-Mah-Mah" (Geronimo).
I took them walking and experimented with jogging... unsuccessfully.
Cousins visited. Doctors and dentists were visited. Minions were watched... a lot.
The house went on the market.
Birdie started horseback riding lessons.
We went to the beach.
Husband finished his boat. He's been building it for years. It's a sight to behold and I never (read: rarely) have a problem when he wants to go fishing.
We went to the mountains and went fishing. Husband built a teepee or wigwam or something that involved leaves and twine.
Brother had another birthday and another anniversary of both his wedding and his stroke. I love that guy.
We went to Small-town and visited the in-laws. The in-laws traveled up the two lane highway to see us more than we got down to see them. 
Birdie started first grade. Bennie started Pre-School. Fuzzy started Mother's Day Out. Mommy finally got a break.
Mommy thought it would be fun to help write some grants and quickly discovered that there was not a whole lot of extra time in the day for that. Time was carved out wherever it could be found (typically in the early morning hours).
Friendships were made.
Halloween held a little green monster and two princesses in the golf cart for trick or treating. Husband's sister and her family came down for Thanksgiving. Husband said we were hosting Thanksgiving next year as he wants to fry a turkey. I'm already planning and freezing as one cannot be too prepared.
We went to Disney World and quickly found the rhythm of a family of three. 
There was a Christmas with toys and packages wrapped in sparkly ribbons with brown paper. 
Husband worked. 
We went to church. 
Time passed.
There were hair cuts, birthdays, oil changes, rain, and warm days. There were prescriptions, pictures, and a lot of painting on construction paper. 
Our babysitter is coming tonight and we are going to dinner with Fuzzy's godparents at 7. We will be home by 10 and asleep by 10:30. Husband is on call tomorrow and 2016 will start about like 2015 ended: with a lot of love, a lot of happiness, a lot of time at the hospital, a lot of laundry to wash, and a lot of christmas tree needles on the floor.

Monday, December 28, 2015

This isn't one of those trees where all the needles falls off, is it?

Have you ever noticed how wistful people get during the holidays? It probably has something to do with the ornaments that see those happy memories during the wee morning hours with children and great arguments over toy assemblage in the late hours of the night.

Maybe it is the magic of transforming a tree into a magical winter wonderland. Something that we can only do a finite amount of times in our life and can only happen but once a year. Pulling out Grandma's Christmas china that she carefully packed away and used for this one meal a year- Christmas dinner; maybe that’s where the sappiness comes into play.

Like I said, have you noticed how wistful people get? And how they write about their memories of Christmases past?

This is not one of those blogs.

I have mentioned on several occasions that I am cheap. Pathetically and painfully cheap. Cheap-cheap.

Did you know that you can buy Christmas trees from Costco? Hand to God, you can. 10 pounds of boiled peanuts, $3 wheels of Brie cheese, 17 oversized-off-colored outdoor Christmas ornaments and a 77 inch flat screen television are not the only things that can be purchased at the warehouse mecca.

For $29.99 you too can buy your Christmas tree. You can get that beast in your house and be the first one on the block to have your lights flashing for Santa and the neighbors to see.

Yeah.... if you follow me on Instagram, you know where this is going.

I have spent $119.96 + tax on Costco trees in the past two years. Four trees in total and I am here to tell you: one in four. You can expect the odds to be one in four that you are going to have a good tree.  And those other three? Yeah, about those. Let's talk about those... because the pretty tree is not nearly as interesting to talk about.

Back up 13 months and I make this startling discovery of the $29.99 Christmas tree. We buy two and I scoff at those who spend extra money for actually taking their time and picking out their tree. Us? We ring up our seven pounds of Gouda, an ink-jet printer, three azaleas, 4 pounds of butter and 2 Christmas trees before heading out to the big-rig parked in the parking lot. Standing in line, I watch the drill. When it is your turn, you hand Ewald your receipt-- that's his name-- Ewald, but I like to refer to him as the Czar of Trees. You hand the Czar of Trees your receipt, he calls a number out in Russian or Dutch or something, and from the angels above a tree flutters to your feet. OK, that's not exactly what happens. The Czar of Trees calls a number out super fast, which... coincidentally, coincides with the number of trees you are purchasing.

The Czar nods his approval, sizes you up and then calls TWO! for those two trees to come out of the abyss that is the trailer part of the 18 wheeler. "Dah," he says. The minions chuck two trees from the blackness to the light and there they are: our Christmas trees wrapped tightly so as not to expose them to the prying eyes who think that when you are paying $29.99 for a Christmas tree that you actually get to pick out your tree.

Our turn with the Czar has passed. It is up to Husband to load these on the family sleigh and get them to through our door.

And that he does. Like Clark W. Griswold, he does.

Bless him.

Tree #1: It's going in our den. Like a groom removing the bride's veil, we mounted the tree in the stand (you liked that, didn't you?) and unwrapped the beacon of Christmas and Foundation for the festivities:


Tree #2: After the first tree, we knew that those fools who actually spent money on their tree to do something silly like {scoff} pick it out were wasting their hard earned money. Quickly, we stick tree #2 in the window at the front of the house and whip off the plastic. There was a branch that didn't get trimmed in the process. It was a big branch, probably three feet in length hanging off the side. It flapped down and landed on Husband's head. A second branch escaped a haircut on the other side.

The tree had arms.

We aren't talking like scissors were needed to get it back-- no no no... we had to get hedge clippers and do a lot of pruning.  How much? I made a wreath out of it. Like I said, cheap.

At this point, our odds are 50/50. While not great odds- not terrible, either.

Where do we go this year? Oh yeah, back to Ewald, the Czar of Trees. I blame Husband. If I had gone and paid my homage to the Czar, we might have been bumped up on the tree quality. Husband did not know these things. A box of $24.97 golf balls, two loaves of bread, some Dora art supplies, and two trees later, Husband is standing in line with his receipt, playing on his iPhone texting me to see if Ewald worked the big-rig this year.

Tree #3 and #4: Two trees are in the back of his truck. We get home and the rain comes down.

Literally, I am not kidding, Husband said, "Thank goodness it is raining; it should keep the trees alive a little longer..."

fateful......... last.......... words.

Y'all... these trees came through the door dead.

Between Ralphie's mother at the tree farm, "This isn't one of those trees where all the neeeeeeeedles falls off, is it?" and Clark W. Griswold discovering the amount of sap that a tree can produce-- that's where our trees came from this year.

The trees went up, we poured water in the stand and the needles came down. In all fairness, needle dropping is common and expected in the first few days of the transformation from mere tree to the most important of Christmas symbols. But this wasn't just a handful of needles dropping and getting vacuumed... noooooo, this was something so much more perfect. So much better. These trees, when touched, made a crescendo of rain on a tin roof. Needles starting at the top and working their way to the bottom, gathering needles and noise as they hit the floor. Lucky for us, we have three kids who have no interest in that greenish tree covered with lights and breakable things.


As the days stretched into a week and into a second, Tree #3 and Tree #4 started to look a little, ahem, sparse. I added more ornaments.

It got to be an X-ray tree, where one could see directly through it. I started putting Christmas cards in the bald spots. Every card we received went in the tree- with each placement, more needles falling. More barren spots to be seen, rather seen through. The sap stopped sapping, relinquishing what few needles were left stuck in the sap to the floor.

We vacuumed daily. More needles would fall. The fire hazard had to go.

Maybe next year, I will find 156 needles in our Christmas boxes and I will be nostalgic for my old friend, Ewald- the Czar of Trees and wonder how he is. Or, more likely, I will find three twigs and 14,955 needles under the rugs, in the boxes, and in my hair and I will curse the Czar and the homage to wet his beak. We'll spend the money next year. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know.

Lesson Learned. But, in case I forget....

Friday, December 18, 2015

The History of Tradition and how they Evolve

This is the weekend before Christmas. I am sitting at a white counter with the lights off in the kitchen. A woman, a very busy woman who raised five children, is cleaning the kitchen as she feeds grandchildren and makes plans with her husband. She is elated at the prospect of having her children under one roof soon.

I am sitting her watching my daughter jump at the grandmother's feet. My other daughter is sitting on the stool next to me, spinning around back and forth, forth and back... waiting. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for her cousins. Waiting for the chaos and camaraderie that comes with cousins.

It must have been the lights being off and the grandmother multitasking-- or the white counter. Maybe the stools, or the fact that is the weekend before Christmas and our family is coming together to celebrate Christmas. Whatever it is, I am watching my daughters with such love knowing the excitement that is in their heart. To hear my grandmother say in the afternoon, "Kitchen's closed," and move onto the next part of her day with us-- that's the moment I remember.

There was never an exception, the weekend before Christmas, we got in the family sleigh and headed up I-20 to spend the weekend with my cousins, aunts, and grandparents. We would be in a 1200 square foot house with two small bathrooms. Nine people would be under one roof for two nights-- at the peak, there would be almost 20 people on the green carpet, sitting around the white counter as my grandfather made beef tenderloin and the children ran in and out from the driveway to the backyard and back again.

We were a big Catholic herd coming together in the tiny house that raised those five children. I miss those days, I miss being together with my mom's family. It seems we all come together for weddings and funerals now. But, we are a new generation- I am no longer the daughter, I am the mother.

My daughter gets to experience the family holidays now- she gets to be part of the Protestant herd running in from the front door and out the back door. It's amazing to watch traditions evolve.

I can't keep down this memory lane. It's making me whimsical and wistful. The family is heading into town. And the kitchen needs to open up for supper.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

We donned the ears

It really is the Happiest Place On Earth. Or, as my mother says, "The Merriest Place on Earth."

Husband got some much needed rest. Birdie got some time with the two of us and I got to ride Space Mountain. It was so easy to fall back into step with the three of us and "go and do" as we once did when we lived in a teeny tiny apartment within our nation's capital.

We remembered why we had kids. We remembered how great it is to be a family. We remembered to smile more.

To say we are stressed is comical. Husband is working, I am working, the kids are getting picked up and dropped off left to right. It's a fun life, and I appreciate it-- butttttttttttt we realized that we had forgotten to have the fun that we love so much.

We made up for lost time. This was the first time since before we were married that Husband has had a week off.

The long and the short of it is that I am so glad that we saved for this trip, setting aside money each month so that we could pay for it "in cash." When we packed up and came home, all we had were our memories, pictures, and not a single bill. Last thing, to pay for this trip ourselves (which wasn't cheap) made both of us proud that we could do this for our first born. OK, I'm done patting myself on the back.

A few things I noticed and have said to myself to remember for the future:

-- bring a dirty clothes hamper. It made the room so much cleaner.

-- we saved, ahem, over a thousand dollars by eating breakfast in the room and packing either a large snack or lunch. Every day at the parks, we bought either lunch or a snack. We went to incredible dinners at night that were over the top and incredibly decadent.

-- we saved more than I care to share by bringing our own alcohol.

-- If your kid still takes a bottle, a sippy cup, isn't potty trained, or cannot stay up past 8pm-- don't go. Save yourself and your kid the agony. Who wants to schlep diapers, wipes, and bottles for a kid who can't ride 3/4 of the rides and won't remember it anyway? Not this girl. #MOTY
        -- We saw more kids crying and up way past any practical bedtime. It made me sad for the little ones, but thankful that they would not remember it.

-- we stayed within walking distance of EPCOT. That did not come cheap, but was it worth it?  You bet your sweet face it was. We went to EPCOT every day to walk around the world, ride a few rides, see the fireworks, whatever. It made the trip so different than if we were staying farther than that and needed to make a plan to go into a park and stay in the park.

-- Speaking of, we stayed for a solid week. Before we went, my brother simply asked, "WHY?!" Now I know why. When Birdie got tired, and she did get tired, we did not feel bad about calling it a day. When we went to the Animal Kingdom and were done by noon, we happily headed back to the hotel and spent the afternoon by the pool. We never had to push through. When we left, we felt like we had had a relaxing vacation. We retuned refreshed and ready to start the next day, instead of exhausted and needing a day to catch our breath.

-- If the Seven Dwarves Mine Train has a long wait, which it will, skip it. Seriously. Big Thunder Mountain is longer, more fun, and typically has a shorter line.

-- If you have a daughter, do NOT skip Belle's Enchanted Tales. It's kinda magical!

-- SKIP Disney Springs. Let me repeat myself, SKIP Disney Springs. We saw all kinds of advertisements for it and thought it would be a great place to shop and hang out one afternoon. It wasn't. It was crowded, gross, a little red on the neck, and not a place we opted to indulge much time.

-- I grew up going to Disney World. In the early days, we stayed in Kissamee, which is about twenty minutes outside of Disney World. We have stayed in the kingdom. I even gave up going to my senior prom so that I could go to Disney World. When I say that I have been to Disney World, I have been -- at least-- 15 times. The last time was right after Brother and SIL were married, so ... maybe ten years? nine? I can remember a lot of things about Disney, but a lot has changed. I say that to say this: a friend recommended using someone who plans Disney Trips for a living. I would not call this person a travel agent, because she specializes in Disney- but you call her what you want, I call her a godsend. Susan walked me through fast passes, dinner reservations, hotel details- all those things you don't think about. She checked in with me during the trip, followed up afterwards, and was completely available when I had questions from the park. Will I use her again now that I have been? Uh... yeah. She made me look smart, and that goes a long way.

-- We will be back. It will be a few years, but the other two deserve a trip, too. Oh? You didn't know that we left them home? Yeah-- we were those parents. And it was totally worth it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's not that I mean to...

It's just that the time goes by so fast. I hear it all the time, especially from grandmothers. They are so wistful when they say-- and they all say it-- "It goes by so fast."

That, my friend, is not necessarily a bad thing. But by it going by so fast, it gives me fewer minutes in the day to hammer out these moments in this space here, with you.

At this exact moment, I am sitting on a farm-- in my car with two kids in carseats in the backseat. Birdie is in the middle of her horseback riding lesson and I am thumbing through pictures, wondering if I can get off easy this year and give pictures of my children to grandparents as gifts. It's easier than thinking about something they need or want.

But I love Christmas, so knowing me-- and sometimes I know me pretty well-- I will try and go easy on myself and get a picture as a gift, but will end up getting something else that I deem creative and fun. I remember once, a friend told me about an ancient cookbook her mother bought her and her sister. It had some sort of purple drink in it that they made their father. He drank it and then promptly hid the cookbook. I thought it was a funny story and found the cookbook. The  purple concoction was still in there. And it was, apparently, still yucky.

I like to give those kind of Christmas gifts.

A few years ago, my parents gave me the family archives to peruse through. I found a carbon copy of a letter from my grandfather to an electrician who was doing some work on his beach house. He closed with something to the effect of, "AJ and I are doing well. We would love to get to Crescent Beach more often, but our little family keeps us busy. Woody just started walking..." I had it framed and matted for Woody for Christmas along with a receipt from his birth and an old canceled check to his mother.

Yeah, those are the gifts I like.

I mentioned that we (read: I) chopped down the dogwoods a few weeks ago. It's kinda been an open wound for Husband. It made me think that maybe it would be a lovely idea to give Husband a dogwood for Christmas. It would be a sweet gesture that he could plant in the back of the back yard and we could start the dogwood collection fresh. Somehow this came up in conversation and he said that the only thing better than giving him a dogwood would be to pour vinegar in an open wound.

Apparently, a dogwood is not one of those kind of gifts...

He loves dogwoods, just not when he has to plant them.

This Christmas, I have everything I want. I was working on our Christmas card and trying to figure out which picture to use. I really love this picture:

And sent it to a friend to see what she thought. She said I had taken better pictures. While this is true-- there is something that I see in this picture that no one else probably notices.

Allow me to point it out.

I have three healthy children.
I have three healthy children that are intentionally looking at something, whether it is the camera, or that finger with chipped nail polish making its way dangerously close to a nose.

We struggle with many things-- we all do. It does not matter the money in the bank account, the children in the beds, the roof over the heads, the friends we call friends, the education under the hat-- we all struggle. 

But this year, this amazing year that we are drawing to a close... this year has reminded me, rather it has taught me, that those struggles are the things that make the days. And those days can still be beautiful.

And humbling.
And all things wonderful.

My son can see.
My children can breath.
My husband can save lives. 

And I... I get to steer the ship and keep it floating. 

I was made for this. I was put on this earth to do exactly what I am doing-- and I love that.

Merry Christmas to me. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Donning the Ears

It's short... but it is to the point:

We are having fun.

Life is good. It's amazing. It's one of those we are lucky enough to call our own.