Thursday, December 31, 2009

A year of growth and change

If I could use just two words to describe 2009, I think they'd be growth and change.

Bryan has worked M-Sat and a lot of Sundays since February. Through August it was a 5pm-3am schedule. Then it went to a 10 hour days schedule, plus an hour commute each way! For the last five months, he's returned home from work on Saturdays right as our usual church service was beginning. If he's home on Sundays, we generally covet it as our only day as a family. This has resulted in very little church this year, but that did not equate to very little God.

We stayed in the Word, read challenging books, did devotions - some with the kids, others just between Bryan and me. We prayed together. When we ran into difficulty, we sought the prayer support of friends and godly counsel from mentors. This fall we found it impossible to get a babysitter for our small group time, so we had to stop going. We're grateful that they've kept in touch with us and have often kept us in the group loop. We know that we are not alone.

During times that could easily have pulled us apart, God directed us into places that grew us closer to one another and closer to Him. I do think God is very cool this way! Bryan and I now share a closeness, understanding and compassion for one another that we've never known before.

This year also saw our kids transition into some pretty big kid roles. Zachary graduated from preschool and started kindergarten. It honestly seems like a lifetime ago that he was a preschooler. He's such a different kid! He's compassionate, he's honest, he's gentle, he's aware, he's confident, he's mature. He is also a Christian, in case you missed the big news!

Lucas has been busy keeping up with his big brother, making him seem so much older than Zach was at this age. Luke is hysterically funny, risk-taking, assertive, quick, determined and independent. Enrollment for fall preschool will be in a matter of weeks. It's hard to believe that both of our boys will be in school next year. Even harder to believe that Luke could go to kindergarten the following year, although I highly doubt we'll send him just two weeks after his 5th birthday.

This year has also seen Zach transform into a soccer player and Bryan into a soccer coach! What an absolute delight to watch!!

Our family embarked on community service together for the first time ever. As a family, we were incredibly blessed to work with two child abuse prevention and response organizations, as well as the Salvation Army. We are all excited to see what service opportunities 2010 will bring! We're looking forward to the Second Annual for KIDS by KIDS Bike-a-thon for sure.

There was also a wonderful week long vacation with Bryan's dad to Colorado, a weekend spent in St. Louis, and two trips to an indoor water park resort... We have a lot of wonderful memories from the trips, and eagerly look forward to our next out-of-town adventure.

God has been so amazingly good to us. We are so grateful and immensely changed by his provision, direction, grace and mercy.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above." James 1:17

Many blessings for everyone in the NEW YEAR!

Morning chatter

Luke said all of this before I even opened my eyes today...

"I'm here because I need a drink and my cup is empty. I also want to snuggle. No, I really want to stay here with you." (2:45am)

"Why is Daddy's bottom on my hand?" (3am... If I'd had the energy, I'd have said, "Um, because you shoved your way into our bed. Into the tiny sliver of bed that was previously my spot! And your hand is on his bottom, not the other way around.)

"Mommy, what are you doing in here?" (His bed - alone - 7:15am. I would have said, "Because I ran away from all the tossing, turning, kicking and shoving you were doing on MY side of MY bed!")

"But, Mommy, we can get up now. The lights are on outside!"

"That's my foot's shadow."

"No, Zach, we don't have room for three." (To snuggle... We made room.)

"Is Uncle Jim 5? Oh, he's 40... That's almost 60!"

"We're ready to go out and sled now!" (After I tried repeatedly to get them outside yesterday with no luck.)

"Is it time for the pinata yet?"

I suspect that last question will be asked over and over today...

I'm hoping that the new year will bring fewer and fewer wee-hours-of-the-morning visits with Luke. I'm afraid it's going to require something like a gate on his bedroom door though! It's a good thing he's so cute and funny.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gone sleddin'

On December 25, 2009 Zach learned a valuable lesson... Bigger is not always better. For weeks he'd been admiring the bigger packages under the tree. As he tore through the wrapping of those coveted biggest gifts he was sorely disappointed. He and Luke got new winter coats, and Zach got a new pair of snow bibs. They were bulky, bigger boxes... But their contents were boring. He didn't say that, but the expression on his face was unmistakable. However, being the wise mother that I am, I knew he'd soon find the value in these new boring gifts.

After all, I did order up buckets of snow for Christmas! What a mom.

We hit the big hill for some family fun the day after Christmas. The kids were warm and dry. As we piled back into the van an hour or so later, Zach told us just how much he loves his new winter gear. Luke especially loves his snowboarder jacket, as he likes to call it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A very merry Christmas, indeed

Twas the morning before Christmas when we got a phone call.
"Could you possibly host Christmas Eve, after all?"
With six hours notice, we knew appearances didn't matter.
But we wanted it to be special, so we hurriedly scattered.
Cleaning and dusting, setting tables to our delight.
When all was said and done, we declared it quite a sight!
NaNa, Aunt, Uncle and cousins did come.
It was a lovely evening for everyone.
On Christmas morning, we awoke to Grandpa knocking at our door.
A white Christmas it was... filled with fun and love galore!
A happy birthday to Jesus we did wish.
And eventually cleaned everything up, including Santa's cookie dish!
The best Christmas ever, I'd say!
So many reasons to call it my very favorite day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Honest (Abe) Zach

Zach cares a lot about the truth. A lot. The other day, Luke's endless chatter at the breakfast table about Santa was driving Zach nuts. Zach asked me if he could please tell Luke the truth about Santa.

We have talked as a family about the fact that a North Pole dwelling Santa, flying reindeer, and a jolly big guy sliding down the chimney with a bag of gifts is not true, but we do not go so far as to correct the kids if they should mention Santa. Luke has been told that he's just a guy in costume and a fun story that parents tell, but he chooses to openly embrace the idea of Santa Claus. Telling him otherwise - correcting him - would only serve to cause an argument and upset him. So, we let it go.

Zach has been so good about letting Santa discussions happen with a wink and a smile. He's known the truth for three years and hadn't breathed a word of it to another child... until yesterday!

We stopped by our friends' house for a few minutes. Zach's little friend and her cousin were talking to Zach about their plans for Christmas. The cousin said that she'd already had Christmas at her house in Iowa, but that her grandparents would have more gifts for her when she got to their house. And... that Santa would bring her gifts to her grandparents'. It was then that Zach inexplicably leaned over to his little friend and whispered in her five year old ear, "Santa isn't real."

Neither of the girls said a word about it while we were there - Zach did. As we were on their porch saying goodbye Zach said, "I did something that I need to tell you about, but you're going to be very upset." He started to cry and asked me to lean over so he could whisper it in my ear. After he whispered it to me, I asked him to tell his friend's mommy what he'd done. He just cried harder, so I told her. She took it amazingly well, either keeping a good poker face or genuinely not upset - I'm not sure which.

In that moment, I didn't know if we'd made a wise or very bad decision in telling the truth about Santa. I stand firm in my conviction that the truth is always best, but it is obviously tricky for a child to keep the truth to himself when everyone around him is constantly talking about Santa.

I deeply appreciate and admire Zach's honesty. He (nearly always) has a good mix of honesty, sensitivity to others' feelings, self-control, and discretion. He chooses to abide in the truth, while not pressuring or judging others. I think that's amazing. I look forward to watching him grow up... I think he will be a wonderfully honorable man.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas at our house

Over the years, our Christmas Day has evolved into a day spent at our own house. We get out of bed around 7am... Either Bryan or I sneak downstairs to open the blinds and turn on the tree lights, get the camera and camcorder ready, and the other parent comes down with the kids.

By this time, the boys are so used to the tree that it's hardly noticed... The gifts and overflowing stockings, however, are not missed!

As the kids tear through their stockings, I throw cinnamon rolls and a breakfast pizza in the oven and turn on the coffee pot. When I rejoin the family in the living room, we proceed to open the gifts under the tree.

After gifts, we'll sit together for breakfast... served with sliced strawberries and bananas and orange juice! Most of the time, a toy or two is brought to the table. It's Christmas, so that rule can be bent.

We have a wide-open door on Christmas. Bryan's parents and Granny stop by at some point, staying as long as they'd like. I'll make the usual brisket, salad, baked potato casserole and green beans... Making enough for company if they're here at meal time.

And we always celebrate Jesus' birthday with a cake that the kids and I bake. This year they'd like for me to add 2,000 candles since he'd be more than 2,000 years old. Jesus' party would not be complete without semi-frozen sparkling red grape juice. Luke will most definitely raise his glass for a clink, saying "Cheers!" with his nearly-permanent broad smile pasted on his face.

I absolutely love our slow Christmases, where we can stay in jammies all day if we want and visitors pop in and out as their schedules permit. This year a white Christmas is being predicted. We won't hold our breath, but we are crossing fingers! We think that adding sledding, snow angels and snowmen to our Christmas Day would be absolutely dreamy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Every. Single. Time.

Luke loves his Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer ornaments. And he loves them to be in a specific place. I don't much care for the spot he's chosen, so I've moved them several times. I kid you not -- I move them at night while he's sleeping. First thing the next morning he notices!

Today was no exception.

"But, Mom! This is not where these go."

"This is!!!!!"

Dangling from the bottom of the tree. Be sure to notice how the Abominable snowman is separated from Rudolph, Hermy and Clarice.


Giving comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be expensive, or it can be virtually free. This Christmas it seems that everyone we know has generously given a Christmas to others. Complete strangers. No strings attached.

It's amazing. Heartwarming. Inspiring. Totally Jesus!

I know a couple that is selflessly caring for a little girl right now because her mother is unable due to medical issues. It is improbable that this little girl will live with them beyond this school year, but they treat her with the same love, care and investment as their own two daughters. They are giving this little girl a lovely life and sharing the love of Christ that she will carry with her forever.

Through this little girl's mother, my friends have become acquainted with three other single moms. Between the four moms, they have eight children. All these families asked for for Christmas were hand-me-down clothes and toys. I passed the word on to my friends and every single child on the list was given what was needed, and then some.

Inside these bags are both hand-me-downs and brand new clothing. What might have brought each donor $10 in garage sale proceeds, now rests beneath Christmas trees awaiting the eager unwrapping of young children. They will each be warmly dressed and surly delighted with some unexpected toys and books. The above is only one of the four deliveries!

Another story of overwhelming generosity is this... There are two families who decided several years ago to have a garage sale and use the proceeds to support families through the Salvation Army and other similar agencies. The response to their efforts is so great - they have to rent a storage unit to house all the donations for the garage sale! They also have to rent the biggest U-Haul available to deliver all the gifts!! The garage sale this year raised $5,000. There was also a benefit concert, and when shopping time rolled around, many people donated again. This year the group was able to give Christmas to 180 people!

In addition to Christmas gifts for all, the group provided a box of toiletries, a box of non-perishable foods and a ham for each family. It is truly amazing. We treasure being a part of this.

Our children shopped with us and drew sweet pictures for the kids. We talked about these families' needs and prayed for them regularly. They were so moved by the entire experience that they really didn't have anything they wanted to put on their Christmas lists. (Except Luke - he wants Sock Monkey.)

I am in awe over the many ways that we can give. We can hit the stores for brand new items or give things our children have outgrown. We can give directly to someone who needs it, or donate to a charity sale. We can go all out and sponsor entire families by ourselves, or we can pool our resources and give with friends. We can sponsor a child through Compassion, or provide fresh water through Wells for Life. The list goes on... Whichever method one chooses, the giving means so very much.

In a time when the economy is struggling and needs for agencies like the Salvation Army are nearly double what they were this time last year, I am in love with the generosity I've seen in our community. We are so richly blessed to live here and to have so many caring friends and neighbors. People have given not out of obligation or because they'd receive something in return. They've given from their hearts, to make like a little better for someone else.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silly boy

This exact picture sits framed on our computer desk.

As Luke was admiring it, the following discussion took place:

Luke: "Hey, Mom, who keeped us when you and Daddy got married?

Me: "You weren't born yet, so no one had to keep you."

Luke: "Was I in Daddy's tummy?"

Me: Laughing... "No, Honey. Daddies don't carry babies in their tummy. Years after this picture was taken, you were in my tummy. Neither you nor your brother were born or in any one's tummy when this picture was taken."

Luke: "Huhhhh... Well, who keeped me when Daddy was born?!"

Silly boy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lights, lights and more lights

For the last 8 years, Bryan and I have made a Christmas trek to Pizzeria Uno in a certain shopping area across town. Imagine our surprise when we walked out of the parking garage and rounded the corner only to find that it is no longer there! Additionally, the McDonald's that has been on that corner longer than I've been alive is also gone.

Where would we eat with two small children? Surly not Ruth's Chris. And most definitely not upscale seafood!

We ducked into a warm store to discuss our dining options. Sports bar, Mexican, Italian, barbeque, fondue? As we were talking, Zach interrupted saying that he'd spotted the perfect place on our drive in. However, he explained that it was at the other end, where we first entered. He was so excited and just certain that we'd love it, so we agreed to give it a shot. Fearing that we'd have to walk several blocks, in the cold, out and then back, possibly without finding this perfect spot... Thankfully, less than one block away, we spotted it! A place that Zach and I frequent when we're on dates, but a place that Bryan doesn't like much at all. In fact, he calls it "the home of the $7 PB&J". He had soup.

After dinner, we walked through the streets admiring the stores' Christmas lights while I told them stories about different places we used to go for snacks and hot chocolate when I was a little girl. It's always beautiful down there. Luke loved the horse drawn carriages - I guess he didn't remember them from last year. He thought it was pretty funny to see horses in the middle of the street.

We took an extremely long route home, detouring for spectacular Christmas light displays. Mansions with enormous 100 year old trees wrapped from top to bottom in colored lights. Streets lined with trees whose trunks were wrapped in white lights, stretching forth as far as the eye could see. Candy Cane Lane - a street where every house has a giant candy cane at the curb and each house is decorated with different Christmas inflatables and scenes. Christmas lights that flash and dance to music on a specific radio station. Christmas light webs draping over streets and parks.

As Luke said, "Raise your hand if you love Christmas lights the most" an argument ensued. "Me! No, it's me! Nuh uh, I like them the most!" Well, the truth is... It me. Luke fell asleep before we hit Candy Cane Lane. We couldn't let him miss it though, so we woke him up after a short nap. Zach fell asleep shortly after Candy Cane Lane. I still had a stupid grin on my face after an hour and a half of looking at lights! I was also still oohing and ahhhing. I win. I love Christmas lights the most.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One more for eternity

As I was giving the kids a bath yesterday morning Zach said, "Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins and shame. It sounds weird, but I believe it!" I asked him who says it sounds weird... To which he replied, "I do!! It does sound weird. But I totally believe it. I know that Jesus is God's son and God sent him to die on the cross so I could be forgiven of my sins and live forever in heaven with God and Jesus after I die. When I'm like 100, you know. And I made my decision when I was a kid, not an adult. I decided when I was 5 1/2 that Jesus is my savior!"

Our children have been hearing about God since they were born. And Zachary is a deep thinker who cares more about people and relationships than anything else. We could see that he had faith in the Lord when he was very little. And he seemed to really get it, but we wanted his declaration of a decision (his word) to be all his own. I'd imagined it happening while we were fully clothed and all together... Not during bath and when Daddy was at work! But, it happened in Zach's words and completely without our prompting. It was truly one of the happiest days of our lives. Our son is a Christian. I'm pleased as punch to know that one day Zachary will be with Bryan and me in heaven... You know, like, after we're 100.

As I'm sure every family does on the day one proclaims his decision, we went out to dinner and to an arcade!

After some arcade fun, we headed home to celebrate with cake and sparkling grape juice.

And Daddy finally had a chance to sit down with his son and some scripture... and some prayer time.

Indeed, it is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let it snow!

The first snow of the winter is always greeted with squeals... and outstretched tongues! For catching snowflakes, of course. But, this snow fell overnight. We'll have to catch snow on our tongues next time.

The outfits were something else... Zach in tennis shoes, too-short snow pants and a too-light winter coat. Luke in Zach's size 2 snow boots from last year and a Santa hat!

The boys threw lots of snowballs. Talk about timing... Zach's snowball hit my camera lens right as I pressed the button. Lucky for him it dried out without any problems!
And Zach tried to teach Luke how to make snow angels.
Hmmm... Belly down?
On my head?
Do you see what I see? Nah... Because I can't see!
Luke takes his first spill of the season.
Many more to come, I'm sure.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I want to be a husband and mommy

Lately Luke has been telling me that when he grows up he wants to be "an excellent husband and mommy". I correct him and say daddy, but he insists mommy.

As I thought about him today, I had to agree that mommy is more his speed right now. He is truly a little mini-me. A mother hen.

He is frequently spotted near me. If I'm doing dishes, he's clearing the table. If I call Zach up for a bath, Luke is shouting, "Zachary, time to come up for your bath!" the moment I pause for a breath. If I'm doing laundry, Luke is doing laundry. He even disciplines the dog. I don't think I say this... but I frequently hear Luke saying, "Bad dog!" when Apollo gets into his stuffed animals or snags a bite of the kids' food. He also lets the dog out when the dog needs it, and takes him to his kennel anytime Luke thinks he needs that.

If I ask the kids to help me with something, Luke is the first to jump at the chance and almost always insists that he do it without Zach's help. If there is a child nearby that is (or even appears to be) younger than Luke, he's all over it. He loves babies... even those babies that are mere months younger or a couple of inches and pounds smaller! He's convinced that he's their mentor.

Luke is such a little shadow... He delights in doing the things that Mom does. And Mom thinks it's sweet and appreciates all the help! In time, I'm sure his desires will change. He will eventually decide that he wants to grow up to be an excellent husband and father. And I'm convinced that he will be well-equipped for that... He has a wonderful role model.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmases past

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.
~Burton Hillis

A stroll down memory lane...