(All of) Christmas 2013

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” —Norman Vincent Peale

Sophie’s Purple Party

Late 2013, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sophie decided to have a Purple Party. This meant she spent an afternoon taking every single thing out of her room that wasn’t purple, filling the upstairs hallway.

You had to wear purple to attend …

and you were only allowed to eat purple treats.

We played purple games, won purple prizes, danced to purple songs and then spent the rest of the evening putting her room back together. (This mess, though, was worth it.)

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” —Alice Walker

Kyle’s 30th Birthday (2013)

“Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.” —Larry Lorenzoni

Colleen + Sophie

November 2013

“In my cousin, I find a second self.” —Isabel Norton

Late Summer 2013

A catch-up.

The boys developed a love of washing windows, which I hope remains with them always.

A pool party, with dear friends.

To celebrate the end of summer we took the kids to Coney Island.

It was terribly hot …

and so much fun.

Sophie and Andy rode the ferris wheel …

while the boys had to watch (sometimes, being little is hard).

Of course, they managed to find rides suited to them, too.

Nini and Pop Pop joined us.

And still to this day we’re asked to go back, at least once a week.

We had tea parties with Colleen.

In September, Sophie tried out soccer.

We went to the Preble County Pork Festival, a family tradition, with lots of family.

The boys experimented with sharing sandals.

We went to Woodfill Elementary’s Big Top Festival.

And we took naps on the porch.

And in mid-October, it was still warm enough and green enough to climb trees.

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” —Celia Thaxter

The Dinner Table

It’s nothing new to say that dinners with toddlers can be frustrating. See this post and this post and this post and this post and this post.

But sometimes (dare I say, lately, often) it can be lovely. I grew up eating as a family around the table, and since our children have been in highchairs, we’ve tried to do the same. We try to use cloth napkins more so than not. Sophie insists on napkin holders more so than not. I’ve long given the kids glass glasses. At dinner, we all use real plates. In fact, I think I’m ready to clear out the plastic plates altogether.

The last two times I’ve had dinner with my dear friend Linda at her house she’s lit candles. How many taper candles have been lit for meals throughout the years—throughout time? I love the simplicity of them, yet the way they say “This is important.” So I was delighted to find two candlesticks at an estate sale in Fort Thomas for $10 last week.

So while the rest of the house is often covered in toys and the laundry has piled up and I’m behind on freelance work and the beds haven’t been made (for several days), I try to make dinner nice.

Even if the meal is bunnies with cheese accompanied by mixed veggies.

“The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. It’s got five or six people, new show every night, same players. Good ensemble; the people have worked together a lot.” —Michael J. Fox

Our 2,371-mile Summer Vacation

It’s snowing and almost Christmas so, basically, the perfect time to post about our summer vacation, no?

When we learned that Andy’s cousin, Julie, had gotten engaged, Andy and I talked about flying out, just the two of us, to attend her wedding. But then she sweetly asked Sophie to be a flower girl, and the boys to be ring bearers. (To illustrate how excited Sophie was with this request, let me just say that she practiced daily—and for months we had loose silk flowers all over our house.)

The rest is my fault.

I Google Mapped the drive from Fort Thomas to Dallas (where the wedding took place) and then decided I wanted to spend a day or two at the ocean (which is not at all on the way). And then I thought about how long it had been since we visited Andy’s sister, Liz, in Atlanta. So I tacked that on. I tried to add on a few days in New Orleans and Memphis, but Andy cut me off.

I’m pretty sure I packed all the kids’ clothes.

All of them.

First stop—Atlanta. We met Liz and Eric for pizza at Mellow Mushroom.

We had ice cream after. We let the kids share one bowl, picking whatever they wanted—which resulted in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone with orange ice cream topped with gummy bears. I said I was full.

The kids were thrilled with the hotel room. Considering most nights we have at least one-if-not-two kids in our queen-size bed with us we thought it would be no big deal to all pile in a king-size bed.

We were wrong.

Hotel cuteness.

After breakfast with Liz and Eric, we headed onto Pensacola, Florida. We stopped here for boiled peanuts. Turns out, I don’t like boiled peanuts. I do wish, though, I could capture everything about the man who sold them to us—he has been selling them on the side of the road for sixty-plus years, I think (June was a long time ago now). He and his stories were worth the stop.

Next stop: the ocean!

Turns out, Owen isn’t a fan of the beach. He is a fan of sitting in his beach chair eating fruit snacks all afternoon, however.

Later that day we discovered Quietwater Beach—which was basically a knee-deep, bathwater-temperature haven for the kids.

We wore them out that day.

And then promptly woke them up for a stop at Joe Patti‘s for fresh shrimp.

Andy made the most delicious shrimp scampi that night.

We spent the next day back at Quietwater Beach, this time walking the boardwalk and venturing out farther, which meant life vests.

We stopped for some homemade popsicles at a cute little place and then did one last walk on the beach.

Owen wasn’t a fan of the noise of the waves.

I loved that last walk.

This was our cute little cottage, which I found online.

There were two bedrooms—we packed bed rails, and this was how the kids slept.

Next we had two days of driving, first to Shreveport, Louisiana and then on to Dallas for the rehearsal dinner. We stopped at a high school for a picnic lunch.

We made it to Texas. I’m skipping so much. Details about how we didn’t eat any fast food, choosing instead picnic lunches or roadside diners (with some successes—who knew roadside Thai could be so delicious in Texas?—and some failures). Of will-they-ever-go-to-sleep-in-this-one-room-hotel bedtimes mishmashed with the late-night, slap-happy, all-five-of-us giggling I so very well remember from one-room-hotel vacations as a child. Of colossal van meltdowns. Of the most fantastic family bonding that only happens on trips like this. Of a thousand games of “I Spy.”

But I digress. The wedding was at The Cotton Mill in McKinney, Texas.

It was hot. And beautiful.

Here are the boys practicing pulling their wagon, which held the third ring bearer. I have to admit: When Julie told me her vision (that the boys would be pulling a wagon together, without an adult, down the aisle and that another living being would be in the wagon) I pretty much envisioned disaster. Turns out, I wasted a lot of time worrying. They were great.

Here’s Julie, the bride-to-be, showing the flower girls where to be.

Emmy and Sophie


waterfall watching

my groom

That night was Fourth of July. So after the lovely rehearsal dinner at The Pantry Restaurant, we surprised the kids with sparklers outside our motel room. This went splendidly—until Owen burned his thumb (great parenting, no?).

The next day was wedding day. Aunt Susan made all the bridesmaids and flower girls cute towel wraps to wear while getting ready. And Jill made necklaces for Julie and the entire wedding party.

There was a lot of waiting.

Check out Sophie’s hair—one of the bridesmaids did it! I struggle with putting her hair into a ponytail so I thought this was just amazing.

Julie gifted the flowers girls with pink shimmer dusting powder, which, as you can imagine, was a huge hit.

Here’s Andy fixing the bow ties on our two handsome little boys.

I took a quick picture of the empty reception hall.


pink bow-tied brothers (love)

a few more pictures of the grounds and decoration

This is Blair, Emmy’s mom—she made both of the flower girl dresses. Not only can I not do hair, but I also can’t sew. So again—I was in awe.

Sophie, who loves all poof, couldn’t have been happier.

And here she is putting on more shimmer dusting powder—on her feet.

the beautiful bride and her beautiful mom

Aunt Fran (the bride’s grandma) and Jill (Sophie’s grandma)

the boys, waiting

Ross, the groom, built the cross.

I was in charge of moving the wagon and getting the boys back to their seat after their walk down the aisle, so I don’t have any pictures of it (Andy was in line with Sophie). I’m pretty sure I had more butterflies than they did over this simple walk but again, they were great!

the ceremony

Sophie and so-chic Grandma

Next up—pictures! I didn’t realize they had intended for me to be in a huge extended family picture and I missed it. I’d like to say it was for good reason but honestly it was a combination of 90°+ temperatures and Spanx …

fancy dress, glass of wine and a diaper bag

first dance

Of course we had trains at the wedding.

The kids loved loved loved dancing. Blair found lacy rompers for the flower girls to wear under their dresses, which both Sophie and Emmy stripped down to as soon as the reception started.

The reception was great fun and it was so nice to catch up with and meet extended family and friends.

This is pretty much how we all felt once it was over.

The next day we went to Tracy and Jeff’s house (Julie’s parents) for a cookout and swimming before the happy couple left for their honeymoon.

It was a fun, exhausting, beautiful, hard, memorable, completely worth it trip. Thank you, Julie and Ross, for inviting our kids to be in your wedding—it’s something they still talk about, to this day.

I’m already beginning to talk about our 2014 summer vacation. Andy just keeps changing the subject.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” —Helen Keller

My Dad’s Retirement

Work, for my dad, started early—in life and in the day. He grew up on a hog farm in Lewisburg, Ohio. He helped with the hard work of the farm, and my grandparents paid him and his siblings for the work that they did. He went to college, taught, got a master’s degree and taught some more. He was good at his work, but he never let it define him. Case in point: In 1982, he started working for McGraw-Hill Book Company. I have postcards from the early 80s from places like New York City—places my dad traveled for work. I remember going to the airport with him, getting on his plane and stepping into the cockpit. I remember a pilot giving me my own pilot wings. I remember watching his plane leave the airport and I remember the excitement of postcards in the mail. I don’t know if I simply associate Harry Chapin’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle” with my dad’s decision to leave his district manager job or if the song truly influenced him but he did leave it after three years. And most of his career, from 1985 to 2013, was spent with Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, most recently as Vice President of Business Operations. He did a lot of good there.

In June, he retired.

We attended a banquet for all the Great Oaks retirees late this spring. His speech made me teary.

And then in June, Kyle from San Francisco, and Katy, Tom and Colleen from North Carolina, came to town to celebrate.

These were some of the best summer days and nights.

We celebrated many things that week. We had dinner at A Tavola followed by cake and gifts at our house to celebrate Father’s Day and my mom’s birthday.

Our immediate family toasted and gifted my dad after dinner at Troy’s Cafe. My mom gave him two engraved bricks that both say “But it’s Baseball! Gary Gebhart”—one’s at home, the other, at Great American Ball Park.

For weeks beforehand my mom gathered one word from people who know my dad—one word that describes him. She then made The List.

The List
major league
baseball guru
Carnac the Magnificent
sports guru

The next day family, friends and colleagues attended a party at my parents’ house.

My dad and brother-in-law spent days preparing Detling Field for a ballgame. We played a bit but then …

a downpour.

Still, an enjoyable day, complete with Eli’s BBQ sandwiches for all.

Now my parents are both retired. My dad still works, but it’s work of his choosing. He gardens. He works in the yard. He works out. He attends services at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. He volunteers at the Freestore Foodbank. He tutors a kindergartener once a week at South Avondale Elementary School. Every week he and my mom go on a date—Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Findley Market, a concert in a coffee shop. Next weekend they’re going to Colonial Williamsburg to see the Threads of Feeling exhibit with my grandma and my sister and her family. They went to Hawaii.

My dad stopped by the other day, after tutoring, just to hang out, to play tickle monster with the kids, to be beat in Bingo. This time for him is so incredibly well-deserved. And I’m just so thankful to be a part of it.

“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” —Harry Emerson Fosdick

Your Fifth Birthday

Dear Sophie,

This year, your birthday celebration started with your preschool celebration. First, you sat on Mrs. Richter’s lap and shared a book you made about your life.

Then you walked around the sun, carrying a small world, five times—representing your five times around the sun. As you walked, the children sang: The earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun tra la, the earth goes round the sun. This tradition gets me every year.

Per your request, you had some special visitors the entire day this year—Owen and James loved doing work with you, and making bunny hats.

For weeks you talked about making cutout heart cookies for your class. But at the last minute, you insisted on cake pops. Having never made cake pops, we talked you into Oreo truffles instead. You got to pass them out, along with little paper cups of apple juice, to your happy class.

You woke up on your birthday (a Saturday) as any 5-year-old would—so happy. We’ve been talking a lot about how much you’ve grown lately (and you have!) so before you even changed into your birthday dress we measured and marked your 5-year-old height on your growth chart.

We set the dining room table for your brunch—you requested scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit salad and cinnamon rolls (not homemade but rather the ones “from the can”). The tall birthday candle on the table was a gift to me from a family friend (I think) back in 1979. It lists a child’s years from 1 through 21, and certain ages have pictures next to them (12 is a bike, 18 is a graduation cap). 21, however, is a wedding ring. We readily informed you that you don’t, my darling, need to get married that young …

You, of course, had the red plate.

And you, as usual, throughly enjoyed your bacon (something that still confounds the former vegetarian in me).

I purchased these five pink polka dot balloons at The Party Source at around 10:30pm Friday night. I’m fairly certain I was the only person there buying balloons versus booze that late on a Friday night.

This year you chose an opera cream cake from The BonBonerie, the same cake Daddy and I had at our wedding.

After brunch, we lit the candles on your cake …

and you made a wish. You wouldn’t tell us your wish (as is the norm with wishes), but you also, sadly, said it would never come true. If I had to guess, I would guess your wish was to fly. You’ve been talking about how wonderful it would be to fly a lot lately, to fly like a bird—anywhere you wanted. And you’re right. It would be wonderful.

Owen and James surprised you with The Last Unicorn movie (a new obsession, which you discovered at the library—now you don’t have to return it!), and Charlotte’s Web (but we have to finish the book first!).

You received many generous presents this year, including your first American Girl doll from Nini and Pop Pop. I’ll be honest—Daddy and I were always a little wary of these dolls, after we received the first catalog in the mail seemingly one week after you were born. (The prices!) But there are so many positives. I love that you have a doll that you will play with and love, even when you’re older. I love that Marie-Grace (your doll) is based off a historical fiction character from the 1850s. I love the books that accompany her.

And I love that when you found an American Girl catalog in the mail a month before, out of all the beautiful things shown, you fell in love with the feel-better kit and wheelchair. Ever since you had your surgery, you’ve been performing daily surgeries on your dolls. So this is what you wanted most. And so this is, among other things, what Grandma and Paw Paw gave you. Marie-Grace has had a lot of broken arms and legs, but thanks to your loving care and medical expertise, she’s come through them all just fine.

After all the gifts had been opened, we asked you, Owen and James to close your eyes.

And Daddy and I gave you your first real bike! A 16″ pink and white Huffy, covered in princesses and glitter (even the pedals are heart-shaped). It is, well, something. (We were so happy you loved it.)

family pictures

Your first bike ride. It reminded me so much of my first solo bike ride on the blue and white bike I got for my 5th birthday, the one with the training wheels and a little white basket with plastic flowers on it. I felt like I was going so fast, and so far, and I distinctly remember my grandpa Mangan yelling “Go, Kara! Go!” as I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled down our sidewalk. You, my dear Sophie, are reaching the age when you will begin to remember things—really remember things. I hope for happy, soft, does-something-good-to-your-insides ones.

You chose to have an art party this year, and for it, we went to our friend Tanith’s art studio, Artscapade.

First you and a few friends painted a canvas—a forest or field for your fairy; an ocean and ship for your pirate.

Then you used polymer clay and step-by-step, made your fairies and pirates.

We had cookies and apple juice from The BonBonerie, and then you opened your gifts. Tanith put together wonderful little creativity kits for all your guests to take home.

Here’s everyone, with their lovely works of art. You had a lot of fun.

Only for about a day this past year were you 4. As the months passed you were quick to inform anyone who asked that you were “4 and 1/4,” “4 and 1/2,” “4 and 3/4” and finally, “4 and 11/12s.” You were into ages this year. You wanted to know the age of everyone, characters in books, characters on television shows, dolls, other children you met. And you pushed yourself older, no matter how hard we (quietly) tried to push back. You loved when we let you watch the Scooby Doo show that’s for children “7 and older” (you remind us daily how brave you are because of it). You begged to wear nail polish (we let you, one weekend, when you were sick). You asked when you could have your ears pierced (not yet, we said). The things we did let you try—chewing gum and drinking Sprite or root beer—you declined. We still don’t know why. Perhaps you want to grow older, but only on your own terms.

Although you still desire our attention more often than not, now you will play by yourself, in your room, for long periods of time. Your play is elaborate, with your paper dolls, stuffed animals, princess figurines, scraps of fabric, treasure box contents, ribbons and art box contents. You’re constantly talking or singing while you play and often, you have your “royal ball music” playing softly in the background. You enjoy playing with Owen and James but you also enjoy your alone time—and play dates with friends (oh the constant requests for play dates with friends!), too. You throw royal balls almost nightly. You like to paint and color your paper masks and watch My Little Pony and these (admittedly awful) Barbie movies you pick out at the library. At night, we read chapter books. Currently we’re reading Ramona and Her Father and Charlotte’s Web.

You are kind. You’re often agreeable and you are so incredibly accommodating to Owen and James. You share, mostly. You’re fiercely protective of your brothers. Just today, while I was on your bed acting as patient and you were above me, acting as dentist, you heard James cry. You had begged me for a good five minutes to come upstairs for a dentist appointment. But the moment you heard James cry, you said, “Go, Mommy! He needs you!” May you always be that loyal.

You are passionate. When you’re angry, sometimes, you lose it. It reminds me of one of our favorite bedtime stories, When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry. Your anger and frustration are so intense, so real, that your stomach hurts, you have trouble breathing, you literally say, “I can’t stop.” And although I’m sometimes at my wit’s end during one of these episodes, deep down, I’m glad for them. I’m glad you’re so passionate about life, that you care about what happens in your world so deeply and that you are comfortable enough around me to express your displeasure so honestly. (Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m no longer putting you in time out.)

I love that you still love to snuggle. I love how much you adore school. I love how conscientious of rules, procedures and following directions you are at school. I love your sense of style—the outfits you choose to wear, the earrings you buy me for my birthday, the way you wish you could, and try to, decorate every room you inhabit. I love that you still grab my hand when we walk and how much you love when Daddy and I swing you when it’s just the three of us. I love how much you love your stay-up time: 8:30pm is your bedtime now, while James and Owen go to bed at 8pm. Mostly, I love how much you love—us, your brothers, your family, your friends, your teachers, even yourself. May that love always be this strong.

Happy, happy birthday, Sophie.

I love you.

“Most of us can remember a time when a birthday—especially if it was one’s own—brightened the world as if a second sun has risen.” —Robert Staughton Lynd

Solo Parenting

I took the kids to Skyline for dinner tonight. Randomly Owen and James started yelling out Reds baseball player names, including Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, with great gusto. For Christmas, my dad gave James framed pictures of baseball players to hang in his room. My dad often reminds Owen and James the names of the players. I’m sure this is where the spouting of names came from but I have no idea why it happened in the middle of dinner tonight. But with the snow still falling as we ate, and all of us in dire need of baseball weather, it was insanely cute. So I grabbed my phone and recorded it.

I have no idea why there’s (a) no sound and (b) why it’s posting as a picture and not a video.

If Andy were here, I’m sure he could fix it. Just like he could fix the toilet upstairs that is suddenly constantly running. For now I open the lid and jiggle a wire forcing the stopper to close every time someone flushes. I’m sure there is a better (and easier) way to handle this.

Andy’s been out of town since early Thursday afternoon. And he won’t be back until late Wednesday afternoon.

Seven days.

Six nights.

It’s gone better than I expected. But it’s a long time.

He’s been gone for good reason. He spent several days in Florida, visiting with extended family. And now he’s in Denver, for work.

In some ways, I feel more on top of things. Knowing I’m in charge of everything, and I don’t have anyone else to fall back on, I make sure things get done. I worry too much to let things slide.

Still, Owen’s wearing a pajama top covered in heart stickers in the video/picture. It was a battle I chose not to fight. Owen and James also are wearing their snow boots (because it’s snowing, of course) but sans socks. I’d like to say that was another battle I chose not to fight but in reality, it was a shortcut I insisted on.

I think about all the mamas and papas out there who do this on their own, without any support from the other biological parent, always. Or the ones whose spouse/partner travels for work, or is away for months at a time, with the military. I admire you. And I’m sorry. I imagine posts like these are hilarious or infuriating (or, perhaps, both). It’s a week. One small week.

Still. I look forward to not being the only one running up the stairs every five minutes at bedtime. Sometimes, for good reason: a dirty diaper. Chapped/bleeding lips. A dropped Piglet. But the other times: “It’s important, Mommy!” “What’s important?” “I don’t know. But don’t leave.” Or, “Which engine is this?” while pointing to an engine in a Thomas book. Or, “I forgot to make a mask for Emma today!”

The calories I burn, running up those stairs … it’s how I’m justifying the popcorn drizzled with truffle oil and covered in parmesan cheese, which I’m eating right now.

And in some ways, it’s nice. Andy hates the smell of truffle oil. And now I can eat it without complaint. I can not watch basketball (although I should point out “Peach Baskets”—my bracket—is currently ranked fourth out of 240 entries). And not once in the past five days have I encountered a bathroom sink full of little hairs, which is what I always encounter after Andy shaves.

But then, I like arguing about the merits of truffle oil. And it’s weird to not have basketball on in March. And washing those little hairs down the sink isn’t all that bad, really.

There’s a reason they say absence make the hearts grow fonder.

I miss him. I miss us. All of us, all the ways we work and don’t work together as a family of five.

Soon. (And for that, I know, I’m lucky.)

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” —Kahlil Gibran