Grandma

(All of) Christmas 2013

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

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

Your Sixth Birthday

Dear Sophie,

This year your birthday started with a visit from Grandma and Grandpa in Baltimore. And, on the way to the airport, Owen threw up all over himself and the van. As I was trying to get him cleaned up with the few wipes and plastic bags I had, changing him into one of Daddy’s shirts slated for Goodwill I found in the back of the van, you ever-so-helpful said from the back, “Mommy, you are not prepared for this.”

And I loved that, the humor you gave to an otherwise awful situation. And I loved that, because it showed you are still young enough to always speak your mind. And I loved that because, when it counts, you really are generous and kind. You care, about everything, so much.

Which is why, in part, I felt so badly that your birthday was a bit of a bust.

It started out wonderfully, with a present from Great Aunt Susie—a handmade Elsa dress.

Still, on the day of your birthday party at the YMCA, Owen and James had been sick less than 48 hours prior, so both boys had to stay home with Grandpa. (But don’t worry about the boys—Grandpa came through with a small birthday celebration they threw for you, on their own, in the backyard.)

And you, I believe, had fun.

Nini and Pop Pop came to your party at the YMCA, and then followed us home where you opened your presents from them on our front porch. They were on their way to see your Aunt Katy, Uncle Tom and cousin Colleen, who, as you know, has a birthday the day after yours. They stayed on the porch in what we hoped was a germ-free zone, so as not to get pregnant Aunt Katy sick.

After Nini and Pop Pop left, you said your stomach hurt. I tried to convince myself it was the sweets, but then you, too, got sick. After emailing my sincerest apologies to all the other parents of your friends who were at your party, I sat next to you on the couch, holding your hair and scratching your back—not a great way to spend your birthday, any birthday, but especially a birthday when you’re 6.

Still, you said you wanted to open presents. It was clear you loved them, but you were quiet and reserved, and you hardly played with your gifts after, which included some much-anticipated Frozen merchandise.

Several days later you were ready for your meal-of-choice: scrambled eggs, fruit salad, bacon and cinnamon rolls “from the can.”

Still after, you had a stomachache.

So it wasn’t until you were 6 years and 1 week old that you finally had your Frozen ice cream birthday cake, which your dad, who has many varied talents, made for you.

We even threw in a couple extra presents, for good measure. And then, we had cake!

And now is when I normally write a personal letter to you. And I will, but privately. For you’re 6 now, my sweet child. You’re in kindergarten. You’re learning to read. Your friends are learning to read. My thoughts and reminiscences about the year past are no longer primarily focused on physical milestones and parenting mishaps, but more personal milestones—your emotional and intellectual milestones—your growth as a human being, into an adult. And they are yours. And for the ones we share, also mine. And they belong to everyone you choose to share them with, both in the present, and in the future, if that’s what you wish.

This was the first year I didn’t know what you wished for—you have secrets, experiences, thoughts and frustrations tucked away in your brain that I’m not privy to—as it should be. Still, I love when you share. And I hope you continue to share. And in return, I promise to respect your privacy, as well as a mother (who also is a writer) can.

Happy, happy birthday my generous, passionate, funny Sophie.

I love you, always.

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” —Emily Dickinson

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

rehearsing

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.

James

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

Your Third Birthdays

Dear James and Owen,

For your third birthday, we hung up the birthday banner (of course).

Sophie insisted on helping me set the table (she was so excited, for both of you). Owen—you wanted a Thomas the train theme. James—you wanted a Jake the Pirate theme. So, we did both.

The night before your birthday I went out, after you were asleep, and bought you each a balloon.

The next morning you wore your Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate T-shirts. You were so.very.excited. Too excited. So excited that we let Sophie give you her birthday presents after breakfast (she was too excited to wait, too). James, even though you love Jake the Pirate, you wanted Thomas trains as presents. So that’s what Sophie gave to both of you. You loved them.

Nini and Pop Pop came over for a birthday lunch!

I was planning on making two meals that day, as it is our tradition that you pick your favorite meal for your birthday. This year, though, you picked the same thing—pesto pasta and bread with butter.

Owen, you humored me by wearing your 1st birthday hat, which I purchased from Etsy. (James, you did not humor me—this year.)

Your presents!

You both wanted chocolate cake with chocolate icing. As such, Andy said it only made sense that we make one cake. I would have none of that. None.of.that. Two cakes, one for each of you. You are two separate people with two birthdays to celebrate. (We had a lot of leftover cake.) Owen, this was your cake.

And James, this was your cake. (Sophie insisted on decorating them both.)

James, this year, we sung to you first.

Owen, I love this picture of you. You are watching your daddy come into the living room with your lit birthday cake. You were so excited.

You blew out your candles quite well, too.

And then, you got to open presents! One of your joint presents from Nini and Pop were wooden marble run tracks from Haba.

You love them. Daddy often comes home from work and builds intricate mazes down our stairs. However, you’re also getting better and better about building working runs all by yourself, too.

After presents, we ate cake and ice cream.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with Nini and Pop Pop, playing with your new toys and old games, too.

This year, you were lucky because you got to celebrate your birthday twice! Grandma and Paw Paw visited the following weekend. This time, we made Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate cupcakes.

You blew out your candles …

and opened presents.

Grandma and Paw Paw got you a jeep. At first, we didn’t tell you and you didn’t realize you could drive it. You were simply just thrilled with the idea of sitting in it.

Pop Pop and Nini came over—like Pop Pop like grandson.

Then all of us went to Nini and Pop Pop’s house, where we revealed the truth of the Jeep—that it moves.

You each took a turn riding with Sophie. And … you haven’t ridden it since. You’re afraid of it. I’m baffled by this, but am guessing (hoping) this will change with time.

We finished out the afternoon with a game of baseball on Detling Field.

James,

You eat a ridiculous amount of food. Just today, you woke up from your nap and immediately asked for a tomato—an entire tomato. I sliced it all, you ate it all, and then you asked for more. The night before we had homemade pancakes for dinner. You ate five—five large pancakes. I always say, “I don’t know where he puts it all!” (you can still wear 18-month shorts) but that’s not entirely true. I do know what happens to all those calories. You burn them off. Constantly. You rarely walk—unless it’s outside and the temperature is not of your liking (and when it’s too hot or too cold you are sure to let us know). Inside, though, you run. Everywhere. You dive and jump and barrel and twist and turn and dance and swing and hop and roll all.around.the.house (and all over us and Tucker, too.). I envy your energy.

You love “You Are My Sunshine.” You request it at bedtime. You ask for it whenever you hurt yourself. When you are in the midst of a full-blown tantrum, it is the one thing that will calm you (just like it always has). I pick you up and you wrap your arms and legs around me, nuzzling your head into the crook of my head and shoulder. And I sing. And scratch your back. And you calm. Your entire body relaxes into mine, your breathing slows, you stop crying. You calm. I love singing “You Are My Sunshine” to you.

You sing it, too. You sing it in this beautiful, high-pitched, perfectly sweet voice that makes me want to cry every time I hear it. Because of it, I’ve become “one of those moms.” Again and again I say, “James, can you sing ‘Your Are My Sunshine’?” to anyone and everyone who will listen. Often, you do. My favorite moments, though, are when you sing it unprompted. A couple times Owen has hurt himself and on my way upstairs to kiss yet another knee I hear you, sweetly singing to him. People talk about hearts melting. This, this turns mine into a puddle.

You’re sneaky. You hide things. I’m still missing a-now-cancelled credit card I believe, because of you. When you’re mad at someone you will take something of importance to them and throw it—behind the buffet, behind a bed, behind the couch. And then you smile. (We’re working on this.)

You love to read. More so than Sophie and Owen. Every day you pull a new book off the bookshelf, sit on my lap and ask me to read. I try my best to stop whatever I’m doing to read to you. Never, ever lose this passion.

You’re good at puzzles. Really good at puzzles. Scary good at puzzles. Every day you do Owen’s four-pack Thomas the Train puzzles. Babysitters have gotten out other puzzles and noted how good you are at doing them. I need to get you some more puzzles.

I love your curly hair. Sophie loves it, too. Often she does your hair for you. She brushes it and poofs it and puts barrettes in it and headbands in it. She puts you in her dress-up clothes and you just laugh and smile. You’re such a good sport about it.

You take things apart constantly. TV remotes. Toys. Cell phones. The contents of wallets. The contents of purses. Sophie’s treasure box. If anything has a battery in it, you take it out. If any outlet is childproofed, you get into it. Maybe you’ll be an engineer. Maybe you’ll be an inventor. Maybe you’ll be a builder. Maybe you’ll be an artist or a woodworker or an architect or a teacher. I love your curiosity, even if some days it drives me crazy.

I love you, James. I love the way you laugh—such a big laugh for such a little dude. I love how you are all wiggly arms and wiggly legs all over me, all the time. I love how your eyes shine. People talk about shining eyes but yours do. They really do. I love how much you love Tucker and I love how much he loves you. I love how much you love us. I love how much you love life. The toddler years can be trying—for us. For you. But they are so short-lived, which makes me both happy and so incredibly sad. I love that I’m spending your toddler years with you.

Owen,

You have the best facial expressions. Everything is exaggerated. Your surprised look. Your “I’m sorry” look. Your “Aw, isn’t that so cute?” look. Your mad look. Your sad look. Your silly look. I love all your looks. May you always remain that expressive.

You love trains. While Daddy and I were out of town, you recently rode on one at the zoo with my cousin (and one of your favorite babysitters), Kelsey. You were almost manic describing it to us. When we cross a train track or you hear a train in the distance, you become inconsolable if you don’t see a physical train to go along with the track or the noise. You know all the words to the Thomas the the Train theme song and you love to sing the song in different silly voices. You know all the engine names and, thanks to some other non-Thomas train books, you know the different parts of a train (the engine, the tender, the caboose). Lately you will spend afternoons in your room running your trains over your tracks, making up stories about what they’re doing and where they’re going. I love listening to these stories, these worlds you create in your head.

You and Sophie are buds. All three of you love to play with each other, and I know these pair-offs will change over the years, but right now you two often can be found together—especially outside. You both stick the swing seats on your stomachs and you run and kick off and go so high—so high. You love to balance on anything—curbs, stone walls, benches. You love to ride Sophie’s pink tricycle although you refuse to use the pedals. Still, you are fast—and intent on catching up to Sophie on her scooter. You and Sophie race all the time—from the van to the front door, up the stairs, to the entrance of Tower Park—all the time. You’re really good at Memory. So good that it startles Sophie. “Mommy,” she says. “How did Owen beat me? He’s 3 and I’m 5!” You surprise her (and us) with this skill.

You are very particular about the order in which you do things. There is a certain way you have to get in the van, a certain order to the buckles on your car seat. You insist on buckling the last buckle, but only after everyone else is in their seats and buckled, too. (And then you ask Sophie, about five times while we’re driving, if she’s buckled—this drives her mad.) When it’s time to get shoes on, you often insist on sitting on a particular step. You’re particular about the clothes you wear. James would be naked, all the time, if he could. You—you must have pants and a shirt on. And when hot weather arrived, you spent several weeks dismayed with the fact that you were in shorts, not pants, and t-shirts, not long-sleeved shirts.

You know what you like.

You still love the moon. And the cardinals that live in our backyard pine tree. And Mia—although you scream “MIA” and scare her so much she never sticks around long enough for you to do anything with her. When you see something cute, you cock your head to the side, smile and say “Awww, that’s so cute!” in, well, in a seriously cute way.

When you color, it’s not the normal all-over-the-page kid scribble. Rather you draw these tiny little individual scribbles, all over the page. And they are each something. If I ask, you tell me what they are. They are fish. Dogs. Words. Letters. Numbers. Houses. Trains. Trees. I should ask you about your scribbles more often.

You scare easily. And, as such, you show your bravery so often. This year I’ve seen you tackle the “shake shake” bridge at the park. The big fish at the aquarium. The pool at the Y. Child watch at the Y. Hip hop at the Y. The backyard swing. The tricycle, fast. Scooby Doo. I’m proud of you.

Recently, you fell asleep on me—just like you did when you were an infant. Your head fit up on my shoulder perfectly, but your legs were so long against my body. You were so baby-like, so toddler-like. So small, so big. I loved it. I didn’t move, for more than an hour, craving the moment, knowing how fleeting it was, knowing it was rare, knowing, someday soon, it will never more be. Thank you, for that small and precious gift you gave to me.

I love you—everything about you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you both don’t exhaust me—us. You both are demanding. You both throw spectacular tantrums. You both whine. Oh, do you whine. But this passion also shows on the flip side, too. You love. You love. If we’re leaving and one of you thinks we’re leaving the other behind (which we would never do), you lose it. You cry and yell and we have to console you, over and over, that all of us are coming—no one is being left behind. If one of you cries after being hurt, the other one finds one of us, desperate to get help for his brother. You fight with each other, passionately. But you also love each other, equally—if not more—passionately. We love you both the same, passionately.

Sometimes, at night, around 10pm, when you should be sleeping—when you should have been asleep two hours ago—you creep down the stairs, together, while we are watching a show. We’ll hear your tip-toes and your “shhh’s” and look up to see you both, heads stuck between the rails, smiling, like you’re holding mankind’s greatest secret. And we melt. We should be angry, but we can’t be angry. You are both too cute to be angry.

And that’s how it is, with both of you. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. But I love it, you. I’m addicted to both of you. I can’t imagine my life without either of you and I’m so proud of the men you are becoming.

And here is where I’ll admit a truth: I was a little scared when I found out I was the mother of two boys. Your dad constantly perplexes me (and I mean that in the most loving way). But I’m a girl. I felt like I knew nothing about boys, raising boys. But now I know you are both people. Beautiful, loving, happy people. People who are growing, people who I’m excited to watch become men.

Often, I change the words to our favorite song. I make it plural. You are my sunshines. My only sunshines. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know dears, how much I love you. Please don’t let my sunshines go away.

Love,
Mama

“A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.” —Bill Vaughan

Things I’ve Neglected to Post (But Love)

A trip to Baltimore with …

jewelry-making with Grandma and …

ukulele-playing with Paw Paw.

parents’ night at Sophie’s beloved preschool

the delivery of a new-to-us swingset (with thanks to Craigslist)

and Easter!

“Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” —Max Frisch

Links I Love

• Saturday Andy and I saw Hem at Taft Theatre thanks to free tickets from CityBeat (I entered a contest and won!). Hem just released a new album, Departure and Farewell, and it’s been a long time coming. My sister and I saw Hem in concert years ago (2005, maybe?) at The Southgate House. There were, maybe, 15 people there. And it was freezing! Everyone, including Hem, wore coats, hats and scarves. Despite the cold, our love for them grew that night—in fact, Katy played several of their songs at her wedding. Last night they were blessed with a much bigger audience. While waiting for the music to start, I began to tell Andy my favorite Hem story—he stopped me, and said I had already told him (several times). So because I didn’t get the satisfaction of telling him (again), I’ll share it with you: Dan Messé, Gary Maurer and Steve Curtis placed an ad for vocalists in The Village Voice. They received many, many responses—but no one fit their vision. Months later, Sally Ellyson, prodded by friends, dropped off a cassette tape of lullabies she’d recorded. Messé says he had no intention of listening to it. But then, by accident, he turned it on when he thought he was playing a different demo tape. “Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please,” came floating out of his speakers. “I remember thinking, What the hell is this?! It was like this voice I had heard in my dreams all my life,” Messé said to New York magazine. And thus the band was born. Listen to their newest lullaby, here.

“The Helpers”

• My friend Colleen started a blog, Sisters Pushing Strollers, along with her two sisters. I love it. And relate to it.

• Thanks to Pinterest, I just discovered Baileys. Oh how I wish they shipped to the U.S.

• My friend Stephen, who owns Vertigo Catering, is hosting his first tasting event June 14 to benefit The Dragonfly Foundation. I’ve had the pleasure of eating from his menu numerous times and it’s some of the best food I’ve ever had. So if you’re looking for a fun date night (and a great organization to support) check it out!

Life on Mars … in 2023?

• Speaking of planets, stars and space, I think because James’s middle name is Orion I should own this ring, right? (It’s lovely, but just a tad out of my price range.)

• I’m so intrigued by Elizabeth Winder’s new book Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. Check out some pictures of Sylvia here.

• I don’t understand people who don’t have regrets. Yes, everything in life is a lesson. And no, one shouldn’t dwell on could haves or should haves. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And we all have said things we shouldn’t have said and we all haven’t said things we should have said. I regret those moments! How can one not? Anyhow, this spoke to me. This past Christmas I put a regret down on paper—and sent it to someone I knew in high school. He never responded, and I still regret my actions, but I did find the act helpful in letting go.

• Andy’s parents bought Sophie Goldie Blox for her birthday, and we’ve gifted it to others as well. Sophie and I finally played with it today, and she loved it. Watch this. You want to buy one, no?

“The bed is too small for my tired head
Bring me a hill soft with trees
Tuck a cloud up under my chin
Lord, blow the moon out please.” —traditional lullaby

A Belated Christmas Post

We celebrated Christmas with my mom’s side of the family after Christmas, due to sickness and weather. With family living in California, Kansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, it’s hard to get everyone together so it was a small celebration, but fun nonetheless. And Ben, my cousin who teaches in Bethel, Alaska, was in town (he’s the last picture, can you tell?). It was so great to see him.

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick—even when you’re home.” —Carol Nelson

Christmas!

Finding the perfect tree at Burlington Tree Farm.

Decorating the tree.

Sophie’s handmade Christmas present to us, from preschool (she couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to us).

A late night writing Christmas postcards.

Christmas at Great Grandma Gebhart’s house + handmade train whistles from my uncle Skip.

Greg

Pop Pop’s lap overflowing with grandkids.

James and Owen with their new cars from Great Grandma.

Autumn and Amanda

Opening presents.

James’s new Jake the Pirate set from my aunt Ellen and uncle Skip (he loved it).

my grandma

Suzy

Aunt Katy and sleepy Colleen

Uncle Kyle and (Great) Uncle Skip

Autumn and her mom, Lisa

Sophie getting some puzzle help from Autumn.

Andy and my uncle Roger in the kitchen.

Aunt Ellen

Christmas at my grandma’s farm, a tradition I’ve long loved.

Nini making pomegranate cosmopolitans.

Nini, Katy and me!

(They were delicious.)

Nini reading Eve Bunting’s Night Tree to the grandkids.

A Christmas gift for the birds—bagels covered in peanut butter and bird seed.

Hanging our gifts on the pine tree.

Mom and Dad (Nini and Pop Pop)

Writing letters to Santa.

Christmas around the house.

Sophie’s preschool Christmas gift to us.

The decorated mantel—Sophie wasn’t pleased with it so she added the ribbon and, if you look close, handmade snowmen hanging from it (of course, I left it).

A Christmas Eve viewing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Andy reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

James and Owen, clearly ready for bed.

More Christmas around the house.

Letters, cookies, milk for Santa, and lots of carrots for the reindeer.

Christmas Eve, right before bed = joy.

He came!

The walk down the stairs.

Christmas morning.

Christmas day at my parents’ house.

Colleen and Sophie

Uncle Kyle

Opening gifts.

Colleen

Colleen’s handmade hand-print wreath (with the help of Nini) to Uncle Tom and Aunt Katy.

Uncle Kyle and Sophie

family

My mom made beautiful teddy bears for each of the grandkids. They loved them.

Kids’ table.

Grown-up table.

The BonBonerie Christmas cookies.

Sophie trying out her new skates …

in my parents completely reorganized, repainted basement.

Christmas around my parents’ house.

Christmas dinner and paper crowns.

James, Owen, Sophie and Colleen

The teddy bears my mom made …

(they’re comfy).

Bliss.

Day-after-Christmas snow.

Gear. So. much. gear. (But of course, no boots. We hadn’t bought them yet.)

The kids’ first snowfall of the season—and their first snowman!

Making the traditional Uhl Family Christmas Cookies with Grandma and Paw Paw.

Owen taking a TV break from making cookies.

So good.

Christmas Eve w/ Grandma and Paw Paw.

Christmas morning—again!

Sophie opening her very special craft box, which Grandma put together.

Paw Paw and Grandma

Early morning sun.

Grandma made a craft box for all three kids—it’s huge and organized and labeled and filled with so many wonderful things—all three children play with it daily (thank you).

Thomas the Train tracks = love.

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

Thanksgiving in Baltimore

This year we traveled to Baltimore for a long Thanksgiving weekend with Grandma and Paw Paw, Aunt Lizzie and Great Aunt Fran. Thanks to the help of a second portable DVD player, the kids did well on the trip and it was so nice to be surrounded by family, especially family we don’t get to see very often.

The weather was unusually warm—we spent much of Thanksgiving morning outside, at several neighborhood parks.

As usual, Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. The kids especially enjoyed their own kid table this year.

Later that weekend we went to Baltimore’s Festival of Trees—Owen and James loved the train exhibit; Sophie loved the indoor carousel and tattoos.

Andy found his old Battleship game in the basement. Sophie played a good game against him, but Daddy won.

Thankful for family, and being able to travel and spend time with family. Thankful, indeed.

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” —Cicero