Friday, December 21, 2012

Minivan Express

We made what may be my favorite Christmas memory last night. I shamelessly stole the idea from Pinterest, and I hope it will become a tradition now.
It all started with these tickets:
 Yep, we converted our van into the Minivan Express. We sent the kids upstairs to take care of their critters after dinner, and they came back down to find containers of Christmas popcorn, hot cocoa, and these tickets waiting on the coffee table. The squeals were hysterical, and we were loudly proclaimed, "the best parents ever!" as they bounced around the living room. I've never seen two kids get into pajamas so quickly:
 Daddy was the best conductor:
In case you are wondering, a hole on the right means "imagine" and a hole on the left means "believe." Punching the whole word is for Tom Hanks.

We loaded into the van and spent the next hour or so driving around town looking at Christmas lights. Issa snapped pictures, and we oohed and aahed appropriately. The kids giggled and chatted, and we got to just enjoy a little Christmas magic...and that is my very favorite kind of magic.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Our Nutcracker

For the past month, Issa's ballet class has been studying the Nutcracker. Her teacher has been reading the story and then they dance those scenes. The past two weeks, they have been in the Land of Sweets. This week, we were invited in to watch their version of the Nutcracker:
 The Arabian dance was Issa's favorite:
 I loved watching the Russian dance:
 Look at that pose:
 Look at this sweet, attentive brother:
It was so cute. They danced their little hearts out, and Issa was so proud we were all there to watch. I was a pretty proud mama, too.

This has been a quiet week. Much of the hustle and bustle is finished, and we are just sinking into Christmas. We watched our little Nutcracker Tuesday night. Last night, we snuggled in with a pile of Christmas stories. Issa read some to us, we read some to her. It was lovely.

Tonight, we have one more big surprise up our sleeves, but I have enjoyed the quiet celebrations, too, a lovely space to enjoy the small things and the Christmas magic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

School Love

Last night, Issa and I set out to make the teacher gifts. She chose candy cane sugar scrub for her gifts this year. We made the scrub last night, and then she very carefully packed it into jars:
 I actually love the scrub, and they are super cute:
 The label reads "For your helping hands: Candy cane sugar scrub." The recipe is simply
2 c. of sugar
1/3 c. light olive oil
1/8 c. coconut oil
1/4 t. peppermint extract
Stir the ingredients together, and then add a few drops of food coloring to half the mixture. Layer into jars and voila!
I always love making teacher gifts with Issa, but this year has a little extra meaning. I am especially grateful for such a wonderful school this Christmas...
Last week, we went to the school's art festival. The art teacher coordinated the evening. There were a series of stations, and what I loved was that the children's art was center stage. The famous inspirations were there as a "by the way, this guy did this, too." The first project was air clay pots:

 A friendly note: let the air clay dry all the way before you stack the pots. We got to make ours twice because Mom didn't think that one all the way through and we had a big stuck-together pile of pots.

Then we made tribal masks:
 And Evan played clay some more:
 And we made didgeridoos for music class:
 Became part of the Mona Lisa:
 And worked on a school bottle cap mural.
 It was a fantastic evening, followed by a fabulous field trip to a children's museum the next day:
There is nothing like a little drumming to ring in the holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Christmas

We have been celebrating our own little Christmas around here. Over the years, we have developed a series of traditions that feel so us.
Thursday, we had our annual Christmas dinner with Steph and Ryan. This dinner has evolved from a huge party for Brad's lab into a much smaller gathering for our Duke friends still in the area. This year, Issa set the table:
 We use Christmas china, and this year we had ham and potatoes. The menu varies, but the two constants are decorating sugar cookies and having a wonderful evening.

Saturday, we had our family Christmas. We have reserved the Saturday before we head North to be just for us. The kiddos woke up to discover Santa had visited:
 He and the reindeer were out for a practice ride, and he stopped by to let them know he remembered where to find them Christmas morning. He also brought the kitties some new toys and Viv a bone. Santa may not have realized how very big that bone was. Viv was beside herself.

The kids also got to open their gifts from Mom and Dad:
 The big gift is always a trip to Great Wolf mid-winter, but there is also something small to open. This year, we gave them the Reading Rainbow ap (which is awesome if anyone is looking for a great reading ap). Since it's hard to wrap an ap, though, we gave them rainbow sun catchers to paint. We spent the morning reading and relaxing, and then we headed to the ice rink to watch the Nutcracker on Ice. The show was so fun, and it was a great introduction to the Nutcracker for the kids. Evan loved the battle, and Issa loved the snowflakes. The only bummer moment was when Daddy handed me some popcorn, which I popped in my mouth, only to discover he was handing it to me to throw away because Evan had dropped it on the floor. Grossness.

We came home, took some high quality naps, and then made our traditional fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn meal. This year, though, we decided to eat it as a picnic on the floor by the light of the tree and a fire. The kids found it hilariously fun, and I have a feeling it will become a part of the tradition.

After dinner, we settled in to watch Christmas movies with this new treat:
 Christmas popcorn! It's just popcorn tossed with almond bark and sprinkles, but it is so yummy.

Sunday, Issa created sun catchers:
 And we all played. We did a little shopping, and we just enjoyed being together.

In the evening, we headed to another Christmas dinner with friends. The highlight for the kiddos at the party:
We baked gingerbread men in the afternoon and took icing with us. The kids had a blast decorating and playing. Issa  and Shelby played dress up and put on enough perfume for a year. Evan and Tyler played cars, and the laughter from Evan made everyone's night. '

The weekend was lovely and a much needed bright spot in the midst of the cloud.

Merry Christmas to all...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In the Wake of Tragedy

A letter to my children:

My sweet babies,

Tonight, I am preparing to do one of the most difficult things I've been asked to do in a very long time tomorrow: take you to school.

Thankfully, you are blissfully unaware that our nation suffered a tragedy on Friday. A very ill man walked into a school and killed 26 people, 20 of them first graders. As I watched the news unfold, tears streaming, I fought every urge I had to go scoop you both up and never let you out of my sight. My heart broke, and I wanted to keep you with me just to have you close. I have never been so grateful to wait for the bus, Issa, and listen to first grade stories of wiggly teeth and tricky spelling words. To pick you up a little early, Evan, and hold both of you a little tighter.

This weekend, we have celebrated Christmas and shielded you from the news. At night, I read the latest headlines and my heart continually breaks for that school, the community, and our nation. As I read of the evil, though, I have been reminded of what your Mawmaw Tucky taught me: when things seem the darkest, it's time to count your blessings. The fact that you two are in my life is the greatest blessing of all, and I have been soaking you in all weekend. I have also been looking for the moments of good, shining through as blessings, in this tragedy.

When the evil entered the building, teachers protected their children, coloring and reading with them to keep them calm, and then escorting them to the waiting arms of their parents. First responders ran into the building, not waiting to know what was waiting but rushing to help. Those two groups ensured that 680 children walked out of that school. There is good.

I watched as neighbors who didn't have children in the building waited with those who did, praying and just being. There is good. I watched as a community held hands and sang "Silent Night" together. There is good. I read statements from parents who are facing the greatest sadness of all, rejoicing in the joy their children brought into their lives, remembering the best moments, and comforting a nation. There is good.

Those parents. As I check on you a few extra times every night, I cry every time. Grateful that you are sleeping peacefully and yet mourning for the mamas I know are still checking empty beds. I want to make them lasagnas and sweep their carpets and do their laundry, but I can't. What I can do is pray. This weekend I have prayed even more than I usually do. Grateful prayers for the lives that were saved and for you, my babies. Prayers for the families and the community. Prayers for teachers everywhere. Prayers without words because I just didn't have any. Prayers where all I could do was call His name, knowing He knows my heart, and that is enough.

It's through faith that I know He hears. I don't have to understand. That's what faith is. Goodness is choosing faith over fear. Every time we make that choice, good wins.

So...tomorrow, I will hug you a little tighter as I zip your coat. My morning prayers for you will be a bit more fervent. I will probably stand in the doorway of your classroom a little longer, thank your teacher a little more earnestly because I know she loves you and will take care of you, and I will probably cry a little when I get back in the car. But...I will choose faith over fear, a choice I hope you make every day of your lives.

I love you forever and always,

Your mama

Friday, December 14, 2012

So Proud

There are all kinds of school events and holiday festivities to write about, but Issa deserves a post all her own this morning.
Yesterday, we were invited to a breakfast at the school to honor the Terrific Kids. Each month, the school focuses on a character trait, and each classroom teacher nominates a child who exemplifies that trait to the be the Terrific Kid. This month, Integrity was the focus, and Issa was nominated.
Issa was so nervous to walk up and receive her certificate, but she made it:
As the principal gave her a certificate, the counselor read what her teacher had written:

"Issa is a student that I can always depend on to do the right thing. She gets along well with all of her classmates and is a good role model for others. She strives to do her best. She is honest in her words and actions. She exhibits these traits in a humble manner, quietly, and without expecting to be rewarded for such behavior."

I am so glad that paragraph is printed on the certificate. I may or may not have gotten quite teary. I want the kids to do well academically and in whatever activities they choose, but this is what it's really all about--being a good person. This is success, and I am one very, very proud mama.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I love this kid!

My girl kinda rocks. She has a birthday party this Friday, and her friend has chosen a Monster High theme. Issa found a cool Monster High art kit to give her, and then we came home to wrap it. I love that our kids prefer brown paper over fancy wrapping paper. They both love drawing on it for their friends, and this is what Issa came up with yesterday:
 A close-up:
Ella, the birthday girl, is a vampire, and she is sucking Issa's blood. I love the word bubble...and the vampire face...and that my girl is so thoughtfully bizarre.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Liners

This week is set to a blur of holly, jolly goodness and fun. That being said, it's also set to be a bit of a regular blur if I let it, which I am determined to not do! So, yesterday I focused on the words of my children. Their sweet little voices uttering some of the most endearingly bizarre things:

1. From Issa: "Mom, did you know Australia made up their own language."
"Sweetheart, they speak English in Australia."
"Yes, but it is their own English with words like 'G'day'"
"'s still English. They just have their own slang."
"Mom, I need you to admit you might not know everything."
I had nothing.

2. From Evan: "Santa came to school today!"
"I know! Did you have fun?"
"Mom. It's Santa. He doesn't play. He makes toys, and he said he would make me a fire truck. By the way, I forgot to tell him you said hi. Sorry."
"Well...that's okay. But did you have fun?"
"We just talked. There was no fun."
I had nothing.

3. From Issa again: "Mom, can we gather some candy to send in to make our gingerbread houses."
"Sure. We have some left from when we did our house."
"Great! We have to use the kind in the wrapper. You can't make it even though that's your thing."
"Issa, I have never made candy for a gingerbread house."
"Then we're good."
I had nothing.

4. And from Evan, as Issa was having a moment with Daddy about whether or not she could continue writing or had to get in the bath:
"Mom, they are going to have a conversation. Stay away."
A very wise little boy there.

You just can't make this stuff up!

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Very Merry Weekend

We are in full holiday swing around here, and it is lovely!
Saturday morning, Daddy made figgy pudding for breakfast:
 There are apples and figs in it, so it totally counts. And...that is a rum sauce, which makes any morning a very happy one. Christmas on a plate right there.

After much needed hair appointments, we headed to our museum. Good thing Daddy is a beast:
 After a quick visit to the barnyard, we went to see the holiday train. The kids loved the bird's eye view of all the trains:
 Issa was also thrilled to see the Wright Brothers' plane:
 She takes being a Wright's Flyer very seriously, you know.

That afternoon, Brad took me out for a Christmas themed date. I truly was clueless. I thought we might be headed to Raleigh, but then he hopped on 85 South and I was lost. He planned an afternoon is Saxapahaw. I had never heard of it, but we started our date at a little winery. We opted not to taste the sweet wines, but they had a couple of really nice wines and a seasonal spiced wine that we fell in love with.

After our tasting, we headed to a cute Christmas market in an old mill. There were lots of local artists and some really fun jewelry. We enjoyed holiday coffees on the patio, and then headed to a fabulous dinner at a little pub. We had a wonderful local cheese plate with quince paste and the best almonds I've had anywhere. We shared the shepherds pie, which was incredible and very authentically British, and then we ended the meal with apple cider pana cotta. It was all wonderful...which lead to a stage production of "It's a Wonderful Life." It was staged as a radio show, and it was a fabulous performance. It was a perfect date, and I loved the surprise of the whole day.

Yesterday, the kids and I created our Christmas gingerbread house:

 This time, they actually wanted a little help. I think Christmas brings out the more traditional houses in them. Evan wanted me to make frosting swags for him:
 Issa wanted me to put the snow along the roof line:
We never tire of this little house, and it was the perfect ending to a festive weekend!

Friday, December 7, 2012


Giddy. That is the only way to describe me right now. I'm plain giddy.

An incredibly kind friend called this week to ask if she could babysit so Brad and I could go on a date. Um...yes. That would be lovely.

And then...the cherry on top...Brad is planning the whole thing! I have no idea what we are doing except that it is Christmas-y and I might need to wear a dress. Issa is deciding. Yes...he told her, and she is in charge of dressing me.

The whole thing reminds me of our very first date 14 years ago. It was Valentine's Day, and he planned a whole date day. I knew nothing, and my mom was responsible for dressing me because she knew the whole plan. It was a perfect day, one that Brad and I still talk about often.

Now, my sweet, romantic husband is planning a day for us again, and I couldn't be more excited. Giddy, in fact.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hrme's New Digs

We had a bit of a "If you give a mouse a cookie moment" at our house. Hrme had been acting a bit sad. He wasn't popping out when Issa picked him up, and he wasn't as active in his cage. We did some checking, and we decided he might need some bigger shells.
Evan was ready for a new frog, so the three of us set off to PetSmart for a new frog and a new shell. Well...we ended up getting two shells because hermit crabs do like variety, and if you get two, bigger shells, the cage might be a little crowded. And since PetSmart was running a huge sale, we ended up getting Hrme a bigger cage, too:
His old food and water dishes, palm tree, and crab shack made the move with him. The new cage has a climbing bridge and two more palm trees, too. He is now a much, much happier crab. He is back to playing and popping out as soon as Issa picks him up. Merry Christmas, Hrme!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

House Guests

So...we have some house guests this week. Allow me to introduce Bow:
 And Bubble:
 They are Briana's guinea pigs, and we are pig sitting while her family is away. They really are quite cute, and we spend a good portion of each evening playing with them:
That's lettuce all over the towel. They love the lettuce that we grow, and the kids are loving taking care of them. They are pretty darn cute, but they are definitely just visiting. We are full at this inn!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trimming the Tree

The kids and I decorated the Christmas tree yesterday afternoon. The best part of decorating the tree is reliving all of the memories tied to each ornament.
Issa loved finding all the ornaments she had made:
 I spent the first stretch of decorating unwrapping ornaments and handing them to Issa and Evan or setting them aside for me to put on the tree.

Issa is so very careful:
 She loved finding just the right spot for all of her ornaments. She was so careful I even let her do some of the glass ones this year.

Evan is not a fan or ornament hooks:
 Look at that concentration. He would much rather have a loop to hang an ornament from, but he did all of the ornaments he made and many of the soft, non-breakable ones.

Once they finished, I put all of the very fragile or very small ornaments up higher on the tree. The kids coached, and we remembered where each ornament came from as we hung it on the tree. I got a little teary over some tiny baby feet ornaments and a few heirloom ornaments. The end result was something spectacular:
(I can't explain Issa's crazy wink.) You can tell exactly where it was easiest for Evan to hang ornaments, but I love that about the tree. I think it's my favorite tree yet!

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Heart Is SO Happy

This was one of those weekends that really couldn't have been any more perfect. We enjoyed Christmas festivities and soaked in some much needed family time. I'm still walking on air.
It all started Friday night when Daddy made this incredible apple tart:
 How can a weekend go wrong when it starts like that?

Saturday morning, we were off to the town Christmas parade. The boys joined the crowd:
 Issa and I rode the float with her dance studio with Crystal and Shelby:
 It was a gorgeous day for the parade, and I love seeing the whole town coming out to celebrate. The rest of Saturday included a high quality nap and then some shopping. The kids had each chosen an ornament from the angel tree, and I was so proud as they looked for just the right gift. They were so excited to give and to help...there are no words.

Sunday, we turned our attention to the house. The annual pajama-clad popcorn and cranberry stringing morning:
 Do you see that? Evan picked up a needle this year, too! There are 50 feet of popcorn and cranberries on the tree. Issa did a five foot strand completely on her own! Evan did about six inches all by himself, and then he slid the rest of the popcorn and cranberries down after I threaded them for his five foot chain. I did the other forty feet. I literally got teary sitting on the couch with my two babies each working on a strand while I worked on mine. Then I got giggly as we watched Daddy fight with the lights. The ornaments go on tonight!

Daddy also fought his annual battle with the deer. The roping goes up no problem, but the deer like to put up a fight:
 For one sad moment, the head on Issa's deer was upside down. While Daddy fixed that, the kids and I raked:
 They were both a little annoyed that the leaves had the nerve to fall where we had already raked, but they found a way to entertain themselves:
 And the end result was a holly, jolly house:
 Then, last night, we went to our museum for Santa Train! This year, we were greeted by a whole grove of themed trees. Daddy fell in love with this science test tube tree:
 And they whole museum was all lit up:
 The kids were beyond excited. I believe Issa proclaimed, "I'm in heaven!" I have to admit, I was, too. My sweet boys:
 And my angel with an angel:
 Then the train pulled up:
 Evan could barely contain himself. We boarded for the North Pole:
 And both kids' eyes got huge when we arrived to see Santa. Issa asked for her panda pillow pet:
 Santa proclaimed that an easy one. Then Evan asked for his fire truck:
 Santa explained he has a whole department just for making fire trucks and he had a special one just for Evan. It was more than Evan could handle. I love seeing the magic in their eyes every year.

After a return trip, there were snowflakes to be made:
 And Daddy became the keeper of the cocoa:
 But what cracked me up was the excitement of the coloring:
 For both kids:
Somehow, coloring at the museum was just even more fun. It truly was a magical night to end a perfect weekend. I love this Christmasy time of year.