Monday, December 14, 2009

A New Family Favorite

James' godparents Phil and Michelle (and dear family friends of ours) gifted Anna with this book as a Christmas present last year. I think we may only have read it once before it was packed away with the rest of our family Christmas books last year. It wasn't really 'lost' in the Christmas shuffle, more so tucked away, waiting to be found and enjoyed again.

The other night we were going through the big basket of Christmas books we have collected over the years - looking for the perfect bedtime story. I grabbed this one, not really remembering much of the story, but wanting to hurry the kids up to bed.

As we settled into James' bunk bed to read our stories, we were swept away in the beauty of this book. It is such a peaceful tale, of how a child (or bear cub) comes to recognize God in the world around us. It perfectly weaves together the true meaning of Christmas along with outward expressions of love, kindness, and good deeds (and Santa Claus.)

So if you have children, and are Christian, read them this book.

It is amazing.

And Michelle if you're reading this - thank you for gifting our children with this beautiful tale - it has certainly become a new Christmas tradition on our home!

Ears (Part 5 - or how we're personally financing our pediatrian's childrens' college education)

Jack has bi-lateral ear infections.


10 days.

Ear check on Wednesday to see if he's improving - if not then we switch to Rocefin shots for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Because we leave Saturday for Washington - and given the fact that my parents live so far out on the peninsula - driving every other day to an urgent care for shots should the Omnicef not work just isn't feasible.

Thankfully we're being referred to the ENT - and hopefully tubes will end our poor little guy's misery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nutcracker

Despite being ill with horrible ears, and still being testy from not feeling well, I tempted fate and took Anna to see the Columbia City Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" today. This has become a yearly tradition for us - we dress in our Christmas finery and head off to the Koger Center to see the lovely ballerinas arabesque and pirouette their way through the classic Christmas tale.

It's a nice "mommy/daughter" thing to do - some quiet time to spend together just the two of us - and something I've come to treasure. It's rare these days that I have her all to myself without one or both of her younger siblings in tow - so I try to cherish the time we have - whether she's being sassy or not.

I like carrying on a tradition that I shared with my own mom - when I wasn't dancing in the Nutcracker (which I did for years and years) she and I were viewing it together - whether that be in Richland or Seattle or even Houston.

Today, though, it was just Anna and I. We had wonderful seats - three rows back from the front of the first balcony - and thankfully there weren't many seated near us so Anna had a clear view.
It's funny to see her progression of understanding/enjoyment of the ballet through the years. As a three year old she perched on her seat in the darkness, silent as a mouse, wide eyed, taking it all in. Only after the performance was over and we were home did she start to talk about all she had seen and experienced.

Last year, as a four year old, she was not so timid, not so frightened of the size of the theater, and actually talked during intermission. She was brave enough to want to meet some of the dancers following the show, but entirely too shy to ask for an autograph or a photograph, and when I suggested that we partake of the backstage tour - she vehemently shook her head "no."

This year, she had a full understanding of what the ballet was (not just the storyline but also what it means to be backstage and on the Koger Center stage - this is the auditorium where she danced in her yearly ballet recital.) She sat on the edge of her seat, "read" her program like a big girl, and eagerly awaited the darkening of the room and the curtain going up. She smiled and grinned and laughed - and talked (a lot) during the ballet - asking questions like "is that Clara?" "That Fritz is getting in trouble!" And commenting "Mommy, I like the girl in the pink dress the best." (really, who would have guessed that one...)

We took the backstage tour following the performance, where we got to see Clara's sleigh, sit in Clara's throne, see the Chinese rickshaw, the Rat Queen's head, and even the Nutcracker doll. Following that we met up with some of the dancers, and were lucky enough to take pictures (Anna was brave enough this year to ask for autographs and pose for photographs.)
Sitting on Clara's Throne
Marveling at Clara's Magical Sleigh
Meeting the star of the show, Clara herself!
Having one of the company dancers sign her program.
Meeting one of the principal dancers, who danced both Snow Queen and Arabian Princess in the performance.
Posing with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Meeting the beautiful Dew Drop Fairy.

It really was a lovely afternoon.

But, of course, it was also bittersweet. I looked at the auditorium around me and saw families - mothers and daughters and grandmothers. I wondered if the families I saw around me knew just how lucky they were to be sharing this experience together. I missed my mom with every fiber of my being. When the first strains of the overture started, I choked back the tears that had started to form - while reaching for Anna's hand. I leaned over to her and whispered in her ear that I was so happy to be doing this with her - just like I used to with Nonna.

She looked at me, her sweet face lit by the stage lights, and said "I love you too, Mommy" and leaned her little head into mine.

I think she's wise beyond her years.

And I am blessed.

Ears (Part 4)

Anna's down.


Again, no clue - no fever, no ear pain, just the evil-wretched child paired with the perpetual runny nose.

We live at our pediatric "emergency hours."

Bi-lateral ear infection.

Chewable Augmentin for 10 days.

Counting down the days until she becomes 'normal' again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Long Party of Five Assembly Line

Guess who's big enough to take a bath in the "big" bathtub?

Yep - our little Jack.

Welcome to the Long Party of Five Bathtime Assembly Line.

Line 'em up - rinse 'em off - shampoo - lather - rinse - repeat. Times three.

But beware, the littlest one splashes the most (as evidenced by Anna's wet hair - no that's not from wetting down prior to shampooing - that's from her little brother's love of splashing.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Memory of My Dad

We played a lot of Christmas carols during the holidays when I was growing up. My parents had a sizable stack of LPs and 8-tracks (yes, I am a child of the '70's) that I loved to listen to. My dad was a lover of music - probably because he grew up in a musical family with my grandmother at the helm - a wonderful pianist/organist in her own right. I think he mostly enjoyed classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) but also had an affinity for the 'trendy' music of the times (read: Barry Manilow, John Denver, the Carpenters, etc..)

But Christmas carols always made an appearance in our house come December 1st. I remember sitting on the green shag carpet of our living room under the Christmas tree, with Dad in the "blue chair" listening to our favorite sounds of the season.

Dad was a silly one too - he'd find ways to turn lyrics of music around that would make my brother and I squeal with laughter. One such song is "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." You know the line "...later on, we'll conspire, as we dream, by the fire...?" He changed it to "later on, we'll perspire, as we dream, by the fire..."

I thought about that the other day when we were driving somewhere in the van - the song came on the radio - the kids were belting out their versions of it - which is also funny to hear the words they come up with that rhyme or sound somewhat similar to the actual lyrics. As I drove my caroling crowd through traffic, I was immediately reminded of those December nights around the family Christmas tree of my childhood.

Oh Daddy, I miss you so much - and wish you were here to share your funny lyrics with your grandchildren.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A New Discovery

Let me start this by saying I'm a self professed neat freak. I like things to be put away. I have an utter disdain for clutter. I can't stand piles of junk mail (that Deonne thinks he "might" read someday), old newspapers piled up needing to be recycled, toys scattered everywhere, dirty socks left where kids and Deonne take them off, dirty clothes dropped willy-nilly around bathrooms, bedrooms, and hallways.

I like to have the kitchen sink cleared, dishes in the dishwasher, and sink scrubbed when I turn out the lights to go to bed. I don't like feeling gritty things beneath my feet from playground sand tracked home in the kids' shoes or the endless array of crumbs that congregate under the kitchen table.

I didn't always used to be this way, however. I was a typical teenage slob. I drove my mother crazy with my piles of clothes, books, magazines, and junk throughout my room. She let me keep it that way - until it started trickling out of my room and into the hall - at that point she put her foot down and made me clean it up.

It must have been about the time I had my first apartment after returning from my stint in Europe when I finally began to want things clean. And because it was my own place, I had control over how messy it was.

Deonne and I have always butted heads about this. We've sort of come to the agreement that I'll never think the house is clean enough - while he doesn't see a problem with the leaning tower of mail that is about to collapse off the kitchen cart.

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered something about my wonderful husband last night. Something I didn't know - after almost nine years of marriage.

Deonne is just as OCD about certain things as I am.

What do you ask? CDs. DVDs. Disks that are not in their proper cases. Who knew?

I have a habit of taking a CD or a DVD out of their respective players, and in a hurry to tend to whatever child is screaming or needing help in the potty or food that may be burning on the stove stick it in whatever open case I have. Even if it is not the right one. Which, as you can imagine, snowballs and takes a while to sort through to find the right disk for the right case. Apparently this drives my otherwise non-cleanly husband crazy.

Really? I asked him.

Really! He replies. They all need to be in their little homes.

I just laughed. Turns out I'm not the only neat-freak in the house after all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas at the Longs

I love fine china. When Deonne and I married, I had been living on my own for several years so I had a pretty nice set of "everyday" dishware. As a result, when the time came to register for china, I opted to select two formal patterns rather than one formal and one "everyday". I fell in love with the Lenox Hayworth pattern, for it's simplicity and elegant design of cream colored china with a thin gold band.

I especially loved how it paired with the Lenox Holiday pattern - probably my all-time favorite set of dishes. Ever.

(I know, I'm boring. I totally get excited about pretty plates and crystal.)
But, every year I look forward to the day after Thanksgiving when I clear the china cabinet of all plain cream Hayworth china and replace it with our Holiday pattern. I eagerly await the days when I unbox our Annual Holiday plates and arrange them on the glass shelves in chronological order.

When I look through all of our china, I'm reminded of those who generously gifted the different pieces to us at our wedding - both those who are still with us and those who are watching us from above.

I am reminded of all of the holiday and special meals we have shared on these pieces, and look forward to the meals we will continue to share. As a family.
The advent house is another family tradition we started a few years ago. One day Deonne came home from work and said he wanted to get an Advent house - something we could put little treats in for little fingers to find. We searched and searched for a while, before finally settling on this house from Sur la Table.

It's a fun thing for the kids - they take turns opening the tiny doors and windows, eager to see what treats they may find. The goodies vary, sometimes a chocolate morsel, sometimes a sweet package of Jelly Belly beans, sometimes a note forecasting a special Holiday event for that night (such as a visit to the lights at the zoo or tickets to the Nutcracker.) Whatever they find, they are delighted.

And we as parents get to experience that joy through them - and really, seeing their utter joy and hearing their peals of laughter is what this season is all about.


Meet Happy. Happy is our family elf. Happy joined our family in 2005 - and has become as much a part of our holiday tradition as the Christmas tree and the Nativity set.

We wake up every morning to find Happy in all sorts of places, hanging out on the lamp in the bathroom, perched on the bookshelf in Anna's room, swinging from the chandelier, always in a location where he can keep a clear eye on us.

As the book tells us, Happy watches what we do all. day.long and then flies back to the North Pole every night to report to Santa what he sees.

And we're always on our best behavior around Happy - and if we're not, we just need to be reminded that "Happy is watching" and we suddenly start to behave.

Mommy and Daddy really miss Happy when he returns to the North Pole on Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve...

Perhaps the Easter Bunny needs some magical chicks....

Frosty the Snowman

We enjoyed another great performance at the Columbia Children's Theater the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This time it was Frosty the Snowman, which is one of the kids' all time favorite Christmas carols, holiday movie, and book.

We've seen the CCT perform three times thus far, Go, Dog. Go!, Pinocchio, and now Frosty. They just seem to improve with each performance.
We met our good friend N and her two girls EG and AM (Anna's bff from school), and as N so rightly stated "this is my new favorite thing to do with kids in Columbia." The kids had a ball, they interacted well with the actors (who walked among the audience and asked questions of the kids) and LOVED the show.

Waiting for the show to start and enjoying popcorn with our friends.

AM, big sister EG, James, and Anna

One of the things I like the best about CCT is that the performances are geared towards children, but there is all sorts of humor that us "grown-ups" enjoy - making the show a true family event.

James and "Frosty" following the show.

One of the actors, I don't know his name, played the character "James" who was a nerdy schoolboy determined to win the school science fair. He is truly talented, was HYSTERICAL, and in my opinion should be on SNL or some sort of comedy show.
James with "James" and "Worm" - the naughty boy who stole Frosty's hat in the play.
It was a great kick-off to the holiday season, and prompted many subsequent rounds of Frosty the Snowman throughout our house. It's also prompted reenactments of the play around our house, complete with Anna pretending to be the lead character of the little girl "Samantha" and yelling at "Worm" to not take Frosty's hat.
Sigh. I'm not sure if I should be proud that Anna is so perceptive to have picked up on the entire story line after seeing the show one time or frightened that she is so freaking smart.

We're Leaving, On a Jet Plane!

And mommy is already anticipating the need for valium...

Yep, we're heading West for Christmas this year - all five of us - on an airplane - for five hours. (My apologies now for any fellow passengers stuck seated by us for the trek...)

Actually, I'm so excited to see my mom and stepdad that I can't stand myself. I haven't seen them in a year and a half (about the time I got pregnant with Jack until now.) We leave December 19 and get to stay a whole 10 days, returning to Columbia on the 28th.

Anna and I have been planning all the things we want to do with Nonna upon our arrival, from making gingerbread houses to baking cookies to decorating the Christmas tree, to wrapping presents.

James is just excited to get to go on an airplane. He was only 6 months old the last time he flew out - so he has no recollection. But he LOVES airplanes (he is his Daddy's son) and can't wait to get on the 'big plane in the sky!' God help us he'll be able to sit still and watch movies or read books or color (or maybe even nap). If not, our busy little boy who loves to run and jump and squeal may be invited to depart the plane a little early via a parachute. (just kidding... I think...)

It will be a magical Christmas together - and I'm THRILLED that we get to spend it with my family for the first time in ages.

Any of you west-coasters that are reading this - I'd love to see you - we'll be in the Seattle area - so if at all possible, let's try to meet up!

More Lights

Friday we experienced another local treat of the holiday season - our trip to Saluda Shoals and the drive-through light display. I picked Anna up early from school (James and Jack had been home recovering from their respective ear infections), gave them an early bath, and had dinner ready the moment Deonne walked through the door so we could eat and head out for the lights display.

The kids thought it was fun to bundle up in jammies and goose-down throws in the back of the van and sing Christmas carols out to see the lights.

The cool thing is the drive through is so slow that we felt safe enough to unbuckle Anna and James and have them sit on my lap while we went through the course. (Jack snoozed the entire time from his place in the middle row.) We saw tons of light displays, animated to music that broadcast from the park through the car radio.

Another fun holiday treat!

The Lights Before Christmas

One of our favorite family traditions during the holidays is to visit Riverbanks Zoo for their annual "Lights Before Christmas" display. The zoo opens up at night to an armada of lights - anything that stands still is draped, wound, or in some manner covered in Christmas lights. Familiar carols are broadcast throughout the zoo, and if we're lucky, we may see an animal or two out and about.

There are marshmallows for roasting, the carousel for riding, storytelling near a "fire", riding the Santa train, and "snow" blown from the entrance of the park as well as strategic positions throughout the zoo. (And yes, the foam-blown-soapy-snow is the only snow my kids have ever seen ...)

The highlight of the trip is a visit to Santa.

It was actually COLD when we went this year - we needed our hats and mittens and scarves - it wasn't just for show as in previous years, and added to the holiday feel.


The Long Family Nativity Set: Deonne and I began collecting this set the year we were married - the Holy Family the first year, the Wise Men the next (because we were married on Twelfth Night and always feel a special connection to Epiphany), the Shepherds the next, and so on until we had the whole set. (Minus the animals - which I'd love to find someday.)


When I was a child, I loved Christmas, for many reasons - the baking, the cookies, the music (which I made taped recordings of from my parents old LPs), the decorating, the gifts, and probably most importantly, the Nativity.

My mom had this beautiful hand carved Nativity set that she brought back from her travels to Europe as a college grad - that I loved to stand and marvel at. Oh how I wished I could put my hands on the delicately carved figurines, but I knew better. If I dared, I'd have severe consequence to pay.

So, I decided to act out the Nativity myself. I'd take a blanket, cover my head like Mary, wrap up one of my babies in another blanket, place Him in the cradle, sing Silent Night, and relive the whole Holy night.

I tried many a-time to get my brother to play along - to be Joseph to my Mary - but he would have none of it.

So it came as no surprise when I returned home from the Junior League Holiday Market the other night to Deonne telling me to look at the camera - there were pictures on it I needed to see.

Anna is following in her mother's footsteps.

And luckily for her - James is more than willing to be Joseph.

The only problem - explaining to Anna that Mary is not bossy, she doesn't dictate to Joseph how to act, and if Joseph wants Elmo to be the Holy child - that's okay too.

Our Family Is Complete

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Working hard to decorate the den Christmas tree.
We have a LOT of trees in our house every year - one in the living room with all of the snowflake and special ornaments Deonne and I have collected since we were married, a tree in our den filled with ornaments from my childhood (that I look forward to unpacking every year with anticipation - it's like seeing comforting old friends when I pull out the ornaments that were on the trees of my childhood since the mid 1970's), two small "airplane" trees on the table in our den (Deonne's collection of airplane ornaments), and one tree in each child's room (mostly pink in Anna's room, blue and candy canes in James' room, and sock monkeys in Jack's room.)

Carefully placing the ornaments on the tree - about twelve ornaments per branch - until Mommy went back and 're-spaced' later.

Anna decorating the den Christmas tree.

Anna, James, and Daddy picked out our living room tree and front door wreath together - I was at the pediatric Emergency Hours office determining Jack had a horrible double ear infection.

Bringing in the Christmas Tree.

Setting the tree in the stand. (I love Jack's expression behind Deonne - what ARE you doing Daddy?)

The Long Party of Five Christmas Tree 2009

One of the beaded snowflake ornaments I made the year Deonne and I were married. We gave them out as favors for our wedding - and ended up with tons leftover - which now adorn our tree every year.

One of our Lenox Annual Snowflake ornaments - we've been collecting these since 2001 - the year we were married.

I love these glittery angel ornaments!

The First Year in Our New Home Ornament - from 2005 when we first moved into the Overcreek Road house.

Looking up at the angel.

Pretending to be Clara and dancing around the tree.

The kids' handprint reindeer plates - we had to get a new plate rack this year for all three Longs!