Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let the Holiday Madness Begin!

The Holiday Season is now upon us - which baffles my mind and quickens my pace.  I often think of the newspaper cartoon "Family Circus" when this time of year rolls around - one publication in particular - where the kids are whining and complaining that it is SO LONG until Christmas, while the crumpled and defeated looking parents exchange glances of pure fatigue. 

As a child, I remember thinking that Christmas would never get here - that twenty-four days of December was an eternity ...  oh, how I wish for those days again.

So we started the season this past weekend by decorating the house.  I'm happy to say that with an exception of the 'live' Christmas tree that goes in our living room - our house is complete.  (Oh dear, I am forgetting the trees in each of the kids' rooms - something Anna reminds me of HOURLY - we'll hopefully get those up tonight.) 

It helped to have a set goal in mind - my friend Nici and I are hosting a home show for several local vendors on Friday - so I had the incentive not only to have a clean house, but also a festive one, and thankfully we were able to get it all complete.

 The kids loved decorating the 'family' tree in our den - James especially, who bounded back and forth from the box of decorations to the tree.  And the kids did a really good job of hanging ornaments this year - we didn't have to go back and 'respace' many of them at all.

Sunday afternoon we voyaged out to Uncle Harry and Aunt Mary's house to watch the annual Batesburg-Leesville Christmas parade in Deonne's hometown.

Jack loved sitting in the big chair with his grandpa...

...while this one scowled as soon as he saw me with the camera.  Sigh.  I guess we're entering the age of funny faces for this little boy - which I understand, but it makes me sad - I'd love to be able to capture his sweet smile.

At least this one still poses and smiles for the camera.  (Disregard the marks on her face - the one on her cheek is marker, while the one under her nose is from a mishap that happened when she fell out of a chair during a time-out.  Don't ask.  One for par around our house.)

 James thought the marching band was neat - but clearly too loud...

 And where else but Leesville will you see a modified airplane in a Christmas parade?

Or a tractor pulling a trailer of stuff that I can't begin to explain?

And as with all Christmas parades, this one ended with SANTA.  Just in case you couldn't recognize the star himself sitting atop his sleigh...

Oh, what a fun kick-off to our holiday festivities.

Happy Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving 2010 was another fun holiday for the Party of Five.  We had a lot of fun relaxing and enjoying our day together - can you believe I actually used the word 'relaxing' for a holiday that entails cooking loads of food?

My obsessive compulsive disorder of making lists and planning ahead actually worked to my benefit this year, and I really was able to have most all of our preparations completed by Wednesday night - leaving Thursday to make pumpkin waffles for the kids to gobble up, watch the Macy's parade (the highlight of every Thanksgiving morning), set the table and put out all of the pretty china, crystal, and silver, and make a few holiday crafts with the kids.

I put together a little Thanksgiving activity book for each of the kids (that started with the idea from Kathy - recognize the front coloring page?)  I found all sorts of fun themed activity pages (from coloring pages to word searches to mazes) as well as some 'how to' directions for making pilgrim hats, bonnets, and Indian headdresses.
Crafting activities on Thanksgiving morning.
 Anna enjoyed them the most (big surprise) and really liked her bonnet. She ended up wearing it all day long.  James, well, he scribbled a bit on his Indian feathers, but was much more interested in getting outside with Daddy to help set up the turkey fryer.  He did wear his feathers with pride though, and I wish I'd been able to snap the picture of him when he was playing by himself in the back of the yard.  I had a great vantage point from my kitchen window - when I looked up from whatever it was I was doing at the sink, I saw this brightly colored set of feathers bobbing up and down.  My little explorer James - who otherwise would have been hidden amongst the leaves and branches in his brown play pants and shirt.

A few pictures of our table - and the now infamous sugar cookies we make for just about every holiday imaginable.  See my pretty pumpkin pie? With the "perfect" Martha Stewart crust and leaves?  I was so proud - displayed it on the dessert table among the cookies, roasted pecans, and pecan pie.  Only to find that little fingers had somehow danced across the top of the pie - see those?  My sweet James - his new nickname is "Fingers" because he has to touch everything. 

Our Thanksgiving table, and our bountiful feast!  Fried turkey, green beans, Grandma Shelby's macaroni and cheese (the only thing that James ate) and caramelized sweet potatoes, cornbread, apple, and sausage dressing, mashed potato casserole, apple cinnamon cranberry sauce, pickled treats (the only thing that Anna wanted to eat) and gravy (cue the angels singing - I actually made gravy this year that was lump free, tasty, and the right color.  I always knew Martha would get me further in life...
Here's Deonne with 'ole Tom - getting ready for his bath in hot peanut oil.  Doesn't a raw turkey hanging from a pole look like a freaky naked cat?  I love fried turkey - I do not love looking at it or rubbing it with spices the day before.  This year we were smart - the baby gate came in handy in keeping curious onlookers away from the hot fat.

Jack was less than thrilled to wear his Indian headdress....

So my attempt at making a pilgrim hat for James looked more like Frosty's hat.  Thankfully Deonne had the wherewith all to re-craft it and make it look more like a pilgrim hat. 

Watching Daddy take the turkey out of the fryer.

Now the turkey looks much better!  And I must say, was one of the best
turkey's I've eaten!
Deonne's family arrived in late afternoon, with plenty of time for the kids to run around and squeal and play hide and seek and do whatever it is that kids do.  They had a ball, and are already looking forward to seeing them again soon.

After dinner, we let everyone play some more, then eventually bathed the Party kids, and snuggled together on my bed to watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special.  We finally tucked them into bed, with full tummies, thankful hearts, and joyful spirits.

We have so much to be thankful for - and so many blessings to count.  That reminds me of one of the songs from my favorite Christmas movie ever "White Christmas."  You know the song, the one where Bing croons to Rosemary to 'count her blessings instead of sheep' when she suffered from insomnia... I tried to remember that when the quiet seeped in - and I was left with a clean kitchen, and thoughts of my mom and dad. 

I tried to be thankful for the many special Thanksgivings I shared with them, both as a child and an adult.  And while I'll always feel cheated that my dad had to leave so soon, and that my mom had such a severe stroke, I am truly thankful to have the memories and the values they instilled in me.

So this Thanksgiving, I pause to remind myself that I am blessed to be the mother of three lovely children, and the wife of my best friend.  And I'll always be proud to be the daughter of Don and JoAnne.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Conversations in the Odyssey

James:  Mommy?

Me:  Yes love?

James:  When I die, I'm going to turn into a girl.

How do I respond to that???

James is very concerned about mortality lately, both his and those around him.  We're getting lots of questions like "Mommy, when will I die?" or "Mommy, how will I die?"  I tell him I don't know - and it's not up to us to know. 

Of course that doesn't satisfy my son - the boy of a gazillion questions. 

One thing is for certain, we clearly need to arrange more play dates with boys - as he is influenced so much by his older sister that he thinks he wants to turn into a girl.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Thanksgiving...

I heart Thanksgiving.  What a great holiday.  Family, food, the opportunity to use our dining room and fine china, to entertain, and give thanks.

We're hosting Thanksgiving this year for Deonne's family.  The kids are so excited they can't stand themselves.  And I understand that... I used to look forward to major holidays as a child because it meant a chance to get together with our cousins.  Thankfully my cousins were very close in age to my elder brother and I, so we had loads of fun running around together either at our house in the Tri-Cities or theirs just outside of Portland.  Oh the trouble we'd get into - and the adventures we'd go on.  The world was there for our taking, and we had such fun imagining and pretending and exploring.

I remember one year when my parents hosted a big huge family reunion for Thanksgiving.  So big, in fact, that in true 'Christmas Vacation' style, we had relatives camping out in our RV in the driveway.  We had people packed in our house from top to bottom - and I think us kids were on sleeping bags in the family room.

Mom started cooking at the crack of dawn, fussing about the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving feast for the oodles of relatives that had descended on our home.  And the turkey.  The turkey was so big that year that it bent the roasting pan and barely fit in the oven.  No wonder mom started cooking it in the wee hours of the morning - it probably took 14 hours to cook a bird that big.

But it was fun.  I remember lots of laughing, lots of talking, stories of 'back in the day', and of course, running around causing havoc with my cousins.

So it doesn't surprise me one bit that my children look forward to this holiday as well.  They can't wait for Grandma and Grandpa and the rest of the Long clan to come to our house.  They adore their cousins and look up to them so much.  Of course, their cousins are significantly older then them, but they are kind and gentle and willing to play their silly games.  I'm so thankful for that.

And for me, I look forward to cooking a big Thanksgiving feast.  I like to cook, to set a pretty table, to provide a lovely experience for family and friends.  But more importantly, cooking meals like Thanksgiving soothes my soul.  It brings me back to the Thanksgivings of my childhood when I'd help my mom roll out the pie dough - barely able to see or reach the top of the cutting board she'd pulled out of the cabinets - or when my dad would make a big show of carving his prized turkey.

I miss my parents so much - and feel the constant ache and void in my heart that nothing can replace.  But keeping busy, fussing over the table, baking pies, and conjuring up delicious dishes helps keep my mind off the fact that I'm not with them.  And I'm hopeful that the time I spend in the kitchen with my two (okay, three) eager helpers is instilling in them the love of the holiday as well - so that someday - they too will recall helping mommy roll out the pie dough when they could barely reach the the top of the counter.

We'll start our preparations this weekend - ironing linens, polishing silver, and making cookie dough (because what's a holiday without sugar cookies in the shape of turkeys and pumpkins, right?)  Ha.  And over the course of next week we'll bake cornbread for the dressing, rub the turkey with our secret mix of spices before Deonne fries it Thanksgiving afternoon, roast turkey wings (for the drippings - the down side to frying turkeys is no pan drippings for gravy), wash and snap green beans, make the pie dough for our homemade pumpkin and maple-bourbon pecan pies, and prepare the other myriad of dishes for our bountiful feast.

And I have a few tricks up my sleeve as well - some fun crafty things for the kids to do (thanks in part to Kathy - you ROCK!) on Thanksgiving day.  My hope and plan is to have most everything completed on Wednesday (except the obvious things that have to happen on Thursday) so we can enjoy our day together. 

And maybe, just maybe, all of my busyness and planning will keep the tears at bay - at least until Thursday night when the quiet settles in, when the last dish is dried, the last bit of food put away, the kids have been bathed and put to bed with visions of Christmas on the horizon, and Deonne and I retreat to our respective dents on the couch.  It's usually then that I let the sadness come in. 

And that's okay.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Falling Leaves

Ankeny Field, Whitman College
I attended Whitman College for my undergraduate studies....a liberal arts fancy schmancy private college in Walla Walla, Washington.  I chose it because it was a good school (and many times I wondered why I was ever admitted to it considering the academic capabilities of my fellow students compared to my own) but also (and perhaps more importantly) because of its close proximity to home.

It is located about 45 minutes from what was then my hometown of Richland, Washington.  Just far enough to be considered 'away' from home but close enough that I could pop home when I needed to - and close enough that my mom could come visit when I needed her.

My freshman year was particularly tough for me.  I was having a wonderful time, meeting new friends, exploring my new community, rushing for a sorority - but it was the first time I'd been away from my mom.  She and I had always been together - through my parents divorce, through the troublesome teenage years, my mom was always my best friend. 

I don't think I fully appreciated how much I'd miss her, or the void I'd feel when I wasn't with her every day in my excitement to go 'away' to college.

Mom must have felt the void as well, and although she didn't show it - she somehow managed to let me go while keeping the ties between us strong.

I remember her visiting one Sunday afternoon in the early fall of my first semester.  There wasn't anything significant or particularly special about her visit - I think we probably went for a walk around campus, visited the bookstore, had coffee.  What stands out in my memory is when it was time for her to go.

Of course I was sad, and choking back tears as she left my dorm room.  She never shed a tear - just smiled, hugged me, said she'd call when she got home.

I sat in the window of my dorm room in Jewett Hall and waited to see her emerge from the building.  It was one of those glorious fall days, the leaves were bright red and yellow, and the air was crisp and cool.  At about the same time that she came out of the building and started walking away down the sidewalk of the adjoining dorm, a slight breeze picked up.   And all of a sudden, the tiny bright yellow and gold leaves that filled the trees lining the sidewalks started to fall.

It looked like it was snowing - except it was beautiful leaves and that late afternoon golden light.

As I watched her walk away in those falling leaves, her black hair and her white sweater a stark contrast to the light, I knew I'd be okay.  I think it was one of the first times that we said goodbye my freshman year that I knew I would truly be okay.

This memory came bubbling up the other day when I was driving the kids home from school.  I don't know if it was the same type of tree as the ones that live in my memory - but seeing a row of trees with brilliantly colored  yellow leaves showering down all at once gave me pause.

And I knew, like I knew then, that even though my mom and I aren't able to be as close as we once were, I'm going to be okay.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Woodland Fairy Birthday

Anna's very good friend Ella Grace celebrated her 6th birthday on Saturday morning with a Woodland Fairy birthday party. I had the fun of helping the "Fairy Godmother" (Nici) plan and implement the party. The creativity came from Nici - I just helped put the graphics together and set up the morning of the party.

It was such a great event, and never have I heard nine little girls squeal so much. The fairies started the party of with a 'quest' to become a real fairy. In order to earn their wings, they had to complete several tasks - hunt for the ten tiny 10 fairies hidden around the property, create and decorate a fairy house for their little fairy, make a jar of magic pixie dust, and have their faces painted.

Upon completion, they would earn their fairy wings and wands, and then get to enjoy a spot of tea and treats, at a fancy tea party set up just for them.

The girls dined on Fairy Cakes (vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese icing), Pixie Dust Sandwiches (cheese or strawberry cream cheese sandwiches dusted with edible star glitter), Lily Pads (cucumber slices cut to look like lily pads and topped with cheese spread), Fairy Fruit Wands (grapes with honeydew stars), Fairy Tea Cakes (sugar cookies), and sip Lemondrop Dew (fizzy lemonade punch) or Mountain Spring Water.

The outdoor tea table was set with mismatched sets of fine china, linen tablecloths and napkins, roses, moss, and red toadstools.
Following the clues to find the secret fairies.

Squealing and flittering were the words of the day.

Creating magic fairy houses with jewels, flowers, and things fresh from the garden.

One of the clues the fairies-in-training read to find their tiny friends.

Fairy Anna adored this party.

And especially her blue fairy wings and painted face - which was completed by none other than the Fairy Godmother herself.

A lovely tea table for a lovely set of fairies.

Fairy houses set to dry.
This truly was one of my favorite parties that Nici and I have worked on together. From the invites to the stickers, the wings to the wands, the treats to the "Make Your Own Fairy Snack" station where the fairies could assemble their own trail-mix to take home - it was beautiful.

And best of all? The girls loved it. Especially the birthday girl herself, who beamed with pride at all of the decorations and activities as we were setting them up - saying over and over 'My Mommy did all this!'

Yes she did, sweet girl. A labor of love for her sweet fairy!

Happy Birthday Deonne

We celebrated Deonne's birthday Friday with what has become a routine celebration - dinner at Red Robin followed by presents and cake at home.  The kids look forward to it with so much anticipation - truth be told - too much anticipation.

I made the mistake of telling them on Tuesday that Daddy's birthday was on Friday and that we'd go to Red Robin to celebrate.  James, who has apparently has absolutely NO concept of time, somehow thought that we were going that day to Red Robin.  And no amount of trying to explain the timing satisfied him.

Poor little guy, he ended his day saying 'you're not nice Mommy' because I didn't let him go to Daddy's party.


And it didn't end there - oh no, we heard about every.single.day until the blessed day of Friday FINALLY arrived and we could pacify him that we were indeed going to celebrate his daddy's birthday in style.

This little girl L-O-V-E-S her daddy!

When did Jack become such a ham for the camera?

The fun begins of opening presents....

...and keeping it real - ended like this.   It's so hard to be 18 months old and misunderstood.
And tired.

I ran out of time to make a homemade cake or cupcakes for Deonne's birthday - something I love to do.  In lieu, I ran by Cupcake - and purchased an assortment of goodies.  While yummy and festive, they're still not as good as mine.  Ha!

The best part of the evening - well, other than the free balloons from RR - helping Daddy blow out his candles.
Happy Birthday sweetheart!  I hope you had a wonderful day with our crazy children - think of it this way - they definately help keep us young!

Happy Haunting

'Twas the night before Halloween - and the Party prepared by carving pumpkins (thankfully outside this year - no messy strings of pumpkin and seeds around the house...)

And per tradition, we carved the pumpkins exactly like the kids drew them (with one exception - Deonne took a little artistic liberty in Jack's pumpkin.)

I love James' silly pumpkin as pictured on the right side of this first storyboard - it's just so "James" with its silly and goofy smile...

 And of course Anna's pumpkin is the one with the pretty eye-lashes - that did take a bit of figuring out - as the original lashes she drew were thin pen lines... but we worked together to come up with a design, and she was thrilled at the outcome.

Overall, we had a lovely Halloween weekend with the Party Kids.  It started out kind of rough - with Jack having a horrible cough and Anna having a less-than-good day at school, prompting us to miss out on a Halloween party we were all looking forward to attending.  Thankfully, Jack's health improved, as did Anna's temperament, so we were able to partake of the super fun annual Comer Halloween Fest.

It's such a fun evening, yummy spooky treats (including my Spooky Witches Fingers - almond shortbread cookies shaped like fingers, complete with almond 'fingernails', Mummy Dogs - mini sausages wrapped in puff pastry to look like mummies, and Creamed Bat Brains with Dried Eye of Newt - orange/pecan cream cheese dip with orange zest and dried cranberries.)  Halloween is so much fun - I love having the chance to be creative and silly.

This year the Party went as the cast of the Wizard of Oz.  Complete with Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and two Munchkins.  It was a hoot.

Beautiful Dorothy

Sweet Lion Jack
My Silly Scarecrow

I must say, it takes a confident man to wear a munchkin boy outfit, especially while kicking back and enjoying some libations...

Here we are - the Party of Five meets Wizard of Oz!
"Most" of the kiddies from the Comer party - I'm confident there were more who wouldn't stand and pose for the picture.

The kids had a ball running and playing with their friends, gobbling up the spooky treats, and the best part - trick-or-treating!  Every year we go as a large group, I'm not sure how many families, mommies and daddies, kiddies in wagons, and babes in strollers. 

This was Jack's first year to really participate - last year we dressed him up as a fish and took him around with us - but he was only 9 months old and I'm sure thought we were completely insane.

This year he sat in the wagon with his big brother, clutched his bag, and couldn't wait to go to each and every house.  He even said 'trick-or-treat' (or some version of it.)  Ha!

James, well he was so excited he didn't know quite what to do with himself.  He RAN to each house we stopped at - sometimes barely letting the wagon stop before he jumped out to RUN to the next door. 

Anna was full of herself as well, giggling and laughing and squealing with her little friends.  I realized mid-neighborhood jaunt that this is the stuff memories are made of - this is what she'll remember as the Halloweens of her childhood.

And I'm so blessed to have such wonderful friends to share this with.