Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Dinner With Friends

We hosted a small dinner last night with some very good friends from church.  I know I've said this before, but let me say it again, I heart St. Johns.  We've felt so welcome there and have made such good friends - it has truly become a church home.  One that our children adore as well - looking forward with eager anticipation to both the Wednesday night programs and dinners and the Sunday services and 'Sunday' school classes. 

I truly believe there was some Divine guidance that led us to St. Johns at the time we started attending - turns out it was the same time the Bell family was also starting to visit, and to make a long story short (if that is even possible for me), over the last year our families have become very good friends as we have a lot  in common, are at the same stage in our lives, and have three children each that love to play together.

At about the time that us and the Bells were (independently) making the decision to become full-fledged members, the Fleischers moved to Columbia (so that Scott could serve as St. John's Assistant Priest.)  They too are at about the same stage in life, and also have three children, who ours love to play with as well... all that to say that over the past year, we've been very blessed to grow friendships we cherish, and our kids have done the same.

So like I said, the kids look forward to Wednesday nights with a passion.  When the fall season of programs and dinners ended, and the kids didn't have the chance to see their friends (us too), we knew we needed to figure out when we could all get together and celebrate the season.  A small dinner together came about. 

Six adults + 9 children.  How to seat this size crowd?  I adopted my parents' philosophy from dinner parties they used to have in an era long ago....

The 'Little Boys Table'

Complete with tree decoration - made lovingly by James.

The sweets table.  I love filling the role that my mom's cousin Maria Aveni used to play -
piling platters with homemade treats and cookies to satisfy every sweet tooth.

The Adult Table

The Kid Table
In the kitchen.  And for the record, I agree with Scott.  We need to put that door back up between the dining room and the kitchen - to keep the squealing and shrieking somewhat at bay.

Seven of the Nine Kids
James, Brooks, Jack, Maddie, Anna, Isabella, and Samuel

Dylan and Jack
The best behaved table of the evening, by far!

Scott, Victoria, Deonne, Me, Nicole, Gene
Don't we look awesome!  And sort of like we're posing for prom photos?

Yay for girls!!!

I had a great time.  I prepared my Nonna's recipe for lasagna, the Bells brought homemade chocolate cake (Gene is the baker in that bunch - have to give proper snaps for his a-ma-zing cake), and Victoria brought yummy bread and salad.  Victoria and I laughed about growing up in Italian families (she also comes from an immigrant Italian family - and grew up in California.)  So it was fun to reminisce about life with old-school Nonno's and Nonna's, the weird foods they made us eat, the things they used to say, the traditions they handed down. 

It totally made some of that ever-present homesickness go away.  At least for a night.

The kids had so much fun.  It did get out of had a bit (because of my two older monkeys that somehow thought playing with friends meant screaming at the top of their lungs and playing rough and tumble and piling on top of each other.)  But after a firm talking to - they settled down. 

I can't wait until the next get-together!  (Although - next time we'll have to put a little 'something' in the kids' milks, maybe make them a little bit sleepy or God help me slightly sedated, so they can play without shrieking!)

My Favorite Things

My good friend Ashley started up a new business venture this past year.  She became an official Trunk Keeper (TK) for my now beloved Matilda Jane   clothing line.  There are numerous reasons I love having Ashley as my TK - she alerts me to sales as they come along, she keeps me abreast of Matilda Jane happenings (like dates new lines will be released), and is ever ready to help me add to our growing collection.  All I have to do is shoot her an email with my most recent 'need' and she'll stick it onto whatever show order she happens to be working on.  And all with a super cute smile and a cheery personality.

I don't know the details of her first season with Matilda Jane (I don't have a head for business or dollars - I just like to spend them), if it was super successful, moderately successful, or what - but it must have been pretty good (thanks, in part to Matilda Jane addicts like myself).  So to thank us 'Janes' (that's what Matilda Jane calls the hostesses of their trunk shows) for hosting said shows, Ashley hosted a little shin-dig the other night.

A time to gather, gossip, dish, drink poinsettias, munch on yummy treats ... you know, all stuff us 'Janes' are really good at.  But it wasn't all just gossiping, dishing, and poinsettia swilling - no, it was also a My Favorite Things party.  When I got the invitation, I didn't quite understand.  (I can never seem to keep current with superstar talk show trivia - no matter how much E! Entertainment News I watch.)  Anyway, this was a My Favorite Things party modeled after Oprah's party of the same name.  (Except that we had gifts with a $5 maximum vs. Oprah's multi-gazillion $$ gifts.)

So we were asked to each bring five of our favorite things that was five dollars and under.  What to bring?  What to do?  Of course I stressed out about it - because that's part of my OCD disease and all - finally settling on $5 gift cards to Starbucks.  (After all, a Pumpkin Spice Latte is just about my favorite under $5 treat.)  Every girl there had her name entered five times into the bowl - and we went around the room - each drawing out five names (re-drawing if a duplicate or our self) and then gifting out our treats, with a short blurb about why the item we brought was a favorite.

It was so much fun.  I received a load of awesome things - from a Starbucks gift card (great minds think alike) to an awesome candle that smells like apple-spice, a ceramic 'to-go' mug to this amazing scented cleaner that freshens your whole kitchen with just a spray and wipe of the counter, and finally some clear nail polish - that not only corrects the home-made pedicures us busy moms tend to have but also (practical use) stops bleeding if you shave your legs too quickly and nick your knee.

I had a great time.  It had been a particularly bad day (missing my  mom so much that day that I felt like I couldn't breathe) coupled with seeing photos of her celebrating Christmas with family on facebook that I wasn't a part of.  (Through no fault of the person who posted the photos - and I was glad to see them and see that my mother is doing well and looked really happy.)  But it made me miss her even more.  So the day had been filled with lots of tears, horrible emotions, and general gloominess.  Deonne literally pushed me out the door to go to the party.  I'm so glad he did. 

Totally needed that night out.  Totally needed the fun, the laughter, the treats, and most importantly, the friendship.  So thank YOU Ashley, for hosting such a great event!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here We Come A'Caroling...

I can't believe I forgot to post about this.

Last week, a few ladies from our church organized a family caroling outing - meeting at the church and then singing familiar Christmas carols around the immediate neighborhood.  Our church is very much a 'neighborhood' church, located right in the heart of Shandon, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Columbia.  In fact, in 2012, the church will celebrate it's 100th birthday, hows that for old and historic?

So last Wednesday night, we bundled up the kids in coats and hats, gathered together with friends, pulled out flashlights, pages of carols and hymns, and proceeded to spread our good-hearted, good-natured Christmas cheer.

Other than the never ending fear that James would run out into the street in his utter excitement over the whole thing and be crushed by a passing car, and my shoulders tiring from literally wearing Jack on them, it was a really nice time.  A fun, wholesome, good thing to do - and I think our voices sounded pretty darn good, even if we were off beat a few times, and certainly off key.  (We weren't the choir after all....)

The most entertaining part for me, though, was seeing the different reactions from different homes that were blessed with our good cheer.  One home we stopped at was full of middle-aged ladies, who had clearly been enjoying their 'girls night out' and the toddies accompanying it.  They came out of the house in groups of two or three, raised their glasses to us (some of them sang along), and thoroughly enjoyed our presence.

At another home, two college-aged girls came to the door, were excited to see us, and then promptly began snapping pictures with their iphones that I'm sure ended up on someones facebook page.

Several older ladies came and sat on their respective porches, surrounded by the children in our group, sang along and clapped their hands, and thanked us whole-heartedly for coming 'round to sing such lovely songs.

But that wasn't all we experienced.  No, for every sweet, sincere, and sometimes wine-induced compliment we received, there were several other things that happened that we could only laugh at.

Take the family that had their home brightly lit; lights on all the trees, Christmas tree glowing from the window, spotlights to highlight wreaths on every window and door, a home that basically screamed Christmas.  The kids knocked on the door, we started singing, and singing, and singing, and finally decided they weren't home - and must be the stupid people who leave their tree lights on when they aren't home to catch fire and be one of those unfortunate statistics you read about every year - and think why in the world didn't you just turn the darn thing off?  Anyway, all of a sudden, the lights turned off.  Yeah, they literally turned the lights off on us.  A pre-teen kid came to the door - then was called back in by his mother.  Really?  You're not going to allow your kid to listen to some good 'ol holly jolly Christmas carols?  Nice.  You need to watch some more of those Hallmark commercials - or at least one of those Lifetime movies that make you realize your life isn't all that bad - heck, your family didn't die in a fiery wreck on Christmas Eve and Meredith Baxter Birney isn't your mother-in-law reincarnated as the ghost of Christmas past.  Get over yourself.  And while your at it - pull your head out of your ass.  We were trying to spread some Christmas cheer, dammit.  Thanks for showing my kids what a true 'Grinch' is.

And across from that house was another that was similarly adorned with wreaths and lights and spotlights - you know, the whole works.  Here a man came to the door - looked like he didn't know what to do - sort of waved at us - then ducked back in the house.  It looked like he was talking to someone in the front room.  We'll never know.  He promptly shut the door.  In our faces.  How about that for holiday cheer?  Maybe it was something about that particular block.  Maybe they were really Muslim or Jewish people that didn't really want to celebrate Christmas - but felt obligated to put out lights and decorations to 'one-up' their neighbor.  Who knows.  All I know is that I certainly wouldn't 'want to be their neighbor' as Mr. Rogers used to say.

But the best?  Well that happened at the house that is literally a stone's throw from the church steps, from the house that is right across the street from the front of the church.  We were returning from our caroling adventure to warm up in the fellowship hall with cocoa and cookies (can't get more Norman Rockwell than that, can you?)  At about the same time that we were turning the block, we noticed that a car was pulling into the drive of said home.  You've never seen two people get out of their car so freaking fast, fumbling with their keys to get in the house, and shutting the door before the kids could get there.  It was like something out of a bad made-for-TV movie (ala Lifetime Network.)  Of course we all laughed, and shuttled the kids into the church, trying to ignore the questions they had about said Scrooges who felt the need to hide and slam the door in their faces.  If I'd have been a bit more on my game, and not with church friends, I probably would have marched right up the steps to their house, banged on the door, and sang Christmas carols non-stop for hours - poking my face in their windows like in that scene from the film "Skipping Christmas" (which is hilarious - and a must see if you missed it somehow.)  Or at least given them a piece of my mind.  But like I said, I was with church people.  Who probably wouldn't have taken it to well to see me start dropping the f-bomb interchangeably with words like 'Christ's birth', 'good cheer', and 'God's blessings.'

So I refrained.  But I do wonder why people are the way they are.  I wonder if they thought we were going to ask for (gasp) a donation or something.  Like 'hey mister, for $20 bucks I'll sing your favorite carol, its for a really good cause.'  It seems in these cases, the better thing to say would have been 'hey - for $20 bucks I'll take this pack of kids and get them the heck off your property.'  I wonder if they thought we were there to 'witness' to them, to tell them that last Wednesday night was a perfect night to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  Whatever.  We're Episcopalians.  We don't 'witness.'  We just drink a lot.  Oh, and go caroling, to spread some damn holiday cheer.  So there.

People amaze me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Lights Before Christmas

Following a cookie-decorating extravaganza with the Comer girls on Sunday afternoon (that was so much fun - but so messy and covered in sprinkles and icing - think large kitchen table with buckets of cookies + tubes of icing in every color of the rainbow + too many bowls of colored sprinkles to count - that I didn't take one single picture) we headed out to Riverbanks Zoo to see the annual Lights Before Christmas display.

It didn't disappoint.

This year we attended with one of Anna's friends from school - a sweet girl, Zoe, and her mom.  It was nice to let the girls have a play date (even if pestery-James got his feelings hurt that Anna wanted little to nothing to do with him the entire time.)

Checking out the animated tree - that has lights that blink to the music.

Jack was enthralled.

There's always time to climb the turtle statue.

And ride the endangered species carousel.

James HAD to choose one that was in the same row as Anna and Zoe.

Two girls - such fun!

Sweet Girls - with little Mr. Me Too in the background.

Dancing and trying to catch the falling 'snow' being blown from the entrance to the zoo.

Sleepy Boy
Ready for his bed.

The 'Honey' Nutcracker 2011

Anna and I have enjoyed seeing the Nutcracker together since she was just three-years old.  Even at that tender age, the swirling colors and twirling dancers captivated and mesmerized her, keeping her still and perched at the edge of her seat from the moment the curtains opened until the moment they closed.  It's always been a special time we've shared, mother and daughter, when I've kept thoughts and memories of my own mother close at heart.

Mom and I always saw the Nutcracker together.  Every year, without fail.  If we were in the same city at the same time as a production was available, we would enjoy the familiar story together.  It was one of our 'things.'  Probably stemming from the years and years that I danced in the Nutcracker as a child in my hometown, and the years and years that my mom applied stage makeup, dippity-do to my hair, and heard my constant bemoaning of never being cast as a child, let alone the coveted role of Clara.

So 'Nutcracker' day is a day I constantly struggle with.  On one hand, I'm happy to be sharing this special time with my daughter.  To create the memories that I hope she will carry with her throughout her life.  But on the other, I am incredibly sad.  I want to see it with  my own mom.  I want to reach over to hold her hand when the Overture begins, to feel our fingers lace together, where it becomes impossible to see where one hand ends and one hand begins, like we did every time we saw it together.

This year, things changed a bit.  James has been dying to go, and last year had his feelings hurt that he didn't get to participate.  But he's a very different child than Anna - where she will sit still and quiet as a mouse, taking everything in, processing it to the extreme detail - James will not.  He will ask a gazillion questions, he will wonder how things happened, and why, and sitting still?  Well that is a huge challenge for this boy.

So it may seem crazy that I purchased him a ticket as well, knowing full well that it could be a very difficult show - trying to keep him still.  I rationalized that because this particular ballet is fast moving, tells a clear story, and is full of bright colors and short dances, he would probably do okay.

So off we went, but not before posing for some pictures - Anna sporting her favorite (read: wear without argument Matilda Jane dress) and James his new bow tie.

But even when posing for pretty pictures - silliness ensues...

One more, and we were off.
I invited Deonne's mom and aunt to join us this year.  It's such a special time, I thought it would be nice to include them in our tradition (and an extra few sets of hands to help wrangle James should he start to get bored certainly couldn't hurt.)

I'm not sure if I set my expectations too low (in the back of my mind fully expecting to have to call Deonne to come retrieve James at some point), but I'm happy to report that James did just fine.  Of course there were moments when he lost interest, mainly during the longer dance scenes (like the dance of the snowflakes.)  But he busied himself by figureing out where the snow was coming from (we were close enough in the orchestra section that he could see the mechanical arm that was sprinkling snow.)  Or the waltz of the flowers, where he kept busy by counting flowers, and eventually the stage lights.  And of course he wouldn't be James if he didn't ask his gazillion questions, loudly, because James has two volumes (asleep and LOUD), like when the Arabian prince came on to charm the princess out of the snake basket and he asked 'why he doesn't have a shirt on?'

It was a lovely time. 

I admittedly got choked up, like I do every year, when the first strains of the Overture started, when I could feel my hand somehow searching for my mother's.  And again when the Snow Queen started her pas de deux with her King, mom and I's favorite part of the entire ballet.

But I just held James tighter in my lap (he could see better from my seat than his own), and buried my tears in his sweater.  And while I'm not sure he knew if I was crying or not, he just quietly patted my hand, and leaned his head against my shoulder.

After the performance (which was AMAZING yet again - I seriously don't know how it can get better and better every year) we took the backstage tour, allowing the children to see and touch (good for James) the props and things used in the show.)

The Cannon -
used by the soldiers to shoot cheese at the mice during the fight scene.

Clara's Sleigh

Clara's Royal Throne

The Magical Tree That Grows

It's such a big tree!

And after the tour, a chance to meet the dancers and get autographs.  (Here's where my camera battery died - because idiot me forgot to charge it before we the pictures below are from my phone.)

The lovely Clara!

The Sugarplum Fairy

The Arabian Dancers
and yes...James did ask the prince why he didn't have a shirt on - to which the prince
promptly replied 'because it is hot in Arabia.'  Awesome.

Always a favorite - the Chinese dancer!

Candy Canes and Flowers
James had an amazing time - and he loved the attention the dancers gave him, doting on him when they found out it was his first Nutcracker performance, loving his bow tie, telling him how handsome and dapper he was.

It was a really nice time.  I loved sharing this special ballet with my children, making memories for them, while holding my mom close to my heart.

A Breakfast With Santa

Saturday morning brought a special activity for the Party of Five.  We had a great time with Historic Columbia's breakfast with Santa!

We had a yummy breakfast upon arrival - then a lot of time to visit with Santa and make a pinecone ornament.  (I think the craft was supposed to be 'period' specific - and while fun - my only criticism is that they ran out of crafting supplies - we could have used more than what was provided for our artsy and craftsy loving bunch.)

Thankfully there was a lot of one-on-one time for the kids to spend with Santa.  Anna particularly enjoyed this, talking to him, conversing, and reading to him from 'A Christmas Carol.'  (I think she was secretly trying to get back into his good graces after a hard couple of weeks at school and home...)

But I think the part Anna enjoyed the most was having plenty of time to catch up with her bff Ella Grace.  The two have been unseparable since they were three months old.  It's been hard on her not seeing her in school, and even moreso this year since their dance classes aren't togehter due to scheduling conflicts.  She's missed her tremendously, and was t-total thrilled to spend time talking to Santa, making crafts, and running around the historic Robert Mills house and gardens with her.

The kids had a lot of fun bouncing up and down on the joggling board...

 ... especially James...
 ...who ended up having a bit too much fun, was a bit too wild, and ended up having a bit of a reprimand...

Jack enjoyed more time with his buddy Jasper - running around the gardens, playing chase, and eventually splashing together in the fountain.

What little boy wouldn't love that?

All in all, a lovely morning out.  And another great family time spent together with dear friends.

An Evening Out

I didn't take any pictures, lest our friends realize just how much of a dork I am, but wanted to mention our adult evening out.  Our very dear friends hosted their annual Christmas dinner/get-together on Friday night.  It was so nice to take a break from family-oriented celebrating and enjoy some adult conversation (you know, that didn't entail supervising, referreeing, or assisting with multiple trips to the potty.)

We had one of James' former teachers over to babysit - and gladly left our post pre-school party/sugar-hyped up children in the care of capable hands.  Can I just pause for a moment and say how much I appreciate good babysitters?  The kind that (even though not expected nor requested) pick up the kids' toys after they play with them, wash the dishes in the sink, and wipe off the counter?  It's so nice to come home from a long night out and not have to do a single thing other than turn off lights and go to bed.

Anyway - it was loads of fun.  Good food.  Good drink. Fun conversation.  Laughter.  Fellowship.  Overall, a wonderful night out.

Can't wait for the next adult gathering!!!

Pre-school Party Fun

'Tis the season for school parties - and all on the same day (of course.)  Last Friday all three Party kids were indeed partying kids, as all three had their school 'winter' party.  I didn't get to attend Anna's party - hers was during lunch in her classroom - but I did send along cupcakes, cookies, and snowflake pretzels in lieu of visiting.  I hate that I missed - but am realizing that as a working mom of three - I can't be there to do everything with each child all the time. Boo.  Hiss. 

But I did manage to attend both of the boys' parties ~ thankfully the timing worked out, and James' class was up first.  The students made these adorable reindeer antler headbands - it was so funny to walk in and see a sea of reindeer sitting at little tables, stuffing everything sweet they could get their hands on into their mouths!

Jack's party was next.  You can't tell how excited Jack is to have his favorite snack ever (potato chips) piled on his plate, can you?  Jasper either.  He was eyeing the teacher's bowl of fruit - I so wish my kid would eat fruit like his bff J - instead of being a total junk-food, chip-loving junkie....

Once the chips hit the plate, there was no time to look up or smile...
 ...there was serious eating to do.
The Comer girls arrived and were happy to sit with James at the 'big kid' end of the table.  I wish Anna could have been with us - but there just wasn't time to go all the way to her school to pick her up - and then go back downtown to the University to Jack's pre-school.

But we knew we'd see eachother the next day - so I had to put my mama-guilt aside and focus on that.

Happy pre-school party day!!!