Tuesday, April 2, 2013

January and Rachel's Birthday Celebrations

Rachel is 4! Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting was the pick this year.
Rachel turned 4 this year, and got her first friend birthday party. Jase and I decided that we would do parties for the kids when they turn 4, 8, 12, and 16 (and probably for graduations, etc. when they get older), just to spread things out, and do lower-key family things the rest of the time. We spent her real birthday just with family and enjoyed all her favorite foods. The Elliotts came over and we had cake and ice cream that evening. We got her a one big present this year, a dollhouse, which she really loves, since we knew she'd get a few things from grandparents and from friends at her party.

Rachel chose a "marine biologist" themed birthday party, and if you know her that probably doesn't surprise you. Rachel loves animals, but especially dolphins, sharks, whales, and fish. We kept things pretty simple with just a snack and cupcakes, playtime, present opening, and some games. We played "shark attack" with a hammerhead shark puppet (essentially hot potato to the Jaws theme) and pin the tail on the fish. Our crowd was mostly 3-5 year olds so simple was great. I'd call it a success, and since it was the first "drop off" birthday party for most of the kids in the group they all talked about it for weeks. I did learn one thing, and that is to never do chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting for preschoolers. It was Rachel's request, but it was So. Very. Messy.

Place settings for Rachel's first real birthday party.

Pin the fin on the fish.

We are under the ocean!

Blowing out candles with friends.
For one family home evening in January we decided to capitalize on the new year with the kids and set some family and personal goals. Both kids are old enough to make a few simple and realistic goals and see improvement in themselves. We talked with the kids about what they would like to learn and be better at this year and they had such great answers!

Rachel wanted to read her scriptures (with help, obviously), say her prayers (she does this without reminders or help now), be kind to Alden, learn to write her name (she can do this as of March, after lots of practice!), and pay her tithing. Rachel started getting a $1 allowance per week last fall to teach her about saving and paying tithing. She has so far (as of April) saved her money diligently and bought herself a Rudolph stuffed animal (around Christmastime), and a Barbie that she wanted.
Alden chose to work on saying his own prayers (he sometimes asks for help, but  very often expresses himself quite well on his own), be kind to Rachel, and learn to go potty this year and wear underwear.

January finally brought the first snowstorm suitable for sledding (and now that it's April, it was one of the few of the season). I took the kids to the local park. We were the only ones out there and although I was having a lot of fun pulling the kids around they didn't share my joy as long. After two or three rides down the hill they were done. I remember as a older kid staying out forever building igloos and forts with friends in Colorado, but I suppose when you are a toddler it's just not the same. Someday maybe I'll get them to build an igloo with me. They sure were cute though. We've also spent some time doing "winter crafts" since it's been pretty cold.

Rachel put her snowman together all on her own.
Alden's snowman (I helped him with the hat and face he wanted, but he drew the arms and glued the "snow" in the right order).

Monday, April 1, 2013

December 2012

December 23rd, Sunday before Christmas in their Christmas best for church.
December was a great month, one of our best Christmas seasons. Both kids are old enough to understand the deeper meanings of Christmas and to enjoy traditions. We did lots of baking, delivering goodies to friends and family, watching Christmas movies, making lots of crafts, and coloring Christmas pages.

Christmas Eve began eventfully with Rachel, a fever, and a stomach virus. Poor Rachel is the best sick girl around. Rachel seemed to just wake up feeling rotten that day and just cuddled with us on the couch. She seemed to be doing much better that afternoon, so we decided to go ahead with our plans of an Italian dinner out with my cousins for the night. We got to the restaurant and things just went south for my poor girl, culminating in an episode of stomach virus right there at our table. Luckily I had packed a vomit-appropriate bag just in case (that morning she had been complaining of stomach pains) and she had let me know in advance what she thought might happen. I was actually surprised at how quietly and discreetly it all happened. I don't think the people next to us even knew what had happened, gratefully. Obviously after this we left and didn't get to do a Christmas program with family like we had hoped.

Instead we headed home to open pajamas and at least do the traditional pictures in front of the Christmas tree. We read a little from Luke and put the kids to bed since no one was up for much after that. Luckily there weren't too many episodes of stomach illness after that, but we could tell Rachel was not herself all through Christmas. She made the best of it though and really enjoyed cuddling up to watch her new movie the next morning.

Christmas was lovely with the exception of Rachel not feeling well. Her fever was gone by late morning and she seemed to perk up. Our friends, who we had invited over for Christmas dinner previously, decided to still come over that evening (even at the risk of stomach flu), so we had a full house for dinner with all the trimmings. We had the Harmans and the Blacks over, and my friend Tanya even brought the most delicious homemade tamales that we enjoyed for days afterwards (we are talking the real deal here--true Mexican goodness). I've got to learn to make them.

Our anniversary is the 28th, just after Christmas, so it's usually a bit of a trick to get a date in unless we are with our parents for the holidays. This year my cousin Joani offered to take the kids for a few hours so we could go enjoy ourselves for our anniversary. Since Les Mis had just started playing in theaters we decided to grab some good deli sandwiches and sneak dinner into the theater. We loved the movie and were so grateful for generous family. This was our happy 5 years to us anniversary, and we big-time celebrated a little later in March with a trip to NYC (post to come).

A few days later Alden (obviously) caught whatever it was the Rachel had. Luckily none of our friends or family that were around our children caught it though! Alden's version wasn't quite so bad, only lasting about 24 hours, but he was still out for the count for New Years Eve. You know you've reached toddler parenthood when you go to sleep with sick kids at 9 pm on New Years Eve because you just know they'll be up early the next day, if not throughout the night.

I just can't get over how beautiful she is, but also a little sad at how grown up she looks in this picture.

Christmas Eve tradition of opening up new pajamas to wear for the night. 

Yearly pictures in front of the Christmas tree. 

Poor Rach looking a little sick still, but happily holding her baby penguin from brother Alden.

Ollie gets in the picture too!

Had to include a note about all these books. My Mom sent a package with each of these books wrapped and a date on  them so we could open one per day for the whole month of December. I'm a huge book lover (especially good children's lit) so this was a wonderful surprise. We loved reading our new book every day.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

God Remembered Me

Shortly after Alden was born, around 2 or 3 months old, I was having a really awful day. My two babies were both under 2 years old (Rachel would have been around 21 or 22 months) and needed my help with everything. I was beginning to get really deeply exhausted from a lack of sleep (something that continued until Alden was around 10 months old so, I still had a while to go). Post-par-tum depression was settling in. My body was still recovering, my days were demanding, and my nights were a blur. When people ask me what it is like to have two children 19 months apart, I say this. I imagine it's like having twins in some ways, except that one can easily kill the other one. They cannot ever be left alone together for any amount of time, even just to go get a drink in the next room. They are both in diapers, neither speaks all that much, both need rocking and singing to sleep, both take lots of naps--though never at the same time, meals are all on me, etc. Anyways, it was a difficult time. This day in particular, a Monday, was really bad.

Out of the sheer mercy of God, I swear it, I managed to get both children down for an afternoon nap at the same time. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, stepped into the shower (which had evaded me all morning) and just cried. I cried and prayed and just wanted to know what God thought of my whole situation. I wanted even emotional relief. I was feeling alone and wondering whether we had made the right decision to have Alden so soon. He had been a very prayed for and wanted baby from the moment even Rachel was born. We knew he needed to come when he did, but it was just so hard. I didn't feel overwhelming peace like I had wanted to with my prayer. I got out of the shower, got dressed, and started to "get ready" for the day when I picked up my cell phone. I had 2 missed calls from Jason, both while I was in the shower, with a voice message. He said that he'd had a really productive day at school and had done all he felt he needed to accomplish that day by 3 pm (he usually stayed until about 5). I could come and get him anytime I wanted, and he thought I might need a break. I sat there with my phone and just cried and cried, feeling remembered. I knew that God had helped Jase be productive, and had perhaps arranged things so that I would feel his love through Jason. It couldn't have been coincidence that the moment I was pouring my soul out in the shower Jase called. It felt like God was telling me, "We've got this together. You made the right choice, and although it's tough, we can do this. How about a break this afternoon?"
Pictures from around that time. Such precious babies!

A Challenge for December

I've been thinking lately of ways to make this Christmas season more meaningful. I think I've come up with something that has and will help me remember Christ even more this Christmas.

This quote by Spencer Kimball has been surfacing lately in my reading. I've read it many times before, but I've been applying it and using it to help me remember actual examples of when I've felt this.

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.”

Being reminded of God's hand in our lives either through giving or receiving service really is the essence of the Christian message. Feeling the love of Christ, and having our hearts changed by him because we ask and try our best are the goals, but those goals are only really met through service and our interactions with other people. Sometimes we are the one giving the service and feeling that love for other people. When we are the instrument God uses to meet those needs of another, it inspires us. We feel gratitude. We feel a part of something much greater. When we are on the receiving end of the service, we feel remembered by God, and again, we feel gratitude that another was willing to be that instrument.  Sometimes we don't take the opportunity to be a part of any of it, and forfeit the chance we had to learn something, help someone, or be reminded of God's love. I've done this a few times lately, and each time had the experience of regret, wishing I had listened and taken that particular opportunity that I'll never get back. Even in this instance, I learned something.

What I've realized lately in my exercise of writing down some of my "pivotal" life experiences is that most of the experiences I recall as being the most meaningful, touching, and profound seem at face value to be completely ordinary and unremarkable. Some decisions, even really important ones like marrying my husband, came so clearly and easily and without a certain one profound "experience." Other decisions, sometimes even what seemed like really simple decisions, came after great effort and specific reminders and help from God. I've also noticed that I'm beginning to forget things that happened even in high school. Even things since then are beginning to become a little fuzzy. So, in an effort to preserve some of these memories for myself and for the benefits of my children, I want to write a few of them in this blog during the month of December. Perhaps they might inspire someone to think of ways God has had a hand in their own lives, or maybe they might just be interesting reading.

Also, I had an experience with one of my young women from church a few weeks ago. She asked for some advice about something not directly religious, and knowing that she has struggled with her beliefs in God, I didn't include a lot of faith-based suggestions, rather more practical things in an effort to keep her comfortable. Later I thought about what I had said, and about what I would do in her situation, and my suggestions for myself could not be separated from spiritual solutions. The practical ones were totally necessary as well, but faith had to be included. I usually don't write a ton about religion on my blog, mostly because of how personal it can be for me and those who read it. At the same time, I write mostly for my own children's record of our family, so they can read someday about their lives as children and I really would want them to know what their mother believed and tried to teach them. For this reason I'll plan on blitzing my blog this Christmas season with stories of how I knew God was in the details of my life. I know that no concern is too small for God, and that every prayer is answered, even if it seems it takes years for that answer to come, or for us to understand.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

October and November

 We have had such a wonderful fall here in Maryland. Fall wouldn't be fall without LDS General Conference (see here if you're not familiar), cooler weather, falling leaves, and of course, a trip (or two) to the pumpkin farm. I took the kids to Butler's Orchard for Rachel's Joy School class field trip. It did not disappoint. There were tons of great activities to do and the weather was awesome. Can't beat that much fun for $6 a person, and that included a pumpkin and two awesomely fresh apples each.
Alden enjoying the many tractors to play on.
Their playground was the coolest I've ever seen, with a castle, huge wooden ship, a train, and lots of slides, fireman's poles, and things to climb on. Rachel looks so tiny up there!

Alden steering the ship.

Playing with a bin full of corn kernels and lots of construction trucks (the kids really loved this!).

This activity was Rachel and Alden's favorite! This barn was filled with tons of hay. The hay had been baled in some places to let you climb up and stand, and then you could jump into the loose hay. It felt like walking on clouds.

In flight action!

Picked our pumpkins.

Alden and I on the hayride.

Checking out the chickens. Several types of animals were there.
Chatting with the goats.
 We had so much fun we decided to take Daddy back to get even more pumpkins. We also bought some really amazing fresh Honey-crisp apples. We just did the pumpkin patch that day since it was really crowded, but we were happy with our pickings. Jase cooked them down to puree and bagged tons of pumpkin for the freezer. We've made some great pies and cookies already with them. Fresh pumpkin really is worth it.

 The next weekend (Columbus Day I think) it was just looking too deliciously beautiful outside not to go on a hike, so we set off for our favorite little 1 mile trail in Seneca Creek State Park. I love this little hike because it's not too hard and the kids will walk the whole way. The view is pretty and it follows a little stream to the side. It was an absolutely beautiful fall day with so many changing leaves.

The trail crosses these power lines twice. The kids call it "the meadow," and they run into it and say it like Bambi says it.

Daddy and his cute girl.

My big and little misters.

Miss Rachel and I

And this post wouldn't be complete without Oliver! He loves sitting in the sinks.

Rainy day fun pretending Alden's bed is a car and we're taking ALL the babies somewhere.
 Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast the weekend before Halloween. New York and New Jersey bore the major brunt of it and are still recovering now (and I imagine will be for some time). We were very lucky and did not even lose power, although we were preparing to lose it--perhaps for a week or two!
The only casualty we saw close to us. This tree fell right outside our front windows. We're really glad we didn't park there.

 Halloween was a blast. We got all dressed up and went over to the Elliott's house (my cousin Joani and her family). We watched Mark carve a pumpkin quite expertly, roasted pumpkin seeds, went trick-or-treating in their awesome neighborhood, and had dinner. We stayed up way too late singing songs with the kids, and Joani re-lit some candles for the kids to blow out about a hundred times because it was just so funny (we'd sing some song, and then the kids would blow out the candles...they thought this was hysterical). The day after Halloween, we went to Target to buy half price costumes for our dress-up bin. We ended up with a Buzz Lightyear costume, a cowboy/cowgirl getup complete with hat, coat, vest, and badge, several superhero vests with capes, a Cinderella costume, and a ninja costume. I think I'm going to do this every Halloween.

BYU cheerleader Grace and Miss Rachel with "Toto" (who obviously looks nothing like the real dog).

My beautiful Dorothy.

Little lion with a mouthful of dinner (he was so tough to get a picture of the whole night!).

With her loot.

Mark's witches "brew"

Roasted pumpkin seeds! Yum! Rachel hated them but Alden couldn't get enough.

Don't you think this boy could get away with anything in a bow tie?
Good. Because right now I'm making one for him for his Sunday Christmas outfit.

 In other important recordable news, Jason is doing really well at work. Before he accepted his current job at the FDA he interviewed with another office in HHS, where he was really impressed with the office in general, but particularly the boss there. When he got into his fellowship he had to pick a mentor, so he picked this gentleman since he wanted to keep in contact and learn from him. Jase has been part of an appropriations law reading group with him, and was asked to lead one of their discussions downtown mid October. Everything went well! Part of Jason's fellowship allows him to do a 4-6 month rotation with another government office, so he discussed this with the HHS office and they said they'd be happy to have him. So come March, Jase will be working in the HHS Budget Office for a few months. It's downtown, so it'll be a bit more of a commute for him, but he's happy to get even more experience.

Rachel finished her gymnastics class, but had to miss the second to last class due to getting her fingers caught in the elevator on the way in. Ouch! As the door was opening she put her hand on it and within a second her fingers were jammed between the wall and the opening elevator (maybe this is hard to picture? the elevator was NOT closing on her fingers...). Anyways, there was incredible commotion and Rachel crying. We iced things up and I watched her for a few hours. We went home to get lunch and to nap the kids, and then I took her to urgent care just to be sure things weren't broken. I didn't think they were since the swelling had gone almost all the way down and she said that nothing hurt anymore, but you never know with fingers. Got her checked out and she was perfectly fine. I loved that when the nurses asked her to pick the face that showed her pain level she picked the happiest looking one and said, "I'm the happiest!"

And that brings us to these wonderful holidays!!! I am slightly ashamed to admit that I began listening to Christmas music early this year, and the kids followed suit. We bought our tree and put it up (our first fake one) about a week and a half before Thanksgiving. I realize this is ridiculous, but it was fun. And our fun will be present for nearly 2 months this year. Thanksgiving was one of our best (sadly no pictures...). I can't remember enjoying turkey until this year. Jase carefully brined that bird in our refrigerator, and it was stellar. We had lots of fun teasing the kids about the dead bird in our fridge (it was in the bottom vegetable drawer, floating in a clear plastic bag full of brine and very visible). All the other food was awesome, and the company even better. We hosted the Elliott family and had fun eating, watching the old clay-mation "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and talking. Later that night Jason braved the black-Friday crowds and found a $38 blu-ray player, some new cheap movies, and a new coat he needed. I did the rest of my shopping the next day, and now everything is either bought or ordered. We're done! I think that brings us up to speed! Next post will probably be a recap of the Christmas season, but I feel accomplished just recording our lives even every month or two. I've never been a reliable journal-keeper, so hopefully this will suffice.

I'm so grateful for this season that reminds me to enjoy the little things and be grateful for all the things I have. We have our little family, loving and thoughtful extended families, good friends all across the country, our health, a solid job, a reliable car, a warm and happy home, and plenty of clothes and food. I have been feeling really blessed lately and have had some great experiences in young women's and because of General and Stake Conference and I've just been feeling continually reminded of how blessed I really am. Happy Holidays!