Six days to Christmas and all is well

My son’s Christmas countdown tells me it is currently six days until Christmas. My radio, tuned to the local non-stop Christmas music station, agrees, as does my kitchen, currently overflowing with the remains of last week’s massive round of Christmas baking. We visited the Dickens Christmas festival in downtown Franklin last Sunday and have watched several of our favorite holiday movies. We’ve read as many versions of the nativity story as we can get our hands on. I am enjoying all these things while simultaneously remaining completely astonished that this year is drawing to a close.

So, here I am, finally posting a few pictures from our lovely Thanksgiving at the in-laws’ in Georgia.

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The spread

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These potatoes, y’all…

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The table

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The crew

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The family

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The handsomest grandpa around

There are times when it nearly takes my breath away, how fast life is passing and how quickly my children change. This year, Corin remembers nearly every detail of last Christmas and can look forward to holiday events with much more specific anticipation. He put a lot of the ornaments on the tree this year. He also understands more and more of the Christmas story. Lina still mostly ignores a lot of the preliminaries and really still prefers that we open gifts for her so she can get to the fun part of playing with whatever’s inside. She adores the holiday sweets, and her fairly new appreciation for babies makes the story of baby Jesus one she can relate to better than most. Today, she spontaneously said “Bible” for the first time, and then repeated it throughout the morning. Our Little People nativity set – given us by Aunt Lila several years ago – is always a big hit, and we will spend more time this next week acting out the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that hopefully brings it home a bit for the munchkins.

As an adult, you would think the endless repetition of the nativity story would get old. I find the opposite is true. Every year, the story has new meaning for me. This year, I’ve been struck by the universality of the gift of God’s Son: “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” We humans tend to put everyone on a worthiness scale. It has come home hard this year that God sent a Savior for everyone. I find myself asking, “What am I doing to bring God to people where they are?” It’s a hard question, and I wrestle with what that really looks like in my life. For now, I am thankful for the seasonal reminder of a boundless love that belongs to all of us.

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Singing and dancing to Christmas music

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Trimming the tree

Christmas is finally in full swing around here. The tree is up, the decorating is (almost) done, and I’m finally in the spirit. (I was beginning to think we’d just have to celebrate in February, because it felt like it should still be October.)

For most of our married life and all of our children’s lives, we’ve had a fake “slim profile” tree, which was the only thing to fit in our tiny living room. This first Christmas in the new house marks the long-awaited return to a real tree. I had idealistic plans for a rooted tree that could be planted outside after the holiday, but our trip to a local nursery yesterday doused that dream in reality. Turns out, we had completely underestimated the size of the root ball for a 6-foot tree. As Jon emphatically pointed out – to my disappointed protests – there was no way we could lift that tree, much less carry it up the stairs and into the living room. I couldn’t reconcile myself to the tiny tree we might be able to lift (with still considerable effort), so we headed to the section with the cut trees and chose the modest (and considerably more maneuverable) Fraser fir which now adorns our living room. I keep breathing deeply; I’d forgotten how lovely that smell is. I even like that it’s a smidge crooked. Our simple tree’s not-perfection is just right.

The “ordaments” (Corin’s rendition) are a mishmash we’ve collected over the years. Some are cheap plastic, some are beautiful, delicate glass (located at the top of the tree these days), and some are rough, hand-made crafts covered in kids’ fingerprints. A big part of the Christmas tree tradition for me has always been unwrapping the same ornaments every December, the protective paper yellowing and eventually having to be replaced, the memories stacking atop one another as the years roll by. It was that way all through my childhood, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Decorating the tree is always helter-skelter with small kids, but those ornaments and the attached memories are precious to me.

We are trying to keep things simple this year. There has been very little shopping, save a special outing with my dad. Relatives have been warned: prepare for homemade! It keeps holiday expenses more manageable, but really, I think I prefer it this way. (I can’t speak for how the relatives feel.)

So, here we go. The Christmas whirlwind whirls, and we do what we can to slow it down, grasping fleeting moments to stop and savor.

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I’ve discovered the key to taking photos of my son. “Corin, whatever you do, don’t get in this picture.”

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Getting a huge kick out of trying to eat the rocks

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I mean, people, look at the size of those root balls!

 

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In illustration of the usual state of my sinuses, Corin insisted the delicate tea pot ornament was a neti pot.

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Yes, Lina decorated the tree without a shirt. No, I don’t really know why.

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A new favorite from last year: father-son hiking boots

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“The Night Before Christmas”

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Christmas 2013, Part II

A Christmas Review Well After the Fact, and in Two Parts
(Part I)

Christmas Eve supper is a long-standing traditional feast in my family, with an offering of gourmet cheeses and crackers, fresh fruit and veggies, and the crowning piece de resistance, my dad’s beyond-amazing, almond-filled Christmas wreath bread. The kids played, we feasted, and it was a lovely evening.

(All the photos in this post are courtesy my brother. Thanks, Ry!)

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As is always the case, pretty pictures tell only part of the story. Christmas Day was long for the kids (but certainly not for the adults), dinner was late, and it turned out Grandma Titus was not well (which resulted in most of the rest of us coming down with a thoroughly unpleasant stomach bug within a few days). But our family was together (even if we were trying to keep the kids away from poor great-grandma), the food was fantastic, and there was great delight over wonderfully thoughtful gifts. Ultimately, Christmas for us will always be celebrating the most important gift ever given with the people we love the most. At its core, it’s really that simple – and that deep.

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Christmas 2013, Part I

A Christmas Review Well After the Fact, and in Two Parts

It took eight ages for a variety of reasons, one of which was the transition to my new computer (a laptop! I can blog from the living room couch!), but finally, I have our Christmas pictures ready for sharing. There are so many of them, in fact, that I have crashed Word Press multiple times trying to fit them into a single post. So, a two-parter it is.

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We had an early celebration with Jon’s family the weekend before Christmas, with presents Saturday night and brunch with both sets of parents at the Opryland Hotel Sunday morning.

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Christmas Eve supper and most of Christmas Day were spent at my parents’ house with my family, which will be in the next post. But to finish out this one, here is our quiet Christmas morning at home.

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(Part II)

Also on the subject of oxygen…

That last blog post title has an ironic ring to it, given that I spent the night with Lina in the ER, getting her breathing treatments for croup that spiraled out of control. Poor baby had terrible stridor and was having to use her whole body to suck in enough air.

So, this was our night:

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We finally got home and back to bed at 4 a.m. Baby girl is sounding much better, and with the steroid they prescribed, hopefully we can avoid future ER visits.

Good thing we were all so well rested. (Oh, wait…) But truly, just thankful this morning that she’s okay and for a day with family, who are braving our germs to celebrate the holiday. Stay healthy, everyone.

Finding the oxygen

The holidays around here are a mixture of delight and insanity. I spend the last week or so before Christmas totally under water. This year, my cards are likely to be post-Christmas greetings for a fair portion of my list. I paid someone to deep clean my house on Wednesday, but by today, my floors were already gross again. There is an extensive list of items I was supposed to complete today that never happened. Half the string of lights beautifying my living room burned out, just in time for our first family event here tomorrow. 

It’s 6:10 p.m. My sweet husband is preparing supper, because I have had zero time for food prep. Lina is sitting in my lap, wheezing with every breath, thanks to a nasty cold she got from yours truly, who got it from Corin, who is still coughing. Someone in this house has been sick since September. I don’t understand it, but I will tell you that after the holiday, we will be purging this house of sugar, going to bed early and avoiding anyone who appears to be thinking about sneezing. (As if that last one is possible.)

So yeah – when we have a moment to surface for air, we find ourselves wondering, like so many of you, how this became the pace of our lives. I don’t exactly know the answer. I am finding some ways to start simplifying, thanks to girlfriends who are reminding me to lower my expectations. Like, really lower them. I’m trying.

And also, there really are so many moments of magic crammed into these crazy days. It’s how I can still love this time of year. There was making gingerbread cookies with Corin yesterday (admittedly followed by over-tired tantrums). There are the repeated readings of favorite versions of the Christmas story. (Mortimer’s Christmas Manger is currently Corin’s favorite, while Humphrey’s First Christmas continues to be mine.) There was Corin’s excitement about delivering packages of cookies to the neighbors earlier this evening. There is Lina tangling herself up in Christmas lights and exploring the ornaments on the bottom of the tree. There is the music, which I love so truly. Those moments are the deep breaths of oxygen in these underwater days.

So, here we go: The Christmas home stretch. I’m going to try to find a little more of this kind of wonder.

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Christmas time is here

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The decorations are (mostly) up and the Christmas season is in full swing around here. Every year, Corin understands more and gets more into the anticipation and joy of the season. Now we get to watch that process unfold with Lina, too, who I know is going to totally dig the wrapping paper this year. I look at our holiday traditions and decorations in a new way, hoping that I am creating for my kids the kind of magic I remember from my childhood Christmases.

We have daily conversations with Corin about why we celebrate Christmas, and it’s awesome to see how much he absorbs. Truthfully, every year I absorb more of that greatest story, the shocking truth of God in helpless, newborn form. I know there is a lot about modern Christmas to lament – rampant commercialism, hectic schedules, extra stress… But this past week or so, as I’ve talked to Corin and read him various versions of the Christmas story, I’ve thought a lot about what that night in the stable must have been like. Teaching it to Corin has made it so real to me. Omnipotent God became one of us, purest love from first division of cells to ultimate sacrifice. You could easily spend a lifetime trying to wrap your head around that one. I dislike “reason for the season” cliches, and really, I don’t have the words for what the Christmas story means to me. I can say that I love this time of year.

I owe Thanksgiving pictures, but they are a bit sparse this year. My camera battery ran low and I forgot to pack the charger. We are left with Thanksgiving 2013 via iPhone and Instagram. There was a mild stomach bug for Corin and me, but it was still a very enjoyable holiday weekend with family in North Georgia. My mother-in-law puts on an enormous feast, and I pitched in where I could. It was lovely.

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Christmas retrospective

Christmas is over and a new year has begun. Every single year, this takes me by surprise. How is it that we have tucked another holiday season under our belts and girded ourselves for 2013? 2013! That still sounds impossibly futuristic to me. I do love the beginning of new years, though. Jon and I rang this one in very quietly, at home on our couch, watching the latest Batman movie on our new Blu-ray player and tuning in to a time-delayed NYC broadcast just in time to see the ball drop and to share a sweet kiss. I’m okay with that start to this year. Quiet, at home with the things that really matter. Maybe next year we’ll dress up and find somewhere exciting to go. But this year, quiet was just right.

It was a good Christmas. We spent a week with Jon’s family in Georgia. Corin spent long hours roaming the cold, wet outdoors with Grandpa, and I enjoyed the freedom to get down on the floor and really soak in Baby Girl. Lina is smiling and cooing like nobody’s business, and it makes me happy. Sometimes I feel as if she might be getting gypped with how divided my attention often is at home. I do make time to cuddle and talk to her, to get down to her eye level and cheer for her tummy time achievements, but often I’m stopping to tickle her for a moment or to get in her face for a quick smile and hello as I pass on my way to put away more laundry or to help big brother with his pants for another potty break. (Ah, potty training, there’s a topic for another day. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?!)

In any case, this Christmas, the riches of family willing to entertain my children meant I got to spend some good one-on-one time with each of them. And then there was the glorious food, the gifts, the holiday movies, the church musical, the telling and re-telling of the Greatest Story until Corin could recite it back to us. (By the way, if you don’t have it, this is now my very favorite kids’ Christmas book.)

We made a stop to see friends in Knoxville for one night on our way home, and then it was New Year’s on the couch and a second Christmas with my family, which was complicated by sickness that has since taken up dwelling at our house. (Croup? Really? I had the clearly mistaken impression that only happened in Anne of Green Gables novels.) But Corin and his cousin still got some good time together to play with new Christmas treasures, and as always, the memories are the very best thing we take from the holidays into the new year.

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Watching Christmas movies with my boy

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Let the festivities begin

Even with my MIL here as back-up while husband was out of town, it took all week to get our Christmas decorations up. They are scaled back some this year, but they are up, and it makes me happy. It also makes my children happy, which is even better.

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To be clear, the nativity set only stayed like this for a few minutes before the pieces were strewn about the house.

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Photo credit goes to MIL, who got this sleepy early-morning moment on camera.

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I can’t get enough of that soft Christmas light glow in the evenings (which begin very early this time of  year here on the edge of the Central time zone). I notice stores are carrying more LED Christmas lights every year, but I can’t do it. The glow just doesn’t seem to have that same warm quality that to me is more than half the point of Christmas lights. I know it’s not very green of me. (My Christmas cards this year are made from recycled paper. Does that make up for it? No?)

This Wednesday, we took a fun outing to see the Christmas decorations at the Opryland Hotel here in Nashville, and then we took Corin across the street to the mall to ride the little train they have there. The Opryland is quite the local attraction, for those who haven’t been there, especially at Christmastime. I was not sorry to miss the crowds that throng as it gets closer to Christmas.

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Katie (SIL), MIL (also known as Mimi), Lina and Corin on a little boat ride around one area of the hotel

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Someone is learning quickly how to take full advantage of his Mimi’s willingness to fulfill his desires. See the car and the cookie. (And forgive the atrocious haircut. Mommy has decided henceforth to hang up her very dull shears in favor of the professional’s touch. Yikes.)

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Today, we had our third visit with Lina’s early intervention teacher, Holly. We love Holly! She is pretty and kind and so encouraging and helpful. She brings a mother’s perspective, as she has FOUR of her own kiddos. She also has her own personal experience with special needs. We are continuing to work on improving feedings, and Holly has shown us some massage techniques and tricks and positions for encouraging muscle development. I think these visits really are going to become highlights of our weeks.

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