Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Christmas

Our Christmas began about a week prior to December 25 when we exchanged gifts with the kids' uncle

who spoiled them rotten. Remember how I'm too cheap to buy my girls American Girl Dolls? Uncle John and his fiancee got Alex Kit.

Audrey received an Itty Bitty Baby. She also got a couple of other babies. She is quite the harried mommy these days.

It's a little confusing 'round here because the babies' names are Sally, Alex, and Audrey.

The boys also received gifts from their lists.

We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service at our new church. Afterwards, I made the kids pose for pictures. "Your cooperation will be your Christmas present to me," I explained. Two of the children were more giving than the other two.

We did, however, manage to get two half-family pictures. And since two halves make a whole, we can actually say we took a family Christmas picture this year. cards. We aren't THAT together!

I've already described the utter Christmas anticipation in this household Christmas morning. It doesn't need to be said that they all enjoyed tearing into their gifts. And they were especially cute doing so in their brand new robes.

We had Christmas at our house with both sets of grandparents. We were also reunited with one of Mark's sisters and her husband who just returned from Africa as well as their grown children, two of whom brought spouses as well. It was a fun house full!

It's hard to believe another Christmas has gone by. Now it's on to the mysteries that 2010 will inevitably hold...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Lucky Day

I've noticed it every time I've visited Kohl's. Sitting there near the aisle. And every time I visit Kohl's, I try it out for a couple of hours minutes. It's the Homedics Shiatsu Massage Cushion. I think it is the heated one I've tried out several hundred times. Priced at $250. Too much to pay in my opinion.

But lately my back has been in an especially bad way. So bad, in fact, that I paid a visit to Dr. Quack the chiropractor this morning. He said my pelvis is a little off, hence the reason my whole right side hurts like crazy and keeps me up at night.

When I got back from the chiropractor, Mark was on his way out to Kohl's to return a duplicate video game and to perhaps spend the Kohl's cash we earned when we did our Christmas shopping.

"Couldn't you just take a look at the shiatsu thingy? Pleeeease? Maybe it's on major sale, and you can pick it up for me for a hundred or something."

He said he'd look.

He called me about 15 minutes later to inform me that he could not find the cushion. Anywhere.

"Can't you ask someone if they have one in the back? Pleeeeease?" I pleaded. I had my doubts. When do they ever find things in The Back?

When he came home with the Homedics Shiatsu Massage Cushion in hand, I was surprised. He told me to try it out. I did, basking in the therapy, yet at the same time trying not to get too attached to the cushion should we need to return it to help our bank account. I was especially nervous when Mark asked me, "So how much do you like it? How much is it worth to you?"

"Ummm...a hundred? Please tell me you only paid a hundred. Or maybe $150?"



"It was free," he said.

Turns out he did indeed ask someone if there was one in the back. This employee disappeared for a few minutes and came back with one. It appeared to be an open box, and it wasn't the heated cushion I had tried before, but if I need heat--which I never use anyway--we have a heating pad.

"It's your lucky day," she said. "You can have this one for $26.99." Mark paid with our $30 Kohl's cash.

Guess it was our lucky day. Either that, or God really does care about the little things. Like aching backs.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Conquering My Sweet Tooth

I would make a terrible recovering addict. And, no, I'm not confessing here. It's just a hypothetical based on the fact that I can't make it a day without sneaking a cookie. It's no secret I've spent the better part of December elbow deep in chocolate and icing. So it's no surprise that every cell in my body is pleading with me for a salad. My sweet tooth, however, is not, at this point, on talking terms with the cells.

I'm not a huge New Year's Resolutions person because I hate setting myself up for failure. I'm thinking, though, that since my family and I did quite well eating healthy for the majority of 2009, we can raise the bar a bit in 2010.

And on to 2010 I march...I actually did make it on to the treadmill today. And it was only 1 1/2 cookies. I can't give my Sweet Tooth the cold turkey treatment, can I?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Alpine Afternoon

We attended church this morning in our living room under the teachings of Pastor Daddy. I purposefully did not set the alarm last night because our church offered no kids' Sunday School classes this morning. Perhaps I should have more faith in the character training I have offered my children; perhaps I should just assume that they will sit quietly--all 4 of them together--through an entire church service. But, well, our service with Pastor Daddy was quite good, and we had such a nice day afterwards, so why subject myself to such assumptions?

After "church", we headed to Cracker Barrel for brunch. Of course you can't go wrong with Cracker Barrel since you can order anything from grits and eggs to salad and chicken. And, yes, I had a breakfast of grits and biscuits and gravy. Only Mark and Michael opted for lunch food.

On our way home from brunch we discussed the long afternoon that lay ahead of us. Take down the Christmas decor? No, that can be put off 'til tomorrow. Watch TV? No, done that. Too much. We opted instead to make a little trip to Helen, Georgia.

Helen is a little town that looks as if it was snatched from Germany and tucked snugly in among the North Georgia mountains. Even your standard fast food joint offers a little Alpine charm.

We enjoy Helen. It's touristy, but not obnoxiously so. Plus, on December 3, 1994, Mark and I spent the better part of a day here after which we took a drive in the mountains just north of the town. It was atop one of these mountains overlooking more of these mountains that I became the soon-to-be Mrs. TravelDaddy.

So not only is this a location which holds sentimental value for us, but we also always have lots of fun in Helen! The beautiful Chattahoochee meanders through the middle of town. During the summer, the kids love to wade in the river, skipping pebbles but being careful to avoid nailing the nearest tourist tubing down the river. No wading today, though, as it was a little chilly!

Although riding the horse and carriage was not in the budget today, at least we got to say hi:

And, yes, although we've certainly had enough sweets this holiday season, you don't pass this store without indulging:

What better way to work off that sugar than in this park, which is smack dab in the middle of the town? It sits high on a hill, though, so it is virtually invisible to tourists on main street. Which works out well because that means fewer visitors to the park. My kids, of course, had a blast in this secret place.

There are other points of interest to the little town as well. There is the one and only grocery store:

This quaint, little church sits on the outskirts of town:

And across from the church is this landmark: the Nacoochee Indian Mound.

Then, of course, there is this:

Always a reminder that we are indeed in the south. The South or not, this was a lovely day all around!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Boy's Anticipation

Cinnamon rolls are tradition Christmas morning (recipe at the end of the post). Although I do the majority of the work Christmas Eve, they still require that I stumble out of bed earlier than I otherwise would like on a holiday so they can rise a bit before baking.

It was 6:30 when my alarm went off this Christmas morning. I was tempted to stay warm and snug under the covers for another half hour, but then I thought about my children and their excitement, their threats of waking up at "the crack of dawn" to tear into their gifts and discover what Santa had left them. So I rolled half-unwillingly out of bed, put on my slippers, and stumbled out my bedroom door toward the kitchen.

I didn't notice him on the way to the kitchen because I had just one task on my mind: get the rolls out and rising. But on the way back to bed where my place would still be warm and I could re-set my alarm for 7:00 when I had to start the baking, I saw him. He was sound asleep seated on the couch, the ottoman pulled up to support his legs, glasses on. He was snuggled under a blanket, the cat curled up beside him, his stocking loot scattered around him on the couch and on the floor beneath him.

He brought a smile to my face, and my heart melted. I started for the camera but then stopped. I hated to awaken him; I had no idea how long he had been up or how long ago he had ventured downstairs, the curiosity and excitement too much to keep him in bed a second longer. I started to turn quietly away, but just then his sister came down the stairs, laughing as she noticed her brother sound asleep there on the couch. Her laughter awakened him. He grinned, his eyes sparkling as they so often do.

"What time did you come down here, Michael?" I asked.

"One o'clock." He giggled.

"Silly boy," I said.

Clone of a Cinnabon

This recipe is a bread machine recipe. I'm going to give it to you in the order in which I place the ingredients in my bread maker. I'm sure it would be just fine by hand too--just be sure to dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, add the other ingredients, knead about 8 minutes and let rise for 45 the first time. Here are the ingredients:

1 c. warm milk (110 degrees F/45 C)
1/3 c. butter, melted (recipe calls for margarine; I use butter--I suppose it just depends where you stand on the butter/marg. issue)
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. salt
4 1/2 c. bread flour
2 1/2 t. yeast

After it rises, roll out. I use oil on the counter surface instead of flour with my dough--it keeps it moist.

Spread with 1/3 c. butter, softened, and a mixture of 1 c. brown sugar and 2 1/2 T. cinnamon

Cut rolls and place in greased pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400. Bake about 15 minutes.

While still warm, frost with 3 oz. cream cheese, 1/4 c. butter, softened, 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, 1/2 t. vanilla, and 1/8 t. salt.

If you wish to make these the night before, complete recipe and then roll out dough, add butter/cinnamon/sugar, and form rolls. Place them in baking pan, cover, and put in fridge. In the morning, get the rolls out and put them on top rack of cold oven. Place a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven. Let rise in the steam for about a half hour. Then remove pan of water, take rolls out to preheat oven, and proceed with baking and frosting as instructed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 22

You may or may not have noticed that many of the advent activities I planned for the 24 days of Christmas revolve around food. I think next year I really need to give Lisa Whelchel's book The ADVENTure of Christmas a more serious look so that I can come up with some more original ideas. To be fair, I had a long list of a better variety of ideas, but somehow the 24 days of the 24 days of Christmas has dwindled down to nothing, and I scarcely noticed each day passing.

Today's activity would normally have made for a memorable time of family fun, but I think my mood ruined it. And Audrey is the one who should have been in a foul mood, not me. On the way back from the mall this morning, she suddenly burst into tears saying, "My earring came out! My earring came out!" I don't know how she did it, but she somehow got the seatbelt tangled up in her left one, and it got yanked out. Try as I might when we got home, I just couldn't line the front of the 3-day-old hole with the back. I toyed with the idea of just pushing the earring through and forming a new back entrance, but when you're a grown-up dealing with a princess' tender ear and not a rebellious teenager dealing with your own earlobe, it's a whole new game. So I gave up.

The Princess will now be lopsided for a couple of weeks to let her ear heal a little before we take her back to Claire's to get the earring put back in. And I say "we" because Daddy will be going along. Remember that he is the Great Calmer. Therefore, he is the one who will get her to jump willingly back in the chair, get the earring put back in, and then head to the food court for some ice cream. She's already very excited about the ice cream.

Anyway, all of these events were the prelude to my not being in a very festive mood. And a festive mood is definitely required for cookie baking. Sugar cookies are my favorite tradition I have carried to the next generation. So it really is a shame I couldn't step up the plate, or baking sheet as it were, and make this a fun event. Tomorrow, however, is bound to be much more delightful. Because tomorrow we decorate!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Remember the days of writing letters? Real letters, I mean. Not text messages or emails. Real letters on pretty stationery, sent through the mail with a stamp. Remember the anticipation of checking your mailbox? And the excitement of discovering a letter there? It's a shame that tradition has been all but lost. Thankfully, it isn't lost on my daughter and her friend Grace.

Alex gets more real mail every week than I get junk mail. Even in the days when Grace and Alex saw each other twice a week at church, they exchanged letters at least a couple of times during any given week.

A few days after Michael's accident, I was surprised to flip through the mail and find a letter addressed to Michael. It looked like Grace's familiar writing on the envelope. As I passed it to Michael, I said, "This must be a letter from Jack, and he had his sister address it." But, no. It was a sweet, sweet letter from Grace. It read as follows:

Dear Michle, (if that's how you spell your name) I heard that you got your finger stuck in your bicicle chain. OUCH! I'm really sorry that that happen'd! Though your crazy, I care alot about you and Im praying for you and so is the whole familey! And so are Fluff-ball, Puff-ball and Poof. I wish I could do somthing to help. Write me back and you can tell me what happen'd!

Your loving friend,

Michael responded with this letter:

Dear Grace,
What happed was I was going up our driveway. Then I pushed on the brakes and I reach down and pulled on the chain to make sure it was tight. Then my brain said to keep going and it sucked my finger into the chain. Oh yeah and my name is Michael and thank you for the letter. your friend, Michael

Saturday, December 19, 2009


There was nothing I wanted more at the age of 13 than to have my ears pierced. But my parents wouldn't budge. The magical age was 16. Three more years. I couldn't understand. It's not like I was requesting a beer or that the devil be tatooed on my arm. My best friends had had theirs pierced for years. Plus, it was African custom: all baby girls got their ears pierced. I think the order of operation was clip the umbilical cord, pierce the ears, then bathe, feed, and swaddle. But not with my folks. And they did get asked by a couple of Africans about it. I'm sure the Africans would just shake their heads and say, "Those strange missionaries. How is everyone to know she is a girl if her ears are not pierced?"

Despite the fact that my parents were firm in their stance, I begged and pleaded and cajoled. And I finally got my way. Sort of. We made a deal. If I practiced the piano for a half hour every day of summer vacation, I could get my ears pierced. I wasn't a willing piano student, so practicing every day for a half hour was torture, but I did it.

Kolo, one of the African doctors, did the honors, and he followed the same procedure he would for any African baby. He used a suture needle and threaded a strand of suture thread right through my ear lobe. I wore the tied off thread for the obligatory 6 weeks. It may have looked strange, but it sure was easy to care for since there were no diamonds or earring backs to dodge when cleaning. The only danger was snagging the loop on a brush or comb. And there I was, 3 years earlier than planned, a proud earring wearer.

Later on a furlough to the U.S. and in a fit of rebelliousness, I put 4 more holes in my ears. I still remember that night sitting in my little California apartment room, the Beastie Boys playing softly beside me so as not to attract the attention of my parents. One by one, I pushed the sharp point of a stud earring through my lobes so that I ended up with 4 on my left ear and 2 on my right. Thankfully, I escaped infection. And, surprisingly, I hid all of my piercings from my parents with my long hair. Later, of course, I wizened up and realized that one doesn't need that many extra holes in one's head, so I let them all grow back except for two in my left ear and the solitary beginning one on the right.

Now I have a whole new generation of little girls. While I wouldn't want to punch their ears full of holes at this tender age, I have no Age Sixteen rule either. In fact, when Alex was 3 I had her ears pierced. However, they got infected, I think due to the fact that I was cheap and didn't select the pricier 14k studs. I was working at the kids' preschool then, and spending an hour cleaning up an infected ear every morning was tough on both of us, so I took them out.

Since then, every time we pass a Claire's, I've asked her, "Do you want to get your ears pierced today?" She's always said no, although the Princess, if in earshot, has replied with a resounding "YES!! I do!" Despite Alex's resistance, when her BFF Grace expressed a desire to get her ears pierced, I suggested we have a Girls' Day Out and go together for the piercing. She agreed.

The day finally came yesterday, and we all met in a Claire's crowded with Christmas shoppers. Grace and Alex went first. Both of them turned down the suggestion that the Claire's teddy bear sit in their laps for comfort during the piercing as well as the soothing lollipop after, both ideas denied with a politeness but a slight eye roll just in case anyone would question the maturity of these very grown-up 10-year-olds.

The Princess, however, was more than willing to give the Claire's teddy bear a seat during the procedure.

And I elected to have two Claire's employees accomplish her piercing simultaneously, one on each ear. I was worried that otherwise Audrey might decide one was enough, thank you very much, and we'd be leaving the store with a lopsided princess. She shed a few big, huge crocodile tears after both earrings were secure, but it was nothing that the promised lollipop couldn't fix.

Both girls enjoyed coming home to show off their new ears. Of course, as beautiful as their sisters look, the boys would never admit it with a compliment. However, Daddy's compliments more than made up for silly brothers' neglect.

Friday, December 18, 2009

3 Conclusions

As you know, we have taken Thanksgiving week through the New Year off of our homeschool, tacking those extra weeks of school on to the end of the year. Through this experience, I have come to 3 conclusions:

1. This is definitely a must-do for next year, assuming the extra weeks of school in the summer go well, because

2. I have no idea how we made it through the holiday season before while also doing school. I can only guess that I must not have done a very bang-up job homeschooling during this time.

Honestly, I don't even feel I have done a very good job with our 24 Days of Christmas either, which was the main reason I wanted to clear the calendar of academics in the first place. There have just been too many other things that have to be done. This week has been crazy. Our schedule looked like this:
  • Michael's follow-up appointment for his finger
  • Alex's birthday
  • A scheduled Christmas cookie exchange for which I had already prepared one batch of cookies and one batch of Buckeyes. It got postponed to the end of the week.
  • Bright Futures Academy. Thankfully, I had that batch of cookies and Buckeyes to take for our Christmas party instead of making new goodies.
  • Gingerbread House Decorating party
  • Make more Buckeyes for Thursday cookie exchange
  • Make 2 batches of cookie dough, one for Thursday's cookie exchange (with the Buckeyes) and one for Friday's cookie exchanged postponed from Monday
  • Take the kids to their grandparents' house, drive back, spend some time in peace and quiet cleaning the house and waiting for husband to pick me up.
  • Christmas shopping with hubby
  • A night out with hubby--a wonderful dinner with his colleague and customer and their wives and then a hotel
  • 3 hours to go pick up the kids at their grandparents' house
  • Clean up and unpack
  • Cookie/ornament exchange with moms from co-op
  • Wonder what to do with the cookie dough because the other cookie exchanged postponed again to Monday
  • Meet a friend and her girls with my girls so all the girls can get their ears pierced
  • Attack the neglected laundry
  • Lunch with an old friend
  • Get ready for family to come spend Sunday here
  • Get ready for family to come spend next Christmas day here

Don't get me wrong. I love getting together with friends, and the cookie and ornament exchange with the moms from co-op was especially nice because it was just grown-ups. And our night out Wednesday night was lovely, plus the kids had a great time with their Dana and Papa.

It's just that often I think that

3. the true meaning of Christmas so often gets forgotten. I shouldn't say forgotten because I know most people who celebrate Christmas as Christ's birth don't completely forget the reason. It is just given less priority. One thing I had hoped to accomplish this year with my 24 Days of Christmas was to bring the focus back on Jesus and the important things of the season--family time, for example, over gifts. But perhaps the fact that I used the word "accomplish" in that sentence is part of the problem. A focus on family time and Jesus can't be an item on a checklist.

Last week at the church we have begun attending the pastor told a story of a little girl on Christmas day. Making conversation over Christmas dinner, her grandfather asked her if she had gotten everything she wanted for Christmas. Without missing a beat, the little girl responded, "Well, no. But then again, it's not my birthday."

If we only had that little girl's perspective, I think we could bring the focus back on that little baby in Bethlehem.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 15 - Gingerbread Houses...Relinquishing Control

For me, whenever I hand the kids a pastry bag full of frosting, I undergo a great battle of the wills. My wills, not theirs. Part of me wants so badly to grab their hands and guide the frosting where it should go. Part of me wants to yell out, "No! That shouldn't go there!" when a decoration or blob of icing is placed in an odd place. But that other part of me knows that they will have so much more fun doing it on their own. And that same part of me reminds myself that, Hey, Control Freak, this is just a gingerbread house!

Today we met with some of our co-op friends to decorate gingerbread houses. Now, I have to admit that I am the one who assembled our house. Amidst the chorus of "Oh, can I do it? Pleeeease?" I firmly gripped the icing and continued my assembly. But I did turn them completely loose on the house when it came down to decorating.

They seemed to have fun...globs and globs of icing helped adhere fruit roll-ups as roofing materials.

And the Princess thought a whole roll of string licorice added a certain je ne sais croix to the roof; however, a mini-Control Freak must have removed it at some point because it did not make the finished house.

Did I mention I was a good mom and let them do this project on their own? Of course, that was easier since there were other moms to talk to. I'd never pass up an opportunity to converse with grown-ups.

I did make one contribution to the house. When we first got there, I piped some icicles. I left them out on the table to dry, though, which was not the smartest move because some got broken and some got smooshed, but I did have enough for the front at least.

My icicles were certainly not as creative as the strand of colorful Christmas lights Michael prepared for the back. He's always the one to think outside the box, and I was thankful I set my control freak aside today so that he was able to come up with such a cute idea.