Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas highlights

No matter how much we tried to put on the breaks around here, Christmas came in like a freight train.  In the midst of the peace of Julia in the role of an angel in the Christmas Eve children's service and the quiet moments with Charlie before Julie awoke on Christmas morning, we were bombarded with the joyful sounds and experiences of Christmas.  The unwrapping process took approximately four days due to Julia's insistence on playing with every gift that she opened and helping Charlie unwrap his packages.  We are still reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and Julia takes care of her daily arrangement and rearrangement of her 3 nativity scenes.  It is quite appropriate that it is a prolonged experience here.  I think by the time we squeeze fullness out of the season, the wisemen will be arriving at the Bethlehem manger stall.  
Christmas last year was quite different.  It involved an 18-month old who could care less about the volume of her gifts, but enjoyed every part of unwrapping the boxes.  I watched a video of her at Christmas-time last year and she was a wobbly toddler who spoke with words that only a mother could decipher.  Now, she is a surefooted little girl who is very clear about her needs.  Since Charlie and Julia are almost exactly two years apart, I can look at the pictures of Julia from last year and imagine how Charlie will experience it next year.  There are so many photos from this holiday season that are such fun reminders of how things have changed. They have familiar tones of years past and as I see them, I can't help but think ahead....
We were so excited to see Julia's reaction to the gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.  We couldn't wait for her to wake up, so we sent Charlie in to get his sister:
I always did this to my sister.  I find it to be one of the top reasons of all time to provide your child with a sibling (among other things...)
Julia's favorite gift was her kitchen.  She is such a good little cook and she has been diligently at work in that kitchen since she "unwrapped" it at 8:30am on Christmas morning.  At this very moment, she is making brownies - brownies with a plastic fried egg on top.
Top Chef, eat your heart out.
Her fairy costume was a distant second favorite.  
A fairy princess who cooks.  She just waves her wand and the cooking is complete.
Ha, brilliant!  I wish I had that kind of power.
Charlie enjoyed the wrapping paper the most, but he decided to hang out with George most of the day.  What a precious little gift.  Last year we didn't quite know who he was (although he definitely made his presence known to me).  Now he is celebrating his first Christmas.  We gave him sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner to celebrate - his first food.  He is off and ready to eat (and is quite willing to consume Julia's culinary creations!)
And finally, the only thing that could pull Julia away from her own kitchen is the opportunity to bake with me in the "big kitchen".  Mainly because it usually involves sprinkles and the chance to get messy.  I love these photos.  They remind me of the memories that I cherish with my family as every holiday involved cooking great recipes among the many generations in my family.  Although I longed for my mother and grandmothers in the kitchen with me this year, I was excited to continue this with my children.  Yes, the time in the kitchen is usually doubled, but it is priceless.  
My hope is that your Christmas was filled with thoughts of family, memories past and hopes for the future.  And more importantly, I hope it was truly special just as the New Life who came to earth to save the earth.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,
When my daughter asks you for a "kitchen with food in it and pots to cook with", please note that this is referring to the toy she wants wrapped under the tree, not an actual kitchen.  We don't need directions to the nearest food pantry.  And while we're at it, please don't judge me for the fact that we are rewrapping some of Julia's old toys for Charlie.  We couldn't possibly stand to have another toy enter into this home.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to clarify.
Julia's mommy

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas bow

I woke up early yesterday morning in a cold sweat.  It seems I have inherited the same dream that used to plague my mother around Christmas-time.  It involves waking up on Christmas morning with the sinking realization that I have forgotten to buy gifts.  
This season is bursting with busyness in this household.  Charlie will be 5 months old tomorrow, which is just another reminder of how quickly time seems to be flying by.  Though the giftless dream is a bit far-fetched, it is a little kick in the pants to get things done.  Getting things done around here is an elementary lesson in keeping things simple.  Most of our shopping has been done thanks to the internet, the ornaments that were hung during Julia's 10 minute window of attention are now the ones on display.  The others will make an appearance next year.  The advent calendar was a big hit the first week with the theme of JOY, but the focus on GIVING this week has been a bit more difficult for Julia.  Some of our daily challenges have come up empty.  
Keeping it simple is the only way to function around here.  
The other morning, Julia needed a bow for her hair - something special for her first meeting with Santa.  She goes through bows like outfits.  One minute they are there and accounted for, the next moment she needs a change (which often involves the extinction of the bow)...I don't know why I bother.  
So, I didn't have any red fabric to match her "pretty dress", but I had red felt, a piece ribbon, a stamp, ink, some pillow stuffing, oh, and five minutes.
I stamped Julia's name onto a piece of ribbon, sewed it to one of the 2 pieces of red felt, placed the circles on top of each other and sewed it around (adding in the stuffing when almost fully around).  I hot glued it onto a pre-made fastener - and she was all set.
And in prime Julia form to meet Santa to tell him exactly what she'd like for Christmas.  
She actually told him three times.
She is a girl who knows what she wants.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

baby feet

This week's advent theme is JOY.  Julia decided on the first morning that her daddy is the one thing that brings her the most joy.  Good call Julia, I have to agree!  Hands down my greatest joy is my family and on a smaller scale, baby feet.  Yes, you have read it right.  Baby feet.  There is no sweeter sound in the world than hearing Julia's little feet on the hardwood floors in the morning when she is going to sneak into bed with us.  I loved watching her little feet carry her as she spun circle after circle while dancing to her music this morning.  And capturing the fresh, new life scent of tiny baby feet and seeing each line and fold intricately designed brings me to a place of awe and reverence for how my children were knit together.  
moments after Julia's birth - June 2009
After each of my children were born, one of the first photos taken of the two of us together involves me studying their feet.  I wonder if Mary did the same for Jesus.  A powerful leader who was once so delicate.  I wonder if she just basked in the tiny miracle knowing that her precious bundle was the Savior of the world.  
I wonder what great things are in store for my children also - where these little feet will carry them throughout their lives.  
Hanging above our bed in our room is a reminder of this.  It is a collage of Julia's feet as she's grown and now pictures of Charlie are added too.  Among these pictures is the verse from Romans - "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news." - Romans 10:15.  It is our reminder as we go to bed and as we start our day for our daily blessings and our focus for the day.
How appropriate to continue this theme into Charlie's baptism invitations?  There is nothing like a great excuse to capture his footprint.  I had Julia's footprints all over everything when she was small.  Charles says that there are child labor laws against the amount of time that I spend utilizing my children to some extent in these projects.  My response: they are only little for a short time.  I have take it and run with it while I can.
What are the great things that bring joy this season?  I challenge you to look into the fine print of your lives to pull out the little daily miracles that bring such joy to life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest post and gearing up

Whew, what a week!  We are slowly coming out from behind laundry loads and leftovers after our week that involved 1 birthday, 20 Ridge Road Turkey Trot participants (0 trophies in this house), 18 lovely individuals around our Thanksgiving table, a Cirillo-Gray Christmas tree excursion (worthy of a Griswald Christmas tree!), several trips to the store to find the perfect lights, and one sweet baby boy's baptism...
It's like we've completed one race only to find another one ahead.  Ahh, the marathon countdown of Christmas.  I love that tomorrow begins our advent tradition.  It is a wonderful tool to prepare our hearts for Christmas and a great way of introducing the reason why we celebrate.  I will post more about creative ways to introduce the meaning of this holiday to the little ones, but first I wanted to highlight my guest post on my friend Laura's blog  I have a minor obsession with neatly wrapped gifts so I posted a few "think out of the box" ideas for wrapping.  Keep checking her blog for some creative holiday ideas from plants to centerpieces to yummy will surely be inspired to rediscover Christmas in very simple ways!  Plus, she is so much cooler than I am :)
Tis the season!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


From our sermon today:
The greatest gift that we can give this year is not what the world tells us we "should" or "must" have.  It's not in the attempts at buying more or busying one self.  It is investing in the true gift that is revealed through the season - Christ was born at Christmas time.  HE is our gift.  Let the season upon us be one of reflection and a constant inward challenge to focus on that which truly matters. 
Feeling extra thankful today for the gift of Charles Ethan Gray - baptized on this day.  And the wonderful gift of family, friends and our community.  This past week has been a constant reminder of how blessed we are.  Despite a full schedule of celebrations, I feel rejuvenated by those around us and the reminders to stop and enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

just one day

I don't think much about my life before children.  I really can't imagine my life any other way and when I even allow my mind to think about what things were like before Julia and Charlie, it's like thinking in terms of prehistoric times.  It seems like they have been a part of me my whole life.
Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a day just like any other.  I got up, started the morning routine, and headed off to work.  As Julia was having a tantrum about the fact that she must wear the same pink dress every day, I thought to myself, "don't I just get a day?"  A day where I call all of the shots, where everyone cooperates, a day off from cleaning up incessant messes?  I drove to work harping on this topic.  Suddenly realized that I had about 20+ birthdays like that.  Ones that involved posh restaurants and weekends away.  Birthdays where my friends were all present and nobody had to miss out because of babysitting issues.  Dozens of years where my mom cooked me my favorite meal and always made the most delicious cake.  Halfway into my commute from work, I had convinced myself that I was missing something (a little pity party can suddenly evolve into a full fledged "I deserve this!" in no time).  Once I made it to work I had figured that I needed to have an intervention with my family.  My husband was going to have to understand that birthdays DEMAND more attention!
It's a good thing that I have a sobering job as a social worker to bring me back to reality.  By the time I made it through my through my day, I was a bit more clear headed about the important things in life.  I decided that this intervention could be toned down a bit.  On my drive home, I thought about how to make the most of the rest of my day.  If it meant cuddling on the couch with my little ones, I was content with that.
Well...I walked into my house and was greeted by my very eager toddler who had made me a card.  Not just any card, it was the most beautiful and special handmade card that I've ever received.  This was met shortly after by my husband who was in the kitchen making a meal that would surely meet the requirements for Top Chef.  Not that I was surprised, but Charlie was his content, belly-laughing self to pull it all together.  The night unfolded into this wonderful family time that I could have easily missed if I continued to measure the fun factor by the expectations from my non-parenthood days.  I mean, really, who gets serenaded by a kazoo for the birthday song?  
 Really, I guess I don't think much about my life before Charlie and Julia because I don't know that I felt things so powerfully and in such a rich way.  As we said grace before our meal we prayed for mommy's birthday and also the "squirrel with God", (yes, we pray for the roadkill in our neighborhood), which somehow a funny reminder to stay grounded.  All of it is important in its own way.
And on a side note, I actually did get my fair share of adult time.  This included a visit from my dear friend, Kate and a great dinner our with some of our closest friends (and yes, everyone secured their babysitters).  
My husband tells me that planning my birthday takes a year off of his life.  He has 364 days before he needs to worry about that again...

Friday, November 11, 2011

thankful, thankful

This time last year I posted about the interesting month we had in November...I was newly pregnant and hardly functioning because I was so sick.  We were in the thick of our kitchen remodel and I can recall vividly that each day was such a struggle to just maintain the basics.  On top of that, we had a few scares and wondered if the pregnancy would continue.  We obviously made it through, and I remember feeling such a sense of thankfulness during that season.  God had literally carried us through from moment to moment and in the midst of all of it, we were surrounded by little gifts that just made us stop and give thanks.  There is nothing like hardship that will bring you to your knees in gratitude for the simple things in life.  In my mind, there was nothing that could compare to that time in our lives one year ago.
Well, fast forward one year... 
November roared in with a NorEaster that delivered about 15 inches of snow and made a whole heck of a mess.  We were without power for a week and after 3 days of it (with a very cold 3-month old and an active toddler), I headed to safer ground with the kids while Charles stayed behind to take care of the mess.  We made an impromptu visit to Delaware until power was restored.  It was almost as if we pressed pause in our lives for a week.  During the time we were here, we built fires, ate what was salvagable, and lived by candle-light.  The first night of our power outage, we sat around the fire with our neighbors and let the kids run their energy out.  Because our neighbors have gas, they were able to cook up some hot dinners the following nights, so we collected what we could offer and ate our meals with them. (Yes, they had us over despite the fact that our big oak tree had fallen across their car!) 
Though this year is very different from last, we are again reminded in a big way of all of the things for which we are thankful.  
I am thankful for the major stuff:  Our health.  A healthy baby who is full of life despite our uncertainty this time last year.  The fact that our home was not damaged in a big way.  Precious time with family.  The basics in life that we rely on everyday - like power and hot showers.  And I am thankful for these situations that bring to light the small things.  
I am thankful for this picture of Charlie in awe of his great-great grandmother. 
What a gift!
 We are okay and resuming this crazy life of ours.
In 2 weeks we are hosting Thanksgiving and Charlie's baptism.  Despite that fact that our front lawn is now home to piles upon piles of huge branches that my lumberjack husband has cut up, it will all get done.  And we will sit down and eat, and enjoy family, and wonder how we did it all.
And after all of it, we will again give thanks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween treats

While the rest of the hip world gets their ideas from Pinterest, I am still reading magazines to gather some inspiration.  I never overlook the value of a good craft find in Better Homes and Gardens.  It's really just another sign that I am getting old.  In my defense, Better Homes and Gardens publishes some great ideas and even has a monthly highlight of one of the up-and-coming DIY blogs out there.
I guess that doesn't make me that old.
These Halloween treats were just to cute to pass up.  Here is the step-by-step guide - broken down into 5 easy steps (because I'm usually intimidated by any project that requires more than 5 steps or involves pages and pages of directions):

1. Prepare any flavor cake mix according to the package directions (I used traditional vanilla cake mix).  Cool, then remove cake from pan and crumble into a large bowl.  Add one cup of frosting (homemade or store-bought).  Beat with a mixer on low speed to combine.
2. Roll into 1 to 11/2 inch balls.
3. Melt an ounce of vanilla candy coating in the microwave.  (These are the little wafer-like chocolates that you can purchase at Michael's or A.C. Moore.)  Dip one end of the pop stick in the candy coating, then carefully push into the cake ball.  Repeat.  Freeze one hour to set.
4. Melt about 2 lbs. of vanilla candy coating in the microwave - stirring occasionally to melt.  Dip pops into the coating.
5. While the coating is still soft, create creatures with chocolate chips (or anything else you desire).  I stuck with the ghosts - the other options were a cute, but complicated.
 Now the real trick in creating these cool pops, is keeping your 2-year old lion away from them.  A few little ghouls didn't quite make it to our neighborhood Halloween parade...

And this poor little polar bear is wondering when he will be able to enjoy these treats.  
Next year buddy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Simple stitches

My project list keeps growing, but I have come to terms with the fact that I can only perform very simple tasks at this point in my life.  The pillows and curtains have taken a back seat to bows and onesies.  I need predictable projects.  Ones that take less than an hour, ones that I can leave and come back to, ones that don't require dangerous tools (yes, I've had to put away my chain saw, but I do have one great project post coming up that does include some major cutting), and ones that serve a daily functional purpose.  Here are some of my latest - inspired by the ongoing 2011 baby boom (which has involved the birth of about 10 boys and only 2 girls in our circle of friends).  I've had to get creative in the onesie department to tone down the frills and make them boy-worthy.  A simple name is always a good option that again optimizes my love for personalization. If it were up to me, all clothing would be monogrammed.  It's like my secret wish that all of life was really a musical and we could break out into song on a whim.
 Austin and Charlie were my recent models...
Baby Ryan has just entered the world and will soon grow into his onesie.
And if you see Julia on a typical day, you will most likely see her with her hair in her face.  She has the cutest haircut (which she is quite proud of), but her bangs just haven't figured out how to grow themselves out.  For the amount of bows that I have made this child, one might think that she should be all set, but she typically pulls them out in moments of frustration or just for the heck of it.  The 'hair in the face' look is her signature style.  Here is a rare moment when she is put together:
This bow is adorable and so easy to make.  I drew from a few bow designs on this Prudent Baby post.  For those of you just learning how to sew, this is a great one.  
Sorry to ruin the surprise, but for anyone close to me, this is likely your baby gift if you are expecting in the near future :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

it figures...

Yesterday will go down in history as the most productive day as a mother of 2.  I had a beautiful, "I can do this" moment as I was sitting down on the couch feeding Charlie, with a meal simmering on the stove, trying to look up another recipe for an easy dinner to freeze, with laundry in the washer, and two projects drying on the kitchen table.  This sense of awe over this accomplishment is magnified by the fact that we were just away for the week - out of our element in the wonderful state of Florida with my family.  We made so many preparations for this trip, but as many parents know, the best of preparations do not quite prepare you for the unexpected potential of 2 little ones. 
Well, traveling was seemless.  Julia did great when she hunkered down with a DVD player and Charlie opted to sleep through the whole traveling ordeal.  Florida was amazing.  I couldn't have asked for anything more than time with my family!  We prepared dinners everynight, indulged in Julia's daily request for time on the beach, took Charlie in the ocean for the first time, and Charles and I even had some time together and stole away to a beach bar (or 2).  This may sound like a naiive statement, but I never thought that I was capable of feeling so much like a fun adult at this stage of parenthood.  So, we are home, unpacked, and ahead of our game. 
I can just hear the announcer:
"...and the parents swing into the lead!"
I will run the bases slowly and relish this pull ahead from behind.

Next week I return to work. Maternity leave is over.  Ugh, just when I felt like I was on top of things.
Once again we will teeter on the brink of trying juggle priorities while managing a busy schedule. Sometimes I feel like just when I am at the end of my "to do" list, it starts all over again. In the end, I just have to remind myself that productive days are a luxury. We are all happy...most of the time, everyone is fed and content...pretty much always, the housework will get some point, I don't need to run away with the lead on this one :)

Here are some snapshots of our week in Florida.  Since we had a newborn this summer, this vacation was our mini summer all rolled up into one week.  Well worth the wait!