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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve

I write this last catch-up post from the cozy Carver house on Beals Island on Christmas Eve.  There's a fire going, all the family is here, Christmas music is playing and the four kids just opened up their matching bean bags and are hunkered down for a movie.  The kitchen table holds cups of coffee, happy, grateful people, the sounds of cooking and the smell of seafood chowder on the stove top off the holiday feel.

Sandi's grandmother has traditionally made a batch of divinity fudge each year and hasn't been able to the last few years.  Sandi thought it would be fun to attempt it so this afternoon we tackled the rather intimidating recipe together (involving beaten egg whites, candy thermometers and timed intervals with the Kitchen Aide) with great success!

The thing I'm the most grateful for right now is the presence I feel, my deeply rooted love for my partner and our family and the family we are surrounded by in this moment.  I am grateful for our family of 4 Christmas to follow later in the week (when Santa will visit our house) and for my family Christmas next weekend.

I am so thankful that after an intensely busy, semi-sleepless week, I have settled in to enjoy. I went to yoga yesterday and left the stress behind.  Sandi is on vacation until January second.  My missing of her has been so palpable as of late that I just keep smiling to look over and see her nearby right now.

I'm grateful for the friends and family we have been surrounded by all week.  Our friend Chris joined us for an impromptu supper this week when she came to bring us these homemade ornaments she made for us.

Question 1-inspired ornaments!

Chris also made us these adorable mitten ornaments, one for each of us, with the first letter of our names on them.  I have no pics but take my word on their cuteness. 

Chris has had lots of questions about the Elf on the Shelf so she came over for cocoa and to have Ella read the book to her last weekend.  Now she is fully into it.  She made these adorable candy cane reindeer for the girls and they were just begging to be used. 

Friday night Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and Noah came for a sleep over and we had a wicked wind/rain storm.  We lost power and before we knew it Jingles had joined the party.  Note the headlamp.

But this was his resting spot for the night.

The next night, he went on a different sort of bender.

There...I have caught up on all these blog posts and I'm getting ready to trade in the computer for a glass of wine.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays to all of you! Thank you for being out there and coming to visit here and lending so much support to our family and our journey.  I appreciate you all so much.   I hope you enjoy your families and friends and this special time of year!

a preschool party: teddy bear sleighs, carols, a play and VIP visit

Maya had her preschool holiday party and holiday performance last week and it was just about the most  adorable thing you've ever seen.  

I made these little cuties for the party:
Maya said, "Oh my Momma!! Those are SO cute!! But I don't think I like any of those things." When it was time to eat them, she ate only the Teddy Graham. That's our girl.

First there was singing.  "Ho, Ho, Ho, who wouldn't go?"

Singing was followed by a play called the "Gingerbread Baby."  Maya was the gingerbread baby.  It is hard to describe the cuteness factor at work here. (Unfortunately, Sandi was at clinicals and couldn't attend but I did videotape the whole thing for her.) Here she is running from the the various characters chasing her.  Check out the tongue placement.  Shortly after this photo she was tugging at the fur around her neck and had both her bare shoulders out of her dress.   She makes a very fancy girl.
At the end she hides from her pursuers under the gingerbread house and smiles out at the audience.
Then a pow-wow with Santa.  The only thing she has asked for is a pink and purple crystal.

The kids had worked really hard on these gingerbread ornaments and even stamped the paper in which is was wrapped.  Maya was so proud to present this to me. As usual, we wish Highland Preschool went up through high school.  

holiday baking: a practice in insanity

This year I said to Sandi, "I think I'm going to skip my holiday baking this year."

Too much cost, too many hours, too much stress.

But maybe I could just do a little.  I would make a few batches of heath bar and petite fours.  And just give them to a few people.  But what people?  And it would be such a prettier plate if there were more items on it.

Before I knew it I was in baking mode.

Ella's teacher asked me to be in charge of making sugar cookies for her class to decorate as part of their holiday party.  She wanted 140 cookies. I made 100 and had another mom make 40.

I stand corrected.  I, along with my assistants, made cookies.

Then it was on to a coconut birthday cake for our amazing niece who was turning 10 - a whole decade (!) old. This year we had a birthday celebration for her followed by a family trip to the nutcracker (a Christmas gift from my mom- thanks mom).  Ella made her a birthday card that said, "Happy Birthday! Happy Nutcracker Day!"

This cake is from cooking light and has coconut water and coconut extract in a fluffy, angel-food-cake-like layers separated by raspberry filling.

All of this is topped with a cooked, egg-white frosting and toasted coconut flakes.

Then one of my asset/liability personality traits kicked in and I started baking and freezing and baking and freezing some more.
Truffle iced sugar cookies
There was one day I literally spent 7 hours in the kitchen.  Another day I got up at 4:15 with Sandi to make peanut butter cups (it is a task best done in the quiet).  I made cookies before school, biscotti late into the night and heath bar at all hours of the day.   I ate way too much, sometimes forgoing breakfast in favor of warm cookies from the oven.

I told Sandi to please remind me not to do Christmas baking next year.  She said, "That's what you said 2 weeks ago."

Yup, that's the kind of crazy I am.

Then, in two batches of 12, I filled containers and plates for friends and neighbors.  Twenty-four in all.

What can I say?  I just can't help myself.

It doesn't help that as I delivered them around, many people who have come to expect these goodies literally jumped up and down to see us coming.  Delivering these treats gives me a chance to wish so many people we love a Merry Christmas, to bring the girls to visit an 86-year-old friend who greatly appreciates company (and give her a little massage) and to appreciate our very amazing neighbors.

I love it.  I do.  But it makes me crazy and immoderate.  What's an ambitious girl to do?

the reason for the season

There is something I want to tell you about! I am SO excited to tell you because it has meant so much to our holiday traditions and I'm hoping it might mean something to other people as well.

As individuals and parents we always try (and maybe partly succeed) to practice and teach generosity and giving during the holiday season.  We've always given baked goods to our friends and neighbors.  In the past when we could afford it, we have bought gifts for needy families.  We always donate to some sort of cause at Christmas and we try to be extra generous in any other ways we can find (not necessarily with money, but maybe with time.)

At the start of the Christmas season, we were reading one of the kids' holiday books to them one night.  It is about a turtle who is supposed to donate a "gently used" item to his school toy drive.  He goes home and goes through his toy chest only to happily reacquaint himself with all his old toys. He finds a rusty truck he think he can part with.  All his toys are too special to him.  Then something happens (a real plot twister) and he realizes that nothing is special enough to give to someone in need.  He then decides to give away his most beloved toy.

After we read it we said to the girls, "Do you think you would be willing to go through your toys and find something you don't play with anymore that a child with no toys might like to have this Christmas?"  There was a resounding, "NO!" from both of them.

Sandi and I were beyond disappointed and wondered where this lesson had been lost in all the dog-earring of the American Girl catalog and asking for the correct spelling of words so that Santa wouldn't misread their letters to him.  Sandi came up with the idea to empty their room of ALL of their toys when they went to school and hide them.  She figured that might may them rethink their level of gratitude and generosity. 

Turns out such drastic measures weren't needed (and I could save myself hours of work) because the girls came around.  Ella had some ideas (stingy ones, but ideas nonetheless) of things she could give and they were moving in the right direction.  Then I approached them about donating their play kitchen- a large, plastic structure that has been in and out of the eves and most recently collecting dust in our upstairs hallway.  Somehow, some way, they said yes.

We found a place to donate it (to a little girl) and the girls and I set to cleaning it up.  We gathered up all the plastic food and only gave the undamaged pieces.  Then, in an act of enormous charity, the girls each picked one of their 145,000 stuffed animals to give away as well. 

It was a proud moment for this mom.

We have really scaled back Christmas this year, what with the whole no income for another 11 months. We have bought very few gifts (mostly the girls) and none for each other.  We skipped the 150 photo cards and corresponding storage. We are focusing on quality time spent and celebrating the love of the season.  We've had meals with friends and family (and an overnight with Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and Noah) and our house has been a revolving door of people coming to eat and hang out.  For Christmas with my family, we have the kids make gifts for each other and we play games.  The focus is on the time spent together and not on the gifts we give.  I feel like, even if we had tons of money this year, this is exactly what I want to be teaching our very lucky, over-abundant-in-stuff, children.

This year as a total bonus we got to help out in a day of good deeds with an amazing group of people.  We started the day at breakfast leaving an enormous tip for a hard-working waitress working her tale off in a bit of a dive.  We gave out gift cards to adults, stuffed animals to kids, quarters at the laundry mat.  We helped people at the dollar store pay for their orders. We bought people coffee. (And all of this was possible by lots of money donated for this cause.)

To say it was incredible doesn't do it justice.  The kids got really into it.  People gave them hugs, thanked them and even wept in gratitude.  For me, this was one of the very best things I have ever done at Christmas.  It will become a must-do every year.  And in future years, when money isn't so tight, I will make this my December practice to do a good deed each day.  It felt amazing and I can't think of a better way to concretely teach our children.

Alex and Maya getting ready to spread some joy.
And to really drive the point home, on Friday, Sandi's parents took the girls for the afternoon to shop for needy families.  (Did you hear that?  ALL afternoon.)  The kids picked out things the kids in the families needed and some things they wanted (toys) and then they wrapped all the gifts.   I was so proud to have them have yet further experiences this holiday season of giving, more than receiving. 

It doesn't stop the girls from asking things like, "Are there more gifts to open?" but we are working hard to teach them to be graceful receivers and generous givers.  This year marks a year of progress and we take it.  After all, Ella said to her grandparents, "It just isn't fair that some people don't have enough."  Perhaps she's starting to understand how lucky she is.

Friday, December 21, 2012

future architects of america

As part of our annual holiday tradition, the Smith's came over to decorate gingerbread houses. Or I should say the kids came over to decorate gingerbread houses and the adults came to deal candy and drink (high quality) beer and red wine.

Ange is the mom who can do it all.  Every year she makes the houses the night before out of graham crackers and frosting that has some cream of tartar added for hardening.  (Last year Matt inadvertently put the just-purchased beer on the top of the covered up houses in the back of their car right before they came to our house and crushed them all.  This is when the intersection of drinking effects the kids' fun.)

These kids are not new to this.  They got right to work.

Beckett's house with his tell-tale finger swipe down the side of the roof.
Ange took care of the houses and I made dinner.  Seems like a very fair trade to me.  I'm not so good with house construction.

For dessert?  Gingerbread houses.  Do you remember making these as a kid and all you wanted to do was eat them??? 

Favorite pic- no face can be seen.  Only a bent head.
 Beckett definitely didn't eat any of the gingerbread houses.
 Definitely not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

good news!

Have you ever heard of the "white coat" phenomenon?  It is when people's blood pressure measures higher at the doctor's office just because of the anxiety induced by having to be at the doctor's office. 

I went to see my endocrinologist on Monday for a regular appointment for my Type I diabetes but also to "discuss" my thyroid level.  I had my blood work done Friday and by the time Monday at 2:30 rolled around I had myself in a bit of a panic. I was really freaked out that it was going to be too high and she was going to talk about removing it.  It didn't help that I had a friend having hers removed yesterday.

You can see where this is going.  My blood pressure and my pulse were elevated (the coffee I'd been chugging didn't help) and my palms were sweating. 

We had to go in order.  Blood sugars, trends and patterns, pump basal rates and tweaking first.  I was all but begging her to tell me my thyroid level.

When I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism last February, my Free T3 (which is supposed to be 1.7 or lower) was 2.8. Because this level was so high, my TSH was non-existent (suppressed).  Over the course of 10 months, the Free T3 has fluctuated from high to normal to high.  We have adjusted the medication to accommodate the changes, always trying to have me take less since it isn't a super safe medication (which ones are?) and ideally, I shouldn't take it for more than 1-2 years. 

The last time we had to increase the dose because of my creeping level, she had started talking about more "permanent" solutions.  Yikes.

But, my hard work (I like to believe) paid off!  My Free T3 was 2.0 a month ago and now it is 1.0.  It is squarely in the normal range.  My TSH is still non-existent but that takes a while to rebound when the other level is high. 

The juice fasting (13 out of 21 days) the meditating, the visualizing and the internal work to be on board with a stable thyroid (instead of relishing the benefits of having a high thyroid which are plentiful) are the things that I believe have helped.  We have decreased my dose in hopes that I can maintain a stable level.  Ideally this would continue and we can work our way to tapering it completely.

I say yay!


Christmas is coming fast now and I want it to slow down!  I love the season of Christmas so much and there are so many wonderful things that we have been doing (and I have yet to post about!) but I find that I have lists upon lists, that I am staying up too late and getting up too early. 
Do more stuff you enjoy, live bigger and sleep less OR scale back, get more rest and be happy living a little less? 
Don't ask me. I clearly have no idea on this one.  It is a moment by moment question for me.
This Christmas we find ourselves with quite an active little Elf on our Shelf.  Except this guy isn't to be contained to any ordinary shelf. 
(For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf is one of Santa's spies.  You adopt him -or her- and she returns to you every Christmas to watch over you and report back to Santa.  He's meant to sit on a shelf and be out of reach because kids cannot touch him or he might lose his magic. He flies to the North Pole every night and each morning is in a new spot for kids to find him.)
We have found him in all sorts of places doing all sorts of things in our house.  Meet Jingles.
One morning he was sitting in a circle of candy with the following note rolled in a scroll on his lap:

He has been king of the sledding hill.

He and Barbie even constructed a swing from our paddle fan.  When the fan was turned on they would swing fast in an outward circle like a carnival ride.  It was intense fun for the girls to turn the fan on and off.  They did need  a little assistance from Sandi to be sure they wouldn't fall off.
Our friend Matt thinks this looks like a hostage situation.  He wanted to check the cotton ball pillow for traces of chloroform.  Only Matt.  (I personally like the elf-sized eye mask.)

Fishing for Gold Fish.

On McKenna's gynmastics bar.  Poor guy.  Looks like he even sprained his ankle like McKenna.

And this inexplicable picture is just a bonus one for your enjoyment.  I found this note taped to one of our snowmen after my family was visiting.  It is Ella's writing and I'm guessing there is a good explanation but all I can think of is that she is expressing the pagan/Christian conflict about the meaning of Christmas.
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