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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Merry

Merry Christmas all you wonderful blog readers.  From our house to yours, blessings for peace, joy and just the right amount of chocolate today.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve (and as I sit in wonder at how the mass of wrapped boxes under the tree grew so thick) I find myself thinking about how much harder it is to stay connected to what I think of as the true meaning of Christmas than I would like to admit.  I have worked to do less (I know you should work to not do but it is just the way I'm made) and yet still it is hard not be caught up in the idealized versions of the holidays and feel swept up in the river of buying.  

Yet it is still worth striving for.  I have found solace in a quiet snowshoe.

 I have found enormous joy and humor in watching the kids act out Mo Willem's Piggy and Elephant books each night on their "stage" which is the massage table in our bedroom.  Maya is so much like Piggy and Ella is so much like Gerald the elephant (the parts in which they play) that it takes their performance to a whole new level.  Both our kids have surprised us with their comedic timing and facial expressions.
 After one particularly difficult internal moral debate, Gerald decided he WILL share his ice cream cone with his best fried Piggy and the two sit back to back and smile.

Like this:

I've also come to appreciate how good it feels to buy local and to buy stuff you really love rather than "filler" stuff.  

We've also had the usual fun of making gingerbread houses (although less fun without the Smith's who couldn't come due to one of the many crazy winter storms we've had here in the Northeast in the past 2 weeks).  

 And there is always the December joy of the Elf on the Shelf.  Jingles has been a little less adventurous this year but he has shown up in some pretty funny places causing Maya a full on Elf APB when she wakes in the morning.

He got into a goody box our neighbors gave us.

 And on a swing up high.
 This was an oldy but goody he couldn't help doing again.
 He found some Barbie googles to spy more closely on Maya after a particularly sassy few days.
And then this morning, on his last morning with us before Santa comes to get him tonight, he was all bandaged up in the first aid kit.  I guess the ice storm made flying rather rough.    We will miss you Jingles. It has been fun. (Kind of.)

Merry Christmas Eve to all of you and blessings for a joy-filled night!

Friday, December 20, 2013

a weekend of parties

Last weekend was an unprecendented weekend of parties.  For a brief day of insanity there were 4 planned - 3 to attend, one to throw.   We got wise and declined one and then the weather declined another (sadly, it was our niece's birthday...).

So last weekend panned out to be the weekend of a Christmas costume party (themed around The Grinch) and our "We made it!" party to celebrate our family's journey through anesthesia school and thank those who saw us through.

Trish and Brock throw an annual Christmas party based on a holiday movie.  Costumes are required- at least that is our understanding and we take it seriously.  They skipped last year's party when they were moving into their house and we were psyched for the comeback!  

When they announced The Grinch as the movie, we jumped at the chance to be Who's from Whoville.  We ordered wigs on Amazon and hit Goodwill.  

The girls were really intrigued by my wig.

With Kristi's help an hour before the party we "Whoed" up my hair.  Sandi was Cindy Lou Who (her wig came all rigged up) so she went in a pink nightgown, bathrobe and slippers. I bought a tree skirt and some netting to put underneath it for poof.  I had crazy pointy toe heels and fuzzy green and white leg warmers just to be as eccentric as possible.  (And in an act of recycling that made me very happy, our Christmas tree is sporting a new red and gold tree skirt.)

I confess, I've always wondered what it would be like to be a red-head.  (I couldn't help myself here.)

Not only was there Who roast beast, Who pudding AND Who hash, but Trish and Brock did not disappoint on the game front.  They concocted this elaborate game based on movie trivia (made even more interesting by the Suess-inspired "Board of Chancy Choosy Flippy Fluckery" which might earn your team bonus points or allow another team to switch points with you).  It is a high- energy, competitive, no-holds-barred game where you may be asked to make a fool of yourself but you gladly do so for the victory of your team.

It would be hard to calculate the amount of fun had.

The whole crew:
 Then on Saturday we headed down to Coespace in Bangor for our party.  I tried to go the easy route here with a renting space and attempting to hire a caterer but when I realized the extent of the cost for food I could make myself, I couldn't do it.  So I worked ahead and made a variety of appetizers with enough of each to feed 50-60 people.  My freezer was full of spanikopita, carrot pate, mini quiche and puffed pastry goodies.

It is hard to give up making the food when you are really a caterer/baker at heart.

While we set up for the party the kids had a live window display for the enjoyment of the people of Bangor.

Our friends Maria and Jeanine had made this really cool sign for us and sent it to us in the mail when we came home from graduation.  It just so happened that it fit the entire length of the food table.

My labor of love: a  We Made It!/Happy Birthday Kristi and Matt cake.

 We have so many people who have helped us on the journey, without whom we could not have gotten to where we are.  They are certainly not all pictured here (the flash was acting up) but we hope they felt the love and gratitude we have for them and we hope they know how much their contributions to our lives mean.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

holiday season, redefined

I officially don't like having a late Thanksgiving and, consequently, an abbreviated holiday season.  For starters, I feel jipped a week.  Also, all the same things need to happen, just in less time.

Not to mention that if you are going to haul out all the decorations and place a live evergreen in your living room, you want that to remain for long enough to feel worth it.  

The flurry of excitement and time spent celebrating graduation made Christmas sort of feel like it snuck up on us.  The kids are counting it down and we are saying, "WHAT?! Only 8 more days?"  It was a sad day when we realized our Shutterfly window had closed and we would have to pay $25 to rush an order and $20 to expedite the shipping.  Somehow this year we are those slackers that big businesses hope to use to widen their profit margins.  Except that, on principle, we refuse to do it.  If we missed it, we missed it.  We will come up with a different plan and get down on our knees and thank Amazon Prime for 2 day free shipping.

In the spirit of trying not to do it all, I took a family poll in the car a couple of weeks ago: "Who cares if the candles don't go up in the windows this year?"  No one raised a hand.  Or at least no one dared to out of fear that if they cared they would be assigned this tedious task.  

We have, and I am not exaggerating, 28 windows in our house.  Over the years, and the annoyance of turning the candles on and off each night, I have invested in timers when they are deeply discounted at after Christmas sales.  With the aid of extension cords and a great deal of tape and patience, I get the candles all placed and (mostly) orchestrated to go on and off in unison.  It is a big job but the house looks so pretty with each window aglow.  Plus, the work is really only in putting them up and taking them down now that I have timers. 

I gave myself permission not to do it.  I could live with not doing it I told myself.  Then the cold and darkness descended and the Christmas music started to infiltrate and before I knew it I was up to the task.  Sandi said, "I thought you were skipping it this year.  Did you decide you couldn't?"

No, I decided I could skip it but that I didn't want to.  This, my friends, is what they call progress. I did it out of desire, not obligation.  There is hope yet.

Let me tell you, the house looks so cozy and inviting at night and I am so glad I did it.

We also had fun making our annual trek to Piper Mountain to get our Christmas tree.  It is one of our longest standing Christmas traditions and one we all look forward to.  The kids get to pick out whatever ornament they want and it is theirs to keep.  I love seeing how their preferences change over time.  

Plus, who doesn't love a horse-drawn hay ride and choosing and cutting down your very own Christmas tree?  

We did something new this year that brought such contentment and happiness to our family we will now do it every year.  We took our time with the trip to get the tree and then we put it in a bucket in the basement and decorated it the next morning in our PJ's.  No one was tired (okay, Sandi and I were since we had been up late at a Christmas party) or cranky.  No one cried or complained and there was coffee to drink.  The girls took their time clumping the ornaments in odd ways all over the beautiful tree which Sandi and I evened out as soon as their backs were turned.

Most importantly, though, there was energy left to play reindeer.  Who knew a beanbag could have so many uses?

I am working, with about a 60% success rate, at chilling out, enjoying instead of running like a crazy person and making time for the things that really matter.  Here's to hoping for some chill and enjoyment for all of you!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas crazy making: JUST SAY NO

Last year I so overdid it with Christmas baking that I said to Sandi, "Please don't let me do that again next year." She replied, "Well, I will try but when you want to do something there isn't much stopping you."

Strong point.

It had gotten really out of hand, though, and last year  I compiled tins with 8 or so different baked items and gave them out to 25 or so people.  I spent most of December in the kitchen and baking went from a creative outlet and slipped over into light insanity.   I'm not sure where the fine line is between adding peanut butter cups to your annual holiday repertoire and feeling all but chained to your kitchen but I decided that I had no business baking like that until I could figure it out.

So last December I actually set an alert in this year's calendar, a whole 12 months away,  NOT to bake for the holidays. I even wrote pretty please, no holiday baking on the alert.

When my phone chirped the remainder sent from a sane, post holiday version of myself, I laughed and noted that there was no resistance on my part.  I did not even want to bake.

Then I got an email from my Trek Across Maine team captain about the fundraising bake sale in early  December to raise money for the pricey cycle jersey for our team.

OH NO!!!!!

I had to laugh at the irony of this.  Was the universe testing me?  Was I supposed to say no or figure out how to be more moderate?  I told her I would think about it, that I had promised myself I wouldn't bake...and then she told me that my granola bars had been one of the first things to sell last year.  (After all this bake sale is held at the gym.)  That did it.

I knew granola bars held less potential for insanity for me than say, triple chocolate cookies, and so I said I would do it.  Then I remembered all the vanilla cake scraps I had in gallon bags in the freezer from trimming the wedding cake I made this fall.  I could make cake pops - which I do not like- and fulfill a creative need with minimal temptation.

Have you ever made cake pops?  They are kind of fun and have a lot of space for playing around.

(The short story on how to make a cake pops: take cake scraps- or cook a cake and cool it- crumble it up and mix it with frosting.  The ratio is about 1:3 frosting to cake.  Roll the mixture into balls.  Harden in freezer for a few minutes or wrap tightly and freeze until you are ready to use.  Defrost.  Dip a lollipop stick in melted Candy Melts and put it in the cake pop- I usually make a hole in the balled caked first to make it easier and neater.  Place in freezer for about 10 or so minutes to firm up again.  Then dip the cake pop in any color of melted Candy Melt you choose.  Decorate with sprinkles while still wet or drizzle another color over hardened cake pops. That's pretty much all!)

Sandi came up with this neat idea to display them.  I covered the Styrofoam I use to hold them while I make them with Christmas paper and then stuck the sticks through.  When the bake sale was over I just removed the paper and could keep the Styrofoam for next time.
Here is what I'm learning about taking care of myself.  First, I need to say no more than I want to.  Second, that saying no to things that I truly don't want to do is not all that difficult.  I struggle because there are so many things I do want to do, or help with, or try, or make time for but is not reasonable or joy-producing to do it all. I have a hard time saying no to those things that I might want but don't have space for.   But each time I do and the world stays intact, I affirm my own right to breathe easy and enjoy what I AM doing.

I had to laugh when I announced I wasn't going to do my holiday baking and Sandi said, "Good...except you will make petite fours right?" These are my favorite to make because they are intricate (but also time consuming) and pretty and everyone loves them.  So I set aside some time to enjoy making them. I put the batch in the freezer to take here or there as small tokens to people and I set aside some for Ange who loves them.  Then a few days later Ange said to me, "I'm so proud of you for not doing your baking this year but, wait, does that mean no layered almond cookies?" (petite fours) and I had to just laugh and assure her that I had some with her name on them.

I am proud of how I am doing this holiday season.  Between the baking and the solo work of the holidays the past two years, I felt totally beat up when they were over.  So far this year, I've gotten to do some of what I love without making myself nuts.  If I had skipped baking altogether I would have missed one of the things I love about this time of year.  Sandi and I are being realistic about our plans and even scaling back and declining invites that would be fun but too crunched, too stressful.  I think I might be maturing on the balance front.

It is my vow to sit by my fire more and enjoy our Christmas lights and to not let meditation fall by the wayside as holiday tasks creep in.   I want to make sure, above all, that my kids are having fun, that I am having fun and that I feel love and joy, not stress and strain.  This doesn't seem like it should be so hard but I have to work to keep the intention every day.  The holidays just have a way of becoming crazy.

Our lives are finding their way back to normal in such an easy and beautiful way that I find myself having periods of undisturbed contentment.  I want to foster this as much as possible.  Sandi and I celebrated our 13th anniversary yesterday and I have so much to be grateful for that I want that to be the balance of how my days are spent.

That is my gift to myself this Christmas.  That an awesome new purse I have yet to pick out.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

pinch me

Sandi took her boards yesterday.  Actually, she took them while I was writing the post below about how burnt out I feel.  I had a mini breakdown after that as I began to digest the magnitude of what we have been through and what was riding on this test.

Then she called me and said, "Hey, Babe..." and I wanted to jump through the phone.  How can you lead with that???  Dear God, DID YOU PASS????

Of course she did.

It is over.

We met up at Geaghan's and sampled beer for our celebration party (what could be more fitting?) in the middle of the afternoon while the kids were still at school.  Sandi's face looked like the Sandi I used to know 27 months ago and my whole heart felt complete in a way it hasn't in far too long.  She was smiling.  She was bright and engaged and there.

The four of us went out to dinner to celebrate and there was a lightness and laughter and freedom I don't think any of us have felt since it began.

I woke up this morning free of stress and worry.  Absent was this pressured feeling like I had to race to get everything done and care for myself and the kids and their breakfast, teeth brushing, dressing and packing their lunch.  Sandi was there and could help with it.  I didn't have to rush or have my heart beat too fast.

My whole world looks entirely different today in a way I wasn't really expecting. I thought it might take a few months to settle but here we are with our lives back.

I can't describe it better than that.  I get to spend the whole day today with Sandi.  The whole, entire day.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


This Thanksgiving I do feel like I have so much to be thankful for.  Each year, in fact, I find myself more awash with gratitude.  

I love celebrations, occasions, reason to use the nice plates and platters, holiday music, traditions and the opportunity to just be together with family.  This is what I love about the entire Christmas season and, for us, Thanksgiving has always been the kick off to the whole thing.

That being said, this Thanksgiving found me very tired and having to rally a bit for the cheer.  With graduation behind us and boards looming, life around here hasn't yet been freed from the clutches of stress and strain.  I enjoyed everything about being with our families and yet found the work of it all daunting.

I ended the weekend thoroughly exhausted (but thankfully, still thankful) and pondering a few things.
How much is too much? Is being in the kitchen for two full days actually fun for me?  What are the things that actually bring me meaning and fulfillment rather than the things that I have assumed do?

I discovered these things:  I really do love being in the kitchen and that most of all the good fun happens there, but I need to be realistic with myself about what that looks like for more than one day of the holiday weekend.   That it is painful to work for hours on a meal and have kids misbehave at the table.  That if there are more than zero dogs in the kitchen begging while food prep is happening I need to have a glass of wine nearby.   I don't like being so busy that I miss the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  A lung burning run on Thanksgiving day makes my holiday complete.That I love my family and our families more deeply and with greater appreciation each year.  

I learned that traveling a bunch on a holiday weekend, packing and unpacking and fitting in two family celebrations is exhausting and yet I cannot imagine doing it any other way.

Most importantly I discovered that I need to find space for myself to put my feet up during the holidays and simply enjoy them and that if I can't then I need to reevaluate how I am spending my time.  

All good things to consider as the month of December gets underway. I want to work at having more intention around my, and my family's, holiday experience.

This thanksgiving I am grateful for my family and those that I love like family.

Ella and Maya got Brevan and Makenna on the bracelet making train.  They made bracelets and sold them in their "store" and made a killing.  Ella and Maya decided they would use the money to replenish their supplies (which they were sharing) and Brevan decided they should purchase a building and expand their operation.

If this picture doesn't sum up our children's temperaments, I don't know one that would.

Sunday we went to my sister's house to celebrate with my family.  Some light snowfall meant a very slow and somewhat tense interstate drive to her house that turned an hour and 15 minute trip into 2 hours.  This might have been a wonderful opportunity for some long-awaited adult conversation except that Sandi was studying for her boards for most of the trip.

Smiling faces, big hugs and shared kitchen laughter make it all worth the slow drive.

I hadn't packed the girls snow stuff so they borrowed gear, including this fetching hat Maya wore.
As usual, the Thanksgiving meal was followed with the making of the potpies.

Secret ingredient: cranberry sauce
Two Thanksgivings = 4 Toferky potpies in my freezer.

I simply adore my sister and never get to see her enough.

As the afternoon descended into darkness and I watched the precipitation continue to fall somewhere between rain and snow, I felt an itchy panic to get on the road and get home.  Once we hit the interstate it seemed to be mostly wet but I was nervous about any underlying layer of ice.  Black ice, by definition, is invisible after all.  As we headed north toward home I could feel the cover of the road change and I was amazed at the people flying past us as we traveled about 40 mph.  It just seemed so risky.

Then we came upon stopped traffic which eventually turned to a crawl as we passed the scene of an accident.  For the next few very slow miles we saw 5 more cars off the highway in the ditch.  One had hit a tree.  And still the drivers were flying past us.  I cannot fathom what gets into Mainers during the footloose spring and summer that they forget how to drive on slippery roads (or use their brains to heed obvious warning signs like cars over the embankment).

About a half hour from home, traffic came to a dead standstill and stayed that way for TWO HOURS.  We were locked in between cars and couldn't go anywhere.  We had no idea how long we would be stuck.  I prayed we would move before someone needed the bathroom.  Hopes of being home in time for an early bed for tired kids soon slipped into hopes of just getting home safely.  I went from restless angst to total surrender after about a half hour of utter powerlessness.  Sandi abandoned her study and the girls grew restless with their iPads.  We listened to Christmas music and played and tried to gather news about what was happening on the highway.

Soon the call to pee was made and, with some very festive Hawaiian Christmas songs from a CD friends had given us blared from the stereo, the girls squatted along I95 as we held up coats for privacy.  It was quite a moment.

I felt fortunate that it was only number 1 we had to deal with, that I had snacks (and more importantly Tootsie Pops) in the car, that we had enough gas, and that we were all safe.  I said a prayer for the people who were harmed in the accident.

When the cars began to move it felt like a miracle.  I have never been so happy to see the sign for the remote town of Etna, Maine before.  As we crept back up to our 35 mph travel speed I was so aggravated by the people passing us going 55 in a line of cars following each other way too closely.  I don't understand putting so many people in danger this way.

After 4 hours we finally made it home, grateful and exhausted.

And now the Christmas stuff is halfway out and I am trying to find some uplifting cheer for this month I have always loved.  I think my heart will feel lighter when the boards are done and life can actually move on past the world of anesthesia school.

I mean if the bunny can, than surely so can I.

Our poor bunny who the girls sorely wish was a dog.

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