Family sledding

Despite having bought sleds a few weeks back when the huge snowstorm came through, we hadn’t done much more with them than pull the kids up and down the street in front of the house. We’ve asked Jonah if he wanted to go sledding, but he’s never been very keen. His preschool has a hill with sleds and even snowboards that the kids are welcome to use, and we know that he’s been doing some sledding there (we watched him through the window when we came for his mid-year parent/teacher conference) so maybe he’s built up a bit more confidence and enthusiasm for it since the first time we asked. At any rate, we asked again today and everyone was game (now that I think about it, even Jude shouted “yeah!” which is hilarious considering how much he hated it once we got out there). We drove the kids over to Gigi and Papa Doc’s condo property because they have a lovely little bowl right out in front of their house that’s perfect for little ones – not too steep/fast, and not too tough to climb back up again.

Vivi was the first to go down, and she wanted to go down solo again and again. She’s fearless and sometimes it terrifies me. Jonah loved it too, and would have stayed out all night. Jude, on the other hand, thought that everything about it was terrible. He sat in a pile of snow or on someone’s lap the whole time, trying to avoid the sleds. The one or two times Kristin forced him to go down with her, he sobbed in terror. Oh well, he’ll find his thing.











Christmas is here!


It really is the most wonderful time of the year. We’ve been looking forward to Christmas in this house for so long, and it did not disappoint. With my parents down in Charleston with my sister and her family for Christmas, we knew that it would be a very quiet day for us (well, quiet for a family-of-five Christmas). A few friends mentioned that they might stop by later on, but we knew that the morning was ours alone and we were actually looking forward to it. There’s something lovely about having no one else to coordinate or compromise with when it comes to the plan and how the day unfolds. We made sure to pull together the Christmas morning breakfast that’s become an important family tradition, even if we were going to be on our own: peaches & cream french toast (my mom’s specialty that K looks forward to all year long), grits with cheese and Cholula, scrambled eggs, sausage and soy bacon.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would wake up well before dawn and urge my parents out of bed, they would head downstairs first to plug in the tree and make some coffee while we waited at the top of the stairs for the go-ahead to rush down and see what Santa had brought. I know that there are many ways of doing Christmas morning, but in our house the gifts Santa brought were in stockings or on the hearth and were unwrapped, and everything under the tree and wrapped was from someone else (our parents, pets, etc.). Many of those gifts were already under the tree well before Christmas. I found out from Kristin only a few days ago that all of the gifts they received were from Santa, and all were wrapped and appeared only on Christmas morning. It became a point of contention when I started to wrap gifts and place them under the tree a few days ago, so we had to hash out how our own family’s tradition was going to unfold. To be honest, I’ve also had lots of complicated feelings about Santa, largely because I want Christmas magic to come from lots of places for our kids and not have it all in that singular person and event (and in receiving gifts – Jonah already says that his favorite thing about Christmas is getting lots of toys). So this season I’ve tried hard to actively remind him to notice lots of other special things about the holiday season, and I’ve been telling him that those are MY favorite things about Christmas. It seems to have a tiny effect so I’ll keep trying. At any rate, peer influence is powerful and this year he’s been more interested in Santa than ever, so we’ve embraced it and he was excited to put cookies out on Christmas Eve. I’m not really capable of half-assing something with meaning, even if I’m ambivalent about some of the details, so I was fully committed to it this year.

My parents usually have a big Christmas Eve party and we’ve been doing that for years, but with them out of town we had to come up with an agenda. To make Christmas Eve feel special and not like any ordinary Saturday night, we decided to go to church. This is not something we ever do. I told Jonah about it a week or so ago and he said “Oh church. That’s a really big building that can fit lots of people. What’s a church?” I told him that it’s a place people go to talk about the Bible, which is a book about God and Jesus. He replied “Oh, Jesus. She’s the baby, isn’t she?” The service was really sweet, lots of very brief Christmas hymns, a brief cute and funny sermon for the kids, and cupcakes and a round of Happy Birthday for Jesus. We ran into some friends there and they introduced us to their pastor and a few other members of the congregation, which was really nice. After the service Jonah somehow found the toddler room full of toys, and as I was putting him to bed later on, he said “Hey, maybe some Sunday we could go back to that church, but instead of the singing part we could just do the playing part.” I told him that the singing part was kind of the whole point of going to church, and he said that he didn’t care for the singing part. At least he found something he liked.

On the drive home we drove through the older part of our neighborhood, where luminaries along the road are apparently a Christmas tradition. Nearly every single house for blocks and blocks had them out front, with real candles. It was truly beautiful. Kristin and I talked about how there’s something really special when that many families decide that they’re willing to go out in the cold after the sun goes down to set these up and light them, just to make the world more beautiful for the people who will pass by. Sure, some of it is tradition and neighborhood pressure I’m sure, and some might be from a sense of specialness worth flaunting (it’s the “good” part of the neighborhood), but I truly believe that at Christmas there’s a good bit of willingness to make your little plot of land more beautiful for those who may see it, and that’s so magical to me.

K and I were up ridiculously late last night (2 a.m. to be specific) preparing for the day, including some Ikea assembly that we both could have done without. At 1:30a.m. when you’re almost finished and getting super excited, the last thing you want to discover is that you’ve put the 2nd or 3rd piece in upside down. Some disassembly and reassembly later, the crisis was averted and we were off to bed. I was curious to see what time the kids would get us up, since this is the first year Jonah was truly excited and knew what to expect in the morning. At some point he climbed into bed with me (Kristin had shuffled into Vivi’s room) and asked me if it was morning. Without even looking at the time I said “no, not yet” and insisted he go back to sleep. At four he’s young enough to be OK with that, which was a much needed Christmas miracle. He finally asked me again if it was morning at 7:30 and I told him that yes, it was. I had him go wake Kristin and the twins and we all made our way into the living room.






Jude and Vivienne were super excited about the toy kitchen, and spent a lot of time there today. That fiasco was totally worth it, even if they pulled the faucet out within the first 20 minutes. Vivi was initially disappointed that water didn’t come out and asked us repeatedly to turn it on. Maybe that’s why she removed it, who knows.


The kids also got a teepee from Santa, which they all enjoyed. A friend who stopped over today mentioned that we seemed to choose a lot of “classic” toys, and I suppose in some ways that is our style. We almost managed to avoid batteries this year, with the exception of one flashlight and a small backhoe loader that makes engine noises (a specific request from Jonah to Santa to replace an old one that had broken). We certainly can’t claim to be minimalist in any way, however, and there’s nothing Montessori or Waldorf about our playroom. We just tend to love those toys and love to see the kids using their imaginations and creativity.




If we struck out at all, I think that it was with Jonah. Along those same classic toy lines, we got him a marble run, which he loved and wanted to open and play with immediately in lieu of opening more gifts, which was amazing. That said, it was really the only gift he received today that he got to play with, whereas Vivi and Jude simply ended up with a lot more stuff that they were actively engaged with throughout the day. It’s not that we make any effort to keep Christmas small; in fact I come from a family that went WAY overboard on gifts every year, and it’s hard to break that cycle when it’s been passed down with such passion and love and enthusiasm.




The problem is that we have SO many toys already, and 90% of those belong to Jonah. Sure, we insist on sharing, but when we’re thinking about gifts we often think “maybe Vivi and Jude should have their own…” or maybe it’s just that they’re interested in their own unique things now and Jonah’s interests haven’t changed a ton over the last year, so there’s space for Vivi and Jude to add new creative toys, but Jonah has all of the Legos and Magformers and construction vehicles that he could ever possibly need. Plus he has a Thanksgiving birthday, so when it came time to pick out Christmas gifts, we didn’t c0me up with much. That, and when his grandparents and aunts and uncles on Kristin’s side asked for suggestions, we gave them most of the ideas that we had (and those gifts aren’t being exchanged until tomorrow). So he’ll be receiving more things to play with, but Christmas morning is a big deal, and I’m not sure it was everything he hoped for.

He actually got a couple of other super cool gifts, a sit on digger for the sandbox (which we don’t have yet, and which it’s far too snowy for right now) and a bouncy house (!) from my sister, which was a collective gift for all three kids. We seriously considered blowing it up in the great room today but never did; every time we thought about it the kids were engaged with something else and we didn’t want to interrupt them to change gears, and by the time they were bored Jonah wasn’t feeling well. Did I mention he seems to have come down with conjunctivitis today? Double bummer. That means that he’ll miss K’s family Christmas party tomorrow (along with me) which really bums me out, for him more than anything else, but also because I really wanted to be together.

I know that he’ll love those two gifts once the weather is right to use them in the yard, but it’s tough to wait on those things. Kind of like getting a bike for Christmas in this sort of weather, which reminds me of another example of “Maybe the twins should have their own…” They got scooters from my parents since Jonah has a scooter and they’re always trying to snatch it. We didn’t even realize that the same company has a version that converts from a ride-on to a standing scooter, and Jude and Vivienne LOVE them.


I don’t really have a good picture of the ride-on version, but V is sitting on hers in the very back of that shot. There’s even a storage compartment under the seat that came in rather handy since Jude needed to scoot while carrying baby, and once we converted his to the seat they both popped their babies underneath.

One of the highlights for both K and I was seeing Jude open that babydoll. Vivi has a baby that she adopted from Jonah’s toys; it was a gift he received from a friend on his first birthday and he never really took to it. She loves it to pieces and takes it everywhere. Jude never really had a baby, but this summer he inherited an old Cabbage Patch doll of mine which went lots of places with us, but it was in shabby shape and was really too large for him to carry around comfortably. We knew that he needed his very own baby for Christmas, and I think this moment made our day. I honestly didn’t even catch this kiss until I was going through the photos, and despite the fact that it’s out of focus, it’s the photo that makes me melt.


Last night, as Kristin and I were finally drifting off to sleep, we talked about how different Christmas feels when the magic is entirely up to you. It’s more work, of course, but it’s also kind of special. We felt like we were a team with a mission to do something really magical for our kids, and it felt wonderful. Last night as I looked around at the living room after wrapping and what not, I said to Kristin that maybe we’d overdone it. They just didn’t need this many new things. But this morning, seeing their excitement and joy made it all feel just right; maybe that’s why it’s so easy to go overboard. Christmas really is better when you have kids of your own. Kristin said it was the best Christmas she’s had in decades, and I might have to agree.


New Traditions & Snowy Day Magic


We had the most beautiful snowstorm this past weekend. One of the most magical things about being in our new home is having the opportunity to really notice and appreciate how it looks and feels at different times of day, in different seasons, and different weather. Seeing how our backyard looks when it’s covered in snow has been such a wonderful discovery. For some reason (which I’m sure has a simple “what they eat grows in your yard” explanation that we have yet to look up), we have lots of bluejays and cardinals in our yard. There’s a Mary Oliver poem that Kristin loves, from a book by the same name, called Red Bird. I feel like we now understand the inspiration for that poem. We love to point the cardinals out to the kids and they seem just as eager to stand at the window and look for them, bright red in the snow-covered bushes.

Friday night Jonah and I went to the store to buy sleds, and Saturday morning we went out front to play in the snow. Our street seems to be low on the city plowing priority list, which was actually convenient because we were able to pull the kids up and down the street in the sled.



Jonah loves it, and also loves helping us to shovel the driveway. Vivi quickly learned to love the sled as well because it kept her out of the snow. This is how she felt about actually being in the snow.


Jude tolerated the first ride or two, but then decided that the sled really wasn’t his thing. He preferred to stand around with a bucket and shovel and sort of poke at the snow.



I also just love cozy, indoor fun while it’s snowy outside. While the twins napped after playing outdoors, Jonah played with trains in the great room. There’s nothing like PJ pants and a ski sweater to keep you toasty.


I also decided that this year I wanted to start a Christmas cookies tradition with the kids. Can you believe I’ve NEVER done this? I mean yes, I’ve made cookies. But I’m fairly certain that I’ve never made rolled cookies before. We’ve had cookie cutters lying around, but they’ve always ended up in the play doh bin. I went out with Jonah and Vivi and we bought a rolling pin (never owned one!) and a ten-pack of holiday themed cookie cutters, some sprinkles, food dye (I know, but I wasn’t going to do turmeric and beet flavored icing), and all of the ingredients for sugar cookies. We did it over two days because we got a late start with the dough and baking, but I’m so glad we did it.


Vivi was out-of-sorts, so I was wearing her while we made the dough. She got involved later for the rolling and cutting portion, however.



Once they learned that you can eat raw cookie dough it was all over. We pretty much had to cut their involvement in that stage short once Vivi started putting handfuls of dough into her mouth.




Kristin and I did some decorating on Sunday night after the kids went to bed, but we saved a whole bunch for the kids to do, and because they ended up with a snow day on Monday (and I took the day off to join them) we were able to decorate then.






Vivi stuck with it the longest (although Jude was pretty into the sprinkling as well). She just loves art so much, I think she really took it seriously.



On our snow day I also took Jonah shopping for families in need. We didn’t have a very solid list of needs on this particular trip because I’d crowd sourced and come up a little confused, but we have a few organizers in mind with whom we can drop things off, so we had a loose sense of what might be useful. I’d talked to Jonah in advance about choosing gifts for families that might not have any on Christmas, and for people who didn’t have basic needs met. He was totally into it. He was SO SLOW in the toy aisle, and I kept telling him that he needed to choose his gift and reminding him that it wasn’t for him, and he kept saying “I am choosing my gift, I’m just thinking about what I want to pick.” He was super thoughtful about it and finally chose two large trucks. I picked up a doll (and am shocked and disappointed by the whiteness of the doll selection at two different stores – it was eye-opening and just reinforced my unwavering commitment to buying brown-skinned dolls from now on), some building blocks, three winter coats, and three backpacks. Jonah was really into it which made me so happy. In the clothing section he kept saying things like “We could buy underwear for people who don’t have underwear. We could buy snow pants for people who don’t have snow pants.” I felt like he was getting it, and I was thrilled.

It felt like a really long weekend full of good-quality Christmas fun. I’m excited that it’s only mid-December and that we still have two more weeks to enjoy this! Hopefully we can think of a few more fun things to throw into the mix.

In search of holiday magic


Once we knew that we were buying this house but had a long wait before we would actually arrive here, I began to set my sights on the holidays in order to get through the agony of waiting. Halloween was really my first light at the end of the tunnel, but we didn’t end up moving in by then. So then it became Christmas (because we’ve never really done a whole lot for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t magical enough for me to focus on), and the idea of getting our first Christmas tree in our very own home was absolutely magical. I couldn’t wait, so when Thanksgiving rolled around I told Kristin that we were definitely getting our tree that Friday.

When I was a kid, my parents tell me that Halloween was my favorite holiday, but I also had a whole lot of enthusiasm for Christmas. I remember keeping my parents’ Christmas CDs in my room and listening to them every night when I went to bed throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. We always put those fake plastic candles in the windows, and I loved mine so much (I had three windows in my bedroom growing up, and my room faced the street) that I’m pretty sure I kept them in my room year-round. My sister and I would barely sleep on Christmas eve and we would wake my parents at ungodly hours in the morning, ready to see what Santa had brought us. Honestly I think that my parents loved it just as much. They always went way overboard with gifts and loved seeing our excitement.

Here’s what I find tough about the holidays though. That sense of magic from your youth, you don’t forget it, and every year I look forward to it. But when you’re an adult it’s never exactly the same, so something is lost and that always makes me a little bit sad and a little bit panicky. I find myself hoping to feel the same things – no, not the desire for lots of stuff (and maybe that’s part of the problem: as a kid getting stuff was a huge part of the mystery and magic and as an adult I’ve developed an aversion to getting a huge amount of new “stuff” in one swoop, because that means I have to find places for all of that stuff, and that makes me twitchy) but just that sense of holiday magic and wonder and beauty. And sometimes I find it! There is magic out there to be found, but I also find myself trying to force the magic to happen, and to do it quickly before it’s too late, and that ends up causing anxiety. It makes me think a little bit of my friend Jodi’s writing on happiness projects and also of this article that I find to be so resonant, about the impossibility of scheduling and forcing quality time with your extended family.

So here I am, at the start of the Christmas season in our new home in our new town and trying to find new holiday traditions for our family that will infuse the month with some of that elusive magic. When we set out to get a tree, I’d heard that Costco had affordable Frasier Firs, so we drove out that way only to discover that it was no more than a dark semi-trailer in a parking lot full of pre-wrapped trees that they wouldn’t open for you. Now, to be fair, my memories of getting a tree as a kid involved parking lots, and my dad confirmed just the other day that we usually got our tree from the Kmart parking lot, but I still remember going to a tree lot and selecting the perfect tree. It was more than a semi-trailer, so without even getting out of the van, Kristin declared that we needed more of an experience and I couldn’t agree more, so we drove way across town in the other direction to Gull Meadow Farms (the same place from our fall fun post). It was lovely – lots of twinkling lights out front, and a greenhouse full of beautiful, good-smelling trees to choose from. Without having measured our ceiling height I told K that I thought a 6′ tree was probably sufficient, but she wasn’t willing to go small. “We aren’t in a NY apartment anymore”, she declared, “and I don’t want a tiny NY apartment tree.” So we went with the 7′-8′ category and hoped it would fit. Once we got it into the stand it just barely fit, and it felt like it was meant to be.


Once I picked up some stocking hooks I also hung up our stockings (something we never actually did in New York because we didn’t have a fireplace, and the last Christmas we spent there Jonah was young enough that he didn’t really know about stockings so we didn’t bother coming up with a solution). We also wanted to wait until the twins were born so that we could order a matching set with everyone’s names on them, so we did that last year and used them at my parents’ house when we were there for Christmas. We LOVE these stockings, which came from Etsy. The seller also makes ridiculously adorable bonnets (we have some for the twins).


We made a million trips to Lowe’s to buy lights to put on our bushes outside, because I’ve always wanted a house so that we could do that. I say a million trips because I grossly underestimated the number of lights we would need for these two bushes out front, and kept having to go back for more. I also made the amateur mistake of buying the “net style” lights for bushes, assuming that I’d just kind of lay them on top and voila! Instant Christmas magic! Not so; don’t do it, just buy the strings.

Last night we took the kids downtown because it was an Art Hop night and while we don’t really ever see any art when we do that with the kids, I knew that Bronson Park would be decorated and I wanted to go see it as a family. It may not be the most incredible light display out there, but it’s our park and it made me really happy to take the kids. K promised Jonah hot cocoa with marshmallows once we got home, so we didn’t stay out long. The twins went to bed and Jonah enjoyed his cocoa, and I felt good about our night and knew in that moment that most of the time it’s about the small stuff. But how to find all of the small stuff?



So I’m still searching for holiday traditions that we can begin and continue each year: places we can go, the best Christmas houses to drive past, activities we can do together, beauty I can help them to appreciate. I want Christmastime to have magic for the kids not only now, but throughout their lives. In my mind that means that I need to teach them now that the magic is in lots of things, not just in the presents. When I began to lose enthusiasm for getting lots of presents, some of the anticipation and magic vanished for me, and I don’t want that to happen for our kids. So I’m inviting ideas and suggestions and would love to hear about any traditions that you’ve enjoyed either now or in the past, and I’ll keep you posted on what we try. Happy holiday season!